Wednesday, June 28, 2006

2006 NBA Draft

Comments/questions? Leave them below or e-mail hoopinion (at) yahoo (dot) com.

My draft bona fides: 2005 Preview and Grades.

Loosely organized and incomplete 2006 player rankings here.

Dick Vitale, his half-genuine enthusiasm notwithstanding, doesn't know that much about college basketball. He knows less about professional basketball and he knows nothing about international basketball. On the last count, he knows even less than I do as I'm more than willing to make snap judgments about international players based on 90 seconds of grainy highlights immediately after they're drafted. His annual involvement during the NBA Draft broadcast should have kept us from being surprised that ESPN would hire Dave O'Brien and Marcelo Balboa as their lead World Cup broadcast team.

1. TORONTO: Andrea Bargnani -- I've never seen him play, but he played fairly significant minutes in the Euroleague at the age of 20 and shot 59.6 eFG%. So he's good. That his statistics both in Euroleague and Lega A show a limited rebounder who almost never creates a good shot for a teammate (39 assists in 106 games according to So he's a complimentary player for the foreseeable future. Toronto needs those and if Bargnani can contribute immediately he may make either Charlie Villanueva or Joey Graham expendable in the pursuit of a point guard.

2. PORTLAND: LaMarcus Aldridge -- Aldridge is going to be a good player on both ends of the court. For all the focus on his offensive game, he has tremendous potential as defensive player as well. His steal percentages have been strong both seasons at Texas to go along with his excellent blocked shot percentage. He also rebounds well on both ends.

People worry about his tendency to disappear for stretches last year, but he almost always played well against the best competition Texas faced and he never had a point guard to get him the ball. That Aldridge deferred shots and space at times to PJ Tucker is not necessarily a mark against Aldridge.

When the trade's announced by someone other than Andy Katz, I'll make it official here. Khryapa?

3. CHARLOTTE: Adam Morrison -- I expect him to be a bigger Jeff Hornacek, though even that might flatter Morrison as he can't pass as well as Hornacek. One could even argue just how much better Morrison is on the glass than Hornacek was. For all his limitations, Morrison is obviously a clever player and should be a good enough scorer to stay in the league long enough to learn the tricks that officials ignore that poor defenders use to keep themselves from being a complete liability to their teams.

At current count, Charlotte has two point guards (Felton and Knight), two power forwards (Brezec and May), two small forwards (Wallace and Morrison), and Emeka Okafor. It's an interesting method of roster composition. Unlike, the Hawks, I have some faith that Charlotte will turn their depth at certain positions into a functional basketball team.

4. CHICAGO: Tyrus Thomas -- Even though I think Aldridge is a safer pick than Thomas, should Thomas develop any sort of an offensive game either he or Randy Foye will be the best player to come out of this draft. Worst case scenario, Thomas will block a ton of shots and grab even more rebounds. Plus, Hinrich and whichever other guard sticks around in Chicago will appreciate having a big man around who can catch a pass and dunk it when running their constant pick-and-rolls.

5. ATLANTA: Shelden Williams -- I like Shelden Williams. A month ago, I thought he'd be a great pick in the middle of the first round for Chicago or Indiana or Washington. I guess the benefit for Atlanta here is that it slightly increases their options in brokering a sign-and-trade involving Al Harrington but, really, this is just the second year in a row they should have traded down and picked up more of the necessary pieces to build a basketball team. A real point guard from the D-League could still improve this team.

6. PORTLAND: Brandon Roy -- Roy will become a solid starter immediately, become an All-Star within five years, and maintain that level of play for five to seven years. Roy's passing and ball-handling could aid Jarrett Jack in his development.

7. MINNESOTA: Randy Foye -- Foye is going to be an excellent player. He can do pretty much whatever he wants on the offensive end including handle the ball a lot without turning it over. He and Garnett will love each other. Ricky Davis will look quite out of place. The last time Minnesota acquired a good player in the lottery ('96, Marbury) he came via draft-day trade as well.

