With the curtain coming down on 2009 Summer League action , the time has come to go over the names and teams to see who got the good, the bad and the could get ugly.
Let’s start from the very beginning, a very good place to start.
NBA JAM 2009 DRAFT EDITION
Blake Griffin- PF- Los Angeles Clippers
This Oklahoma Sooners product would have been a top 3 pick in the 2008 draft after a stellar Freshman year, but decided to come back to school to work on his body and game, leading OU to a 30 win season and displaying skills that showed why he was the best player in the country. If not for a concussion suffered in a game versus rival Texas. The loss of Griffin for a few games proved to cost Oklahoma dearly. That’s how important Blake Griffin is as a player and as a leader, he makes his team better. Having traded Zach Randolph, Griffin will have every opportunity to thrive next to a tandem of 7 Footers in Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman as well as a rising star in Eric Gordon. Potentially the X-Factor to Griffin’s success is the play of veteran PG Baron Davis, who underachieved mightily last year after signing a massive deal. If Davis can channel some of the magic that made him the catalyst of the 2007 Golden State Warriors squad that knocked off a #1 seed as a #8, then there could be a dramatic increase in wins this season. The Los Angeles Clippers have a history of losing and after Griffin’s MVP performance in the Las Vegas Summer League, there is optimism for a Clippers Championship Banner in The Staples Center. Early Verdict: Good
Hasheem Thabeet- C- Memphis Grizzlies
Like they say, you can’t teach height. An extremely raw talent on the offensive end, but a game changer on the defensive end, the 7 foot 3, Second Team All-America Center (First Team Center was Dajuan Blair) was the key to the entire draft board. The Grizzlies found themselves in a precarious position in landing the #2 pick, I’m not so sure that Thabeet would have been the second overall selection with many other teams. Being a Big East guy, I got to watch Thabeet play a great deal and often saw flashes of a Center, who with the proper drive and direction, could be a dominant 5 for years to come in the NBA. Even after capturing the Co-Player of the Year in the Big East this past season, GM’s league wide were vary that Hasheem does not have the commitment and offensive skill to be a champion. Chris Wallace was undeterred. The Grizzlies GM, already blessed with a tandem of rising stars in O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay, paired with young bigs Marc Gasol and Darrell Arthur, and an experience 20 ppg scorer in newly acquired Zach Randolph. The X-Factor for this team is the #4 overall pick from the 2007 draft, Mike Conley Jr, who showed progress under Lionel Hollins late last season. If the Las Vegas Summer League is any indication though, Thabeet is in for a long uphill battle. Onlookers often commented on Thabeet’s disinterest in the game as well as not being as much of a defensive game changer as originally hoped. Thabeet finished the all time leader in blocked shots in the Big East behind Patrick Ewing but there were more comparisons to all time draft bust Michael Olowokandi after this past week of play. I for one believe that Thabeet can develop into at least a serviceable defensive big in the league. One can only question if drafting a project so high was the right move, especially since I back court duo of Tyreke Evans and O.J. Mayo could have been thriving in Memphis for many years to come. Early Verdict: Could Get Ugly
James Harden- SG- Oklahoma City Thunder
It should be noted that the Thunder draft well. They have been able to retool through the last 3 seasons, in the lottery by holding onto the 2nd & 5th pick in 2007, 4th pick in 2008 and the 3rd pick in 2009. Thei average age of their roster is 23.5, and will be giving Western Conference GM’s grief for many years to come. With the third selection in the 2009 draft, the Thunder decided to take the first of three players taken in the Top 10 from the Pac 10, Harden. He caught NBA scouts attention with a stellar Freshman season at Arizona State with a game built on savvy, under control play and offensive production. In his Sophomore year, James Harden burst onto the scene in a big way in earning First Team All America and leading the Sun Devils to the NCAA Tournament. Harden was hampered by playing on the West Coast, because he did not get the same national exposure as those on the east. Pair that with an early ousting in the NCAA tournament, many were left wondering if Harden had the necessary athleticism to excel in the NBA. After a variety of