This is our third stab at projecting this draft and things remain in a state of flux, particularly at the top. Once again this week, new information came to light that altered some of our thinking about the lottery. Some of it helped paint a clearer picture of what teams might be planning to do and some of it made things much more opaque. We’ve been digesting it all and, even though it’s difficult to do a projection without really knowing who’s going to be picking second (we don’t think it will be Memphis), we’re going to try and churn out a mock that hopefully makes some sense. So here goes:
1. LA Clippers – Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma. Nothing new doing at the tippy top. We occasionally encounter a rumor that the Clippers would entertain offers on this pick, but we’re not buying it.
2. Memphis Grizzlies – Ricky Rubio, PG, DKV Joventut. In our past mocks, we’ve declined to try to project trades, and we’re not going to do that this time either. Nevertheless, we’ve come to believe that 2 is the Ricky Rubio spot in this draft. He’s very likely not going to be a Grizzly, and if they do select him they’re probably doing it as part of a deal they’d subsequently complete with another team but, however it shakes out, we think the Grizzlies are going to maximize the value that Rubio represents here. Who’s their trading partner? Sacramento? Washington? Golden State? New York? Who knows? But whoever it is, if they’re trading up to 2, it’s going to be because they want Rubio.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder – James Harden, G, Arizona State. In our last mock, we discussed how Bill Ingram of Hoopsworld had reported that the Thunder were smokescreening on their interest in Harden and USC wing Demar DeRozan. We were tempted to believe the smokescreen and give the Thunder Harden, but resisted since teams rarely telegraph their interest in a player. Since then, reports have emerged that Harden had a poor workout with the Thunder and that they’d cooled on him as a result. Now that sounds like a classic smokescreen to us. So this time we’re trusting our collective gut and giving them Harden. He’s the best player available and a great fit on their team.
4. Sacramento Kings – Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona. Steve Kyler of Hoopsworld reported the other day that there’s a pretty decent chance that the Grizzlies are going to be the team doing the picking here (meaning that the Kings have traded up to 2 for Rubio) and, if that’s the case, Hill makes a lot of sense as the Grizz are in dire need of an athletic big to pair with Marc Gasol. That said, there’s a lot of rumors swirling that, if Memphis were to trade back to 4, they’d take local product Tyreke Evans and use him as part of a three guard rotation with Conley and Mayo. Of course, Thabeet has to be viewed as a possibility here as well, considering how often he’s been connected to the Grizzlies in recent weeks. So why Hill? Because we’re not projecting trades and Kyler also reported that, if the Kings stay put here, Hill would probably be their pick. Hope that cleared things up.
5. Washington Wizards – Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn. The Wizards are still more likely to trade this pick than make it, and it’s even possible that they may look to blow up their core if the right deal comes along, but for now we’re going to project Thabeet here. As we said in our second mock, as presently constructed, the Wizards’ biggest need is a big man who can rebound and defend the paint. Those are Thabeet’s strengths and he comes with the added bonus of being able to impact the game without ever needing the ball on offense (and probably being better off without it).
6. Minnesota Timberwolves – Tyreke Evans, G, Memphis. In our first two mocks we threw Harden to the Wolves even though we felt pretty strongly that, on draft night, he wasn’t going to be around at 6. This time Harden’s gone and we’re putting Evans here (whom the Wolves are rumored to be very high on) even though we believe that he too could very well could be gone a couple of picks before this. We think Minnesota is in the market for wings and guards and, if Evans is off the board, Demar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday and Steph Curry would all be factors here.
