Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mid-Season Mock Draft

The 2010 NBA Draft is 130 days away, but who's counting?

The All-Star break allots the perfect opportunity to muse on the upcoming draft, with every team having played a little more than 50 games, and college basketball in full swing. The league standings will obviously change over the course of the next couple months, but not so drastically.

The notion that the worst teams in the league have already solidified their lottery status, and that the best teams will simply play musical chairs with the next 16 picks, necessitates creating an in-depth mock draft, for one already has a clear idea of the range in which each team will likely select come June. With the All-Star break affording time to evaluate each franchise, I've decided to do an in-depth mock draft which takes into account the needs of every team in the league; as in, if the Warriors were to make their pick tomorrow, and based on their current standing, they would likely target a big man to fill the void at power forward.

I have used my own discretion in projecting who might stay in school or enter the draft early, not strictly following the assertions of mock draft websites, just as my entire mock draft is unique. I predict that the likes of Texas guard Avery Bradley, Nevada point guard Armon Johnson, Kansas shooting guard Xavier Henry, Baylor big man Ekpe Udoh, and Gonzaga swingman Elias Harris will all stay in school, while Kentucky point guard Eric Bledsoe, Memphis off-guard Elliot Williams, and Ohio State's William Buford will all enter early.

Crafting an in-depth mock draft so long before the draft might seem like a waste of time to some, but consider that the first 10 picks could very well be in the same order come draft day, just as the last 6 or 7 picks are nearly set in stone. I have accounted for teams whose picks were traded, noting the correct team (i.e., the Jazz have the Knicks' first round pick, the Grizzlies have the Lakers first round pick). A lot will certainly change before John Wall hears his name called first on June 24, but the overall picture won't be noticeably altered. Were the draft to take place tomorrow, here's how it might transpire:

1. Nets: John Wall (6-4/190; PG; Kentucky)
Devin Harris and future #1 overall pick John Wall cannot co-exist; if either one of them could really shoot they would make for a most dynamic backcourt, but neither can. Should the Nets retain their stranglehold on the top pick in the draft, they will immediately begin scouring trade options. This team is in dire need of a shooter, and a trade chip like Harris could net them a real impact scorer.

2. Timberwolves: Evan Turner (6-6/210; PG/SG/SF; Ohio State)
With a franchise point guard in Jonny Flynn and a couple of terrific big men in Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, the Wolves might be a versatile glue guy away from making waves in this league. Though Turner doesn't satisfy their need for a jump shooter, he's the dynamic playmaker this team needs.

3. Warriors: Demarcus Cousins (6-11/270; PF/C; Kentucky)
In recent drafts the Warriors have tended to gravitate towards otherworldly athletes who fit Don Nelson's uptempo style, but this year, it's time for them to take a bruising big man to fill out their small, skinny lineup. Cousins is the inside force the Warriors have been without for as long as I can remember (he's averaging 16.4 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in just over 21 minutes a game), and would at least ensure that Nelson's club isn't routinely steamrolled by teams that live on the low block.

4. Wizards: Derrick Favors (6-10/245; PF/C; Georgia Tech)
Before they dealt their pick in last year's draft, the Wizards pick looked to be the team that would determine the course of the rest of the lottery, for the first four picks seemed to be locks. This year looks to be no different, only this time, projecting who the Wizards might take is utterly impossible. Their roster is a disaster. Gilbert Arenas' future is in limbo, Javaris Crittenton is gone, and with the contracts of Mike James, Early Boykins, and Randy Foye set to expire (though the Zards can tender Foye a qualifying offer), we're looking at a team that might not have a point guard on their roster come draft day. Brendan Haywood is set to depart in free agency, meaning they'll be without a true center, and with a deal that would send Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler to the Celtics for Ray Allen (an expiring contract) in the works, who the hell knows, the Wizards might have three players left next season! Set to rebuild from the ground up, one must assume that they will go for a potential franchise player, and while I am not the biggest fan of Favors (I think North Carolina's Ed Davis will make a better pro), he's the dynamite prospect who will prove to be most attractive to the Wizards, desperate for a future star.