8. MEMPHIS: Rudy Gay -- The ESPN talking heads can compare Gay to Jordan and Grant Hill if they want, but both those guys deferred to upperclassmen who lead their teams to national championships. Last year's UConn team was more like the '97 Kansas team that failed to get out of the Sweet Sixteen with four first-round draft picks. Unlike Paul Pierce (another guy who was young relative to his college class), though, Gay never established himself as the obvious best player on the team for any length of time this season. Marcus Williams is a little better than Jacque Vaughn as far as overrated college point guards go, but Gay is far too talented to provide any reasonable person with evidence to make the case that Williams is a better player than he is.

9. GOLDEN STATE: Patrick O'Bryant -- Make no mistake, Patrick O'Bryant is a project. Bradley got better when he became eligible, but he did not lead them to the tournament. Had the Braves relied on O'Bryant to be their best player they would have made their post-season run toward MSG. He's a shot-blocker and rebounder who will need to develop an offensive game. Right now, he's a more athletic Adonal Foyle.

10. SEATTLE: Saer Sene -- I have no idea how he fits on a roster with Robert Swift and Johan Petro. The Sonics must really not like playing Nick Collison at center. I can't blame them for that, but I'm not sure that they've found an immediately better option as of yet.

11. ORLANDO: JJ Redick -- Personally, I would have taken Ronnie Brewer, an immediate offensive upgrade over DeShawn Stevenson who would match Stevenson's defenseive production fairly quickly, but this is a great fit for Redick and still improves the Magic. His relative lack of athleticism has been blown out of proportion (assuming his back does, in fact, still work) following the LSU loss in the NCAA Tournament. Redick will never be the focus of a defense again. Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard will insure a fair number of open looks. There may be some problems created playing Redick and Turkoglu at the same time, but they're both smart players and should figure things out.

I will, however, be rooting for Travis Diener during shooting contests at practice.

12. NO/OKC: Hilton Armstrong -- Armstrong's destined to be a career backup. His rebounding ability is overrated as his production slants heavily toward the defensive glass. He's everything he's advertised to be as a shot blocker. There's no real difference between Armstrong and O'Bryant right now and there are better basketball players still on the board.

13. CHICAGO: Thabo Sefolosha -- Is the Serie A below the the Lega A in Italian basketball? Bargnani played in Lega A, Sefolosha played in Serie A and looks to have played well, showing a marked improvement as a three-point shooter this year. On the heels of the Nocioni signing, Chicago's international scouting gets the benefit of the doubt.

14. UTAH: Ronnie Brewer -- Ronnie Brewer's a sure thing. He's Marquis Daniels only we know he's coming. The only thing he lacks now is a consistent perimeter shot. He can shoot free throws effectively (and often), handle the ball, pass, and his defensive skills should develop rapidly once he gets some time in a man-to-man system.

15. NO/OKC: Cedric Simmons -- Here's one of those guys that offers you much the same today that O'Bryant and Armstrong offer while you giving some concrete hopes for offensive improvement. Simmons shot a ton of free throws last year as NC State's lone post threat. His free throw rate increased during ACC play before taking a dip in post-season play. Ideally, he'd have demonstrated greater rebounding prowess in college but I suspect that Herb Sendek artificially deflated Simmons' offensive rebounding numbers.

16. PHILADELPHIA: Rodney Carney -- Shawne Williams must be a real knucklehead to get drafted below Carney, the rarest hybrid, an extremely athletic three-point specialist. Carney should provide decent-to-good defense on the wing to go with his shooting, but he really hasn't demonstrated any ability to handle or pass the ball.

His draft night revelation that he refused to play AAU ball makes me a fan of his and a greater fan of his high school coach. The AAU system is leading the ruination of American basketball.

17. INDIANA: Shawne Williams -- Shot selection kept Shawne Williams from being an All-American candidate. The rest of his game (work ethic questions aside) is extremely precocious. He can shoot (79 percent on free throws), rebound, and, though a raw defender (back to basketball IQ and work ethic concerns) he managed a block or a steal on eight percent of the defensive possessions for which he was on the court.

I think Darius Washington magnified Williams' problems last year. A good point guard would have limited the number of decisions Williams had to make.

