(Enjoy this great draft analysis from nbrans. -- TZ)
NBA drafts are a heady mixture of science, art, luck, dice rolling, gut feelings, expertise, and luck. It is the place where otherwise rational people talk themselves into things like, "Yeah, Adam Morrison is slow, diabetic, and cried at a crucial moment in the NCAA tournament, but the guy can just flat out play!" and "I'm not sure if Rafael Araujo can beat a tortoise down the floor, but the guy can just flat out play!" And most importantly, it's a place where Chad Ford can ponder in his draft grades why Miami would have drafted Dwyane Wade over Maciej Lampe.
Fortunately, we have history as a guide, and history doesn't lie. As we avert our gaze from this trainwreck of a season to the happier thought of a lottery pick in June, I'm here to tell you that except for careers derailed by injuries, lottery busts fall into three categories:
Bust Category #1 (Duke Alumni Memorial): Guys who are undersized and/or unathletic, but who pundits say "can just flat out play."
Notable examples since 2000: Adam Morrison, Acie Law, JJ Redick, Shelden Williams, Ike Diogu, Sean May, Rafael Araujo, Nickoloz Tskitishvili, Jarvis Hayes, Mike Dunleavy, Marcus Fizer
Yes, a player can overcome a lack of size for their position with extraordinary athleticism and very good skills (Paul Millsap, Dwyane Wade, Nate Robinson). A player can also overcome a lack of athleticism with good size and extraordinary skills (Peja Stojakovic and shooting, Paul Pierce and midrange game, Sam Cassell and testicle dancing).
However, particularly if you are a guard or a small forward, you simply cannot overcome a lack of both athleticism and size and be a star, I don't care how skilled you are. Sorry James Harden, future NBA roleplayer.
Beware the guy that pundits love despite his lack of athleticism. These are the players about whom commentators say things like "(Negative negative negative) but the guy can just flat out play." This is the basketball equivalent of sentences that begin, "I'm not racist, but..." No matter what comes after the "but," you're absolutely a racist.
Bust Category #2 (Kwame Brown Memorial): Raw "upside" guys who don't pan out
Notable examples since 2000: Patrick O'Bryant, Saer Sene, Yaroslav Koralev, Robert Swift, Sebastian Telfair, Rodney White, Kedrick Brown, Stromile Swift, Jerome Moiso, Kwame Brown, Keyon Dooling.
This category is admittedly very difficult to parse out. How does one separate one's Joe Johnsons and Andrew Bynums from one's Kedrick Browns and Saer Senes? How does one separate his "unlimited upside potentials" from his "raw uncordinated unskilleds?"
Here are some of my basic rules of thumb.
1) Wings need to be able to shoot and dribble. You can always, always, always find athletic but unskilled 6'7" roleplayer guys who can come in off the scrap heap or the D-League and be a good defender. (No, really, Ruben Patterson's agent is standing by.) Want to draft a wing with the potential of being a star? Better make sure he can shoot and has a handle (sorry Earl Clark and Damion James).
2) Even properly sized and athletic bigs need to have good hands. This is very, very simple. Find me a successful big who doesn't have good hands. (I'll wait). Now look at the bigs on the above bust list. Notice anything?
3) Point guards and combo guards need to be very quick and have a terrific handle (mandatory) and either be able to score extremely well (Devin Harris), pass extremely well (TJ Ford), or both (Chris Paul). Can't score or pass? Your name might be Sebastian Telfair.
Bust category #3 (Michael Olowokandi Memorial): Knuckleheads and heart problems (of the motivation variety)
Notable examples since 2000: Fran Vazquez, Darko Miliciic, Mike Sweetney, Kwame Brown, Eddie Griffin
Also a tough category, because when faced with the prospect of making millions, even the most knucklesome of knuckleheads can discover their inner Rosie the Riveter. Thus, it is only the truly, epically insane and unmotivated who manage to bust because their insanity/lack of any motivation whatsoever. Note that Ron Artest has had a mainly productive career, so you actually have to be more insane than him. These heartless/insane players rarely announce themselves ahead of time, although this week I learned that Brandon Jennings is friends with noted laptop thief Marcus Williams, which raises as many red flags for me as three microfracture surgeries.
So what does this all mean for this draft halfway through a college basketball season that I am totally not obsessing over while watching every tangentially related game and in which we badly, badly need to avoid a bust?
Frankly, this draft sucks. Unlike the last few years, there is not a single prospect projected to go Top 10 this year who does not have some unsettling bust potential due to being possibly too small, possibly too unathletic, or possibly too raw. Yay.
Blake Griffin - It all comes down to height with him. Is he 6'10" (unlikely), 6'9" (maybe), 6'8" (probably) or 6'7" (hopefully not)? His bust potential increases exponentially every inch under 6'10". He's athletic, sure, and skilled, sure, and he gets his points and rebounds in bunches even if he's basically indifferent on the defensive end save for the occasional block. His game reminds me of a slightly less explosive, nonshotblocking Kenyon Martin (down to the ugly jumper that sometimes goes in) or a more skilled David Lee. Is that worth a #1 pick to you? Well, get used to it, because in this draft "slightly better than David Lee" might actually be worth a #1 pick.
