A very special RTOE for you all today. I recruited the help of the guys at ProBasketballDraft.com to help make sense of some of the choices this year’s lottery teams will have to make from the pool of NCAA talent. Eric Palutsis, Ian Levy, Fred Katz, and Ryan Glassman: take it away for part 1! (Note: Part 2 dropped later today.)
1. Hello, my name is the Cleveland Cavaliers. My team has a ton of cap space going into the off-season, not a whole lot of depth, and for some reason or another, there’s a giant, gaping hole at Small Forward. Assuming the Lakers make the playoffs and I get their pick, too, what’s my best fit in the first round of the draft?
Eric: As tough as it is to believe right now, with the Cavs blowing huge second half leads to Miami and Boston in recent games, it was not too long ago that Cleveland was actually lighting up scoreboards with an offensive rating over 110 during the month of February. Obviously the lack of depth has reared its ugly head with injuries to Kyrie Irving and now Dion Waiters but the larger issue has been terrible defense, specifically an atrocious interior defense. Tyler Zeller just is just not cutting it inside right now. Best case scenario for the Cavs? Win the lottery and draft Nerlens Noel, his shot-blocking and interior defensive presence is something that Cleveland has sorely been missing. If Noel is gone by the time the Cavs are picking in June, I don’t know that there is another big man worth taking that high; I would lean towards someone like Victor Oladipo who can become the lock-down perimeter defender that Cleveland has been lacking since a certain someone took his talents to South Beach. Arguments could be made for a small forward like Otto Porter to take some of the scoring load off of Irving but a scorer like Kentucky’s Alex Poythress or even Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III (assuming they throw their names in the draft) could be had later in the first round with the Lakers pick.
Ian: The continued development of Dion Waiters, paired with the continued brilliance of Kyrie Irving means the Cavaliers have some stout cinderblocks laid in the foundation of their backcourt. There are a couple of intriguing options from them at the top of the draft. Indiana University wing, Victor Oladipo could be a solid fit alongside Irving and Waiters.
Oladipo is an elite perimeter defender with the ability to make an instant impact at that end of the floor. On offense he’s a terrific finisher and has grown into a respectable outside shooter. His ceiling at that end of the floor is probably as a very efficient complementary player, but that’s exactly the ingredient Cleveland is missing. Oladipo is probably a hair shorter than the 6’5″ he’s listed at, but with a wingspan stretchy enough to help defend small forwards in a pinch. Although he probably isn’t the starting small forward answer, his elite defense and complimentary offensive game mean he could be a nice third-guard, playing alongside either Waiters or Irving and stretching into the small forward role when matchups allow.
Another option is 6’8″ wing, Otto Porter, from Georgetown. A defensive prospect equally as intriguing as Oladipo, Porter has the size to fully inhabit the Alonzo Gee shaped hole at small forward. Offensively Porter has the potential to develop a much more well-rounded game than Oladipo and is already a more polished ball-handler and shot creator.
Fred: Well, Cleveland, that all depends on how much you luck out (or unluck out) in the lottery. If you end up with the first or second overall pick, you kind of have to take Nerlens Noel, don’t you? I know Anderson Varejao is a quality player. I know he was having a great season until he went down for the year only 25 games in. I know your fans love him. But is he the guy that’s going to take you to the promise land with Kyrie?
Realistically, next year is still a building year for you. You won’t be “there” yet. Meanwhile, Andy is going to be on an expiring $9.1 million deal with a team option for the next year at $9.8 million. That’s pretty team friendly. A lot of contenders that are one big short would love to take a team-oriented guy, who was averaging 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds before he got hurt this year, on a contract like that. You can get legitimate value back for him. So trade Andy and move on with a core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and Noel. That’s pretty strong.
If you fall lower, which you probably will, the small forward route is the way to go. You need rebounding – especially to compensate for Waiters, who is weak in that area. Shabazz Muhammad and Otto Porter would both fit that mold, but since Kyrie is already a natural scorer and Dion goes for more aimless Runaround Sues than anyone else in the league, Porter may serve as a better Cav complement than Shabazz.