7. Golden State Warriors – Terrence Williams, G/F, Louisville. We can guess what you’re probably thinking right about now (“What the #$!@ ?!?”), but here’s the thing: the Warriors are the most dysfunctional organization in the entire NBA and right now it’s next to impossible to project what they’re going to do. That said, we took a lap around the various national and local news outlets that cover the Warriors and the consensus at the moment is that the Warriors (and Don Nelson in particular) are very, very high on Williams. (Incidentally, Alan Hahn of Newsday projected Williams to the Warriors in one of his mocks this week and we thought that was way too high. So hat tip to Alan because he saw this very early.) For those of you familiar with Nellie’s history, you’ll surely know that he is infatuated with the concept of the point-forward (think Chris Mullin during Nelson’s first go-around in Golden State and, of course, we can never, ever forget Nellie’s tragic and ill-fated decision to run the Knicks’ offense through Anthony Mason). Nelson apparently views Williams in a similar vein. Do we believe Williams would be a good choice this high? Absolutely not. Do we believe the Warriors would draft him here? Absolutely.
Warriors outlets are also reporting that the team is high on Demar DeRozan who, in our opinion, would make much more sense at 7. Appropriately enough, though most believe the Warriors need a playmaking PG, at the moment they appear to have no workouts scheduled with any of the PGs projected to be taken in the lottery.
8. New York Knicks – Stephen Curry, G, Davidson. At the start of each of these mocks we’ve promised we wouldn’t simply project Curry here just because we want the Knicks to select him. We were careful once again not to do that but once again here he is. Just like before, we’re not at all confident that Curry’s actually going to be available at 8 on draft night but, at the same time, we haven’t seen much of anything anywhere (beyond pure speculation) attaching Curry to one of the teams in the top 7. Moreover, Curry is telling anyone who’ll listen that his desire is to play here in New York.
We think the Kings, Wizards, Wolves, Warriors and Thunder (if they traded back from 3) could all conceivably be interested in Curry and a team like the Bobcats or Blazers could swing a deal to move up. All these things could happen. Ultimately though, we still think Curry is going to be there at 8 and that he’s going to be a Knick (and yes, we still think the Knicks prefer him to Jrue Holiday).
9. Toronto Raptors – Demar DeRozan, G/F, USC. The Raptors are in the market for an athletic wing who can create off the dribble and defend. Just 19, DeRozan will probably need some seasoning (though his athleticism might allow him to make some sort of contribution right away), but he’s a high-upside player who fills their need and, with Evans and Harden off the board, the Raptors won’t let him get past them.
10. Milwaukee Bucks – Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse. With the Bucks apparently now facing the reality that they’re going to lose both Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions, a buzz is building that they’re prioritizing PG in the draft. In this scenario with Holiday sliding down the board the Bucks have a tough choice. We’re very aware that Holiday has been steadily rising through this process and that he’s a candidate to be taken as high as 4. But we still think Flynn is the pick for the Bucks and that Skiles is going to love him.
11. New Jersey Nets – DeJuan Blair, PF, Pittsburgh. Rod Thorn has been quoted that the Nets are shopping for “a moose” this offseason to pair with Brooke Lopez. In the past several days we’ve seen rumors linking the Nets to Carlos Boozer, but they don’t have cap space and probably don’t have the pieces to swing a sign and trade with the Jazz. Blair is the biggest moose in this draft. This week news emerged that Blair had undergone several knee surgeries in high school and it appeared his draft stock could take a tumble. However, it seems that NBA teams have known about these issues for quite some time and, considering that Blair has had absolutely no issues with his knees since high school, this probably won’t scare the Nets off. If the Nets did pass on Blair, Earl Clark and James Johnson both fit here as well.
12. Charlotte Bobcats – Jrue Holiday, G, UCLA. In our first mock we had Holiday going here to the Bobcats. Then, with his stock apparently soaring, in our second mock we projected Holiday going to the Kings all the way up at 4. Holiday is a talented young player with an intriguing upside but he hasn’t shown much at all to this point that woud assure teams that he’ll be able to run point in the NBA. While it remains entirely possible that Holiday is drafted way before this, in this scenario we’re sending him back to the Bobcats again. His size, versatility and commitment to defense make him a good fit here.
