So, heard any good rumors lately? The NBA silly season is in full swing and as more names get leaked into the blogosphere it seems fitting that the kickoff to what promises to be one of the odder NBA offseasons in recent memory features a draft with more questions than answers and more smoke than a Cheech and Chong marathon.
This is what we know about the NBA Draft on Thursday.
•Blake Griffin will go No. 1 and unless he succumbs to the Clipper Curse he will be a productive All-Star caliber player for a decade, if not a franchise maker.
•In a draft heavy on point guards, the two most intriguing prospects — Ricky Rubio and Brandon Jennings — are more familiar to YouTube audiences then those who tune in for Big Monday.
•Hasheem Thabeet is 7-foot-3.
And that’s about it. After Griffin goes No. 1 the draft can go in so many different directions that all the mock drafts will look like a traveshamockery when the night is over.
The Celtics don’t have a pick until No. 58, and in this draft, that’s a good thing. Danny Ainge came out rather forcefully saying that the Celtics wouldn’t try to buy their way into the first round and that seems wise. Regardless, here are five things we’ll be keeping an eye on Thursday night.
1. WHO’S GOT THABEET?
This is how bad the draft is: Hasheem Thabeet is a 7-foot-3 center who played his college ball at a national program and people wonder if he’ll be as good as Sam Delambert. The good news on Thabeet is that he showed remarkable progress at the University of Connecticut. The bad news is that he’s still rawer than the Hamachi Tartare at O Ya.
Thabeet cancelled a workout with the Memphis Grizzlies, who own the No. 2 pick because of a shoulder injury, which begs the question: Does anyone want to play for Memphis?
Spanish star Ricky Rubio (more on him in a minute) has made it clear that he has no desire to live the dream on Beale Street and one can hardly blame him given the Grizz crowded backcourt situation and the less than pleasant experiences of countrymen Juan Carlos Navarro and Pau Gasol.
On a team desperate for size Thabeet should be the pick because even if his offensive game makes Dwight Howard loom like Hakeem Olajuwon he should be able to provide something of a defensive presence. The fact that the second pick is still very much up in the air makes the rest of the draft impossible to predict, and after that things only get stranger.
2. THE RICKY RUBIO CONUNDRUM
A point guard by way of Spain, Rubio made a name for himself at the Olympics and has intrigued everyone with his talent and Pistol Pete haircut. He also has a complicated buyout and that has allowed him and his agent to control the process up to a point.
He has made it clear that all things considered, he would rather go to Sacramento where the Kings have an immediate opening for a point guard; especially one with charisma as Geoff Petrie tries to rebuild from the wreckage.
The possibility exists that Oklahoma City could snatch him at No. 3 and pair him with Russell Westbrook, which would just screw everything else up. OKC GM Sam Presti is good like that.
3. WHITHER BRANDON JENNINGS?
If Rubio is the most interesting prospect in the draft, then Jennings might be the most important. Jennings is the first high school player to skip the mandatory year at college and go to Europe where he got paid to learn his craft.
The man who orchestrated the move, Sonny Vaccaro, believes that Jennings will be a pied-piper for other preps to follow in his high tops, but Jennings’ experience was by no means smooth.
His greatest hits have become a YouTube sensation, and while one can see the talent, there are questions about whether his game will translate into a team setting. Jennings, bless his heart, tried to turn up the hype meter by taking shots at Rubio, which only added to team’s skepticism about his maturity.
As it turns out the best point guard prospect might actually be the one we know the most about: North Carolina’s Ty Lawson. Despite leading the Tar Heels to two Final Four’s and a national championship, he has been rated in the second half of the draft by most analysts mostly because he doesn’t measure up physically with some of the other points.
But Lawson has his supporters in the stat-based community. Ranking college players with advanced statistical metrics is still very much a work in progress but both ESPN’s John Hollinger and David Berri, author of the Wages of Wins, have Lawson rated as one of the best prospects in the draft, let alone at the top of the point guard class.
(It’s worth noting that neither rated Rubio or Jennings’ European numbers).
As many as nine point guards are potential first round picks and it will be fascinating to see how each of their careers pan out because Rubio, Jennings and Lawson all represent a piece of the development argument about how we look at the draft.
The interest in Euros has diminished over the years after Darko Millic didn’t develop into the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki. Scouts and GM’s have become savvier about grading Euros, but it’s worth noting that of the European players drafted in the lottery since 2001 only one, Pau Gasol, has become an All-Star (and no, China doesn’t count as Europe), while a good number of productive European players have come later in the draft and in the second round (Anderson Varejao, Luis Scola, ZaZa Pachulia, et al).
Jennings, meanwhile, might very well become the leader of a movement, the way Kevin Garnett paved the way for high school players to skip college and go straight to the league, or he might be remembered as a curiosity.
Ironically, Jennings might not be the American player who used Europe to boost his value the most. Florida guard Nick Calathes has already signed with a Greek team. A borderline first round pick at the beginning of the process, he now represents greater value to teams picking at the end of the first round because a team can control his rights while he gains experience overseas. As much attention as Jennings has received, Calathes’ path to the NBA might be one for similar college players to emulate in the future.
Which brings us back to Lawson. If he does indeed become the best of the bunch, or at least a better player than his projection, it would give the statistical movement a shot in the arm in regards to grading the draft.
4. FINDING VALUE HARDER THAN FINDING NEMO
Because of the relative uncertainty (or perceived weakness) about most of the players, it has been said that the strength of the draft is in the latter part of the first round where there is supposed to be little difference between say the 11th pick and the 20th. Of course that’s another way of saying that there isn’t much value anywhere, which makes the second round even more important.
The difference between pick 30 and 31 is huge from a franchise perspective because second rounders don’t get guarantees and a contributing second rounder can pay financial dividends in terms of salary cap and luxury tax flexibility.
The Celtics, to name one team, have worked the second round of the draft under Danny Ainge to uncover Ryan Gomes, Glen Davis, Leon Powe, Gabe Pruitt and Bill Walker; all of whom have contributed, or are expected to contribute, something of value for little cost return.
5. WITH THE 58TH PICK...
If we don’t know who’s going to go second overall, we’re not even going to try hazard a guess at who the Celtics will select down here. Still, some of the names that have been bandied about—Jeff Adrien, Lester Hudson--are intriguing.
Adrien had a successful career at UConn, but is undersized for a power forward (sound familiar?), while Hudson was a scoring machine at Tennessee-Martin and although he owns an inspiring backstory, he’s already 24 years old.
Assuming the Celtics don’t make a big move on draft day, whomever they pick down here can’t be expected to be much of a contributor, but then the same thing could be said of 56 of the other 57 players who will go before their choice.