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Assessing the 2011 NBA Draft

06.29.11 at 3:42 pm ET

The 2011 NBA Draft was short on star-power and long on intrigue. It failed to deliver on the latter count and it will take two, if not three years before we know the definitive answer to the first.

For all the sound and fury leading up to draft night it was fairly straight-forward affair. Trade rumors swirled, but in the end only one major deal went down: the three-way trade between the Bobcats, Bucks and Kings. Players that fell — Kawhi Leonard, Jordan Hamilton — didn’t fall far very far and there were few outright surprises in the first round.

Here’s an early look at how this year’s draft unfolded broken down into five tiers: Winners, losers, teams that gambled, teams that helped their cause and solid selections. For those who don’t want to search for it, I’ll throw the Celtics up top and place them right in the “solid” category.


Picks: JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore

The Celtics needed two things: size and shooting and they got both with Johnson, a 6-foot-10 shot-blocker with decent range. He’s not Chris Johnson thin, but he’s skinny, which is why he was available late in the first round.

The Celtics have been looking for complimentary big men for years. They’ve tried tall, athletic guys like Mikki Moore and Patrick O’Bryant, undersized bruisers like Leon Powe and Glen Davis and seemingly every fading veteran star from Rasheed Wallace to Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal.

If Johnson pans out he will give them a dimension they’ve lacked and help them matchup with teams like the Bulls, for example. On a team with so many open roster spots Moore will have a chance to stick if and when training camp ever begins.

Here’s the rest of the list:



Pick: Jonas Valanciunas

General manager Bryan Colangelo would seem to be on borrowed time yet he took a player who won’t come to the NBA for a year. After several attempts at quick-fixes, Colangelo is finally taking the long view and as Red Auerbach once noted, a year is nothing in the NBA.

The Raptors are in desperate need of interior help and in the 7-foot, 245-pound Valanciunas they got the a back to the basket big man with size and mobility. Toronto’s defense was a mess last season, but with Valanciunas on the way and new coach Dwane Casey in place, the Raps took two important steps toward addressing the issue.


Picks: Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton

The rebuilding continues with Vesely, a 7-foot athletic freak and Singleton who is regarded as one of top defensive forwards in the class. The Wizards are still in the incubation stage and they did well to acquire another intriguing big man.

What does this do for Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee? Good question. Either way the Wizards added another asset that will either be part of the long-term solution or become a valuable trade commodity. Having Singleton fall to them is a coup. He looks like a ready-made wing defender with athletic ability. That can only help a team that ranked 24th in points per 100 possessions.


Picks: Kenneth Faried, Jordan Hamilton, Chu Chu Maduabum

Trade: Acquired Andre Miller from Portland for Ray Felton

The Nuggets didn’t draft a game-changing franchise player or make a huge trade for a superstar, but they still did well for themselves. Getting Miller for Felton is essentially a wash statistically and both have one year left on their contracts. Miller has nine years on Felton but Ty Lawson is the present and future of the position.

Call that a wash, but Denver did well to pick up Faried, known for his toughness, defense and rebounding and Hamilton, who slid down the draft because, he claims, his college coach Rick Barnes told teams he was uncoachable. The Nuggets may not be closer to winning a championship, but their future looks a little brighter as they enter the post-Carmelo era. (Bonus points were not awarded for acquiring the rights to Chu Chu, but he’s the hands-down winner for best name in the draft).


Los Angeles Clippers

Picks: Travis Leslie, Trey Thompkins

The Celtics weren’t the only team to take two players from the school. The Clips grabbed both Georgia prospects in the second round. There’s nothing wrong with the choices. Leslie is a dynamic dunking machine who may or may not fit in the Clips backcourt and Thompkins is a big guy. Both were solid second-round choices who have a chance to become NBA players.

The Clips lose this one because they traded the unprotected pick that became Kyrie Irving to get rid of Baron Davis and his contract. Considering the fact that a top-flight point guard would fit in just swell with Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin, that bit of petty short-sightedness will come back to haunt them.


