The 2012 NBA draft is less than a year away! And since we did this fun exercise with the NFL in the aftermath of the 2011 draft, the NBA deserves the same treatment. If you thought projecting 30 NFL teams for next season was difficult – I’m still getting emails about having the Dolphins as the worst team in the league – the NBA was even more challenging because of the lockout and the potential for some elite players moving between now and the February 2012 trading deadline (Chris Paul, Dwight Howard; who knows what Deron Williams will do or what will happen to Monta Ellis). So I only took a shot at the lottery, and here’s my guess who the worst teams in the league next year:
1. Charlotte – Probably between 17-22 wins.
2. Toronto – Drafted a Euro who will have no impact; not sure how they’ll improve on 22 wins.
3. Sacramento – Highest scoring team in the league will not even pretend to play defense.
4. Cleveland – Improved, but only into the 25-30 win category.
5. Detroit – Like Monroe and Knight, but the rest of the roster is very, very suspect.
6. Minnesota – I’m in the minority, but I really like the nucleus now that Rubio has arrived.
7. Phoenix – Is there a player on the roster you absolutely love? Didn’t think so.
8. New Jersey – Based on this placement, I don’t have high hopes for Deron Williams staying in the Swamp.
9. Utah - Could see the Jazz fighting for the last playoff spot in the West, but a more likely scenario is 35 wins.
10. Denver – Toughest team to peg – what happens with NeNe? Do they flip Andre Miller? What becomes of Kenyon Martin and JR Smith?
11. Milwaukee – [ED. In the initial version, I had Golden State here, but what the hell, the Warriors are making the playoffs!]
12. Houston – I can see the Rockets getting Dwight Howard, which obviously would put them in the playoffs. But I don’t think they will get him.
13. New Orleans – David West said this morning he’ll opt-out; might as well kiss Chris Paul goodbye.
14. Orlando – Sorry, Magic fans.
I’ll address the obvious questions you have: What are New Orleans and Orlando doing here? Well, I’ve got Chris Paul and Dwight Howard getting traded at some point in the next eight months. Whether it will be this offseason or at the trading deadline in February 2012, I’m not sure. I think the only team in the lottery that will be in the mix for either player is Houston. And yes, I have the Wizards in the playoffs next season (I had them in the playoffs last year, but clearly, that was a bad call).
And now, the 2012 NBA mock draft:
1. Charlotte - Harrison Barnes, SF, UNC … Blows up with an outstanding sophomore year and leads the Tar Heels to the title. His freshman struggles behind him, Barnes will be viewed as a franchise NBA player by March.
2. Toronto – Austin Rivers, PG, Duke … Ahead of all the studly bigs? I’m crazy, obviously. But Rivers + DeRozan will be pretty scary by 2014.
3. Sacramento – Anthony Davis, PF, Kentucky … He’s already a nasty, nasty talent. A more aggressive Perry Jones, and I see some Lamar Odom-type skills, too.
4. Cleveland - Perry Jones, SF, Baylor … it’ll be tempting to take Ohioan Jared Sullinger, but I’m assuming the Bears will be Jones’ team this season, and he’ll flourish like many expected him to last year.
5. Detroit – Quincy Miller, SF, Baylor … slick handle, but I’m curious if a coach will try to fix his jumper (think Shawn Marion). The skill level for 6-foot-9 is sweet.
6. L.A. Clippers (own Minnesota’s 2012 1st round pick) – Brad Beal, SG, Florida … the last piece to the puzzle? Ha. I watch this highlight reel of Beal and I instantly think Eric Gordon. Surround Blake Griffin with enough shooters, and the Clippers will quickly make themselves Title contenders.
7. Phoenix - Terrence Jones, SF, Kentucky … love his game but not his attitude. I’m guessing that he’ll become something of a leader on a talented but young Wildcats’ team.
8. New Jersey – Michael Gilchrist, SF, Kentucky … Nets can’t pass on the former NJ high school star.
9. Utah – Myck Kabongo, PG, Texas … The last two Longhorns point guards have gone in the first round (Avery Bradley, Cory Joseph), but I think Kabongo has more offensive potential than both of them.
10. Denver - Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State … I wonder if Sullinger is exposed a bit next season without Diebler around, which is why I have him slipping this far. I know they just drafted Faried, but Sullinger, offensively, should fill the void of Nene’s scoring by year two.
11. Milwaukee - James McAdoo, F, UNC … Right now he translates to a SF at the next level, but I wonder if he’ll return for his sophomore year because barring injury, he’s not starting over Barnes, Henson or Zeller on the frontline.
12. Houston – Tyler Zeller, C, UNC … Will be interesting to see whether teams like Zeller (how has a nice hook shot and a decent offensive game), or the athletic Plumlees (blocks, runs the floor gracefully, kind of reminds me of Ty Thomas).
13. New Orleans - Thomas Robinson, PF, Kansas … probably a bit high, but with little returning to Kansas, Robinson will be the featured performer, and could put up 20-10. A nice replacement for David West?
14. Orlando – Jeremy Lamb, SG, Connecticut … Can you tell I love this kid’s game? A steal here, though I’m not sure he’ll get by Denver or Houston.