The NBA Draft is always wild, an unpredictable, fast-moving event that disperses 60 players to new teams over the course of just five hours in stark contrast to the three days of the new NFL Draft model. The 2010 incarnation, however, will be hard to top in terms of sheer wackiness. The odd thing is the first eight picks were entirely predictable for experts like Chad Ford of ESPN Insider and DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony. Starting with the New Orleans Hornets trading the 11th pick, things spiraled out of control.
In the end, there were nine trades completed involving 17 picks, not counting one more deal (Chicago sending Kirk Hinrich and the rights to No. 17 pick Kevin Seraphin to Washington) that cannot be consummated until the new salary-cap year begins on July 8. Several quality players went undrafted, while two collegians were selected (Western Kentucky forward Jeremy Evans and Florida State forward Ryan Reid) who weren't really on anyone's radar.
Here's a look at the evening's biggest storylines.
The draft's big winners: The Sacramento Kings
In this case, you can take the term "big" literally. The Kings, who dealt for center Samuel Dalembert last week, added two more fives to the mix, taking Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins fifth overall and Marshall's Hassan Whiteside with the No. 33 pick in the second round. In both cases, Sacramento took the best player available. I would have had Cousins fourth on my imaginary draft board, behind John Wall, Evan Turner and Derrick Favors, but saying that probably overstates the difference among the group. On statistics alone, Cousins was the best player in the draft, and while I don't think he will overwhelm opponents with his size as he did in college, I think he'll be an excellent pro.
Sacramento had to be thrilled to see Whiteside improbably slide to the second round. Certainly, there are some risks involved with drafting both players, but in the second round the downside for the Kings is limited. Whiteside has a chance to develop into a very useful trade chip. Adding two centers probably makes it all the more likely that Dalembert is just an expiring contract for Sacramento, which can use next summer's cap room or a lottery pick to add another guard to play alongside Tyreke Evans. The Kings are well on their way to building a strong young nucleus.
Runners-up: The Washington Wizards
When someone asks, "Who had the best draft?" it's a loaded question. Usually, that seems to be less a matter of who added the most talent than who did the most with the picks they had. So putting the Wizards here has relatively little to do with John Wall and is much more about Seraphin and Trevor Booker.
The reaction to Washington's deal for Hinrich was instant and negative, but I don't think the former Chicago guard is nearly as worthless as he's being made out to be. Hinrich has been one of the league's best defensive guards, while his offensive value has fluctuated depending on whether he's making his threes (last year being a down year). For the Wizards, creating cap space was always more useful for deals like this than going out and signing a marquee free agent this summer, even with Wall in the mix. As compared to Oklahoma City's deal with Miami on Wednesday, Washington had to take on far more salary to get a similar draft pick, but keep in mind that Hinrich might bring additional return if flipped in another trade down the road.
Anyways, I'm not evaluating the Wizards on the trade either, but solely on the three picks they added. The more I hear about Seraphin, the more I like him. He was linked to some of the NBA's best-run organizations, teams like Oklahoma City and San Antonio. I did run stats for Seraphin and some other players who saw action in EuroCup last season (Tibor Pleiss and undrafted Alexey Shved), but because he played just six games in Europe's second-best international competition, they don't tell us much. Seraphin looks like an elite rebounder but an unpolished offensive player, which generally matches the scouting reports. Just 20, he's got room to grow, and the track record with French players recently has been quite strong.
Washington probably overpaid to get Booker, sending the No. 30 and No. 35 picks to Minnesota to move up to No. 23 and select the Clemson forward. Here I defer to my rule, "talent evaluation trumps all." In 2006, a good friend of mine killed the Blazers for overpaying to move up slightly from No. 4 to No. 2 and No. 7 to No. 6. However, those two picks turned into LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, so nobody is all so worried about the loss of Viktor Khryapa anymore. Booker isn't at that level, obviously, but he was one of my favorite players in the draft, a highly productive undersized power forward in the Paul Millsap mold. If he doesn't become at least a quality reserve, I'll be surprised.
