The NBA Draft is a day away, and the 2012 Draft gives us as strong a class as we've had in years -- but with just enough uncertainty to have us all totally confused. Who's the second-best prospect in the draft? Can Michael Kidd-Gilchrist learn to shoot? Is Andre Drummond the next Amar'e Stoudemire or the next Hasheem Thabeet? Who trades for Dwight Howard?
Also, who is Damian Lillard?
With that in mind, let's run down some of the talking points surrounding this week's Draft.
THE SCARIEST BEST DRAFT CLASS
People have downplayed the 2012 class because it was initially so hyped and it turns out only Anthony Davis is a sure thing, but look closer and there are more potential stars here than just about any class you'll ever see. The only problem is that everyone comes with their own question marks.
The questions above and a handful of others have defined the past month of draft discussion, but this year's class boils down to a comment from Seth Davis' anonymous scout burn book at Sports Illustrated. Talking about Royce White, one scout said, "He's another guy I'd be scared to take and scared not to take."
That's pretty much everyone from No. 2-13 in this draft -- and then after that, the rest of the first round is still exciting because they totally could've been lottery picks in a different year.
You can go right down the list: Harrison Barnes, Quincy Miller, Terrence Jones, Damian Lillard, Royce White, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Fab Melo, Kendall Marshall, Perry Jones, and on and on. More than half of the first round will be guys you would be terrified to actually draft, but who could ultimately turn into All-Stars.
This isn't usually true; most years, everyone beyond the top six or seven are likely role players, or starters at best. Think back to last year's draft. After one season of evidence, you could make a case that nobody past Kyrie Irving will ever make an All-Star team.
This year is different. You have one definite franchise player, but then about 15 guys who could be anywhere from really good to great. Or, you know, hugely disappointing. It reminds me of the 2008 Draft, where you had good players all over the board interspersed with a few glaring busts. (I'm not saying Thomas Robinson is Michael Beasley and MKG is Russell Westbrook, but ...)
In some ways, you're better off having two picks in the middle of the round than one in the top 10, because it gives you better odds in the crapshoot. Would you rather spend a top five pick on Harrison Barnes, or get Quincy Miller 15 spots lower? Would you rather roll the dice with Drummond in the top 10, or Fab Melo in the 20s? A handful of teams are going to get lucky Thursday night and beyond, and it won't necessarily be the teams picking in the top five. And speaking of the top five...
THE BOBCATS CAN'T WIN
Probably the most memorable story leading up to the draft came from Rick Bonnell at the Charlotte Observer, talking about Rich Cho and the six-figure scouting service he built from scratch:
The Charlotte Bobcats’ new database scouting system has over 50,000 web pages. ... This is Charlotte Bobcats general manager Rich Cho’s baby, an Internet-friendly system that took six months and a six-figure cost to develop. Now it evolves daily and gets put to the test in Thursday night’s NBA draft, when the Bobcats select second and 31st following a 7-59 season.
The thing is, Cho's hands are tied. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal are the two best players past Anthony Davis, but neither one is a finished product or a sure thing, and after last year's disaster, Charlotte needs players that can make the team respectable right now.
The Bobcats have always struggled to draw fans, and another few years of misery could seal their fate for good. This is why losing the lottery hurt so much -- Anthony Davis would have instantly bought them another two or three years of time to build while fans gave them the benefit of the doubt. Instead, they'll probably pin their hopes to Thomas Robinson, who's definitely a building block, but not THE building block. Beal or MKG could be, but Charlotte can't afford to wait.
So ... the Bobcats can't take the best players available because their roster is too awful, but if they don't take the best players available, this draft probably won't make them much better than awful. Futuristic scouting service or not, Rich Cho's job is harder than it looks.
DARYL MOREY IS SISYPHUS
Speaking of difficult jobs, poor Daryl Morey. What's this, the fifth year in a row Morey has stockpiled assets in hopes of making a run at a franchise superstar? He just keeps churning away, only to have the boulder tumble right back down in his face. Last winter Pau Gasol was supposed to be the answer, only David Stern intervened, so now it's Dwight Howard.
And especially since teams like the Nets and Mavericks have no assets to offer Orlando, the Rockets have as good a chance as anyone at pulling off a miracle with Dwight. But still. When you're trading half your roster and all of your assets for a superstar that A) doesn't want to be there longterm, B) is recovering from a potentially chronic injury, and C) has never won an MVP ... maybe fighting that battle means you've already lost the war.
The superstars that Houston is chasing aren't guaranteed to get them anywhere. The Rockets are the ultimate good-but-not-great team, and maybe Morey's the ultimate proof that there's no way to jump from good to great without being really bad somewhere in between. It's like he's been sentenced to a lifetime of stockpiling Kyle Lowrys and Luis Scolas and seventh-place finishes in the West, just to teach the rest of us a lesson.
