Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Examining The Fit of Each First Round Pick in The 2011 NBA Draft

By Charlie Scaturro

This is the first of a two part series, click here for picks 16-30.

If nothing else, the 2011 NBA Finals proved how much fit really matters in professional basketball.  A Dallas Mavericks team that didn't have as much star power or athleticism as the Miami Heat showed that playing as a team and having pieces on the floor that complement each other can win championships.  Guys like Tyson Chandler, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakovic, and J.J. Barea might not be complete players but because of the way the Mavericks used them, they didn't have to be.

To put it simply, winning in the NBA isn't always about assembling a team of the five most talented players you can find, it's more about assembling a team that fits well together.  Obviously you need your Dirk Nowitzki's if your team is going to experience success at the highest level of competition and it's certainly easier said than done to draft players who truly fit your system, but with another NBA Draft in the books I thought I'd take a look at how each first round pick appears to fit on their new NBA team. 

There might still be some trade movement with these picks (which seems to be getting more confusing for some reason now that we have access to things like Twitter and 24/7 sports coverage) and free agency certainly will affect how these rookies will fit on their new teams, but for now here's how things look.

Cleveland #1 Overall Pick:  Kyrie Irving

Considering that Baron Davis and Ramon Sessions are both under contract for next season, this pick certainly creates a bit of a logjam in the Cavaliers back court, but neither player is the long term answer for Cleveland.  A motivated and in shape Baron Davis is a valuable asset to pretty much any team in the NBA, but the chances that he is actually excited to groom Kyrie Irving for a cellar-dwelling team in 2012 doesn't seem very likely.

On top of that, the Cavaliers will be looking to get Irving into the lineup right away so it seems likely that Dan Gilbert will try to find a way to unload either Davis or Sessions at some point.

Irving's addition to the Cavaliers is basically a match made in heaven, he figures to bring legitimate star power to a team that is severely lacking in that department and his high skill level, ability to make the guys around him better, and his scoring mean that he's a player Cleveland can build around for many years to come.

The Cavaliers had so many needs that pretty much any player they picked here was going to be a good fit, but Irving was the obvious choice at number one and his addition is a good way to start rebuilding.       

Minnesota #2 Overall Pick:  Derrick Williams

Williams had a breakout sophomore season at Arizona and he possesses a very nice combination of skill and aggression on the offensive side of the floor which should allow him to make a difference for Minnesota in the near future.  At the same time, David Khan has now added another small forward/power forward to a roster which already consists of Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Anthony Randolph, and last year's first round pick, Wesley Johnson.  Talk about some tough rotation decisions for whoever is coaching this team next season. 

One of the only questions that many scouts had about Derrick Williams coming into the draft was whether he would play small forward or power forward in the NBA.  He appears to have the potential to play either when you look at how well he shoots the ball and how strong he is under the basket, but Minnesota is going to have to make sure that he gets his minutes and is given a chance to gain experience early in his career.  Having a lot of depth is never a bad thing in the NBA, but the Timberwolves will now have to figure out how to keep the likes of Love, Beasley, Randolph, Johnson, and Williams happy, a task that could prove very difficult. 

Coming into the draft, there were many reports that Minnesota was trying to trade this pick perhaps because they didn't think they had a pressing need for a player like Williams.  When no one wanted to make a deal to acquire the second pick, the Timberwolves did the right thing and drafted a very talented player, but now they're going to have to figure out how to juggle all the young and developing talent they have at the forward spot.     

Utah #3 Overall Pick:  Enes Kanter

Many draft experts predicted that Utah would use this pick to select Brandon Knight, but the Jazz shook things up by taking one of the biggest and most skilled big men available.  Kanter's 6'11'', 260-pound frame should certainly allow him to bang under the basket and if he can adjust to life in the NBA, he has one of the highest ceilings of any player in the 2011 draft.

At the same time, Kanter might also be the most mysterious prospect in this year's draft class because scouts simply haven't seen very much of him due to the fact that he didn't play a single game at Kentucky.

