Every NBA Draft has that one spot up high in which the complexion of all that follows can change dramatically, depending on who is the pick. In 2008, that pick was No. 3, where the Minnesota Timberwolves took O.J. Mayo in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. In 2009, No. 2 -- Hasheem Thabeet to the Grizzlies -- held the key. Last year, the Timberwolves had the answer to the riddle at No. 4, where Wesley Johnson was the choice.
It's clear that in 2011, the draft begins at No. 3 with the Utah Jazz. Kyrie Irving will almost assuredly be the No. 1 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers; he'd need an ice pick to show up in his X-rays to be dissed by C-Town. No. 2 should certainly be Derrick Williams, whether it is the Timberwolves choosing him or not.
But No. 3, oh odd No. 3? The world is Kevin O'Connor's taco bar. The possibilities are endless.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke
It's fun to consider what excuse the Cavs could give for going with Williams over Irving. "We really like Ramon Sessions." "We really like Manny Harris." "We want to be back in the high lottery next season to grab Austin Rivers, so we're going to pick some forwards this year and trade for Sebastian Telfair." No offense to Williams, who is an excellent prospect, but to pass on Irving, there needs to be one helluva skeleton in his closet (or, again, X-rays).
2. Minnesota Timberwolves: Derrick Williams, F, Arizona
The popular sentiment is that the Wolves will jettison this pick in a swap for veteran leadership. What, you can't draft veterans? Minnesota's top pick in 2010 begs to differ. (Yes, we're still cracking wise about the Wolves picking a 23-year-old with the No. 4 pick. Deal with it.)
3. Utah Jazz: Enes Kanter, C, Turkey
Ah, the keystone pick. If the Jazz go point guard with Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker, the teams from No. 5-7 will have difficult decisions to make on remaining guards and wings and the plethora of big men available. But O'Connor is an avowed acolyte of the "best player available" strategy. Though the Jazz have three solid power forwards -- Al Jefferson (who masquerades as a center), Paul Millsap and promising if raw Derrick Favors -- Kanter currently looks like the most impressive player on the board. Luckily, Kanter measures out as a likely center; imagine he and Favors holding down the frontcourt with Millsap off the bench and Jefferson starring for the Charlotte Bobcats. Beautiful days ahead.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jonas Valanciunas, C, Lithuania
The Cavaliers would send <3s to the Heavens if they could land Irving and Kanter; as a back-up plan, Valanciunas could work beautifully. The next great Lithuanian has one predominant concern: his buyout in Spain. We'll no doubt hear more as Eurocamp approaches; never underestimate the power of Fran Vasquez to kill a player's draft stock. Other options here could be Bismack Biyombo or even Jan Vesely; the Cavaliers are thinnest at small forward, believe it or not.
5. Toronto Raptors: Kemba Walker, PG, UConn
The Raptors' job should be easy if the Jazz pick a point guard at No. 3: Toronto simply takes the other one. But in the event Utah picks Kanter or Valanciunas, Bryan Colangelo will almost assuredly be able to choose his weapon. Brandon Knight, the youngest player in the draft and a more traditionally-sized NBA guard, could be the pick. But Toronto desperately needs leadership, and it's easy to imagine the Raptors' braintrust convincing themselves that Walker is the right fit for the long-term. (It's not like he's 23 or something.)
6. Washington Wizards: Jan Vesely, F, Czech Republic
Vesely could very well turn into the prize of the top 10; this draft isn't full of physical freaks, but the Czech gazelle qualifies. The Wizards need help at small forward behind (and hopefully in front of) Rashard Lewis, and Vesely is billed as an extraordinary open court player who could mesh well with John Wall. He has volatile stock, though; keep an eye on what the bead on Jan is out of Eurocamp.
7. Sacramento Kings: Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky
The Kings have bigger holes than at guard; Biyombo, the athletic big man, and Kawhi Leonard, a tough small forward, are better need fits. But Sacramento struggles to create sentient offense, and a guard rotation of Knight, Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and, for now, Beno Udrih would be promising. Udrih is older than all the rest and on a shorter contract (assuming the Kings re-sign Thornton this summer, as seems a priority), paving the way for a future with Knight.
8. Detroit Pistons: Bismack Biyombo, PF, Democratic Republic Of The Congo
If Biyombo is left on the board, it seems as if the Pistons have an easy decision. Joe Dumars knows the impact an elite defender can have, having rode Ben Wallace to a (near-)decade of dominance. Biyombo is comparable in optics, an energetic and hyperathletic ball of fire with wings that don't quit.
