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The Houston Rockets are picking at the 14th spot for the third year in a row.  They have picked forwards (two power, one small) in each draft since 2009.  Einstein’s definition of insanity comes to mind: you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.  So here’s a suggestion for the Houston Rockets: pick Austin Rivers, a shooting guard with elite potential.

In one superficial way, Rivers immediately brings a “star buzz” to the team: he is the son of Boston Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers.  This matters because the media will pay attention to whatever team picks Rivers; they will ask Doc Rivers questions about his son’s game; they will play up the father son story and hype every angle; and this kind of attention, in terms of generating interest in a basketball team, is basically a good thing.  So picking Rivers is a smart move for reasons having nothing to do with Rivers actual basketball game and more to do with pop cachet (that’s entertainment, that’s entertainment).

But on to the merits of his playing style.  Rivers hit probably the biggest shot of the season with a game-winning three-pointer over UNC’s Tyler Zeller.  He brings an “I am the guy to take the last shot” mentality to a Rockets team severely lacking a star.   The common criticisms of Rivers tend to focus on his “cocky” attitude and his Carmelo Anthony-esque revulsion to passing the ball; but personally I’d be most concerned about his 66% free throw shooting.  If he can improve this percentage and learn to move the ball more, he could be an NBA all-star.  He has proven that he is a talented shooter; and paired with the emerging talent of Goran Dragic at point guard (more on this later) and the solid performance of Luis Scola (or, more optimistically, Pau Gasol) at power forward, he could really contribute to a team that needs a player with his skill-set.

So bring on the trade rumors.  Kyle Lowry may have inadvertently guaranteed Goran Dragic the starting point guard position next year by making one very puzzling statement: “If things aren’t addressed coaching-wise, I guess I have to be moved.”   That comment comes in the context of this one by Daryl Morey, the Rockets GM: “We plan to sign Goran.”  You might be thinking: “who is Kyle Lowry to make this kind of demand?”–and you’d be exactly right. The skill difference between these two players  certainly isn’t enough to justify the drama and dysfunction of keeping a point guard who might be a delusional head-case.   Lowry isn’t Dwight Howard, though comparisons to the Orlando Magic do come to mind, albeit for an entirely different reason. This panelist believes Lowry is out, possibly packaged with Luis Scola in a 2-for-1 trade for Pau Gasol.  That’s a trade that could make a lot of sense for both teams.

Either way, Austin Rivers is a strong pick for the Rockets.  If Morey can make a few more smart moves (namely, pick wisely at 16 and get the most for Lowry and/or Scola), maybe the Rockets can avoid picking 14th yet again next year.

@nunuspeaks

*Update: The Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks have swapped draft positions with Houston moving up to 12 and Milwaukee moving back to 14. The picks the teams have made remain possible given the parity that exists in this portion of the draft. The panelists have decided, in their infinite wisdom, to keep Austin Rivers to Houston at 12.*

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Kentucky was the clear favorite to win the NCAA tournament this year and, of course, delivered on that promise.  But more than one bracket—including this author’s and President Barack Obama’s–was completely busted when North Carolina’s star point guard went down with a broken wrist (and fractured elbow, though this injury wasn’t discovered until nearly two months later) mid-way through the tournament.  At this point, it’s not worth speculating whether the presence of a healthy Kendall Marshall would have furthered the Tar Heels’ championship dreams: every player in this mock draft will be judged ultimately on future performances.

We need look only to this year’s NBA Finals to see a great example of a point guard who has proven to be among the best in the league and totally exceeded draft-day expectations:  Mario Chalmers.  Just kidding.   But while I’m not prepared to say that Kendall Marshall will prove to be the pleasantly-surprising offensive threat that Russell Westbrook (the player I had in mind) has proven to be, I do think Marshall could be quite good in the NBA and, probably more importantly, would help facilitate a cohesive offense.

Portland saw its version of a big three (Lamarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, and Brandon Roy) disintegrate with the knees of Oden and Roy, neither of whom will play in the NBA next year (as of this writing, though rumors of a Brandon Roy return in the 2012-2013 season do exist).  What happened to Portland is truly sad.  Just watch this video, uploaded around January 2008.  There were once high hopes for this team; but these hopes have long since evaporated and, in terms of cultural relevance in “Portlandia,” the professional basketball team ranks, in some eyes, lower than their professional soccer team.

There are, however, some signs of hope for the team.  In this mock draft, Portland chose center Andre Drummond with their 6th pick.  With Aldridge, a 2012 all-star, at the power forward position, Portland could present a solid frontcourt next season (this view is optimistic vis-à-vis the Drummond pick, who could be a bust, especially since this is Portland we’re talking about).   The big question mark is Nicolas Batum, who may be an elite player or may just play one on TV (while commanding elite-player money).   The jury is still out on shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who will play his fourth season next year.  Operating under the Steve Nash principle (good point guards can make otherwise ineffective players substantially more effective), it stands to reason that Matthews, an 86% free throw shooter last year, could get “his shot” with more frequency if Marshall can bring an offensive spark and make great passes.