5. Kings: Al-Farouq Aminu (6-8/220; SF; Wake Forest)
I think the league's other 29 teams deserve some insight into what the Kings are planning. They have two great young talents down low (Jason Thomspon and Spencer Hawes), but they're both weak and inconsistent. Does Kevin Martin fit into their future plans as Tyreke Evans' backcourt mate? How much do they value potential stars Omri Casspi and Donte Green? Like the Wizards, the Kings pose a lot of problems and should cause mock drafts to go haywire come June. One thing about Sacramento is certain, however: their roster is very malnourished, with Evans and Jon Brockman being the only exceptions. Wake Forest forward Al-Farouq Aminu is an incredibly strong and tough swingman, is currently pulling down 11 boards a game, has upped his scoring output to 16.4 points a game, and is still just 19. Even with Syracuse's Wes Johnson still on the board, I don't think the Kings would be able to pass up Aminu's toughness and potential.

6. Pacers: Eric Bledsoe (6-1/190; PG; Kentucky)
Kentucky's other freshman point guard sensation would be wise to stay in school for another year to show what he can do without John Wall beside him. But then again, only three or four point guards are projected to be taken in the first round (as opposed to 12 last year), so Bledsoe might want to cash in on the Wildcats' success and his relative worth. T.J. Ford has been one of the biggest disappointments in the league this year, and with Jamal Tinsley gone and Earl Watson and Travis Diener playing out the final year of their contracts, the Pacers would be lucky to get their hands on Bledsoe, an extremely tough point guard with an NBA-ready body and huge upside.

7. Pistons: Ed Davis (6-10/225; PF/C; North Carolina)
So, where's Wes Johnson? Well, I can tell for sure where he won't be: On a Pistons team that has Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Gordon, and Austin Daye all under contract, and yet no center locked in for the 2010-11 season. North Carolina sophomore Ed Davis, though undersized for the center position, is a prototypical Piston, a tremendous rebounder (9.6) and shot blocker (2.8), who also happens to be one of the absolute most talented players in his class.

8. Jazz: Wesley Johnson (6-7/200; SF; Syracuse)
Here is the most perfect pairing in the lottery. Still preparing to lose Carlos Boozer despite their domination of late, the Jazz will use the Knicks' pick as a consolation prize, likely targeting someone who can contribute immediately. The Jazz and Wes Johnson would simply be a match made in heaven, for Utah is still in desperate need of outside shooting, explosiveness, and a versatile defender besides the recently resurrected AK47. Considering what he's done for Syracuse, the transfer from Iowa State, who could go as high as three in this draft depending on who's picking, might be able to do for the Jazz what he's done for the Orange.

9. 76ers: Willie Warren (6-4/205; SG; Oklahoma)
The Sixers have been trying tirelessly to deal just about everyone on the roster despite guards Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams, whom they still hold as the future despite the intrusion of Allen Iverson. Though they might be set on starting Holiday and Williams for the next couple years, this team is extremely forward-heavy, in need of a dynamic guard, someone who can actually shoot. I'm a big fan of Willie Warren, whose range, ability to catch fire, and versatility at both guard positions should appeal to Philly.

10. Clippers: Patrick Patterson (6-9/230; PF; Kentucky)
The NBA's worst franchise, while improving, is still comprised of a bunch of loafers who want to camp out on the three-point line and play as little defense as possible. Kentucky's veteran leader Patrick Patterson, a terrifically skilled, NBA-ready forward, does not loaf. Having developed a more consistent outside shot, Patterson is like Paul Millsap, only with a more well-rounded offensive repertoire (out of college, at least), and would inject energy and intensity into a lackadaisical Clippers team that could really use a spark plug.

