1. Sacramento. Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma. The quintessential power forward, Griffin scores in bunches, fights for every rebound, plays steady man-to-man defense and goes after loose balls. Griffin takes a beating every game, so GMs will examine his health and free throw shooting with a fine tooth comb. Immediately, he becomes the toughest player on the Kings roster and revitalizes their franchise.
2. Washington. Ricky Rubio, PG, DKV Joventut. Unless the Wizards win on draft lottery night, they will need to go with the best player available. Rubio is as proven a player can be at the international level without having played a single second in the NBA. An unselfish point guard allows Gilbert Arenas to be a 2-guard who plays ::drumroll:: the 2-guard position. Some experts have either Hasheem Thabeet or Jordan Hill going here. I have doubts about Thabeet’s durability, his ability to dominate defensively in a league in which he cannot camp out in the 3-second lane, as well as his limited yet growing offensive game. Hill has broadened his face-up game, but still commits several mental errors on both sides of the ball.
3. LA Clippers. Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn. Though I have reservations about Thabeet’s performance at the next level, the Clippers are set at guard and small forward, and need more depth on the interior. For the next year, Thabeet will get to learn from Marcus Camby, who had similar doubters when he entered the league prior to earning defensive player of the year honors.
4. Oklahoma City. Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona. In need of a big who can score inside consistently, the Thunder jumps at the chance to acquire Hill. In the last two years, Hill has diversified his game and become more consistent. If the Thunder fall in the lottery, expect Hill to drop a couple spots.
5. Memphis. James Harden, SG, Arizona State. Before the tournament, Harden was #2 on our big board. Even after two unimpressive performances, Harden’s ability to dominate without scoring provides a one-two-three punch of OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay and Harden.
6. Minnesota. Demar DeRozan, SG/SF, USC. During the last NBA Draft, Minnesota addressed the frontcourt. This year, the need is in the backcourt, and if they decide not to go for a point guard, then they will go with DeRozan, who peaked at the right time at both ends of the court.
7. Golden State. Cole Aldrich, PF/C, Kansas. After surrendering loads of points, the Warriors need a defensive game-changer. Though Aldrich is still developing post moves and does not have much of a game beyond 10 feet, he is an elite defender and make an instant impact.
8. New York. Earl Clark, SF/PF, Louisville. In the #8 and set at exactly one position (center), the Knicks are in great position to pick the player who best fits the up and down D’Antoni system. Clark’s unselfish nature and ability to contribute without scoring make him a huge asset for any team. Versatility is a strength, but Clark can continue to develop his mid-range and deep game.
9. Toronto. Sam Young, SF, Pittsburgh. A multi-talented forward, Sam Young has shown dramatic improvement since arriving onto the scene at Pittsburgh. Despite that steady increase in productivity, Young still needs to be more judicious with the ball and shoot better from the charity stripe. Don’t be surprised if the Raptors draft a shooting guard, such as Tyreke Evans, Wayne Ellington, or Chase Budinger.
10. Milwaukee. DeJuan Blair, PF/C, Pittsburgh. If Scott Skiles wants toughness, then the 6’7”, 288-pound Blair is his man. Blair is a dynamo inside of ten feet and has deceptive speed, which makes him a candidate to pull down a rebound within a five-meter radius.
11. New Jersey. Craig Brackins, PF/C, Iowa State. One of the two most improved players in the Big XII (behind Cole Aldrich), Brackins can hit the 18-footer while also being able to back down opponents. Brackins’s ability to run the floor allows him to play in multiple lineups. He will no doubt benefit from playing alongside Brook Lopez.
12. Charlotte. Tyreke Evans, SG/PG, Memphis. An exceptional scorer, Evans repaired his reputation for being selfish and improved defensively. While he is a slasher and can get to the line regularly, Evans must improve his jumpshot before he takes the next step in his career.
13. Indiana. James Johnson, PF, Wake Forest. A solid all-around player with an eye for the basket, Johnson can score in many ways. Despite having all of the tools (quick feet, good shooter, good rebounder, good defender, can dunk in traffic) to succeed, Johnson needs to establish a killer instinct. If the Pacers are not impressed with Johnson’s upside, expect them to draft a point guard of the future.
14. Phoenix. Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse. A steal at pick #14, Flynn is a team leader who demonstrated his superior durability during the Big East Tournament. He uses his quickness and leaping ability to make up for his lack of size. The challenge for Flynn at the next level will be getting stronger without sacrificing speed. It’s no secret that Steve Nash’s days as an elite point guard are numbered, and that Flynn would be an amazing heir to the throne in the desert.
15. Detroit. Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina. Though the experts marvel at Lawson’s combination of speed, quickness, ball handling and strength, his biggest value is his decision making. His poise and composure allows him to see the whole court, while his opponents are sucking wind. Lawson’s ball control abilities within ten feet is reminiscent of Tony Parker. If there is a forward or center who falls to the Pistons, such as Blair, Brackins or Johnson, then they will go that route.
16. Chicago. Wayne Ellington, SG, North Carolina. With the imminent loss of Ben Gordon, Chicago needs a gunner who can get open and knock down shots. Not only does Ellington fill that role, he has improved his lateral quickness to make him more formidable defensively.
