by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam
The NBA Draft is arguably the most important event for teams around the League. Drafting the right or wrong guy can sometimes decide whether your franchise moves in a direction of success or failure. For lottery teams, making the wrong pick—or passing up on the right guy—can move your franchise one, two or three steps in reverse, which in NBA lexicon means settling into the League’s basement for who knows how long.
While many of the most consequential, make-or-break picks come at the top of the Draft, teams can still improve their rosters through shrewd selection outside the lottery and into the second round. Sometimes you can strike gold (too many to name, but for instance Tony Parker [28th] or Monta Ellis [40th]), but most of the time you will address a small-but-important roster need which can help propel the organization forward.
The 2011 Draft had featured just one can’t-miss guy in Kyrie Irving, but after Irving the field was wide open. With a decent glimpse at last season’s rookies and with the next Draft upon us, let’s take a quick look back and evaluate last year’s selections, retroactively correct some mistakes and see how the Top 20 picks could’ve gone down.
No. 1 pick: The Cleveland Cavaliers select Kyrie Irving
Season: 18.5 ppg, 5.4 apg, 3.7 rpg, 1.1 spg, 30.5 mpg
Pick in 2011 NBA Draft: Kyrie Irving
After just one season, it’s already clear Cleveland has a new face to its franchise. Irving had a sensational rookie year, impacting almost every game he played in. He can do it all—shoot, pass, take his man one-on-one and maestro an entire offense. Through his first 23 games, Irving already had 10 games with 20-plus points, including one vs the Nets in which he scored 32 points, 21 coming in the fourth quarter.
Irving sets the tone early and finishes games in crunch time. His confidence and poise augment his physical skills, and if he can remain healthy, Irving will be a perennial All-Star and a potential MVP candidate.
No. 2 pick: The Minnesota Timberwolves select Tristan Thompson
Season: 8.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 23.7 mpg
Pick in 2011 NBA Draft: Derrick Williams
When explaining how to evaluate rookie talent, ESPN analyst and renowned basketball instructor David Thorpe once said, “Guys who put up numbers but have no clue how to play are the ones to watch at this age,” and I think that maxim directly applies to Tristan Thompson. Taking Thompson here is no slight on Derrick Williams, but instead a testament to Thompson’s upside.
Even though he’s very weak at this point in his career, Thompson finished second among all rookies in offensive rebound rate, fourth in overall rebound rate and fourth in blocks per game, which speaks to his raw ability and instincts. After being inserted into Cleveland’s starting lineup on March 18, Tristan didn’t disappoint, posting averages of 9.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and just under 1 block per game as a starter. He also scored in double-digits in 10 of his final 16 games despite having zero offensive “moves.” If he can develop his footwork and learn how to operate on the block, Thompson has a scary ceiling. Using his athleticism to compliment Kevin Love’s below-the-rim style of play would’ve been something remarkable, especially in terms of rebounds and second-chance opportunities.
No. 3 pick: The Utah Jazz select Brandon Knight
Season: 12.8 ppg. 3.8 apg, 3.2 rpg, 32.3 mpg
Pick in 2011 NBA Draft: Enes Kanter
This is where I took Knight in SLAMonline’s mock draft last year, and my feelings haven’t changed. Knight would’ve been a seamless fit in Utah. Off the court he’s a blue-collar, hard-working guy, the type that faithful Utes respect and love to root for. On the court, I see Knight as a mix of former Jazz point guard Deron Williams and Chauncey Billups— a score-first PG who sees the bucket and knows how to get there and finish. Williams used his strength and Knight uses his size, but they both made a living by penetrating to the rim. Getting to the hoop is very natural for Knight, but now he needs to refine his jumpshot to keep defenders on their heels. Knight would’ve been a welcomed replacement to the inconsistent and limited Devin Harris.