18. WASHINGTON: Oleksiy Pecherov -- Looks to be a finesse, rebounding center. I see a little Raef LaFrentz in the highlights.

19. SACRAMENTO: Quincy Douby -- He's somewhere between Ben Gordon and Salim Stoudamire on the spectrum of undersized shooting guards who have some uses. Both his assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8:1) and his shooting percentages (51.5% on 2PTFGA and 40.1% on 3PTFGA) were outstanding considering that everyone knew he was handling the ball until he shot or drew enough attention for one of his teammates to have an outside chance at making a shot on nearly every possession. He'll never be a point guard but he might score enough and be smart enough to steal minutes at the point with the second unit.

20. NEW YORK: Renaldo Balkman -- Huh. A perfect Larry Brown player. Balkman's Adrian Griffin without the European sabbatical to start his career. I don't see what he brings to a bad team, but Balkman's work in the margins might make a difference for a good team.

21. BOSTON: Rajon Rondo -- No, he can't shoot and, yes, he had a pretty bad sophomore year but I think he's the best point guard in this draft unless you count Randy Foye as a point guard. He will immediately provide good defense, rebound like Jason Kidd, and push the ball up the court.

I think Rondo struggled last year because lacked the ability to be the first option on a good college team and lost confidence in his teammates. The first of those problems is not going to occur with any NBA team and the second, one hopes, is a problem of maturity rather than temperment. Rondo's not good enough to make his teammates better but his skills compliment good players should they surround him.

22. NEW JERSEY: Marcus Williams -- He's overrated, but he's as useful as a slow guy who doesn't shoot a good percentage from anywhere but the free throw line. His rebounding prowess is overblown and he looks like a smart player on the court which leads optimists to hope that l'affaire des laptops and the poor conditioning can be outgrown.

23. NEW JERSEY: Josh Boone -- He could be better than Jason Collins, but he might not have the selfless, ruthlessness to be Jason Collins should he not develop his skills further. Boone plays with a air of melancholia which seemed to make Jim Calhoun hate him. Having Jim Calhoun hate you counts as a character reference as far as I'm concerned but may not be indicative of a successful professional basketball career.

24. MEMPHIS: Kyle Lowry -- I think Lowry's destined to be a career backup and a good one. He took great advantage of the unique concentration of perimeter talent at Villanova last year to score a significant percentage of his points at the free throw line. I'm skeptical that he'll be able to get to the line as often in the NBA. He did improve his shooting across the board in his sophomore season. If he continues to do that he could develop into something more special.

25. CLEVELAND: Shannon Brown -- LeBron needs a lot of help. Brown should provide some just by backing up Larry Hughes (i.e. starting the 20 games Hughes will miss) at first while trying to grow into the Flip Murray role, except Brown will try to be a good player. There is much work left to be done in Cleveland.

26. LA LAKERS: Jordan Farmar -- Kirk Hinrich without the jump shot, which, quite frankly, is what Kirk Hinrich is about 25% of the time. Farmar wastes too many possessions on bad shots and turnovers borne of aggression. He got away with that even on a low-possession, Ben Howland team because he is a fine, fine defensive player already. If his decision making improves he'll be quite valuable.

27. PORTLAND: Sergio Rodriguez -- He appears to be little more than el Steve Blake at this point. Is my boyhood idol, Kevin Pritchard, collecting point guards worse than he was in a subconscious effort to show that he deserved a better shot at sticking in the Association?

28. DALLAS: Maurice Ager -- I'm not sure what Ager brings to the Mavericks. He's an inconsistent player whose skills overwhelmingly tilt toward the offensive end of the court. If they get rid of Stackhouse and give those minutes to Howard and Daniels, Ager could provide some of Stackhouse's production in certain situations.

29. NEW YORK: Mardy Collins -- See Balkman above. Larry Brown would have loved Collins. The machinations of the Knicks franchise become ever more interesting. I love Collins, too. If he could shoot at all, he'd be a lottery pick. Still, having Eric Snow's skills in Aaron McKie's body should make Collins a millionaire.

