Cody Cousino / Photo editor
The NBA announced its draft order Wednesday evening at the annual NBA Draft Lottery, and the New Orleans Hornets came away feeling like they won the mega millions. The Hornets secured the No. 1 selection in the draft and the rights to select Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, the most coveted prospect in this year’s draft class. But the Hornets are not Wednesday’s only winners. With an exceptionally deep and talented draft class, many teams have the chance to draft key contributors with the hopes of turning around their struggling franchises.
It is nearly impossible to predict who will be selected where in the draft – NBA executives trade picks during the draft like a fourth grader trades half of his Zebra Cake package during lunch. Nonetheless, below are my predictions for who the 14 lottery teams will select if they keep their pick and what acquiring that pick means for the future of each franchise.
1. New Orleans Hornets: Anthony Davis (Kentucky)
Less than a year after trading All-Star point guard Chris Paul, New Orleans gets the new face of their franchise in Davis. The scariest thing about Davis, the biggest prize in this year’s draft class, is that he is still adjusting to playing as a big man. The 6-foot-10 forward played most of his high school basketball as a 6-foot-1 guard. Despite the huge growth spurt, Davis still runs the floor like a much smaller player and has exceptional quickness for a man of his size. The combination of his devastating 7-foot-6-inch wingspan and quick-leaping abilities will allow him to be an elite shot-blocker from the moment he enters the NBA – Davis led the nation with 4.7 blocks per game while at Kentucky. At the very least, Davis can be an All-NBA defensive player and an extremely capable rebounder. If he can continue to develop his mid-range jump shot, Davis has the potential to be one of the best big men in the league. As his offensive game is still developing, particularly in the low post, Davis will benefit from playing with players who can carry the scoring load on most nights and create shots for him through pick-and-rolls. For that reason, New Orleans is an ideal situation for Davis. Hornets guard Eric Gordon is a rising star and one of the league’s best scorers. They will also acquire another nice young piece with the tenth-overall pick. The Hornets won’t be a playoff team next year in the strong Western Conference, but they are heading in the right direction.
2. Charlotte Bobcats: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky)
While his teammate Davis received most of the publicity, Kidd-Gilchrist was an equally important component of Kentucky’s National Championship in 2012. He seemed to have a knack for playing his best on the biggest stages and some of his best performances were against Kentucky’s toughest opponents. He is the basketball equivalent of a five-tool player: he can score, create for himself, create for others, rebound and defend. At the same time, he has yet to master any of these trades. He shot a mediocre 25.5 percent from 3-point range in college and his jump shot is a work-in-progress. Despite the room for improvement, MKG is a player with low-bust potential and the closest thing to a “can’t miss” prospect in this draft aside from Davis. He is an athletic freak on the wing, can defend multiple positions and thrives in open space. After a miserable seven-win season, Charlotte has to be a little disappointed after losing out in the Davis sweepstakes. But as far as consolation prizes go, Kidd-Gilchrist is the cream of the crop.
3. Washington Wizards: Andre Drummond (Connecticut)
If Drummond came with a traffic sign, it would certainly read, “Proceed with caution.” Though he possesses an unmatched combination of size, power and athleticism, Drummond is a project and whoever drafts him will have to remain patient. While averaging 10.2 points and 7.6 rebounds as a freshman at Connecticut, Drummond was seldom featured in the low post. It is not unusual for an 18-year-old to have a raw post-game, but the 6-foot-11, 270-pound center should have been a focal point in Connecticut’s offense. Instead, he had a tendency to shy away from the ball and failed to dominate smaller, and less talented, competition. The fact that got to the free-throw line less than three times per game is a cause for concern. The fact that he connected on less than 30 percent of those limited opportunities is eye opening. Due to his physical tools he has one of the highest ceilings of any player in the draft, but he also has one of the lowest floors. Drummond would be best served if picked by a team headed in a positive direction, the opposite of a Washington franchise whose own traffic sign would read “construction ahead.” In a league that lacks dominant big men, the Wizards have to select Drummond if they stay here. But when considering his bust potential, and the multitude of holes on the Wizards’ roster, I see them trading down.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers: Bradley Beal (Florida)
Beal was considered one of the top incoming freshmen prior to last season and had a solid first year in Gainesville. He lead the Gators in rebounding and was second on the team in scoring. As a high school prospect, Beal was touted for his outside jump shot. Though he shot a below 34 percent from 3-point range last year, Beal was the biggest guard on the court at many times for a Florida team that played with four guards on the court at a time. Beal’s role will be more perimeter-oriented at the next level and his jump shot should continue to improve as he gets more looks from behind the arc. He is a bit undersized to play shooting guard at 6-foot-4, but he is a capable ball handler and can play minutes at point guard. He was deadly coming off of screens at Florida and would fit well with a pass-first point guard. Beal and the Cavs is a perfect marriage. Beal will thrive playing next to last year’s NBA Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving, and the Cavs will have one of the most promising tandem of guards in the league.