Utah's selection of Kanter was a classic case of a team opting to go with talent over a specific need and although it's hard to pass on a player who possesses the size and skills that Kanter brings to the table, Utah now has a rather crowded front court as a result of this pick.

Al Jefferson (18.6 ppg, 9.7 rpg who has a similar skill set to Kanter), Paul Millsap (17.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Derrick Favors (the 2010 3rd overall pick), and Mehmet Okur will all be under contract next season and it seems like playing time might be at a premium for Kanter early in his career.  Having to play behind veterans like Jefferson, Millsap, and Okur isn't necessarily a bad thing though, as Kanter is only 19 and he could certainly stand to learn a lot from guys who have had successful NBA careers.

It's clear that Utah is looking toward the future after trading Deron Williams to the Nets last season and a starting front court of Kanter and Favors would seem to be at the center of their plans for the future.  For now, Kanter finds himself in a good (albeit crowded) situation in Utah where he can continue to develop as a young big man and learn from the veterans around him before hopefully taking the reigns and becoming a player that can anchor Utah's front court for years to come.                 

Cleveland #4 Overall Pick: Tristan Thompson

There's little doubt that Cleveland would have selected Kanter if he were available at this pick, but getting Tristan Thompson instead isn't a total disappointment.  Like I said earlier, the Cavaliers had needs at pretty much every position going into draft night and being able to get a player like Thompson, who has a number of skills that should quickly transition to the NBA, is never a bad thing.

Maybe the former Texas standout wasn't ranked this high on many draft boards but considering the situation, it certainly seems acceptable that Cleveland comes away with a 6'9'' power forward who has the strength, athleticism, and length to make an immediate impact on the boards as well as blocking shots.  Thompson is still working on his offensive game away from the basket, but he should be able to score in the paint thanks to his knack for collecting offensive rebounds and the relentless effort he exudes on every play.     

Thompson figures to fit nicely next to players like Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson, who certainly won't hog all of the front court minutes or possessions- a fact which should help Thompson grow as a player alongside fellow draftee Kyrie Irving.   

Toronto #5 Overall Pick:  Jonas Valanciunas

Jonas Valanciunas is essentially the opposite of Andrea Bargnani (AKA Charmin Ultra), and that's definitely a good thing for the Raptors.  Unlike Bargnani, who averaged an embarrassing 5.2 rebounds per game last season, the 7'0'' Lithuanian is a tough player who can bang around the basket and as long as he continues to get stronger, he should help the Raptors on the boards as well as on defense.

Valanciunas won't be able to do anything for Toronto until 2012 when he figures to make his way to the Raptors after another season in Europe, but considering that the NBA is staring a lengthy lockout right in the face and that he's just 19 years old, another full year of playing the game overseas, where he will continue to develop his body, doesn't seem like such a terrible option.

In order to hide Bargnani's prejudice against rebounding the ball, Toronto would love to move him to the power forward spot and it seems that Valanciunas, who has the requisite size and skill set to play center at the NBA level, is just the player to facilitate such a position change.  The Raptors also drafted Ed Davis last season and probably invested more than they should have in Amir Johnson (5-year $34 million contract last summer), but neither player has the potential or size to play the center position like Valanciunas does.

Drafting young European centers this high in the draft is basically like playing Russian Roulette with your teams future, but the Raptors saw something they liked in Valanciunas and if he can develop into a player that will allow Bargnani to change positions and one that can patrol the middle, this pick will be look great five years from now.  If not, it's back to the drawing board for the Raptors.             

Washington #6 Overall Pick: Jan Vesely

The idea in Washington is to surround John Wall with as many pieces as possible and grabbing a 6'11'' pogo stick that can also run the floor certainly seems like a solid selection.  When you get past the fact that Vesely and his girlfriend sucked face on camera for what seemed like 30 seconds after this pick was announced and that his nickname in Europe is "the dunking ninja" (I hope it sounds a lot better translated in Czech), it looks like Vesely can help the Wizards as they try to continue their rebuilding process.

