So here's the question, if contracts were no object and you were building a team out of the players who are 25 and under in the NBA, who would you draft first? What would your draft board look like? Here's my take on the Top 25 under 25.
1. Dwight Howard: Franchise big men are few and far between so I think you have to put Superman Jr. at the top of the list.
2. Chris Paul : Even though quality young point guards are abundant in this new generation, I'd still go with CP3 as my #2 pick. He's a true 1A star who can be the best player AND the motor that drives his team; I'm not sure the same can be said for most other players on this list (or in this entire league even.)
3. Blake Griffin: Am I going overboard by putting Blake over Kevin Durant? Possibly but one thing is for certain, Blake Griffin's going to get a team more highlights and put more asses in the seat and in this economy, I think that has to count for something. As for on the court, I like Blake's attitude a bit more than Durant and like that he's one of the few young power forward in the league that seems to be willing to mix it up down low a bit rather than just hoist jumpers. And as many others have said, his energy is so contagious that its even brought Baron Davis back from the dead.
4. Kevin Durant: My 1A comment in the Chris Paul write-up was indeed aimed at Durant. While Kevin Durant is a scoring machine, I still believe that the engine that runs the Thunder is Russell Westbrook. Durant reminds me a bit of Paul Pierce; a guy who is definitely the best player on the team but isn't necessarily the lead dog. I can understand putting Durant as high as two and probably wouldn't ever put him before four but if I was building a team, I'd opt for Dewey, CP3, and Blake first.
5. Derrick Rose: Celtics fans might hate me for this but, yes, Derrick Rose is the best young point guard in the NBA. I love Rondo but his absolute lack of a shot troubles me. Yes, Rose's inconsistent defense is also bothersome but I have more faith in Rose improving that weakness than Rondo ever being able to knock down the jumper as well as Rose, who in spite of having limited but expanding range has a pretty nice mid-range J.
This is where I think things really start to get tricky, and I'll probably look back at this in a month and hate some of my rankings but if the draft was today, I'd go...
6. Rajon Rondo: If anyone wants to say that this is a homer pick, well, yeah, it might be. But for all of the complaints that Rondo has the luxury of playing with three (and now four) Hall of Famers, the flipside of that is if he might be allowed to do more and have more impact himself on a team like OK City.
19. Josh Smith
7. Russell Westbrook: Russell seems a bit like Rondo-lite but, y'know, there are worse things to be. I think he's a players that will continue to get better and will always be in the conversation with the best PG's in the league but for some reason, I just see him as always being a shade below the elite.
8. Al Horford: Because of the depth of the young PG field, I could see moving Horford up a bit but there's just something that just seems to be missing with Al. If Durant is a 1B star, Horford is like Kevin Garnett a 2A type - someone who might not be the best player on the team but is the leader and motivator.
9. Stephen Curry: As much as I like the Monta/Curry tandem, I don't think Curry will ever be as good as he could be since he'll be playing off ball more often alongside Monta. On another team, I think he might be garnering All-Star buzz but he's stuck in a role on Golden State. It's a role he still fill quite nicely but it's hard to be as consistent as he could be as a true PG on another squad.
10. Eric Gordon: To me, Gordon is where you get to the guys who are clear second stars. That's not to say that he isn't a very good player and a potential All-Star talent but I don't think a team with him as the #1 option is going to be anything more than a 2nd round playoff squad. He reminds me a bit of Joe Johnson; Johnson and Horford can make a little noise in the playoffs but they'll never be able to beat the elite squads. If Blake Griffin doesn't pan out to the lofty expectations I'm already holding him to, the Clippers could very well be Atlanta West.
11. Brandon Jennings: Jennings has his flaws but he's also 21 and seems to have a great attitude and work ethic and that helps him out here. If I'm stuck with the #12 pick, I'd rather grab a floor general with tons of upside in Jennings than someone like Rudy Gay or Brook Lopez.
12. John Wall:: Not to sound like a grumpy sports talk radio host but there's just something about Wall's showboating that irks me. While Brandon Jennings definitely has a style to him, Wall's flash seems to be a bigger part of his actual attitude. It also doesn't help that he's currently on the biggest group of knuckleheads in the NBA as the Wizards might as well call themselves the 13 Stooges. On the bright side, Rashard Lewis is known for his work ethic so maybe some of it could wear off on Wall. But, then again, I could see Wall being like, "Wait? Aren't the fool who cried on draft night because you went 2nd round? Later." and then dougieing off into the sunset.
