With this year's draft now in the books, and the new rookie class settling into their respective cities, it is time to start looking towards next season. More specifically, how effectively or ineffectively these fresh young faces will impact their new teams. While this year's draft class has largely been labeled as "weak" and "LeBron-less," many of the players selected will undoubtedly develop into essential role players on playoff-bound teams. The fact of the matter is that someone in this year's draft will play well enough to take home the coveted Rookie of the Year Award, and the apparent lack of clear-cut future superstars does not mean that none of these young players will become household names after a few years in the league. Keep in mind, Rajon Rondo was a 21st overall pick.
As we all know, this year's 27th overall pick was JaJuan Johnson out of Purdue, making him and his college teammate E'Twaun Moore the newest members of the Celtics. While both former Boilermakers will have a lot to prove to Doc before ever touching the court in the regular season, I was very happy with these picks. Boston's front court is constantly aging and thinning out, and the addition of an active athletic big man like the 6'11" Johnson was vital to the C's offseason. Adding just another veteran big man who is approaching the end of his career would only be a temporary stopgap, and could easily backfire along with a back injury. Johnson has a ton of upside, and a couple of seasons alongside Kevin Garnett could push him to become a dominant big man in the NBA on both sides of the ball just like he was in college. The Celtics were extremely lucky that Johnson was still available so late in the first round, and Danny Ainge is well aware of that. Moore is a shooting guard and a solid player who lacks potential, but with dedication to tough defense, and an ability to score from many different angles, he could find some minutes backing up Ray Allen this season. Last season, he was a 40% shooter from behind the three point arc, and averaged 18 points per game.
However, the Celtics are not the only team who had a successful draft this year. The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson with their #1 and #4 overall picks, and while I firmly believe that Derrick Williams should have been selected first, these young guys both have the potential to develop into all-stars. Selecting a big man with as much athletic ability as Thompson will make Irving's role as a distributor much easier, rather than having bigger but less active forwards who won't make the cuts that Thompson makes. Likewise, Thompson's impact as a rookie will be enhanced by sharing the court with Irving who is a pure point guard and fellow lottery pick. Currently in LeBron's shadow as Cleveland's newest #1 overall selection, Irving has more to prove than any other rookie, especially since he is only 19, and is coming off a foot injury that prevented him from playing majority of his games in college. But toss these young talents in with another point guard-big man combo already in Cleveland in the form of Baron Davis and J.J. Hickson, it will be interesting to watch if owner Dan Gilbert will be able to make good on his promise of bringing home a Championship banner before LeBron does.
Some other winners in this year's draft include the Utah Jazz, Washington Wizards, San Antonio Spurs, and Denver Nuggets who all brought in players that will benefit their respective teams. The gritty Kawhi Leonard is capable of vicious defense and is a great fit for the Spurs, while bringing a talented massive center like Enes Kanter into Utah could enable Big Al Jefferson to get comfortable once again in the paint, and become the legitimate scoring threat he was a couple of seasons ago. As for some other teams, such as the New York Knicks and Charlotte Bobcats, this year's draft could soon become a very touchy subject.
I am a huge fan of Kemba Walker. Instead of filling out my NCAA tournament bracket with "UCONN" this year, I simply wrote "Kemba" in each slot, and took home a couple hundred dollars as a result. Walker singlehandedly carried UCONN through the tournament as he did all season long, and demonstrated an unquestionable ability to dominate at the college level. I was extremely eager to see where he would end up in the draft, excited by rumors that he would be sharing Sacramento's back court with former rookie of the year, Tyreke Evans. Walker has been attacked by many critics for his tiny (almost) 6'0" frame, selfish shot selection, and disinterest in ball movement. However, Walker showed in the tournament he has great vision and an ability to dish the ball when necessary. If drafted to the right team, Kemba would be surrounded by players more talented than himself, and could refine his skills to become a true NBA point guard. A more explosive Ty Lawson.
But now that he's being sent to the struggling Bobcats, more specifically the Stephen Jackson-less struggling Bobcats, Kemba Walker may be doomed to his critics' delight and may never reach his full potential. He simply has no one to pass to, and fellow lottery pick Bismack Biyombo is a defensive specialist who draws comparison to Serge Ibaka... But like Walker, the lack of good players surrounding him could cause Biyombo to never reach his full potential. Ibaka's success is largely due to the young explosive talent that surrounds him, as well as a fellow defensive minded center in the paint in Kendrick Perkins. Biyombo will quickly find out that Kwame Brown is no Perk, and with no one to pass to, Walker could simply become another Nate Robinson chucking up contested shots over much larger defenders. If Michael Jordan wants to see his rookies succeed, he needs to bring in more talent in the form of veteran scorers that will alleviate the pressure of Kemba having to score, while simultaneously transforming him into an explosive facilitator.
New York drafted Iman Shumpert with their first round pick, therefore reinforcing their commitment to Swiss cheese defense and fast break offense. Shumpert is incredibly athletic and undoubtedly a perfect fit for Mike D'Antoni's system. However, this system only got the Knicks to a .500 record despite a star-studded lineup, and they were promptly swept from the first round of the playoffs by a relatively weak Boston team. The Knicks need to make some drastic changes to their game plan if they want more success, but they seem to be perfectly content winning about half of their games while only exerting energy on the fast break. In short, they will not likely improve by much this season.
So what do you think? There are sixty new players to talk about, but only some of them will make an immediate impact. Which players those will be, and which teams truly benefited the most from this year's draft is yet to be seen. A lot of questions remain, especially around the success of players like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, and Jimmer Fredette. Who will be this year's biggest bust? And who is going to turn heads and become this year's surprise candidate for Rookie of the Year?