THE ANDRE DRUMMOND SWEEPSTAKES
Drummond's the ultimate player who is terrifying to draft, but terrifying to pass on. He's the sort of top 10 pick who can either get a GM fired or extend his career by a decade. So ... Like I said, terrifying.
He did dress up as Gumby on Halloween, if that helps clarify things at all.
HOW DID HARRISON BARNES BECOME A TOP FIVE LOCK?
I wrote this about Barnes a few weeks ago as a guest Wizards fan at Mr. Irrelevant:
If you were feeling generous, you could compare Barnes to Glen Rice, Rudy Gay or all kinds of other kinda-sorta superstars. ... He’s closer to Kareem Rush with a little more height, and a whole lot more hype. ... He may carry himself like Kobe, but he can’t create his own shot. His jumper looks gorgeous, but he never shot above 36 percent on college threes. He’s not a great playmaker, either; he averaged one assist per game on the best offensive team in the country last year. And if his handle and quickness was secretly a huge problem in college, that’s not going to get any better in the NBA. All of these issues will probably keep him from ever becoming a true superstar.
I just wanted to go on record (again). At 10 or 15 surrounded by good players, Barnes could be a steal and grow into a perfect third option. But to draft in the top five you have to be REALLY bad, and for any team that bad, Barnes isn't going to be the superstar they need.
ALWAYS BE RECRUITING (AND/OR SCREWING WITH EVERYONE)
'Tis the season for fearless guessing and all sorts of STRONG opinions, so in the spirit of Chad Ford, Johnathan Giovny and a hundred thousand mock drafts, here are some thoughts on a handful of this year's draft prospects. First ...
Probably definitely do not draft these guys.
- Harrison Barnes -- See above.
- Perry Jones -- Like Tim Thomas on steady a Lithium drip.
- Austin Rivers -- A shorter, more entitled, less swaggy Nick Young?
- Meyers Leonard -- Who?
- Dion Waiters -- Never draft an undersized shooting guard in the lottery unless he has the potential to be like Dwyane Wade or he IS Dwyane Wade. Waiters is neither.
Probably Definitely Draft These Guys
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist -- If a Swiss Army Knife had a baby with a honey badger, you would get MKG. I think his stock has suffered partly because the only comparison people can think of is Gerald Wallace. In that case, remember: Swiss Army Knife. Honey Badger. He will murder people, with or without a jumpshot.
- John Henson -- Don't understand how Henson isn't a top seven pick. He's got Anthony Davis' length, already has a solid face-up jump shot, and could potentially be a deadly pick-and-pop forward for the next 15 years. He's a poor man's Davis ... and considering Anthony Davis has been compared to Bill Russell, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Durant, a poor man's Anthony Davis should be pretty awesome.
- Kim English -- Better shooter than Harrison Barnes, decently athletic, and destined to be stolen by a great team in the late 20s, just because -- that's how the rich stay rich, son.
- Festus Ezeli -- Tough, freak of nature athlete, who could be a solid blue collar center for a decade. Another perfect candidate to be stolen by a good team in the 20s.
- Tony Wroten -- If he'd been in the draft last year or next year, he probably goes in the top 10. He can't shoot, but neither could Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, or John Wall.
- Jared Sullinger -- He can flat out score, he's a skilled passer and solid rebounder, and his biggest problem in college (foul trouble) shouldn't hurt as much in the pros. Plus, anytime a good player plummets 10 or more picks because of health concerns, you draft that player as soon as possible. Quick, before the Spurs get him.
- Terrence Jones -- The perfect third option to stretch the defense. He won't ever be more, but on a Kentucky team full of pros, he was never less than that, either.
- Fab Melo -- Just really hard to believe he doesn't make an impact in the NBA. When did not going to class become THAT much of a red flag? How is this guy falling out of the top 15?
- Doron Lamb -- You get the feeling he'll be one of those guys who goes unnoticed his first year or two, then one day you look at him realize he's been in the league 14 years.
- Quincy Acy -- If Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a Swiss Army Knife, Acy is a lead pipe. Perfect second round draft pick, as long as he keeps his horribly awesome beard.
A TRADITION LIKE NO OTHER
"... a Jazz player all the way. He is tough, has a terrific basketball IQ and can really shoot the basketball. The Jazz could use some help at the 3, and Hummel should be able to provide some immediate relief."
God I hope the Jazz actually draft Robbie Hummel. It just wouldn't be late June if we weren't listening to analysts come up with euphemisms for why White Player X fits the Jazz or Pacers system. One of these years I hope Utah drafts a golfer by mistake.
UNTIL THURSDAY NIGHT...
Isn't the draft the best?