The NBA draft is only two days away, and there’s no consensus on whom the Cleveland Cavaliers will select with the No. 1 pick. That’s a testament to the uncertainty about this year’s crop of players; this draft is considered the hardest to predict in recent memory.
Everett’s Nerlens Noel was thought to be the top pick about a month ago. He’s a physically gifted center who can run the floor and could emerge as a defensive stopper. But as Noel has been evaluated, some have characterized his offensive skills as primitive, he was only 206 pounds at the draft combine, and his stock has dropped, according to NBA sources.
In fact, in the past several days, a handful of prospects have risen and fallen in the eyes of lottery teams, who understand that this draft could be a minefield. The consensus at the combine last month in Chicago was that this class lacks impact players and will have a group of busts, but also a handful of gems who will require time to develop.
“I think there’s guys who can play a role on a good team, yeah,” said Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, whose team has pick No. 16. “I don’t think there’s anyone who’s going to turn our franchise around. We’ve got a lot of choices, but I don’t think this draft is as good as other drafts have been. I just mean there’s not like franchise-changers, there’s good players. There’s a lot of these kids that are going to play in the NBA for years to come.”
Noel has been unable to work out for teams because he’s rehabilitating the knee he hurt during his freshman season at the University of Kentucky. The player who likely has benefitted most from Noel’s slippage is Maryland center Alex Len, a Ukrainian big man whose skills are considered superior to Noel’s.
Len was overshadowed by bigger stars in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but his work for the Terrapins has been lauded by scouts who feel he is more NBA prepared than Noel. Cleveland desperately needs a quality cornerstone center and is considering taking Len first to pair with Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson.
Former Cleveland center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, a first-round pick in 1996, is an assistant general manager for the Cavaliers, and could serve as a mentor. According to an NBA source, the Cavaliers are seeking a player who could contribute immediately and Len, despite a stress fracture in his left ankle, could be healthy for training camp.
Under old/new coach Mike Brown, the Cavaliers are definitely looking to win now despite a younger core, so taking a player such as Noel who needs development may not produce immediate success.
While Len is rising, Kansas swingman Ben McLemore is slipping, according to NBA sources. McLemore still has not hired an agent and is apparently showing up to workouts out of shape, which has led to teams questioning his dedication.
The backcourt player making the most inroads with lottery clubs is Indiana swingman Victor Oladipo, who may jump to the second pick by the Orlando Magic, who are looking for an energetic cornerstone. Oladipo’s stock rose even further when Indiana coach Tom Crean, who has coached both Oladipo and Dwyane Wade, said the two are very similar at this point of their careers.
Wade was more talented offensively, but the two have similar motors and scouts appear convinced Oladipo’s offensive game will improve enough to catch up with his defensive prowess.
“I’m just using [the detractors about the draft] as fuel to prove people wrong,” Oladipo said. “I respect everybody’s opinion, but I am just going to go in this league and going to whatever team I’m drafted in and work my butt off. I’m definitely a high-energy type of guy, somebody who’s willing to come in and work.”
When asked what he needed to improve the most, Oladipo said, “I need to improve everything the most. I need to improve my jump shot, ballhandling, everything, even defense.”
ESPN’s Chad Ford said this draft is unlike any other he’s covered. But the fact that there’s no consensus No. 1 pick and that teams are shifting their boards almost daily is a byproduct of need.
“I think there’s a demarcation after the top six guys and a demarcation after the next five and then I think [there is] fear about 25 guys where you can make an argument where this guy’s a lottery pick or that this guy’s a second-rounder,” Ford said. “A lot of ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ type of teams. I think [rising and sliding] has a lot more to do with teams trying to find the right fit than sudden revelations about these players.”
The Wall Street-like soaring and tumbling is expected to occur until Thursday night, and the rebuilding Celtics hope a productive player falls into their lap.
And with this draft that’s possible — but so is the worst-case scenario.
“You really have teams valuing players very, very differently,” Ford said. “And, because of that, there’s just not the consensus there normally is. And no one really values the draft that highly, period, so there’s lot of trade talk. There will be a good player in this draft. There will be an All-Star in this draft, and there will be busts in this draft, and this will be one where we look back in 10 years and say, ‘What we’re they thinking?’ ”