The draft is now just three days away and things are beginning to get a little bit clearer. I spent the weekend on the phone talking with various NBA executives and agents trying to get a handle on what's happening in the draft.
Here's the latest:
The Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings made the first big trade of the offseason last Thursday, swapping Samuel Dalembert for Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes. While the deal made sense for both teams (the Kings needed a shot blocker and the Sixers needed to get under the luxury tax), will there be larger ramifications in the draft?
Sources in both Philly and Sacramento said the trade won't affect their draft plans despite the fact that both teams seemed to fill needs and create new holes in the trade.
The Sixers have been strongly leaning toward taking Evan Turner with the No. 2 pick. However, the addition of Nocioni and the loss of Dalembert leaves them loaded at the wing and pretty bare on the front line. On the surface, it appears that Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins would be better fits.
For the Kings, the team had been looking at both Cousins and Greg Monroe. With the addition of Dalembert as a starting center and the loss of Nocioni, it now appears that their biggest need is at the 3, unless the Kings believe Omri Casspi or Donte Greene is ready to step in and be the starter on a winning team.
However, it looks like both teams are still locked in on their original targets.
More trade talk
The Sixers-Kings deal should be the first of many as we get closer to the draft. The Washington Wizards, Sixers, New Jersey Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves are all sending strong signals that they're keeping their picks. After that, it starts to get a little messier.
I've heard that the Kings, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets have all been talking about moving picks. The Kings, Pacers, Hornets and Bucks would like to trade down, while the Pistons, Grizzlies, Raptors, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, Blazers and Nuggets would like to move up. And if the Pacers and Hornets can't move down, they, along with the Bulls, might look to get out of the draft completely.
That's a lot to digest and here's why. All of these teams are talking to each other. Some teams are looking at three or four different scenarios with the teams above. You can expect that teams will begin narrowing choices Monday to get things done in enough time before the draft.
From what I can gather, the Pacers, Hornets, Raptors, Spurs and Thunder are the most active right now.
Hot button issues
We're starting to see players fall into a bit of a pecking order right now as teams try to decide who they like best at particular positions.
Here are the four hottest debates in NBA front offices at the moment:
Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins
Favors and Cousins have now met in Sacramento and Philly, and they'll be in New Jersey together Monday. In Sacramento the two worked out on the court together but didn't actually play against each other. That changed when they went to Philly, as Favors' agent gave them the green light to bang.
Things are moving back to the Sacramento model for the N.J. workout. Apparently Favors' agent complained that the workout in Philly consisted of Cousins fouling Favors on every play, so we're back to two big guys in a gym shooting jump shots.
The stakes couldn't be higher for Favors at the moment. The general consensus in Sacramento and Philly was that Cousins was much better. That makes some sense. Cousins has 47 pounds on Favors and is much more polished on the offensive end. You would expect it to be that way.
But Favors seems to be suffering from more than that. Wolves GM David Kahn ripped Favors for his lack of conditioning and doubted that he was ready for the NBA. While that certainly could have been a David Kahn smokescreen (I haven't heard feedback he was out of shape in the other two workouts), it all contributes to the narrative that Favors is getting his butt kicked by Cousins at the moment.
Ed Davis or Ekpe Udoh
Davis came into the season with all the momentum, but a so-so year combined with injuries and an underperforming Tar Heels squad hurt his stock a bit. Meanwhile, Udoh resurrected his draft stock by vastly improving at Baylor.
The two haven't gone head-to-head because Davis is still recovering from a wrist injury, but a number of teams including the Pistons, Pacers, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz are all trying to get a feel for who they'd prefer if both were on the board.
Right now, Udoh seems to have the buzz. He is more polished, is a better offensive player and has the ability to contribute right away. Davis is a better defender, is more explosive athletically and is bigger. He impressed the Jazz and Pacers in recent workouts with his improved shooting ability, but everyone knows he's a project.
The question really comes down to this: Udoh is 23, and Davis is 21, so in two years, would Davis be as good or better than Udoh is now? If the answer is yes, then the Davis is the best pick. But sometimes it's easier to take the guy you know can get some stuff done right now.
