Weekly Countdown: Best landing spots for draft's potential top picks
Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio would be good fit for Kings' up-tempo desires
Blake Griffin would provide needed dose of toughness to young Wizards team
More topics: Van Gundy's candid nature, NBA's injury epidemic, Euro madness
5 good marriages?
Who will be drafted by whom next month? It's impossible to say before Tuesday, when the annual lottery spells out the order of teams at the top of the draft. But here is an early look at five of the top picks and the franchise where each might have the biggest impact. Keep in mind this is a fantasy exercise, because who knows whether any of these teams will be positioned to draft the player it needs most?
5. Jordan Hill, 6-foot-10 junior power forward, Arizona. "Toronto could use him," said an NBA pro personnel scout who helped serve as my matchmaker. "[The Raptors] are so soft, and they can't rebound. Memphis is another team that needs size. Apart from Marc Gasol, it's really small and slight with guys like Hakim Warrick and Rudy Gay, and the Grizzlies could use Hill's toughness."
Hill averaged 18.3 points and 11.0 rebounds for Arizona last season. "I think he's a guy who will be solid, but he won't be great," the scout said. "I've heard him compared to Chris Wilcox as a rookie, but I don't think Hill is special like Wilcox was athletically. But I do think Hill is good athletically, and he'll play hard, a lunch-pail guy."
The choice: Raptors.
4. Hasheem Thabeet, 7-3 junior center, Connecticut. "He makes some sense in Minnesota," the scout said. "The Timberwolves are so small up front with Al Jefferson and Kevin Love. I know what they're listed at, but that has to be on stilts -- [Jefferson] is really 6-8 and Love is 6-8. They need length, and they don't need to have a center who is good offensively. Thabeet will be OK on offense, not completely deficient; he shot 64 percent from the free throw line, so maybe they can get him up to 73-74 percent. He can be a double-double guy -- by that I mean 10 and 10, not 18 and 10. And he'll give you three blocks a game and a huge defensive presence."
Pairing him at center with Jefferson at power forward would give the Timberwolves a pair of shot-blockers and rebounders, though they would need to figure out how to make Thabeet relevant offensively without crowding Jefferson out of the low post.
"It may be a little rich for him to go as high as 3, 4 or 5," the scout said, "but it's not a great draft, and if you're picking No. 3 or 4, you have to take somebody. I don't know if he loves the game, if he knows how to compete night in, night out. He'll either learn that and become really good or he won't, but none of us can know that right now."
The choice: Timberwolves.
3. James Harden, 6-5 sophomore guard, Arizona State. "He would be good in Oklahoma City because he would give them a second scorer," the scout said. "He'd be a nice 2 for them, and they have a need at shooting guard. Harden's got a great basketball IQ, he can really pass and he has the fundamentals of coming from a good program where he was well-coached. The Thunder have been drafting from programs like UCLA [with Russell Westbrook], Georgetown [Jeff Green] and Texas [Kevin Durant], so he fits that profile. And he fills a need."
Harden is one of those players who could vanish if he goes to the wrong team. He's a blend player who won't necessarily put up huge numbers but will know how to help teammates. He might also fit nicely in the backcourt of the Raptors or the Knicks, who favor the fluid European style.
The choice: Thunder.
2. Ricky Rubio, 6-4 point guard, 18 years old, DKV Joventut Badalona (Spain). Of the teams with the best hope of gaining the top-two pick necessary to draft Rubio, the Thunder may need to consider other options -- unless, of course, they view Rubio as a better prospect than Westbrook, who is coming off an impressive rookie year. The Wizards and Warriors would have to consider picking Rubio to play alongside Gilbert Arenas or Monta Ellis, respectively, as well as to serve as a replacement should either Arenas or Ellis suffer another injury.
"I think he fits the best with Sacramento," the scout said. "He can replace Beno Udrih at the point, and the Kings can build their style around him. They have a good shooting guard in Kevin Martin, who can run, and [their frontcourt of] Jason Thompson and [Spencer] Hawes can get up and down the court. They still could use an elite 3, but they're building -- and Rubio would give them the strong foundation of an 18-year-old point guard they'll have for the next 12 years.''
While Rubio is an up-tempo creator of a style approved by Kings GM Geoff Petrie, he may worry about disappearing for a rebuilding team in a small market like Sacramento. The jackpot move would be for Rubio to wind up playing in New York for Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni -- but then most players would wish for the same thing. When it comes to Rubio, however, the Knicks have a 3.3 percent chance at a top-two pick.
The choice: Kings.
1. Blake Griffin , 6-10 sophomore power forward, Oklahoma. There isn't a team that wouldn't be happy to have him. He could play in Minnesota, where concerns about Jefferson's size at center would be overwhelmed by the talent of the front line. The Clippers are spending a lot of money on their frontcourt, but they would gladly clear out room for Griffin.
Griffin would make an even bigger impression in Oklahoma City, where he would become an instant local star and make the fans feel it was their team (as opposed to one that had moved from Seattle). But the Thunder would have to move Green either to sixth man or to another team.
So consider this thought. "He's a great fit for Washington," the personnel man said. "Because then they can trade Antawn Jamison. That Washington team has a lot of good players up front but no toughness. They're looking to win now, and he would be a good rookie right off the bat because he's not afraid. Double teams will bother him, and he'll have to learn to play in traffic, but he's so competitive that he'll pick up things quickly."
By essentially trading out Jamison to make room for Griffin, the Wizards would relaunch with three stars -- Arenas, Caron Butler and Griffin -- all in their 20s.
The choice: Wizards.
NBA Truth & Rumors