What's nice about a team like the Wizards, who already have enough guys that need their shots (John Wall, Nick Young, Andray Blatche, Jordan Crawford, and Rashard Lewis), drafting a player like Vesely, is that they don't need to focus on feeding him the ball and the young big man can still help the team with his athleticism and ability to finish around the basket. 

While watching highlights of Vesely during the draft, I couldn't help but think that he reminded me of a European JaVale McGee and although both players seem to have somewhat similar games at this point, it wouldn't make much sense to pair John Wall's insane speed and fondness for the open court with two plodding big men who couldn't get up and down the floor.

The fact that Wall now has two big men that can fly down the floor and convert alley-oops should only give the young point guard more options and make the Wizards a pretty scary uptempo team in the near future.

Sacramento to Charlotte #7 Overall Pick:  Bismack Biyombo

Aside from having the best name in the 2011 NBA Draft (and possibly one of the best in NBA history), Bismack Biyombo is also the kind of player who can be very valuable to the right team.  Much has been made of Biyombo's complete lack of an offensive repertoire but he shouldn't have much of a problem making an impact as a shot blocker and rebounder in the NBA. 

But here's where the importance of fit comes into play.  Biyombo would be a very nice role-playing, defensive big man on a team which already had a couple of proven scorers, but the Charlotte Bobcats have gone into full-on rebuilding mode after getting rid of Gerald Wallace during the season and trading away Stephen Jackson on draft night.  It's a move that makes sense as it was clear that the team would never be a contender, but there's something unsettling about a team drafting a big who can't score when their top three returning scorers next season will be D.J. Augustin, Boris Diaw, and Tyrus Thomas.

Obviously, the Biyombo pick (like pretty much every move this Bobcats franchise figures to make for the next three years) was made with the future in mind and there's always the chance that a young big man can improve his offensive game as he gets older.  As it stands however, adding a role player like Biyombo to a team that doesn't have any stars is certainly not ideal, but there weren't any true stars available at this pick and the Charlotte Bobcats are simply looking to get better at every position.            

Detriot #8 Overall Pick: Brandon Knight

Brandon Knight saw his dreams of being a top five pick go up in smoke on draft night, and while the Pistons already have plenty of money tied up in the guards on their roster, it would have been difficult for them to pass on the former Kentucky point guard. 

Whenever Knight prepares to play his first official game as a member of the Pistons, it appears likely that Rodney Stuckey, Richard Hamilton, Will Bynum and Ben Gordon's expiring contract (is it too early to start calling him that if he still has three years left on his deal?) will all be fighting him for playing time.  This situation doesn't exactly seem ideal for a player whose ability to play the point was already being questioned before the draft began, but the Pistons shouldn't let a crowded back court get in the way of developing their newest first round pick.

Rodney Stuckey is a pretty similar player to Knight in that he's also a combo guard, and while it would appear that they might get in each others way, the fact that they're not traditional NBA point guards doesn't hurt the Pistons as much because there isn't any elite talent on the roster that will be relying on Stuckey and Knight to get the ball.  The bottom line is that Knight is an athletic scorer who is adequate at getting others involved, a skill set that will work for the Pistons for now and hopefully allow him to carve out more of a defined role in the NBA as he matures.   

Charlotte #9 Overall Pick: Kemba Walker

You can debate whether or not a lot of players fit well on the teams they were drafted by, but Kemba Walker isn't one of them.  As we've already discussed, the Charlotte Bobcats have torn down their roster to the point where the team is desperately in need of players who can put the ball in the basket.  Anyone who watched any college basketball during the month of March knows that scoring is Walker's specialty and he will be joining a Charlotte team that will need him do what he does best.  

Walker may only be 6'1'' and D.J. Augustin is a similar player to him (at least size wise) but did I mention that the three returning scorers on this team will be Augustin, Boris Diaw, and Tyrus Thomas?

