Revisiting the 2006 NBA Draft class

Tyrus Thomas

On the heels of what many are labeling the greatest first round NBA series of all-time, there’s already been a lot of talk about how good the recently exited Chicago Bulls can be next year. And with good reason: Derrick Rose is already on his way to becoming one of the game’s best point guards, Ben Gordon (despite the fact that he plays worse defense than the 2008 Detroit Lions) is a lights-out scorer, and Joakim Noah can do it all from a defensive and rebounding perspective.

But perhaps the most intriguing player in this year’s Celtics-Bulls classis series was Tyrus Thomas. His play was a bit of a revelation in the series, as he consistently knocked down the 18-foot jump shot NBA 4s need to make, and his athleticism continues to be off the charts. He’s got the potential to be an all-star.

There is a saying in the NFL that it takes three years to truly evaluate a draft class, and to a lesser extent this is true in the NBA as well. Since Thomas and Boston’s stud PG Rajon Rondo are both from the 2006 NBA Draft class, how about we take a look at who the top 10 picks were, and who the revised top 5 should be?

2006 Draft (the actual top 10)

1. Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors

2. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers

3. Adam Morrison, Charlotte Bobcats

4. Tyrus Thomas, Chicago Bulls

5. Shelden Williams, Atlanta Hawks

6. Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers

7. Randy Foye, Minnesota Timberwolves

8. Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies

9. Patrick O’Bryant, Golden State Warriors

10. Saer Sene, Seattle SuperSonics

2006 Draft (the should-have-been top 5)

1. Brandon Roy

2. Rajon Rondo

3. LaMarcus Aldridge

4. Rudy Gay

5. Tyrus Thomas

The ’06 class has hardly set the world on fire in its first three years, with its only redeeming value being that they’ve featured second-round gems like Utah’s Paul Millsap, Cleveland’s Daniel Gibson and Boston’s Leon Powe. But in terms of potential star power, don’t stick a fork in 2006 yet – all 5 of my revised top picks could end up as all-stars.

If the teams could do it over, who do you think they’d take?

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Six NBA players who are about to break out

The NBA season is underway, and every year there are a few players that raise the level of their games. This might stem from maturity, improvement or increased opportunity. These players aren’t household names, but they could be by season’s end.

Here are six players that have a great shot to break out. These guys aren’t rookies; but they’re all relatively young and for whatever reason, they just haven’t reached their potential. I’ve ranked them in the order of just how certain I am that they’ll break out this season.

1. Jose Calderon, Raptors
Calderon was the #4 PG last season in terms of PER, but he posted great numbers while T.J. Ford was out, which prompted the Raptors to trade Ford to the Pacers for Jermaine O’Neal. In 56 games as the starter, Calderon averaged 13.0 points, 9.1 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals. He’ll probably see 35-38 minutes per game this year, so those numbers are probably a baseline. On the season, he shot 52% from the field, 43% from 3PT and 91% from the charity stripe, making him one of the most efficient shooters in the league. Moreover, he’s just 27 years old and the Raptors wisely locked him up with a five-year deal worth $43 million, which might seem like a bargain in a year or two. Since he’s Spanish and plays for the Raptors, he’ll probably still be ignored. What a shame.

2. Devin Harris, Nets
Before his trade to the Nets, Harris already had something of a breakout season with the Mavs, averaging 14.4 points and 5.3 assists per game. In 25 games with the Nets, he averaged 15.4 points and 6.5 assists. After the trade, his shooting percentage dipped, so if he can get that back up to his career 47% mark, a 17/7 season is not out of the question. Harris is lightning quick – especially for someone that’s 6’3” – and he has an improving jumper. (He shot the ball well while at Wisconsin, but seemed to lose that touch a bit once he hit the NBA.) His numbers could jump even more if the team is able to trade Vince Carter. Do you think the Mark Cuban will regret the trade after he pays Jason Kidd $21.3 million to shoot 39% from the field resulting in a first-round playoff exit for the Mavs? Me too. Harris is one of the young pieces that the Nets will use to try to lure LeBron James to Brooklyn in the summer of 2010, and the Mavs never should have traded him away.