13. Indiana Pacers – Earl Clark, F, Louisville. In our last projection we had Clark rising all the way to 7 to the Warriors on the basis of his outstanding measurements at the combine but we’ve come to believe that we had him slotted too high. (In fact, this may still be too high but we have a hard time believing a player with Clark’s size and potential won’t go in the lottery.) Clark’s rep is that he’s a nice kid but a bit of a follower and, for him to thrive, he’s going to have to go to team with strong leadership and diligent professionals. The Warriors are pretty much the exact opposite of that but the Danny Granger-led Pacers are a solid group. The Pacers are looking for a dynamic, athletic big man to pair with Granger and Clark’s upside is enormous.
14. Phoenix Suns – Brandon Jennings, PG, Lottomatica Roma. Considering the age of their roster and their financial issues, the Suns could take a swing for fences. At this point the Suns are surely contemplating life after Steve Nash. Like Clark, Jennings is another player with a huge upside and he’s drawn comparisons to Kenny Anderson and Suns legend Kevin Johnson.
15. Detroit Pistons – James Johnson, PF, Wake Forest. The Pistons are in the market for size and bulk (though they’re probably hoping to address that need in free agency) and Johnson has enough versatility to play both forward spots. Austin Daye could be a factor here too, even though he’s probably a few years and 30 lbs away from making a contribution as a pro. The Pistons could also potentially put this pick up for sale.
16. Chicago Bulls – Tyler Hansbrough, PF, UNC. Hansbrough is a player whose stock is rumored to be on the rise after he measured and tested far better than anyone expected he would at the draft combine. The Bulls are said to be one of the teams that’s high on Psycho-T and he does feel like a John Paxson type of pick. Truth be told, we’ve never been big Hansbrough fans here but we’re coming around just a little. If Hansbrough tries in the NBA to bull his way down low and hoist shots in traffic as he did for much of his college career, with that 27.5 inch no step vertical, we don’t think he’s going to find much success. However, at the combine Hansbrough tested out taller, faster, and quicker than anyone realized. He needs to make some alterations to his game but he can run the floor, is developing a nice face-up game and he’s tenacious. If developed and used properly, he could perhaps turn out to be a poor man’s David West.
17. Philadelphia 76ers – Eric Maynor, PG, Virginia Commonwealth. Aging PG Andre Miller is a free agent and, even if they bring him back, the Sixers don’t have a capable backup/long-term replacement on the roster. 17 always comes down to Maynor versus Lawson for us. Maynor is the pick because we think he’s the better player. We’ll find out if NBA teams agree.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves – BJ Mullens, C, Ohio State. In our first mock we projected Mullens to go here and we’re putting him back here this time around. With their first pick, the Wolves found a perfect fit to address their needs on the wing and in the backcourt in Tyreke Evans. Here, they can afford to take a chance on Mullens’ considerable upside. It’s been rumored that the Wolves may also look to trade their picks here and at 28.
19. Atlanta Hawks – Ty Lawson, PG, UNC. Mike Bibby’s a free agent and even if he re-signs, there doesn’t appear to be a capable backup on the roster. At 19, the Hawks take a worthwhile gamble that Lawson’s terrific production at the college level will translate to the pros.
20. Utah Jazz – Austin Daye, F, Gonzaga. Daye is one of the toughest players to project because, on the one hand, he’s among the most talented players in this draft but, on other hand, at this point he’s just too frail and weak to make an impact. Drafting Daye is a long-term investment and Utah boasts the kind of depth and continuity that a team needs to take a player like that. The Jazz could also be in the market for a guard/wing that can knock down shots so Jeff Teague, Chase Budinger and Wayne Ellington could be factors here.
21. New Orleans Hornets – Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke. Henderson’s yet another guy who fared well at the combine and wouldn’t seem likely to be available this late. Still, he’s a perfect fit with the Hornets as an athletic 2 who can finish in transition, has a developing jump shot, and shows some surprising ability to create shots for his teammates. Gani Lawal would make some sense here as well.