Ryan: Cleveland, I love what you’re doing in the backcourt with the scoring tandem of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. Up front, Tristan Thompson looks like he can be a solid forward for a long time, and hopefully you can continue to get some good production from Andy Varejao next season. But before you guys get serious about taking the leap to playoff contender in the Eastern Conference, you need a player to fill in at SF for Alonzo Gee. Gee is probably better suited to play off of the bench than start alongside a pair of scorers in the backcourt, where his shots are limited.
What the Cavs need in that starting spot is a versatile player that can guard wings, rebound, and get his points without having to dominate the ball, a guy like Georgetown’s Otto Porter. In a weak draft class, there may not be more of a sure thing than Porter, a stat sheet stuffer that will contribute consistently on both ends of the ball. Porter has the frame and athleticism to guard elite wings at the NBA level, and also already has a refined midrange game that fits well alongside the perimeter-oriented games of Irving and Waiters. Porter may not have the superstar ceiling of some other prospects, but with one of the league’s best young talents already on your roster, all you need is a player that can contribute from Day 1, and add talent and depth to the team. The Porter pick allows you to look to a scorer in the frontcourt with the Lakers’ pick, where a skilled big like Kelly Olynyk makes a lot of sense.
2. Hi there, Cleveland. Can I call you Cleveland? My name is Minnesota Timberwolves, and I wasn’t supposed to be here this year, but here I am. I know my biggest problem is injuries as opposed to depth, but I have to figure that out anyway. I guess I could probably use a Shooting Guard, but I don’t know. Like I said, I wasn’t supposed to be here. Who’s my best fit in the first round, as long as I draft in the top 13?
Eric: The Timberwolves situation is perplexing, to say the least. Injuries have obviously ruined this season but that means the pieces should still be in place for a dramatic improvement next season, especially with how much better Ricky Rubio has been playing as of late. That being said, Minnesota could certainly use an improvement at small forward and they would love to have a shot at Otto Porter if they were drafting in the top five. However, it is highly unlikely that the Timberwolves will be drafting that high a perimeter scorer like Shabazz Muhammad could be in play. Muhammad’s ability to play the 2 or the 3 would also allow Minnesota more lineup flexibility, shifting him to shooting guard in order to put a Derrick Williams-Kevin Love-Nikola Pekovic frontcourt on the floor.
Ian: The Timberwolves shooting guard rotation has definitely been a steaming pile of Shved this season, ranking near the league’s basement in both offensive and defensive competency. A player like Oladipo could be a nice fit, as could one of the more-scoring focused guards like Ben McLemore, Shabazz Muhammad or Gary Harris. However, looking into the not-too-distant future, the challenges of keeping Kevin Love happy and Nikola Pekovic affordable mean that shoring up depth in the front-court may be more important.
A healthy Nerlens Noel would be a dream. Actual Nerlens Noel, with an unsettled medical chart, would be exciting but certainly not settle any stomachs at the Target Center. Either of those scenarios would probably require moving up significantly in the lottery. If the Timberwolves stay in their slot and decide to chase size, a project like Alex Len or Rudy Gobert could make sense. Gobert brings a sloppy swirl of tightly wound energy and athleticism, with a significant amount of polish standing between his present-day self and an extended NBA career. Len has a broader foundation of skill to fall back on than Gobert, but needs just as much development to reach his true potential.
Fred: Your best bet might be taking someone out of med school. Or maybe you should trade for Pau Gasol. I know you’ve always liked him and he really wants to be a doctor. You have to promise you won’t tell the other lottery teams what I’m about to tell you: you should’ve made the playoffs. You have a better roster than any of these other teams. You just got really unlucky. But seriously, Minnesota, don’t tell any of those other guys I just said that. I don’t want to get in trouble.
That said, you really need shooting. What happened to you guys? You know you’re under 30 percent from three right now, right? So who can shoot? Shabazz Muhammad can. Ben McLemore can make his long-range shots when he’s hot. Otto Porter seems to have pretty good range. Any of those guys would work and any of those guys would be able to stay with you on a cheap deal after Andrei Kirilenko’s contract runs up.
Ryan: Injuries aside, Minnesota, you need to add some guys to the roster that can score from the perimeter. An offensive rating rank of 24 has got to improve to match the team’s average to above-average defensive output if you want to push for the playoffs with a hopefully healthy roster next season. There’s a guy out west whose stock has gone down recently, but whose game I still like, and I think would fit your roster pretty well. I can’t tell you with certainty how old he is, but I can tell you that there may not be a scorer in this draft as naturally gifted as UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad.
