NBA draft: The top prospects
A look at the top players available in the 2009 NBA draft.
Point guards have been very, very good to the Nuggets. First there was last season's acquisition of Chauncey Billups, which completely changed the course of the franchise and drove Denver all the way to the Western Conference finals. Then there was the trade in the middle of the first round that sent No. 18 pick Ty Lawson to the Nuggets for a future pick. Lawson is the perfect contrast to Billups off the bench, as a speed guard. And with George Karl in charge, figure favorable treatment for the former Heel.
Patience paid off for the Timberwolves, with Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio falling to No. 5. While there are issues about a buyout and youth, this is the perfect landing spot for the accomplished passer, a place where he can grow, either now or in coming seasons (and may not even arrive right away). The Wolves then made it back-to-back point guards, taking Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn at No. 6. It could come down to Flynn now, Rubio later. The Wolves followed up with North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson at No. 18, before moving him to Denver for a future pick. The Wolves stayed in Heels mode from there, taking guard Wayne Ellington, whose polish and shooting could help ease the growing pains of Minnesota's other picks. Drop the grade, though, if it takes more than a year for Rubio to report. For now, the Wolves can wait.
Apparently, the Thunder are not going to allow anyone to get in the way of Russell Westbrook's opportunity at point guard. So Oklahoma City went somewhat off the draft script with the selection of Arizona State's James Harden at No. 3. Yes, the Thunder arguably got the draft's top pure shooting guard, but this hardly was a draft rich in twos. Harden certainly did not finish the season well, but is about as polished as it got in this draft at his position. The Thunder then addressed their inside concerns by trading for Ohio State freshman B.J. Mullens, the raw center who initially was taken by the Mavericks at No. 24. No, Mullens is not in any way ready.
The Blazers traded up to the No. 22 pick to select Spanish power forward Victor Claver, the second overseas prospect to be taken. Claver is expected to remain with his team in Valencia, which helps a team that already carries a loaded roster. Claver is long and athletic and runs the floor well. Like many European players, he moves well without the ball and sees the floor. Based on the Blazers' draft resume, there is little reason to doubt their overseas selections. Even No. 31 pick, Arizona State forward Jeff Pendergraph could contribute, as could No. 33 pick Dante Cunningham, the inside-scoring forward from Villanova.
Perhaps the Jazz's pick at No. 20 summed up this draft, making no pretense about selecting a backup at that stage, with the pick of Virginia Commonwealth point guard Eric Maynor. Like Jazz starting point guard Deron Williams, Maynor is particularly effective in the pick-and-roll game, as well as getting into the lane. As a true point guard, it is not as if Maynor sets up as a backcourt partner for Williams.
Well, Nellie certainly loves his shooters. Stephen Curry certainly can do that, as well as pass. What Curry is not is a creative scorer or much of a defender. But this is Nellie ball, which makes this as good a fit as anything this side of Mike D'Antoni. If anyone can hide Curry's weaknesses and play to Curry's strengths, it is Nellie. Of course, Don Nelson has not exactly been easy on his rookies in recent years.
For a moment there, when the Clippers dared actually add photos of Ricky Rubio to their website in May, there was concern. Then, in a very un-Clipper-like moment, sanity prevailed. This is not Michael Olowokandi at the top of the draft. This is not even Danny Manning. Oklahoma's Blake Griffin is an elite NBA-level talent who finally creates a focal point for the organization. Now the goal is to keep Baron Davis and Zach Randolph from polluting that potential.
Not every No. 1 pick is an easy one. See which teams wish they could turn back the clock and which surprising players were (and weren't) taken first.
Uh, the Lakers don't care about draft grades or even draft picks. They have a championship and you don't. With enough youth already in place and with dollars limited in advance of the free agency of Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom, the Lakers sold off their No. 29 selection to the Knicks for $3 million. And the rich get richer. It's not as if Toney Douglas, the Knicks' choice at No. 29, was going to crack the Lakers' rotation.
The draft proved secondary to the unloading of Shaquille O'Neal to the Cavaliers, in little more than a fiscal move. Whether Amare Stoudemire is next or not, this is a team in a rebuilding mode, which made the selection of Louisville forward Earl Clark at No. 14 significant. Clark can shoot from range, rebound and defend. He just might prove to be a significant part of the start of a revival, especially if Stoudemire truly is on the way out.
So much for the infatuation with Ricky Rubio. A team that needs a ready-made contributor seemingly got that with the selection of Memphis' Tyreke Evans at No. 4. On a roster lacking much in the way of star appeal or even athleticism, Evans could wind up providing both. A combo guard who could work well in tandem with Kevin Martin, Evans plays fast, plays athletically and plays strong. To their credit, the Kings did not give in to the Rubio hype. Instead, they got a tangible NBA-level rookie starter. They followed up with the smart pick at No. 23 of Israeli forward Omri Casspi, who, with the Kings' limited roster, could become the first player from his country to make the league. From there, they dealt the top pick in the second round to Portland for Sergio Rodriguez, who also will help at point guard.
Rotoworld: The Cavaliers won the draft lottery on Tuesday night, and the latest mock gives them the big man with the highest upside.
PBT: The Grizzlies' Game 2 OT loss to the Spurs was a tough pill to swallow after rallying from 13 down in the fourth quarter, but there's a silver lining.
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
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