CBSSports.com college basketball writer (and incidentally, my cousin) Matt Norlander gave me his take on the 2014 NBA Draft, from a wide-angle perspective and in terms of who could fit with the Suns. Here’s what he had to say.
Eric Saar: Is this (going to be) the best draft in NBA History? Why or why not?
Matt Norlander: It’s most certainly not going to be the best draft ever. I think 1984 has that one locked up for some time. Could it be the best draft of the past 10 years? I think it’s plausible. I’d define that not only by who gets taken at the top — and how many All-NBA teams those players go on to make — but also the value that’s coming later in the first round and even into round No. 2. I think plenty of guys who get taken in the 30s and 40s this year will wind up playing in the NBA for six or seven seasons, and that’s a big accomplishment when you fall that far.
I think it’s a deep draft and a top-heavy draft. We seldom get both.
ES: How many of the players in this draft have the potential to be perennial All-Stars? Hall-of-famers?
MN: Hall-of-Fame capability:
Perennial (let’s say five or more All-Star appearances)
That’s a really good group from this draft. Some reading will say I’m overvaluing this year’s talent. I just don’t think so. I think the group coming in, at large, is mature, NBA-ready and have the game to be successful long-term.
ES: Who should or will go number one overall?
MN: I think Wiggins should and will go No. 1. His ability is still iron ore waiting to be carved out of a mountain. He’s the NBA prototype, and his long-range shooting is likely to get better in the next two years. Athletically he’s able to keep up with NBA players right now, and he’s a good fit for Cleveland. I’m not saying Embiid at No. 1 simply because I cannot trust big men with back issues (Editor’s note: We got answers back from Matt before news of Embiid’s foot injury that will keep him out for 4-6 months). It’s too much of a gamble. He could pan out to be an all-time top 10 center, but that’s the best-case scenario, and you rarely get that with anyone 6-feet-11 or taller.
ES: Phoenix has a pretty solid cast of role players, just needing a superstar. Through the draft they “need” a backup point guard and a power forward, who are the best realistic candidates?
MN: We’re saying PHX doesn’t trade up, right? If that’s the case, they’ll have to go power forward first, in that 14 spot. It’s unrealistic to see Gordon falling that far, and I don’t know enough about Dario Saric’s game to say if he’d be a good fit. Know who I like? Adreian Payne. He’s not seen as lottery-worthy by most, and it confounds me. He’s got range, rebounds like a maniac, can play post-up ball, handles well and is a good rim protector. Has a knock on him for not being a super savvy player and not being exceedingly smart in all situations, but I think he’s just a hair shy of that five-All-Star-game crew I listed above.
If Phoenix gets Payne, Suns fans should be happy.
At point guard, hope Kyle Anderson is around. He’ll likely be slotted as a small forward for NBA purposes, but he deserves a shot at running an NBA offense. Very smart, smooth, savvy player. Incredible vision. He’s one of my favorite players in this draft. If he’s off the board, Shabazz Napier is set up to be a 10-year backup point guard in the NBA — and a very good one. He might well one day get a shot at truly running a team, but chasing Napier or Anderson should be what the Suns key in on at No. 18.
At 27, if they stay put, why not take a chance on Cleanthony Early? He’s forecast anywhere from 22-37 in the mocks I’ve seen. I think no player is more widely spread across the mocks like Early. But he’s a bargain anywhere lower than 30. He’s a small forward, and he’s gotten better with each year. Did you see him perform against Kentucky in the NCAAs? Or help Wichita State enter the tournament undefeated?
ES: Who are the most overrated and underrated players who will probably go in the first round?
MN: Let’s go with two apiece.
Noah Vonleh. I just don’t get it. It’s a guy with big hands, a growing body and solid feet. But fifth overall? I wouldn’t take him until 11th or 12th, personally. (There’s a reason why I write and will never GM, I’m aware.) He was a non-factor in plenty of games at Indiana. I’m failing to see how he’s a better value than a guy I’ve got rated in the underrated section below. When you’re 6-10 in the Big Ten and don’t even shoot 49 percent from the field, I have questions about your stock as a top-five pick in a draft like this.
Zach LaVine. This one is the most popular pick of a player that’s overvalued. LaVine looked lost frequently at UCLA last year. His athleticism and improved 3-point shot have put him in position to be a top-20 pick, but his defensive issues, inability to see the floor and frequent tunnel vision could easily keep him at the D-League level for a year or two. Few guys have left college after a freshman season with more “prove it to me” taped to their back like LaVine.
Julius Randle. So now he’s seen, possibly as a No. 9 or No. 10 pick. A year ago, his name was in the mix to possibly be No. 1 overall. Then he beasted out at Kentucky and totally exceeded the hype. He was a bully on the boards, posted well and proved to be Kentucky’s MVP. With questions regarding possible foot surgery (a screw may need to come out, which dates back to a procedure he had his senior year of high school), that’s the reason he’s slipping. I’m telling you, Randle is going to be a 10-time All-Star, barring injury. Teams will regret passing on him, unless they’ve got one of the first three picks.
Jahii Carson. So he’s seen as a player that could go late 40s or in the 50s. Perhaps it’s because he could be a little too ball-hoggy for a guy playing point guard, but he’s the fast person with the ball in this draft. He’ll be an NBA player for at least eight years. I think his value and talent are much more worthy in the 25-35 range, personally.
ES: A big thanks to Matt for his expert perspective on the draft and the Suns’ part in it. We’ll do another recap a couple days after the draft to see how everything went.