The Bruins freshman has a knack for scoring the ball, and can play at the next level from the 2 or at times the 3. He plays extremely hard, finishes well at the rim, and is a great shooter from the midrange and beyond once he is able to get his feet set. Muhammad is a guy that may not challenge for any scoring titles, but should be able to average 15-18 PPG for a long time with his offensive skill set. Playing in the backcourt with a guy like Ricky Rubio that loves to get up the floor and hit open shooters, Muhammad has the opportunity to thrive with the Timberwolves as a scorer that can get his points from all over the floor, in both transition and in half court sets.
3. Hey guys. Orlando Magic here. You guys remember me? We were the ones that drafted back to back #1 picks in 1992 and 1993. We drafted #1 again in 2004… yada yada yada, WE’RE BACK! Did you miss us? No? Oh, ok. Well, we’ve got a LOT of young guys on our roster. Who’s part of our core going forward? Is there anyone at the top of this draft that’ll be complimentary to that core?
Eric: The Magic currently have five rookies on their roster as they try to rebuild and put the saga of the Dwight Howard years behind them. Andrew Nicholson and Mo Harkless have shown glimpses and have the potential to be effective NBA players but no one is going to confuse them with future superstars. Wait and see is the best case scenario for the rest but that means Orlando has plenty of options of where to go with the likely No. 2 overall pick. A shooting guard is likely the most pressing need, so a high-ceiling player like Kansas’ Ben McLemore, considered by many to be the second best player in the entire draft, could certainly fit the bill. A number of mock drafts also have point guard Marcus Smart rising up draft boards thanks to his superior size and athleticism. Either guard would be nice complements to the rest of the Magic’s young squad and have the raw, high-ceiling potential to develop into the star Orlando desperately needs.
Ian: This pick, likely at the top of the lottery, offers the Magic a golden opportunity to move past the Jameer Nelson era. Oklahoma State point guard, Marcus Smart, seems like the most obvious choice. He has all the tools to be an elite point guard and just needs some time to refine and align them. Most intriguing is the way his physical style complements his bulldog personality. This combination could be the perfect elixir to pull together all the talented young pieces the Magic have assembled and start driving them in the same direction.
Fred: You’re full of weirdos. You have some nice veteran guys. You have some good, young players. I like Andrew Nicholson, Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, and Tobias Harris. You have a good coach in Jacque Vaughn. How the heck are you only a half a game better than the Bobcats?
You guys seriously need some shooters. We’ve learned that Arron Afflalo makes his jumpers when he’s open, but doesn’t make him create threes for himself. That means you should probably go with Marcus Smart, who can’t shoot from long range just yet, but probably will be able to in the future. More importantly, Smart can create open looks for other guys. I know you don’t want to hear this right now, Orlando, but Jameer Nelson is no longer an All-Star point guard. He’s Janearing the end so remember that next year should just be your next step to improvement. It’s not a sprint. It’s a Jameerathon.
Ryan: Orlando! First and foremost, let me credit you in trying to make the best of that messy Dwight Howard situation last year. Looking around at a few of your trade partners, I think you guys actually made off okay in that one. I love the games of Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless, two very young and athletic wings that have improved with more minutes this season. They are definitely an important part of your core going forward. Nikola Vucevic was the steal of that entire draft, an elite rebounder that adds youth and athleticism to the front line, while Andrew Nicholson is an appealing prospect that can score both inside and out. I think each of those four guys, with Arron Afflalo adding some scoring and defense on the wing, each ought to be a part of the blueprint going forward. What your team needs now is a sense of identity. You have these four young guys that each fill a role, but now you need a floor general to set the tone on both ends, especially with the pending team option for Jameer Nelson’s contract after the ’13-’14 season.
There is not a better fit for the Magic in this draft than Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, a point guard that brings elite leadership and toughness to every team he plays for. Smart if a strong, physical guard, a great athlete that loves to get into the lane and can finish at the rim against length and size. He has good court vision and can lead the break, and can also rebound extremely well for his position. Smart fits the best on a young roster like yours, where he can come in and breed a mentality of toughness and competitiveness from Day 1. I love Marcus Smart’s leadership skills and overall motor, and think they would be an outstanding fit with your talented but young roster.
4. Yo, Cleveland. Maybe some of us don’t want the Lakers to make the playoffs. Ever thought of that? Jeez. Selfish. Oh, hi. I’m Phoenix Suns. I’m new around these parts. It’s weird to be here. Can anyone help me out? What exactly do I do here?
Eric: The Suns could really use a scorer to add to their roster–no player on the current roster is averaging more than 15 points per game. With Phoenix likely to pick in or around the top five, the Suns should be praying that Otto Porter drops to wherever they are drafting. A dynamic scorer, Porter should be able to be plugged into the Suns’ lineup right away and has the intangibles that scouts drool over. He would certainly give Phoenix a consistent scoring option with a high motor, night in and night out. If Porter is not available, Muhammad is another player who projects as a consistent NBA scorer, although he is considered to be more one-dimensional than Porter and does not bring nearly as much to the table.
Ian: The Phoenix Suns draft board should be wide open. Priorities number 1-5 are adding talented basketball players. Priority number 6 is figuring out where they fit. The Suns don’t really appear to be tied to anyone other than Goran Dragic, but even that could go out the window if someone like Marcus Smart fell into their lap. They don’t have to hit a home run, but they can’t afford any wild swings and misses.
Players with refined, if limited games, like Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller or C.J. McCollum may be interesting to them. I’m guessing the Shabazz Muhammad – Michael Beasley vibe hits a little too close to home, but they could also chase a player like Otto Porter, Anthony Bennett or James McAdoo, who may not hit their considerable ceilings but have a talent versatile enough to all but ensure they become regular NBA contributors.
Fred: Phoenix, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life right now. I think this is the point where your parents need to give you a stern talk. It feels like the only asset you have at this point is your training staff. Knowing you, you’ll probably make some pick that makes absolutely no sense and it’ll be backed by the logic of, “How do we make this work with Michael Beasley?” People are laughing at you, Phoenix. They’re all laughing at you!
Can you at least get someone to help with your three-point defense? Did you know that opponents are shooting 39.5 percent against you, worst in the NBA? Judging from the way you play, I’m guessing that’s a no. Well, Victor Oladipo could help with that. Have you seen him on the perimeter? I don’t care that his offense may turn him into a one-dimensional, catch-and-shoot player. Tony Allen with catch-and-shoot ability or Thabo Sefolosha with potentially better defense is pretty darn valuable. So make that pick not because he works well with Goran Dragic and Beasley, but because it makes sense.
Ryan: Phoenix, sad to see you down here, but I guess things have to get worse before they can get better. The roster looks to be in a state of flux right now, but the biggest need to me appears to be scoring, from just about every position on the roster. Without a guy averaging 15 points a game this season, I think the move in the draft is to look at some athletes that can score and get up and down the floor. A lot of this depends on where this pick ends up, but a guy I like for your team is Kansas freshman Ben McLemore.
In a draft class where draft boards are more of a flavor-of-the-month posting than a concrete standing of the top prospects, McLemore is a guy currently on the downswing because of a lackluster NCAA Tournament thus far. But, although he is criticized for being a bit passive at time, the guard is still an elite shooting prospect with NBA range and athleticism. At his best, McLemore is a dynamic scorer that can beat you from outside or get to the rim and finish with his explosive leaping ability. McLemore is a good rebounder for his position, and has the physical tools to improve into a very god defender. But his upside as a potential top-5 pick is as a deep range shooter with great athleticism and a quick release on his jump shot. Playing alongside Goran Dragic, a guard who loves to get up and down the floor and create looks for others, McLemore has the chance to contribute early on as a shooter and improve as he becomes better at creating offense off the dribble.
5. Will you guys keep it down in here? Some of us regulars are trying to THINK. Sometimes, guys like us don’t get respect from any of these up-and-comers, know what I mean, Charlotte?
I sure do, Sacramento. Say… what are you guys looking for this year?
… I was about to ask you the same thing.