The rebuilding era is underway in Charlotte and this team needs players who can score and aren't afraid to create their own shot, both of which describe Walker's game perfectly, which makes the Bobcats a great match for the former Connecticut All-American.

Milwaukee to Sacramento #10 Overall Pick: Jimmer Fredette

While Kemba Walker's situation in Charlotte looks great right now, Jimmer Fredette wasn't quite as lucky to land in Sacramento.  This isn't to say that Jimmer fans should cry themselves to sleep now that their hero will be sharing the court with players like Tyreke Evans, John Salmons, Marcus Thornton, and DeMarcus Cousins, but it's pretty clear that he won't be able to dominate the ball like he did at BYU.

The Kings obviously think very highly of Fredette's skills as a point guard after they traded last year's starter, Beno Udrih, to the Bucks on draft day but it will certainly be interesting to see how quickly Jimmer can change his game to become more of a distributor and be less of a gunner.  Guys like Evans, Salmons, Thornton, and Cousins already have the gunner thing pretty much perfected and although I'm not going to overreact to Jimmer having to play alongside three guys who need the ball, he will have to make some serious adjustments.

At the same time, one of the biggest knocks on Fredette's game is that his defense is suspect, and while he may have trouble guarding whoever he is matched up against, the fact that he will be playing with guys like Evans, Thornton, and Francisco Garcia means that he will be protected as much as possible on defense.  Will he still get torched? Quite possibly, but at least it will be the other teams worst offensive threat that's doing the damage. 

I wrote an article about Fredette a couple of months ago which basically said that he has the intangibles and work ethic to become a productive player in the NBA, and joining a team like the Kings, where he will have to drastically change his mindset, will certainly test his commitment to the game of basketball.   

Golden State #11 Overall Pick: Klay Thompson 

Golden State's pick of Klay Thompson is a great fit for this team on two levels.  First and foremost, the Warriors love to push the tempo and adding a player like Thompson, who was arguably the best shooter in the draft, never hurts.  Furthermore, Thompson's ability to distribute the ball and his high basketball IQ will also fit very well with Golden State's offensive philosophy.

The second reason Thompson fits well on the Warriors is that his selection allows Golden State to trade Monta Ellis which would finally put an end to the partnership he had with Stephen Curry for the last two seasons, otherwise known as " the most exciting back court in NBA history that never made the playoffs."

There have been rumors about Ellis being dealt for a long time and the acquisition of Thompson, who is a much more natural NBA shooting guard because of his size, means that Golden State will no longer have to worry about starting two players under 6'4'', allows the franchise to shed Monta's large contract, and lets them keep Curry who is a much more efficient shooter and a more natural distributor. 

Of course, if the Warriors want to give the Ellis-Curry back court another try, Thompson's fit isn't so great after all.

Utah #12 Overall Pick: Alec Burks

Alec Burks was one of the only lottery caliber shooting guards available in the 2011 draft and it's a good thing the Jazz added him to their roster.  In a year which saw the Jazz compile a 39-43 record, legendary head coach Jerry Sloan step down, and the front office trade Deron Williams because they feared they wouldn't be able to re-sign their All-Star point guard, there were plenty of disappointments in Utah.

While all of the aforementioned disappointments made headlines, the play the Jazz got at shooting guard from Raja Bell could certainly have been included on that list as well.  I'm not a stat geek and I'm not going to pretend to know what PER (also known as player efficiency rating) actually means but what I can tell you is that all of these players had higher PER's than the 8.3 rating that Bell posted last season as the team's starting shooting guard: Hilton Armstrong, Matt Carroll, Christian Eyenga, Brian Cook, Jon Brockman, Travis Outlaw, Sasha Vujacic, Alexis Ajinca, and Yi Jianlian.     