3. David Lee, Knicks
Last season, Lee finished ahead of bigger names like Emeka Okafor, Lamar Odom and Rashard Lewis in terms of PER, and now that Mike D’Antoni is in town, I fully expect Lee’s minutes to increase from the 29.1 he got last season (Isiah, what were you thinking?) to something in the 35- to 37-minute range. He averaged 10.8 points and 8.9 rebounds on the season, but in 27 games as a starting forward, he averaged 12.9 points and 10.0 rebounds in 33.1 minutes per game. (I’ll ask again – Isiah, what were you thinking?) His hard-nosed, energetic play fits D’Antoni’s style, and while he’s due for an extension next season, the Knicks have so many bad contracts that they might have to include Lee just to get a fresh start. The key will be for the Knicks to find a taker for Zach Randolph and the $33 million he coming to him over the next two seasons. Eddy Curry’s contract isn’t quite as bad, so if the Knicks can get out from under Randolph’s, they may be able to hold onto Lee.

4. Thaddeus Young, 76ers
In terms of PER, Young was the #18 small forward in his rookie season, finishing just behind Danny Granger and ahead of Tayshaun Prince. That is impressive company, especially for a first-year player. He averaged just 8.2 points and 4.2 rebounds on the season, but in 22 games as a starter, he posted 10.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in 29.1 minutes. But what was most impressive was his 55% shooting as a starter. Elton Brand’s arrival should free Young up to make more plays. Expect Young to average 12-15 points and 5-7 rebounds per game.

5. Randy Foye, Timberwolves
Foye isn’t a pure point guard, but he can play the position. In 31 games as a starter, he averaged 14.3 points and 4.8 assists even though he was coming off of a “stress reaction” injury in his kneecap. Now that he’s had an offseason to recover, he should get off to a fast start this season. He’s very solid from long-range (41%) and the free throw line (82%) and doesn’t seem to have any major holes in his game. Along with Mike Miller, the duo will make for a sharp-shooting backcourt that will keep opposing guards from double-teaming Al Jefferson. GM Kevin McHale hasn’t done a whole lot right over the past few years, but Foye was a pretty good get.

6. Mike Conley, Grizzlies
He had trouble shooting the ball (43%) in his rookie season, but he missed time due to shoulder and rib injuries, so we should probably cut him some slack. The Grizzlies drafted him to be the point guard of the future, so he should get lots of opportunity to prove he’s the guy this season. The Grizzlies want to run, and with O.J. Mayo on one wing and Rudy Gay on the other, they could be an exciting team to watch with the super-quick Conley running the show.

2008 NBA Preview: #29 Minnesota Timberwolves

Offseason Movement: The team acquired Mike Miller as a part of a trade that sent the rights to O.J. Mayo to Memphis for the rights to Kevin Love. Miller is one of the league’s best shooters, but he’s a good all-around player at a fair price. He should be able to make teams pay if they elect to doubleteam Al Jefferson.
Keep Your Eye On: Kevin Love, F
GM Kevin McHale – that’s right, he’s still running things – fell in…um…love with Love’s game and elected to trade away the more dynamic Mayo for Love’s blend of power and fundamentals. Love showed much better athleticism after trimming down for the combine, so if he’s able to keep that going, he should be a fine power forward for years to come. He’s a terrific passer, a good rebounder and a solid shooter.
The Big Question: Is McHale the right guy to steer this ship around?
Usually, the guy who gets the team into a mess isn’t the one who’s given the job to clean it up. In this case, McHale has a close relationship with Glen Taylor, so it seems like he has a lifetime contract and is impervious to talk of his dismissal. To his credit, the Kevin Garnett-for-Al Jefferson gambit paid off (and not only for the Celtics), as he landed a young, All-Star caliber player in return for KG. Jefferson is one of the best post players in the game, and he gives the team someone to build around for years to come. If the Love draft pick pans out, the ‘Wolves might be onto something.
Outlook: In the short term, things look bleak. Other than Miller, the rest of the projected starting five (Randy Foye, Rodney Carney, Love and Jefferson) have a combined eight years of NBA experience. There’s no doubt that they’re going to struggle, but the team showed some life last season, and they should continue to improve. On the salary cap front, there is $13.5 million coming off the books next summer, so the franchise will be a player in free agency in 2009.

Check out our NBA Preview page for a look at every team. We’ll be posting three previews per business day, which will take us up to the start of the season on Tuesday, October 28th.

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