impressive individual team workouts solidified Harden as the top SG prospect in the draft, the only thing stopping Harden from donning the OKC teal, white and orange, would be if he was passed over in favor of the Spanish Sensation, PG Ricky Rubio. The Thunder caught a lot of peoples attention last season, after a rough start to the season improved vastly Year 1 in Oklahoma City following their bolt from Ichiro and the Space Needle in Seattle. Sonic fans still mourn the loss of their team and specifically the right to watch a blossoming superstar Kevin Durant grow in their teams uniform. The Thunder were able to pick up another gem in lottery in 2007 by acquiring the rights to the 5th overall pick and selecting power forward Jeff Green, who improved greatly under Scott Brooks last season. Then there is the explosive defensive dynamo Russell Westbrook, who last year, I was hoping would slip to the Knicks at the 6th pick; showing tremendous upside in one season at UCLA. In pre-draft workouts he skyrocketed up the charts showing freakish athleticism and was snared by OKC at 4, leaving some to question… but no ones asking questions anymore. No guard outside of Derrick Rose had as good of an overall season as Westbrook, who was rewarded for his ever improving skill set by not drafting Rubio, Evans or Flynn to take the ball out of his hands. With the safe and sound selection of James Harden to play the 2, the Thunder have a young roster that is as good on paper as there has been in many years in the NBA. Harden has gotten rave reviews for his play during summer league, and if the OKC can improve upon it’s second half play, they could contend for a playoff spot.
Early Verdict: Good
Tyreke Evans- G- Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings used to be a perennial playoff team, with an arsenal of talent and the best home court advantage in the game. A decade later on draft night 2009, after slipping from 1st to 4th in the lottery, the Kings took an explosive hybrid guard to help them get out of West’s basement. After Tyreke Evans was handed the point guard controls at Memphis by John Calapari, he lead the team to it’s most dominant levels of play and into the NCAA postseason. This kid has has a chance to be special. Sacramento was another team that was tempted by picking Ricky Rubio, but passed in order to draft a manbeast who can get to the hoop at will. Pairing Evans with dead-eye shooter Kevin Martin, could give them a lethal backcourt duo for years to come. Youth is most definitely going to be served in Sactown, with Evans at the helm. Former lottery picks Jason Thompson, and Spencer Hawes along with veteran Andres Nocioni, Bobby Jackson and Francisco Garcia hope to help bring the Kings back to respectability. With Martin leading the way as a sharpshooter, Evans will have the responsibility of getting him, and others open shots with his penetration skills. I believe Evans has a terrific career ahead of him. Hopefully he can help get the Kings culture, back to their winning ways. Early Verdict: Good
Ricky Rubio- PG- Minnesota Timberwolves
The T-Wolves effectively shoved a knife into the heart of myself and every other New York Knickerbocker fan who was looking for the Knicks to trade up to the 5 spot to draft either Stephen Curry or Ricky Rubio. Turns out that both were there for the Wolves and they took little time in drafting the 18 year old Spanish Sensation, despite him pulling a Yi Jianlian and saying that he did not want to play in a small market. Regardless of what Rubio said and a potential 5 million dollar buyout, New Wolves GM David Kahn decided that Rubio is too transcendent of a talent to pass up. Everyone who has had the opportunity to watch Rubio play in person, raves about his floor presence and his ability to dominate a game with his court instincts, which made him the sexiest, and most mysterious pick in the draft. The Wolves needed a Point Guard, which is even more evident now that they have traded away incumbents PG Sebastian Telfair and Randy Foye. The biggest problem for the Wolves is that it doesn’t look like Rubio will be coming to them this year, or even next year. This should worry Wolves fans greatly because this is an organization that was absolutely destroyed when then GM Kevin Mchale tried to sign Joe Smith under the table and had multiple draft picks stripped away from the team as a penalty. Holding the #5 and #6 picks and a team that is building around their front court of Kevin Love and Al Jefferson, the Wolves are now somewhat at the mercy of Rubio. The longer he stays abroad, the more time that is wasted as the Wolves try to rejuvenate their starving franchise.