Picks: Derrick Williams, Malcolm Lee

In the weeks leading up to the draft, Minnesota was rumored to be trading for everyone from Monta Ellis to Lamar Odom for the second pick. Enigmatic GM David Kahn never did pull off a deal and he took a very good player in Williams. Where he’ll play on a team with Kevin Love and Michael Beasley is anyone’s guess but Kahn has never seemed to care much about details like that. That, in a nutshell, is the problem.

Later in the draft, Minnesota traded down repeatedly for cash, which presumably will be used to pay off former coach Kurt Rambis. Kahn also traded Jonny Flynn, the point guard he took fifth overall ahead of players like Brandon Jennings, Steph Curry, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson and Darren Collison. In exchange Minnesota got back Brad Miller who underwent microfracture knee surgery and may never play again and a future first-rounder. It’s that sort of short-sighted thinking that has kept Minnesota in the cellar.

Williams is a good player who could become very good. Lee is a decent second-round prospect at the point. The shame of it is that Kahn has assembled talent, albeit a whirling mishmash of mismatched parts. That will make the Wolves a League Pass favorite, but not a functioning basketball team. Oh, and Qatar mystery man Tanguy Ngombo may be 27 and thus ineligible to be drafted.

New Orleans

Picks: None

The NBA-c0ntrolled franchise traded out of the second round for cash, reportedly $750,000. Considering the Hornets employ one of the truly great players in Chris Paul, that’s not a good look for the league.


Picks: Nolan Smith, Jon Diebler

Trade: Acquired Felton from Denver for Miller. Traded Rudy Fernandez to Dallas

Felton is younger and a better outside shooter than Miller. On a team that now relies on LaMarcus Aldridge in the low post that’s no small thing. Miller does other things better like rebound and score inside. Here’s the problem: Does it make the Blazers significantly better?

Time is running out on what was once the envy of the league for the way they rebuilt through the draft. It’s not Portland’s fault that injuries robbed Brandon Roy of his prime and Greg Oden of his career. But unless Oden suddenly stays healthy, Portland seems stuck in the land of good, but not really good enough. This doesn’t really move the needle one way or the other.

Giving up Koponen without having ever given him a chance doesn’t help the overall assessment, unless Smith is much better than people think he is. Blazer fans were hoping for more.


Picks: Jimmer Fredette, Tyler Honeycutt, Isaiah Thomas

Trade: Acquired John Salmons from Milwaukee and gave up Beno Udrih

It’s possible that the Jimmer will surpass most people’s expectations and become a perfect compliment to Tyreke Evans in the Kings backcourt. But Sacramento could have had him with the seventh pick and instead they traded down while exchanging a solid point guard with two years left on his deal for another high-volume wing scorer with three years left on his contract.

The second round picks are good value, but the Kings’ draft day moves were strangely counter-productive.



Picks: Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson

Irving played only 11 games at Duke because of a foot injury, but by all accounts from both scouts and number-crunchers, Irving is the real deal. In a draft without a can’t miss franchise player, the Cavs got the guy with the most upside and a ton of talent.

That they got him because they were willing took on Davis is a coup for a franchise that had to start over from the ground up. Davis, by the way, gets a golden opportunity to rebuild his image if he shows up in shape, motivated and ready to help show Irving the ropes.

The risk came with the selection of Thompson with the fourth pick. If he turns out better than the Europeans who went immediately after him then the Cavs will have won this draft. If not, it will make the rebuilding process that much harder.


Picks: Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker

Trade: The Cats acquired Corey Maggette and gave up Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston

There are two ways to rebuild a team. The first is to blow everything up and start over from scratch. The second, and more painful way, is to simply make solid decisions and take calculated risks along the way. That’s the initial approach of new GM Rich Cho who swapped a defensive-minded veteran for an offensively-inclined forward, saved some money and moved up in the draft to get two top-10 picks.

There’s a lot for Cho to sort out with this roster but if Walker turns out to be an upgrade over D.J. Augustin then that’s a positive step. The potential reward comes from Biyombo who is as raw as they come but possesses serious athletic ability.