9. Charlotte Bobcats: Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Diego State
Sure, the last time the Bobcats picked a small forward from a Pacific Coast mid-major, it didn't work out. But Leonard is the opposite of Adam Morrison: a tough, strong fighter who struggles to score efficiently. Charlotte needs more scoring, but a replacement for Gerald Wallace is also high on the priority list.
Sticking with the "Burks, Bucks" thing. Riding plays-on-words 'til I die.
11. Golden State Warriors: Tristan Thompson, PF, Texas
Moving down or out of a draft is easier said than done, if you want good value, especially in a draft this reviled by front office types. As such, the many rumors you will hear about Golden State disliking their position and wanting to move out? Ignore them. It'll be near-impossible unless it's part of a much bigger deal or another team falls in love with a prospect in this range (which seems unlikely).
12. Utah Jazz: Jimmer Fredette, G, BYU
Are we sure the Book of Mormons doesn't actually predict this outcome?
13. Phoenix Suns: Donatas Motiejunas, C, Lithuania
Motiejunas is this season's Andrea Bargnani -- he even plays for the same team Bargnani did! The only difference: Bargs went No. 1, Moti will go outside the top 10. Progress!
Chad Ford recently gave Harris a bar of gold we like to call the "Shane Battier comparison." It's maybe the best draft boost a player can get these days. Why? Everyone wants a Battier, yet no one knows where to find one. Brains, capacity for knowledge and composure are the most difficult things to measure when a prospect is posting up a chair. It's only a matter of time until GMs start breaking out Risk! during player workouts.
When I watch the Pacers, I think, "You know, the Pacers could really use someone who could double as a hyphy rapper from 2007."
16. Philadelphia 76ers: Jordan Hamilton, SF, Texas
Philadelphia's roster issues are plentiful, and the future of Andre Iguodala looms in the air like the scent of slightly burnt tater tots emanating from the oven. Everyone loves tater tots, but they are slightly burnt, and that's a pretty good excuse to call for a pizza. (I believe Hamilton is the cheesy breadsticks in this devastating analogy.)
There's going to be a moment when the wider world beyond the hallowed halls of draft nerds realizes that Klay is the son of Mychal Thompson. I'm not sure if that moment will be good or bad for Klay's stock. But it will be something.
18. Washington Wizards: Chris Singleton, SF, Florida State
I'm not sure Singleton fits Washington, especially given the likelihood of the team picking a small forward at No. 6. But I refuse to let Singleton, probably the best wing defender in college basketball, fall any further. I secretly hope the Kings give him consideration at No. 7. (Wait, that's not a secret any longer.)
19. Charlotte Bobcats: Marcus Morris, F, Kansas
The Brook of the Morris twins is slated by most to go much higher, possibly even to the Bobcats at No. 9. But tweeners sink, and Morris is that. It's not clear he has the athleticism to play small forward or the size to play power forward; despite numerous similar stories working out in the NBA, it's a stigma no prospect wants.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves: Lucas Nogueira, C, Brazil
David Kahn is just looking for someone to go into business on a churrascaria in St. Paul with him.
Could anything more shocking happen that Markieff -- universally accepted as the lesser Morris -- being picked ahead of Marcus? That'd be the stuff of literary novels.
Brooks is a riser, but gunners never rise too much. This seems like the appropriate range.
23. Houston Rockets: Jeremy Tyler, C, Parts Unknown
Last week, I included Jeremy Tyler as a joke. As it turns out, his stock rose enough at the combine that he's now a legit first round option! Who knew?
24. Oklahoma City Thunder: Davis Bertans, F, Latvia
Danny Ainge always seems to pick promising prospects instead of NBA-ready contributors. It's like he always wants to rebuild, even though he has a championship contender. Can't wait for the next Avery Bradley-Semih Erden dynasty. (Of course, they traded Erden to Cleveland to shed luxury tax. /sad trombone)
27. New Jersey Nets: Isaiah Thomas, PG, Washington
The Nets could use a good change-of-pace lead guard; every team needs one. Thomas might be one of the best available late in the first round in the last couple years.
Leslie made (blog) headlines at the combine by purportedly saying he's better than Tony Allen. Allen responded in a mix of bemusement and shock. Can't wait for Davis Bertans to start taking s--t about Darko.
The Cole pick, followed by a draft day trade sending Tony Parker to Timbuktu, followed by Pop throwing down as scepter and screaming like a dunking Kevin Garnett. Fin.
30. Chicago Bulls: Josh Selby, G, Kansas
Selby will likely climb higher, but the potential for Bulls fans to collectively set fire to every Keith Bogans reference in the United Center during the draft party is too great to pass up.