11. Bucks: Greg Monroe (6-10/245; PF/C; Georgetown)
There isn't a single team in the Eastern Conference that wouldn't cringe at the prospect of going up against the pairing of Bogut, a true center currently averaging 16 and 10, and Monroe, an exceptionally posed and athletic big man averaging 15.4 points, 9.5 boards, 3.6 assists, and 1.7 blocks for the 7th ranked Georgetown Hoyas. The 6-11 Monroe's size, court awareness, and versatility would perfectly complement 7-footer Bogut's mature inside game. Even if they might not deserve the "twin towers" designation, they would surely make things easier for franchise point guard Brandon Jennings.

12. Grizzlies: Elliot Williams (6-4/185; SG; Memphis)
After averaging just 4.2 points in 16.6 minutes at Duke his freshman year, Williams transferred to Memphis, where he's currently averaging 19 points in 33 minutes for the Tigers. Williams is a lot like Grizzlies star shooting guard O.J. Mayo, but Memphis is extremely shallow at both guard spots and could use another shooter. There are plenty of extremely talented big men still available, but with a great trio of talents in Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Hasheem Thabeet, the Grizzlies are going to look for another guard who can really produce.

13. Hornets: Donatas Motiejunas (7-0/225; PF/C; Lithuania)
The Hornets have found themselves in something of pickle, saddled with a couple ridiculous contracts (Peja Stojakovic and Emeka Okafor) and a very frustrated Chris Paul. Lithuanian big man Motiejunas has superstar potential, and would add depth to a very shallow frontcourt, which at this point is essentially just Okafor and David West.

14. Rockets: Cole Aldrich (6-11/245; C; Kansas)
If Houston could land Cole Aldrich with their late lottery pick, they would be inexpressibly elated. I think Aldrich's value will likely decline when the season concludes, when scouts start to take into consideration his remedial offensive skill set and debate whether or not he might have any value when his team has possession. There is no doubting his defensive prowess, rebounding ability, or intensity, however, and he could still be a force despite his lack of polish. With a perpetually injured franchise player (Yao) and the smallest starting center in NBA history (Chuck Hayes), the Rockets will target a big man, and Aldirch is a perfect fit.

15. Bulls: Dominique Jones (6-4/215; SG; South Florida)
Despite their newfound success, the Bulls have struggled to score mightily throughout the season, failing to account for the loss of sharpshooter Ben Gordon. South Florida's Dominique Jones has proven to be one of the most lethal scorers on the college level, averaging over 22 points per game in his junior campaign, including a 46-point outburst against Providence, while dropping at least 25 on the likes of Syracuse, West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Georgetown. If Jones isn't the next Ben Gordon, he would surely make a great impact on a Bulls team in need of a well-rounded scorer.

16. Heat: Jarvis Varnado (6-9/230; PF/C; Mississippi State)
With the contracts of Jermaine O'Neal and Udonis Haslem set to expire at season's end, the Heat will have no choice but to use this pick on big man. Varnado isn't a sexy pick, but he's one of the greatest shot blockers in NCAA history (4 per game over his career), and has made great strides as a scorer and rebounder, posting averages of 13.4 points and 11.3 boards in a sensational senior campaign. The Mississippi State defensive dynamo would give the Heat some versatility at both low post positions, while ensuring that the basket is guarded like it hasn't been since Alonzo Mourning held down the fort.

17. Timberwolves: James Anderson (6-6/200; SG; Oklahoma State)
The Wolves, like the Bulls, desperately need a scorer capable of providing instant offense. A prototypical shooting guard with a pro-style game, Anderson is averaging 23 points per game in Big 12 play, flaunting his terrific range and advanced offensive repertoire. The Timberwolves, who average exactly 4 three-pointers per game, would be blessed to add a guy like Anderson.

18. Heat: Jon Scheyer (6-5/190; Combo Guard; Duke)
The Heat have been unsuccessful in their attempts to find a suitable point guard to run Wade's team. Why not take a chance on a guy like Scheyer? One of the very best players in the country, Scheyer is a phenomenal ball handler (3.17 assist/turnover ration), a great scorer (19.1 point per game, including nearly 3 three-pointers a night), boasts four years of experience in Coach K's system, and at 6-5, has awesome size for the point guard position in the league. After considering Scheyer's attributes, one wonders: Would the team that drafts him really be taking a chance at all?

