2009 NBA Draft: Cheers & Jeers

It’s waaaaaaaay too early to start judging the 2009 NBA Draft, but that’s not going to stop me (or anyone else, for that matter) from trying. It takes at least three years before a draft class really shakes out, so there’s no reason to fly off the handle criticizing (or praising) a team for what they did on Thursday night.

That said, as the draft wore on, there were some picks I liked and some that I didn’t. This is by no means the final say on whether or not the pick is good or bad; it’s just a snapshot that’s based on what we know right now.

So let’s jump the gun:

CHEERS TO…

Thunder: #3 James Harden
I don’t know that Russell Westbrook is really a point guard, but Harden projects to be a great fit in OKC.

Sixers: #17 Jrue Holiday
The talented freshman worked out for most of the lottery teams and was reportedly up and down leading up to the draft. With this much PG depth, I figured someone would slip and the Sixers were the beneficiary. In Holiday, they get a lottery talent and their point guard of the future, though Lawson would have been able to come in and help the Sixers more immediately.

Nuggets: #18 Ty Lawson
I thought he’d go to a team in more need of PG help, but the Nuggets swooped in and snatched him up. At the very least, I think he’s going to be a capable starter.

Grizzlies: #36 Sam Young
At 24, Young doesn’t have the upside of many of the players drafted ahead of him, but he’s already a better player than most, as well. If he can improve his handle, he could be a starter-quality small forward.

Spurs: #37 DeJuan Blair
Think this guy played with a chip on his shoulder before? Just wait and see what kind of energy he brings in 15-25 minutes playing for the Spurs. I know his knees are an issue, but I’m shocked that he wasn’t picked earlier in the second round.

Hornets: #43 Marcus Thornton
The Hornets have issues on the wing and they took a point guard with their first pick. They made up for it in the second round by acquiring Thornton, an off guard, from the Heat. He’s a great scorer and can make contested jumpers.

JEERS TO…

Timberwolves: #5 Ricky Rubio / #6 Jonny Flynn
It’s not that I don’t like the individual players or the individual picks; they just don’t make any sense when picked together. I don’t know how a Rubio/Flynn backcourt will be successful. Had the T-Wolves drafted Stephen Curry with one of the picks, it would have made a lot more sense.

Jazz: #20 Eric Maynor
Maynor is a good all-around player, and maybe the best that was available, so let’s not be too hard on the Jazz here. Still, how many minutes is he going to play behind Deron Williams? If he turns out to be a player, they can use him as an asset, so maybe they didn’t feel that way about any of the frontline players that were available.

Hornets: #21 Darren Collison
New Orleans has star/superstar quality players at PG, PF and C, and a good young prospect in Julian Wright at small forward, so off guard seems to be their biggest need. Like Utah, the Hornets went with a point guard to back up their best player. I like Collison, I just don’t like this pick for New Orleans (though they made up for it in the second round).

Blazers: #31 Jeff Pendergraph / #33 Dante Cunningham
I don’t have a problem with the players themselves, but with the fact that Portland passed on DeJuan Blair twice in the second round (where the financial risk is much lower if his health turns out to be a problem). They could have used his toughness and rebounding, but were unwilling to roll the dice on his knees.

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Trying to make sense of the Timberwolves’ first two picks

Probably the most perplexing sequence of events occurred early last night when the Minnesota Timberwolves picked Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn — two pure point guards — with back-to-back picks. My first instinct was that GM David Kahn (Kaaaaaaaaaahn!) was working out a trade for one of the guards, possibly moving Rubio to the Warriors or Knicks or some other team for a pick and/or veteran help. But then Ric Bucher popped his head in to inform us that Kahn said that he plans to play Rubio and Flynn together. Later on, Kahn mentioned a few examples of point guard duos that have played well in the past, citing Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge, and…gulp…Michael Jordan and John Paxson.

Setting aside the Jordan/Paxson comparison for a moment, let’s look at the other two examples. DJ and Ainge were both 6’4″ combo guards and neither guy had to have the ball in his hands to be effective. I don’t think the same will be said about Rubio or Flynn (certainly not Rubio). Dumars was 6’3″ defensive stopper and deadeye shooter, while Zeke was a ball-dominant playmaker. In short, Thomas was a pure point guard, while Dumars, Ainge and DJ were combo guards. Those backcourts worked because the two players complemented each other.

