26 June 2007

NBA Draft Preview/Mock

This Thursday, destinies will be forged. Greatness will be found... or lost. The right pick can propel a previously moribund franchise into the upper echelon, making it an instant contender; the wrong pick can derail even the most seemingly invincible of basketball dynasties.

So, at least, those who benefit from hyping up the NBA draft would have you think. Truth be told, while the draft is important, it's hardly the only way in which teams can be built or destroyed - after all, Isiah Thomas has drafted several excellent players - David Lee and Renaldo Balkman in last year's draft, for example - but the Knicks suck, while the Pistons have been built largely through free agency - of their starters, they drafted only Tayshaun Prince.

That said, the draft, when combined with deft salary cap management and prudent free-agent acquisitions, can be a significant factor in building a team. So, after a long (possibly overly long) intro, let's get to the mock. I'm just going to look at the top 11 spots - they're the most interesting, anyways. This mock assumes that there will be no trades.

1. Portland
Greg Oden, C, Ohio State
. The more or less unanimous choice; Oden is, after all, a "once-in-a-decade type player."

2. Seattle
Kevin Durant, F, Texas
. No surprise here. If Durant gets taken at #1 (as ESPN's John Hollinger tries to argue that he should be here) then Seattle will gleefully take Oden; it is interesting to note that neither Portland nor Seattle, if Portland takes Oden, will be meeting a need - Oden will be playing more or less the same position as last year's #2 overall pick LaMarcus Aldridge, while Durant will play the same position as 22.4 ppg scorer Rashard Lewis.

3. Atlanta
Mike Conley, PG, Ohio State.
My first departure from conventional wisdom. I simply can't believe that the Hawks are willing to become the Detroit Lions of basketball by taking forwards in the first round of five consecutive drafts. Conley is by far the best point guard of this draft; he has shown elite quickness, and, on a team full of swingmen, would be a terrific catalyst.

4. Memphis
Al Horford, PF, Florida
. Should supply some much-needed toughness to a Memphis team that gave up the second-most points in the league and the worst field goal percentage allowed.

5. Boston
Joakim Noah, F/C, Florida.
I see Noah as a solid player in the league for a long time. He won't be a superstar, but neither will be be an absolute bust. His hustle and intelligence should be useful to a Celtics team in dire need of a big man.

6. Milwaukee
Corey Brewer, SF, Florida.
Milwaukee actually has a pretty good team right now; the addition of Brewer would more than make up for the "loss" of Ruben Patterson to free agency. If the Bucks can avoid the injury bug that hit them last year, and can resign Mo Williams, they should be a playoff team.

7. Minnesota
Spencer Hawes, C, Washington.
A big, fundamentally sound center who doesn't suck. As opposed to Mark Blount and Mark Madsen, the T-Wolves' current centers, who are undersized, lack fundamentals, and do suck.

8. Charlotte
Brandan Wright, PF, UNC.
The Bobcats are firmly in development mode, and Wright fits with that plan. Given a couple of years to develop physically - he's a bit of a stringbean right now at 6'9", 200 lbs - he could turn into a very, very good player. This is a bit of a fall from most other mock drafts, but it makes sense.

9. Chicago
Yi Jianlian, PF, China.
The Bulls, with their starting lineup more or less set, can afford to wait for Yi to mature. With as much potential as he has, it should be worth the wait.

10. Sacramento
Acie Law, G, Texas A&M.
The Kings still think that they can compete. With Mike Bibby's future up in the air, it only makes sense for them to draft a player who can step in at his spot if he decides not to return.

11. Atlanta
Jeff Green, SF, Ohio State.
And the Hawks continue their tradition, drafting another swingman. This is a simple case of "best player available", as Green has "explosive leaping ability" (what NBA swingman doesn't?) and should be a solid piece in the Hawks' continued rebuilding attempts.

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