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Which NBA teams worked the draft and which ones called in sick?
With the NBA Draft in the rear view and a little time to digest the selections, here are the selections of which teams did their homework and which ones had theirs eaten by the dog.
Washington Wizards—Jan Vesely (picked at No. 6) looks more prepared to be an NBA contributor than any of the three players picked ahead of him. The praise for his athleticism is already off the charts, and analysts already expect his fast breaks with John Wall to be poetry in motion. That may not occur immediately, but Vesely will be a steady presence sooner than Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, and certainly Jonas Valanciunas. Chris Singleton (No. 18) was the draft’s highest-rated defensive player, and the Wizards desperately need someone with a jones for the grunt work. Add Shelvin Mack as a caddy for Wall and occasional small-ball off-guard, and the Wizards found three players with definite roles to play on next season’s roster. Most teams struggled to find one.
Utah Jazz—While I’m still not sold on taking a guy at No. 3 who’s been cooling his heels for over a year, Enes Kanter seems a solid prospect. His defensive ability should still be in question, as scouts are iffy on it based on high-school and Turkish league tape, and NBA defense is a whole different animal. The Jazz already have a big man who can’t play defense, and you can call him Al. (Cue Chevy Chase trumpet solo.) At No. 12, the Jazz got a potential high-potency scorer in Alec Burks, who could be a 20-PPG player if he works to improve his shot. Even if he doesn’t, Gordon Hayward should see lots of open looks off of Burks drives.
Denver Nuggets—Kenneth Faried got onto a lot of people’s radar screens after making people who picked Louisville to lose their first 2011 NCAA Tournament game look like geniuses, this writer included. Then, he proceeded to slip down the draft board as people wondered if he could do anything aside from rebound. Considering a guy who brought little but rebounding, defense and energy (okay, and he looked decent in a wedding dress) just got voted to the Hall of Fame, taking a guy like Faried at No. 22 is good business. The Nugs can afford to play hardball with Wilson Chandler, a restricted free agent, after also parlaying the grumpy Ray Felton into Texas gunner Jordan Hamilton. The one big issue with Hamilton will be to remind him that sometimes there is such a thing as a bad shot, since he appears to have no clue in that area.
Boston Celtics—This may be the thinly veiled bias of a lifelong Purdue fan, but the additions of Boilermaker seniors JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore fit very well into Boston’s team concept. The Celtics have a top-heavy salary structure and many spots to fill after free agency, so they needed players who could make the team at inexpensive rates. Johnson would get broken in half inside, but he could make a fine stretch four to reduce rebounding competition for Jermaine O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, and Glen Davis. Moore will be unlikely to ever start an NBA game, but if he can pick up the nuances of the pro point guard position, he could be a serviceable backup for Rajon Rondo.
Miami Heat—Norris Cole played at Cleveland State, and that is the sole reason he was still available at No. 28. Give the Heat credit for making a move to ensure they could get him in the fold. With this addition, the Heat would look more likely to retain Mike Bibby as a mentor than to shell out large coin to keep restricted free agent Mario Chalmers. Either way, Cole should be a starter in two years, and if he improves his shooting, he should benefit immensely from defenses ignoring anyone on the court not named Wade, James or Bosh.
Los Angeles Lakers—It’s hard to convince people you had a good draft without scoring one of the glam prospects in the first round, but the Lakers really did well on the cheap. Darius Morris may be the only point guard in the draft who’s ready to actually be a point guard in the NBA right now. He’ll have a couple of years to learn veteran tricks from Derek Fisher. Andrew Goudelock is a conscience-free gunner who could provide instant offense off the bench. Think Eddie House or Boobie Gibson.
Toronto Raptors—You’re an NBA general manager who’s presided over his team losing one of the three biggest players his team has ever had. Your residual goodwill from your 2007 NBA Executive of the Year award has rapidly dwindled, and calls for your job are beginning to ring among what remains of your fan base. What do you do? If you’re Bryan Colangelo, apparently you play Nero and keep fiddling while Rome burns. Jonas Valanciunas could be the best player out of this draft in three or four years. Or, judging by the way he played against what little strong competition he found in Europe, he could flop. He averaged 8.2 fouls and 3.8 turnovers per 40 minutes in Euroleague play last season, so he’s still very raw. He would have made a decent selection for Utah at No. 3, a team that can afford to wait for him. Toronto, however, is not Utah, and they needed help now.
New York Knicks—Drafting a defensive specialist at No. 17 is a decent idea, unless you’re trying to sell said defensive specialist as your point guard of the future. Iman Shumpert was so underwhelming as a floor general in college that he was made the scapegoat for teammate Derrick Favors’ slow start and inconsistent play. Later, he simply took over the entire offense and began raining shots regardless of spot or defense. He’ll have one year to work under Chauncey Billups, and perhaps not even that depending on the length of the lockout. Oh, and they also bought a guy who’s most famous for having the nickname “Jorts.” Josh Harrellson was, for my money, the most important piece toward Kentucky’s Final Four run last season, but in the NBA, he’ll be six fouls a game and little more. Meh.
Memphis Grizzlies—The front office has apparently bought into Lionel Hollins’ ability to contain and mentor headcases. Josh Selby might have been able to own high school talent, but he couldn’t even pretend to be motivated to handle college ball, let alone the life of a college student. An ego-tripping player with knee issues is a major red flag, since there’s always the risk that he’ll try to milk that injury into a few months of free paychecks. If Hollins gets this guy to play as much within a team concept as he did Zach Randolph and O.J. Mayo, it may be time for the coach to go work for the United Nations, since he may just have all the secrets for world peace. Thankfully, the pick was mid-second-round, so the risk involved in simply waiving Selby in camp is non-existent.
Cleveland Cavaliers—Yep, that just happened. I will continue to maintain my stance that a No. 1 pick should have a little more of a resume than 11 games and a near-terminal toe injury. Kyrie Irving played a selfish brand of basketball when he came back for the NCAA Tournament, then showed up fat and content at draft measurements. He’s expected to be a top-10 point guard in the league, so let’s see it. No. 4 pick Tristan Thompson is a roughneck rebounder and defender, but less than 50 percent at the foul line means that he’ll need to check out at about the five-minute mark if the Cavs want to win any close games. And they need all the help they can get in that regard.