Some burning questions with three days to go before the draft:
All in all, they appear content with the level of talent -- maybe three and a half stars out of four if we're going movie-review style. But no one expects a bevy of future All-Stars. The execs I've spoken with mention Kentucky power forward Anthony Davis and Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal as the only players who seem bound for that status. But the talent evaluators also see a long list of dynamic players who could be quality contributors for years to come.
Depth defines the draft, with multiple positions at which the perceived variance among three or four prospects is minimal. Exhibit A: the shooting guards. Beal is widely viewed as the top talent, but good luck finding a consensus beyond that. Many teams prefer Syracuse's Dion Waiters, while some have fallen in love with Duke's Austin Rivers and others want Connecticut's Jeremy Lamb. Meanwhile, guys like Washington's Terrence Ross and Memphis' Will Barton are expected to be taken later but could wind up being better than some of the aforementioned players.
It's a similar situation with the big men once you get past expected top pick Davis, Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson and UConn center Andre Drummond. There are forwards such as Kentucky's Terrence Jones, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Iowa State's Royce White who have lottery-type talent but will likely go later, and centers like Illinois' Meyers Leonard and North Carolina's Tyler Zeller who are very good players who could be available in the teens.
I'd be very surprised if we don't see some trades. Specifically, Houston (Nos. 14 and 16) is known to have been very active in trying to move up in the draft. After finishing just above .500 and barely missing the playoffs the last three seasons, the Rockets are desperate to break through into the top tier and need impact players to get there. Whether that means getting into the top 10 and actually picking there or flipping that asset in a deal for their ultimate target of Orlando's Dwight Howard, they're being very aggressive.
Sources confirmed an ESPN.com report from Sunday night that Sacramento was among the teams talking with the Rockets, and it made perfect sense then that the Kings were suddenly bringing in a number of prospects expected to be taken later than their fifth pick. St. John's small forward Moe Harkless is among them, and the way in which he agreed to a Monday workout was revealing. Harkless worked out for Golden State (No. 7) on Sunday, and was then asked by the Kings to come by on Monday before leaving the region. The unique part, I was told, was that the workout was enough of an organizational priority that at least one member of the Maloof family that owns the team was among those team representatives doing the asking.
Otherwise, I continue to hear that it's possible that Cleveland (Nos. 4 and 24 in the first round and Nos. 33 and 34 in the second round) will move up to take Charlotte's No. 2 spot in order to land Beal. Utah has no first-round picks and had been attempting to land one in order to select Weber State point guard Damian Lillard, according to sources, but it's not known if Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor has made any progress. Milwaukee (No. 12) has considered trading back, and would take a long look at Barton if it did.
Sources also said that Brooklyn, which gave its No. 6 pick to Portland as part of the Gerald Wallace trade in March, is attempting to get into the first round. The Nets are just days away from the free-agency period in which they'll be trying to persuade point guard Deron Williams to re-sign, so it's safe to say they're looking for any asset that makes their roster more appealing.
If they keep it, I'd have them picking Robinson at the moment -- a change from Beal in
Kentucky small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Beal remain possibilities as well, but those who know Charlotte general manager Rich Cho best expect him to swing a deal. Coming off a season with a record-low winning percentage of .106, the Bobcats need so much help that they'd be well served to come out of this draft with more than one addition.
If things go the way I expect them to, two key picks will have a tremendous ripple effect: No. 2 and No. 6. Whether the Bobcats choose Robinson, Barnes, Kidd-Gilchrist or Beal, I'm fairly convinced that those four players will be slotted from No. 2 to No. 5 in some order. Some wonder if the Kings would pass on one of them to take Lillard at No. 5 (and they do like him), but that would surprise me.
As such, Portland has an intriguing pick at No. 6, where Lillard is a legitimate possibility. If the Blazers opt to fill their glaring need for a point guard rather than go with Drummond and deal with the endless Greg Oden comparisons, then that noise you'll hear will be the Golden State brain trust screaming in agony over its decision at No. 7. The team's owners are pushing for a big man. Drummond has more upside than anyone not named Anthony Davis in the draft, but he's also incredibly raw and potentially unreliable for the first few years. The pressure comes from the perception of Drummond's value, as every team that passes on him runs the risk of looking silly if he pans out sooner rather than later.
Nonetheless, I'm sticking with Waiters as the likely pick at No. 7. And with every slot that Drummond potentially slides, decisions would be that much harder for teams that didn't expect to see him there. Different dominoes, in other words, would fall.
Harkless, for starters. And not just because the Maloofs said so. The buzz had begun before then, in large part because of his performances in recent workouts where he showcased his long and athletic frame and his versatile, high-energy game. The Big East Rookie of the Year, a capable scorer (15.3 points) and rebounder (8.6), was expected to go in the mid-to-late first round before his latest rise.
Rivers continues to do well for himself, too. He entered this draft process with many teams wary of his occasionally cocky personality, but some executives are drooling over a confidence that one personnel man compared to that of Kobe Bryant. The armchair sports psychologist in me thinks it has a lot to do with the familiar vibe he projects. Rivers, the son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers, grew up around the NBA and acts as if he always saw himself getting to this point -- and much farther.
Waiters, Leonard and Ross have all improved their stock quite a bit as well.
Baylor power forward Perry Jones isn't likely to go in the lottery, a major fall for a guy who was seen as a surefire top five pick when he considered coming out a year ago. His talent, athleticism and big-time body (6-11, 234 pounds) are indisputable, but he hasn't been able to convince teams that he'll be putting the whole package together anytime soon.
Sullinger is sure to take a hit after he was red-flagged with back issues at the Chicago draft combine earlier this month, and now it's just a matter of how far he falls. Though his agent, David Falk, said Sullinger
Kentucky forward Terrence Jones has slipped a bit, too, having perhaps missed his chance at being a top 10 pick after lackluster workouts with Sacramento and Golden State. I'm told he's seriously in the mix for Milwaukee at No. 12, along with North Carolina power forward John Henson (if Detroit doesn't grab Henson at No. 9).
He visited with his soon-to-be new team in New Orleans on June 19, but it was more of a meet-and-greet with owners, coaching staff and the media than anything else. Davis, who spent the day in jeans, did not work out.
Speaking of his attire,
Evan Fournier, 19, of France is the only one expected to be selected in the first round. He's slated to be a late first-rounder at that, meaning he could slip and there would be no international players among the top 30. Fournier, a 6-7, 204-pound shooting guard with a smooth scoring game and good range, has played professionally for Poitiers Basket 86 for the past two seasons.
It's a stark contrast to a year ago, when six international players went in the first round. The record is nine, in 2003.