Meet Kevin Durant's new talented but enigmatic wingman.
NBA guru Jonathan Tjarks already has you covered with his thoughts on NBA Draft winners and losers. For the most part, I agree with his sentiments--as evidenced by our Mock Draft, we share convergent ideas when it comes to drafting and accruing talent. I had some additional, Texas-centric, thoughts I figured I would posit to the readership.
In a vacuum, the Houston Rockets had a great draft by bypassing low-ceiling need picks (Tyler Zeller, most notably) for elite, if mercurial, talents in Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, and Terrence Jones. Unfortunately, drafts are made with organizational and market factors at play, and the bottom line is that GM Daryl Morey now possesses a boatload of middling-to-average assets (with a particular glut at the forward spots). Lamb and Jones, for all their talents, look like they will never be "alpha dog" personalities, and Houston still lacks that dominant star that can raise the Rockets to a championship-contending level (or heck, even to the first and second rounds of the playoffs).
The Rockets appear to be, once again, a victim of timing. Rumor is that the Sacramento Kings were set to deal the fifth pick to Houston, if and only if Thomas Robinson wasn't on the board. You can thank Michael Jordan and his Michael Kidd-Gilchrist pick for that one. Further, it would seem that Orlando Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan--hired all of nine days ago--was unwilling to make a Dwight Howard-sized cannonball splash as his first move.
At this point, the Rockets should be pursuing one of two realistic options. The first is to work furiously until the start of the NBA season to package assets for Dwight Howard. No, the pieces the Rockets have are not terribly attractive, but short of the Lakers offering Andrew Bynum, Hennigan isn't likely to get a package much better than the one New York pitched for Carmelo Anthony. That's doable for the Rockets. The other option, which Morey will never do, is to jettison Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, and Luis Scola in order to go into full rebuilding mode and hopefully land a franchise-changing draft pick. Morey, like nearby franchise-building gurus Gregg Popovich, Mark Cuban and Sam Presti, has done an outstanding job landing complementary pieces to a championship-contending team. It's just really unfortunate that his stars (Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady) didn't hold up the end of the bargain. At this point, Morey can no longer afford to tread water for a fourth consecutive year. Apathy is at a record-high for Rockets fans and there is no end in sight.
As much as I liked the Rockets' draft, I hated the Mavericks' picks. Apparently I'm not alone. Low-ceiling is, frankly, an understatement for Jae Crowder and 27 year-old Bernard James. What's even more confusing is that the Mavericks passed on better comparable low-ceiling, high-floor players--Draymond Green and Tyler Zeller, for example--to pick Crowder and James. The Jared Cunningham selection was equally head-scratching. If you're going to pick on potential, why not go with Tony Wroten or Quincy Miller?
Yet ultimately, Dallas' position looks pretty clear. Cuban wants to go all-in to land Deron Williams (moving Shawn Marion appears to be the only obstacle), with the chance to reel in Howard in 2013. If Cuban can get Williams to sign, this head-scratching draft is ultimately irrelevant. But if he can't, Mavericks fans will be left wondering why Cuban chose to not re-sign Tyson Chandler last year, nor draft some high-ceiling stars that could end up being major contributors to the post-Nowitski era.
If you're wondering what the Oklahoma City Thunder's plan is to handle four max-player contracts, it's apparently: wait for other teams to screw up. I've long said that Jones III was a draft pick that would get a general manager fired, but little did I know that it wouldn't be the GM of the team drafting him. Jones III is a huge bust risk, but the bottom line is he's a top 5 talent in this draft that slid to 28. That's the best value pick of the draft. For Jones III, it's the perfect landing spot: low pressure development as a fifth option (at best). Presti was supposedly adamant prior to the draft that he wouldn't be trading James Harden this year, so there's at least one more run with their core group before the reality of the salary cap hits.
J'Covan Brown will reportedly sign a free agent contract with the Miami Heat. I don't expect him to make the team, but if he does, that's a good landing spot for him. Mario Chalmers, for all his NBA Finals heroics, is JAG at point guard, and Brown could even sneak in some minutes as a spot-up shooting 1, a la Daniel Gibson in Cleveland. People are questioning his decision, but Brown is a fourth-year junior with a young child. He wasn't improving his draft stock next year with Myck Kabongo returning, so why not take an extra year of income, even if it's overseas?
Tristan Thompson got a nice complementary big man in Tyler Zeller. With Zeller at center, Thompson can shift to becoming a high-energy offensive guy and paint-patrolling defender on the other end of the court. Thompson may never live up to the billing of fourth overall pick, but with a technically sound pieces at center and point guard flanking him, it won't be for lack of chess pieces.
Cory Joseph and Avery Bradley didn't lose any ground on their depth charts, which is nice. Miami taking a flyer on LSU's Justin Hamilton in the second round is not bad news, but not good news, for Dexter Pittman. Damion James could have had some opportunities on a terrible New Jersey team but needs to stay healthy, while D.J. Augustin is likely to continue ceding minutes to Kemba Walker.
This was an unusually deep draft class--I think there's a strong chance picks in the 15-30 range will outperform picks in the 5-15 range--so using it as a comparator for next year's draft class is perhaps foolhardy. But I'll do it anyway. Myck Kabongo's range looks to be between 10 (Austin Rivers) and 29 (Marquis Teague), assuming some growth. My guess is he's a late lottery pick if he can put together the season we're expecting. Freshman Cameron Ridley could find himself around 22 (Fab Melo) with the solid but unspectacular season many recruitniks are projecting. Hopefully he comes back for his sophomore season. With a breakout scoring year, Sheldon McClellan could be in the 24 (Jared Cunningham) to 39 (Khris Middleton) range, but that is a long shot.
My favorite picks-for-value: Detroit at 9 (Andre Drummond), Houston at 18 (Terrence Jones), Memphis at 25 (Tony Wroten), Denver at 38 (Quincy Miller), Portland at 40 (Will Barton), New Orleans at 46 (Darius Miller).
Top pick-for-value: Oklahoma City at 28 (Perry Jones III).
My head-scratching reach picks: Phoenix at 13 (Kendall Marshall), Atlanta at 23 (John Jenkins), Dallas at 24 (Jared Cunningham).
Worst head-scratching reach: Indiana at 26 (Miles Plumlee).