With the draft on Thursday I wanted to bring in an expert who has been covering college basketball for CBSSports.com for a few years and will be attending this year’s draft, my cousin, Matt Norlander.
I thought it would be beneficial to bring in someone who hasn’t been saturated with the Phoenix Suns culture and can add a fresh perspective as well as expert analysis.
So here is the email Q & A.
1. What do you say to people who talk about this year’s draft being “weak”?
I think it’s relative. Weak meaning … what? Lack of a Hall of Fame-caliber player? Sure, that argument can easily be made. But I think drafts can be bacteria traps for groupthink. Just because a lot of people latch onto a narrative doesn’t make it indisputably true. I think this draft has potential to create a lot of players who can become solid No. 3 options in the next five years. And what’s wrong with that? NBA teams can’t just win with two big stars. The stars drive the wagon but it’s the supplemental pieces that are so vital; those are the guys getting moved each year, the ones who become something between glue guys and fundamental pillars to creating a team that can get to the playoffs, or reach the conference finals, or win the NBA championship.
It’s not a great draft, but it’s not full of dogs, either.
2. How do you think the first five picks of the draft will shake out?
Despite the recent flare of rumors about Alex Len going first, I’ll stick with Noel going to Cleveland at No. 1. Victor Oladipo second to Orlando. I think Otto Porter goes No. 3 to Washington, Alex Len fourth by way of Charlotte and Trey Burke fifth to Phoenix.
3. Who are the top 2 sleepers in the first round?
How are we going to define sleepers? Let’s go with players picked outside of the lottery who we’ll look back in five years and say they should’ve gone to a lottery team. Cool? If that’s the case, I’m going with Cal’s Allen Crabbe and UNC’s Reggie Bullock. I think both players were solid in college but possess traits that lend themselves to more efficient roles at the pro level. For Crabbe, it’s his screen-and-shoot ability; with Bullock, it’s his long range and better-than-you-think defense.
4. Who are the top 2 sleepers in the second round?
Nate Wolters, unquestionably, is one of them. He’s a kid from South Dakota State who was essentially the most effective and efficient college basketball player over the course of the past two seasons. He’s got tremendous handle, a deft ability to score in a lot of ways and can be plugged in as a perfect backup point guard. If he can handle the physicality of the NBA, he’ll be a vital guy off the bench in the NBA for a decade.
My second choice would be Deshaun Thomas, an Ohio State forward who’s a bit of a tweener but is a natural scorer. He’s had tremendously efficient stretches in college on the offensive end. I think he can average 10 points per game in his sleep at the NBA level, and to say that about a guy going in the second round means: sleeper.
5. Who are the top 2 players to avoid in first round?
Gotta say, I’ve never been a Shabazz Muhammad fan. The UCLA guard has some real issues going right, he’s got a knock on him for his attitude and, in general, there are doubters about his viability to match his reputation. He was once the No. 1 overall high school player in the country. He can drive, elevate and had shed some baby weight, but I still think he’s a safer pick in the late 20s.
My other pass-on-him player: Jamaal Franklin of San Diego State. To me, the definition of a good college player who got the most out of his ability — but I don’t think he’s cut out for many seasons in the NBA. He’s not athletic — at all. He can’t go left — at all. Volume producer and really a big-time project of a player. I’d have inhibitions about taking him in the 30s, let alone the 20s, where he’s slotted.
6. Who are the top 2 players to avoid in the second round?
Well, now you get into the question of questionable guys to begin with. No second-rounder is a guarantee, obviously, so who are we thinking is as close to a lifer in Europe or perpetually in the D-League? For the sake of the question, I’ll pick two guys slotted in most mocks as going in the 30s or 40s, meaning they’ll almost certainly be taken. My picks would be Grant Jerrett (USC) and C.J. Leslie (N.C. State). Two athletes with natural skill, but I have big-time doubts either will have four complete seasons in the NBA.
7. Which 2 players from the draft will have the most impact for a team next season?
Trey Burke and Anthony Bennett are my picks. On Burke, I think I’m higher on him than most. Many think he hit a ceiling in college and made the most of it. I think he’s a tremendous point guard, one with a game fit for the NBA — if he lands in the right spot. He’s ready for the league now (he almost left for the NBA in 2012, by the way) and has the vision, decision-making ability and transition game to survive in the NBA for a decade.
Bennett’s just a beast. So strong, so well-rounded. I think he’ll put up 15 points per game next season. I think his conditioning has improved and he’s got the variety in his game to work inside and outside. I love his game and basically have since he got to UNLV.
8. Who should the Suns take with the 5th, 30th and 57th picks?
Well, above I gave you my prediction as to who they’d take fifth. If it were up to me, I’d go Bennett in that spot, because he’s going to be available. Projecting forward, I’d take a chance and go with Wolters at 30 (I think there’s about an 80 percent chance he’s there for them.) And on the tail end of the draft, you can obviously take a chance on a project player and see if it works out. I’d say Glen Rice, Jr., but I just don’t think he’ll be around. That said, a player projected in the 50s/undrafted that I’d go with: Michael Snaer. Guy hit multiple game-winners at Florida State, is a great defender, stands 6-5 and has the drive to make it in the pros. He’s probably going to go undrafted. And he’s probably going to be playing on an NBA roster eight months from now.
9. Is this the year to trade out of, stay, or trade up in the draft?
Unless a team really has ins on a player they think is likely to be plucked well ahead of them, why not stay put? The tendency for teams to make draft-night deals doesn’t usually lend itself to beneficial outcomes. Go and check the past 15 years worth of draft picks (I have) and you’ll see plenty of trades. Sometimes those trades are byproducts of in-season swaps, but plenty of times we’ve seen switches on the night of the draft. Sometimes it’s justified, but often it’s just not worth it — and players often end up leaving said team within four years. This is a year where there’s a lot of similar talent in the 20-40 range, and it’s probably worth it to sit tight and see what falls to you.
Thank you Matt for your time and we will be doing another Q & A a few days after the draft to recap what happened and spin it going forward.