Eye on the draft: C's free falling among 7 clear "tankers"
Thanks to a five-game losing streak, the Boston Celtics are back in prime lottery position. Sitting with the fourth-worst record in the NBA, the final 27 games of the season will dictate much of the Celtics' future.
With the home stretch of the season around the corner, it has become clear that there are seven "tankers" in the league. Similar to our "Wiggins Watch", lets identify those teams for the first time in "Eye on the draft", while mixing in a mock draft:
1. Bucks: These guys have 11 wins. It will be tough for the Bucks to finish with more wins than anyone in the league, making them practically a lock to pick in the top-four. Our next team is going to try an make that difficult on them though.
Pick - Joel Embiid (Kansas/Fr): Embiid still tops draft boards despite sitting out a game. He has played well since his return averaging 14.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.3 blocks in three games. Although his scoring is up, the most refreshing number for NBA scouts has to be Embiid's 10 fouls in his last 101 minutes.
Besides becoming better at staying away from contact, the youngster (still new to basketball) continues to show incredible balance on defense. Embiid blocked six shots in only 21 minutes against highly ranked Texas, then dominated Oklahoma all around, posting 13 boards, three rejections, three assists and four steals.
2. 76ers: They lost by 20 points at home to the Bucks this week. . . just showing everyone else how it's done. The loss came after trading away two of their top four scorers at the trade deadline. With 15 wins, if anyone has a shot of "out-tanking" the Bucks, it's Philly.
The Sixers are the only "tankers" left on Boston's schedule - and they play twice, both times in April. Those games are going to be epic.
Pick - Andrew Wiggins (Kansas/Fr): Besides rumors that Philly prefers Wiggins to Parker, Wiggins just seems to be a better fit here. The 76ers are not trying to win now, they are loaded with projects and draft picks. Wiggins will take time to develop, and Philly is a place that will give him that time.
Despite not having eye-popping numbers, Wiggins is certainly finding some consistency. He has scored 14 or more points in 10 of his last 11 games, including a game-winner at Texas Tech. His highlights still show why his potential has him ranked so prominently.
3. Magic: With 17 wins, Orlando is in Boston's sights to try and sneak into the bottom three. The Magic will face off against the 76ers Wednesday night. . . someone has to win.
Pick - Jabari Parker (Duke/Fr): If you play Chad Ford's ESPN mock lottery like me, you know the Magic always take a guard here. If Wiggins is gone, they were taking Marcus Smart. But Dante Exum has moved above the likes of even Parker on Ford's rankings. Right now Ford would have Exum as the pick here. . . I would be shocked (but ever so pleased if Parker fell to Boston at four) if the Magic pass on Parker here.
Parker is a dominant scorer and rebounder. While taking down top ranked Syracuse, Parker dropped 19 points while taking only eight shots, and also pulled down 10 boards. Going 3-for-3 from downtown and still scoring in the paint in a primetime game against the top team in the nation is becoming just another game for Jabari. Even when he has a rare off-night (3-11 FG against VT), he still controlled the game to the tune of 12 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and three steals.
Embiid could be a once in a generation player, but Parker continues to be my favorite in this draft class.
4. Celtics: A five-game home-stand begins Wednesday night for the Celtics. Three in a row are against Indiana, Golden State and Brooklyn which doesn't look hopeful. The road ahead features many fringe Eastern Conference playoff teams. That can be viewed as an easy schedule for Boston, or as a stretch that will feature lots of hungry teams looking to finish strong.
Boston is the only team in the bottom six that did not rid themselves of a contributor at the trade deadline. So far they have dropped two seeds though, much of that can be contributed to a tough west coast trip and Jared Sullinger's concussion. We'll see if their earlier trades diminished the roster enough to remain in contention for a top pick.
Pick - Dante Exum (Australia): We haven't seen much of him, but Exum would be the best player on the board here. Exum is 6-foot-6 and can play both guard positions. . . so YES he has the size and skill set to play with Rajon Rondo.
There are no amazing numbers against the top college teams in the country that I can wow you with, so it is understood why this pick is not as sexy as Julius Randle. If Parker was here he would surely be Boston's pick, but if Exum ends up being the alternative, fans should grow to love him. Dante goes as high as second overall in Ford's mock, just google him if you are unfamiliar.
5. Lakers: The Lakers have been brutal. They have almost all borderline NBA players outside of Pau Gasol. They key could be if Kobe Bryant does indeed return this season. With Kobe and Pau back together, the Lakers could be good enough to stay out of the bottom-five records in the NBA.
Pick - Julius Randle (Kentucky/Fr): Life is easy when you are the Lakers. You just take the best player on the board, which right now is Randle. He remains somewhat inconsistent, but he is always working hard around the rim. Randle will give you a double-double in the NBA more nights than not. He only had eight points in his last outing against LSU, but ripped down 15 boards and hit the game-winner. Much like Parker, even when he has an off-night, he has a solid game.
6. Kings: The Kings struggle, but do have three solid players leading them. They will continue to lose more than they win, but six seems like a realistic landing spot for them come season's end.
Pick - Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State/So): Smart's stock took a hit with the whole fan push incident, but he has bounced back nicely. Smart is still far too talented to slide out of the top 10 of the draft.
In Smart's two games back he is averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 5.5 steals. Along with being well rounded, he also shot 5-for-9 from three in his last game, something he has really needed to improve before he jumps to the NBA.
7. Jazz: Trey Burke has been the key for Utah this season. They are actually well above .500 with their current starting lineup. If Burke can stay healthy, the Jazz should stay right around where they are.
Pick - Aaron Gordon (Arizona/Fr): Gordon seems like a nice fit here. He is a project, and could turn into another useful athletic big on Utah's roster. But if he develops an outside game he could be a nice option at small forward.
Gordon would easily be the most inconsistent player taken yet in the draft, but he is coming off of his career game. Gordon played excellent against Colorado, finishing with 23 points in only 27 minutes, while shooting 10-for-13 and hitting both of his three-pointers.
Breakdown: Those seven teams WILL be picking in the top 10 come June. The next three teams have proven with their actions that they have no interest in losing any games. The Knicks don't even own their draft pick, the Cavaliers were buyers at the deadline and the Pistons have bounced in and out of the playoff picture all season.
In the college game, the players are nearing their conference tournaments as well as the big dance. March Madness will provide the perfect stage for this years prospects to prove that they are for real before preparing for their NBA workouts.
This draft is exciting not only because of the talent level, but because prospects have been rising and falling all season. Expect that trend to continue all the way up to June.