22. Dallas Mavericks – Chase Budinger, G/F, Arizona. Josh Howard struggled to stay healthy this season and, in his absence, the Mavs showed that they’re a little thin on wings. Budinger would be a nice compliment to what Howard and Antione Wright already offer and he’d be good insurance in case Howard has more trouble with injuries. Jeff Teague, Darren Collison, and Patrick Mills could be considerations as well.
23. Sacramento Kings – Jeff Teague, G, Wake Forest. Teague appears to be sliding (though he still could go as high as 13) and yesterday it was reported that he’d strained his MCL and will have to shut down his workouts for the next 10 days. Teague still hasn’t hired an agent but it seems the injury won’t lead him to immediately withdraw from the draft. It’s rumored that his preference is to stay in provided he can secure a promise somewhere in the neighborhood of the top 20. The Kings were rumored to have nearly swung a trade for Nate Robinson at this season’s deadline and Teague is a high scoring combo guard cut from similar (albeit taller) cloth.
24. Portland Trailblazers – Gani Lawal, PF, Georgia Tech. After the Blazers’ season ended, Brandon Roy stated his belief that the team needed an athletic big who could rebound and run the floor. Lawal’s a great fit for that job description. We had him here in our first mock and we’re not really sure why we changed our minds. That said, the Blazers’ preference would be to add a veteran difference maker at PG or SF and this pick could very well be used in a trade to get one.
25. Oklahoma City Thunder – Omri Casspi, F, Maccabi Tel-Aviv. Casspi is a tough, gritty forward in the Nocioni mold with the size and athleticism to play both the 3 and the 4. He’d be a perfect reserve behind Green and Durant and provide even greater versatility to an already versatile front line.
26. Chicago Bulls – Sam Young, F, Pittsburgh. The Bulls are said to be looking for a wing who can rotate between the 2 and the 3. Young actually entered Pitt as an interior player but has expanded his perimeter game to the point that he’s a very capable 3. He’s also a strong defender. The past two seasons Luol Deng has played in 63 and 49 games, respectively. Young would be insurance. DuJuan Summers makes sense here too.
27. Memphis Grizzlies - DuJuan Summers, F, Georgetown. The Knicks have evidently offered to purchase this pick from the Grizzlies for $3 million and it wouldn’t surprise us at all if the Grizzlies do ultimately trade or sell this pick. The Grizzlies passed on the Knicks’ offer for now, probably because they’re waiting to see if they can use this pick as ammo in a bigger trade. If they keep it, Summers makes sense as a versatile forward with excellent size who can replace Hakeem Warrick as a sub at the 3 and 4. (If the Knicks are able to acquire this pick or a different one in the 20s, we bet the plan is to use it on UNC wing Danny Green.)
28. Minnesota Timberwolves – Darren Collison, PG, UCLA. The T’Wolves get a floor general to run the show. Collison is a terrific on the ball defender, competent distributor and is ready to help right away. Patrick Mills is a possibility here too.
29. Los Angeles Lakers – Nick Calathes, PG, Florida. Phil Jackson loves his big point guards. Of course, it’s been rumored that Phil’s retiring after the finals so all bets are off. That said, Calathes makes some sense as a long-term investment that the Lakers can stash overseas for now and see if he develops into a viable replacement for Derek Fisher at the point. Florida State PG Toney Douglas has received some buzz here as well.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers – Danny Green, G/F, UNC. Chad Ford wrote last week that numerous GMs at the combine identified Green as an underrated player, but that he’d yet to encounter one who was actually considering taking Green in the first round. We still haven’t seen a mock besides ours that projects Green in the first round but for now we’re going with our gut. The Cavs were eliminated by Orlando in large part because they lacked players with enough size and athletic ability to defend Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu on the wings. At 6’6 1/2 Green isn’t quite as big as those guys but he’s got long arms, he’s a tenacious defender, a reliable 3 point shooter and he’s one of the few players in this draft who might be ready to contribute to a championhip caliber team as a a rookie.