Withholding all national holidays and maybe my birthday, the NBA draft’s always been my favorite day of the year. The excitement it conjures—both in the climactic preceding weeks, filled with trade rumors and bold speculation, and the tense moments that crop up throughout the actual event—is unparalleled throughout professional sports. Unlike the NFL, MLB, and NHL, it all comes down to one neat, tightly packed evening, and the rewards (or consequences) of a high draft pick are noticed much sooner. You pick a dud and your franchise can slip into a deep, dark hole. You select Derrick Rose or Kevin Durant and everything changes immediately.
Over the past two weeks we’ve given in-depth profiles on some prospects who could fall into the Knicks lap at 17; players who fit needs and seem to be of the team’s liking. This isn’t an especially gifted draft class, but what it should provide is a whole bunch of role players who’re capable of contributing a significant winning impact. (At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.) Here’s our take on what’s going down for the first 14 picks. It’s our first time doing this so please let us know what you think in the comments; whether we’re spot on or floundering in the middle of nowhere. Enjoy!
1. Cleveland Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke
What’s most intriguing about Irving isn’t the 11 games he played in college or the early comparisons to Chris Paul. It’s his height, 6’4″. In the point guard dominant era the NBA’s currently enjoying (good point guards make basketball better), to have somebody as tall as Dwyane Wade run your team up and down the court could and should be a blessing. Despite everyone spouting the weaknesses that this draft holds, Kyrie Irving isn’t one of them. His handle and attitude are beyond polished, and if he’s taken with the number one overall selection the Cavaliers franchise will be back in the playoffs in no time.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves. Derrick Williams, PF, Arizona
Possessing a more accurate shot, meet this poor man’s Blake Griffin. When he demolished the defending national champions last March, Williams became a country wide sensation; ESPN could’ve had a Top 10 strictly showcasing his dunks from that one game. While Minnesota is already loaded (never will you see this term used so loosely in your life) at the forward position with Anthony Randolph, Michael Beasley, and Wesley Johnson all existing without a definitive role on the league’s worst team (then there’s Kevin Love, who desperately needs a seven footer beside him), the Timberwolves would be wisest to either trade this pick or move one of their aforementioned players not named Love or Johnson.
3. Utah Jazz. Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky
After the second pick, the draft’s talent isn’t necessarily falling off a cliff, but the road’s certainly become a bit more treacherous. With Millsap, Jefferson, and a burgeoning Derrick Favors, Utah’s front line is solid. Gordon Hayward showed towards the end of last year that he’ll actually become a dependable player on the wing. What they need is someone to control their tempo and distribute the ball—an ability to score both off the dribble and with range would also be nice. Utah also has the draft’s 12th pick, so either complementing those front line guys with more height or adding another scorer can wait. Here they need to take Knight, the best player available and a point guard whose ceiling could be even higher than Irving’s.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers. Enes Kanter, C, Turkey
While this draft’s been lambasted for its inability to produce a single All-Star candidate, what it does provide is fascination. In the grandiose game of mysterious big men from foreign countries who could or could not become the best player on whichever team selects them, Enes Kanter is our first contestant. He’s a 6’11″ athletic monster (I love this bit about the treadmill test) who John Calipari says would’ve been college basketball’s best player last season had he been allowed to play for the Wildcats. If they wake up Friday morning with Kanter and Irving, Cleveland’s best case scenario is solidification at point guard and center for the next eight years, with both growing into All-Star caliber players. Worst case scenario? Kanter flames out and Irving becomes a poor man’s A.J. Price. Damn, this draft’s exciting.
5. Toronto Raptors. Jonas Valanciunas, C, Lithuania
Here’s my suggestion to the Raptors: Immediately cut your losses with Andrea Bargnani,take the 19-year-old, 6’11″ Lithuanian, hope Demar Derozan becomes the next Dominique Wilkins, and build the team around those two youngsters. There are no quick fix schemes with a team as depleted of talent as Toronto, but with time, patience, and a little bit of luck, hopefully President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo can look back on this draft as the primary reason he’s signing yet another extension.
