A little freestyle, pick-by-pick, on Thursday night’s NBA draft. The accompanying photo pays homage to John Calipari’s strengthening influence as the event’s Godfather. Loved the tweet telling recruits he was sorry for being out of touch this week because of all the NBA personnel he had to confer with regarding his six prospects. All that’s missing in the pic is Worldwide Wes.
On to the festivities…
1. New Orleans – Anthony Davis, PF/C, Kentucky: He’s the first frontcourt player taken No. 1 since Blake Griffin, so here’s hoping whoever goes next has a better career than ’09 No. 2 pick Hasheem Thabeet. As for Davis, there’s no danger in that. Even though he’s slight of frame and will have trouble adjusting to toiling with grown men night after night, he’s got the offensive touch that will allow him to generate the confidence necessary to progress significantly through his rookie season. His shot-blocking and rebounding instincts are special, so don’t be surprised if he flashes those from the jump.
2. Charlotte – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Kentucky: A tremendous defender that might have been selected for someone else. If he remains in Charlotte, the first instinct is to question how a team that needs so much can select an elite role player at No. 2. Clearly, they’re accumulating assets to be a factor in 2014, but I thought for sure they would utilize this pick to try and stack the cupboard more than this pick does, even though he is a terrific talent. At least the Bobcats removed that awful orange from their logo. Must have missed B.J. Evans’ memo on that one.
3. Washington – Bradley Beal, SG, Florida: This is a tremendous stroke of fortune for the Wizards, picking the second-best talent in this draft at the position they most needed help at. While Jordan Crawford finished his rookie year strong, he’s better-suited to come off the bench, where as Beal is much more complete and just adept a shooter. Don’t believe the hype about him struggling at Florida, since he deferred too much to senior guards and played his best when it mattered most.
4. Cleveland – Dion Waiters, SG/PG, Syracuse: Having heard this was possible, I had given some thought as to how he and Kyrie Irving would play together and couldn’t come up with a great answer. Both need the ball in their hands to get in a groove, but once they’re in it, can make a living getting into the paint. Waiters is less of a distributor but does deliver in clutch situations and won’t be overwhelmed since he plays with great confidence. That said, with Harrison Barnes a more natural fit on board, I’m surprised.
5. Sacramento – Thomas Robinson, PF, Kansas: The Kings are really pleased that one of the hardest-working players in this draft slips to them here. Hopefully, he’ll make fast friends with DeMarcus Cousins or Keith Smart will have some problems. Still, both are very intense on the floor and will have to learn to play off one another for Sacramento to take its next step. It’s never bad to have a pair of enforcers, though.
6. Portland – Damian Lillard, PG, Weber State: This probably puts an end to the Steve Nash rumors, though I can’t think of a better mentor. Still, Blazers owner Paul Allen fell in love with him, as did many who saw workouts you’ve likely seen on YouTube if you cared enough. Forget about the Big Sky cliche – the kid had a lower-caliber of athlete on his own team too and performed with remarkable efficiency. He passes the eye test, ear test and any other one you want to administer. A nice pick-and-roll threat who should start ahead of Nolan Smith if Portland doesn’t add a veteran.
7. Golden State – Harrison Barnes, SF, North Carolina: Although he would’ve certainly gone higher last year and expected to go Top-5 in this draft, this feels like a situation that suits him better than most. Dorell Wright will likely be traded and minutes should be available immediately opposite Klay Thompson on the wing. Questions about his motor need to be immediately addressed, but he’s got the gifts to be a Rookie of the Year candidate given the opportunities he should see right away.
8. Toronto – Terrence Ross, SG/SF, Washington: Although you’ll hear reach because no one expected it, this is a very strong pick for Bryan Colangelo. James Johnson was decent in spurts at the the three, but struggles to score. That’s a problem on a team that so often bogs down, so having another shooter who can defend on the wing certainly will aid the cause.
9. Detroit – Andre Drummond, C, Connecticut: He’ll have to learn how to play first. There’s no question about that. Still, we said the same thing about Andrew Bynum, who went No. 10 in 2005. Drummond’s game may not have benefited from his one year in college, but he did get acclimated to a different atmosphere, which can only help. His arrival will eventually allow Greg Monroe to play at his more natural power forward spot, but like Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan, he’ll be a liability late in games due to atrocious free-throw shooting. Still, those crying over not picking John Henson should stop. Drummond is worth the gamble since he’d likely be a Top 3 pick if he hadn’t had such a dreadful freshman year.
