#22- Brooklyn Nets- Jeff Withey, C Kansas
Sigh. I don’t know what the fuck the Nets are doing with their team. Their Russian overlord for an owner unceremoniously dumped P.J. Carlesimo one day after going seven games with the Bulls, in a series that included one of the NBA’s best games of the year. The guess was that the Nets had a big name coach in the bag already, but they actually turned to a first-time coach, the recently retired Jason Kidd. The Nets do have a lot of talent, but it is in the wrong places. They put Joe Johnson’s epidemic of a contract on their books for two more years, they put max money on the aging legs (and receding hairline) of Deron Williams, and they wayyyyy overpaid for Gerald Wallace, who is breaking down before our eyes. Brook Lopez showed his All-Star potential this year, but his one-on-one defense is not stellar (He still averages 2.5 blocks per game). Andray Blatche is a free agent, and Kris Humphries only has one year left on his contract. Shot blocking would not be a bad idea here, and Withey is your man for that job. The 7-footer averaged close to 4 blocks per game at Kansas, almost as good as Nerlens Noel. He has no shooting game at all, but he can make a hook shot here and there. He is a good one-on-one defender, but like all slow centers, he has his bad moments. He really gave Anthony Davis trouble in the 2012 national championship game, but then again, Mitch McGary of Michigan owned him in the Sweet 16 this past tournament. He also doesn’t take playing time for granted. It will also be fun to see the embattled chants and essential booing of Nets and Knicks fans at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn; the first time that the draft is taking place in the new arena after being in Newark the last two years and at Madison Square Garden the years previous.
#23- Indiana Pacers- Shane Larkin, PG Miami (FL)
Someone call Peter Gabriel (or better yet, don’t), because the Pacers are “big time” now. With a bevy of size, a superstar in the making in Paul George (The only current All-Star from the 2010 draft class) and a tough physical identity, they made their way to the Eastern Conference Finals and have clearly made noise as a potential title contender if they can convince David West to re-sign with the team in the summer. Hibbert is maxed out on his deal, and George is likely next. Lance Stephenson is also a restricted free agent, so it will be intriguing to see if Indiana will match another team’s offer sheet (When you are a restricted free agent, the player signs an offer sheet and the original team has the option to match it if they so desire). One guy that I know the Pacers will let walk in free agency is D.J. Augustin, and the reaction of many title contending teams is to basically plug a hole when a bench guy departs and keep the core of the team (The Thunder could take note of this). With Larkin, he was the ACC Player of the Year and I thought he was insane for going pro, but his athletic measurements in the combine showed why he did: his vertical was awesome and his lane agility numbers were impressive. He showed an ability to make tough shots and pass correctly off of high ball screens, which most NBA teams use to jump start their offenses these days. My dark horse pick here would be a shooting power forward as insurance if David West or Tyler Hansbrough leave, like Mike Muscala at Bucknell. But the Pacers went soft with Miles Plumlee last year and nothing has come of that one yet, so I think they will go with a guard.
#24- New York Knicks- Lucas Nogueira, C Brazil
The Knicks had their first playoff series win in 13 years playing behind a banner year for Carmelo Anthony, who was runner-up for league MVP, while transforming the team into a three-point-bomb squad that they lived and died by all year. It came back to bite them hard in the second round against the bigger and mentally tougher Indiana Pacers, who beat them in six games. The team is set with most of their roster for at least another year due to the salary cap, and that is not necessarily a good thing. Marcus Camby and Amare Stoudemire (with his max contract!) were non-factors down the stretch, and they are on the books for a couple more years. J.R. Smith was the Sixth Man of the Year, but he has a player option to keep his contract going, and his performance against the Pacers was beyond awful. They also might lose Chris Copeland, a surprisingly good shooting big man as a restricted free agent. If you need toughness and a scorer in the paint to go with defensive stud Tyson Chadler, Nogueira might be your guy, but it will take some time. He is a super athletic big out of Brazil who can block shots all over the place and he has great energy. He needs to build up his 218-pound frame, but in today’s small ball, Nogueira would be great for weakside defense. Knicks fans will boo the pick, but then again, they always do.
#25- Los Angeles Clippers- Gorgei Dieng, C Louisville
After the best season in Clippers history, things unraveled quickly for “Lob City” when they lost four games in a row to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, leading to the firing of Vinnie Del Negro and the league-wide sweepstakes to sign away All-Star point guard Chris Paul. Now the Clippers have pulled quite the coup in hiring away Celtics coach Doc Rivers to run the team in exchange for a 2015 first-round pick. With this recent move, Paul is likely to re-sign with the team, but after that, there is uncertainty. They are very likely to deal mighty mouse Eric Bledsoe for value this offseason because he is an upcoming free agent in 2014 and the Clippers don’t have the cap room for his talents. What I saw in the Grizzlies series was the same thing that killed the Knicks against the Pacers: lack of defensive presence on the interior and toughness down the stretch. Blake Griffin is an amazing All-Star talent, but his game is inconsistent; DeAndre Jordan has dominant physical skills, but his game is incomplete, and there are trade rumors galore about him right now. Dieng is a Doc kinda guy, if you ask me. He has no problem hanging in there and trying his hardest to make hustle plays when things get rough; he was probably the best pro prospect on a fairly dominant Louisville team that won the National Championship this season. His offense is very raw, but he is a great shot blocker, and he can make a 12-foot jump shot! Seriously! Here it is! He is also a very willing passer, and Griffin and Jordan don’t mind taking the shots anyway.
