Clips, Knicks, Sixers score in draft; Wolves, Grizzlies leave questions
The Clippers found a sure thing in the draft in No. 1 pick Blake Griffin
The Knicks received a gift when Jordan Hill dropped to No. 8
Memphis may regret passing on a point guard with the second pick
NEW YORK -- Let's see which teams came out on top after a busy draft night at Madison Square Garden.
CLIPPERS -- They got a sure thing with their only selection in Thursday's draft. No. 1 pick Blake Griffin was consistently dominant last season, and he arrives in the NBA with a strong work ethic (which will serve him well as he seeks to refine his offensive game) and a track record of playing hard and tough. With Griffin joining a frontcourt that already included power forward Zach Randolph and centers Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby, the Clippers have veteran big men to shop this offseason.
KNICKS -- The chatter leading up to the draft was that the Knicks had zeroed in on a point guard and would use the eighth pick in the draft to bolster their backcourt, which became a liability in the second half of the season as Chris Duhon began to fade. And they did ... right up until the Timberwolves made Jonny Flynn the No. 6 pick and the Warriors followed with Stephen Curry; power forward Jordan Hill then fell into the Knicks' lap. Hill is the perfect Mike D'Antoni player: a long, explosive big man who has the skills to make his living in pick-and-roll situations. Hill is a terrific transition player who, along with draft-day acquisition Darko Milicic, gives the Knicks protection in case restricted free agent forward David Lee gets an offer New York isn't inclined to match. They also got a potential point guard in Florida State's Toney Douglas, a tough defender who could play a hybrid guard role in the Knicks' system.
SIXERS -- Several NBA executives believed Jrue Holiday would be a top 10 pick, so you can imagine how surprised the point-guard-starved 76ers were when he slipped to No. 17. Holiday is a project: He is inexperienced as a point guard and isn't much of a perimeter threat. But he has sneaky quickness and Chris Paul-like ability to probe the paint. Holiday won't play much right away, but the Sixers won't need him to if they re-sign free agent Andre Miller, a big point guard himself who could tutor Holiday for a few years before eventually giving way to him. It's a high-value pick.
THUNDER -- A lot of people believed the Thunder were torn between Ricky Rubio and Tyreke Evans. Guess not. James Harden becomes the fourth major piece in Oklahoma City's nucleus, joining point guard Russell Westbrook, small forward Kevin Durant and forward Jeff Green. Harden is a smooth scorer who is unselfish, an important quality on a young team learning how to play together. But the Thunder had the opportunity to draft Rubio (and shift Westbrook to shooting guard) and passed. If Harden proves to be a legitimate starting two-guard, Thunder GM Sam Presti drafted a gem. But if Harden struggles -- he's not an exceptional athlete -- and Rubio blossoms, it becomes a very questionable pick. The Thunder did pick up the potential defensive-minded center they craved in Ohio State's B.J. Mullens, a long 7-footer who could develop into a fearsome shot-blocker in a few years.
KINGS -- In what was a difficult decision for GM Geoff Petrie, the Kings pulled the trigger on Evans with the No. 4 pick. (They later selected Omar Casspi, a skilled forward who will become the first Israeli-born player to play in the NBA, at No. 23.) Evans is certainly a risk, a one-year college player who has yet to master the fundamentals of the point guard position. But league sources say Evans wowed many executives with his workouts, and though raw, he is extraordinarily talented. And Petrie has a history of success with risky picks (most recently 2008 first-rounder Jason Thompson), so the decision to pair Evans with shooting guard Kevin Martin could form a dynamic backcourt. With flashy Trail Blazers guard Sergio Rodriguez coming over in a trade for second-round pick Jeff Pendergraph, point guard -- a position of weakness in Sacramento last season -- could become a strength.
WARRIORS -- Nothing would make Don Nelson happier than scoring 130 points per game. And he may have the guns to do it. But what those guns will be is still in question. After Minnesota's decision to go with Rubio and Flynn allowed Curry to slip to No. 7, the Warriors nabbed the Davidson star, who has an NBA-ready jump shot and can score in bunches. Late Thursday, though, came word that the Warriors may have a deal in the works that would send Curry and center Andris Biedrins to Phoenix for All-Star power forward Amar'e Stoudemire. That likely wouldn't hurt the Warriors' scoring ability, either.
SPURS -- The Spurs made their big move earlier this week when they acquired Richard Jefferson from Milwaukee, and they did not have a first-round pick in the draft. But San Antonio got a potential contributor in the second round in power forward DeJuan Blair, a rugged big man whom some scouts felt had lottery talent. The knocks on Blair are his size (6-6) and history of knee injuries. But Blair has a 7-2 wingspan and is a force on the glass. He could become a strong role player on a team that needs frontcourt help.
TIMBERWOLVES -- In a draft deep with point guards, Minnesota seemingly picked all of them. At least that's what it felt like as four of the first five picks by new GM David Kahn play the point. After a couple of trades, the Timberwolves were left with Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, along with UNC shooting guard Wayne Ellington and forward Henk Norel of the Netherlands. For now, the Timberwolves say they will go to camp with both Rubio and Flynn. But Rubio may have something to say about that. Sources close to Rubio say he is less than enamored with the prospect of playing in the Twin Cities and that his buyout situation with his Spanish club remains sticky. If Rubio balks at coming to Minnesota or if he is forced to remain in Spain for another year (a long shot, but possible), the Timberwolves could be forced to deal him.
GRIZZLIES -- The 7-3 Thabeet's skills are undeniable: He's a dominating shot-blocker who, as Syracuse guard Flynn says, "has the ability to just come out of nowhere." He also has offensive potential, which Thabeet has been developing with the help of Scott Roth, a former NBA assistant coach. Roth believes that in a few years Thabeet could have a nice jump hook and a 10-to-12-foot jump shot in his repertoire. However, the Grizzlies have been collecting point guards like trading cards over the last two years and it is curious that they would pass on Rubio and Evans, two potential solutions at the position. Memphis did pick up two serviceable players in DeMarre Carroll and Sam Young, but if Thabeet, who benefited from the college rules that allow him to camp out in the paint, turns out to be more Shawn Bradley than Dikembe Mutombo, the Grizz will have blown a significant opportunity.
BUCKS -- Brandon Jennings is an electrifying scorer who knows how to make an entrance -- with some assistance from super publicist Ilana Nunn, Jennings, who was not expected to attend the draft, zipped a few blocks from the nearby Westin hotel to make a dramatic appearance on stage two picks after being selected -- but his stock dropped as teams wondered if he could handle the point guard position. Jennings will have to prove he is as capable as Ramon Sessions, a restricted free agent who may not return to Milwaukee, in order to justify his selection at No. 10.
PACERS -- Tyler Hansbrough will probably have a long NBA career. He will collect NBA paychecks well into his 30s and retire a wealthy man. His work ethic is unquestioned, and Pacers coach Jim O'Brien loves players with a strong motor. But Hansbrough seems like a fourth big man in a rotation playing a limited role. That's not what you are looking for at No. 13, not when potential high-upside players like Earl Clark and Holiday are still on the board.
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