Regardless of where the ping pong balls drop, we as Kings fans will have to concern ourselves with multiple draft prospects. This is a most interesting year for the draft lottery, as only 12 teams are participating, the bi-product of Cleveland and Utah having two picks each. And while Derrick Williams and Kyrie Irving are today’s suspected prize picks, there is no clear Derrick Rose or Blake Griffin in this draft. This year is like the old game "Mystery Date" (oh, like you were never forced to play this game with your sisters). We don’t know when we’re going to open that door, and who or what might be standing behind it. Even once we know our slot in the lottery, we may have no idea what we’re going to do.
Let me put it another way. By the time the 2009 draft day rolled around, no one was talking the Clippers out of Blake Griffin. Do you feel that Williams or Irving will have that same cache come draft day? If the Kings had the #1 pick and the Jazz were picking in the top 5 or 6, would you consider swapping picks if Paul Millsap or Derrick Favors came along with the swap? Would the Jazz? I suppose it comes down to how much Irving or Williams (or someone else) makes the Kings or Jazz fall in love with them.
There is also the Geoff Petrie factor. The man that has given you such lottery favorites as Peja Stojakovic, Jason Williams, and Jason Thompson is a hard man to predict, indeed. But he has also gone the more traditional route, as picks such as Spencer Hawes and DeMarcus Cousins were more expected (or at least predicted).
So while we don’t really know yet where the Kings will be drafting, I propose that it does not really matter when it comes to becoming more familiar with the top prospects of this draft. We don’t know where we will be picking or if our intention is to keep/trade/swap the pick because we can’t trust Petrie as far as we can throw George Maloof, but we can at least get to know the players a little better.
Here is my top fourteen. I provide it alphabetically, because I am too big of a wuss to rank them. Also, my opinions rely heavily on tape, as well as input from reading nbadraft.net, draftexpress.com, and espn.com. Five of the prospects listed here did not play college ball this year, so I watched a lot of tape, and mix tapes do not an objective presentation make. Add the fact that Irving only played a handful of games this year, and I really only saw about half of these guys play tangible minutes this year. So without further adieu or disclaimer or backpedaling or ass-covering, let’s start opening these doors and find out if our date is going to be a dream (ahhh) or a dud (ohhh).
Bismack Biyombo, C/PF, 6-9, 245, age 18
Mystery Date Bio: The first thing that seems to get mentioned about his guy is his 7’7" wingspan. This makes him an extraordinary shot blocker. He also gets credit for having a big motor, and he’s a pretty intelligent guy (speaks five languages). On the other hand, his offensive skills make Derrick Favors look like Hakeem Olajuwan. He is a decent rebounder, most of that coming more from physical talent as opposed to good footwork and positioning. He has not shown to this point that he can pass worth a lick, but he is very, very raw. Chad Ford draws a comparison to Ben Wallace. Wallace was 24 before he really started to make a name for himself in the NBA. If you draft Biyombo, you’re drafting him for down the line…probably waaaaay down the line.
Mystery Date Compatibility (with current Kings roster): No higher than 4th on depth chart for at least one full year, behind Cousins, Dalembert, Thompson. Battles Darnell Jackson and Hassan Whiteside for 4th spot.
Dream: The second coming of Serge Ibaka.
Dud: The second coming of Saer Sene.
Alec Burks, G, 6-6, 190, age 19
Mystery Date Bio: Listed by some as a SG and others as a PG/SG, the book on Burks is that he is very versatile and talented, yet does not stand out at any one thing in particular. He has great ups, but he does not finish exceedingly well, though OK. He is a willing passer, but not an assist maker. He can score, but he is not a gifted shooter. He can defend, but is not known as a tenacious defender. He needs to get stronger and become a more consistent shooter. It’s difficult to recommend that a projected lottery pick stay in school, but Burks could probably use another year of development.
Mystery Date Compatibility: Probably the least compatible player on this list. Simply, the Kings roster of Evans, Thornton, Udrih and Garcia would yield hardly any minutes for Burks early on.
Dream: Evan Turner.
Dud: Evan Turner.
Jimmer Fredette, G, 6-2, 195, age 22
Mystery Date Bio: Jimmermania! I can’t shake the fact that the Jimmer-hype reminds me of when J.J. Redick was at Duke. And quite frankly, if it were not for Steph Curry, I don’t know that there would be this much attention surrounding Fredette. But the comparison to Curry is not without some legs. He is a so-so physical specimen, but he is an elite, elite, elite shooter. He can and will pass, but he will find time on the floor because he is an elite, elite, elite shooter. You won’t see a lot of (any?) dunks out of him, but he is an elite, elite, elite shooter. He will probably get abused defensively when he matches up against NBA offensive talent, but he is an elite…
Mystery Date Compatibility: Probably an immediate opportunity as an off the bench shooter, but would be no better than 4th in line (behind Evans, Thornton and Udrih) out of the gate. His hope would be to show enough to make the Kings comfortable dealing Beno.
Dud: Justin Bieber with curlier hair.