Early Verdict: Could Get Ugly
Jonny Flynn- PG- Minnesota Timberwolves
Conventional wisdom and common sense were strongly against this selection, but that’s why nothing matters until the pick is made. Right after selecting the top tier PG prospect in Rubio, the wolves ignored their hole at the 2 Guard and drafted another Point Guard. Jonny Flynn is insanely talented. He has a swagger and a command that you just can’t teach, leading an impressive NCAA tournament for Syracuse, only to fall to Blake Griffin and the Sooners. Flynn showed a ton of heart in taking a charge from the Blake Griffin train and then playing hurt as the Orangemen were eliminated from contention. Perhaps no one rose more through their play late in season then Jonny Flynn. With his dynamic passing, scoring and ability to muscle up in the Big East, he made a lasting impression when Syracuse knocked off Connecticut in the 6OT game for the ages. Yes, Jonny Flynn deserved to be in the lottery, but not as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. It has been a few weeks since the draft, which is why I waited to write this article. I wanted to let all of the moves soak in as well and take in a few Summer League performances before giving a more level headed assessment of the picks. Even after seeing Jonny Flynn tear up the court for the Wolves this summer, cementing that he belongs, I still don’t think he belongs in Minnesota. It’s not as if Jonny Flynn is going catapult the young Wolves into the playoffs. I still feel the team has too many holes to draft two players for the same position, even if they are the two best players on your draft board at the time. To me you owe it to your fans to draft Stephen Curry in that spot, not even from a basketball standpoint! Instead of drafting 2 players to play along sidelong All-Star in Al Jefferson,and Kevin Love, you follow Rubio with his insurance policy right behind him. Drafting Rubio and Curry would have ushered in the new brand of basketball sans the KG era with a young core that would rival OK City and sell loads of season tickets. They decided not to put on their big boy shoes and put their eggs in the Rubio basket. What should Wolves fans be hoping now, that Flynn is the PG of the future, or he isn’t? Early Verdict: Bad
Stephen Curry- G- Golden State Warriors
I watched the Stephen Curry PG experiment occur during his Junior Year at Davidson and it all seemed a little force fed to me. Curry, the very same player who’s Shooting Guard skills had led Davidson to the Elite Eight just a year prior, was shifted to Point Guard, to show off his floor general skills. I don’t think anyone see’s Stephen Curry is as a pure 1 on the NBA level, but the skills he showed solidified Curry as a lottery pick. As an undersized 2 with a sweet stroke and an even sweeter disposition, Stephen Curry is a General Manager’s dream to see land in their lap at the #7 pick. Having Curry in the same back court as Monta Ellis will be electric, albeit it may pose some defensive matchup problems. But they don’t play D in Golden State anyways. Offensive firepower is what it’s all about down by the bay with Captain Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette, Andries Biedrins, Anthony Morrow (who posted 47 points in Vegas this week) and Anthony Randolph, who based on his unbelievable skill set, has earned an invite to Team USA camp. The Warriors didn’t need Curry, but when the golden goose falls in your lap, you sit back and marvel in it’s beauty.