17. Philadelphia. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, Davidson. Expected to go in the lottery, Curry falls to the Sixers. As a combo guard, Curry can either join the stable of shooters that Philadelphia is attempting to assemble, or he will be the heir apparent to Andre Miller. This year, Curry showed that he can persevere at the point. However, he must continue to work on his shot selection in order to increase his shooting percentage.
18. Minnesota (from Miami). Eric Maynor, PG, Virginia Commonwealth. Devoid of steady guard play, the Timberwolves are fortunate that this is a point-guard rich draft. Maynor’s ability to stop on a dime in transition on one possession and hit a contested floater on the next has driven many sane coaches crazy.
19. Atlanta. BJ Mullens, C, Ohio State. Towards the end of the season, BJ Mullens demonstrated some of the talent that had the experts placing him as the #1 overall pick back in October. At #19, the Hawks obtain value at a position of need. One thing we learned though is that Mullens is not a game-changer at the defensive end, which ultimately saw his stock fall precipitously. Since Mike Bibby is in the final year of his contract, the Hawks may trade up to select one of the four point guards drafting from picks 14 through 18.
20. Utah. Chase Budinger, SG/SF, Arizona. Without a real backcourt threat alongside Deron Wiliams, the Jazz sputtered down the stretch. Jerry Sloan will have to teach Budinger to not take plays off, but the dividends will be plenty for the Jazz, as Budinger can score from anywhere on the court and can get to the line regularly.
21. New Orleans. Tyler Hansbrough, PF, North Carolina. At points this season, the Hornets – excluding their stars – lacked effort. Psycho T brings that to the table, along with a sheer desire to win. He has broadened his game to include a solid 18-footer, and has steadily improved his footwork and positioning on the defensive end.
22. Dallas. Brandon Jennings, PG, Lottomatica Roma. Ever the wild card in this draft, Jennings has been the benchmark for inconsistency. When I look at his statistics (averaging under 8 ppg, < 40% FG, < 27% 3-pointers, ~ 1.4:1 assist to turnover ratio), it’s tough for me to believe the hype. At 170 pounds, he must thicken before he can take the rigors of a demanding NBA schedule.
23. Sacramento (from Houston). Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke. Another player widely expected to go in the lottery, Henderson is a phenomenal athlete with an eye for the rim. He defends well, excelling in transition. That said, he lacks a sound jumpshot and sometimes lets shooting struggles translate into lazy fouls at the other end. If Henderson sticks around at Duke for another year, he’s certain to be in the top 10.
24. Portland. Damion James, SF/PF, Texas. Another free faller, James is a double-double guy who was expected to beast this season in the Big XII. Perhaps, that didn’t happen because Texas lacked an elite point guard. Perhaps, it didn’t happen because James had to create shots for himself. Either way, James can contribute without having to take shots, which makes him valuable to any contending team.
25. Oklahoma City (from San Antonio). Terrence Williams, SG/SF, Louisville. If they are not going to get good in a hurry, then Oklahoma City can get long. T-Will is a pick-pocket with a slasher’s mentality. With a proven scorer in Kevin Durant, Williams will not need to fill that role, but can fill up in other areas (averaged 8.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.3 steals per game). That said, T-Will must get over the free throw shooting mental block.
26. Chicago (from Denver through Oklahoma City). Jeff Pendergraph, PF/C, Arizona State. If the Bulls address their backcourt needs with their first pick, they will no doubt go with a [skilled] big man. That leaves few options, but Jeff Pendergraph is a great one. Though he’s not flashy, Pendergraph was effective, as he shot 66% from the field and only averaged 1.2 turnovers per game.
27. Memphis (from Orlando). DaJuan Summers, SF/PF, Georgetown. After a great start to the season, Summers fizzled when it mattered, which has seen his stock drop. Though he had trouble putting it all together this season, Summers has the tools to succeed at the next level and may be able to demonstrate his athletic gifts in a more open system. Gani Lawal is also an option.
28. Minnesota (from Boston). Jodie Meeks, SG, Kentucky. If Minnesota hangs onto all three of their picks in the first round, they can suddenly shore up their weaknesses in the backcourt. In Meeks, Minnesota gets a lockdown defender who has improved his shooting stroke. If he impresses at the pre-draft camps, Meeks can become a late lottery selection. That said, staying another year and playing under Coach Cal only enhances his draft prospects.
29. LA Lakers. Derrick Brown, SF, Xavier. Brown’s explosiveness, versatility and commitment to defense make him an attractive option to fill potential losses in free agency (Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza). Brown has not hired an agent, which allows him to return to school. If the Lakers go with a point guard, Darren Collison’s unselfishness, defensive prowess and ability to hit the 3-point shot make him a good fit for the Lakers.
30. Cleveland. Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky. A season after they selected a power forward in Round 1, the Cavaliers continue to replace their aging frontline and the contracts of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao expire next summer. Patterson struggled at times, but shot 60% from the field and can flourish with a roster that includes distributors like LeBron James and Mo Williams. Other possible options include Dante Cunningham, DerMarre Carrool, Jeff Adrien, Michael Washington, Tasmin Mitchell, Josh Heytvelt or Gani Lawal.