Monday, May 25, 2015

NBA Draft: Decisions, Decisions

By Jonathan Lowe

As the NBA playoffs continues to wind down, the anticipation for the 2015 draft will slowly bubble and boil. We're now a month away from basketball's version of conversations about "needs," "upside," and all the other buzzwords that fill these events. With this week's draft lottery, another piece of the selection puzzle has been filled in.

But, as with any draft, there are still questions that haven't been answered. I know I have questions which probably won't get resolved until all 60 picks are in on June 25th. That doesn't mean they won't continue to bounce around in my brain for the next four-plus weeks. So I might as well throw some of them out into the open.

Top of the Draft: Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns?

For the first time in franchise history, the Minnesota Timberwolves had the lucky ping-pong ball. The team that went total rebuild last summer can now add an essential post player to their cadre. But which way do they go? Living in the Twin Cities, I've heard varying opinions on what the Wolves need to keep moving forward.

Okafor is the more polished offensive player. His 17.3 points per game were tops for the national champion Duke Blue Devils. However, his defensive (non-)prowess was exposed, especially during the latter stages of the NCAA tournament. The Wolves hope he can improve in that area because they've already had the power forward with questionable defensive efforts (Kevin Love).

Towns didn't have the numbers of his freshman counterpart, but he didn't have the same amount of opportunities. The highly-touted center showed off his length quite a bit over the season, getting more than 2 blocks a game. Towns also appeared to gain a bit of offensive confidence, reaching the 20-point mark twice during the NCAAs. If Minnesota selects him, they'll have to work on his offense. He also has to cut down on the fouls (he fouled out of six games this past season).

Lottery Picks: How High is Justise Winslow's Stock?

When the 2014 crop of high school graduates were selecting their schools of choice, scouts pointed to Duke's class as one of the best in the country (what's new?). Three of those same frosh players decided to leave school one year later to take their chances at the next level. Going into Durham, people knew about Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones. Coming out of the Research Triangle, people are lining up to get to know Justise Winslow.

The Houston, TX native was third in scoring and second in rebounding throughout the campaign. However, in the second half of the season (including the postseason run) he displayed a lot of intangible goodies that NBA scouts drool over. The combination of Winslow's clutch shooting, athleticism, and "glue guy" attributes apparently go well with his 6'6", 225-lb. frame. Now, the top 15-20 prep prospect has blossomed into a top 5-10 draft projection in just one year.

Overall Draft: Where Will Calipari's Disciples Get Selected?

This will be an interesting case study. In football, the transition from college to pro can be stunted when a player comes from a different "system" (spread, zone read, triple option, etc.). College basketball has its own "systems" (Princeton offense, Syracuse zone, pressure defense, etc.). However, I can't recall any college program having enough top-level talent to go to a platooning system. Calipari's vision only lasted for this season, but it may have a lasting effect on where his players fall in the draft order. Will some teams be a little gun shy, wondering how that talent will truly translate over 30-35 minutes a night? Will others be enticed with the fact that players can give up minutes and be relegated to background roles?

It wouldn't be a shock to see all seven of Kentucky's prospects get picked up. But which big man will be the next one chosen after Towns? And was this decision a mistake for one of the Harrison twins?

Wild Card Potential: Will Philadelphia Get Trade-Happy ... Again?

As much as I don't get how the Sixers' front office is running their franchise, the one thing they have in bulk are draft picks. Over the next five years (from now until 2020), Philly has 17 (SEVENTEEN) additional picks in their pocket due to trades. There's no way they can keep that much going forward. So, the next logical step ... warm up the "wheel and deal" strategy. The organization could have construed an all-out haul, but the Lakers and Heat did not cooperate by giving up first-round picks.

After the Sixers make the third overall selection, they can sit back and wait for a while. Then again, they could trade their way back up into the first round. You can do that when you have five (FIVE!) slots in the 30 made available for round two. But why stop there? I can't really that every player on the roster is safe. Maybe Joel Embiid and a second rounder head out of town. Who knows? This does appear to have become the basketball version of "Card Sharks." How about we change that Eight of Hearts to a Jack of Clubs?

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