1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Derrick Williams, F, Arizona, Sophomore: The Cavaliers could very well end up with the first two picks in the draft, but as the order currently stands, they are slotted to choose first and fourth. Therefore, while Duke’s Kyrie Irving might be the best prospect in the draft, it might make the most sense for Cleveland to select Williams first then nab one of 2011’s other top point guard prospects with their second pick in the top five. Williams doesn’t have the upside of Irving, and he may have some character issues (a la Michael Beasley), but there’s no doubting that he is a fierce competitor.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves: Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke, Freshman: With the highly-touted Ricky Rubio set to take the court for the T-Pups in 2011-12, along with the fact that Johnny Flynn and Luke Ridnour are still on the team’s roster, Irving doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Wolves at No. 2. Which is why, if Williams begins to emerge as the frontrunner for the top pick in 2011, the Wolves will likely trade down in the draft as to not be stuck with a major logjam at the point guard spot. However, for the sake of reality, the Wolves currently have the number two pick, Derrick Williams has been predicted to go No. 1, and Kyrie Irving is simply too good of a prospect in such a weak draft to slip any further.
3. Utah Jazz: Enes Kanter, PF/C, Turkey, 1992: Even though Utah’s General Manager Kevin O’Connor is reportedly very high on Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, I see the Jazz going for value instead of need with this pick. They already have a plethora of young, quality big men with Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson under contract, but with Mehmet Okur’s recent string of injuries, and an inevitable trade involving Jefferson, Kanter seems like the most logical pick for the Jazz at No. 3. He’s an NBA-ready beast, and he’s arguably one of the best big man prospects to ever come out of Europe.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers: Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky, Freshman: Knight has all of the tools to be a very successful point guard in an NBA where having a great point guard is essential to success. He may not have a Irving’s ceiling, but there’s no doubting that (assuming the Cavs don’t end up with the top two picks) the pairing of Knight and Williams will create a very successful duo in Cleveland for years to come.
5. Toronto Raptors: Kwahi Leonard, SF, San Diego State, Sophomore: Unless Kanter somehow falls into the Raptors’ lap at five, Toronto is somewhat forced into drafting for the perimeter, an area where they need much improvement. Leonard isn’t extremely polished offensively, but he has an insane motor and skills that will allow him to be a successful player in similar ways that Portland’s Gerald Wallace has been a productive NBA player.
6. Washington Wizards: Jan Vesely, F, Czech Republic, 1990: With the exception of Kanter, I don’t see much potential in the European prospects of 2011. Vesely is extremely athletic with great size, and he is a much better selection than Jonas Valanciunas, whose buyout clause has definitely caused him to slip on a lot of lottery team’s draft boards. Vesely’s an improving shooter with solid range out to the three-point line, but his “tweener” status as a SF/PF makes me curious about how successful he can be on an NBA team. He’s too big to be a small forward at the NBA level, and if he wants to be a four, he’s going to have to put on some muscle mass.
7. Sacramento Kings: Kemba Walker, PG, Connecticut, Junior: Walker could be drafted as high as No. 3 to the Jazz, but if he’s available, there’s no chance he slips past the Kings at seven. A true playmaker, Walker will be the perfect compliment to Tyreke Evans, who is much better suited for the off-guard position. Walker’s presence will force Evans to improve his shooting and moving-without-the-ball abilities, but a backcourt comprised of Walker and Evans will surely be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.
8. Detroit Pistons: Jonas Valanciunas, C, Lithuania, 1992: The Pistons really needed a top-three pick in this draft, because once the trio of Williams/Irving/Kanter is off the table, it really becomes a crap shoot for the Pistons, who are in dire need of help at four out of their five starting positions. They could draft a perimeter player with this pick, but at this point, their available options won’t be much better than the players they already have. I haven’t seen much of Valanciunas, but he definitely has great size (6-foot-11, 240 pounds) and the Pistons need some beef up front.
9. Charlotte Bobcats: Bismack Biyombo, C, Congo, 1992*: Biyombo is an interesting prospect, as his name didn’t appear on most draft boards until a few months ago. He has the allure of potentially being the next Ben Wallace — or for the newbies, Serge Ibaka. As with any unknowns of the NBA draft, questions about his real age could cause Biyombo to fall from the lottery into the mid-late first round. However, his athleticism, explosiveness and defensive potential make him a very sexy pick for teams with needs up front.
10. Milwaukee Bucks: Alec Burks, SG, Colorado, Sophomore: Milwaukee’s need for depth on the perimeter has had the Bucks connected with Burks for quite some time. He’s talented player all-around with solid athleticism, and if the Bucks decide to keep Brandon Jennings in the fold, the two will form a deadly backcourt pairing for years to come.
11. Golden State Warriors: Jordan Hamilton, SG/SF, Texas, Sophomore: The Warriors have a major hole to fill in their starting lineup: a lockdown perimeter defender. Unfortunately for the Warriors, the player they seek to fill such needs probably isn’t available in this draft. Florida State’s Chris Singleton is a legitimate option here, but his size makes him more of a power forward than a wing, and the Warriors don’t need anymore unpolished big men with Ekpe Udoh, Andris Biedrins and Luis Amundson already under contract. Hamilton, who is known for his confidence shooting the ball from the wing, essentially duplicates what the Warriors already have in Dorrell Wright and Reggie Williams, but if Monta Ellis is traded this summer, Hamilton has the skills to step in as Stephen Curry’s counterpart in the backcourt.
12. Utah Jazz: Jimmer Fredette, PG, Brigham Young, Senior: It only makes sense for Utah’s biggest celebrity, AKA “The Jimmer,” to remain where he became a star in his own right. With uncertainties at the Jazz’s point guard position, Fredette and his improving playmaking abilities could certainly fill a need in Utah. Everyone knows that he is capable of scoring a lot of points, and although he may not be the 28 PPG scorer that he was in college, he’ll certainly be an effective player in the NBA if he can make the transformation from an undersized shooting guard to an all-around point guard (a la Stephen Curry).
13. Phoenix Suns: Tristan Thompson, PF, Texas, Freshman: Ever since the departure of Amaré Stoudemire, the Suns have been in dire need of help up front. Recently acquired Marcin Gortat proved to be a valuable addition to the Suns’ frontline, but they need more. He’s not the ideal size for a Western Conference power forward (6-foot-9, 225 pounds), but his length and athleticism will make him a perfect fit in Phoenix’s notoriously up-tempo run n’ gun offense.
14. Houston Rockets: Marcus Morris, F, Kansas, Junior: The Rockets’ real need lies at the center position, but with no legitimate prospects available at this pick in the draft, Houston must either draft based on value or trade the pick. Marcus Morris is a versatile big man, who can stretch the court and bang down low. He’s not as good of a rebounder or defender as his brother, Markieff, but offensively, he’s much more talented. The Rockets have been known for getting productivity out of undersized big men in the past (Carl Landry, Chuck Hayes, etc.) and they should expect to see the same type of success with Morris.