Have you been watching the Knicks and Lakers this season?
Yes, it’s hard. Two of the NBA’s biggest spenders in the league’s two biggest markets are playing awful basketball, and it doesn’t look like either one has the personnel or the sense of purpose to turn things around. Both teams will miss the playoffs and land in the draft lottery, again.
There’s good news for the Knicks. They were somehow smart enough to keep their first-round pick and should have a chance at a good player in a very deep draft.
Lakers fans should be rooting for the team to lose. Tuesday’s win at Detroit elevated Los Angeles to the seventh-worst record in the league. If the Lakers do not receive one of the top five picks in the draft, their pick goes to Phoenix as partial payment for the Steve Nash trade.
So who will the Knicks and Lakers be targeting? Since I’ve already done my under-the-radar guys, these are the top 10 lottery picks. The list is dominated by big men – something both the Knicks and Lakers need – and also freshmen. Nine players on my list are one-and-done guys.
I also included no point guards, although if I did my choice would be Tyus Jones of Duke, whose floor game reminds me of a young Tony Parker. Jones is also a freshman.
I recognize that who teams select, and especially the draft order, can often come down to the debate of need vs. best available player. There are some variables, such as how players perform in workouts or combines, the influx of foreign players – who I chose not to list here because there always is uncertainty about their status – and size, which usually increases in value on the night of the draft. There is also the element of who gets hot late and goes on a run in the NCAA Tournament, a la Shabazz Napier of UConn last season or the Kentucky team, which should be getting huge exposure this March.
That said, keep in mind that most of the players on this list are being projected and judged on potential and not who they are right now. No one wants to be the team who passes on the next superstar. And remember these Gonzoisms:
1. Need is a bad talent evaluator.
2. It’s not the guys you don’t get or pass on or even miss on who kill you. It’s the guys you get who can’t play who kill you.
3. If you want to be a great motivator, get rid of the guys who refuse to be motivated.
On to the list.
1. Jahlil Okafor, 6-11, Duke. This guy is as good as advertised and one of the best true low-post centers I have seen in a long time. With his great hands, soft touch around the basket, efficiency and nimble footwork, he is the closest thing I’ve seen to a young Tim Duncan. Put it this way: He might be worth tanking for. If I’m the Philadelphia 76ers and I do get the top pick, I would take Okafor. Nerlens Noel and Joel Emblid can always be traded because Okafor is better than both of them.
2. Emmanuel Mudiay, 6-5, CBA. Born in the Congo, this do-it-all, athletic, big point guard is getting triple-doubles in the Chinese Basketball Association after deciding to bypass college. He originally was ticketed for SMU and coach Larry Brown, who says says he is special and the real deal. That’s good enough for me.
3. Karl-Anthony Towns, 6-11, Kentucky. It’s very rare for there to be multiple potential superstar centers in the same draft. Okafor and Towns are different, but both have a chance to be franchise-altering big men. Towns is unbelievably skilled for a near 7-footer and may be the best overall offensive center to come along since Hakeem Olajuwon. He can both post up and face up out to the 3-point line, handle and pass, a very rare combination of skills. He will only get better practicing against teammates Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson, two more potential NBA big men.
4. Stanley Johnson, 6-7, Arizona. This athletic man-child is the best player in Mater Dei High (CA) history and reminds me of a better, more athletic version of a young Ron Artest. He has all the winning intangibles that coaches love, and is fun to watch.
5. Justise Winslow, 6-7, Duke. Everyone has their favorites and this guy is mine. I happen to love lefties and this super athletic wing gets out on the break and can attack the rim with a vengeance. I love his demeanor, toughness and length, and he is a better than average outside shooter. I called Duke assistant and good friend Jeff Capel the other day to tell him that it’s scary to think he will only get better.
6. Montrezl Harrell, 6-8, Louisville. The old man of the group as a junior, Harrell has always been a good rebounder and shot-blocking warrior. Through hard work, he has added a nice effective perimeter jump shot where he can make threes. You have to love his energy level and toughness. He reminds me of a more skilled Kenny Faried, a solid lunch pail guy.
7. Myles Turner, 6-11, Texas. A third potential lottery pick center who often is compared to fellow Longhorn and Blazers big man LaMarcus Aldridge. At 245 pounds, his potential lies in his mobility because athletic centers do not grow on trees.
8. Cliff Alexander, 6-9, Kansas. He looks like a young Greek God and reminds me of a young, healthy Amar’e Stoudemire with a bit more power. A potential prototypical power forward, I love his intensity level around the basket. He runs the floor well, has nice form on his free throws and can be great in the pick-and-roll game a la Karl Malone.
9. Kevin Looney 6-9, UCLA. Another skilled, multi-dimensional power forward originally from Milwaukee. He will be selected on his upside but has a chance to be really good because he has small forward skills with power forward length and size.
10. Chris McCullough, 6-10, Syracuse. I chose McCullough over Kansas wing Kelly Oubre, partially because I coached him last year in a High School All-Star Game. Some folks – including Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim – question whether McCullough is ready to be a lottery pick. I believe he is. McCullough can rebound, block shots and also step out, face up and make threes.
Bobby Gonzalez is a former Division I head coach at Manhattan and Seton Hall. He has been writing columns for SheridanHoops since March.
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