Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's Draft Time!

With the current cramped, claustrophobic sports schedule this year, one of the marquee events that’s gotten lost in the crowd is the NBA Draft. The NBA Draft is far superior to its equivalents in the NFL or MLB because it’s a farce stuffed into two amusing hours. The farce is watching allegedly competent executives compress all of their folly into two hours: they make inexplicably bad decisions. Unfortunately from this perspective, nothing can quite match David Kahn’s tour de force performance (the Toby Gerhart of terrible performances) last year: three point guards, one shooting guard, absolutely dumb all around. (Like, why did you think Jonny Flynn is top-5 material? Etc. etc.) The other farcical aspect that is sure to return undiminished is the sheer awkward comedy of terrible suits, stilted interviews and New York Knicks fans complaining irrespective of the result.

This year’s draft appears as of this moment to be too reasonable. A normal draft has one or two franchise-level talents—this year they’re John Wall and Evan Turner—and every indication is that they will be picked first and second in that order. It’s depressingly reasonable, particularly when you consider the caliber of decision-makers involved: that Ernie Grunfeld still has a paying job while many Americans have been unemployed for almost a year is a grim joke that the world’s playing on us; meanwhile, Doug Collins will crush such potentially resplendent talents as Holliday and Turner (lord knows what kind of offense he will inflict on them, especially since the Holliday/Turner/Iguodala partnership will be so mismatched anyway). Then of course you have David Kahn and Chris Wallace prominently involved at the top of the draft (not to mention such anti-talents as the Golden State Warriors management team and so on). So it’s a bit of a puzzler—one of those odd twists the draft throws at you—that the only reasonable management team in the draft (the Nets) is reportedly set to make the only truly unreasonable move.

Namely, drafting Wes Johnson. The tired debate that recurs every draft is need vs. talent, and I hope that it isn’t raised here: Johnson neither fits a need nor is he the most talented player available at that position. The Nets just drafted a small forward last year—Terrence Williams—and Williams performed relatively well last year. And small forward is the type of position where, if you don’t have one of the superstars, you can really get just about anyone and be safe. The real need for the Nets is at power forward where, coincidentally, the best players happen to be. The problem there is that both of these players have serious question marks: Favors played for an offense at Georgia Tech that was as dynamic as setting concrete; and Cousins is, as is well appreciated by now, crazy. By contrast Johnson appears to be an affable chap whom the media ought to love.

There was some thought that Cousins would actually be taken third, and his statistical production at Kentucky was awesome—on a Durant/Beasley level in terms of freshmen production on a per-minute basis—but you have to return to the fact that Cousins is crazy. But that really obscures a lot. There are many types of NBA crazy, some of which are worse than others. To wit:
Michael Beasley (sullen, self-destructive)
Rasheed Wallace (lazy, passive, temperamental)
Zach Randolph (drug kingpin, temperamental, doesn’t want to win, gets in fights, etc.)
Stephen Jackson (egotistical, has gigantic cojones and just generally doesn’t give a fuck, and so is one of the few non-star players you don’t mind taking a last-second shot.)
J.R. Smith (egotistical, commits crimes, generally a malcontent, generally unpredictable)
Ron Artest (Ron Artest).

Note that three of these gentlemen have won one title; three have not and probably won’t. So you can win a title with a crazy guy. The question is, exactly how is Cousins crazy? He’s temperamental, for certain, and if anything his craziness comes from the fact that he wants to win too much. He’s not crazy all the time; when he’s playing well he plays team-oriented. His teammates like him and defend him. I think Cousins’s craziness is very surmountable, and might well go away if he matures. Whatever problems you have with Cousins should stem from his actual play: namely, the fact that he seems a bit too slow-footed to fit in defensively.

Favors can be excused for playing for Georgia Tech, a rash decision I’ll chalk up to hometown loyalty. But hopefully this latest debacle will cause the message to go out: friends don’t let friends play for Paul Hewitt. The man is a menace. Think of the children. At any rate, Favors did not exactly display a lot of basketball intelligence on the defensive end during his brief career, and that’s a real worry. Ultimately, though, he’s very athletic and a voracious rebounder.

Were I the Nets, I’d take Favors, as I think he’d blend in better with Brook Lopez, who’s good enough to think how your pieces fit in with him. But I can see the case for Cousins. At any rate, knowing what we know about the average NBA draft, we can guess one of them will work out and one won’t and that which isn’t necessarily predictable.

The rest of the draft has a number of intriguing talents, owing to the number of underclassmen coming out early (presumably because of changes to the NBA CBA), which means we can expect an elevated number to be worthy players. Expect there to be two or three very good rotation players in the rest of the draft, with a number of average rotation players sprinkled in as well. As for the Bulls—I’m hoping for Xavier Henry or James Anderson. And sheer ridiculousness also.

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