Friday, June 26, 2009

2009 NBA Draft Musings

Well, I don't know that any NBA championships of the 2010s or beyond were decided last night, but it was a pretty fun evening nonetheless.

It's so hard to even determine any winners and losers, when the final destinations of key players like Ricky Rubio and Stephen Curry still seem to be up in the air.

Here are some of our random musings from NBA Draft Night 2009:

- It was a great night for kids from Southern California. Three top 10 picks hail from L.A. (Harden, DeRozan, Jennings) and four more Southland products were picked in the first 31 (Daye - 15, Holiday - 17, Collison - 21, Pendergraph - 31).

- Staying on the West Coast tip, it was the second consecutive strong Draft night for the Pac-10, which produced 3 of the top 9 picks, and 7 of the top 31. This is after the conference dominated the 2008 Draft class with 5 of the top 11 (Mayo, Westbrook, Love, B. Lopez, Bayless) and 7 of the top 21, not to mention second-round steal Luc Mbah a Moute.

- The ACC actually led the way in terms of first-round picks by major conference, even though the first ACC player was not picked until 12 (Henderson):
    ACC: 7
    Pac-10: 6
    Big East: 4
    Big 12: 2
    Big Ten: 1
    SEC: 0
The Big East gets extra credit for having 4 of the first 7 guys picked in the second round.

What a disaster for the Big Ten, which did not see a player selected until project center B.J. Mullens at 24, and the SEC, which did not have a player selected until 41 (Jodie Meeks)!

- My gut is that the story of this draft in five years time may well be about how many teams passed up point guards Ricky Rubio, Brandon Jennings, and Ty Lawson, all of whom went too low, in my opinion.

I have Rubio rated as the no. 2 prospect, even with concerns about his ability to score, and I think that Oklahoma City and Sacramento may regret passing on him down the road (I'm excluding Memphis and Washington from the trail of tears only because my sense is that Rubio would have used his leverage to go elsewhere, as I believe he'll do now).

I respect the basketball minds of Sam Presti and Kevin Pelton as much as anyone's, so it makes me nervous when I differ with them, but I have to say I'm not exceptionally high on James Harden.

I watched Harden play three times: vs. Washington, in the disastrous NCAA Tournament loss to Syracuse, and then recently in a game vs. Arizona that I had saved up on the DVR, mainly because I wanted to give the guy another chance.

There's a lot I appreciate about Harden: strength, wingspan, ability to draw fouls, court vision. I understand where the Brandon Roy comparisons come from, in terms of being guys a little under the radar from the Pac-10 with sneaky athleticism and good basketball IQ in general. But on a certain level, I don't get the comparisons at all. Harden is a much less efficient player than Roy across the board. On top of that, Roy has always been such an assertive player who's controlled his team's offensive decisions, whereas Harden has been much more passive in the games I watched.

He did not step up and take charge in any of the three games I saw, even though ASU desperately needed him to do so each time - he just kind of drifted through the games offensively. In the Arizona game, his numbers looked good: 7-12 FG, including 3-6 3PT, but all 3 threes were created by others, wide-open shots because of a brain-dead Arizona zone, and another was an easy dunk inside off of a nice assist. Harden didn't really create any offense for himself, though he did create some open shots for others. I will note that he did rebound and pass well when I saw him, though he is also a high-TO player - Arizona knocked the ball out of his hands on several occasions.

Harden's defense was somewhat amusing to me. For all the talk about how no one's been able to see Brandon Jennings play, every time I watched him for Roma, I saw a guy who got out and pressured the ball defensively, scrapping against smart guards in pick-and-rolls and pro-style sets.

Meanwhile, I watched Harden basically stand on the elbow all day in Arizona State's zone - there were several possessions against Arizona where he literally did not move from one spot! I feel like I have essentially no information about Harden's defensive ability, though he does seem to get his hands on a lot of balls, aided by his wingspan.

Ultimately, while Harden has some definite plusses to his game, I have a hard time seeing him as too much more than Just A Guy as an NBA shooting guard. We'll see.