No. 4 pick: The Cleveland Cavaliers select Derrick Williams
Season: 8.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 21.5 mpg
Pick in 2011 NBA Draft: Tristan Thompson
Even with Thompson off the board, a Kyrie Irving-Derrick Williams duo is promising in its own right. The two could’ve formed a solid pick-and-pop tandem, and been dangerous in the open court. And even if Williams is best suited as a third option, he would be part of Cleveland’s core going forward.
No. 5 pick: The Toronto Raptors select Jonas Valanciunas
Season: Did not play in NBA (Lithuania)
Pick in 2011 NBA Draft: Jonas Valanciunas
I don’t’ know much about Valanciunas, considering I have never seen him play outside of YouTube, but from studying scouting reports and trying to connect the imaginary basketball dots in my brain, it seems that, with a little offensive polish, Valanciunas could have a big impact in Toronto. It was expected for Valanciunas to stay overseas for at least one season after being drafted, and one can assume the Raptors wouldn’t have selected him this high if they didn’t believe he was worth the wait.
Valanciunas is a 7-footer who runs the floor well, is quick off his feet and isn’t averse to getting physical in the paint. He has a tireless motor, can finish at the rim with both panache and power, and is good at setting screens and rolling to the basket. All things considered, (I think) the 20-year-old was a solid pick by Toronto.
No. 6 pick: The Washington Wizards select Kawhi Leonard
Season: 7.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.3 spg, 24.0 mpg
Pick in 2011 NBA Draft: Jan Vesely
Leonard would’ve provided two things that Washington desperately needed last season: stability and consistency. It’s impressive enough to earn minutes as a rookie under Coach Pop, but to start for the majority of the season on the Western Conference’s top-seeded squad is some next-level stuff.
Leonard and John Wall would’ve flourished together. Leonard plays within the offense (he isn’t a ball-stopper), is long and athletic (fast-breaks would’ve been a beauty), and is already a very good defender. Even if he was wide open for most of them, Kawhi also showed improvement on his three-point shot during the season. At worst, Leonard is a “glue guy,” something Washington has long been yearning for. At best, well, if he develops an outside game, he could be an All-Star. The Wizards could’ve really used Kawhi Leonard.
No. 7 pick: The Charlotte Bobcats (via Sacramento) select Bismack Biyombo
Season: 5.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 23.1 mpg
Pick in 2011 NBA Draft: Bismack Biyombo
All things considered (and there’s a lot, if you think about the state of the Bobcats) Biyombo had a decent rookie season, and showed some promise. He’s very raw right now, but unlike some other undeveloped 7-footers (Hasheem Thabeet, Eddy Curry, etc), he’s not aloof or disinterested. Biyombo has the mindset to dominate and can already block shots extremely well, a skill NBA teams covet. The shot-blocking alone could justify this pick.
No. 8 pick: The Detroit Pistons select MarShon Brooks
Season: 12.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, 29.4 mpg
Pick in 2011 NBA Draft: Brandon Knight
With Knight off the board, Brooks is the best fit here because he can flat-out score. Brooks could’ve played well off of Rodney Stuckey, and as he showed this season, has very good upside that would be too hard to pass on here. Brooks is erratic at times and needs to improve his shot selection, but there’s no denying his talent.
No. 9 pick: The Charlotte Bobcats select Kemba Walker
Season: 12.1 ppg, 4.4 apg, 3.5 rpg, 27.2 mpg
Pick in 2011 NBA Draft: Kemba Walker
As is the case with Biyombo, it’s tough to evaluate Kemba after one season. Even with the horrible organizational structure in Charlotte, Walker managed to stick through it and post some solid numbers.
At this point, it’s too early to tell whether Walker is best suited as a starter or sixth man, but whenever I watch Kemba play I see a lot of Tony Parker. Walker has a sensational mid-range game, and is good at splitting screens down the middle and finishing through traffic. His problem right now is that he sometimes panics when he gets in the lane and makes the wrong play. If he can become more astute once he gets into the paint, even more Parker will emerge, and that’s never a bad thing.