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With a possible lockout on the horizon, the 2010 NBA Draft is being considered one of the deepest in ages. Intuitive underclassmen (or more likely, their advisers) declared eligibility in droves this year, fearing a change in the NBA’s financial landscape. While John Wall is widely considered the only “sure thing” in this year’s draft, the value that lies in the later picks appears to be loaded. Players with middle-first round talent are likely to be pushed into the late-first and early second round. This has major implications as only first round contracts are guaranteed. As some surefire first rounders will now be pushed into the second round, most of the declared underclassmen weren’t willing to risk the possibility of coming out next year, when there may not be a season in which to play or get paid.
As for the Boston Celtics, the draft arrives fast on the heels of their Game 7 NBA Finals loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. With many speculating the loss to be the end of the current Celtics as we know them, the draft may be the night to set that theory in motion. Unlike the NFL Draft where the runner-up is granted the next-to-last pick in the first round, the Celtics hold the No. 19 pick in the first round largely due to their mediocre second half of the regular season. The Celtics were also beneficiaries of a four-team tie breaker, saving them from potentially picking as low as No. 22.
As it stands, the Celtics have six players under contract next season in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace. With Garnett’s age and Perkins projected to begin the season out with his knee injury, drafting a big man seems to be a smart move. In the late first round, the Celtics would be looking at the likes of Daniel Orton, the power forward from Kentucky, Iowa State’s Craig Brackins, or VCU power forward Larry Sanders.
Brackins may be a real value pick at No. 19 as he was projected by many to be a lottery pick last year. After returning to Iowa State for his junior season, Brackins saw his draft stock drop as opposing teams were able to limit his production because he was State’s only real offensive threat. He has great length and athleticism, but has been criticized for his inability to bang inside with more physical bigs. His lack of offensive rebounds has also been a concern, but NBA coaching and competition should be able to correct some of his tenuousness.
Sanders’ comparisons to Theo Ratliff may be too much for the Celtics to swallow, but his enthusiasm for crashing the boards has scouts smiling. Another athletic big man, Sanders can run the floor like a guard and closes very well around the rim do to his superior leaping ability. His overall skill set is less polished, though he appears to be an enticing work-in-progress.
If they fail to go big, look for the Celtics to shore up their backcourt now that Rajon Rondo has been extended and Ray Allen may be looking for the door. The name on the tip of many scouts’ tongues has been Jordan Crawford. If the name sounds familiar, it may be lodged in your subconscious since his infamous dunk on LeBron James at a Nike summer camp last year. Crawford averaged just under 20 points per game for the Xavier Musketeers last season and has boundless athleticism. His dunk on James gained him lots of hype, largely due to Nike’s attempts at burying the tape, but Crawford backs it up with his speed and explosiveness. He can score at will and has serious three-point range. Crawford likes to shoot from beyond the arc more than he probably should, however, and will need to be better at limiting his shot selection. Formerly a No. 1 scoring option, he will have to adjust to playing second banana in the pros. Unlike a true point guard, Crawford is not known for making players around him better. In the Celtics’ case, the point may be moot as he would play shooting guard while Rondo handles the point.
An alternative to Crawford could be Elliot Williams from Memphis or Lance Stephenson from Cincinnati. Williams is a lefty without fear of driving the lane. Unfortunately his shot needs a lot of work, and he is not a catch-and-shoot guy like the Celtics have been used to with Ray Allen. Stephenson is a basketball player’s basketball player. Born in Brooklyn, Stephenson absolutely torched New York’s Public School League and led his team to four straight titles. He also owns the All-Time HS Scoring Record for the state of New York, no small feat considering the droves of NBA talent to come from the Empire State. He has awesome ball-handling skills and a pretty shot along with it. With his NBA-ready body, it is hard to find flaws in his game. His personality, however, is another story. His body language on the court is blatant and immature, as he often goes from sulking to shouting, depending on the scenario. He also racked up an unfortunate assault arrest that only adds further doubt to his ability to succeed in the NBA. He is the epitome of a high-risk, high-reward player.
Have you ever noticed how everyone becomes an expert in the days leading up to any professional draft? The reason this is allowed to happen is, in reality, because nobody has a clue what will happen. We are only three years removed from the Greg Oden draft, a guy sportswriters almost universally penciled in at No. 1. While Kevin Durant was close behind and in the discussion, everybody spoke about the rareness and value of a franchise big man, and Oden was certainly that. Up until that point, that is. As we now know, the pick in hindsight looks mind-blowing. Had Oden remained healthy and torn up the league, we would have agreed we all saw that coming.
There is a very fine line between Carmelo Anthony and Darko Milicic. In 2003, they were one pick apart at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, and now they’re one career apart. The talent evaluators can only look to past performances and the rest is simply up for prognostication. Like a weatherman, NBA scouts are forecasting futures based on prior behaviors and patterns, and much like the weather, basketball players are extremely unpredictable.
Rather than pretend I know how the draft will unfold, I’ll offer up my mock draft like everybody else. Like most drafts, the top 5 is hardly debatable, but where exactly they fall remains to be seen. The unpredictability that is sure to follow is what makes drafts great.