In the NBA draft, teams often default to selecting the “best player available.” They do that assuming the player will develop as projected and become an asset that allows for flexibility.
However, sometimes those “best players” end up languishing behind an established veteran and never live up to expectations.
It comes down to a simple truism: Players who land in the right situations often have the best chance to succeed.
For example, the New York Knicks needed an explosive athlete who could defend the perimeter, a role that Iman Shumpert filled for them rather quickly. The same can be said for Kawhi Leonard, who stepped into the rotation of the San Antonio Spurs through a draft-day deal with the Indiana Pacers and became an impact rookie this season.
Previous Rookies of the Year Amar’e Stoudemire and Brandon Roy also proved that finding the right situation on draft night can lead to early career success on and off the court.
Here are a few examples of players who I think would do well to land in certain situations when their names are called at Thursday’s draft.
We begin with the obvious:
Anthony Davis (Kentucky)/New Orleans Hornets: The consensus first pick may not be the once-in-a-generation franchise player he is being billed as, but he is just the thing to re-energize a fractured city and franchise. Casual fans love dunks and blocked shots, message-sending plays that make games must-see TV. Davis is this type of player and can take his time and grow with the fan base and young coach Monty Williams. There is no Kevin Durant/Greg Oden controversy at the top of this draft, so the move won’t be scrutinized. Plus expectation levels in New Orleans are already low.
Damian Lillard (Weber State)/ Portland Trail Blazers: With Raymond Felton’s return in doubt. there is a serious opening at point guard slot for a team with a solid core and money to spend this offseason. Lillard is ready to step in and contribute to a playoff contender. He is an exceptional scorer and passer who would make sure LaMarcus Aldridge got his touches without dominating the ball, a problem when Jamal Crawford ran the offense. It is this reason that Portland is thinking heavily about Lillard at No. 6 – even though Joe Kotoch has him falling to 10 in Mock draft 4.0.
John Henson (North Carolina)/ Detroit Pistons: The Pistons struggled in many ways last season, but you have to like what you see from Greg Monroe. With Jason Maxiell and Charlie Villanueva not filling the bill, the Pistons should be thinking big and no one has improved this season as Henson. He would give Detroit an added element off the bench and provide great defensive depth right way. He’s also a very sound around-the-rim finisher for Detroit’s guards, particularly the slashing Brandon Knight.
Austin Rivers (Duke)/ Phoenix Suns: With Steve Nash’s future in question, Rivers would be the perfect fit for two reasons. First, his game was built with space in mind, and Alvin Gentry’s modified Mike D’Antoni spread system is ideal for the Duke prospect. Second, he can be mentored by fellow Dukie Grant Hill about life in the NBA both on and off the court. This one seems like the ultimate no-brainer.
Perry Jones (Baylor)/ Boston Celtics: Can you imagine a guy predicted to go in the top five early last year falling to the veteran-heavy Celtics in the early 20s? That would be a dream for VP Danny Ainge – and one that could become a reality. Jones is an athletic freak who just needs some mentoring, and if the Celtics decide to keep around Kevin Garnett, that would be a great match. Add the tutelage of Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce, and the Celtics could rebuild on the fly with a player of Jones’ ability.
John Jenkins (Vanderbilt)/ Memphis Grizzlies: With restricted free agent O.J. Mayo possibly leaving, the Grizzlies desperately need shot-makers at guard, and Jenkins seems an ideal fit for them at 25. Jenkins, who played his college ball in nearby Nashville, knows the area of Memphis very well – although he knows the area surrounding the perimeter of the basketball court far, far better.
Scott Machado (Iona)/ San Antonio Spurs: Can you imaging a better backup point guard for Tony Parker than a player with incredibly similar skill sets? Machado led the nation in assists thanks to a spread, face-paced offense much like the system that the Spurs run. I don’t think Machado falls to 59, although as they did last year with Leonard, the Spurs are never afraid to be aggressive if they can get their man.