Early Verdict: Good
Jordan Hill- PF- New York Knickerbockers
The Knicks drafted the best Power Forward prospect of this draft outside of Blake Griffin, but before I get into analysis, I must digress for a moment. The sports world hates New York. It’s a fact. With the bloated payrolls and futility that has been turned in by the Mets, Yankees, Jets, Rangers, Islanders and Knicks, the New York fan, fairly or unfairly, has become the punching bag of message boards and talk radio stations around the country. A collective laugh blew towards NY when they recieved the 8th pick, even more guffawed when Minnesota sniped the 5th pick from Washington, and were again dealt a blow when Curry was taken 1 pick before. As a Knick fan, you almost expected it. The days of Patrick Ewing’s Knicks vs. Jordan’s Bulls and Mourning’s Miami squad are long gone and the stentch from Isiah Thomas’ rein are just now being febreezed out of the World’s Most Famous Arena. Now it is up to Mike D’Antoni to right the ship, but who is his captain? Last year, the Knicks were surprisingly competitive one night, but would be smeered off the boot of a premier team the next. The 2008 Knicks were vertically challenged, with Eddy Curry eating himself out of the lineup for a full season and the tall but rail thin Jared Jefferies breaking his leg in pre-season. The reigns at Center then fell upon the shoulders of David Lee. Lee performed admirably, so admirably in fact that the Knicks may very well lose their best player (drafted 30th overall in 2005) if some other team (Portland) decides to show him the money. With their frontcourt depth being a major concern, the Knicks decided to take Arizona Power Forward Jordan Hill to the shegrine of the WaMu Theatre faithful (although to be fair to Hill, they would have boo’d anyone at that time out of frustration). What I like about Hill is that he has a desire to play a hard, tough and strong brand of basketball that the Knicks lacked last year. He just has a nose for the ball on the glass much like Lee. Although his offensive game is raw, he has a improving mid range jumper, that paired with his ability to run the open floor, should do wonders for his learning curve under Mike D’Antoni. The Knicks have some pieces to build on, not championship caliber by any means but their youthful core of Danilio Galinari, Wilson Chandler, Hill and rookie Toney Douglas. They will pair with veterans Al Harrington, Chris Duhon, David Lee and potentially Darko Milicic, who has never lived to huge expectations as the 2nd overall pick in 2003. Hill may well be a good player but the Knicks needed a guard, and if DeRozan, Jennings, Williams or Henderson turn out to be better players then the Knicks faithful fans will become even more restless. The Dark Ages of NY Basketball shall continue unless these young players take the mantle seriously. If Hill can step up and prove to be a piece that a big fish free agent can stop and say, I can play with this guy, then the pick is a success. Perhaps the Knicks can provide more then Cleveland, Miami, Atlanta and/or Toronto in 2010 and there may in fact be some light at the end of the tunnel. Early Verdict: Could Get Ugly
DeMar DeRozan- SG- Toronto Raptors
One of the most surprising disappointments of the 08-09 season turned out to be the fall of the emerging Raptors. This is a team that made the playoffs the year prior, building off of All-Star PF and Gold Medal winner for Team USA, Chris Bosh. The beginning of the downfall was when GM Bryan Colangelo decided that he was going to trade his starting PG in T.J. Ford to open up playing time to the Spanish PG who’s injury in the 2008 Summer Games catapulted Rubio into the limelight of the medal rounds. It wasn’t a bad decision in giving Calderon more minutes, who the year prior led the league in assist to turnover ratio in limited minutes, but was quickly becoming a big game player for his end game heroics. The mistake came from thinking that Jermaine O’Neal was a better fit then Rasho Nesterovic and the 17th pick (Roy Hibbert), in dealing both to acquire the Former All-Stars services. The experiment was good on paper but exploded after the injuries of O’Neal and then to Calderon. O’Neal turned into Shawn Marion, a starter from last season who is now in Dallas (that turned into Antoine Wright) and swingman Anthony Parker who recently signed with Cleveland. Jarret Jack has been brought to town after signing an offer sheet and the Pacers did not match. With Jack, the Raptors will be able to limit the wear and tear on Calderon this upcoming season. The SF spot is occupied by Turkeyglu for the next 5 years after an offseason signing which still left the Shooting Guard spot unclaimed, which is where DeRozan comes into play. DeRozan was a stud prospect coming into last year’s season season for Tim Floyd’s USC Trojans. The