Picks: None

Trades: Acquired Rudy Fernandez and the rights to Petteri Koponen

Would you take Fernandez over DeShawn Stevenson, the man he will likely replace? Yes. Would you take him over Jordan Hamilton, the lottery talent who fell all the way down to 26? That’s the question.

There has always been an element of what-if with Fernandez. What if he played in a more up-tempo system than Portland, would his talent and flair get a chance to emerge? The Mavs have slowed down considerably over the years, but there’s the chance that Fernandez will adapt to his new surroundings and learn to love playing off a true point guard like Jason Kidd. That said, he’s gone backward since his promising rookie season.

Fernandez is an enigma in other words, but no more so than Hamilton who carries his own question marks. The Mavs were able to do what the Celtics reportedly tried to accomplish: Exchange their pick for a young veteran. It has at least a 50-50 chance of working out, which is generally better than you would expect to find from the 26th pick in the draft.

Don’t sleep Koponen, by the way. The point guard prospect has been frustrated by Portland’s reluctance to bring him over and may develop into a serious player in the league. Free Petteri!


Picks: Marcus Morris, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons

Trade: Acquired Jonny Flynn for Brad Miller and a first round pick

Here’s the difference between what the Rockets are doing and their trading partner in Minnesota has been assembling. Like the Wolves, the Rockets have a logjam of forwards. Unlike Minnesota, the expectation is that Darryl Morey will be able to turn some of those assets into a tangible benefit.

Morey has also developed a habit of taking on other people’s draft mistakes, adding Flynn to a roster that already has Hasheem Thabeet and Terrence Williams. If they work out, great. If not, they are easily expendable. The Rockets are treading water with the uncertain future of Yao Ming looming overhead, but they are assembling an interesting roster of affordable talent.

Golden State

Picks: Klay Thompson, Jeremy Tyler, Charles Jenkins

With a mandate to improve their defense, the Warriors took a scoring guard just before the run of tough-minded forwards. That said, Thompson is bigger than their two guards — Monta Ellis and Steph Curry — and if they eventually move Ellis then Thompson should slide right in. Of course they also could have snatched up one of the defensive-minded forwards like Leonard or Singleton but that would have been too easy.

In the second round the Warriors dreamed big dreams with Tyler. If he becomes a prodigy instead of a project then this will have been a home run. Jenkins is an intriguing scoring guard. The Warriors can never have too many of those apparently


Picks: Nicola Vucecic, Lavoy Allen

The NBA is littered with the remains of big men who improved their draft stock through workouts, so the Sixers are taking a bit of a risk with Vucecic, a 7-footer from USC. While there were other players who could have helped — again, Singleton — Philly’s biggest need is at center so they rolled the dice. For a team that’s on the verge of making big decisions that will define their franchise, a little risk isn’t necessarily a bad thing.



Picks: Nikola Mirotic, Jimmy Butler

The Bulls traded one of their late first rounders and a second to get Mirotic, whose contract kept him from getting drafted much higher. They can afford to wait for that scenario to unfold. With their other first rounder they snagged Butler, a player the Celtics liked. Chicago has a bevy of players on the wing from Luol Deng to Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Keith Bogans. Butler fits in well with that group.

If Mirotic pans out this draft is a huge success. If not, Butler should be a solid addition.


Picks: Brandon Knight, Kyle Singler

Both Knight and Walker fell a bit after the Jazz passed on both and Joe Dumars smartly snapped up Knight. This could mean a number of different things for Rodney Stuckey, but the Pistons need talent first and foremost. Singler is the kind of four-year college player who can contribute. He won’t be a star, but he almost certainly won’t be a bust.


Pick: Norris Cole

The point guard from Cleveland State won a lot of admirers as the draft process rolled on and he could find himself playing a meaningful role very quickly. No pressure or anything, but there’s a lot to like about Cole.