6. Washington Wizards. Jan Vesely, SF, Czech Republic
He’s a 6’11″ small forward who shot under 44 percent in the Euro League last year…from the free-throw line. So no, he isn’t a Czech Larry Bird. But he is really tall. And really athletic for someone who’s really tall. Put him on the same court as John Wall and Javale McGee, cut the chains, and let the Wizards run free for a few years. At the very least it’ll be entertaining.
7. Sacramento Kings. Kemba Walker, PG, Connecticut
If they aren’t watchful, the Kings have a roster in danger of teetering towards JailBlazers territory—or as close as David Stern will allow it in this day and age. Insert Kemba Walker, a player who has high character, demands respect, and is arguably the best leader who played college basketball last season. Drafting him allows Sacramento to seamlessly move Tyreke Evans to the two, putting the ball in Kemba’s hands and allowing him to be the team’s chief decision maker. The transition from go-do-everything-scorer in college to NBA facilliator will be a tough one, but if he can pull it off the Kings will be primed as one of the better young teams in the league.
8. Detroit Pistons. Tristan Thompson, PF, Texas
Here’s a young project of a big man, headed to a team with brand new ownership looking to turn the ship around. There are tons of problems with the Detroit Pistons right now. Selecting a physically strong kid who might eventually become a more offensively gifted version of Ben Wallace would be a wonderful starting point as the team looks to distance itself from last season’s embarrassing behavior.
9. Charlotte Bobcats. Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Diego State
My favorite player in the draft, Leonard seems destined to be one of those guys who stays in the league for at least 13 years. You’ve probably read about his ridiculously huge hands, but Leonard’s desire is what seems to set him apart from everybody else. As the best player on his college team almost by default, his game reminds me of Jeff Green at Georgetown. A consummate glue guy who does everything well and makes everybody better. The big difference between the two is between the ears; Leonard has all the physical skills Green has, but he’s not afraid to use them. Whichever team takes him will have a contributor from day one.
10. Milwaukee Bucks. Klay Thompson, SG, Washington State
The best pure shooter in the draft heads to a team with no pure shooters. Who says the draft is difficult?
11. Golden State Warriors. Chris Singleton, SF, Florida State
Rumors of a Monta Ellis for Andre Iguodala trade must’ve been enticing for Warriors fans fed up with watching their team’s perimeter defense get continuously gutted on a night in, night out basis last year. Drafting Chris Singleton might be Golden State’s way of having their cake and eating it too. Singleton is widely regarded as the best perimeter defender in the class, and on a Warriors team loaded with players who greatly enjoy shooting at a high volume, his offensive deficiencies can be overlooked. This, like the Thompson pick at 10, makes too much sense.
12. Utah Jazz. Bismack Biyombo, PF, Congo
Born to grab rebounds and defend huge dudes, Biyombo would make Al Jefferson’s life easier. If he developed quick enough and found a permanent place in the rotation, he could also give Utah management the option of moving Paul Millsap for a veteran scorer.
13. Phoenix Suns. Jimmer Fredette, PG/SG, BYU
The more I think about Jimmer, the more I like his abilities as an NBA player, but only if he’s drafted into the right situation. Phoenix qualifies as the perfect place. Sitting behind Steve Nash with very little pressure to perform in his rookie season, Fredette would have time to grow comfortable into his new professional life. He’d be slowly descending into the shallow end of a pool instead of getting shoved off a boat in the middle of a lake. If he can learn to balance his shooting with getting teammates involved, Fredette could become an above average player in this league.
14. Houston Rockets. Norris Cole, PG, Cleveland State
The Rockets aren’t keeping this pick so it doesn’t matter who they take, but if they can’t move it for whatever reason, why not grab somebody talented enough to include in a trade somewhere down the line. Houston’s a savvy team that won’t be stuck in mediocrity for much longer, and adding Cole, a man who stands a shade over six feet, and who once scored 41 points, grabbed 20 rebounds, and dished 9 assists in a single game, would be a tremendous chip down the line. Either that or their point guard of the future.