Clearing Cap Space
The first of two stories that might ultimately overshadow the players picked on Thursday was the Bulls joining the Miami Heat in clearing additional cap space. I think part of the reason the Wizards were pilloried for the deal was that it does feel like Chicago got off easy, giving up only a single first-round pick and a reserve guard to dump $9.36 million in committed salary and approach having enough space to make two max salary offers. Shedding the contract of second-year forward James Johnson would get the Bulls close enough to legitimately join Miami and New York in the effort to persuade two superstars to sign with them as a package deal.
It looks like the Heat is going to strike out in its efforts to get Michael Beasley's salary off the books, leaving Miami just shy of an unprecedented treasure trove of cap space that would allow the team to sign three max free agents. Still, there has been an amazing amount of cap room cleared over the last five months, which will make things very interesting when the clock strikes midnight on July 1.
While it's a slightly different financially motivated move, credit the Hornets for shaving money off their own payroll by including Morris Peterson in their trade with Oklahoma City. In terms of average draft pick value, trading the No. 11 pick (5.7 WARP over the first three years) for No. 21 and No. 26 (combined 5.3 WARP) isn't a horrible deal. To also save at least $12.4 million--Peterson's salary doubled to account for luxury tax, plus this deal should allow New Orleans to ultimately get under the luxury-tax limit--makes it a phenomenal trade for the Hornets.
The deal wasn't so bad from the Thunder's perspective because the team won't be in the luxury tax and probably wasn't going to use the cap space Peterson takes up. If you're applying the same standard of Oklahoma City's previous swaps used to criticize the Hinrich trade, though, this one grades out poorly as well. Again, the final verdict comes down to talent evaluation. The Thunder clearly wanted Aldrich, and if he develops into a quality starting center--as the numbers suggest he will, though I'm a little concerned about how well he'll be able to defend on the perimeter--the trade will still make sense.
One interesting note--Oklahoma City added another center, Pleiss, in the second round to stash in Europe. Already, the Thunder had Byron Mullens as a young five, as well as veterans Nick Collison and Nenad Krstic. The clear indication to me of stockpiling centers is that the Thunder considers promising Serge Ibaka more of a power forward, where he might eventually usurp Jeff Green's starting position.
The End for Kevin Pritchard
We've known since March that Kevin Pritchard's days at GM of the Portland Trail Blazers were numbered. The end wasn't going to be pretty no matter what, especially given Pritchard's popularity in the Willamette Valley, but what ultimately transpired--Pritchard being relieved of his duties immediately after the draft--is essentially unprecedented in my recollection.
Apparently conducting the draft despite his lame-duck status, Pritchard pulled off one last deal, trading Martell Webster to Minnesota in exchange for Ryan Gomes and the No. 16 pick. Getting out of Webster's contract by picking up Gomes, whose salary is only partially guaranteed over the next two seasons if he's waived by July 1 (see Sham Sports for details), is nice on its own merits. To also be able to add a mid-first-round pick is impressive stuff. I'm not huge on any of the players Portland drafted (Nevada teammates Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson, as well as Memphis guard Elliot Williams), but there's no argument that the Blazers continue to add young talent to their mix.
On Draft Coverage
This was the second draft of the Twitter era, and the first where it really dominated the coverage. At best, I probably found out about half of the 60 picks by watching on ESPN as opposed to through my Twitter feed, while trades were almost always announced far earlier online. It's tough for TV networks to operate on the fly, but to maintain relevance to a plugged-in audience ESPN will probably have to report more in real time starting next year.
On a related topic, one of my biggest pet peeves is the way the NBA refuses to acknowledge trades until all picks have been made and a trade call completed with the league. This leads to awkward situations like Aldrich talking about playing with Chris Paul when the viewing audience has already been informed that Aldrich is headed to Oklahoma City. (Often, those of us watching at home seem to know far more about their destinations than the players themselves.) It's also a problem for posterity. According to the official records, the Thunder selected Eric Bledsoe, Craig Brackins, Quincy Pondexter and Magnum Rolle last night. Guess what those players have in common? All of them were traded by the end of the evening.
I understand that the complexity of the salary cap means trades can't be approved and announced instantly, as they are in the NFL. However, even after they are announced no trades are official until all players have completed physicals, so rescinding the deals is hardly unprecedented and to me causes less of a disruption than forcing players to walk around in limbo while Stuart Scott describes "proposed trades" that everyone knows are reality.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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