I’ll be the first to confess that if anything, I probably watch a little bit too much college basketball. While college football is the sport I write about the most, it was actually college hoops that was my first love. It wasn’t intentional, but instead the byproduct of who I am, and where I was born. When you happen to grow up in Connecticut, and UConn basketball is the biggest game in town, college hoops just happens to be in your DNA. Basically, I’m a prime example of one of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Or something.
Anyway, while my love affair with college hoops does little to help my social life from November to April, it does come in handy right around draft time. While everyone else is scratching their heads, looking at Chad Ford’s 72nd mock draft, and cracking their first ever Anthony Davis unibrow joke, I’m well ahead of the curve. I’ve been watching these guys for six months now, and have strong opinions on just about all of them.
That’s also why I decided to do something nice today, and put together an “Idiot’s Guide to the 2012 NBA Draft.” I know that while I spent the winter watching hoops, a lot you chose to instead do other stuff, like go skiing, focus on your careers, or even… hang out with your families (blasphemy, I say).
Because of it, I’m here to help. Here is everything you need to know about tonight’s draft…
The Sure Thing: Anthony Davis
So if you’ve read enough of my work through the years, you know that I’m not much for hyperbole. I hate to sound like “grumpy old sportswriter guy,” but to me, most games are just games. There’s a winner and a loser, and we move onto the next one. Same with players; the simple truth is that most are forgettable long before their careers actually end.
But Anthony Davis? Anthony Davis is special, with the chance to absolutely be great. I know I’m not the first to say it, and I suspect I won’t be the last either. But anyone who looks at Davis and doesn’t see a future superstar and franchise center in the making, is either stubborn, hasn’t been paying attention, or is probably a Louisville fan. That’s honestly the only explanation for anyone to believe that Davis won’t be great.
Looking at the big picture, go ahead and try to name me a big man who has come into the NBA in the last 10 years with a more complete skill-set than Davis has. You can’t. From the moment he arrives in New Orleans, Davis will be one of the two or three best shot blockers in the league, and a guy who’ll only get better at that skill as he gets older. Why’s that? Well, it’s because he’s one of the few big guys who doesn’t make plays defensively based solely on insane athletic ability (although it definitely helps), but on precision and timing as well. Believe me, I watched just about every Kentucky game that was on TV this year, and by the middle of January, teams were terrified to bring the ball into the paint with him. Absolutely terrified. Yet he still got his five to six blocks a game, every game, simply by reading the situation in front of him, and being in the right place at the right time. Defensively, Anthony Davis didn’t get by on luck or sheer ability. He got by on skill as well.
Now on offense, Davis is definitely a work in progress… but guess what? Every big guy is at his age. As a matter of fact (and believe me, I’m ashamed to admit this), I watched that Chad Ford-Skip Bayless-Stephen A. Smith draft special on Tuesday night, and thought that Ford brought up an especially good point on Davis. What Ford said (and I’m paraphrasing) is that for everyone comparing Davis’ offensive ability to other elite big men entering the league (Duncan, Ewing, whomever), they need to remember that Davis is significantly younger than those guys were at the time. For example, Tim Duncan was a 21-year-old, four-year college player when he was drafted. Davis just turned 19, and just started playing in the post, what, a half hour ago? Believe me, Davis still has a lot of growing to do offensively.
And finally, there’s the whole “great teammate” thing. I’m not one for hyperbole, and in a lot of cases think that stuff is overrated. But with Davis, it’s definitely justifiable. The story of Davis sacrificing shots to help his team in the National Championship Game this year- only the biggest game of his career- is the stuff of legend, except, but anyone who watched him in 2012 knows he did it all year. Just as an example, I saw Anthony Davis play in person twice this past season (once in November and once in late January), and he combined for just 22 points in those two games. Yet he was still the Wildcats most important player in both victories.
All things considered, Anthony Davis is as safe as safe gets. He’s the right pick at No. 1. Now the question is…
Who’s No. 2?
Given that I already wrote 2,500 words on the subject right after the draft lottery, I don’t believe much bears repeating here. But if the Bobcats are serious about winning, or heck, serious about being taken seriously as a professional basketball organization, they’ll take Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. No questions asked. No trying to get cute. Just make the stupid pick Michael Jordan, would ya?
To me, Kidd-Gilchrist is the exact kind of guy the Bobcats need. Forget his basketball skills for a second and just remember that the second MKG joins your team, he becomes the best “professional” you have. Nobody is going to work harder. Nobody is going to care more. Nobody is going to make the guys around him better than MKG is (a lot like the guy the Bobcats drafted last year actually. Some guy named Kemba Walker). The basketball skills will come. The work ethic is already there.
So to Michael Jordan, if you’re reading (and if you are, wanna play a few holes of golf tomorrow?) please, don’t do anything silly. Just take Kidd-Gilchrist.