5. Sacramento Kings: Thomas Robinson (Kansas)
There is a lot to like about Robinson. He has exceptional athletic ability, good strength and plenty of raw potential. He excelled in the Final Four against quality competition, recording 19 points and eight rebounds in a win against Ohio State and 18 points and 17 rebounds in a loss to Kentucky. While at Kansas he improved every year. As a sophomore, he played sparingly behind the Morris twins and averaged 7.6 points per game. As a junior he led the team in scoring with 17.9 points per game. The biggest knock against Robinson is that he relied on his athletic ability and physical tools too often in college, and he will need to further develop his post-game to succeed in the NBA against equally gifted opponents. The Kings have to be delighted with the results of the draft lottery. Just about any other team in the league would have taken Robinson with the fourth pick, but Cleveland won’t after selecting power forward Tristan Thompson with the fourth pick in last year’s draft. The Kings will now have a fearsome front-court duo with Robinson and DeMarcus Cousins, one of the premier young post players in the league.
6. Portland Trailblazers: Harrison Barnes (North Carolina)
When Barnes became the first freshman ever named on the AP’s preseason All-American team prior to ever playing a college basketball game, it was a foregone conclusion that he would dominate. Barnes had a successful freshman campaign, averaging 15.7 points per game, but didn’t live up to the lofty preseason expectations. When he returned for his sophomore season, it was expected that he would dominate. Barnes averaged 17.4 points per game and was named first team All-Conference, but struggled down the stretch in the NCAA Tournament. Barnes shot a combined 8-30 North Carolina’s final two games of the season and had as many turnovers, eight, as he did assists. Entering the draft after failing to live up to lofty expectations, Barnes dominating in the NBA is more of a question than an assumption. While Barnes may not be the prospect scouts thought he would be coming out of high school, he is an elite shooter and capable of being a big time scorer. If Barnes develops into the superstar we thought he would be, the Blazers could have the biggest steal of the draft.
7. Golden State Warriors: Jeremy Lamb (Connecticut)
After trading Monta Ellis to Milwaukee last season, the Warriors are in need of a guard to play alongside Stephen Curry. Lamb is likely the perfect fit. Lamb first made a name for himself as a freshman in 2011 when he was a contributing factor in Connecticut’s run to the National Championship. Last year he led an underachieving Huskies team in scoring with 17.7 points per game. Lamb is a solid pick here in the draft because at the very least he can provide scoring off the bench, and if he continues to improve, he can be much more.
8. Toronto Raptors: Jared Sullinger (Ohio State)
Sullinger returned to OSU for his sophomore season as a trimmed-down version of his freshmen self with the hopes of tuning his game to fit the mold of an NBA power forward. While losing weight hurt aspects of his game – he averaged one less rebound per game and got to the free-throw line one less time per game as a sophomore – he definitely helped his draft stock. Sullinger’s jump shot came to life as a sophomore, improving his 3-point percentage from 25 percent to 40 percent. Sullinger’s limitations showed at times against top competition, most notably in the Final Four against fellow draft prospect Robinson when he shot 5-19 from the floor. While he might not have the star potential of other top prospects, he doesn’t have the bust potential either. I don’t see him as the centerpiece to a team, but he can be a solid third option on a team with an elite scorer.
9. Detroit Pistons: John Henson (North Carolina)
With a deadly combination of length, vertical and quickness, Henson was a shot-blocking machine while at North Carolina, averaging more than 2.5 blocks per game during the last two years of his three-year career. It will be interesting to see how Henson’s defensive prowess translates to the NBA. At 220 pounds, he runs the risk of being punished by bigger bodies in the NBA. The Pistons are headed in the right direction, with up-and-coming players at the point guard and center positions in Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe. Drafting Henson will be anther step forward to bring back the glory days of Detroit basketball.
