Noel injury, versatile players, trade options make draft hard to predict
You don’t know what’s going to happen. Draft night should be pretty interesting.” Monty Williams, Pelicans coach
New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he’s never seen a draft like this one, where there is much uncertainty concerning how it will unfold.
“We still don’t know where we’re going to go yet, because it’s that kind of draft, where they’re talking about a guy could be No. 1 (overall) or he could be 10,” Williams said. “I’ve never seen a draft where a guy could be the first pick or he could be the fifth pick. He’s usually going to be one or two. In this draft, guys are all over the place.”
Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel was expected to be the consensus No. 1 pick before his left ACL was torn on Feb. 12 against Florida. He was still considered the top choice a month after the season ended.
However, after the NBA combine May 15-19 and the draft lottery May 21, in which teams were pegged into specific draft positions, things got murkier instead of clearer.
It still goes back to Noel’s injury, said NBA director of scouting Ryan Blake.
“He’s a great talent, but do you want to wait a year?” said Blake, referring to the healing and rehab process with Noel’s injury.
Then there’s uncertainty after that, particularly with Noel having had a different injury with the same knee in high school.
“There’s a risk factor there,” Blake said.
So that usually would bump the No. 2-rated player, Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, to No. 1. That could happen, but, again, it’s not certain.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have the top pick and are said to like McLemore, but they chose guard Dion Waiters of Syracuse at No. 4 in last year’s draft and have other needs to address in this draft. The Cavaliers are really high on Otto Porter of Georgetown, the draft’s top-rated small forward, but he isn’t seen as being good enough to be the first guy selected. And Cleveland also needs an interior presence, which Noel, an excellent shot-blocker although possessing a slight build, could bring.
“If Cleveland likes Porter, they should draft Porter,” Blake said.
Reputable mock drafts are divided among McLemore, Noel and Porter as the top pick, with either Noel, Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo or McLemore going to Orlando at No. 2.
But McLemore could drop as far as some mocks go, Noel could fall all the way to No. 9 and Oladipo as far as Detroit at No. 8.
Williams points to a large amount of players in the draft coming out after their freshman or sophomore seasons as reasons behind the uncertainty, because they are 19 or 20 and have not built up enough body of work, even though, he said, things were much clearer last year when New Orleans selected Anthony Davis as the overall No. 1.
And many players in this year’s draft are considered interchangeable, being able to play two positions. That is more because of how a team perceives a player than versatility, Blake said.
He uses former Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum as an example. McCollum, 6-foot-3 and listed as a point guard/shooting guard, has been pegged to go as high as No. 9 to the Minnesota Timberwolves or as low as the second round by others despite drawing favorable comparisons to the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry.
“(McCollum) is a really good shooter, so some teams see him as a shooting guard,” Blake said. “But he’s a point guard. He handles the ball extremely well. He’s very talented. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go up the draft board.”
Also contributing to the cloud is the new-age big man, when it is not uncommon to see players 6-11 who can handle the ball and are very good outside shooters. That, as well as size and build, have many listed as a power forward or a center, depending on the teams interested and their needs.
Injuries to players other than Noel also have played a part. Maryland center Alex Len, who is recovering from a hairline fracture in his left ankle, and Anthony Bennett, who had rotator cuff surgery, are considered high prospects nonetheless, but it has added uncertainty with teams wondering about those players’ futures.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” Williams said. “Draft night should be pretty interesting. I think teams may trade their picks.”
Adding to it all is the fact that the Cavaliers, Timberwolves and Atlanta Hawks each have two first-round picks and two second-round picks. Portland has a No. 1 and three seconds, and Washington, Phoenix, Detroit, Utah, Philadelphia and Memphis all have three picks.
“With the salary cap (and penalties for going over it), that makes trades a strong possibility,” Blake said.
And that can really make for some uncertainty.