A month ago, I wrote an essay called The League: Tim Duncan, the Fidelity Factor and 30 Years of NBA History, and as usual, everything played out as I predicted: the entire Eastern Conference looked like a high school JV tournament, LeBron folded/cramped under pressure, and the Spurs put on the most impressive display of professional sport in human history. To paraphrase one commentator, 500 years from now, when people are talking about 21st Century basketball, they will be talking about the Spurs offensive display in the 2014 Finals.
Now that you trust my immense wisdom for professional sports—and my even-to-me unbelievable restraint demonstrated by not texting Heat lover Mike Cosper every single day for a week while he was on sabbatical—I present you with a definitive and hyper-abbreviated Five-Minute NBA Draft Guide.
For you NBA novices, tonight’s draft at 7:30pm EST is the most highly-anticipated draft in basketball history, for a number of reasons.
1. The Talent: There are at least nine, and possibly even 12, players in this year’s draft that would have gone #1 last year. That’s how deep this mug is.
2. The Tanking: Roughly half the teams (i.e. the Eastern Conference) spent their entire seasons losing as much as possible to work their way to the top of this draft class.
3. The Drama: First of all, Cleveland spent the season trying NOT to tank and still got the #1 draft pick (which, by the way, is as rigged by the NBA mafia as Jordan’s first “retirement”). Second, a handful of expensive and over-rated free-agents are waiting for the draft to play out before moving forward with any one team. If the Cavs take Jabari Parker (the best player in the draft) #1, they won’t have a chance at LeBron. Carmelo Anthony, like LBJ, is closely watching the Knicks, Bulls and Rockets management to see how committed they are to pursuing him. Kevin Love, Chris Bosh and a number of other semi-stars are waiting as well. Lastly, as Bill Simmons demonstrated in his 19-year history of the NBA lottery system yesterday, no other draft has allowed such an opportunity for utter disappointment. Of the 9+ mega-stars in tonight’s draft, history tells us that about 1-2 will be franchise players, 2-3 will be All-Stars and the rest will be miserable failures. Make no mistake: becoming a decent role player and accumulating $70 million over ten years—if you’re taken in the top 10 of this draft—will still be utter failure.
Because of this immense pressure (which will cost a handful of General Managers their jobs in the next few years), the same teams that were tanking all season ARE NOW TRYING TO TRADE OUT OF THE TOP 10!!! The stakes are that high. People get stupid under pressure, that’s what I now.
So, who are these top-level players? What teams will successfully trade out of the top ten at the eleventh hour? How long will it be before Cleveland fans realize that they will never amount to anything—even with three #1 picks in four years?
Here’s how it will all play out, both tonight and, just because I’m feeling confident, over the next 15 years.
The Top Ten
Team: Cleveland Cavs
Pick: Andrew Wiggins, SG, kansas
Outcome: My boy Rudibaugh (nickname: The Franchise) is a Cleveland fan and tells me they’re taking Wiggins #1. And while Wiggy is a freakish athlete, he underperformed at kansas, is being drafted almost purely on potential and hype, scores a 1.5 out of 10 on the fidelity factor, and spent a year at the worst university on earth. At best, he’ll will be a solid defender and role player on three or four less than average teams. Career stats: 12 seasons, 10-3-0 (points-rebounds-assists per game), with 0 All-Star appearances.
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
Pick: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke
Outcome: Jabari will be a solid pick, and I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow Utah or Orlando succeeds in trading up to get him at #1 or #2. He is an offensive force that’s been hyper-successful at every level of basketball. He’ll be Scottie Pippen 2.0. Career stats: 16 seasons, 21-9-5 with 12 All-Star appearances and a Hall of Fame ticket.
Team: Philly Sixers
Pick: PG, Dante Exum, some high school in Australia
Outcome: The Sixers already have a 19-year 6-foot-6 star point guard in Michael Carter-Williams, last year’s Rookie of the Year, and yet they’ll draft another one, because my boy Exum will be an absolute star. I know this because I’ve watched youtube highlights of Exum playing against high schoolers in Australia. BELIEVE THE HYPE!!!
Here’s how good Dante Exum will be. For 2-3 years, he’ll play at a high level and live up to his high draft pick. But then once he’s used to NBA ball, he’ll begin looking like the second coming of Magic Johnson. You heard it here. Kid will be a star. Not just an All-Star like Parker and Smart. My projection: now that Durant has taken the ‘NBA’s Best Player’ card from Tim Duncan (ok, fine, from LeBron), it will then get passed to Exum around 2019. This is the only player in this year’s draft that will be an ALl-Time-NBA-Top-10 dude.
Believe. The. Hype.