19. Trailblazers: Larry Sanders (6-10/225; PF/C; Virginia Commonwealth)
The Blazers now know to be overstocked with big men after the Oden/Pryzbilla injury debacle which likely killed their chances of contending in the West this season. Sanders, who ran with Eric Maynor at VCU for a couple years, is a bouncy, athletic big man with great shot blocking ability and rapidly improving offensive skill set, not to mention ideal size and length. For all their talent, the Blazers still need a guy like Sanders.

20. Thunder: Damion James (6-7/230; SF/PF; Texas)
With money to spend in the off season, the Thunder will try to land an experienced center who they can rely on to rebound and block shots, like Brendan Haywood, meaning that they will likely use their draft pick on the best player available. Texas senior Damion James could contribute immediately on both ends of the floor, while providing needed toughness and versatility.

21. Spurs: Jerome Dyson (6-3/190; Combo Guard; Connecticut)
After a few years of picking near the end of the first round, the Spurs have begun to take the draft seriously again, and have scored big the past couple years with the likes of George Hill and Dejuan Blair. With two guards under contract for next season, the Spurs should target someone who can contribute immediately, with UConn's Jerome Dyson a perfect fit. Stuffing the stat sheet with averages of 19 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.6 assists, Dyson also happens to be an above average athlete capable of playing both guard positions, not unlike George Hill. The type of player's who's typically underrated simply because he's a senior, Dyson might prove to be one of the most skilled players in this draft class.

22. Thunder: William Buford (6-5/200; SG; Ohio State)
The league's new beloved franchise is pretty much stacked, but they could still use some outside shooting and another guard who can score. After a disappointing start to what was supposed to be a tremendous sophomore season, Buford has really turned it on of late, displaying his NBA range and mature offensive game. Though they would have very few minutes to allocate to another guard, the Thunder could use an occasionally unconscious scorer like Buford.

23. Nets: Da'Sean Butler (6-7/225; SF; West Virginia)
The reason the Nets don't win games is simple: nobody on the team can shoot the ball. In Butler they would have a versatile, experienced scorer capable of shooting the lights out. Looks like a good fit to me.

24. Jazz: Solomon Alabi (7-1/235; C; Florida State)
Despite their constant hustle and effort on the defensive end, the Jazz are one of worst shot blocking teams in the NBA. Projected to be a lottery pick earlier in the year, Alabi is an immensely talented prospect, and has proven to be a very reliable shot blocker for the Seminoles. Utah needs a big man who can alter shots, and that's what Alabi's all about.

25. Celtics: Sherron Collins (5-11/200; PG; Kansas)
The Celts are not especially deep at either guard spot, and with an aging roster, will most likely look for someone who could make an immediate impact. Collins' experience and championship pedigree should pique Danny Ainge's interest.

26. Hawks: Stanley Robinson (6-9/240; SF: Connecticut)
Even though they have more talented swingmen than most teams have talent, the Hawks wouldn't be able to pass up on someone like Robinson, especially with Joe Johnson supposedly planning to leave. Capable of guarding power forwards and stepping out to pop threes, Robinson is the type of player Hawks coach Mike Woodson covets, and would be a good fit in the ATL despite their wealth of highly skilled forwards.

27. Grizzlies: Lance Stephenson (6-6/225; SG/SF; Cincinnati)
Though he's mired in the second round on most draft boards, Stephenson is arguably as talented as any prospect in the nation. His reputation will scare a good many franchises away, but a team like the Grizzlies, who have a very solid rotation and therefore won't feel compelled to rush him into battle, can afford to take a chance on him.

28. Magic: Jan Vesely (6-11/230; SF/PF; Czech Republic)
Boasting the league's deepest rotation, the Magic will either trade this pick for cash or select a foreign prospect who they can stock overseas. Let's hope that foreigner is content with his current team.

29. Grizzlies: Charles Garcia (6-10/230; SF/PF; Seattle)
The Grizzlies are deep down low, but don't have any big men who can routinely step out and spread the floor. A big, versatile forward who can score in a variety of ways, Seattle's Charles Garcia would be a welcome addition.

