Friday, June 26, 2009

Don't sleep on this draft

It had become cliché over the last few weeks to rip this year’s crop of NBA draft prospects. Clearly, this draft isn’t going to threaten ’84, ’96, and ’03 as the three greatest draft classes of all-time but I’m not buying this draft as a failure. First of all, there is a bona fide, can’t miss superstar at the top in Blake Griffin. His size, quickness, and athleticism is something beyond what the likes of Carlos Boozer and Chris Bosh can offer. Griffin is going to be a match-up nightmare in the way Kevin Garnett used to be. Even the Clippers won't be able to stop him from wreaking havoc on the NBA.

One reason why I think this draft has a chance to be very, very good is my belief that there is more than just one superstar in the making. It’s hard to argue that Hasheem Thabeet is overrated when he went 2nd overall but I think people are underestimating the impact that he is going to have in the NBA. He’s the closest thing the NBA has seen to Shaq since "The Diesel" entered the league 17 years ago. At 7’3, 265 lbs, Thabeet is a beast. Like Shaq, he finishes at the rim for high percentage shots. He doesn’t have Shaq’s footwork or explosiveness, but he will overmatch most NBA centers. He is better offensively than Dikembe Mutombo—not saying a whole lot there—but most importantly he’s just as good defensively. Thabeet is going to be a perennial all-star and could challenge Dwight Howard for center supremacy in the NBA in just a few short years. In my opinion, Thabeet is almost as much of a can’t-miss superstar as Griffin although very few people seem to agree.

I’m as uncertain on Ricky Rubio as everyone else seems to be. He could end up being the Spanish Pistol Pete or he could end up being the Spanish Influenza. Much of the uncertainty has to do with the fact that—aside from a brief introduction in Beijing—nobody has seen him play. He is a wild card. Someone who is not a wild card, in my opinion, is Stephen Curry. I think people have made the mistake of assuming that he is the next in a long line of undersized, sharpshooting, college off-guards who are incapable of making the transition to the NBA ala Shawn Respert and J.J. Redick. The difference between Curry and the guys who couldn't transition is like the difference between Ice Cream and Yogurt. In other words, it's enormous. Curry can make every shot on the floor. He is a potent ball-handler and an incredible passer. He doesn’t have an impressive physique or crazysexycool athleticism which is probably the only reason he wasn’t a top-five pick. However, he is quick, has handles and mad range. He is a shooting guard who can play the point. It is difficult to imagine a player with his repertoire not becoming--at the very least--an all-star.

I’m not as sold on James Harden’s upside but it would be silly to say he can’t hack it in the league. He is a Mitch Richmond-type who certainly will be able to score. He doesn’t have the all-around game but he is a polished scorer who is unlikely to be a bust.

I’ll reserve judgment on Tyreke Evans, Johnny Flynn, Jordan Hill, and DeMar DeRozan since I haven’t seen enough to warrant any sort of a prediction. I did get to see Flynn at Syracuse quite a few times and he was certainly impressive. It’s hard to imagine all four of these cats being busts.

There is too much “upside” in this draft to warrant the negativity that has surrounded it. Very few drafts in recent memory have produced as many solid point guard prospects alone as this one. Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague and Darren Collison went 17th, 18th, 19th, and 21st respectively not to mention Brandon Jennings who went 10th.

If nothing else, this is a deep draft. The talent leaked deep into the second round with the likes of DeJuan Blair, Sam Young, Dajuan Summers, Patty Mills, Jodie Meeks, Chase Budinger and Patrick Beverley. It’ll obviously be a while before we find out how good this draft really is but I would be surprised if it isn’t above the 50th percentile of all-time NBA Drafts which is a far cry from the “one of the worst drafts ever”-moniker that had been thrown around by a lot of different people in recent weeks. R.I.P. Michael Jackson.

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