Career stats: 19 seasons, 25-8-9 with 15 All-Star games, 3 MVP’s, endless Oscar Robertson / Magic Johnson comparisons, and a Hall of Fame ticket.
Team: Orlando Magic
Pick: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana
Outcome: They should take Embiid, but they won’t. Instead, they’ll take the very talented Vonleh. Orlando gave up Aaron Afflalo (their leading scorer last year) to Denver today for a role player and a second round pick (a dumb move), so they’re probably scheming to move up for Wiggins/Exum. But they’ll be happy with Vonleh. He’ll be a solid player alongside fellow Indiana alum Victor Oladipo. Career stats: 16 seasons, 15-9-2 with 2 All-Star appearances.
Team: Utah Jazz
Pick: Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
Outcome: Like Wiggins, Gordon will be underwhelming as an NBA’er. Career stats: 8-3-1 with 0 All-Star appearances.
Team: Boston Celtics
Pick: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Outcome: This would be a great pick if Celtics GM Danny Ainge is man enough to take the risk on Smart. Smart is the toughest player in the draft and, despite not having the “upside” of most of the rest of the top ten, will be a perennial All-Star. Career stats: 18 seasons, 20-6-9, with 10 All-Star Games and a HOF ticket.
Team: LA Lakers
Pick: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Outcome: Randle is one of the few “sure things” in the draft along with Parker and Smart. Expect an above-average, but not spectacular career (though I doubt he’ll be with the Lakers for long). Career stats: 14 years, 16-11-3 with 3 All-Stars.
Team: Kansas City/Sacramento Kings
Pick: Joel Embiid, C, kansas
Outcome: I do feel bad for Joel Embiid for being a guaranteed #1 pick last week before being diagnosed with a fractured foot and free-falling out of the top three. Wait, he went to kansas too? Forget it; I have zero sympathy anymore. Not surprisingly, I don’t think Greg Oden 2.0 will amount to much. Career stats: 5 seasons, 5-3-0 with 0 All-Star appearances.
Team: Charlotte Hornets
Pick: James Young, SF, Kentucky
Outcome: This is my projected “shocker.” Bobcats/Hornets GM Michael Jordan is probably the worst drafter and talent developer in history, so he’ll find a way to take James Young over Douggie McBuckets and keep the franchise terrible. The only good news in all this is that it’s only a matter of time before the Hornets are so terrible that the owner packs them up and moves them to Kansas City. I’ll be the first to have season tickets. And I live in Louisville. Young’s career stats: 8 seasons, 10-2-2 with 0 All-Stars.
Team: Sixers (again)
Pick: Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
Outcome: If you read my March Madness preview, you’ll know I’m a huge McBuckets fan, and not just because I’m white and from the Midwest. The kid can play. Look for a solid career here—though not very long since I’m pretty sure he’s already 32. Career stats: 10 years, 18-4-4 with 3 All-Stars.
The Rest of the Draft
I am a big fan of the post-lottery and 2nd round of the draft. Picks 11-60 won’t get huge rookie deals and, most likely, will never become NBA starters or sign big sneaker deals. But three or four will become NBA superstars. Remember that Kobe Bryant was drafted #13, Tony Parker went #28, and Manu Ginobili was finally taken at #57.
Here are the guys who will go late but have solid NBA careers.
Jordan Clarkson, PG, Mizzou
He’ll probably go somewhere between 23-30 (best case scenario: Memphis at #22; worst case scenario: going to Miami at #26.) BTW, have fun “rebuilding” in Miami after LeBron and Bosh take their talents to teams that aren’t built around a greased tyrant and his beloved former star who now can’t jump over a credit card (D-Wade).
Dario Saric, PF, Croatia
Out of the way, Tony Kukoc! There’s a new Croatian Sensation in town. Believe the hype here too! He could go as high as #10, but will probably go lower (#15-20). But he’ll be the best international guy not named Exum drafted this year. In a perfect world, the Spurs would find a way to trade up for him and he’d be Timmy D’s backup for a year or two until The Big Fundamental retires… and ahh… I care about the NBA too much.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo, SF, NBA Developmental League (via Greece)
He’ll be the second best player with the name Antetokounmpo—that’s an accomplishment to say the least. He’ll go #45-60 and then unfortunately get cut when his team’s equipment manager can’t fit his name on the jersey. (Milwaukee’s Antetokounmpo, Thanasis’s brother, is good enough to pay for all the extra letters.)
Jabari Brown, SG, Mizzou
OK, I know I’ve got fidelity-to-Mizzou issues, but I really do believe Jabari will be among the best 2nd round picks (probably #45-60 as well). Of course, like Clarkson, I would have rather seen him return for his senior year. But from one alum to another, best wishes, Jabari!
OK, folks. Have fun with the draft tonight, and call me in 15-20 years when all of this comes true!