Behind the Buck Pass editor Nick Whalen and staff writer Alex Skov talk prospects, predictions and James Young’s hair leading up to the NBA Draft on June 26.
Nick Whalen: So first of all, we have to address the Joel Embiid situation. In your latest mock draft, you have him all the way down at No. 5 to the Jazz, while I have him at No. 4 to Orlando. For me, it’s the injury concerns that knocked him down – is that the case for you as well?
Alex Skov: Absolutely. If the injury was to another, more superficial body part, I wouldn’t have let it affect that call as much, but backs are iffy. The word on his workouts has been positive, but that’s the skeptic in me. Neither the Magic nor Jazz are particularly light at center, though.
Whalen: True. Nikola Vucevic and Enes Kanter/Derrick Favors aren’t exactly scrubs. But the more I read, the more I believe Embiid will end up in the top three – possibly even first overall to Cleveland. I’m not sure if you saw his most recent workout video, but he flashed an improved mid-range game and his jumper looked pretty good, mechanically, for an athletic big man.
Skov: The Embiid/Brian Scalabrine workout video? I did, and you’re right. That jumper is only going to improve his draft stock. The Cavs could go in any direction with the top pick and, if they really think there’s a chance LeBron James may return home, I almost think Embiid or Jabari Parker are their lead candidates, being that Parker is the most NBA-ready and LBJ teams excel at small ball.
Whalen: Right, and the Cavs are in a bit of a strange situation in that they already have considerable talent at almost every position. Of course, that talent hasn’t translated to wins, but it’s tough to pick an area of absolute “need” for them. Hopefully, for Cavs fans’ sake, that means they’ll go with the best player available.
Another player we disagreed on in our mocks is Kentucky freshman Julius Randle. You have him up at No. 3 to the Sixers, while I have him going fifth to the Jazz. Randle is a bull and already has an NBA body, but he didn’t measure exceptionally well and doesn’t really spread the floor at this point in his development. What do you like about him enough to rank him ahead of guys like Embiid, Dante Exum and Noah Vonleh?
Skov: I’ve said it a few times, but I honestly think Randle is going to turn into Kenneth Faried 2.0. He’s been slipping in a lot of mocks and some of that, justifiably, has to do with the fact that he wasn’t much of a rim protector in college, either. The Sixers have Nerlens Noel at center now, though, and wings can easily be found on the free agent market. Randle could gobble up rebounds and offer some interior scoring as long as Noel can keep the air clear on defense.
I’m also buying the Exum hype, so it’s entirely possible he goes No. 3.
Mock Draft Comparison
|1||Cavaliers||Jabari Parker||Andrew Wiggins|
|2||Bucks||Andrew Wiggins||Jabari Parker|
|3||76ers||Dante Exum||Julius Randle|
|4||Magic||Joel Embiid||Dante Exum|
|5||Jazz||Julius Randle||Joel Embiid|
|6||Celtics||Noah Vonleh||Noah Vonleh|
|7||Lakers||Marcus Smart||Marcus Smart|
|8||Kings||Aaron Gordon||Aaron Gordon|
|9||Bobcats||James Young||James Young|
|10||76ers||Gary Harris||Kyle Anderson|
|11||Nuggets||Kyle Anderson||Doug McDermott|
|12||Magic||Nik Stauskas||Dario Saric|
|13||Timberwolves||Rodney Hood||Rodney Hood|
|14||Suns||Zach LaVine||Nik Stauskas|
Whalen: Exum’s mystique seems to be helping his stock. But I love Randle’s game and I think he has the work ethic to develop into a really, really good player. Height is the only issue for me. If he was two inches taller, he’d be right up there with Parker, Wiggins and Embiid in the No. 1 pick discussion.
Speaking of Exum, what position do you see him playing at the next level? Some teams see him as a point guard while others envision him as more of a two.
Skov: He seems more attractive as a point guard to me, especially in light of 6-6 Michael Carter-Williams winning the Rookie of the Year award. His outside shooting could still use some tuning, although that isn’t anything too serious to say at this point. Before his buzz picked up and before the lottery, I had Exum going to the Lakers.
Are you taking him as a two-guard since your mock puts him in Philadelphia?
Whalen: Yeah, obviously the game tape on Exum is limited, but I’ve always thought shooting guard was his more natural position. Interestingly enough, CBS Sports’ Matt Moore reported Wednesday that the Sixers would consider trading Carter-Williams in order to select Exum. Now I don’t know how much truth there is to that rumor, but it would imply Philly sees Exum as more of a point guard.
