Dissecting the Draft

             Ok, so the NBA Draft is almost here, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’m super pumped. Draft days in general are the best, nearly as good as game days themselves. Anyway, my beloved Magicians from Orlando have the second overall pick, making an already exciting night that much more interesting for me. With the Magic in mind, my board consists of just three guys: Nerlens Noel (if he falls), Victor Oladipo (if Orlando can swing the Afflalo-for-Bledsoe trade) and Trey Burke (assuming the Magic trade back). There are specific things about each guy that I love, and I’d be happy with Orlando landing any one of the three.  

            OK, with my selfish concerns aside, we move on… There’s been so much talk about how weak this draft is, which I think is a waste of time. Sure, there’s no LeBron James, Tim Duncan or Shaquille O’Neal…no obvious franchise-changing player to be taken No. 1. But that’s fine. There are still plenty of good players to be had, and I’m confident a few All-Stars will develop from the bunch.

            Fans shouldn’t get too caught up in how strong certain drafts are, anyway, because their respective team picks only once, maybe twice. So while there may not be 20 stars from which to choose, as long as your team has quality scouts at its disposal, there will always be a good player available.

            For example, the Hawks enter Thursday with picks at No. 17 and No. 18, not usually considered ideal spots to land top players. But check out the impressive list of guys recently taken with those picks: David West, Danny Granger, JR Smith, Gerald Green, Marco Belinelli, Roy Hibbert, JaVale McGee, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Eric Bledsoe, and Iman Sumpert. I think it’s safe for me to say Atlanta would be happy to have just about any of those aforementioned talents. Of course, the Hawks could also package their two picks together and move up with finding a true difference maker in mind (Perhaps a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, or CJ McCollum would be available).

            Again, I think this draft has some really intriguing talents despite its lack of a franchise-changing guy at the top. With that said, below I address the top players in some very specific categories, as well as the guys I think Atlanta is circling at 17 an 18, assuming it stays put. 

Top Offensive Player – Trey Burke: Burke has quickly become one of the more polarizing prospects in the draft. Scouts knock him for his lack of height and elite athleticism, and that’s fine, because Burke has absolutely everything else. First, let’s establish two things: Burke is not that short (just over 6-1 in shoes, with LONG arms) and is a fine athlete. He may not hold up to Russell Westrbook comparisons, but he’s every bit as athletic as say Tony Parker. More importantly, he’s a tremendous basketball player. He has great handles, sees the floor incredibly well, and shoots lights out. Trey’s also smart, knows when to find his own shot as well as when to create for others and feed the hot hand. He finishes strong at the hoop, and runs the pick-and-roll to perfection, which just so happens to be a staple in the NBA and a requirement of top-notch PGs in the league. Above all else, Burke has the head for being a star, works as hard as anyone, and wants the ball down the stretch.

Top Defender – Victor Oladipo: This could easily go to Nerlens Noel, but since he’s hurt I decided to go with Oladipo. He’s quick, he’s strong, he’s smart, he can rise to block shots and, most importantly, he wants to be an elite defender. In fact, because Victor is so obviously an elite defender, he also happens to be the safest pick in the draft. 

Safest Pick – Oladipo: I hate to list the same guy twice, but I just can’t envision the words Oladipo and bust sharing the same sentence. Not only is he a lock to be a lockdown defender (alliteration intended), but he is extremely effective moving without the ball on offense, and has vastly underrated skills as both a shooter (44% from 3 in 2012) and scorer.

Most Upside – Nerlens Noel: Most people would go with Ben McLemore here, citing his athleticism and picture-perfect jumper. I, however, don’t buy it. The kid just isn’t a gamer, and that may not prevent him from being quality, but will prevent him from being great, that’s a near certainty. Noel, on the other hand, never shies away from the action (see the play on which he was hurt), and combines unique athleticism with a truly special skill: the ability to block shots unlike anyone we’ve seen in quite some time (he could very well become the best shot blocker in the game). I must also point out that Noel has extremely soft hands and solid body control, two important, though often overlooked traits that should help the Big Man become more than respectable on the offensive end of the floor.

Hawks Picks: Some GMs draft on need, others take the best player available. This year, I think it’s safe to say the Hawks will draft with talent in mind, considering they only have three players on the roster. In other words, the team has needs absolutely everywhere, doesn’t need to worry about redundancies or duplicating talent, and thus has the luxury of taking the best players to fall their way. Assuming the team doesn’t trade up, it will most likely grab the best guard and big available at 17 and 18. With that in mind, I think Atlanta should closely consider Mason Plumlee and Gorgui Dieng – two active bigs with athleticism and upside – and hope like hell that either Shabazz Muhammad or Shane Larkin fall its way.

OK, that’s all I’ve got for now, but if you’re interested in doing so, you're more than welcome follow me on Twitter @BrainTrain9.