San Antonio

Picks: Kawhi Leonard, Davis Bertans

Leonard is the kind of tough-minded defensive forward the Spurs have needed since Bruce Bowen retired. To get him they surrendered George Hill, who is a good player who can become a restricted free agent after next season. There’s risk in trading an established veteran for an unproven rookie, but the Spurs are taking a calculated gamble to fill an area of need, which is exactly what you want from a team trying to stay in contention.

Bertans is a classic Spurs pick. A talented, but young shooter, who can develop overseas before coming to the NBA.


Picks: Enes Kanter, Alec Burks

No one disguises their intentions better than Jazz and so while most had them taking a point guard, GM Kevin O’Connor went the other way and drafted Kanter who brings a scoring mentality down low.

As with everyone beyond the first two picks, the Jazz had options and it will be interesting to see who develops among Kanter, Valanciunas and Vesely. Now O’Connor has to figure out his big man surplus with Kanter joining Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Paul Millsap. Burks was a solid choice at No. 12 as the Jazz rebuild in the wake of the Deron Williams trade.


New Jersey

Picks: Marshon Brooks, Bojan Bogdanovich, Jordan Williams

Considering the Nets were drafting so low — their first rounder went to Utah in the Deron Williams trade — they added two players who help fill needs. Brooks was briefly the property of the Celtics, but that was simply for trade purposes. He’s a high-usage scorer off the wing, which is something the Nets didn’t have. Jordan Williams is a big dude and you can never have enough of them. Bogdanovich is older than some of the other Europeans. He won’t be a star but he could play sooner rather than later.

New York

Picks: Iman Shumpert, Josh Harrelson

The Knicks have needs everywhere besides high-scoring superstar and if Shumpert lives up to his rep as a defensive ace then he will ultimately help. There were other players who could have fit here as well including Singleton.


Picks: Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer

Trade: Acquired Stephen Jackson, Beno Udrih and Shaun Livingston for John Salmons and Corey Maggette

The Bucks dumped some salary and added point guard depth behind Jennings. Harris is an intriguing player who will need time to develop and Leuer looks like a second-round sleeper. That’s not a bad day’s work.


Picks: None

Trade: Acquired George Hill for the rights to Kawhi Leonard

Hill is a good player with playoff experience who is also from Indiana. The Pacers already have Darren Collison, but they seemed to have soured on Brandon Rush and Hill can help out at both backcourt spots. It’s not terribly exciting, but neither is Hill. They also gave up a second-rounder that became Bertans so there’s a chance this could come back to haunt them.


Pick: Keith Benson

The Hawks have four free agent big men, none of whom particularly stand out. Benson will probably replace one of them. The Hawks acquired Kirk Hinrich from Washington for their first round pick.


Picks: Justin Harper, DeAndre Liggins

Harper is a big guy who can shoot 3’s, so he’ll fit in well with Stan Van Gundy‘s system. Liggins adds some toughness and defense on the wing. Both are second round picks and if one of them pans out the Magic can consider it a good night.


Pick: Josh Selby

There’s very little risk for the Grizzlies with this pick. As a second rounder, Selby will have to earn a contract and a spot on the roster. Selby is talented, but if he had played better in his one season at Kansas he would have found his way into the first round regardless of the questions about his attitude and character. So, Memphis took a relatively free chance on talent and that’s never a bad idea in the second round.

Oklahoma City

Pick: Reggie Jackson

All along the assumption was that someone had guaranteed Jackson a first round selection and the mystery revealed itself when the Thunder took the former Boston College star. (The Celtics were prepared to take Jackson at 25 if he got that far). Jackson’s a good player who has the look of an NBA combo guard, but the question in OKC is where does he play? They already have Russell Westbrook, Eric Maynor, Thabo Sefolosha and James Harden.

But if GM Sam Presti has proven anything it’s you can never have too many assets, especially young, cheap controlled assets on rookie contracts.


Pick: Markieff Morris

He’s immediately the toughest big man on the roster not counting Marcin Gortat so that’s good.


Picks: Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, Ater Majok

The Lakers got a pair of guard prospects, which was the point of the exercise. Why they took a flyer on Majok is anyone’s guess.

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