10. New Orleans- Austin Rivers, PG/SG, Duke: A special competitor who is often misunderstood, he’s fortunate that Monty Williams, who has known him since childhood, will play mentor early. He’ll be part of a rotation with Jarrett Jack, Eric Gordon and Greivis Vasquez that will allow him to grow without much pressure, but there’s no question that his high IQ and confidence will help him climb the ranks quickly. NoLa got both players it coveted, which means its headed for an A. Dell Demps and his staff have gotten it done, even though many won’t give them the requisite credit due to the aid they got from the commissioner’s office.
11. Portland- Meyers Leonard, C, Illinois: Certainly not the way the Blazers envisioned this draft going, but Toronto’s choice of Ross threw a wrench into their plans. At this point, it looks like they opted for Leonard’s upside over Tyler Zeller’s ability to contribute right away, which is probably the right call since this franchise will do a lot of losing if they don’t find a veteran point guard. Leonard has terrific agility for his size, but he’ll have to learn the game better to affect the game defensively the way Portland hopes he eventually will.
12. Houston – Jeremy Lamb, SG, Connecticut: The Suns were hoping he’d fall into their lap, so Daryl Morey ruined their night if nothing else. Lamb often looked like he was falling asleep out on the floor due to boredom, but that lethargy may be cured by the desire not to get embarrassed now that he’s reached the highest level. For a Rockets team trying to do whatever it takes to become a championship contender again, taking the best player available at this spot is the right move. Kevin Martin is being shopped and Courtney Lee is a restricted free agent, so this was a no-brainer.
13. Phoenix- Kendall Marshall, PG, North Carolina: With Lamb off the board and Steve Nash’s situation in limbo, this was a pick Phoenix felt pot-committed to make since they were one of the few teams who saw past Marshall’s defensive question marks and mediocre jumper. No one questions his IQ or ability to see the floor, though, but there’s no question that this will look a lot better if Nash sticks around to play mentor and this kid isn’t thrown into the fire.
14. Milwaukee- John Henson, PF, North Carolina: The Bucks were entertaining taking him at No. 12, so this worked out extremely well for them. With Ekpe Udoh, Samuel Dalembert and Larry Sanders on board, Scott Skiles can have shot-blocking contests at every scrimmage. Those practices won’t be pretty.
15. Philadelphia – Maurice Harkless, SF, St. John’s: Cue the Andre Iguodala exit. Not that this kid will replace him immediately, but there’s no question that the Sixers are transitioning with kids like him and Thaddeus Young making strides. Harkless was a beast as a freshman at SJU, handling the pressure of a new atmosphere and being a marked man on everyone’s scouting report extremely well.
16. Houston- Royce White, SF/PF, Iowa State: Taken a little earlier than most expected, he’s still a player many teams in the 20s had tabbed as potentially best available, so he fits in with Morey’s asset collection game. Marcus Morris is equally a tweener and was taken by Houston last year, but struggled with his transition to the pros. White will certainly get over a fear of flying that’s been overblown, and anyone who saw the Cyclones hop on his back against Kentucky in the NCAAs knows he’s a gamer.
17. Dallas- Tyler Zeller, C, North Carolina: With the Mavericks intending on being at Deron Williams’ doorstep at 12:01 on July 1 and Dirk Nowitzki joining Shawn Marion up front for the next few years, this was an opportunity to take the best available player. It just so happens that was potential lottery pick Zeller, the first senior to come off the board. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that he’ll wind up in Cleveland for pick No. 24 and two second-rounders, another signal that Mark Cuban is looking to spend on Williams and will need some bargain basement players. Dumping Kelenna Azubuike’s salary was also critical to this deal.
18. Houston- Terrence Jones, PF/SF, Kentucky: Asset collection. Most front-office personnel view him as a potential rotation type, but nobody is necessarily wowed. Clearly, all these hybrid forwards won’t wear Rockets uniforms at the same time, outside of maybe Summer League.
