No Suprises Atop First NBA Mock Draft

Oden and Durant go first and second respectively

May 4, 2007

By Steve Aschburner

Special to from The Sports Xchange


It's never too early to start sizing up the NBA Draft and where various players are likely to end up, right? Wrong. It's always too early to do that while the May poles still are up, before the niftiest nags at Churchill Downs run, until the pinatas of Cinco de Mayo get pummeled and while my undone taxes stare back at me from a pile on the other side of my desk.


Anyone who thinks they can predict with any certainty where the top 30 players chosen in the June 28 will go, way back at the start of May, is only guessing. And that's even without the noise that surely will emanate from the teams near the top, since that gamesmanship won't start in earnest until after the May 22 draft lottery.


Our best bet at this point is to offer glimpses of the teams likely to be doing the picking in the most logical order imaginable at this point (based on 2006-07 final records, awaiting the bounces of the ping pong balls). Over the next seven weeks, we'll do what we can to fine-tune, or "tweak" as they like to say in sports, as a more accurate picture of who's picking where emerges.




Guarantee No. 1: This list will bear little resemblance to the one we forecast in late June.


Guarantee No. 2: We'll still be able to play the semantics game of some prognosticators, the ones who claim to have predicted "23 out of 30" first-rounders simply because 23 guys they named went to some team, somewhere, among the top 30 picks. In our book, unless you get the right guy and the right team, you got it wrong. And most mock drafts get most of their picks wrong. Think three-point percentages, not free-throw percentages.


Guarantee No. 3: For all those qualifiers and precautions, know that the top two picks are as bankable today as they will be on draft night. All the confusion, arguing, speculation and conjecture come from the third slot down.


1. Memphis Grizzlies

No team faces as much uncertainty as the Grizzlies. This club, as recently as a year ago, felt it deserved better than to slink out of three consecutive first rounds without winning even a game. Now that would feel pretty good to the team that finished with the league's worst record (22-60). Even the booby prize that comes with that -- best shot at the No. 1 pick overall -- feels a little negative because Memphis has a 25 percent chance of maintaining its spot in the draft lottery vs. a 75 percent chance of slipping to second, third or even fourth. Let's be optimists here for a moment -- remember, this team is busy shopping for a new owner, a new GM and a new head coach, too -- and presume that the Grizzlies stay right where they are. If that happens, this is a no-brainer.

Probable pick: Greg Oden, C, Ohio State.


2. Boston Celtics

As flinch-ready as many Celtics fans are -- they (like Rick Pitino) still haven't gotten over their team's slippage in 1998 and the loss of Tim Duncan -- the pressure will be off Boston if the top picks go to the most deserving teams. Sitting at second means the Celtics won't have to sort out the Oden vs. Kevin Durant debate while they're on the clock on draft night. They can just grab whichever one is left, which in this scenario means Durant. The slender Texas forward has serious star potential, even if he'll be a little out of synch -- in terms of career arc -- with current Celts leader Paul Pierce. But then, Kareem and the Big O did the May-December thing way back when for the Bucks, and Durant could get awfully good awfully fast.

Probable pick: Kevin Durant, F, Texas.


3. Milwaukee Bucks

The word out of Milwaukee is that, given the team's payroll and on-court disappointment, it might actually entertain offers this summer for All-Star shooting guard Michael Redd. Injuries limited the Bucks' options last season, cost coach Terry Stotts his job and had Milwaukee using three guards as its best lineup most of the time. Its dream five seemed fine on paper -- Redd, Mo Williams, Bobby Simmons, Charlie Villanueva, Andrew Bogut -- but Simmons has been a two-year bust, mostly because of health issues. And the Bucks still need more grit up front.

Possible picks: Joakim Noah, F, Florida; Al Horford, F, Florida.


4. Phoenix Suns (from Atlanta, unless it is a top-three pick)

Doesn't seem fair, does it? One of the league's strongest teams, with a roster already too deep for its coach's liking (Mike D'Antoni prefers to go about 6 1/2 deep in his rotation), sitting with as many as three first-round picks. The Suns will get Atlanta's lottery pick unless it bumps into the top three, and they also hold No. 24 and No. 29. A trade of one or two of those picks makes a lot of sense, but the Suns would be happy at No. 4 to add a terrific athlete who can help from the 2-3 spots or toughen up the middle.

Possible picks: Joakim Noah, F, Florida; Julian Wright, F, Kansas.


