1. Cleveland (from L.A. Clippers): PG KYRIE IRVING, 6-2, 180 pounds, Duke, Fr.
It would be so much nicer if we'd all seen Kyrie Irving play 40 college games, and then what we saw in those first eight would be confirmed: that he is a point guard with a widely varied game, able to attack the lane against high-level defenders, to change directions without notice, to play with either hand, to punish defenders no matter how they guard the pick-and-roll and, perhaps more than any elite point of recent vintage, to make shots.
Irving made more than 46 percent of his 3-point attempts. Again, it was a smaller sample size, but he shot big numbers across the board: nearly 53 percent from the field, better than 90 percent from the line. Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, John Wall -- when they left college, they were not shooting at this level.
There are things Irving does not do as well as each of those players, but he has the requisite strength, quickness, elusiveness and creativity to excel as an NBA point guard. Kyrie is no substitute for LeBron, but he'll soon be an upgrade over Baron Davis.
2. Minnesota: F DERRICK WILLIAMS, 6-8, 241, Arizona, Soph.
The odd thing about the T-wolves’ choice of Williams is that they’ve basically chosen Michael Beasley with a better attitude. It’s easy to forget what an overwhelming talent Beasley was coming out of Kansas State, and he’s been an ordinary pro for a number of reasons -- one of which is that he’s not an A-level athlete for his position. And neither is Williams.
Yeah, it was a heck of a dunk against Duke, and he can drive the ball and has great strength, all of which indicates he’ll be a capable player. It’s hard not to think that with Enes Kanter available, Minnesota missed a chance to give itself a true presence in the center position.
3. Utah (from New Jersey): C ENES KANTER, 6-10, 255, Kentucky, Fr.
Smart teams do smart things, and the Jazz remain a smart team even without Jerry Sloan on the bench. Kanter might take a while to regain his competitive edge after missing all of last season because of the NCAA’s intransigence on his amateurism issues, but he is a genuine center with excellent hands, feet and skill.
He’s not the prototype of the European big; he can face the basket and score, but he’s not going to be Dirk shooting 3-pointers. His excellent footwork in the post, however, could make him a threat on the block.
4. Cleveland: PF TRISTAN THOMPSON, 6-8, 225, Texas, Soph.
Seriously? Tristan Thompson? Did somebody let Danny Ferry back into the draft room? Good gracious, where do we start with this? Underskilled, undersized, underdeveloped. He played a full college season and only once topped 25 points and only 10 times got into double figures as a rebounder. Sorry, but a big man who is worthy of the No. 4 pick in the draft should make that a habit.
Owner Dan Gilbert wants LeBron to say he’s sorry? Only if he goes first and apologizes for this pick.
5. Toronto: C JONAS VALANCIUNAS, 7-0, 231, Lithuania.
In the cosmopolitan city that is Toronto, they love them some Euros. And in many ways, that makes sense. An international player is not going to be as concerned about living north of the border, and might not be as consumed with the prevailing exchange rates between U.S. and Canadian dollars.
Valanciunas is an excellent athlete for a 7-0 guy. He runs well and would immediately improve the Raptors’ inside game -- that is, if he leaves Europe this season to play in the NBA. He has buyout issues with his club team, and the possibility of a lockout might make it prudent for him to put in another year across the Atlantic.
6. Washington: F JAN VESELY, 6-11, 239, Czech Republic.
In a year so obviously lacking in U.S.-trained talent, there was bound to be a run on internationals. He is a 6-11 athletic marvel who quite possibly will be an NBA small forward. There just aren’t a lot of guys anywhere with his package of size and athleticism.
It’s a different game here, and some players without a background in the U.S. can struggle with the different pace of play. But Vesely looks very much like a player who can join the space occupied by Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki.
7. Sacramento (trade pending with Charlotte): PF BISMACK BIYOMBO, 6-9, 243, Congo.
It is at this point that we feel compelled to remind you that five of the first seven players chosen in this draft were born -- and largely trained -- outside the United States. Thompson (Canada) and Kanter (Turkey) chose to attend U.S. colleges, but they have two years of American competition between them. As for this pick, it’s a reckless choice.
Biyombo blocks shots? Great. So does Hasheem Thabeet. Or he would, if he could get anywhere near the court. If Biyombo were good enough to play here, in by far the world's greatest league, shouldn't he have been able to get time in Spain's ACB?
8. Detroit: PG BRANDON KNIGHT, 6-3, 185, Kentucky, Fr.
Remember when the Pistons were the league’s model organization, perhaps the only team in the past two decades to win a title without an all-time great? Yeah, now they’re the team that must explain away a near-rebellion by players and gets suckered into taking Knight.
He is a fine shooter and a quality young man, but he is neither a natural point guard nor an elite athlete. He can’t change directions, doesn’t drive to his left hand. There were better players -- and better points -- on the board.
9. Charlotte: PG KEMBA WALKER, 6-1, 172, Connecticut, Jr.
The Bobcats picked a smallish point only three years ago, in D.J. Augustin, but when your competition drops a gem such as Walker into your lap, it’d be ridiculous not to grab him. His ability to stop and start suddenly -- and separate from defenders as a result -- will be a tremendous weapon at the NBA level.