#26- Minnesota Timberwolves- Sergei Karasev, SG Russia
The Wolves got this pick in a trade back in 2011 from the Rockets. When I first searched Karasev, I almost thought they took this guy, but he deals with more flopping than the NBA already does. All kidding aside, Karasev played on the Russian National Team that surprisingly (and controversially) beat Argentina in the bronze medal game of the 2012 London Olympics. It is usually David Kahn’s bread and butter to take a foreigner late in the first round, so we will see what new team president Flip Saunders does. What Karasev can give Minnesota that they really do need is height and ball-handling at the shooting guard position. I hate doing the type-to-type comparison, but Marco Belinelli is a similar player. The Wolves have drafted enough wings in the first round to, well, make a show called Wings, so I would doubt they are going to go in that direction unless they see a small forward that they really love. If the Wolves go small with their lottery pick, don’t be shocked if they go with a big man here as insurance if they lose Nikola Pekovic as a restricted free agent.
#27- Denver Nuggets- Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF Greece
This guy is such a mystery that I saw his name spelled three different ways on three different draft sites. All I know from minimal research is that he is a citizen of Greece, but of Nigerian descent, he plays a lot of point forward in international ball, which gives him a range of finesse skills at 6’9” that scouts love, and his nickname is “The Greek Freak,” a term that I thought belonged to Ryan Seacrest. The Nuggets went International last year with Evan Fournier and got good production out of him, so I guess they’ll go in that same direction this year (They will have to do it with new head coach Brian Shaw and without Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri, who left to take the Raptors GM job). It will be hilarious watching David Stern try to pronounce his name in his final year of announcing the picks in the NBA Draft. Stern retires in February of 2014 to be replaced by Adam Silver, who we last saw haunting agent Dale Cooper’s dreams in Twin Peaks. I just hope we get a player from Nigeria who plays better than the rest of the Nigerian national team did in the Olympics. Sorry, I couldn’t help it.
#28- San Antonio Spurs- Livio Jean-Charles, PF France
Anytime the Spurs have a late first round pick, GM R.C. Buford goes with the “draft and stash” technique, which is when you pick an International player to take his NBA rights and let him play overseas to develop without immediately taking up your salary cap space. Jean-Charles seems like a decent fit. Tim Duncan will definitely retire either next season or the season after, and getting another big to help out Tiago Splitter with shot blocking and getting put-backs is not a bad idea. Jean-Charles struggled in French league play, but he exploded in the Nike Hoops Summit and was the MVP for the World team. Don’t ask him to make a jump shot though. I don’t doubt the Spurs in the draft anymore. They got Kawhi Leonard at 15 in a supposedly weak 2011 draft and may have gotten the best player. They know what they are doing.
#29- Oklahoma City Thunder- Reggie Bullock, SG North Carolina
If the Thunder take a big man with that lottery pick in anticipation of letting Kendrick Perkins go, then the next step would be to get a shooting guard in case they lose Kevin Martin, who was a major disappointment after coming over in the dreaded James Harden trade, to free agency. Bullock’s decision to leave UNC early surprised me, but he shot the lights out at draft workouts, almost as well as Allen Crabbe. He did suffer a knee injury as a freshman in 2011, and we never found out how fast he really was before the injury. He played some small forward so that they could give P.J. Hairston (a future stud in the 2014 draft) more playing time, but I think he is a natural shooting guard. He is also a very confident player.
#30- Phoenix Suns- Tony Snell, SG/SF New Mexico
Another “tweener” at the shooting guard/small forward position goes last in my first round. He, like Bullock, surprised people by jumping pro after a pretty good season at New Mexico under Steve Alford, who has since taken the UCLA job. He didn’t get a lot of looks at first because he played behind top player Kendall Williams, but Snell was awesome in the Mountain West Conference tournament and opened a lot of eyes with his length and his ability to overpower smaller guards. New Mexico tanked in the first round against Harvard, but Snell has impressed teams in workouts. You might see some Jimmy Butler here with Snell, especially given how many people have already counted him out plus their similarities in height and weight. I don’t know what’s in it for the Suns because the Suns are a mess.
Stay tuned for Part Three of our NBA Draft Preview tomorrow!