Kyrie Irving, PG, 6-2, 180, age 19
Mystery Date Bio: Projected as the #1 or #2 pick in the draft, one has to ask where Irving would have projected two years ago in a draft that featured guards Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio, Johnny Flynn, Steph Curry, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Eric Maynor, Darren Collison and Rodrigue Beaubois, especially after missing the bulk of the season to injury. So the question begs, is Irving that good, or is he just the best of a weak point guard field? Irving is definitely a natural point guard – no pounding a square peg into a round hole here. He is an effective (though probably not an elite) shooter, but it is his ability to make his teammates better that will likely earn him the #1 or #2 draft spot. Great floor vision, never seems out of control. The flip side is that he is going to come into the NBA with little college experience. Every one of the guards listed above from the class of ’09 have had their ups and downs, and they all have two years of NBA experience now. It has taken Mike Conley four years to become a competent NBA point guard, though Irving is probably a better shooter coming into the league than Conley is even today. Irving could become a very good one, but he’s not a slam dunk.
Mystery Date Compatibility: May not start from day 1, but could become the starting point guard before the halfway point of the season, moving Evans to the 2 and Thornton to 6th man and the Kings playing a ton of "small ball" with Irving/Evans/Thornton all on the floor), greasing the wheels for Beno Udrih’s exodus.
Dream: Kevin Johnson.
Dud: Tyus Edney (no offense, Tyus, I loved you…but not as a lottery pick).
Enes Kanter, C/PF, 6-10, 255, age 18
Mystery Date Bio: Kanter’s career at Kentucky was short-circuited when the NCAA discovered that he had received over $30k in benefits while playing for a team in Turkey, which is still probably substantially less than what he would have received from John Calipari. But I digress. Simply, had Kanter played this year, and if (a huge, huge if) his knees are OK, he could very well be the #1 pick in the draft. And that may still happen if his knees check out throughout the combines and personal workouts. But Greg Oden is still a recent memory, and that might be enough to scare teams away. Kanter is a gifted offensive player, with the ability to score out of both the high and low post. He can pass a bit, too. He is a very good rebounder, combining strength with good hands (sounds familiar…Cousins…Cousins). Kanter understands the game and plays hard. He’s not fast in any way, shape or form, but he’s fast enough for a big man. If he has two good knees, he is a likely to become a very good NBA player.
Mystery Date Compatibility: Battles JT for 3rd spot. Could eventually pair with Cousins as a modern day C-Webb/Vlade, with the two swapping high and low post responsibilities, driving opponents crazy in the process, though that pair could struggle covering smaller power forwards – on the other hand, it would be fun watching Shawn Marion try to cover Cousins in the low post, wouldn’t it?
Dream: Marc Gasol.
Brandon Knight, PG, 6-3, 185, age 18
Mystery Date Bio: Knight is probably the best "new breed" of point guard in the draft, the point guard as scorer/passer. At 6-3, he has the length to be a defensive presence at his position, and he is an eager, willing and capable defender. Knight has a great first step, which helps to make up for the fact that he possesses average overall speed. Knight is a good shooter, and projects to be effective out to NBA 3-point range. He is a very creative passer, but sometimes has issues making the simple pass (Rose, Evans, Westbrook…). He is definitely more comfortable as a point guard in a high pick and roll offense. He sure feels like a top five talent in this draft, but we’ll see.
Mystery Date Compatibility: Begins season by supplanting Pooh Jeter as 4th guard. Development determines how long Beno Udrih stays in a Kings uniform.
Dream: Chauncey Billups.
Dud: Mario Chalmers.
Kawhi Leonard, SF, 6-7, 225, age 19
Mystery Date Bio: Recent recipient of the Chad Ford bump (he is now a top five prospect in Ford’s eyes), Leonard has been seen up to this point as a late lottery pick. But he could certainly change that with impressive workouts, based on the fact that there are few small forward options at the top of this draft. Leonard is still a work in progress on offense, but he is making consistent strides. A slightly more reliable jump shot could land him in the top half of the draft lottery. He is a rebounding presence, especially for his position. He also projects as a guy that could guard various types of NBA swing players, which could also improve his draft stock.
Mystery Date Compatibility: Competes for the starting small forward job from day #1, but could wind up behind Garcia and Greene and/or Casspi, though it’s very likely that Casspi is on the move if Leonard winds up a King.
Dream: A healthy Caron Butler.
Dud: Ryan Gomes.
Donatas Motiejunas, PF, 7-0, 220, age 20
Mystery Date Bio: It’s been awhile since mass quantities of foreign players have had a big impact on the lottery portion of the draft, but Donatas is the third overseas player on this list, joining Biyombo and Kanter. Motiejunas draws comparisons to Andrea Bargnani, and is seen as a player that prefers the perimeter to the post, and offense to defense. The running thread on him is that his talent may exceed his desire. Remove the questions about his motor, and he probably projects a lot higher. He needs to get stronger, too. 220 pounds is not much on a 7 foot frame.
Mystery Date Compatibility: Near-term, he’s battling Jackson and Whiteside for the 4th and 5th spot up front. He could eventually share the 3rd spot with JT, depending on what the Kings are looking for off the bench.
Dream: Can I come up with anyone other than Bargs? Donyell Marshall?
Dud: Channing Frye, because I cannot complete this piece without referring to Channing Frye as a dud. Alternate duds could include Pete Chilcutt or Brad Lohaus.
Marcus Morris, PF, 6-9, 220, age 21
Mystery Date Bio: The Brook to Markieff’s Robin, Marcus possesses a nice offensive repertoire, and projects to potentially become a nice rotation bench big. But he’s not overly strong on the defensive end (though he does work), and he is no defensive presence at the rim.
Mystery Date Compatibility: Morris is likely to eventually bring more offense off the bench than JT, but from a defensive standpoint you have to be thinking along the lines of Carl Landry, and that’s going to limit him.
Dream: Landry or David West with slightly more range?
Dud: Jared Jeffries.
Tristan Thompson, PF, 6-9, 225, age 20
Mystery Date Bio: Thompson is probably only 6-9 in the program, but he does have nice overall length. He is left handed and can finish with either hand, and he gets off the floor relatively quickly. But he is not a good jump shooter, and he is terrible from the free throw line (below 50%). He can also disappear at times.
Mystery Date Compatibility: He needs to become a better mid-range shooter to overtake any of the Kings top three bigs, and there is no guarantee that he could beat out Whiteside for minutes, either.
Dream: Ed Davis.
Dud: Brandan Wright.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, 6-11, 240, age 19
Mystery Date Bio: International man of mystery #4 on this list, Valanciunas projects to be a true big man once he fills out. He is effective offensively from 12 feet in, and has succeeded in pick and roll offenses. He has shown the ability to pass out of a double team, and he’s not a bad free throw shooter for a big man (75+%). But he does need to fill out his frame, and his aggressive (and passionate) style of play can lead to foul trouble. The guess here is that he would be contributing at a sub-Spencer Hawes level for the first 2-3 years of his career.
Mystery Date Compatibility: Another guy that would find himself battling with Jackson and Whiteside in the short term, he could grow and develop into a top three rotation player.
Dream: Marcin Gortat.
Dud: Ryan Hollins.
Jan Vesely, SF/PF, 6-11, 240, age 21
Mystery Date Bio: While Vesely has similar dimensions to Valanciunas, he has a different structure and a completely different skill set. The closest comparison seems to be Andrei Kirilenko. Vesely plays with terrific heart on both ends of the floor. He has become a better perimeter shooter but he still has a ways to go. He’s still pretty raw, but he has a compelling upside (dammit, I almost made it through the entire post without using that word!).
Mystery Date Compatibility: I don’t see Vesely at the power forward position in the short term, and I don’t see him as having the consistency to beat out any of the current SF’s right now. But he could certainly develop into a legit NBA small forward.
Dud: Donté Greene (love you Donté, but not as a lottery pick).
Kemba Walker, PG, 6-0, 175, age 21
Mystery Date Bio: OK, this is a very basic, 20,000 foot comparison, but in Walker I see a shorter Marcus Thornton with a better handle. The guy’s a gamer, and my bet is that he is a gym rat – never met a game he didn’t like, competes for the sake of competing, loves to prove people wrong or make them pay for underestimating him. But the truth is also that he is going to have a tough time covering Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams and the like, but he is cut out of their mold of scorer/passer lead guard. He will likely be a liability on defense, and he will not be a Paul/Nash point guard on offense. I see him as an eventual great 6th man.
Mystery Date Compatibility: Like Brandon Knight, he begins the season as the 4th guard, and he could make Udrih expendable by as early as mid-year, but more likely the end of the year.
Dream: Bobby Jackson.
Dud: Johnny Flynn.
Derrick Williams, SF, 6-8, 240, age 19
Mystery Date Bio: Perhaps the most NBA-ready player in this year’s draft. Williams entered the season as a slightly undersized power forward. But he improved his perimeter game dramatically, and is now seen as a viable small forward option. That said, he also possesses the talent to man the 4 when a team wants to go "small." Williams’ array of low post moves will prove hellish for slighter small forwards, and his quickness could torment bigger power forwards. He is a very good rebounder for a SF. He was insanely efficient as a scorer in college, but he did turn the ball over a bit. The guy has an NBA body right now, and he will probably get even stronger over the next couple of years.
Mystery Date Compatibility: Competes for the starting forward spot from the opening of camp, and wins the job as early as preseason and no later than the middle of November.
Dream: Carmelo Anthony before he fell in love with the 3-point line.
Dud: Al Thornton.
Alright. It's hard to rank these guys prior to the combines and personal workouts, but if I had to put together my list today, it would read Irving, Williams, Kanter, Knight, Leonard, Vesely, Valanciunas, Walker, Thompson, Biyombo, Motiejunas, Fredette, Morris, Burks.
Well, there’s the list. The argument could certainly be made that a Jordan Hamilton or Markieff Morris or Tyler Honeycutt or Klay Thompson be added to the top 14, but I’m not gonna, at least not today. We’ll know our draft slot tomorrow evening, but we won’t be introduced to our mystery date for another five weeks – plenty of time to pick up flowers, candy, and a can of Axe.