But back to Jordan/Paxson — if I’m a Timberwolves fan and I hear that my general manager is referring to Michael Jordan as a point guard, I’m getting out on the ledge. MJ was a 6’6″ wing, who could do everything — handle, shoot, post up and play defense. He was more of a 2/3 who could run the point if necessary. If Kahn really thinks that he was a point guard, then that shows an alarming lack of basic knowledge about the game.

But that’s not the only reason the comparison is invalid. A general manager should not be invoking Jordan’s name when discussing his first few picks in the draft. He is arguably the greatest player ever to play the game, so it’s not fair to expect your rookies to do the same things he did. Any backcourt that featured Jordan would have worked. He was that good.

Once Hasheem Thabeet, James Harden and Tyreke Evans were off the board, I thought for sure the T-Wolves would take a point guard (Rubio or Flynn) and Stephen Curry, who is a smallish combo guard that can shoot the lights out. If you want to run him at off guard, you need to pair him with a pure point guard to set him up. A Flynn/Curry or Rubio/Curry backcourt would have had a real chance at working. Rubio/Flynn would serve as the playmaker, while Curry’s shooting would create space for Al Jefferson and Kevin Love to work in the post. Defensively, a backcourt like that would have its share of problems, but at least it would make sense on the other end of the court.

I just don’t think a Rubio/Flynn backcourt will work. Both players are ball-dominant and neither guy shoots the ball very well. Rubio isn’t strong enough to cover most opposing shooting guards and Flynn isn’t tall enough to cover big guards on the block. Throw in the fact that Rubio doesn’t sound too thrilled about the prospect of playing in Minnesota, and Kahn might have one big mess on his hands.

Here is some more commentary about Minnesota’s first two picks…

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Running diary of the 2009 NBA Draft

I’m going to be doing a running diary of the NBA Draft, so check back at 7 PM ET when I’ll be giving my initial impressions on every pick in the first round and commenting on all the other happenings (trades, bad commentary, crazy suits, etc.). I’ll also be answering questions if anyone gives two sh*ts about what I think. It’ll be fun.

LaRusso, my buddy and admitted Minnesota Timberwolves fan, will be joining me. I’m a Bucks fan, so between the two of us, our teams have three picks in the top 10.

All times are in PT. (Eastern Time gets all the love, but Pacific Time is where it’s really at.)

Let’s get this thing rolling…

4:18 PM: There’s a rumor that the Warriors might send Andris Biedrins, Marco Belinelli, Brandan Wright and the #7 pick to Phoenix for Amare Stoudemire. That seems like an awful lot to give up given the trades we’ve seen go down in recent days. But Stoudemire is a borderline franchise player, so a good center (Biedrins) and three prospects (Belinelli, Wright and the #7 pick) doesn’t seem crazy.

Jeff Van Gundy is talking like the Vince Carter trade means that Hedo Turkoglu is gone. I’m not so sure.

4:26 PM: Regarding Turkoglu, Kyle Hightower of the Orlando Sentinel echoes Van Gundy’s take: “The Magic have yet to confirm the deal, but the addition of a scorer in Carter, the trade would seem to end the Magic’s quest to bring back forward Hedo Turkoglu for a long term deal.”

This all comes down to whether or not the Magic are willing to go over the luxury tax for the long term to keep Turkoglu.

4:39 PM: Thanks for eating up four minutes with that pick, Mike Dunleavy. He makes maybe the worst acquisition in years (Zach Randolph and his bloated contract) and he gets awarded with the #1 pick and Blake Griffin. The NBA should do away with the progressive lottery system and give all non-playoff teams an equal chance at the top pick. In fact, all 14 picks should be decided by an equal lottery. It would be more exciting (just think, every team has an equal chance of coming out of the lottery with the #1 pick or the #14 pick — talk about the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat) and it would eliminate all the tanking we see at the end of the season, which not only betrays the NBA fan base but also taints those late season playoff races.

But back to Griffin, who looks like the real deal. He’s my bet for Rookie of the Year. (I know, I’m really going out on a limb there.)

4:41 PM: LaRusso just told me that Taylor Griffin was the #1 pick of the Harlem Globetrotters. I don’t even know what that means.

Barring a trade, I think the Grizzlies are going with Thabeet here.

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