talk was always that he was going to be a one and done prospect, but his athleticism and nose for the hoop were expected to bring USC back to NCAA post season prominence. The only problem was that DeRozan was too inconsistent for scouts and analyists liking. It wasn’t until the Pac-10 tournament, where he shined and led the Trojans to the league title but for a short stretch in the Tournament. It was with these skills that DeRozan was able to secure the 9th pick in the draft. It is true that the Raptors run on a healthy serving of Bosh/Calderon was a side order of Turkeyglu and sprinkling of Bargnani then only Antoine Wright stands in DeRozan’s way of being in a Starting 5 that has a great chance to do some damage in the Atlantic Conference, potentially snagging the 2 seed behind the Celtics. If DeRozan can’t beat out Wright as a Starter, that speaks volumes but either way, there is not a tremendous amount of pressure for the Raptors in Toronto, who will offer Bosh a maximum contract but are at his mercy, if he decides to stay. DeMar DeRozan has the potential to make Chris Bosh want to stick around or if he is to depart, build around him. Early Verdict: Good
Brandon Jennings- PG- Milwaukee Bucks
The true enigma of the 2009 NBA Draft. We as fans were being driven crazy by this top PG prospects decision to play overseas in Italy rather then being on display at the University of Arizona as a Freshman but who could blame him? Jennings was one and done regardless and he had a choice of being crammed in an on campus dorm or play in Italy and drink wine like a man for a year and not surprisingly chose Italy. We were updated from afar on his progress as a young adult on a professional team overseas but he only played about half a game per night, with stats that didn’t jump out at you at first impression. It was when showed that he was done overseas and made a commitment to the NBA, with a true swagger and belief in himself that a sparkplug Point Guard Needs. Ramon Sessions is the incumbent PG but if the Knicks present him with an offer sheet that he can’t refuse and the Bucks can’t match, then Jennings will have the keys to team if he can show skills beyond his years and beat out Luc Ridnour. I think the Bucks would like to keep Sessions, but it may be out of their control. Jennings impressed many in Summer League and the increasingly up tempo Bucks may want Jennings to be the starter out of the gate. Any way you disect the Bucks, their success is dependant on a healthy Michael Redd, an emerging Andrew Bogut, wily veterans in Malik Allen, Keith Bogans, Charlie Bell, Dan Gadzuric/Fransisco Elson, along with a youth movement of Joe Alexander, Amir Johnson, Luc Mbah a Moute and Rookie Jodie Meeks who played exceedingly well as a backcourtmate with Jennings in Summer League and was inked to a 3 year deal because of his talent and Jennings ability to get him the ball in the right places. What it comes down to is that Jennings had and has a great deal of talent and if he can play under control and improve his outside game, then he can be a Top Flight PG in the league. After all, he was ranked the #1 PG prospect entering College Basketball this season, if he had decided to play College Basketball that is. If he had played at Arizona with fellow lottery pick Jordan Hill, then maybe he would have been picked higher then #10 or even higher then Hill at #8. Thankfully for Bucks fans, he was there when it was there turn to call a name. Early Verdict: Good
Of these teams that drafted in the Top Ten, there is only a chance for 3 of them to make the playoffs. The First being the Oklahoma Thunder, who can potentially snag an 8 seed in the competitive West with their array of growing top talent, but the length of the season and inexperience may lead to them falling short. The Toronto Raptors, who can be in the Top 6 of the Eastern Conference if there players 6 foot 10 and above, play above their talent level. Then and only then can they show the Canadian wilderness NBA Playoff Basketball again. Last and usually least are the Los Angeles Clippers, who are a longshot to make the playoffs, but don’t be surprised if they get off to a hot start with much improved youngsters (DeAndre Jordan, Al Thornton and Eric Gordon) underachieving stars (Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman and Baron Davis) and the #1 Draft Pick, Blake Griffin.
We have come full circle.
That’s all for today folks, this is going to be a 5 Part article. Picks 1-10 in the First Article, 11-20 in the Second Article, 21-30 in the Third Article, the 2nd Round in the Fourth Article and an Overview of the NBA with Analysis and Predictions as Part Five.
Check back in for Picks 11-20 which will be coming soon to a screen near you.
Best to you for being the best and reading this entire article!
From your Buddy Blogger,