30. Cavaliers: Luke Harangody (6-7/250; PF; Notre Dame)
It's very likely that neither Shaq nor Big Z will be on the team next year, meaning Cleveland should target inside help. Harangody won't be able to fill the void at center, but he's as NBA-ready as they come and could contribute immediately.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Prospect Profile: Wesley Johnson

Wesley Johnson (6-7/205; Small forward; Junior; Syracuse University)

Numbers to Date: 16.7 points 9 rebounds 1.8 blocks 1.7 steals 54.5% FG
NBA Comparison: Rudy Gay
Age on Draft Day: 23
Potential Pick Range: 2 - 9
Good Fits: Nets, Timberwolves, Warriors

The Player: After winning Big 12 Rookie of the Year at Iowa State, Johnson regressed somewhat in his sophomore campaign and decided to depart Ames, Iowa for Syracuse, New York, where he was forced to sit out a year before making his debut for the Orange. Only the fifth transfer accepted by Jim Boeheim in the Hall of Famer's 33-year tenure as head coach, Johnson has proven to be more that just a neat addition to a talented team: He has morphed into one of the most consistently dominant and versatile players in the nation, destined to garner a handful of accolades before he inevitably enters the draft. In leading the Syracuse to its best start in school history, Johnson looks to become the first player since Shane Battier to average 15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals, while shooting 50% from the field. While Wes is certainly a tremendous athlete and a dependable shooter, his enviable versatility is his calling card.

Strengths: Inarguably the best athlete in the college game...Routinely converts impossible alley-oops, skies above the rim for rebounds, and swats shots like a mad man...Superhuman leaping ability...Dead-eye shooter with a gorgeous jump shot...Loves to face up defenders at the top of the key and pop a quick, smooth J...Shooting 42.5% from range on the year...Unselfish to a fault...Understands what it takes to win as thoroughly as any player in the country...Perhaps the best rebounder in the nation at the small forward position, posting 10 double-doubles by the end of January...A dynamite defender, averaging nearly 2 blocks and 2 steals per game...His playing style is tailored for the NBA, as evidenced by three distinct characteristics of his game: His confidence in shooting contested jumpers from at least 18 feet out, his defensive tenacity, and killer instinct...Has a great attitude on and off the court, frequently flashing a huge smile when the Orange are on a roll, and sending Facebook messages to Syracuse students reminding them to come out to games and wear orange...Exceptional length and bounce allow him to clog passing lines and alter shots like a big man...Prototypical size for the SF position.

Weaknesses: Gripes with Wesley's game generally start and end with his complacency - in that he doesn't score 20 points night in and night out - but his supposedly inadequate production on the offensive end can be explained by the Syracuse system, the Orange's wealth of weapons (six players averaging at least 9 points per game), and the fact that on this team, there's always a better shot to be taken (Syracuse leads the nation in field goal percentage)...Not a great ball handler, especially for a swingman...Must become more comfortable taking defenders of the dribble, a la Evan Turner...A very good passer, but still averages more turnovers than assists...While he can create his own shot off the dribble with ease, he relies too heavily on others to set him up and get him going on offense...His slight frame and reckless play around the basket have some questioning his durability...Despite his athleticism and rapid development, his age (23) has understandably raised concerns about his potential.

Bottom Line: Still a contender for the Naismith Award, Johnson has the Orange, who were picked to finish sixth in the Big East, contending for a national title. Some of Johnson's critics are convinced that his age will scare away a number of ball clubs pining for the next superstar, but more will covet him for his potential to contribute from day one. He might not have Wall's upside, but he might have the most impact of any rookie next season. Teams that consider themselves a competent, versatile starter away from really competing might not want to wait on the likes of Derrick Favors or Donatas Motlejunas, seeing Johnson as a desired free agent who can be had for a very small price. If his impact on Syracuse is any indication, whichever franchise scoops him up on draft day might find themselves playing at a level they never imagined they might have achieved before Wesley and his thousand-watt smile came to town.