Lottery Lowdown: Part One - The Draft's Top Six Picks
Welcome to the Pacific Northwest, Mr. Oden and Mr. Durant. We’re sure you will love the nationally televised games and close proximity to Nike headquarters. Please let us know if you have any issues at all…
Yes, the basketball gods have spoken and they’ve told us Greg Oden will be a Blazer and Kevin Durant is Seattle-bound. But you already knew that. What you may not know is what the entire NBA Draft Lottery really means. So let’s start at the top…
1. Portland Trail Blazers
Oden is the final re-building block for Portland. No longer is their roster comprised of troublesome disappointments (well, aside from Darius Miles). Martell Webster, LaMarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw, Jarrett Jack, Sergio Rodriguez, Zach Randolph, and Brandon Roy aren’t just athletic and skilled, they’re also young. None of them is older than 25. Joel Przybilla is older than 25, but his stay in Oregon may be short lived once Oden shows up.
Roy and Oden would give the Blazers an opportunity to receive the rarest of rarities: Back-to-back “Rookie of the Year” awards. Not bad for a franchise famous for choosing Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan.
The Blazers are already calling the news of the top pick “Monumental,” “Historic,” and “Epic” on their web site. And the timing of it all couldn’t be better for Comcast SportsNet, who announced that their new regional sports network – Comcast Sports Northwest – would be covering the team just days before the lottery.
There is some talk of the team trying to grab Oden’s high school and college teammate – Mike Conley – a few slots later in the draft, yet the odds of getting both are slim. However, the Blazers probably will move Randolph at some point this summer.
2. Seattle SuperSonics
The Sonics are going to love having a 6-foot-10, former high school superstar who does it all, including shoot with remarkable range.
In fact, they already know what having one feels like.
Rashard Lewis was Kevin Durant before Durant was Durant. At Alief Elsik High School in Houston, Lewis was such a special, sweet-shooting stud that the league invited him to the green room on draft day. His ensuing slide to the second round is a legendary tale, but he went on to prove oh-so-many teams wrong, averaging over 22 ppg last season.
Just days before the lottery, the Seattle Times reported that Sonics owner Clay Bennett intended to re-sign the unrestricted free agent, but that was before the Sonics laid claim to the second overall pick. With two players so utterly similar in style, Lewis knew the arrival of Durant signaled an end to his tenure. He consequently opted for free agency.
If Lewis had decided to stay, opponents would have had to deal with the league’s strongest axis of offense – Ray Allen, Durant, and Lewis. Now that’s not a possibility.
However, Durant will immediately be a better all-around player than Lewis was and should eclipse Lewis’s scoring output within a few seasons. New Sonics GM Sam Presti will be responsible for surrounding Allen and Durant with some capable teammates and he’s the perfect man for the job. Presti helped San Antonio build around the foundation that is Tim Duncan by helping the Spurs acquire many of the key components to their last three championship squads.
Durant’s dreadful showing at the recent NBA combine didn’t hurt the Sonics chances of drafting him. It probably just scared off some of the other teams that were willing to make ridiculous trade offers to get him. Durant’s inability to bench press 185 pounds is incredible, but just think about how truly special he could become once he starts working with a nutritionist and a professional strength coach.
3. & 11. Atlanta Hawks
The Blazers and Sonics are obviously thrilled over the bounce of the ping pong balls and the Hawks are almost as happy. As part of the Joe Johnson for Boris Diaw deal, Phoenix had the rights to Atlanta’s pick, but that pick was top three protected. The Suns will have to wait until next year to snatch the Hawks’ pick.
But just owning the pick doesn’t guarantee anything. The Hawks haven’t won more than 30 games since 2003 and they haven’t been to the playoffs since the strike-shortened 1999 season.
Atlanta’s been loading up at the wing and forward positions (Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Josh Childress, and Shelden Williams), yet they are desperate for a point guard. Their fan base still hasn’t forgiven the team for taking Marvin Williams in 2005 because the next three picks were Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and Raymond Felton.
The Hawks’ choice could be Brandan Wright, who – much like Marvin Williams – is a highly-touted forward fresh off an impressive freshman season at UNC. However, if they really want to satisfy their fans, they must take a lead guard this year.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, the highest-rated available players – after Oden and Durant – are exactly the type they’ve already invested in. Wright and Florida’s Al Horford are capable of scoring from the low post in the NBA, but the Hawks don’t need them. The team could take Wright and pray viciously that Acie Law will be around for the Hawks at No. 11 (obtained from the Pacers in the Al Harrington trade). Georgia Tech point guard Javaris Crittenton is the draft’s most underrated prospect – by those in the media, not those in the league – and would also be a nice fit in Atlanta.
If the Hawks want Law, they could package their second pick and one of their many forwards in order to move up to guarantee they get him. Otherwise, they may just nab Mike Conley first and take the best available player with their second choice.
4. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizz are a mess. Despite winning their last three games, Memphis finished with a league-worst 22 wins. Their top player – Pau Gasol – has been the subject of serious trade rumors for over a year now. The team is marketing Mike Miller as if he’s a perennial all-star, but everyone in Memphis realizes that the Grizz’s future depends solely on the development of last year’s stud rookie, Rudy Gay.
Miller and Gay appear to be the base of the franchise and the team drafted point guard Kyle Lowry last season, meaning no one knows for sure who they will take this year. In fact, Memphis is the biggest x-factor in this draft because they could go big (Yi Jianlian?), small (Mike Conley?), or trade Gasol and shake everything up.
5. Boston Celtics
Sorry, Celtics fans, turns out that Oden and Durant won’t be walking through that door either. If Boston did truly tank this past season, it was all for naught.
The team won’t end up with one of this draft’s preordained stars, but they still have a future to think about. Paul Pierce is an all-star and Al Jefferson could be joining him soon. Check out Jefferson’s scoring averages during the last four months of the season:
January – 14.6 ppg
February – 16.1 ppg
March – 19.7 ppg
April – 22.3 ppg
Yi Jianlian is skilled, energetic, and as YouTube followers know, he enjoys dunking on people. The Celtics will have to take a long look at him at No. 5 because his surprisingly smooth style might perfectly balance out Jefferson’s brute nature.
But regardless of who the choice is, that player probably won’t be able to catapult Boston among the East’s elite anytime soon.
6. Milwaukee Bucks
With Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva on the frontline and Michael Redd in the backcourt, the Bucks clearly have talent. The problem is keeping them all healthy. Bogut played in 66 games this past season, Redd played 53 games, and Villanueva played in just 39.
Al Horford would be the perfect complement to Bogut and Villanueva because of the former Gator’s ability to score, rebound, and intimidate. My sources say the Bucks are very interested in Horford, but it’s tough to say if he’ll slide down to them. If Horford is gone, the Bucks could choose another Florida phenom, Joakim Noah, or go with the best available point guard.
This is part One of Adam Stanco's Lottery Lowdown, a Two-part look at what the Draft means for the Top 14 picks.