The Man-Crush Gone Horribly Wrong: Thomas Robinson
Please understand that nobody, I mean NOOOOOOOOBODY loves Thomas Robinson more than me. As a matter of fact…
…wait, what’d you just say about T-Rob??...
…Come at me bro! Oh, you think I’m kidding?
… Meet in the parking lot and we’ll see who’s kidding then…
Sorry about that. What was I saying again? Oh yeah, just that I love T-Rob as much as one man can platonically love another. Besides those dreamy eyes, he’s got all the same attributes I just mentioned with Kidd-Gilchrist: Nobody is going to work harder or care more than Thomas Robinson does.
The problem with Robinson is, I don’t know much he has to actually grow as a basketball player. For Kidd-Gilchrist, he’s just at the embryotic stage of his career. For Robinson, he’s much more of a finished product.
Please, just trust me on this. I watched a lot of college basketball last year, a crap ton of Kansas, and in turn a lot of Robinson. And what I can unequivocally tell you is that as good as he was (and he was great), no one got more points on hustle, energy and will than this guy. He also got a lot of easy buckets on Tyshawn Taylor alley oops and even more because Kansas- as they always are- was one of the best passing teams in college basketball last year. Do you know where Robinson didn’t get a lot of points though? With solid, back to the basketball low post moves. And I kind of think after three years in college, if he hasn’t started to develop them, he probably won’t at any point going forward.
As a matter of fact, the best analogy I’ve heard on Robinson entering the draft is from my buddy Rob Dauster of CollegeBasketballTalk.com, who called him “A bigger, more talented version of Kenneth Faried” on my podcast earlier this spring. I love that comparison, and I also think that kind of says what Robinson could potentially be as a pro. Simply put, a guy who is “A bigger, more talented version of Kenneth Faried” is never going to average 20 points a game. Maybe 14 and 9 or 15 and 11. But never 20 a game. And with the second or third pick in the draft? Well, you kinda need more value than that.
I guess in the end, what I’m trying to say is that for any team who thinks they’re going to build their entire franchise around Thomas Robinson, well, they better think again. He can be an important piece on a really good team, but I’m not entirely sure he can be the key piece, if that makes sense.
To Thomas Robinson, I love you brother. But if I had an early round pick, I’d be staying away.
The Underrated/Overrated Guy: Harrison Barnes
Safe to say, if Thomas Robinson was my 2012 college basketball man-crush, then Harrison Barnes was basically whatever the exact opposite of that was. Not only did I not like him, not only did I abhor watching him play, but I’m pretty sure I was tougher on him than Rachel McAdams was to Lindsay Lohan in ‘Mean Girls’ (yes, I just compared Harrison Barnes and myself to ‘Mean Girls,’ and you know what, I think it actually worked). Simply put, I can’t remember a college player with as much hype, leaving me more consistently disappointed than Barnes did.
Regardless, over the last few months, my opinion has softened on Barnes a bit. Do I still think he’s a guy with only one elite skill (shooting) and a bunch of others (passing, dribbling, creating his own shot off the dribble) that are subpar? Yes, yes I do. Do I still find him about as interesting as a stainless steel toaster oven? Yes, as well actually. Would I still rather spend a Friday night on the town with my six-year-old niece than Barnes?...
Wait, isn’t this where I was supposed to be saying nice things about Barnes right now? Oh right, yeah.
But really, that’s the thing about Barnes: If you overanalyze, think too hard and try to peg him as everything he’s capable of being (like we have as college basketball fans for the last two years), well, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. He will never, ever live up to the billing that preceded him coming out of high school. For the most part, that’s not his fault.
However, if you put Barnes into his proper context, I think he has become slightly underrated, actually.
To explain, let me again reference that weird Chad Ford/Stephen A. Smith/Skip Bayless preview show (To which I’ve got to ask: Do Bayless and Smith have to argue over EVERYTHING? Was it written into the Constitution and I missed it or something? Why are they always on my TV??). On the show, I actually thought Smith brought up a really good point on Barnes. I don’t remember the direct quote, but essentially this is what Smith said:
(cue Stephen A. Smith voice):
Do I think Harrison Baaaaahhnnes is a future Hall of Famer? NO! NO I DO NOT! But can he be a GOOD NBA player, who averages 18-20 points a game and makes a few All-Stahhh teams? Yes, I ABSOLUTELY DO… think that.
As much as I hate to admit it, I actually think Stephen A. might be onto something.