From what I can gather, I don't think Davis will slip past the Jazz at No. 9. Udoh probably won't get past the Pacers at No. 10 if they keep their pick.
These four wings have all impressed in workouts, and depending on whom you talk to, you'll get a different answer on who is the best prospect. I think the range for all of them starts at No. 8 to the Clippers. The Jazz, Pacers, Hornets, Grizzlies, Bucks and Timberwolves also look to be in the mix.
Each player offers a different skill set. Babbitt may be the best scorer of the bunch and is the most NBA-ready. Henry is the best pure shooter of the group. Hayward has all the intangibles. George has the most upside (both in terms of athleticism and skills).
Each player also has a serious flaw. Babbitt lacks the lateral quickness to guard the quicker 3s in the league. Henry appears to be a bit one-dimensional. Hayward lacks strength and needs to get his shooting back on track. George lacks a great motor.
In what order will they go? It's way too early to say. If I were to handicap it right now, the Clippers are slightly leaning toward Hayward. The Jazz prefer Babbitt, while the Pacers and Grizzlies like George and the Hornets and Bucks favor Hayward.
For teams looking for a point guard, the debate is really between Bradley and Bledsoe. Both players are freshmen and didn't have huge years. Bradley is a superior scorer and has good size for the position. Bledsoe is more of a true point guard and sees the floor better.
Both are considered raw and unproven, but they have tremendous athletic ability and upside. Both have been working out against each other in virtually every city before Bradley injured his ankle in Oklahoma City.
The real question for both players will come down to one spot in the lottery -- the Raptors at 13. While I've been hearing for weeks now that Bradley has the edge on Bledsoe, I had a trusted source tell me over the weekend that it may be Bledsoe who gets the nod in Toronto.
A true Insider mock draft
I'm working hard on our next Mock Draft (version 6.0) for Tuesday. But for those of you sick of hearing what I think every week, here's a pretty good alternative.
It probably doesn't surprise you to hear that most NBA teams do their own mock drafts in an effort to understand what players will be available when they are picking. They use their scouts to talk to other scouts in the league to get intel (along with reading ESPN Insider, of course) and then put a mock together.
I persuaded one of the best drafting GMs in the league to share his team's mock with me. He kindly gave me the first 20 picks. Enjoy!
1. Wizards: John Wall
2. Sixers: Evan Turner
3. Nets: Derrick Favors
4. Timberwolves: Wesley Johnson
5. Kings: DeMarcus Cousins
Note: Monroe had a terrific workout over the weekend. Sounds like Monroe and Cousins are neck and neck here.
6. Warriors: Greg Monroe
Note: Interestingly, after the positive workout, Monroe had a shaky one in Golden State on Sunday. You don't want to be outplayed by Omar Samhan when you're trying to talk a team into drafting you at No. 6. This may change.
7. Pistons: Al-Farouq Aminu
8. Clippers: Gordon Hayward
Note: If you're comparing to our Mock Draft 5.0, we have the first eight in the exact same order. From here, it changes significantly.
9. Jazz: Ed Davis
Note: I think you'll see Mock Draft 6.0 take up this suggestion. I've been hearing all week that Davis doesn't get past No. 9 if Monroe is off the board. Sorry, Luke Babbitt.
10. Pacers: Ekpe Udoh
Note: This also seems like a good bet. We've had Davis falling here for the past two weeks. But Udoh was the guy we had in Indy for our first two mock drafts.
11. Hornets: Cole Aldrich
12. Grizzlies: Luke Babbitt
13. Raptors: Eric Bledsoe
Note: That's the first major surprise I've heard so far. I've had them higher on Avery Bradley for months ... but maybe he knows something I don't.
14. Rockets: Patrick Patterson
15. Bucks: Xavier Henry
16. Timberwolves: Paul George
Note: I think this is probably too low for George. I put him here in my last mock draft but continue to hear he's strongly in the mix for the Clips, Indy and Memphis. Hard to see him sliding past all three.
17. Bulls: Damion James
18. Heat: Avery Bradley
19. Celtics: Solomon Alabi
20. Spurs: Daniel Orton
Note: The Spurs need a big man and they could rip out the heart of folks in OKC if they take Orton one pick ahead of the Thunder.