Editors Note: Welcome to Layup Line, a feature where one or more of our NBA contributors gives you a little preview of a big NBA night. Today, Matt Van Liedekerke takes you through the NBA Draft.
Predicting the best players in the draft is one of the hardest tasks to do in sports. Teams spend millions on scouting, tape, analytics, and decision-making personnel, yet still get it wrong all the time. Even a guy like Chad Ford, who uses sources around the league and his own analysis to assemble his big board, reportedly went back and changed his board from previous years to make his predictions look more accurate. Put simply, projecting the future of a player pre-draft is next to impossible, even regarding seemingly surefire prospects.1 But, as we know, that’s what makes it so fun. The failures of the brightest minds in basketball tacitly invite the armchair GM to develop his own theories on players and openly question teams’ draft picks. Of course, we may have about 1% of the information that teams do when making decisions; sometimes we’re right anyway thanks to pure, dumb, luck. So today, I settled into my cushy, reclining, TemPurpedic GM Throne (it’s my fantasy, okay?) and tackled some pressing draft day issues.
The possibility of DeMarcus Cousins getting trade to the Lakers
The most intriguing storyline of the draft isn’t even related to a pick. Kings head coach George Karl reportedly petitioned players and front office members to get rid of Cousins because of supposed chemistry issues, a seemingly ludicrous move for a new head coach… even for Karl.2 That the Kings are even considering trading a superstar player on a reasonable contract defies explanation. Forget Towns v. Okafor or Russell v. Mudiay; Cousins is a proven talent and potential franchise cornerstone for any organization. He may be a pain, but his importance to his organization cannot be overstated.
The Lakers have reportedly offered their number 2 overall selection and some combination of Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, their 27th overall pick, and their 34th overall selection for Cousins. Additionally, they will probably have to accept a player on a bad contract like Carl Landry. If the Lakers can get away with keeping Randle or Clarkson, more power to them. However, no expenses should be spared to bring Cousins to the City of Angels.
This possible trade is frequently mentioned as an obstacle to predicting the top 10 of any mock draft. Far more importantly, it will make it difficult for team executives to make a plan on draft night, with little knowledge of who will be available when their selection comes around. Plus, the Kings could look to further package some of the Lakers’ picks to a team like Denver (who is apparently shopping Ty Lawson and Danillo Gallinari). Reuniting Karl with Lawson and letting them run (as they once did in the mile high city) might be the best option for the Kings if they decided to trade Cousins. It’s worth restating, however, that the real best option would be to hang on to their superstar because they may not get another one for a while, as a small market team in the shadow of LA. We are talking about the Kings though so who knows what they’re going to do…all we can really do is sit back and watch them burn.
Russell v. Mudiay
Cousins may not get traded, but someone is going to have to pick between these top point guard prospects. I am a huge fan of Emmanuel Mudiay and I think the separation between him and De’Angelo Russell is minimal, although Mudiay is a higher risk because there is less information on him. He only played in 12 games for Guangdong due to an ankle injury. Furthermore, playing in the CBL has made it difficult to use analytics to project his value in the NBA. Russell, on the other hand, is a favorite of projection systems that translate NCAA stats to the NBA and scouts, who have the a season’s worth of game tape to analyze. I don’t see Russell being less than a solid starter in the NBA, and he has the potential to be elite. His passing, vision and basketball IQ are potentially special. Just like James Harden’s feel and Draymond Green’s fire (rather than elite athleticism) allowed them to become stars, Russell’s ball skills and creativity could allow him to become a star.
Quantifying Mudiay’s value, on the other hand, is more difficult. His passing ability is a major strength, but it’s not quite on Russell’s level. However, he has the body and athleticism allow him to attack the rim with more more aggressiveness than the Ohio State product. His physical tools also give him more defensive potential than Russell. If Mudiay can shore up his jump shot, he can be star. If not, he will be a terror for opposing teams.
I also think the riskiness of drafting Mudiay has been overblown. He’s not an unknown prospect from some former Soviet state, he was the number 2 overall recruit out of high-school (over players like Towns and yes, Russell), and a McDonalds All-American. Larry Brown, his would-be coach at SMU, has asserted a number of times that Mudiay would likely be the first or second overall pick had he gone to school in the states. Again, I do think that Russell is the safer pick, but I would be shocked if both guards don’t have good NBA careers.
There’s Something About Him…
Every year since I’ve started really following basketball, I’ve fallen in love with a player that wasn’t a top prospect. In 2012, it was Perry Jones, who ended up going 29th to the Thunder. I still think he can be a good player in the league.3
In 2013 my draft obsession was…well… I guess I really didn’t like that draft. I would love to say that I knew Giannis Antetokounmpo was going to be a stud from the start. I do remember watching the grainy footage of his unreal eurosteps from the 3-point line while playing in what looked like the YMCA league, but I wasn’t convinced. Oops.
In 2014 my guy was Noah Vonleh who ended up going 9th to the Hornets. I love his size, skill, and relatively youth compared to his draft class. Portland just gave up Nic Batum to get Vonleh for the next three seasons so maybe I was on to something. Or not.
This year, my random draft favorite is Kelly Oubre. I love his length and athleticism. His shooting stroke is pretty, albeit inconsistent. But what gets me is how smooth he looks moving around the court. It may be more of a feeling than something entirely tangible, but it can only be described as smooth. Oubre can be really good if he ends up in the right place, with veteran leadership to reinforce the work ethic that it takes to become great–so long as they give him time to develop.
Another random guy I love this year Michael Frazier from Florida. Kevin Pelton’s statistical analytics projected him to be the best 3-point shooter in the class. While he won’t be a prototypical 3-and-D wing since he can only really defend guards, he will be really good shooter in the NBA and carve out a niche. Many have projected him to go in the 2nd round. I would take him late first.
Like I said before, the evolution of talent is unpredictable. Sometimes, small, slow, gritty guys surprise us while the physical specimen blows it (I’m looking at you, Brian Bosworth). This stuff is far from an exact science; Chad Ford might as well be reading tarot cards. Regardless of who goes first and who goes 60th, what I’m excited for are the 10-15 years that come after this, when we get to watch these guys take over the league. In 15 years, Quinn Cook’s DraftExpress profile could be the fuel that won him a Finals MVP. Or, of course, he could be looking at that profile wistfully while working as a scout for Coach K. I guess we’ll find out soon. Only 4 more months till basketball season. – MVL
2. Getting in feuds with players is nothing new, http://www.nytimes.com/1996/12/10/sports/kendall-gill-left-a-bad-reputation-and-depression-in-seattle.html”>regardless of player reputation)↩
3. But seriously, the Thunder are looked to shed salary to reduce their incoming tax bill in 2015-16 and Jones doesn’t seem to figure into their long term plans. If I were a team like the Nets, who needs young talent on the roster and don’t have much to give in return, I would try to get him in exchange for players on unguaranteed contracts, who the Thunder can waive to cut salary.↩
Header Photo Courtesy of 247 Sports