Look, we’ve already spent the last two years arguing about what Barnes can’t do. We already know that. But if we just focus on what he can do- even as minimal as it may be- realize that he will get better, and realize that he does have the size and skill to be a good (if not great) NBA player, then all of a sudden this pick isn’t looking quite so bad.The “I Know I Watch A Lot of College Basketball… But You’re On Your Own On This One” Guy: Damian Lillard
Look, I love college basketball, and honestly do try to watch as much as I can. But there are only so many hours in my day, and so many days in my week, and if I tried to squeeze “more Weber State basketball” into everything I’m already doing, well, there’s a chance I’d never actually leave my house from November to April. That might be good for this draft preview, but not necessarily for my social life. Or sanity.
So what’s my point in all this? Just that if you’re looking for some hard-hitting analysis on Lillard, well, I’m sorry but you’ll have to go somewhere else.
I’m sure he had a good season last year. I’m sure he’ll make a fine pro. I’m just not really the person to ask about it.
The Guy Most Likely To Get A GM Fired: Austin Rivers
I know, I know, the obvious choice here is Perry Jones. I get that. At the same time, given that my initial reaction to hearing that Rivers had declared for the draft earlier this spring was actually to say, “Well, I look forward to seeing the GM of whatever team selects Austin Rivers working full-time for ESPN within a year,” I think it’s only appropriate that he gets the nod here.
Regardless, the more I think about it, the more I can’t think of one good reason any team in the NBA should consider drafting Rivers within the first 20 or so picks (well, unless Doc Rivers is trying to give his wife an extra special early birthday present or something). Again, I watched Rivers all year (because, well, Duke games are kind of hard to miss), and if you want a scouting report, here goes: Rivers is an undersized, overegoed (yes, I just made that word up) shooting guard trapped in a point guard’s body, who also has no concept of how to play under control or in the context of a team game. Offensively he can score, but it is almost always as he goes one-on-one against three defenders, while his four teammates look on.
But other than that, Rivers really is a great prospect!! (Anyone sensing some thinly veiled sarcasm here?)
And maybe the worst part is it’s not like Rivers has the size and strength to make up for some of his selfishness. He’s generously listed at 6’4 (again, he plays more like he’s maybe 6’2) and weighs about as much as a Slovenian supermodel, meaning frankly, I have no idea how he plans to score in the pros. He’s a good (but not great) shooter, and isn’t strong enough to finish in the paint. And while he does have a nice crossover, is that going to work against NBA point guards? Maybe once in a while, but not like it did at the high school or college level.
Point being, unless I was drafting in the last few slots of the first round… or was actively trying to get fired, I would stay away from Rivers.
The Guy Most Likely To Get A GM A Fat Raise: Terrence Jones
Again, I’m not saying I watch more college basketball than anyone… but I do watch more than most. And the idea that Jones has dropped out of the Top 15 of most people’s mock drafts is truly one of the most head-scratching things I can imagine. I mean seriously, does anyone follow college basketball anymore? This was a guy who at one point last year (admittedly it was very early) was believed to be Kentucky’s best player and a guy who was playing well enough in the NCAA Tournament where I thought he could sneak into the Top 5 of the draft. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s headed the other way, despite being one of the dozen or so most talented players available this year.
So if you draft Jones, what are you getting? Only a tireless worker around the basket (something that was developed the last half of last season), a great rebounder, and a guy, who at 6’9 can both take you off the dribble, and hit a step-back, 15-foot jumper.
Maybe most importantly, Jones is one of the few guys in this draft who has faced real adversity in his career. It wasn’t all that long ago that Jones was the butt of every college basketball fan’s jokes, and a daily headache for John Calipari. And it was also then and there where Jones could’ve said, “Ehh, screw it, I’m about to get paid in a few months, who cares?” Instead, he went to work, changed his game and became one of the most important pieces of Kentucky’s title run this spring.
Whoever ends up with Jones is getting themselves an absolute steal, especially if it’s outside the Top 15.
The Guy Who Will Get Drafted 10 Spots Too Low… Only To Go On and Average 18 Points a Game for the Spurs within Three Years: Jared Sullinger
So seriously, when reports first started to surface that Sullinger’s back was acting up and he was slowly slipping down team’s draft boards, did anyone have the same reaction as I did? Essentially, “Well, now he’s going to fall 10 spots down the draft board, the Spurs are going to snatch him up, and he’s going to average 18 points a game for them within a couple years?” It happened last year with Kawhi Leonard. It happened three years ago with DeJuan Blair. And it’s going to happen again with Sullinger; if not for the Spurs, than someone else.
Forget his back for a second, and just realize that Sullinger is one of the most complete, most fundamentally sound big men to enter the league in a long time. His athleticism isn’t totally there, and if the rumors on the back or true, well I’d understand why some would want to stay away. But for whomever drafts him they’ll be getting a steal. I expect him to be in the league for a very long time.