19. Orlando- Andrew Nicholson, PF, St. Bonaventure: The reigning A-10 Player of the Year didn’t play with many competent guards throughout his college career, so his ability to put up numbers against constant double-teams was impressive. A physics major who wows everyone who has ever met him with his class, he’ll have to fill out to be a factor at this highest level. Still, it’s a nice pick and a reminder that character counts as the Rob Hennigan era begins in Central Florida.
20. Denver- Evan Fournier, SG/SF, France: With Jordan Hamilton, Julyan Stone and a few others ahead of Fournier in the pecking order, expect him to remain in France at least another season. Still, he passes the eye test, and unlike most young Europeans, has been the go-to guy for his club and proven he can produce despite being the focal point of a defense.
21. Boston – Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State: A medical red flag regarding his back caused his slide, but the Celtics believe they’re getting a steal. Those who feel they aren’t will tell you there are questions about whether he’s got the lift to score in the post or the footwork to be even an adequate defender. No one questions his willingness to defend or his on-court IQ, which will be huge for him if he’s to make it at this level. He’s got to ride leverage and positioning to overcome physical limitations. Hopefully he stays healthy.
22. Boston- Fab Melo, C, Syracuse: I wondered why Sullinger didn’t go at No. 22 since it would’ve further minimized the risk of taking on his back concerns, but then Melo’s name was announced. He’s got a large wingspan and potential as a rim protector and post defender, but he simply can’t score and often takes plays off. A huge bust waiting to happen.
23. Atlanta- John Jenkins, SG, Vanderbilt: A specialist in the truest sense, he joins a Hawks team that found itself clanking 3-pointers in key situations on their way out of this past postseason. With unlimited range and a short memory, Danny Ferry added help.
24. Cleveland- Jared Cunningham, SG, Oregon State: He’s a strong athlete who often played out of control for Craig Robinson in Corvallis, but at times, he was the most explosive player in the Pac-12. It’s hard to see where he fits in with the Mavericks, who will acquire his rights.
25. Memphis- Tony Wroten, SG/PG, Washington: Check my point guard rankings – I have this kid No. 1 even though he’s not really a point guard. No one has this left-hander’s motor and desire to defend. At worst, he’s Delonte West, even if he’s not that strong an offensive player. At best, well, he’s a top-five player in this draft. He’s going to the right team, too, given Lionel Hollins’ demanding ways. How does this kid not go Top-20? Foolish. A-plus get for Memphis.
26. Indiana- Miles Plumlee, C, Duke: He’s a legitmiate 7-footer who really blossomed late in his career when he finally filled out. Reminds me of a bigger Josh McRoberts, but considering how serious the interest in sexier option Draymond Green seemed, this is surprising. Still, behind Roy Hibbert, the Pacers did lack size last season.
27. Miami- Arnett Moultrie, PF, Mississippi State: The Heat don’t want to pay first-round money and apparently didn’t think enough of Festus Ezeli to tab him as the selection. Moultrie is a bit too small to fill their needs but is headed to Philadelphia, where he’ll instantly remind everyone of Marreese Speights.
28. Oklahoma City- Perry Jones III, PF, Baylor: David Stern told him at the podium, “gonna shake your hand on a Finals stage one day.” Maybe not, but it’s certainly possible. A kid whose gifts are obvious enough to make even the casual observer drool, he can become an x-factor down the road if he stays healthy and finds a way to feed off the hunger and intensity of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
29. Chicago- Marquis Teague, PG, Kentucky: It will at the very least serve the Bulls’ cause to have a spy on big brother Jeff if the Hawks are ever a playoff foe. Fortunately, that’s not the championship-winning point guard’s only attribute, especially since he’s further along at this age and has an opportunity to straighten out the jumper and really become special. Has a knack for running a team, can get out and finish on a break and may get early minutes with Derrick Rose out until 2013 and CJ Watson unlikely to return.
30. Golden State- Festus Ezeli, C, Vanderbilt: Prized shot-blocker did a nice job for the Commodores when healthy, and didn’t fall out of the first round despite Miami passing on having two of Joel Anthony on its roster. He plays hard, needs to become a better rebounder and avoid foul trouble, but certainly no stiff.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA