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This year’s NBA draft was an interesting one. Much of the talk going around was that it was a terrible draft in terms of talent. That being said, nobody will really be able to judge any of these players until they are playing in the league for a while, or not playing for that matter.
The draft was also overrun with foreign players compared to any draft of the past. For some reason, people initially give less credit to these players since they haven’t been exposed to the American fans very much. Realistically, we may look back on the 2011 draft as one full of sleepers, but we’ll have to wait for that.
As for now, it seems as if a few teams stood out with the moves they made on Thursday night. Excluding just giving teams credit for being terrible and having top picks, here’s who I thought did the best job on draft day, and they may not be who you think.
Portland Trail Blazers
For me, it all starts with Portland. Far and away the best job on draft day adding players that will immediately have an impact on a team who was already poised to make a deep run in the Western Conference. If not for injuries, Portland may have already found their way to the top of the conference, but now they have some serious firepower. Andre Miller and Rudy Fernandez were shopped in a three way trade with the Nuggets and Mavericks. Though both of those players contributed well to the team for years, Portland will be okay without them. Raymond Felton is a great point guard in this league, one that is incredibly underrated. He is a tough defender, great outside shooter, and just flat out knows how to run a team. He brings youth to the point guard position and actually can be a solid two-guard if necessary as he proved last season with Denver. Portland also added Duke guard Nolan Smith and Ohio State guard Jon Diebler in the draft. Smith was one of my favorites in the entire field, and for the life of me I can’t understand why he fell so far. He won a championship at Duke, was a great team leader, and can score the basketball almost as well as any guard that was taken this year. Diebler is deadly from the outside. A Kyle Korver clone, he won’t give you much on the defensive end, but if he gets hot from three, opposing defenses will be in trouble. Not much growth needed here, he’ll be an immediate impact player off the bench. Portland filled in spots that they really needed, got younger, and though they didn’t add any size really, they put pieces around their budding star forward LaMarcus Aldridge to propel them to one of the best rosters around the league. Now they need to do it on the court.
The Bucks were disappointing last season to say the least. In 2010 they were able to not only make the playoffs, but make noise there. “Fear the deer” was a motto that was lost last year, but could come back soon after the moves they made. The Bucks made probably the biggest splash of the day by landing Stephen Jackson via trade with the Charlotte Bobcats. Corey Maggette was sacrificed, and though he is a very talented offensive player, he has become somewhat of a trade pawn the past few years. The Bucks were dead last in scoring last year and were absolutely desperate for a shooter to stretch the floor as well as another slasher who could get to the rim and allow Brandon Jennings to be open for more outside jump shots. They got both in Jackson, as well as a great defender. He will prove to have a huge impact on this team, and barring any setbacks, the trio of Jennings, Jackson and Bogut should easily grab a playoff spot. Milwaukee also added Tobias Harris from Tennessee, and Jon Leuer from Wisconsin. Harris is very versatile and should be able to fill in anything they lost in Corey Maggette. As for Leuer, he falls into a similar category as Nolan Smith for me. Not as far as play style goes, but for the intangibles. He found himself in deep runs into the NCAA Tournament with Wisconsin in his years there, and just strikes me as a player who will find his role and contribute in a pro system. I don’t expect either of these guys to be all-stars, but good role players to put around an already solid lineup. Fear the deer next season.
So here’s my curveball. Let’s think about this rationally for a second. The Bobcats weren’t going anywhere at all with the team they had. Michael Jordan knew this, and made some of the best decisions in his much criticized front-office career. They traded Gerald Wallace last season, leaving the team destined for a terrible ending to the season. I would have to assume that Jordan had been looking to shop Stephen Jackson for a while now, and only on draft day was he able to find a suitor. Did they get value back for him? Immediate it doesn’t seem so, but let’s look deeper. If a team is trying to completely rebuild for the future, what do they want to do? In the NBA you have two tasks. Get some solid young talent at the hard to find positions, and clear cap space to give yourself some leverage for free agency. They were able to do both in one trade. Corey Maggette is still a solid player in the league, and will at least give fans something to watch for the next two years as their young players develop. Also, he will remain as a trade pawn for them, and an expiring contract in the future which will allow them to have some money to work with coming into a year where the exact cap rules are uncertain. They picked up the number seven pick which they used on Bismack Biyombo from the Congo. He most definitely is all raw athleticism. Standing at 6’9 with an absurd 7’7 wingspan, he will have no problem blocking shots and grabbing rebounds in the league. The Detroit Pistons never minded very much that Ben Wallace couldn’t score the ball when he was winning defensive player of the year awards, and the Bobcats shouldn’t worry either. Maybe it’s a bit early for that comparison, but if he works out, he could be a very nice role player to develop. Now we get to the most underappreciated player in the 2011 draft: Kemba Walker. I can’t say enough about this kid. Talent, heart, quickness, leadership, the list goes on forever. The best player on the best team in the country, and one of the best scorers in the nation to boot somehow slipped to ninth in a so-called weak draft. I will never understand how that happened, but Michael Jordan and the Bobcats will be thanking the top eight teams in the future. He can play on both ends, and will have plenty of time to develop in Charlotte without any unfair immediate expectations. Charlotte was also able to sell their 39th pick, Jeremy Tyler, for cash considerations. Everyone likes cash right? Charlotte is bad for now, but made significant progress on draft night, and now has a definite plan for how they want to go. It’s only a matter of time.
Neither I nor anybody can say who will be good or bad right now in the draft, but speculation is what makes it all fun. These three teams may not be the best in the league, but improved the most in just one night. As I said, time will tell…so long as there is a season next year.