The “I Don’t Care What His Height, Weight and Vertical Leap Are… Just Draft the Guy!!!” Guy: Kendall Marshall
In the same way that Terrence Jones’ draft stock appears to be slipping for no good reason, so too appears to be Marshall’s. To which I again ask… DOES ANYONE WATCH COLLEGE BASKETBALL ANYMORE!!!!!!
Because if they did, well, they would’ve seen that Marshall is one of the best passing point guards to come out of the sport in a long time, a guy with a keen eye, soft touch and who can fit his passes into the tiniest of spaces. He averaged just under 10 assists a game last season (a truly insane number for a college player), averaged six as a freshman (despite not starting for basically half the season) and someone who would’ve gone down as one of the leading assist guys in NCAA history if he’d stuck around college for two more years. He was that consistently good. Let’s also not forget that for all the talk that Marshall was helped by the talent around him, is it possible that it was more likely the other way around? Would Tyler Zeller and John Henson be getting discussed as lottery picks if they’d played with any point guard besides Marshall? I’m honestly not sure.
And oh by the way, isn’t the NBA now a point guard league? Haven’t we learned that if you don’t have an elite point guard (or in the case of Miami, at least an elite ball-handler), you’re not going very far in the playoffs? So why are so many teams seemingly willing to pass to Marshall? Why is he in the 20’s in most mock drafts?
Look, I know the guy isn’t an elite athlete. I know he doesn’t wow you in workouts. But turn on the tape, the guy can ball. Frankly I can’t understand why anyone who needs a point guard would consider passing on him.
The “Call Me Crazy, But I’m Talking Myself Into Him As A Sleeper” Guy: Fab Melo
I know, I know, it sounds crazy. And had you asked me a year ago, I would’ve told you I was more likely to follow Cher on a city-to-city concert tour than ever say a single nice thing about Fab Melo. But times change and people change, and I hate to admit it…but I kind of like Melo as a marginally good NBA player.
Will he ever be great? Of course not. Not even close. At the same time, he’s a legit 7’1 (something that’s a rare commodity right now), and while he’ll probably never fully get there offensively, he is a guy who you can plug into your second team, and who can defend the rim, block shots and rebound. Heck, if Aaron Gray (the stiffest stiff who ever lived) can stick around the NBA for seven or eight years now in the same role, why can’t Melo? On the right team, I could see him having value for a long time.
The “Second Rounder Who Should Be A First Rounder” Guy: John Jenkins
Yeah, I already know what you’re going to say: “But Aaron, John Jenkins only has one elite skill!” I get that, I do. Except the thing is, that one skill is really, really elite.
How elite? Well, Jenkins led the NCAA in three’s last year (129) as well as attempts (288), but what was really impressive was that despite that high volume of threes, he still shot a staggering 44 percent behind the arc. And that was with every defense gearing up to stop him. Add in a 53 percent shooting percent from inside the 3-point line and 84 percent from the line, and I firmly believe Jenkins will score in the pros.
Beyond that, let me ask this question: We keep hearing that a bunch of teams covet Bradley Beal in large part because of his ability to shoot the three. Except wouldn’t you rather use that pick on someone more valuable (Drummond, Kidd-Gilchrist, whoever else is available) and try to get Jenkins 20 picks later? Isn’t it at least worth considering?
Granted, I understand that Jenkins might not have the upside of Beal or some other shooting guards in the draft, but I can promise you this: He’ll be in the league for a very long time.
The “He May Never Be Great, But He Will Be Better Than People Expect” Guy: Jeremy Lamb
Please understand that this isn’t my UConn homerism talking. I swear. But what I can tell you is that I watched every college game Lamb ever played, and he can score in just about every way you want a shooting guard to be able to. He can hit the three, take people off the dribble, hit a step back jumper, you name it, he can do it. To put it a different way, Lamb has the offensive game that we’ve always wanted Harrison Barnes to have.. As a matter of fact, I just looked it up: Lamb averaged more points (17.7 to 17.4) in a tougher league (the Big East) on fewer shots (521 to 454) last year than Barnes did. If he had Barnes’ size (or more importantly) if Barnes had his skill-set, I think we’d be talking about that player as the clear-cut No. 2 selection in this year’s draft.
Quickly, here are some other guys I like, and a few I don’t:
Likes: Dion Waiters; Jeffery Taylor; Tyshawn Taylor; Doron Lamb; Darius Johnson-Odom; Drew Gordon
Guys I don’t like: Terrence Ross; Moe Harkless; Quincy Miller
See you tonight!
I’ll be live tweeting @Aaron_Torres all evening long! See you there!
@Aaron_Torres also how about Darius Miller. Most college STARS play role positions, but he played role and will continue to do well in NBA
@Aaron_Torres MKG encompasses everything Barnes COULD be because of his intangibles that you mentioned.