10. New Orleans Hornets: Damian Lillard (Weber State)
As with any player from a mid-major conference, taking Lillard comes with a risk. The competition level in the Big Sky Conference is a big step below the competition that other top prospects faced in college, and an entire flight of stairs below the competition he will face in the NBA. Nonetheless, Lillard was one of the most prolific scorers in college basketball during his career at Weber State. Last year he averaged 24.5 points per game making more than 40 percent of his 3-point shots. He might never be a starter in the league; he is not a true point guard and at 6-feet-2-inches, he is too small to play shooting guard, but his scoring abilities make him a valuable role player and a coveted prospect. As I said earlier, Davis will thrive if he has capable scorers around him. A pure scorer like Lillard seems like the logical selection here.
11. Portland Trailblazers: Kendall Marshall (North Carolina)
Marshall is the definition of a true point guard, a floor general that truly looks to pass first and create for his teammates. Running the show for one of the most talented teams in the country, Marshall averaged 9.8 assists per game last year as a sophomore at North Carolina. His ability to create for others might have been most evident in his absence, when he missed North Carolina’s final two games of the season due to injury. With Marshall Carolina was the second-best scoring offense in the country, averaging more than 82 points per game. In the two games without him, Carolina scored 73 points in a narrow overtime win against a far less talented Ohio team and was held to 67 points in their Elite Eight loss to Kansas. Portland already has an All-Star power forward in LaMarcus Aldridge. If Barnes and Marshall fall to them at six and 11, Portland fans will have reason to be extremely excited next season.
12. Milwaukee Bucks: Perry Jones III (Baylor)
The seventh-rated high school prospect in the class of 2010 according to ESPN.com, Jones surprised many when he decided to return to Baylor after his freshman season. His sophomore season was a disappointment as his production, and draft stock, fell. The biggest mark against Jones is his inconsistency. In an early-February matchup with Oklahoma State, Jones lead Baylor to a close victory with 16 points and 11 rebounds. In the next two games, a pair of losses against Kansas and Missouri, he averaged 4.5 points and five rebounds. The next game, a win against Iowa State, he scored 18 points and secured seven rebounds. The game after that, he eked out four points and four rebounds in a loss to Kansas State. Jones’ effectiveness fluctuates like the stock market, but you cannot deny the peaks of production. And as a 6-foot-11 wing player with the ability to score from anywhere on the court, you can’t deny his potential to be something special either. The Bucks missed the playoffs by only four games last year, and if their pick at this stage of the draft turns out to be a bust, it won’t set their franchise that far back. In other words, Milwaukee is in position to roll the dice on Jones.
13. Phoenix Suns: Austin Rivers (Duke)
The son of Boston Celtic’s coach Doc Rivers, Austin is one of the best pure scorers in this year’s draft. Like Waiters, Rivers would likely have benefited from another year in college. As a freshman, Rivers averaged 15.4 points per game for Duke while playing both guard positions. He showed a desire to have the ball during crunch time, most notably with his 3-point game-winning shot against North Carolina, but also dominated the ball and was selfish at times. Because of thi,s he is probably better suited as a shooting guard in the NBA. You have to like that as a true freshmen Rivers was able to accept, and thrive, in the role as the catalyst of the Blue Devils offense. Rivers has the potential to be a deadly scorer in the league, but he will need to improve the other areas of his game to be considered a cornerstone for a championship contending team. The Suns need to start planning for a future without point guard Steve Nash, 38, and Rivers should benefit from learning under him for a year or two.
14. Houston Rockets: Tyler Zeller (North Carolina)
A three-year starter at North Carolina, Zeller will likely be the only senior selected with a lottery pick. In a league dominated by guards and wing players, centers are invaluable to NBA franchises, so Zeller will be a hot commodity for teams looking for size in the eight to 14 pick range. At 7-foot, Zeller has the size to play Center in the NBA, but he also has the skill set and scoring ability to play at power forward. His scoring and rebounding numbers improved every season, and he finished his college career by averaging 16.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game as a senior last season. He thrived while running the floor in North Carolina’s up-tempo offense, an ability few 7-footers possess. Houston missed the playoffs by two games last year, Zeller is enough to get them over the hump.