13. Monta Ellis: Ellis is another guy who gets a bump up for being fun to watch. He's also really improved his game over the years and calmed down and I truly feel like he's a leader right now. The reason I have him below Westbrook is because he's still a bit of a shooting guard in a point guards body and, for all of his improvements, he'll never be a true PG. I originally had him higher but the 'tweener factor made me reconsider and move him done a bit.
14. Brook Lopez: I think Lopez had been extremely disappointing this year and he may be a really good #3 option more than anything else but he's a legit big man and those are hard to find these days.
15. Andrew Bynum: Honestly, if this really was a draft, I could see me second guessing myself out of his pick because of Bynum's injury history but the bottom line is that he can score in the post and defend and the Lakers don't utilize him nearly as much as they could (and possibly should). I'm really not sold on this but his size and potential are too hard to pass up.
16. Tyreke Evans: If I had made this list at this point last year, 'Reke would be a lot higher. But he hasn't improved a ton this year and the more I watch him, the more I see him as a guy that you really have to build around and it takes very specific players to build around him. Also, the attitude questions are somewhat severe with him. He's a freak of nature who definitely would be happy to land at this late in the draft but I just feel like building a winner around the players above him would be an easier task.
17. LaMarcus Aldridge: Aldridge is basically a poor man's Bosh and I think we've all seen the problem with being the actual Bosh so it's tough to rank him much higher than this. On the other hand, he's keeping a MASH unit in Portland afloat and has stepped up his game a bit so I think it's nearly impossible to move him any lower either.
18. Joakim Noah: Noah is an old school hustle player who you hate to play against but love if he's wearing your team's uniform. It's taken a while for me to embrace his game but he's a solid player who can have an impact on the game without ever touching the ball on offense. I could see him being ranked as high as 13 but I'm still slow to come around to embracing his game and, well, he doesn't wear my team's uniform so I kind of hate him so I'll rank him here.
: Noah and Smith are kind of similar but I like Noah better because the C/PF tweener is an easier fit than the SF/PF tweener. If I drafted Smith, I might spend the rest of my first round crossing my fingers that Michael Beasley fell to my 2nd round pick because I think they could be a great (albeit certifiable) tandem. Still, I think Smith's still getting a hang of his role and abilities on offense and his defense is top notch.
20. Rudy Gay
: Since I originally threw together my board a week ago, no player has fallen faster than Rudy Gay. I was a fan of Rudy coming out of UConn and he's silenced some critics but I think one of the reasons that the Grizzlies haven't improved is because Rudy hasn't really stepped up. Nor do I think he ever will. Yes, he's a hell of an offensive player but his attitude (or lack thereof) and lack of passing (still not sure if it's a lack of ability or interest) makes it hard to want to take him over these other players.
21. Kevin Love
: Love's improved a lot this year and is putting up some ridiculous numbers on a losing team but I can't help but think that his shortcoming are also a reason the team is losing. Replace him with Joakim Noah's defense and intensity and I could see the Wolves gutting out a few more wins. Still, it's hard to argue with the numbers he's putting up and the improvement he's made.
22. Derrick Favors
: Obviously, I'm not a huge believer in Favors but he definitely has a ton of upside which makes him the pick over guys who are actually producing, like Paul Millsap or even Aundray Blatche. It's just hard to put the fate of your team in the hands of a guy who wasn't even the main low post threat on his college team.
23. Luol Deng
: It's kind of amazing to me that Deng's only 25. It's kind of depressing to me that he isn't any better than he was at 21. Still, his defense and rebounding is helpful and his attitude makes him dependable which may be the most important feature in terms of taking him over guys like Evan Turner, Wilson Chandler, or Nic Batum.
23. Darren Collison
: Again, arguments could be made for similar players, in this case: George Hill, Jerryd Bayless, or OJ Mayo but I like Collison's all-around game along with the fact that he's shown that he can lead a team. The Hornets did better than I expected with Darren filling in for CP3 and those are hardly easy shoes to fill.
24. Michael Beasley:
: I'm an unabashed defender of Michael Beasley and would gladly take him on my team at this slot in a draft, especially because I could probably grab another tweener forward like Batum or Chandler who could trade tough defensive assignments with him. Still, Beasley is a bit like Rudy Gay in that I'm just not sure how much of his talent translates into winning, especially because of his personality.
25. DeMarcus Cousins:
: The 25th pick is tough, especially since there are a lot of candidates out there with potential or are who already putting up decent numbers. And while I don't think anyone else out there really has the potential of Cousins, none of them have the attitude either. Well, there's one who might match him in both areas and that's Andray Blatche but I like Cousins's post skills better. Life most definitely will not be a picnic with Cousins around but I'd still probably roll the dice on him.