NBA Mock Draft: Top five picks

BY KEVIN BERTRAM, contributor

1. Charlotte Bobcats: Anthony Davis (PF — Kentucky — 19 years old)

Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis was named the Associated Press' Player of the Year this season.

Almost everyone has Davis as the consensus No. 1 overall pick this year, and there’s a good reason for that. He’s a defensive juggernaut who has a NBA-ready frame and brilliant athleticism. The AP Player of the Year is averaging 14.3 points per game, while hauling down 10 rebounds. However, these are by far his most ordinary stats: what comes next defines Davis as a special player.

First, he’s blocking 4.6 shots per game. When Davis is on the floor, Kentucky’s opponents watch their field goal percentages plummet: 14 percent of their total shots are blocked by the Wildcats when he’s patrolling the paint. He compares favorably in this regard to recent renowned, current NBA shot blockers when they were in college, as seen here in blocks / per 40 minutes:

  1. Anthony Davis, Kentucky (2010-2011): 5.85
  2. Emeka Okafor, Conneticut (2002-2003): 5.71
  3. Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut (2007-2008): 5.64 1
  4. Greg Oden, Ohio State (2006-2007): 4.84
  5. Tyrus Thomas, LSU (2005-2006): 4.63

Second, he’s shooting 63 percent from the field this year. Part of this is a result of the program he plays at: Callipari’s Kentucky team this year has multiple blue-chip players who all get looks, which means Davis gets to more or less pick his shots. 2 In an alternate universe where he played for another team, Davis would be asked to take on a larger offensive responsibility.

That’s not a far-fetched scenario. The Charlotte Bobcats nearly have a lock on being the worst team in the NBA this season, and will likely enter the draft lottery with a 25 percent chance at landing the Kentucky freshman. The Bobcats actually have some nice young pieces on their roster: rookies Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, the solid-but-unspectacular DJ Augustin and what remains of Tyrus Thomas’ career. Regardless, if taken on draft night by this team, Davis would become their franchise player right off-the-bat.

This kind of pressure has broken NBA rookies before, especially when they fail to live up to it. However, it’s hard to imagine Davis not being able to make good on his dangerous combination of talent, athleticism and passion.

Combining two offensively-limited players like Biyombo and Davis in one line-up could be interesting for Charlotte, who have a chance to remake themselves into a defensively dynamic team with this young combination. Offense might still be a problem, though.

2. Washington Wizards: Thomas Robinson (PF — Kansas — 21)

Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson averaged a double-double this season for the Jayhawks, scoring 17.7 points and pulling down 11.8 rebounds per game. Photo by: SD Dirk / Flickr

This might come as somewhat of a surprise to supporters of Kentucky’s Kidd-Gilchrist, but I just don’t see the Wizards gambling on another uber-talented young player who may — or may not — reach his full potential. The Wizards need hope, and they need it soon. They’ll go with Robinson, who has given scouts every reason to believe that he’ll at least be a solid pro.

In many ways, Robinson is the alternate universe version of Anthony Davis, in that Kansas has needed Robinson — in the absence of Marcus and Markieff Morris — to produce offensively. He’s giving them 17.7 points per game, while shooting 51 percent from the floor.

Robinson is a great rebounder at the collegiate level, averaging 11.8 per game. He’s grabbing 21.6 percent of his team’s rebounds while he’s on the floor. As Denver’s Kenneth Faried has showed this season, effective rebounding is one statistic that usually translates well to the professional game, and Robinson’s combination of athleticism and basketball IQ makes him a glass cleaner.

He’ll be an interesting addition to a Wizard’s line-up that features two real keepers: John Wall and the recently acquired Nene. This selection may come down to whether or not Washington thinks Nene is a better fit at PF (Robinson’s NBA position) or C, but it’s no secret that they’re over Andray Blatche’s play.

Part of the reason I think they pass on Kidd-Gilcrist here is that it would be essentially admitting that they don’t see last year’s draft pick, Jan Vesely, as their wing of the future. In spite of a difficult season, it’s a little early to be calling the Czech forward a bust: European players often take a few years to adjust to the pace, athleticism and rules of the NBA.

Robinson’s not a perfect fit here, but he’ll be a good pick-and-roll partner for Wall and will be ready to contribute from day one. For the Wizards, that’s a start.