Eric: For Charlotte and Sacramento, the general consensus has to be that anything is better than what is currently in place. With only a few pieces to build around for each team they could go any number of directions and likely (hopefully) be better off. For Charlotte, actually winning the lottery for once would be huge, especially because it would mean earning the right to draft Noel. While he does not project to be the same franchise player that Anthony Davis did a year ago, Noel’s defensive abilities and raw athleticism would still be a huge upgrade over Bismack Biyombo. Charlotte may also have Portland’s first round pick (top 12 protected) and could draft a shooter like C.J. McCollum to space the floor between Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
As for the Kings, after trading last year’s first round pick Thomas Robinson, Sacramento could go after a power forward once again and UNLV’s Anthony Bennett would be great fit, potentially becoming a great complement to DeMarcus Cousins. However, unless the Kings land in the top five, Bennett will likely be gone, so an electric point guard like Trey Burke could make sense as a steady hand to lead the Kings’ offense.
Ian: The short answer is that I have no idea. Sacramento appears to be taking the Jackson Pollock approach to team building, just throwing paint at the wall, hoping something beautiful emerges. Charlotte apparently has some sort of plan, but I’m not sure they can read it. Shabazz Muhammad’s elite scoring and questionable decision-making seem like a perfect fit for the maelstrom in Sacramento. Charlotte likely ends up with the top pick which gives them the opportunity to take Nerlens Noel and experiment with a Noel, Biyombo, Kidd-Gilchrist two-on-five offensive attack.
Fred: I’ll address my two most troubled students separately for this one. Sacramento, I don’t know what you’re doing defensively, but the good news is I don’t think you do either. So get someone who can at least give you some defense. Oladipo would work if he is still on the board when you pick. So would Porter. The knock on Anthony Bennett is that he’s a 6-foot-7 power forward, but height being important is one of the biggest myths in all of basketball. Let’s see how Bennett’s wingspan measures up before the NBA Draft. I’m betting he’s more than qualified to guard NBA forwards. And if you decide not to draft Bennett because you’ve already got Patrick Patterson and Jason Thompson, then shame on you.
And you, Charlotte. At least you have Kemba Walker. I guess the only way the season could go worse for you is if you don’t get the first overall pick, which would be both hilarious and depressing if that scenario played out two years in a row. If you end up picking first, don’t think about the injury and take Nerlens Noel. Do you see how well everyone is recovering from ACLs nowadays? Well, I’m betting that a 19-year-old kid recovering from injury is less of a risk than Ben McLemore (who goes more silent than Charlie Chaplin for oddly long stretches), Marcus Smart (who is athletic and looks like he could definitely improve, but who struggles with shot selection and shot 40.4 percent from the field and 29.0 percent from three this year), Cody Zeller (who had about every single one of his flaws exposed against Syracuse), and Shabazz Muhammad (who might not have the athleticism to guard bigger and faster NBA wings on the perimeter). Go with Noel, let his offensive game develop, let him dominate on the defensive end, and give yourself a defensive anchor for the first time in your franchise’s history. It’s the right thing to do.
Ryan: Alright guys, lets try to actually get this right this year. Sacramento, let’s start with you. There are a lot of pieces on this roster with talent that can score, but the pieces just don’t seem to fit together. A guy like Victor Oladipo makes a lot of sense for this team, considering the work ethic and intensity that he brings from the wing position. But I’m afraid his meteoric rise has taken him higher in the draft than where you will be picking. A nice option for you guys, and a guy that just knocked Oladipo out of the tournament, is Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams. Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas are both talented players, but are not true pass-first point guards dedicated to getting looks for others. Carter-Williams, with his great size, length, and court vision, is an elite passer that can create offense for others both in transition and in the half court. Carter-Williams would bring the Kings a true passer to distribute the looks for everybody else, a talent that your team desperately needs.
And as for you, Charlotte, another year at the bottom of the league brings a new set of needs when looking at the draft. I like what you have out on the perimeter with Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but its time to look inside and try and improve upon that league-worst defense. In spite of his ACL injury, I think taking Nerlens Noel makes a lot of sense for you guys. As good a shot-blocking prospect as there has been in years, including Anthony Davis, Noel has the potential to immediately anchor a defense as a rim-protector along the front line. But where Noel has a lot of upside, and where I don’t think he gets enough credit already, is on the offensive end. Noel’s post game got better in his year at Kentucky, and he has the coordination and athleticism to blossom into a very solid back-to-the-basket player down the line. But Noel is one of the league’s best shot blockers from the moment he makes his debut, a rare trait that NBA teams such as the Bobcats should hold in high regard.