Skov: I hadn’t seen that. Interesting, indeed. We did agree on a slew of picks in the top 10, though, including Noah Vonleh to Boston and Marcus Smart to the Lakers.
Whalen: Indeed. Right now it seems like most mocks have Smart going to the Lakers, which makes sense. They want to win now and we all witnessed the carnage that was their point guard rotation last season. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kendall Marshall as much as anyone, but Smart is a guy who can step in and start right away. Plus, doesn’t he just seem like a guy Kobe would love playing alongside?
Skov: He does. He’s fiery in the same way Kobe is. Any kind of Bryant/Smart mentorship would be miles ahead of whatever transpired between Kobe and Dwight Howard. Smart’s jumper (or lack thereof) concerns me, though. That wouldn’t be an immediate issue if Kobe stayed healthy, obviously, but down the road it could spell trouble if the franchise can’t lure or build a true star.
Whalen: Agreed, though I don’t think the Lakers will have a problem attracting stars. I like Marcus Smart, but if he’s not in the right environment, it could turn into a DeMarcus Cousins-ish situation.
Another guy I want to talk about is James Young. We both have him going No. 9 to the Bobcats (sorry, Detroit). What do you like best about him?
Skov: Not his hair. In fact, that’s one of my least favorite things about this entire draft.
Young’s athleticism and his ability to clean up plays, especially off rebounds, are definitely what grab my attention. They aren’t talked about nearly as much as his deep shooting, but they’re just as reliable.
Whalen: Right, his three-point shooting numbers weren’t that impressive (34.9 percent) during his one season at Kentucky, but there’s no doubt he can heat up from deep. I really like his size, body style and confidence. The guy just looks and moves like an NBA player. The question is whether he’ll be more James Harden or Dorell Wright.
Obviously we have to talk about Doug McDermott. I think we all know what he brings to the table after four dominant years at Creighton. Where is the absolute highest you could see a team take a flier on him?
Skov: It doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch that the Kings would draft McDermott at No. 8, but I can’t see him rising any more than that considering the other entrants up top. I saw him play against Wichita State, in Wichita, on New Year’s Eve 2011 and came away impressed. He hasn’t done anything except improve since then. Do you think he could go as high as No. 7 to the Lakers, or is a drop more likely?
Whalen: I can’t even imagine the backlash if he went to the Lakers. Something tells me he’s not the player LA hopes to come away with in this draft. I think a drop is more likely. He’s a guy that needs to go to a team that can put him in positions to succeed. Not that the Lakers aren’t that team, but I think he’s better suited going in the 12-20 range. That’s where you’re going to find teams that are already pretty good and could use a guy like McDermott to fill spots in the rotation off the bench. Atlanta, Charlotte and Memphis would all be solid fits.
Skov: That’s reasonable. To me, his ceiling seems to be somewhere around Kyle Korver. Of those three teams, Atlanta and Charlotte make sense, while Memphis could certainly use a proven scorer, but I don’t know that McDermott could fit into their defensive mold well enough to catch on.
Can we agree that Minnesota has to knock its pick out of the park, and maybe even Denver?
Whalen: You’re right about Memphis, but if he’s available I think they’ll give him some consideration as a potential Tayshaun Prince replacement.
I do agree that Minnesota needs to knock its pick out, but I think it’ll be difficult to do so at No. 13. They’re really at the mercy of the 12 teams before them, though solid value should be there at the end of the lottery. The problem for the Wolves is they’ve completely whiffed on a number of higher, more important picks in the past (Derrick Williams, Wesley Johnson, Johnny Flynn). A No. 13 pick should never be a “we need to land a star” situation, but such is the case in T-Wolves land
I’m more interested to see what becomes of all this Kevin Love hoopla. If he’s really as available as it seems, things could get crazy before draft night.
Skov: There’s no question it could swing the entire draft. I’d love to watch him as a Phoenix Sun, but I don’t think a package containing the No. 14 pick, Eric Bledsoe and other players is enticing enough for the Timberwolves. The Celtics swapping the No. 6 pick and other assets also seems fishy to me, though there’s no way the Wolves wouldn’t want to draft so high.
Whalen: If the Celtics or Lakers had jumped into the top 3, this would be an entirely different conversation. Like you said, I don’t think Bledsoe and No. 14 are enough. The thing is, Love holds all of the cards here. He can suffer one more season in Minnesota, opt out and leave the Wolves with nothing. Or, he can he can use that leverage to force a trade, which would probably benefit both sides long-term.
As much as I think Love playing in a big market within the next two or three years is inevitable, I’d love to see him spend a year or two in a place like Phoenix or Sacramento. It’ll ultimately come down to how much teams are willing to give up, and what they’re expecting Love to do as far as picking up his option or signing an extension.
