Barring something incredibly stupid happening, or David Kahn calling the shots, the top pick in the 2011 NBA Draft will either be Duke point guard Kyrie Irving or Arizona forward Derrick Williams. Had North Carolina's Harrison Barnes declared rather than choosing to return to the Tar Heels for his sophomore season, he would also be in the discussion.
The ping pong balls will sort themselves out Tuesday night in the annual NBA Draft Lottery. Let's take a look at each team's odds, and whether they would lean toward picking Irving or Williams if they earned the spot.
I maintain my stance that Ricky Rubio will never play for the Timberwolves, and since Luke Ridnour is better suited as a backup and Jonny Flynn suffered through a horrid sophomore slump, Minnesota is still searching for a point guard of the future. (I will now remind T-Wolves fans that their general manager drafted three point guards just two years ago and it is highly likely that NONE of them will pan out to be their future floor leader.) They could draft Irving though, and then turn around and deal Flynn for another asset while he still has some sort of value rather than him making a home on the bench.
If I am proven wrong though and Rubio ends up committing to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, which is highly unlikely since a lockout is looming, then you would think this decision would be a no-brainer and Williams ends up being the pick. However, with Kevin Love, and seemingly rejuvenated Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph at forward, where does Williams find his minutes? All three T-Wolves do become restricted free agents in the summer of 2012 though, so Williams would certainly be a safety net in case one, two, or possibly all three of them end up signing elsewhere.
A third option would be drafting Irving and then trading him or Rubio's rights for a quality player or two, and possibly a 2012 NBA Draft pick since the Clippers own Minnesota's from that ever awful Marko Jaric/Sam Cassell trade that Kevin McHale made. (Timberwolves fans will now slam their head in their car door repeatedly until they black out.) Is Kahn actually smart enough to think of that thoug,h or would he try to force feed the idea that Rubio and Irving could play together in the same backcourt?
I really think Barnes would have been the perfect fit for a team that has options at the point and power forward, but sorely lacks a true wing scorer. Neither Baron Davis nor Ramon Sessions is the point guard of the future in Cleveland, but Antwan Jamison is also entering the final year of his contract and is a similar combo-type forward as Williams. So, long-term, there is a need for both types of players looking beyond the 2011-12 season.
Jamison's expiring contract is attractive to other teams and could possibly net a quality player or two via trade which would make Williams' abilities the higher need. Davis' contract is seemingly impossible to move until maybe the summer of 2012 but the Cavs can create opportunity for Irving by dealing Sessions and the reasonable remaining two years, $8.8 million left on his contract.
This selection likely comes down to whom the Cavs think will turn into the better pro. Early buzz has Cleveland enamored with Irving so I will make him their selection, subject to change of course.
This is a bit of a toss up since Toronto does not have a true scoring forward but could also use an upgrade at the point. Based on need alone, I would lean towards Williams since Calderon and Bayless are still under contract for a couple of more years. However, it is difficult to pass up on a future star point guard and Bayless could always be dealt again.
Since they have the face of their franchise in last year's top overall pick, point guard John Wall, Washington has to go with Williams by process of elimination. The Wizards do not have a long-term solution at small forward and would hope the Pac-10 Player of the Year could find a home at that spot since the team formerly known as the Bullets have solid, young talent at the four.
In Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, Utah already has a young frontcourt to complement veterans Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. If Williams is the pick, he would have to see a lot of time at small forward unless Favors, Millsap or Big Al are dealt.
Utah does have Devin Harris running the point, but he seems to have hit his ceiling. The Jazz do not have any depth behind Harris so they could take Irving and not thrust him into a starting job right away. I also think you could play Irving and Harris in the backcourt at the same time.
This decision will come down to whether or not the Kings' brain trust thinks Irving can co-exist in the same backcourt as hybrid-guard Tyreke Evans who is at his best when the ball is in his hands. If they think that marriage will work, Irving is the selection. If not, Sacramento will go with Williams who would provide an athletic complement to the size and inside scoring of last year's first-round pick, DeMarcus Cousins.
Detroit Pistons: 5.2% - Irving
I have been on this bandwagon for some quite time, but I don't think Rodney Stuckey will ever be the starting point guard on a legitimate title contending team. Plus, he is a restricted free agent this summer. I would rather draft Irving than have to pay to keep Stuckey as my point guard for another 4-5 years. You could not blame Joe Dumars if he went in the other direction and took Williams since Tayshaun Prince is a free agent, though Detroit does still have Charlie Villanueva, Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko who are all in the combo-forward mold.
Charlotte Bobcats: 1.7% - Irving
Unless the Bobcats are convinced Williams can replace Gerald Wallace at the three, Irving is the likely pick. Charlotte has Boris Diaw and Tyrus Thomas at power forward, and while they do have a young point guard in Augustin, Irving figures to be a better long-term prospect and has the potential to be the face of the franchise for years to come. I say take Irving and try trading Augustin for a small forward or true big man. Having played at Duke, Irving's connection to state of North Carolina is an added bonus for a team that needs to find a way to fill up its arena.
Milwaukee Bucks: 1.1% - Williams
Even though the Bucks have a decent amount of depth in their frontcourt with Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette, Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee already has a young point guard in Brandon Jennings who holds the reins to the team. The Bucks would take Williams and find a way to work him into their rotation, providing Scott Skiles with some needed scoring off the bench.
Golden State Warriors: .8% - Williams
With Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis in the backcourt, Irving would be a waste of a pick unless of course Golden State is willing to deal Ellis. Even then, Golden State would have an even more undersized backcourt with Irving and Curry. Williams would come in and compete for a starting frontcourt job alongside David Lee, and uses his athleticism to fit nicely into the Warriors up-tempo offensive attack.
Phoenix Suns: .6% - Williams
This is somewhat of a toss up. Grant Hill is a free agent and Vince Carter will likely be cut loose this offseason as well, meaning the Suns have a whole at small forward. They also could use an upgrade at the power forward, making Williams a more immediate fit. With that being said, Steve Nash is in the final year of his contract and Aaron Brooks is a restricted free agent. So, Irving could be brought in as the point guard of the future.
Houston Rockets: .5% - Irving
The Rockets are another team that'll go with whom they feel is the better prospect for the down the road. At the point, Houston has Kyle Lowry who is coming off a career year and locked up for the next three seasons. Goran Dragic is the backup but a restricted free agent so there would be room for Irving somewhere. As for Williams, he needs to play more of a small forward role in Houston since the Rockets have decent young depth at the four.