Ricky Rubio - The real question with Ricky Rubio is this: if the Kings drafted him, how long would it take Ailene Voisin to write a double-entendre filled ode to his wizard-like skills? (answer: 17 minutes). The other question: is he the second coming of Jason Kidd or the second coming of Sean Livingston? Rubio is not that athletic. No, stop. It's ok to admit it. I don't care how good he is for his age. He's not that quick. Just come to terms with it and move on. Compare early Kidd videos to Rubio highlights and tell me what you see. Told you. So then the question is: do you like the idea of having the 2009 version of Jason Kidd on your roster, i.e. a good passer, yes, but a defensive liability who can't shoot? How is that working out for Dallas, and is that worth the #2 pick? (I know he's supposed to be a good defender but look: he's not exactly guarding Chris Paul over in Spain). Here's a test: go onto a message board and say "Ricky Rubio is not that athletic, I'm concerned." What will you hear? "But the guy can just flat out play." And there's your bright and shiny red flag. Maybe, maybe Rubio is enough of a basketball genius or just athletic enough to be like vintage Jason Kidd. We'll see.
Greg Monroe - The second coming of Chris Webber, or rather the second coming of Chris Webber after he blew out his knee and was never the same again. Monroe is a reasonably quick but earthbound power forward who is more comfortable taking the ball to the hoop, dropping incredible dimes, and shooting 15 footers than he is banging in the post. Sound familiar? Only, unlike even post-injury Webber he's allergic to rebounds and can be pushed around by any power forward with a hint of muscle definition. If you still want Monroe after that description, don't worry, we already have his long lost twin on our roster: his name is Spencer Hawes.
James Harden - You've heard he's like Brandon Roy, right? Well, he's not. Harden's not nearly as quick and is built like Mitch Richmond, which would be great if it were 1995, but things have changed just a tad since then, not least of which it's no longer permissible to hand check a dude to stop him from blowing by you into the lane. Harden has great all-around skills and is a very deft passer (provided he is dribbling to his left), but he's not that quick, not that tall, and I personally watched him struggle against Landry Fields to the point that Harden forearmed him in the face out of frustration. Who is Landry Fields? EXACTLY. Let's just say that when Harden is guarded by someone either bigger or more athletic than him (which would be, you know, every night in the NBA), he really really struggles.
Jrue Holiday - Oh, Jrue. Jrue, Jrue, Jrue. Where to start? Jrue has the potential to be a good defender. And that's about it for the positives. Oh, he can shoot. Sometimes. But don't believe what you've been told: he's a shaky, shaky ballhandler, and he has a very slow first step. He simply cannot create a shot for himself. Not even an embarrassing airball! He literally can't get a shot off. Jrue is very young and might get better someday, perhaps even this season. Until that time, he's all hype, no results.
Jordan Hill - What's not to like, right? 6'10", averaging 18/11, big and strong, looks like an NBA power forward... so why am I not more excited about him? Mainly because I feel like Hill is the guy who does just enough to tantalize you with his skills and potential so you end up getting excited, only in the end he doesn't quite deliver and you wind up even more disappointed than if he had shown nothing to begin with. Hill isn't a great shotblocker and he doesn't do the little things. He gets his points and rebounds because he's a big and strong college power forward, but it all adds up to less than the sum of the parts. He's not a Chris Wilcox-level athlete, and while he's reasonably coordinated around the hoop, he doesn't really have much of an offensive game. Think: Etan Thomas without the poetry.
Brandon Jennings - I haven't seen The Expat play and don't know much about him, other than that he's athletic and is friends with Marcus Williams. So basically 50% good, 50% horrifying.
Al-Farouq Aminu - As you drool over his high-flying highlight reels, repeat after me: "I will not draft an awkward small forward who can't shoot... I will not draft an awkward small forward who can't shoot..."
Stephen Curry - No player has had the "Negative negative negative, but he can just flat out play" tag applied more than Curry. He might be the next Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. More likely he's the next Steve Kerr.
Hasheem Thabeet - I know. You've probably seen him and thought, "Holy crap this guy sucks." I think that too from time to time. But here's the thing: he's 7'3" and he has hops! He can run the floor, he can jump, and most importantly, he has good hands. He catches tough passes, he gets tough rebounds, he is an extremely skilled and quick shotblocker. Yes, he has his weaknesses, mainly that he occasionally looks like they pulled him off the street just before tipoff and told him to put on a uniform, he struggles against quick players, he gets muscled around from time to time, and he has a disconcerting tendency to disappear in big games. But guys: 7'3". Hops. Hands. Shotblocking. Rebounding. Count me as a fan.
And finally, the guy I want the Kings to draft, at least until I change my mind again: Jeff Teague - Dude. Is. Athletic. Very very quick, killer crossover, easily creates separation, good ballhandler, crazy hops, has the makings of a good defender. Sure he shoots from his shoulder like he's in 6th grade but hey, it goes in. Unfortunately, he's really a 6'2" shooting guard and boasts a horrendous 1/1 assist to turnover ratio. Think of him as a more athletic Ben Gordon or possibly another Gilbert Arenas. For better and worse. But his combination of blinding quickness and solid shooting doesn't come along every day.
And sometimes, after obsessing about the draft all year round, you just have to stop overthinking it.