Skov: The Kings are a team I’ve warmed up to over the past few years, despite Boogie Cousins’ temper. I’m a sucker (masochistic?) when it comes to uneven small market teams. Aaron Gordon would be an interesting player to pair with Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Ben McLemore, in terms of what he could bring in athleticism and immediate contributions.
Whalen: I’m a big fan of DMC. He’s a top-tier big man right now, and it’s a shame he’s allowed his maturity issues to really dominate his perception. But Gordon would be an interesting fit there. The Kings are in desperate need of a frontcourt guy to pair with Boogie, and I think Gordon will be the pick there if he’s available. He’s unpolished at this point, but the Kings aren’t expecting him to be the final piece to the puzzle – they’re still growing. If Gordon can give them what they thought they were getting in Thomas Robinson two drafts ago, they’ll be thrilled.
Skov: Cousins is undeniably skilled. For as much flack as he gets for being moody, it isn’t all bad. His never-ending sourness for Chris Paul is wildly entertaining. As for Robinson, I think the Kings gave up on him too early. The guy is a survivor and played productive minutes for Portland this season, including some in the Blazers’ ill-fated series against the Spurs.
Whalen: They gave up on him because they saw what his ceiling was going to be: a seventh man on a bad Portland bench. That’s not to say he won’t stick in this league for a long time, but it was clear from the start that he wasn’t what they were expecting at No. 4 overall.
Skov: What are the best-case and worst-case scenarios for Nik Stauskas? We have him going No. 12 and 13, respectively, and that feels about right.
Whalen: Yeah, I think the 12-17 range seems about right for Stauskas. He’ll spend the next month fighting off the “just a shooter” label, and if he succeeds at that I think he could sneak up as high as 12 to Orlando or 13 to Minnesota, where we have him projected.
Skov: The “just a shooter” label is going to happen wherever he goes, for sure. Then the local fans and media will recognize his game in a larger scope and be saddled with frustration until a wider audience recognizes it. This is doubly true if he lands somewhere outside a major media market, which is just about inevitable at this point. I feel like Stauskas could run the point in a pinch considering his passing acumen and ability to draw defenders to the perimeter.
You have Kyle Anderson going right before Stauskas, to the Nuggets at No. 11. What intrigues you about Anderson after two seasons at UCLA?
Whalen: I remember reading about Anderson and watching film back when he was in high school and just being fascinated with the way he plays. He’s not a guy that will wow you athletically, by any means, but watching someone with that combination of height, craftiness and vision is pretty incredible. Unfortunately, No. 11 to Denver might be wishful thinking, but I think he’s a high-upside prospect that could really turn into something special in the right system.
Skov: I have him at No. 10 with the 76ers’ second pick, so at least you’ll have company if he ends up going lower. Truthfully, I had trouble choosing who to project in that spot, as well as Orlando’s second selection at No. 12, where I ended up sliding Dario Saric into the small forward role to give Orlando a rebound-grabbing, scoring-but-not-ball-dominant role player.
Whalen: I flip-flopped on Saric as well. You never really know which team is going to chance it with a talented European. I ended up omitting him from my latest lottery-only mock, but it makes a lot of sense to think Philly at 10 or Orlando at 12 could snap him up. Having already made one selection, they can afford to be a little bit more… cavalier (no pun intended).
Skov: I encourage all puns and any bad decisions the Cleveland front office might make. Poor Anthony Bennett. Anyone the Cavs choose is going to make him look even worse.
Whalen: At least there wasn’t a clear-cut number two they should have taken over him. Oladipo is much better, but this isn’t an Oden/Durant situation.
One last topic before I let you go: Is there one guy you currently have going outside the lottery (or even the first round) that you think could really make a major impact as a rookie?
Skov: Not necessarily a major impact, but I think Cleanthony Early (Wichita State) could make some noise if given the chance. He has a big spirit and I think he could be a leading bench scorer for the right franchise.
The more I research Clint Capela (International) and Elfrid Payton (Louisiana Lafayette), though, the more I like them, too.
Who’s your sleeper pick, if there’s one to be had?
Whalen: Early is a good choice. He tested really well at the combine.
But I’ll go with one of the draft’s biggest question marks, P.J. Hairston.
He lit up the D-League last season after a rocky exit from UNC, and I see him as a guy who won’t need much seasoning before he’s ready to play. Elite size, infinite range and a lot to prove is usually a strong combination.
Skov: Hairston’s definitely intriguing, and his path seems really conducive to immediate NBA success. He went from major college ball to dominant play in the D-League without skipping a beat.
Whalen: Until next time.