30. PORTLAND: Joel Freeland -- I fully expect Joel Freeland to have the same impact in the NBA as Jonathan Spector will have in the English Premier League.

end of guaranteed contracts

David Stern's final introduction of Russ Granik was somewhat moving. I love the NBA Draft too much.

31. INDIANA: James White -- He might be able to step in and give you a good amount of Fred Jones' production. The pessimists amongst us might point out that it took White five years of college ball to demonstrate his usefulness.

Dear Steve Patterson,

Raef LaFrentz may be three years younger than Theo Ratliff but Raef's knees barely allow him to do the two things he could still do well on a basketball court (make 24' set shots, and reverse the ball from the top of the key). I don't think he'll be phyiscally able to play for half the remaining length of his contract.

32. HOUSTON: Steve Novak -- Novak will challenge Matt Bonner as the next link in the Matt Bullard-Pat Garrity chain.

33. ATLANTA: Solomon Jones -- The Hawks definitely needed an older, less polished version of Josh Smith.

34. LA CLIPPERS: Paul Davis -- The Clippers definitely needed a less athletic version of Chris Kaman.

35. TORONTO: PJ Tucker -- Joey Graham is done in Toronto. PJ Tucker, the Big 12 Player of the Year, is this year's Josh Howard. The meme that Tucker is an undersized power forward smacks of ignorance of both Tucker's game and Brad Buckman's existence. I criticized Rick Barnes for not playing Tucker at power forward enough last year but that doesn't mean he can't succeed as an inside-out player in the NBA. Tucker took on some playmaking duties following Daniel Gibson's failure at the point last season.

In this draft, Tucker is a lottery talent. He can play basketball. He doesn't need a position. He'll make you have to figure out who can matchup with him. If the league really is going small and multidimensional (and even if it's not, Toronto probably is) Tucker will make it look like a good decision both in terms of aesthetics and results.

36. MINNESOTA: Craig Smith -- Kevin McHale must really miss Gary Trent. When he gets healthy, I fear Smith will be a very good college player who is the wrong size to succeed in the NBA. You know, the guy PJ Tucker is supposed to be.

37. PHILAEDLPHIA: Bobby Jones -- Does Trenton Hassell need an understudy? Apparently not, but Andre Iguadala (and now Rodney Carney) do.

38. GOLDEN STATE: Kosta Petrovic --A center who doesn't rebound or block shots much in either the Euro or Adriatic leagues. Meh.

39. MILWAUKEE: David Noel -- I always found Noel difficult to watch. He displaces a lot of air without touching the ball much through rebound, steal, or block for such a great athlete. He turns the ball over a lot when he tries to pass or dribble. However, he was an extremely effective shooter last year on both two- and three-point shots so he must understand the game on some level.

40. SEATTLE: Denham Brown -- I don't get what Denham Brown does well enough to make an NBA team.

41. ORLANDO: James Augustine -- I like Augustine a lot. He's a more athletic Andrew DeClercq and should have his legitimate uses.

42. CLEVELAND: Daniel Gibson -- He can shoot. He can defend. He is never going to be a good point guard. Still, he's a better player today than Flip Murray.

43. NO/OKC: Marcus de Souza -- I'll go out on a limb and guess that he's more skilled than Anderson Varejao but less "high energy." Man, he looks raw in the highlight package.

44. HOUSTON: Lior Eliyahu -- I don't know much about the talent level in the Israeli Premier League, but Eliyahu's stat line looks nice. He looks like he has a nice frame in the highlight clips so he could have a chance to stay at power forward.

45. MEMPHIS: Alexander Johnson -- Johnson's a raw rebounder and shot blocker who teaches us all a lesson (with the help of Hilton Armstrong) the difference in earning power between being 6-11 and 6-9.

46. UTAH: Dee Brown -- He'll have to find the right situation, but once he does he'll be a bigger (and possibly better) Earl Boykins.

47. UTAH: Paul Millsap -- The rebounder probably won't be more than the new Michael Ruffin but I always liked Michael Ruffin.

