By Sean Deveney (Sporting News)
Seems like every time the NBA draft rolls around, one asset general managers must scramble to find is a pure point guard. This year figures to be no different.
But there's a problem. "There's some guards out there who have potential," said one West general manager, "but there aren't a whole lot of surefire, pure point guards. There are a lot of combo guards in this draft, like Jeff Teague and Stephen Curry. You don't know how those guys will translate in the NBA. [Minnesota's] Randy Foye is a good example. He didn't make it as a point guard, but he's been very good at shooting guard. But now you've got a 6-3, 6-4 shooting guard, and that presents its own problems."
Because so many of the teams in the lottery are in need of point guard help, and because the position is lacking in this year's draft, you can expect to see teams gambling on some backcourt risks. The first two point guards taken could very well be a pair of teenagers playing in Europe -- Ricky Rubio and Brandon Jennings. Then, there will be teams hoping they can transform combo guards into point men, an always difficult task. After that, look for teams to take chances on good-but-not-great prospects who happen to be point guards, like Eric Maynor, Ty Lawson, Patrick Mills and Darren Collison.
This also makes putting together a mock draft a little tricky -- most scouts and general managers say that individual workouts, especially head-to-head workouts, will be more important than usual in determining which combo guards are best suited to run the point in the NBA. But still, here's how things are shaping up in this year's lottery, according to those in the know:
1. Sacramento. Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma. Averaging 21.7 points and an incredible 14.2 rebounds. No-brainer top pick. His only weakness is free-throw shooting -- he comes in at 58.5 percent.
2. Washington. Hasheem Thabeet, C, Connecticut. He did struggle in Connecticut's two losses, but overall, Thabeet has put to rest the criticism that he disappears in big games. The Wizards would love to add a guy of his size and shot-blocking ability, but it's likely that the Wizards, conscious of the luxury tax, trade this pick.
3. L.A. Clippers. Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain. Rubio is a dazzling playmaker. He suffered an injury earlier in the season, but has bounced back nicely. The Clippers have a long commitment to PG Baron Davis, but have been open to moving him.
4. Oklahoma City. Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona. The Thunder are a big man away from completing a pretty fearsome young starting five, and Hill would be an ideal fit. Hill has had the breakout year that scouts were expecting, averaging 18.4 points and 11.1 rebounds. He can hit the boards, block shots and score when needed, the kind of guy Oklahoma City needs.
5. Memphis. Greg Monroe, C/PF, Georgetown. The Grizzlies have stocked up on perimeter players, and now need to add big men. This draft class is not very big, but Monroe is a creative high-post big man and could be a boon to SG O.J. Mayo and SF Rudy Gay.
6. Minnesota. Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, Wake Forest. The Timberwolves could be in a good position, because though they need point guard help, they also need some athleticism at small forward. Not many other lottery teams have that need. The Timberwolves will have their pick of players like Aminu and Earl Clark of Louisville.
7. Golden State. Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy. Jennings has struggled in Italy, but he has great natural tools. The Warriors want to bolster the point guard position, in case they need to keep Monta Ellis as a shooting guard. A Jennings-Ellis backcourt is undersized, but incredibly fast.
8. Toronto. James Harden, SG, Arizona State. Harden is an excellent all-around scorer, though he has struggled during the Sun Devils' three-game losing streak (17-for-50, 34 percent shooting). He is small for a shooting guard (6-5), but he'd be a very good outside complement to Chris Bosh.
9. New York. Jeff Teague, PG/SG, Wake Forest. Teague's stock has cooled off recently, but his skills as a versatile backcourt scorer remain unquestioned. He could play a Leandro Barbosa-type role off the bench for Mike D'Antoni -- that is, if the Knicks don't trade the pick.
10. Indiana. Jrue Holiday, PG/SG, UCLA. Holiday probably needs more time at UCLA, but he's a good example of what a lack of talent at the point guard position can do. He needs to improve in just about every facet of the game, but he has good size and clear natural ability. With PGs T.J. Ford and Jarrett Jack, the Pacers can afford to take a chance on developing a point guard.
11. Charlotte. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, Davidson. The Bobcats are again expected to shop restricted free agent PG Raymond Felton, with D.J. Augustin taking over as the starter. Curry would be the ideal backup, able to fill in at the point while providing perimeter shooting.
12. New Jersey. Earl Clark, SF, Louisville. The Nets would like to add an athletic wing player, and Clark would fit the bill. With the Nets looking to clear out for 2010, though, this pick could be trade bait.
13. Chicago. Chase Budinger, SG, Arizona. Should the Bulls let SG Ben Gordon leave in free agency (they almost certainly will) and should they trade PG Kirk Hinrich, the team will be short on 3-point shooting. Budinger, shooting 41.8 percent from the 3-point line, can help solve that problem.
14. Phoenix. Willie Warren, PG, Oklahoma. Again, a shortage of point guards in this draft could cause some teams to stretch. Warren is a freshman who draws pretty mixed reviews from NBA personnel-types. He is big (6-3) and quick, but whether he has the playmaking skill to be an NBA point guard remains a question