The NBA Draft is tomorrow, and experts are calling this one of the most difficult drafts to predict in years. (By the way, don't they say that every year?) Unfortunately for the Clippers, who desperately need guard help, several top big men have been falling like leaves. So while there was a time when Brook Lopez or Anthony Randolph or DeAndre Jordan might have been expected to catch someone's eye among the six teams drafting ahead of the Clippers, it now appears possible that Michael Beasley and Kevin Love could be the only bigs drafted in the top 6, and even Love is less than a lock.
Looking at the top guard prospects, Rose is the clear number 1 option, and Mayo is the clear number 2 at this point. The next three seem to be grouped together - Jerryd Bayless, Eric Gordon and Russell Westbrook. I've never been a big fan of Westbrook with this pick - but now there would seem to be an outside chance that all FIVE of these guys could be gone before the Clippers pick, leaving the team with the choice between Kevin Love or the 6th best guard in the draft (and who is that? DJ Augustin?)
Bayless has been dropping, and Westbrook has been rising, while Gordon seems to be staying in about the same place. I'm still fascinated by the general apathy out there towards Gordon, who I think would be a great choice for the Clippers. In the Chad Ford/Bill Simmons mock draft yesterday, Ford described Westbrook as 'super-athletic' and turned around and described Gordon as 'undersized'. The dude goes 220 pounds! He's not undersized! Furthermore, he tested better than Westbrook on all the athletic scales in Orlando (quickness, speed, jumping, strength). The idea that Westbrook is NOT undersized because he'll be given a chance to fail as an NBA point guard, while Gordon is a problem because he'll be playing his natural position but is maybe 2 inches 'less long' (and much bigger and stronger) than other NBA shooting guards is just ridiculous.
I'm actually pretty fascinated by all the talk of Westbrook's defense. I get it. He's a good defender. He was the Pac-10 defensive player of the year, after all. That and $3.65 will get you a triple grande nonfat latte at the Starbucks. When was the last time a guard was picked in the lottery based on his DEFENSE? Here's a better question - when was the last time a lottery pick became a game-changing perimeter defender? You need a great defender, you look for an unsigned free agent out of SMU like Quinton Ross. You don't spend a lottery pick. If he's likely to be a great defender in addition to having all of the other skills, that's another story. But I'm far from sold on his offensive game, and I just don't see spending a top ten pick on a guy who averaged 12.7 points per game in college (3.4 as a freshman) and was (barely) the third leading scorer on his team. Lots of guys have the ability to be top tier defenders. Ben Howland is a great defensive coach who got Westbrook to a high level defensively at the college level. But where's the headroom?
So, the Clippers could wind up with Gordon (IMHO a good thing), Bayless (I'm OK with that), Westbrook (trouble) or non of the above (big trouble) picking seventh.
Then there are the rumors that the Clippers are trying to trade up. The most likely scenario has them swapping picks with the T-Wolves at number 3, and throwing in another pick to get it done (probably just giving back the future first rounder the Wolves still owe them from the Cassell for Jaric trade). It makes sense for the Wolves, who would really like to draft a big but who don't want to spend the third pick on the likes of Brook Lopez. The Clippers would use the three pick to draft Mayo, whom they love. A future lottery pick is a lot to give up to move up 4 spaces in the draft - it doesn't feel so bad since that pick feels a little like found money anyway, but it has value regardless of how the Clippers acquired it. There's certainly an element of immediate gratification to parlaying a pick that may not come our way for another three drafts into a better player RIGHT NOW, but I wonder if that pick isn't better used to sweeten potential Maggette trades to try to land a point guard.
The team has been incredibly active with draft workouts this month. Consider this - last June they worked out 26 different players in advance of the draft (the list did not include Al Thornton ironically). This year, they've worked out an even 50 (they've seen three guys twice). Admittedly, a couple dozen of those came at a mini-camp in Oakland attended by a slew of NBA teams, but still, they got a look at a lot of different guys. For what it's worth, Westbrook was required to share the gym with 5 other guys, some of whom are unlikely to be drafted at all, while Bayless, Mayo and Gordon were all given more intimate audiences.
If the first round pick comes down to the last guy standing out of Gordon, Bayless and Westbrook or trading up for Mayo, the second round pick is of course much less obvious. Sure, I correctly identified Jared Jordan last season, but don't expect that to happen again. The second round pick is important. Let's face it - you can get a great player with the 35th pick, especially in a deep draft. Five picks into the second round, there will be a couple of guys who were at one point projected as first rounders available, if not lottery picks (bon jour, monsieur Batum).
While the Clippers overall draft history has been less than stellar, their second round success rate has been particularly dismal. Rico Hill, anyone? The list of guys the Clippers have burned low 30's picks on the last few years reads like an open audition for the EuroLeague - Jordan, Guillermo Diaz, Daniel Ewing, Lionel Chalmers, MBFGC, Jaric, Hill. Jaric and Paul Davis are the only Clipper second rounders still in the league, and there's no guarantee that either of them are going to be around much longer. I know that most second round picks don't have great careers, and only a few turn out to be stars. But, damn, it sure would be nice if the Clippers could hit a home run in the second round for once. Or a single. Or even drive up the pitch count.
I'd be inclined to draft a shooter at 35, but I don't necessarily expect that's what they'll do. A guy like Shan Foster from Vanderbilt can shoot the lights out, but he left most scouts unimpressed with his one-dimensional performance in Orlando. Jamont Gordon and J.R. Giddens are both talented players (and happen to be two of the players the Clippers saw twice in workouts) who could turn into good pros. Of course, Maslow's hierarchy of needs would dictate that they draft a point guard here, especially if they end up with Gordon in the first round. But with Ty Lawson and Darren Collison returning to school, and Mario Chalmers' stock on the rise, they're likely looking at some real longshots in the second round. Guys like George Hill, Mike Taylor, Sean Singletary and maybe a couple of Euros. It's much easier to imagine how a shooter/scorer like Giddens has a solid pro career than how an unknown point guard from IUPUI like Hill does it. There will be some well-known and talented big guys available at 35 as well - guys like Joey Dorsey and Richard Hendrix. But I'd still go with a shooter.
For the record, here are my predictions. They keep the seventh pick and grab Gordon. In the second round, they go with Giddens.