5. Seattle Sonics

Given some seriously unsettled issues in Seattle -- the arena controversy, hints of a relocation if things don't go well on that front, a coaching vacancy -- it appears that a plan is emerging for 2007-08: Win now. That's a shift back from the reliance on youth of this past season and suggests the re-signing of forward Rashard Lewis, in a nucleus built around him, Ray Allen, Chris Wilcox, Nick Collison and Damien Wilkins. The Sonics seem to have enough bodies in the middle, so point guard might be the best spot to upgrade from Luke Ridnour. Or Seattle could trade down and still add another young talent to the long-term mix.

Possible picks: Mike Conley, G, Ohio State; Yi Jianlian, F, China.


6. Portland Trail Blazers

No team in the league has more young talent, on the verge of jelling, than the Trail Blazers. They could help themselves immensely by trading this pick as part of a package for a little veteran leadership, needed to keep the kids on track. It doesn't make a lot of sense to just pluck one more gifted athlete, but it's hard to quibble with Portland's results in doing just that in recent seasons.

Possible picks: Julian Wright, F, Kansas; Brandan Wright, F, North Carolina.


7. Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota's roster imbalance -- that is, way too many swingmen -- didn't just limit the coaches' rotation options in its 32-50 season. It damaged chemistry, with all those similar players treating each other like rivals rather than teammates. Some of them have to go while the Wolves seek size up front. Once Eddie Griffin got warehoused, then cut, the Wolves had only Kevin Garnett and Mark Blount -- two perimeter-preferring big men -- and undersized rookie Craig Smith available for the heavy lifting up front. Size is crucial for this club, although a project guy might make Garnett more impatient that he already is.

Possible picks: Brandan Wright, F, North Carolina; Spencer Hawes, C, Washington.


8. Charlotte Bobcats 

The Bobcats' building process is such that help at almost any position would be welcomed. And whether they're ready to admit it or not, their pick of Adam Morrison last June ranks as one of that draft's bigger busts, to this point. Strong in the middle (Emeka Okafor, Primoz Brezec) and at the point (Raymond Felton), it's the wing positions that could use more depth, especially given the growing contract needs of Gerald Wallace and Matt Carroll.

Possible picks: Julian Wright, F, Kansas; Corey Brewer, G, Florida.


9. Chicago Bulls (right to switch first-round picks with New York)

The daydream of landing Kevin Garnett seems to have fizzled in Chicago, particularly with the city's media. A couple of expiring contracts no longer are available as chips, so the Bulls would have to stack up serious talent to push into the Minnesota star's salary-matching territory. Better that Chicago shore up its low-post game in less dismantling ways, by going big with the pick that it can have from the Knicks.

Possible picks: Spencer Hawes, C, Washington; Roy Hibbert, C, Georgetown.


10. Sacramento Kings

Point guard Mike Bibby continues to get mentioned as one of the game's biggest names likely to get moved. Big man Brad Miller's game had a real gone-fishin' aspect to it this season. So the Kings could use backups at two of the most important spots.

Possible picks: Roy Hibbert, C, Georgetown; Mike Conley, G, Ohio State.


11. Atlanta Hawks (from Indiana, unless it is a top 10 pick)

If any team needs a traffic cop, it is this one. There is an awful lot of athletic talent on the Hawks roster, but too many guys who see themselves as equals. And Joe Johnson shouldn't be expected to set up the Joshes and the Williams guys. That should be coming from a real playmaker.

Possible picks: Mike Conley, G, Ohio State; Acie Law, G, Texas A&M


12. Philadelphia 76ers

Here's another club that has three first-round picks, which generally is too many for all but the lowliest franchises. And the Sixers, with the addition of Andre Miller, seem to have a real motor and another potential All-Star in Andre Iguodala.

Possible picks: Acie Law, G, Texas A&M; Jeff Green, F, Georgetown


13. New Orleans Hornets

The Hornets have youth, they have a highly coveted floor general (Chris Paul) and they have a good amount of size up front. What they could use is scoring, creating and slashing, which means they need some wing players with moves.

Possible picks: Jeff Green, F, Georgetown; Al Thornton, F, Florida State


14. Los Angeles Clippers

Seeing how well the Shaun Livingston plan has worked out and, for that matter, the Sam Cassell right-up-'til-pension-plan plan, the Clippers might want to focus on the point guard position here.

Possible picks: Acie Law, G, Texas A&M; Javaris Crittenton, G, Georgia Tech


15. Detroit Pistons (from Orlando)

The Pistons might want to go for insurance at the point, pending Chauncey Billups' possible departure. But the odds are good that Billups won't be going anywhere, at which point Detroit can simply pick for talent.