Walker is the best leader in this draft and possibly the best leader at the key leadership position to come into the league in a decade. The Bobcats need a personality. Now they’ve got one.
10. Milwaukee (trade pending with Sacramento): G JIMMER FREDETTE, 6-2, 190, BYU, Sr.
Fredette might have been a better fit on a team with fewer issues than Sacramento. It’s easy to see DeMarcus Cousins wondering why on Earth he’s busting his tail to set up on the block when The Jimmer’s firing from 40 feet. And while the Kings are working hard to get Cousins to be a consistent person, they’re going to have to take another huge chunk of time working on Fredette’s dreadful defense.
There’s lots to like about Fredette’s game. There’d be more if he ended up elsewhere.
11. Golden State: SG KLAY THOMPSON, 6-6, 202, Washington State, Jr.
There might be a better shooting team in the league than the Warriors, but goodness, it’s easy to see teams feeling awfully stretched trying to guard Thompson and Steph Curry at the same time. Thompson can play either wing position and has a smooth quality to his game that sometimes makes it seem as though he’s not pushing hard enough. And he reinforces that by occasionally drifting through games.
He also did himself and his team no favor by getting suspended for the season’s biggest game because of a marijuana bust. That doesn’t seem to have bothered the Warriors.
12. Utah: SG ALEC BURKS, 6-6, 195, Colorado, Soph.
It can’t hurt the Jazz to become more athletic, but Burks will have to grow into an elite defender or an accurate jump shooter in order to get on the floor. Neither seems entirely beyond him. He made shots in college -- just not deep ones. He’s too long and athletic not to have potential to guard, but he’s still raw in that department. At the moment he looks a little like a Chris Douglas-Roberts without the Final Four pedigree and second-round chip on his shoulder.
13. Phoenix: PF MARKIEFF MORRIS, 6-10, 245, Kansas, Jr.
For the first time in his career, perhaps, Markieff has gotten the better of his twin brother Marcus. It is a choice that makes some sense for the Suns as they’re presently constituted, because he’s a big man who can make shots. But it also doesn’t make sense, because he’s three years into his college career and has yet to demonstrate greatness. The Suns reached for “the other” twin when it chose Robin Lopez in 2008. He’s never averaged 20 minutes.
14. Houston: SF MARCUS MORRIS, 6-9, 235, Kansas, Jr.
Seriously, the Suns and Rockets had to be talking, right? Twin brothers taken on consecutive picks? Well, however it developed, the Rockets were the winners here. Marcus knows he is a player; Markieff plays with a hint of uncertainty. Marcus can score in a wide variety of ways and showed he could hang with NBA-level athletes while performing on USA Basketball’s Select Team last summer.
He has an uncommon breadth to his game, in part because he has played both inside and on the perimeter while at KU.
15. Indiana (trade pending with San Antonio): SF KAWHI LEONARD, 6-7, 225, San Diego State, Soph.
All that stuff about him being a bust? That was based on projections that had him going in the first-half dozen picks. This is exactly where he belongs. The Spurs always have been an organization that values team-first players, and they'll love to have Leonard on their team.
He is a low-ego guy. He will battle on the glass, perhaps fighting DeJuan Blair and Tim Duncan for rebounds. He will be an ideal part of a team that is fighting to remain at championship level, though he’ll need to improve his skill level to become more than a part.
16. Philadelphia: PF/C NIKOLA VUCEVIC, 6-10, 260, USC, Sr.
After we all saw European players dominate the lottery portion of this draft, it’s hard not to wonder if Vucevic would have been valued more if he’d remained a bit of a mystery. He’s not the athlete that Vesely is, but Vucevic has an excellent face-up game for a player his size, and he has terrific moves in the post.
He’ll battle for rebounds and makes few mistakes. Few players this young are as comfortable playing on both blocks. It wouldn’t hurt for him to push harder at times to exert his influence on a game, but that’ll be less of an issue as he breaks into the pros.
17. New York: SG IMAN SHUMPERT, 6-5, Georgia Tech, Jr.
Knicks fans were a bit befuddled by the selection of Shumpert, but he seems like a perfect fit. The Knicks are constantly searching for a style, for a sense of who they ought to be, and that has been Shumpert his entire career.
Shumpert has excellent size and athleticism, whether he is judged as a point or a wing, and he can defend against the ball or a shooter. He just hasn’t ever discovered what he needs to do to become a significant player for a successful team.
18. Washington (from Atlanta): SF CHRIS SINGLETON, 6-9, 220, Florida State, Jr.
Singleton built a reputation as a great defender, which is easier to do in college basketball than actually being a great defender. He is not hype. He is not someone who gambles and loses his man in order to deliver the spectacular shot-block. He has been well-taught in terms of positioning and reading the offense and undoubtedly will help the Wizards at that end of the floor while he continues to advance his offensive education.
19. Charlotte (from New Orleans via Portland, trade pending with Milwaukee): F TOBIAS HARRIS, 6-8, 225, Tennessee, Fr.
Harris, who needed to develop in college, picked the wrong program. He seemed to decline as the mess at Tennessee worsened, although that was true of most of the Vols.
