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D minus 1 and Counting - who will the Clippers Draft?

It's been almost two weeks since I wrote an extended post about the draft.  With 'Clipper Christmas' a matter of hours away, it seems like it's now or never to get some final thoughts out there.

All the talk right now is about Al-Farouq Aminu (hereafter referred to as AFA) going to the Clippers.  That's the way it happened in the SBNation Mock Draft, and I pounced on AFA when it was my turn.  Now many experts are predicting that the same thing will happen in the real thing.

In fact, for what it's worth, DraftExpress and are now in lock step on the top ten picks, which does not happen very often.  It makes you suspect that messages have been put into circulation about who is picking whom in the early picks.  Now, the problem with those messages is that they could turn out to be misinformation at the end of the day - but someone is saying, for instance, that AFA "doesn't make sense" in Detroit  as Jonathon Givony of DraftExpress tweeted on Tuesday.

As it stands right now, it seems like there are five guys who are fairly widely considered to be a cut above the rest - John Wall, Evan Turner, Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins and Wesley Johnson.  I'm not saying those guys will go in the top five (though it seems like they might); I am saying that if any of them actually fell to eight, the Clippers would draft them and ask questions later.  The same is probably also true of Golden State and Detroit, picking six and seven.

So it likely comes down to what the Warriors and Pistons will do with who is left on the board when they pick.  The Warriors, even after trading Corey Maggette Tuesday, are still overloaded on the wing.  (After all, did Maggette play a single minute at small forward in Oakland?  He played power forward for the Dubs, as strange as that is.)  Of course, AFA is much more of a power forward than Corey is, so perhaps he makes sense for them (in a bizarro, upside down, Don Nelson sort of way; you have to figure that Nelson would love the guy.).  Any sane person, given the Warriors current roster, would jump at one of the very solid bigs still on the board like Greg Monroe, Ed Davis, Cole Aldrich, Patrick Patterson or Ekpe Udoh.  But it's the Warriors, so you never know.

The Pistons are in a similar position, in need of front court help, and with a seeming glut on the wings.  AFA is more of a tweener than a pure three, but with Jason Maxiell, Chris Wilcox and Charlie Villanueva as the only pure bigs signed for next season, and second year players Jonas Jerebko and Austin Daye capable of playing the three behind Tayshaun Prince (not too mention that Jerebko, Daye, Prince and even Villanueva are also all tweeners like AFA), the front court pick would seem to be the smart choice in Detroit as well.  In a way, both Detroit and Golden State are the mirror image of the Clippers - will they take the best player available (arguably AFA), or will they draft for need (front court help)?  For the Clippers, if AFA is off the board, their dilemma is reversed, the small forward need versus the BPA, which will be a big.  The Clippers' problem goes away if AFA is still there.

Of course, things rarely go as planned in the draft, so it's safe to say that we'll get some surprises in the top seven picks.  The Clippers will need to respond accordingly.

I find it a little curious that one of the big clues to why AFA might go to the Clippers is that he canceled his workout in Detroit.  Well, last I checked, he hasn't worked out for the Clippers either.  And then there is the dreaded promise.  A couple years ago I wrote a little something on how illogical draft promises are.  Maybe I'm missing something, but they really don't seem to make sense for players or for teams.  Maybe if it's a question of a player staying in the draft or pulling out, but we're long past that at this point.  So what exactly is the point of a 'promise'?  I don't know.

At any rate, it seems fairly safe to say that the Clippers will take AFA if he's on the board at eight, with or without a promise.  But what if he's not?  Then it gets tricky.  Assuming that the 'big five' I listed above and AFA are all gone when the Clippers pick, they're going to have a very difficult task. 

Of the top front court prospects, the Clippers have worked out Ekpe Udoh, Patrick Patterson, Ed Davis and Hassan Whiteside.  They have not worked out Greg Monroe or Cole Aldrich.  (I should point out that just because the team has not had a player into the training facility for a workout does not mean they haven't scouted them pretty thoroughly.  Neil Olshey may have attended a workout for one of these other players at another team's facility, as was the case when they drafted Al Thornton in 2007.  The fact that they haven't been to Playa Vista for a workout means just that - they haven't been to Playa Vista for a workout.) 

Of the group of small forwards generally considered to be after AFA, they've looked at pretty much all of them: Paul George, Gordon Hayward, Luke Babbitt and Xavier Henry.  It's worth noting that in a draft that was thought to be heavy with front court prospects, there are going to be seven wings among the 15 players invited to be in the green room.  So this group of small forwards seems to have impressed someone other than just Clipper fans, and maybe one of those guys isn't quite the stretch we first thought.  Even so, if the team isn't completely sold on one of them versus another, it might make sense to trade down and pick up an extra asset. 

So what's it going to be?  Need or best player available?  For what it's worth, here's my draft board, after the big five who will all be gone.

  • AFA - He's 19, he's crazy long, he's athrletic, he's a great rebounder and a plus defender (two things that are hard to coach), and he's a hard worker.  The Clippers biggest needs from the three are defense, range and rebounding - two out of three ain't bad, and the third can be developed.  He's the safe pick if he's available, and having Eric Gordon (21), Blake Griffin (21) and AFA (20 in September) from the last three drafts is pretty exciting in the long term.
  • Greg Monroe - He's the only one of the bigs that I would consider on 'best player available' grounds.  I've always been a sucker for a big man who can pass, and I love this about Monroe's game.  It certainly makes the glut in the Clippers' front court worse, but I salivate at the idea of two such skilled, young bigs as Griffin and Monroe.  Of course, it's unlikely that Monroe will be available at eight (I can't imagine he'd make it past the Pistons), but if he is, I'd be sorely tempted.  Then again, the Clippers didn't even work him out, so he may be a mystery to them if he falls that far.
  • Gordon Hayward - If the first seven picks include the big five, AFA and Monroe (which is of course still a distinct possibility) then I would got with Hayward.  Oh, and before I went with him, I'd be on the phone with the Grizzlies, the Wolves and a few other teams to see what they were willing to give up in order to trade up to eight.  Hayward obviously has high bust potential.  He's skinny, his arms are not particularly long, he's not a great athlete.  But he's a player.  One of the reasons I like Monroe is because of his ability to make plays, and that's what I like about Hayward.  I see point forward potential in him, on a team that was lacking in playmakers last season (and really, for several years).  People complain about his scrawny frame, but he was a great rebounder in college, so he doesn't seem to be getting pushed around.  They complain that his lateral quickness isn't great and that he won't be able to defend in the NBA - but once again, in college defense was one of his strengths.  Obviously NBA competition is different, but rebounding has over the years tended to translate very well to the NBA, and good defense often has more to do with a high basketball IQ than pure footspeed, and Hayward's BBIQ is off the charts.  I repeat - he could be a bust.  But of the who four small forwards will be available, he's my pick.