Possible picks: Jeff Green, F, Georgetown; Thaddeus Young, F, Georgia Tech


16. Washington Wizards

DeShawn Stevenson, who took a real pay hit after bolting Orlando and gambling in last year's market, sounds as if he wants to stay, which would ease the need at shooting guard. The Wizards were horrible defensively, in large part because their front line doesn't always play large.

Possible picks: Jason Smith, F, Colorado State; Tiago Splitter, F, Brazil


17. New Jersey Nets

Nenad Krstic, Mikki Moore and Josh Boone give New Jersey more up front than most folks would expect on paper. In fact, it's two of the Big Three -- Jason Kidd and Vince Carter -- who will require replacement plans in the not-so-distant future.

Possible picks: Nick Young, G, USC; Brandon Rush, G, Kansas


18. Golden State Warriors

This team doesn't really need much, in terms of personnel, because its roster already is one of the league's deepest. Now, with Don Nelson, it's always possible that he could grab for a project big man, then banish the kid to the D-League for most of the year. But wait, that's what they did with Patrick O'Bryant from last year's draft.

Possible picks: Al Thornton, F, Florida State; Thaddeus Young, F, Georgia Tech; Tiago Splitter, F, Brazil


19. Los Angeles Lakers

What the Lakers need to upgrade isn't likely to come from a middle-to-late first-round rookie. They need, most of all, a replacement or upgrade from Smush Parker and might have to find that via trade or free agency. Still, there's more reason to look at perimeters than bigs at this spot.

Possible picks: Nick Young, G, USC; Rush; Daequan Cook, G, Ohio State


20. Miami Heat

Suddenly, the 2006 champions seem more flawed and in need of help at various spots than they looked, oh, two weeks ago. That's what happens when a long-in-the-tooth roster fails to get the job done in the first round.

Possible picks: Gabe Pruitt, G, USC; Rodney Stuckey, G, Eastern Washington.


21. Philadelphia 76ers (from Denver)

See No. 12 for team assessment.

Possible picks: Rodney Stuckey, G, Eastern Washington; Josh McRoberts, F, Duke.


22. Charlotte Bobcats (from Toronto)

See No. 8 for team assessment.

Possible picks: Josh McRoberts, F, Duke; Daequan Cook, G, Ohio State; Rudy Fernandez, G, Spain.


23. New York Knicks (Chicago has right to switch picks with Knicks)

Basketball boss Isiah Thomas has done pretty well in the draft -- it's the free agents and established players who have been his biggest mistakes. Even picking up Randolph Morris down the stretch, after Kentucky got bounced, was a shrewd move. This team has redundancies at many spots, but Jared Jeffries' poor season suggests one area for improvement.

Possible picks: Rudy Fernandez, G, Spain; Marcus Williams, F, Arizona.


24. Phoenix Suns (from Cleveland)

See No. 4 for team assessment.

Possible picks: Marcus Williams, F, Arizona; Sean Williams, C, Boston College; Marco Belinelli, G, Italy.


25. Utah Jazz

The Jazz could use some more banging, because Mehmet Okur is a pick-and-pop guy and Carlos Boozer expends most of his energy at the other end. An upgrade at the off-guard would be a help, too.

Possible picks: Marcus Williams, F, Arizona; Josh McRoberts, F, Duke.


26. Houston Rockets

Shooters wanted! What is happening to Houston in the first round of the playoffs against Utah is exposing this club as far too dependent on just two stars (Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming) for the scoring load. If other guys aren't hitting from outside, then defenses sag or warp to thwart those two.

Possible picks: Marco Belinelli, G, Italy; Alando Tucker, F, Wisconsin.


27. Detroit Pistons

See No. 15 for team assessment.

Possible picks: Alando Tucker, F, Wisconsin; Marc Gasol, C, Spain; Dominic James, G, Marquette.


28. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs' defense isn't what it was a couple of years ago, and the roster is getting a little gray around the temples. The core is fine -- Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker -- but guys like Michael Finley, Robert Horry and Brent Barry are in serious need of understudies.

Possible picks: Sean Williams, C, Boston College; Alando Tucker, F, Wisconsin; Herbert Hill, F, Providence.


29. Phoenix Suns

See No. 4 for team assessment.

Possible picks: Marc Gasol, C, Spain; Morris Almond, G, Rice; Aaron Gray, C, Pittsburgh.


30. Philadelphia 76ers (from Dallas)

See No. 12 for team assessment.

Possible picks: Aaron Gray, C, Pittsburgh; Glen Davis, F, LSU.


Steve Aschburner is a senior NBA reporter and columnist, covering the Minnesota Timberwolves for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 13 seasons and serving as president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association from 2005-07.