What is worrisome about Harris is that he is not athletic enough to be a quality small forward, and he appears to be a bit short to be a big-time power forward. Harris over Kyle Singler? We’ll see who’s done more five years down the road.
20. Minnesota (from Memphis via Utah, trade pending with Houston): F DONATAS MOTIEJUNAS, 7-0, 222, Lithuania
It’s nice to have a power forward who can shoot, but it’s usually a prerequisite to have a power forward with power. That’s where Motiejunas is substantially lacking. Kenneth Faried will get more rebounds than Motiejunas without leaving the locker room. Fewer than five rebounds per game from a 7-footer playing 26 minutes per game in the Italian Serie A -- a league that’s not decorated with a lot of Kevin Loves or Tim Duncans? There are lot of words for that, and none of them is “power.”
21. Portland: PG NOLAN SMITH, 6-2, 185, Duke, Sr.
Well, it really just killed Smith’s draft stock to play another year in college, didn’t it?
Smith made progress as a point guard during that senior season that helped him land in this position, and he’ll have to continue his development if he’s going to become a regular in the league. But he does have a nice first step and has proven himself as a shooter in terms of range, tough and willingness to fire under pressure.
22. Denver: PF KENNETH FARIED, 6-8, 225, Morehead State, Sr.
Faried is the most productive rebounder in modern NCAA history, and he does it both with uncommon athleticism and a tremendous sense for how and where a missed shot is going to come off the rim. Oh, and he does it with desire.
Faried obviously is undersized for his position, standing shorter than 6-8, and, OK, he’s not going to be pulling down 14 a game at this level. But he will impact his team in that department.
23. Houston (from Orlando via Phoenix, trade pending with Chicago via Minnesota): F NIKOLA MIROTIC, Montenegro, 6-10, 220.
Whoever thought there’d be more Nikolas taken in the NBA draft than Johns or Sams? Mirotic needs time to develop and will remain with his team -- in this case, Real Madrid -- rather than risking a year of lockout-forced inactivity. In fact, he's likely to stay in Europe for several seasons. Mirotic hasn’t gotten enough action in Spain to prove he is NBA caliber.
24. Oklahoma City: G REGGIE JACKSON, 6-3, 208, Boston College, Jr.
He’s an excellent athlete for the point guard position, but Oklahoma City already has that, obviously, in Russell Westbrook. It was expected that someone would fall in love with Jackson’s workouts and ignore that he had a disappointing, difficult junior season.
It’s maybe a tad surprising it was be the Thunder, but a team that has built a culture of cooperation and character generally can take a risk on a player and expect that the pressure will be to conform to its norm. If Jackson buys in, he could contribute to OKC’s progress toward a title.
25. Boston (trade pending with New Jersey): SG MARSHON BROOKS, 6-5, 200 Providence, Sr.
He scores. That’s what he does. He doesn’t defend. He doesn’t win. But he scores. It’s the trickiest skill to carry from the college level to the pros, but Brooks has his believers. He’ll join a team that is full of young, unpolished players, which is worrisome because there’s so much he needs to learn about how to play this game correctly.
26. Dallas (trade pending with Denver, via Portland): SF JORDAN HAMILTON, 6-7, 220, Texas, Soph.
Honestly, if we’re talking about guys with suspect commitment to defense who can’t help but score anytime they take the court, Hamilton is a far better selection than Brooks -- he is such a gifted offensive player that if he can get time in the league, he’ll produce.
27. New Jersey (from L.A. Lakers, trade pending with Boston): PF JAJUAN JOHNSON, Purdue, 6-10, 221, Sr.
Johnson has always had a different game because there’s no body in basketball quite like his. He’s built like a telephone pole as much as anything, which led to many wondering if he’d be able to develop sufficient muscle to play at this level. Johnson has continued to advance his reputation for toughness, though, and while he’ll never been a double-figure rebound guy, he will be able to contribute at his natural position.
28. Chicago (from Miami via Toronto, trade pending with Miami, via Minnesota): PG NORRIS BROOKS, Cleveland State, Sr.
There’s lots to like about Cole. He is unselfish, polished, an electric athlete and, when the paperwork is finished, will end up playing for the Miami Heat.
29. San Antonio: G CORY JOSEPH, 6-3, 185 pounds, Texas, Fr.
What does Joseph do well? He isn’t fast, isn’t quick, isn’t a great shooter. He’s not especially creative. He wasn’t consistently able to take command of games when the Longhorns needed him. It’s understood that the Spurs have a terrific track record of acquiring quality personnel, but even Rory McElroy yanks one into the woods now and then.
30. Chicago: F JIMMY BUTLER 6-7, 220, Marquette, Sr.
Although the Bulls could use a more consistent scorer to complement their perimeter, they’ll never be sorry that Butler fell to them at the end of round 1. Butler will become a high-level defender and has the raw skill to become a double-figure scorer at this level if he comes to believe that he can do it. Marquette played a sort of egalitarian style of offense that did not emphasize any particular player. It’ll be up to the Bulls to build his confidence.