Again, this is all very optimistic—but this is a city that could use a healthy dose of optimism and faith in the future.  Here’s looking at you, Portland.

@nunuspeaks

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Draft picks are inherently speculative.  And while it’s not impossible to predict the future, doing so with any precision and accuracy requires, to be boringly scientific about it, lots and lots of data.  And without dwelling on what that relevant data might be with respect to the Toronto Raptors and their 8th pick, let’s take a look at the opposite end of that spectrum:  sheer speculation without any cogent reasoning.  This description fits many of the mock drafts out there and has been, stylistically speaking, an affront to the sensibilities of the various authors in these pages.

In the case of the Raptors, I keep reading that the Raptors “must” draft Dion Waiters, the 6’3 shooting guard from Syracuse. Why “must” the Raptors do this?  In the words of one blogger:

Trust me, his stock is only going to improve, so for those of you who say it’s too early, think again.

Note that this is just a restatement of a lame premise as a less-than convincing conclusion.  It’s pretty typical of the kind of rhetorical emptiness that passes for analysis in today’s NBA Blogosphere. Sigh. But moving right along to the substance of the claim, namely, that an undersized guard with an inconsistent jump-shot “must” be the Raptor’s pick–possibly; but the Raptors have better options.   “Trust me.”

Going back over the players taken thus far in our mock draft through picks 1-7, there are still a few players the Raptors could reasonably pursue if they wanted to go all-in on the speculative talent game that is the NBA Draft: in which millions of dollars are hurled at players with sometimes as little as one year in the limelight; in which the fortunes of entire franchises are married to players not legally able to drink; in which the hopes of a city are tied for half a decade at a time to some uncertain and unproven hero-of-the-day.

Uncertainty be damned, though, as the Raptors can assume control their own destiny by picking Damian Lillard, the highly-skilled scoring point guard out of Weber St. Lillard should be a solid NBA point guard wherever he goes; but Toronto could really use a  reliable player at the PG position.  Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless aren’t exactly terrible.  But neither seems able to elevate the overall offensive game of the Raptors’ squad.  If Lillard is anything, he is a scoring threat in his own right.

So let me be very clear about what exactly “controlling destiny” means in terms of the Raptors’ future: on the one hand, the Raptors can improve from a team that won 23 games to a team that might scrap out 35 wins thanks to their new weapon at the PG position.  On the other hand, the Raptors could morph into a team that makes it as far as the first round of the playoffs and loses.

In the first scenario, the Raptors keep Lillard and lose Calderon or Bayless and use whatever boost Lillard gives them to improve slightly over last year.  They continue at this pace until . . . well, that’s not exactly clear.  They’ll need another piece or two, that’s for sure.  And Lillard will have to deliver on the promise of his potential to become an elite point guard.  During this maturation phase,  even advocates of this approach admit, there will be lots of losing.  But continuing to lose seems to suit the ideology of some who believe that teams “should” (a statement of values) build themselves from the “bottom up”.  In any case, the argument that the Raptors should keep their 2012  draft pick is, effectively, an argument that the Raptors should not bother improving substantially by making risky moves.  They should stick with the ideologically pure course of losing–but losing the right way, with a chance of one day (when the next Durant comes along?) becoming legitimately good enough to win an NBA title.  Advocates of this approach believe it involves less risk than the alternative.

On to the “risky”moves then.  It seems very possible–even probable at this point–that the Raptors will trade their 8th pick to acquire a player with “experience” and the skills to lead the team to playoff contention.  The big names being thrown around at the moment are Rudy Gay and Steve Nash.  The Raptors 8th pick is gone in any scenario involving getting either Nash or Gay to Toronto.  Rudy Gay is owed $53 million over the next three years, and Memphis could really use the cap room to surround their core of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph with better talent.  They are also more than likely losing O.J. Mayo to free agency this year.  Mike Conley is another player with a big contract Memphis could consider losing.  All of which would point to Memphis being really interested in a scoring point guard like Lillard. The inherent risk in this move is that Rudy Gay simply isn’t a marquee player that can hit the big-time shots that champions make.  The combination of Gay with the aging-but-still-effective Nash, who said earlier this year he’d consider leaving Phoenix, probably is good enough, however, to pull the Raptors up from the bottom third of the league and put them on course to make the playoffs.  The fear is that, since trading the current 8th pick probably isn’t going to deliver a championship, the Raptors will eventually be in the same position they are now after Gay and Nash have moved on: losing, in need of a substantial rebuild, and without many options.

That the second scenario here is more probable doesn’t make it right; but it’s important to understand that “rightness”  in this context isn’t scientific at all.  Why do Raptors fans go to games at all?  What are they there for?  In the meantime, the Raptors can just pick Lillard (or Jeremy Lamb, or Dion Waiters) and keep their options open.  But don’t be surprised if the Raptors 8th pick is packaged as part of a deal that will make the Raptors a better team, in the scientific sense, but will also be loudly lambasted in a cacophony of opinion for making the team worse.