Of course, Bell was brought to Utah to play more of a defensive role but he's turning 35 in September and anytime guys like Alexis Ajinca, Sasha Vujacic, and Yi Jianlian are doing anything better than a starter on your team, it's time to make some changes. 

Enter Alec Burks, who has NBA caliber size, athleticism, and scoring ability, all of which should make him a very nice fit for a Jazz team which is currently searching for another option to play alongside Devin Harris.

Phoenix #13 Overall Pick: Markieff Morris

It was clear to see last season that the Phoenix Suns never recovered from losing Amare Stoudemire, and although Markieff Morris doesn't have the kind of athleticism which made Stoudemire a force, the former Kansas Jayhawk brings some nice skills with him to the desert.

Morris has the size (6'10'' 245 pounds) and disposition to make a difference in the paint and he's not afraid to get physical and do the dirty work on the defensive side of the floor either.  He's also got some very nice range on his jumper which should fit perfectly with the offensive system that Phoenix likes to run.  Because of his toughness around the basket and affinity for defending and rebounding, Morris seems like a logical choice to see his share of minutes next season for the Suns, who would certainly benefit from getting a little tougher and more skilled around the basket.

The final thing that makes Morris a nice fit for Phoenix is that the young big man, who is still developing his multifaceted offensive game, will get to share the court with Steve Nash.  Over his extremely successful career, we've seen Nash make many of the players around him better and even as he's closing in on 40, the way he distributes the ball should absolutely help Morris mature into a better offensive player. 

Having a future Hall Of Fame point guard leading the way is a luxury that few rookies are afforded and in addition to the fact that Morris brings some very in-demand skills, getting to play with Steve Nash makes Phoenix a great fit for a talented and still developing big guy like Markieff Morris.            

Houston #14 Overall Pick: Marcus Morris

Unlike his brother Markieff, who has a bit more size, where Marcus Morris will play in the NBA is still up for debate.  Before he was drafted, it seemed possible that Marcus could see time at either forward position thanks to his strong face up game and good skills in the post.  But after being selected by a Houston Rockets team that already has Luis Scola entrenched at the power forward position, it's clear that Marcus will have to make his living further away from the basket.

Given his shooting touch and ability to put the ball on the floor, Marcus could have success as an NBA small forward but it will certainly be a change from the role he played with Kansas last season.  If he's not able to make a smooth transition to the wing, the Philadelphia native's fit on the Rockets is much more up in the air, as the team has a number of other options around the basket and there are questions about whether or not Marcus has enough size to be an effective full-time post player in the NBA.

For now, Marcus' fit on the Rockets has yet to be determined but if he's able to become an effective small foward, he would fill a need for Houston and make plenty of sense for a team that is trying to claw it's way back into the playoffs.

Indiana to San Antonio #15 Overall Pick: Kawhi Leonard

As usual, San Antonio pulled off a couple of draft day maneuvers that have their front office looking like the smartest guys in the room.  Moving into the middle of the first round to add Kawhi Leonard (and his freakishly large hands) to their aging roster looks like a great decision and would appear to be a perfect fit when you consider that most experts had the former San Diego State star ranked in their top 10, not to mention that Leonard figures to infuse the Spurs with plenty of energy on the wing.

Leonard, who was graded as one of the best players available in the 2011 draft, will find himself in a rare situation when he joins a Spurs team that posted the best record in the NBA last season.  At the same time, San Antonio's core continues to age and although Richard Jefferson had a solid season at small forward last year, it's clear that he's lost a step.  For all of these reasons, the addition of Leonard makes perfect sense for the Spurs who are hoping that the likes of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili have one more run left in the tank.

The ideology shift San Antonio underwent last season, which saw them become a team that lives and dies with the three, looked great in the regular season only to see it falter in the first round of the playoffs.  It's certainly true that Leonard's offensive game is still a work in progress and doesn't seem to fit this style of play, but the rookie's defense, athleticism, and hustle should make the Spurs a better team right away as he continues to improve his ability to put the ball in the basket.

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