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Talking NBA Draft with Raptors Republic

After successfully completing a Q-and-A session last week for Raptors Republic (part of our ESPN Truehoop Network) I turned my attention to the upcoming NBA Draft which has been a bit dwarfed in attention by the Heat's huge cap space and subsequent free agency chase. But while dreams of landing prime free agents are on the horizon, let's not forget that the Heat hold four picks in the draft and would have had five if the Raptors had made the playoffs (in order to complete the Shawn Marion-Jermaine O'Neal trade). These picks may represent the young building blocks to keep the Heat competitive for years to come or they could be included in trade packages to other teams before or after the draft to clear even more cap space or bring in veterans to bolster the Heat's depth. Or you never hear about them in a few years time (ie. Wayne Simien). Quickly remembering I don't follow college basketball, I called upon Raptors Republic for a little help and wouldn't you know they actually have a professor with a PhD who knows a thing or two about the draft. Let's welcome Steve Gennaro (better known as phdsteve) who took some time to drop some knowledge about who the Heat should keep an eye on and what they might do come draft time. Surya: The Heat obviously have a lot of holes to fill on this roster (PG, SF, long range shooters, more size, etc.) and four picks in the draft (18, 41, 42, 48). Assuming the Heat doesn't trade them away, does this year's draft provide any solid rotation players that would be available at those picks? phdsteve: Yes, in fact, unlike many drafts before, this is draft that appears staged to provide a significant number of rotation and role players all through the first and second rounds. Much like last year, what we are starting to see is a decrease in the star power at the top of the draft, but an increase in the number of guys that can help out in a more limited capacity. I think this speaks to a couple of larger issues in the sport - namely- 1) The changing of the early entry/withdraw date this year by the NCAA that has forced guys to stay in the draft without any real workouts with teams. This date used to be in early June and is now in early May. This has led to a large number of "bubble" type prospects (not quite sure if they are first round or second round guys) sticking in the draft rather than returning to college. And so, the pool of talent is actually a little bit bigger and a little bit more unrefined, as a large number of guys who probably would return to school and compete for the opportunity to be lottery picks next season are instead forced to stay in the draft. and 2) The one and done rule for college prospects. When the NBA switched its rules to force 18 year olds to go to university for a year, rather than enter the draft directly from high school, I think it actually hurt the development of future NBA prospects. I think again what a rule like this does is force a lot of talented but unrefined guys into the draft without scouts having a significant body of work to assess. This is why I always prefer drafting juniors or seniors since it gives you a body of work of between 70-100 games to analyze versus somewhere between 15-30 for freshmen. And again, players often enter the draft after their freshman season without refining their skills enough to be either lottery or having played enough for us to know that they are not going to make it in the NBA. So, scouts and GMs, really have a much more difficult time scouting the pool of talent. So, I think it’s the combo of both of these rule changes (the early entry date is new this year, and the one and done is only 3 years old) that have placed this draft in a different space from all previous drafts. But I think we have already started to see the effects of the one and done rule both in the parity that has arisen in the NCAA and also in each of the last two drafts that were both projected to be "weak" drafts for talent but both of which have produced a larger than normal number of rotational players from both the first and second rounds. Surya: Could a player like Avery Bradley and Erik Bledsoe be available for the Heat at #18 and could they step up and be a starting PG on a team with two potential max players? Are there any other PGs to keep an eye out for at this pick or in the second round? phdsteve: In a word... no. I would be shocked if Bradley was still there at 18, whereas Bledsoe will also probably be gone but there is a better chance that he could potentially be there. I think both guards could help the Heat based on the type of offensive system they like to run. Bradley would be an excellent fit with the Heat, especially, since he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective and could play off of D-Wade in what would be a very dynamic back court. For more on Bradley check out what I wrote about him last month, right before his stock blew up! http://raptorsrepublic.com/2010/05/16/big-board-raptors-leaning-towards-avery-bradley/). Likewise, Bledsoe having played next to John Wall all season at Kentucky is also