—This post written by @nunuspeaks

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The Charlotte Bobcats aren’t simply one of the worst teams in basketball history (boasting an NBA record-low .106 winning percentage this year),they are also one of the worst managed teams in basketball.The skill-set required to be, say, the putative “Greatest of All Time” —a moniker often readily applied to former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan for his on the court excellence—is entirely different from the managerial skill-set required to assemble a winning team.  In his career as an NBA office man making front-office decisions, Jordan has done much to widen that gap.

Questionable moves by Jordan as an executive include drafting Adam Morrison and Alexis Ajinca, neither of whom panned out for the Bobcats.  Then the Bobcats traded a first round pick for Tyrus Thomas, whose production has been lackluster despite the $26 million he is owed over the next three seasons.  Washington Wizards fans will remember the slew of failed decisions Jordan made in his short time as team president (hiring Leonard Hamilton to coach, trading Richard Hamilton for Jerry Stackhouse, and drafting Kwame Brown, to name a few).

The Bobcats were dealt another disappointing hand after the league-rigged (edit: controversial) lottery process awarded the No. 1 pick to New Orleans.  Nevertheless, the Bobcats face a genuine opportunity with the No. 2 pick overall: but it’s also an opportunity for yet another disastrous front office decision.  It’s hard to imagine how the Bobcats could get any worse; but the prospect of remaining this bad for a very long time looms heavy in this year’s NBA Draft for Charlotte.

After losing the chance to snag Anthony Davis, the Bobcats select the obvious “next best thing” in Davis’ Kentucky teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.  MKG, as he is colloquially known, can score down low, shoot well, defend, and rebound.  He will also serve the Bobcats as a perimeter defender and rebounder (Kidd-Gilchrist stands 6’7 but boasts a 6’11 wing span) and as a logical next piece to build upon Charlotte’s young and undersized backcourt in Kemba Walker (6′ 1, 22 years old) and D.J. Augustin (6’0, 24 years old).  The expectations are high for Kidd-Gilchrist, with some anal-ysts predicting the recently-minted NCAA champion MKG is destined to be an NBA all star. If they’re even half-right, it’s good news for the Bobcats.  Or at least, another disaster averted, which is a start. (C. Smith)

**Update: If the Bobcats decide to keep their pick in the draft, then Kidd-Gilchrist is in the running to be the selection, along with Thomas Robinson, Harrison Barnes, and (seemingly) to a lesser extent, Bradley Beal.  However, the Cats have legitimate offers from five other teams attempting to trade up for the #2 overall pick, and are amenable to pulling the trigger on one of them if they decide they can live with potentially losing their top choice in exchange for multiple assets.**

 

New Orleans selects the clear top player in this year’s draft in Davis. With small-market constraints, low attendance numbers, and history of ownership issues aside, New Orleans actually presents a fairly attractive destination for Davis. Assuming Eric Gordon is re-signed Davis has another young star to help shoulder the burden of improving the team’s performance in the coming years. New Orleans also projects to have the opportunity to bring in multiple significant pieces via free agency given their substantial cap room in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 after the spectacular trade of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. However, with this in mind, New Orleans  should resist the urge to fix everything at once by splurging on multiple top free agents this year and instead follow the patient and methodical rebuilding process executed by Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder over the last half decade. This is especially true given reports that top free agent prize Deron Williams is only interested in returning to the Brooklyn Nets or heading to Dallas to play for his hometown Mavericks.

If the successes and failures of teams who drafted surefire stars in the last decade has taught us anything, its that overpaying ill-fitting and/or middling talent to support a young star is more likely to lead to that young star’s exit than it is to garner his allegiance. This panelist believes, for instance, that overpaying for restricted free agents Nicolas Batum and/or Roy Hibbert would be a serious mistake. New Orleans only has to look at its own recent history to see where rushing the process can lead. If a better crop of talent had surrounded Chris Paul when he was in New Orleans this panel would likely not be discussing New Orleans and the first pick in the draft. If young, talented free agents and trade possibilities that fit what New Orleans needs present themselves then they should certainly pounce, but if the fit isn’t right they would do well to bide their time and continue to develop Gordon and Davis along with whoever they end up with at Pick 10.

For now, New Orleans should enjoy their good fortune, moving forward they need to take a deep breath and make sure they don’t squander it. (A. MacMullan)

 

The Mock Draft Project: Rules

Posted: June 2, 2012 by Escobar Magazine in NBA Mock Draft 2012

The following collection of Mock Draft Picks for the NBA 2012 Lottery is based on the following guideline:

“You may base your mock draft choices on team need, player ability, culture fit, position depth, character issues, and all other player/team variables you deem important to your decision. Since each pick will be accompanied by a multi-paragraph explanation/pick analysis, please be prepared to substantiate your pick.”

Enjoy.