48. WASHINGTON: Vladimir Veremeenko -- He shoots free throws well and in the Russian Superleague he shoots a good number of free throws. Competition caveats apply, but he seems to be a tall international player with some interest in rebounding.

49. BOSTON: Leon Powe -- If he stays healthy, Powe should find consistent work on NBA second units for five or six years. He's clever and talented but small and already limited by previous injuries.

50. CHARLOTTE: Ryan Hollins -- Hollins will do well to make the Charlotte roster. If he gets any playing time something disastrous will have happened to their frontcourt.

51. DETROIT: Cheick Samb -- An underfed (7-1, 195) project on Barcelona's U-20 team.

52. LA CLIPPERS: Guillermo Diaz -- I had Diaz on my potential bust list when some were projecting him as a late firs-round pick. It's perfectly reasonable to draft him here. He's big for an undersized shooting guard and he's all upside, though a foot shorter than the guys who are usually drafted (in part) on the basis of not having played basketball that long. If he makes a roster will he be the best volleyball player in the NBA since Wilt?

53. SEATTLE: Yotam Halperin -- When you're older than my girlfriend, you're in danger of not being much of a prospect. You need to be able to step in and help right away.

54. NEW JERSEY: Hassan Adams -- Adams has spent the last two season un-making himself one of my favorite players. He seems to have no grasp on his strengths and weaknesses. If he figures that out he can be a role player in the league for a long time.

55. CLEVELAND: Ejike Ugboaja -- May be less skilled than Varejao. Shot under 30% from the floor in the U-21 World Championships.

56. PHILADELPHIA: Edin Bavcic -- When lacks a profile of a draftee, I can't even make stuff up about the international players.

57. MINNESOTA: Loukas Mavrokefalidis -- Looks to be a big lug. WIll likely never contribute in the NBA. Unlike, say, Mike Gansey.

58. LA LAKERS: Danilo Pinnock -- In no way is Pinnock, generously the fourth-best player on about the 35th-best team in college basketball last year, a better basketball player than Mike Gansey.

59. MILWAUKEE: Damir Markota -- International big man who favors playing on the perimeter. Fran Fraschila's exicted, though, possibly because if he's talking then he isn't listening to Stephen A. Smith.

60. DETROIT: Will Blalock -- Marcus Banks, more or less, without the comfort of a guaranteed contract. Like so many others, Blalock could be a backup point guard never or forever.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

2006 NBA Draft Preview

Last year, in a far more in-depth preview than will be attempted this year (due to the World Cup), I ended things by placing 40 potential draftees in four categories: Best players in the draft, Safe picks to fill needs, Worth a flyer, and Potential busts.

One year later, those lists aren't hugely embarrassing. Of the eleven players I ranked as the best players in the draft, seven of them made the first or second All-Rookie teams. Granted, one can't brag too much about ranking Chris Paul as the fourth best prospect in the draft (though I did call him "the next Steve Nash") or Channing Frye as the second most likely bust in the draft, but I'll take my player evaluations (both prescient and misguided) against those of other amateur analysts.

I'll live blog the draft tomorrow night and give the reasons, such as they are, for these rankings then.

Best players (I've seen) in the draft

1. Brandon Roy
2. LaMarcus Aldridge
3. Randy Foye
4. Ronnie Brewer

Safe, useful picks to fill needs (some even with upside)

1. Rudy Gay
2. Shelden Williams
3. Rajon Rondo
4. PJ Tucker
5. Adam Morrison
6. Rodney Carney
7. Mardy Collins
8. Maurice Ager
9. JJ Redick
10. James Augustine

Worth a flyer if you can afford it (good role players/high-risk talents)

1. Tyrus Thomas
2. Jordan Farmar
3. Quincy Douby
4. Mike Gansey
5. Shannon Brown
6. Shawne Williams
7. Kyle Lowry
8. Cedric Simmons
9. Patrick O'Bryant
10. Renaldo Balkman
11. Hassan Adams
12. James White

Hoping your team doesn't waste a valuable pick on a bust

1. Marcus Williams
2. Gullermo Diaz
3. Hilton Armstrong
4. Alexander Johnnson