used to playing pg off a guard who needs the ball in his hands and therefore could also be a nice fit in Miami. But in both cases, I’m not sure how much better either of these guys make Miami. I mean, assuming the Heat re-up D-Wade and sign another max type player, they are going to need a smart guard - and unlike most positions in most sports, PGs in the NBA are significantly better with age. The Heat would be much better off re-upping Chalmers and using him off the bench and then either trading for or signing outright a more experienced guard. Again, because you have D-Wade in the backcourt, you don’t need Tony Parker, you only need a guy like Derek Fisher - smart, steady, and able to stick a J when it counts. Surya: Do you think the Heat would be better off trading up in the draft or trading away picks? phdsteve: One of the benefits and drawbacks of a draft like this year's, is that from about the 6th pick to the 46th pick, there really is not a lot of difference in the talent and skill level of the players available. So, since there is no real consensus at this point as to who goes where outside of the top of the lottery, and most of the guys look to be solid rotational players but not a lot of star power, then I think what separates who each team selects is based on what the scouts and front office see as being the "type" of player they are searching for. At which point, each team is taking who they think is the BPA (best player available) but a big part of deciding that is based on how well that player’s skill set matches what each team sees as their primary needs. For a team like the Heat who are looking to be big time players in free agency, the last thing they are going to want to do is trade up, since to move into the top 7 is going to cost you between 3.5 and 7 million dollars in cap space this summer for a guy who really isn’t going to be a major part of this team next year. Right? If the core is D Wade + another FA (Bosh, Boozer, Amare, Lebron?) the Heat I think are best suited to sit pat at #18 and wait to see who drops. Almost certainly, a tougher, NBA ready, senior, like Texas’ Damion James, Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson, or maybe even a junior like Gordon Hayward or Epke Udoh might fall to them, at which point, a guy they might have paid a price (both in terms of prospects, talent, and cap space) to get, they now get to draft at #18 and sign for roughly 1.5 mil against the cap. And come #18, if they don’t like what they see, there will be a long line up of teams looking to buy that pick or trade up for it, again, because of the large number of rotation players available, and because of the lack of consensus around who goes where. Surya: Who should the Heat target in the second round? Any big man prospects or even a foreign player to stash away for a year or two that's worth a look? phdsteve: With 3 picks in the second round the Heat have some real luxury here. I think, if it was me, I would look to package a couple of those picks to sneak into the late first round (a team like Memphis or Minnesota immediately come to mind since they have multiple first round picks but not enough roster spaces to house them all!) But assuming that they draft in all three spots, the team can basically take a flyer on some really talented big guys who are seen as suspect for various reasons. Guys like Stanley Robinson, Gani Lawal, Devin Ebanks, Keith Gallon, Craig Brackens, Dexter Pitman, Jerome Jordan immediately come to mind. With all of these guys ranking somewhere between #25-45 on most big boards. If I was drafting in the late first round between 22-30, I would draft an international guy and stash him away for a few years - so as not to pay him and yet still allow him to develop, but - since 2nd round picks don’t come with guaranteed contracts and therefore cost nothing, it doesn’t seem as smart in a draft as deep in role and rotational players to draft the rights to an international prospect, if for next to no money, you can draft, and sign a guy straight out of the AAU who can help immediately. Especially for a team like the Heat, who appear to be poised to sign multiple max contract guys and therefore will need to fill out their roster with a bunch of low salary role payers. Surya: What year will it be when the Miami Heat gets that first round pick from the Raptors? phdsteve: Next year its yours if the Raps make the playoffs. Its lottery protected through 2015 and then unprotected after that. So the question is, do the Raptors make the playoffs next season? If yes, you get the pick. If no, then the question is how long will it take the Raptors to rebuild? Surya: Where can we find more info about the draft? phdsteve: Check out my bigboard (http://raptorsrepublic.com/2010/06/02/big-board-update-five-up-five-down-and-ekpe-udoh-rapcast/#) on www.raptorsrepublic.com and feel free to pop by each and every Wednesday to download my weekly podcast: The Doctor Is In. The guests over the last month have included: NetScouts Chris Denker, ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, and Baylor PF Ekpe Udoh. ESPN’s David Thorpe will be dropping by this week or next as well.