The best answer any fan ought to give when asked how his or her team performed on draft day is, “Ask me in a couple of years.” I was excited about the drafting of Cade McNown by the Bears and thought the Bulls’ draft day trade of Elton Brand for Tyson Chandler would be great in the long run. Meanwhile, I thought Brian Urlacher was a decent yet unsexy pick and Kirk Hinrich would be a permanent NBA sixth man at best when they were drafted. It goes to show you that (1) draft day conventional wisdom turns into regular season and postseason bunk pretty quickly and (2) I’m an idiot. With that, here’s my knee-jerk reaction to last night’s NBA Draft that will be worthless by the end of this Fourth of July weekend.
A couple of days ago, I made the argument for the Bulls to take Brandon Roy (who I still believe will be the Rookie of the Year even while being stuck with the dysfunctional Trailblazers) while acknowledging that I’d be fine with either LaMarcus Aldridge or Tyrus Thomas. The Bulls ended up picking Aldridge with the #2 pick and then going through a convoluted trade with Portland where the Bulls gave him plus a future second rounder up for Thomas and Viktor Khryapa, who I had never heard of before last night. Considering that most teams had both Aldridge and Thomas rated pretty equally, John Paxson made a slick move since he was able to get the guy he obviously wanted along with another asset off of the bench. That trade made absolutely no sense from Portland’s standpoint – Aldridge would have fallen to them at #4 since Adam Morrison was practically guaranteed to go to Michael Jordan’s new regime in Charlotte, yet the Blazers ended up giving away their first round draft pick from 2004. Great fleece job here by Paxson.
Even though I pushed for Roy, the Thomas pick makes a lot more sense when coupled with the trade with the Sixers for their pick at #13, Thabo Sefolosha. Granted, the only footage I have ever seen of this guy was the reel ESPN put up last night after his name was called up and I don’t know any more about his game than what Stephen A. Smith had screamed into his microphone. Still, Sefolosha’s physical attributes certainly fit into what the Bulls need at shooting guard (assuming that this guy can play at 2), so if he’s as good as the international scouts say he is, particularly as a perimeter defender, he’s going to part of a great guard rotation with Hinrich and Ben Gordon. The only thing I’m frightened of is that he is supposedly the best basketball player ever to come out of Switzerland, which means we’re guaranteed Chris “YWML” Berman will be cracking jokes about Sefolosha’s neutrality for years. At the very least, the Bulls are now going to be an extremely deep team from the 1 through 4 spots.
That leaves Bulls to address the opening at center through either free agency or a trade. Joel Przybilla, Nene, and Nazr Mohammed are the reasonable free agent prospects with a small hope for Ben Wallace (although as great of a defensive player as he is, watching brick 3 out of every 4 free throws in the playoffs this year was disheartening). With such an important hole to fill, the offseason is nowhere near over for the Bulls front office.
The one thing that is for certain after last night’s NBA Draft is that John Paxson will no longer receive the backhanded compliment that he always makes the smart pick that’s a sure thing (translation: he didn’t have the cajones to select a “risky” player that might turn into a huge star). Thomas was unquestionably the riskiest of the consensus top six players heading into last night and Sefolosha is someone few people have seen in person, so it’s clear that Paxson made his picks based on the high ceiling as opposed to the floor. Ask me in a couple years about how the Bulls did in the 2006 draft.
Other NBA Draft Thoughts:
1) Where’s My TNT? – Add my name to the list of the multitudes of NBA fans that really want to see the NBA Draft telecast head back to TNT from ESPN. Jay Bilas and Greg Anthony are fine commentators (and I did enjoy Dan Patrick and David Stern exchanging good-natured insults with each in other in the middle of the first round, culminating with Patrick announcing to viewers and the crowd at Madison Square Garden that he always liked NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue better), but all of the dogs in my neighborhood starting barking simultaneously when ESPN went to a split-screen with Stephen A. Smith and Dick Vitale. I need my Charles Barkley analysis of the Knicks draft picks (we’ll just have to settle for the New York Post view, where Isiah Thomas’ level of ineptitude continues to amaze the masses by picking a projected second round pick at #20). I’ve said it before that the TNT NBA studio crew is the best in all of sports and with the ridiculous suits, entourages, and trades that occur on draft night, they are the perfect match for this event.
2) Illini Pride – I know I’m completely biased here, but James Augustine and Dee Brown should have both been drafted a bit higher than #41 and #46, respectively. This year certainly didn’t match the school pride Illini Nation had last summer when Deron Williams went at #3 and Luther Head jumped into the first round. The consolation here is that both James and Dee went to teams that they’ll fit in with well (what I mean is that neither of them ended up with the Knicks). Augustine will be playing along side emerging superstar Dwight Howard to provide an imposing frontline. At the same time, Brown is going to be paired up with Williams again in Utah, which means Illinois fans can party like it’s 2005 everytime the Jazz step on the floor. James and Dee are the two winningest players in the history of the University of Illinois, yet it was Patrick O’Bryant (about as Irish as Shaquille O’Neal), a Bradley center no one had heard of before the Braves’ Sweet Sixteen run, that ended up being a lottery pick. Such is life in the NBA Draft.
(UPDATE: Deadspin, which is edited by Illinois alum Will Leitch, has a nice take on the reunion of Dee and Deron.)