3. New Orleans Hornets: Andre Drummond (C — Connecticut — 18)

Kidd-Gilchrist gets skipped again in favor of Andre Drummond, a 6-foot-10 center from Connecticut who, to be quite honest, I’m not sold on quite yet. The physical tools are all there, but his game is raw compared to his peers in this draft and him and teammates Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier failed to take a good Connecticut team anywhere this season.

His stat line, given his tools, profile and Big East competition, was mediocre. He averaged 10 points and 7.6 rebounds on 53 percent shooting this season, which compared to the lines coming from Robinson and Davis, are pedestrian numbers. He’s a good shotblocker — 2.7 blocks per game — but is simply not on the level of most of his big man peers in the draft. A comparison is here, again using blocks / 40 minutes:

  • Andre Drummond, Connecticut: 3.74
  • John Henson, North Carolina: 4.05
  • Fab Melo, Syracuse: 4.61
  • Jeff Withey, Kansas: 5.47
  • Gorgui Dieng, Louisville: 3.91
  • Anthony Davis, Kentucky: 5.85

New Orleans is in no hurry to rebuild, and Drummond would be a nice project for them to pair with Eric Gordon. Chris Kaman will likely be gone by this point, leaving an opening for him, and it would allow New Orleans to explore a trade for Emeka Okafor or — since Drummond is unlikely to contribute mightily his first year — keep him as a starter and move the rookie to the bench. As overhyped as I believe Drummond is, it can’t be denied that centers are a valuable commodity for teams — even in the PG-era. I believe this drives the decision making in New Orleans. They can take Kidd-Gilchrist here, but small forwards are a dime-a-dozen in NBA free agency.

They may regret passing on Kidd-Gilchrist, but I can’t see Drummond falling past here.

4. Toronto Raptors: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (SF — Kentucky — 18)

Talk about a perfect fit. The Raptors don’t need a big man — they’re significantly invested in Andrea Bargnani, and they have last year’s pick, center Jonas Valanciunas, presumably on his way over next year. SF is a position of need for Toronto — they play Linas Kleiza and Amir Johnson. Kidd-Gilchrist has the versatility to help the Raptors with many things, including their defense — which coach Dwayne Casey has been preaching about to his team.

The only reservation about him for the Raptors: he’s not a great shooter, only having converted 26 percent of his 3-point attempts at Kentucky, and his slashing, athletic style may duplicate that of DeMar DeRozan.

I think that’s a risk that the Raptors are willing to take, given that they need a SF and this draft is heavy on assets they already have.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jared Sullinger (PF/C — Ohio St. — 20)

Ohio State post player Jared Sullinger may have been the No. 1 pick in last year's NBA draft, but decided to return to the Buckeyes for one more season. Photo by: Penn State / Flickr

They have to take Bradley Beal here, right? Surely, Sullinger can’t be the fifth pick in this draft. The Cavaliers already have a top-5 pick, Tristan Thompson, in their power-forward rotation, after all, and they’re still high on their oft-injured Brazilian center, Anderson Varejao.

(NOTE: This is an interesting pick, additionally, because many people believe Sullinger could have contested — had he entered his name into it — Kyrie Irving for the honor of being the first overall pick in the draft, which would have had him landing with the Cavaliers as well.)

Believe it. Sullinger has many things going in his favor, including — and maybe most importantly — the belief by many teams that his strength will allow him to move over to the center position in the NBA, unlike other top-10 PF picks, Perry Jones and John Henson, who are both too slight of frame for the position.

Sullinger’s numbers aren’t the problem. He averaged a very respectable 17.6 points per game for the Buckeyes this season on 53 percent shooting from the field. To that, he added 9.1 rebounds per game. Most impressive is his true-shooting percentage: 60 percent overall.

No, the larger problem is that the player Sullinger is now is likely the player who he’ll be in five years. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: like I stated with the Wizards earlier, some teams seek out this limited potential in the draft instead of taking huge risks (Andre Drummond, to name just one). I sympathize with this view somewhat: one bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, as they say.

Yet, at only 6-9 — a generous listing at that — Sullinger may struggle against the larger centers of the NBA. It’s a risk Cleveland will have to take.

Again, Beal is probably a better fit here. But one thing that can’t be understated is that Sullinger is a locally known commodity, having attended Ohio State. In the mind of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, that may be worth something.

In the future, I’ll round out the rest of the first round of this draft.

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