I would have gone with Rubio and tried to make it work with Westbrook. If nothing else, those guys - along with Thabo Sefolosha - had the potential to be a hugely disruptive defensive force on the perimeter. And geez, Kevin Durant's so good that he could still probably average 30 going 1-on-3 with no shooters to space the floor!

But, I don't know, as a Seattle resident who loves the game, I think that a Rubio-Durant combo in OKC might have driven me to weep, so it's probably for the best.

Oh, and, I also watched the UA-ASU game to get another look at Jordan Hill. Without getting too deep into it, he's another guy who has some interesting abilities but seems pretty much like Just A Guy on the NBA level - New York would have been better served with Jennings, Lawson or others.

- As far as Sacramento... man, so close to a great night. I really liked the trade which brought them Sergio Rodriguez for an exchange of the 31/38 picks. I know that the Portland management and fan base is down on the guy at this point, but he still just turned 23 and was 7th in the league in assists per minute last season. I realize that there are some significant weaknesses in terms of shooting, defense and turnovers, but I still think there's a world of potential here, which may be unleashed by changing coaches from Sarge McMillan to Paul Westphal. Sergio's game is just not suited for the coach who plays at the slowest pace in the league.

Still, even though I like Evans and Casspi, I would have preferred Rubio and Blair for Sac. In any event, 10 years after White Chocolate hit Sacto, it's time for some Spanish Chocolate. If Serge and Tyreke can get things going, this team has some serious late-night League Pass potential if nothing else, which can hopefully start to draw the league's best fans back to Arco.

- I think our other thoughts about the best value picks of the night are consistent with others: certainly DeJuan Blair for San Antonio at 37 and Lawson to Denver at 18. And I also like Jennings to Milwaukee at 10. Also liked Calathes to Dallas and Green to Cleveland down in the second round.

We thought that Portland and Houston really missed a golden opportunity to grab Blair for absolutely no risk at the top of the second round. But those are two of the savviest front offices around, and they certainly saw that the numbers favored Blair, so geez Louise, that guy's MRIs must be more disturbing to look at than the Abu Ghraib photos! There just doesn't seem like another good explanation.

- One comment on the Shaq-to-Cleveland trade is that it seems to have been made specifically to counter Orlando, and most of the analysis has focused on this angle, yet the irony is that this is a team that built itself to counter Boston last year - and did so quite well! Only problem, of course, is that they didn't play Boston in the end. Cue the sad trombone. It's hard to plan for one playoff opponent because often it just don't work out like that.

- One media note: due to the early start time on the West Coast, we watched the draft via DVR, a couple hours behind, so we couldn't follow along on the internet. The increasing disparity and disconnect between the amount of information available on television and the internet in all categories - news, entertainment, sports - is increasingly striking. I logged on after the Draft and it was like I had entered a different world. For example, there was no reporting on TV, unless I missed something, about what was ultimately the story of the night: the fact that Rubio and his family had made comments that he was cold to the idea of playing in Minnesota, and that his ultimate destination seemed highly uncertain by night's end.

- The most under-reported story of this Draft cycle - by a Blake Griffin-size margin over the rest of the field - has to be the one that Tom Ziller resurfaced on Fanhouse, about how Tyreke Evans' cousin was sentenced on Tuesday to 9-20 years in prison for a drive-by shooting murder in which Evans was the driver of the car. How on Earth did this one fly so far under the radar in the modern media climate?

- In our Jennings manifesto from earlier this month, we stated that we thought there were five potential stars in this draft class: Griffin, Rubio, Jennings, Evans and DeRozan, with the caveat that DeRozan's range seemed to stretch from Vince Carter to Gerald Green. For the record, we'd like to add Earl Clark and Terrence Williams into the mix to cover our tracks, even though they are probably longer shots along the lines of DeRozan.


At 3:40 PM, Anonymous AK Dave said...

I can't believe that the Big Ten produced only 1 first-rounder... and his name is "BJ"

It's a sad day for a once-proud conference.

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