SOULtober 2014: “Zak, you’re not black.” / What is Soul?

SOULtober 2014

PI_23soulmusic

“Zak, you’re not black. Stop trying to be.”

I can’t even begin to count how many times some adult told me that growing up. Teachers, parents, coaches, whomever. I heard it enough that it’s permanently ingrained in my memory. At the time, I didn’t get it. I still don’t. I never associated any of my interests or actions with a specific race. The fact that a person even could associate an entire genre of music or a sport specifically with one race baffled my pre-teen mind.

I’m now 22, and I’m still white. It still baffles me. How, exactly, does one “try to be black”? Sure, I probably tilted my hat to the side a little more than anyone ever should during my teenage years. I let my pants hang down my ass a bit further than is considered proper. But who’s the racist, the kid with a backwards hat and baggy sweatpants? Or the adult who see the kid with the backwards hat and sweatpants and immediately looks at such outfit choices as a racial thing?

That's not me, for the record. I've always been really damn skinny.
That’s not me, for the record. I’ve always been really damn skinny.

My two favorite athletes growing up, Allen Iverson and Chad Johnson/Ochocinco, were quite vocal about their “blackness” and that scared some people. But I was a fucking kid, I didn’t think about that stuff. I idolized these guys because of their dominance in their sport and their charisma. I legitimately never thought to myself that race had anything to do with, really, anything. But what really made certain authority figures think I was “trying to black” was my taste in music.

I LOVED rap and do to this day. I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Hip-Hop history. It’s sort of sad, actually. I was listening to rap before I could really even understand the lyrics. The sound of and emotion behind it just captivated me. I was this 10 year old kid who would walk around with his walkman, listening to rap CD’s I sometimes snuck off and bought at Best Buy on family shopping trips (shoutout dudes at Best Buy who always sold my 10-year old ass explicit CDs). My parents knew this and most certainly did not approve, even going as far as confiscating CDs I had.

But I’m a sneaky mother-shut it. I would grab a CD case out of my parents collection (usually Springsteen or Petty or something else they’d actually believe I was listening to), take the CD out and put it somewhere, then put one of my raps CD’s in the case. So I had would have the CD and walkman everywhere with me. They thought I was innocently riding in the back of the car listening to The Boss sing about American pride. In reality, I was cruisin’ with my head bangin’ listening to Ice Cube, Eminem, and Nas rap about quite the opposite.

cube

The years went by and I, sort of, expanded my musical horizons. I’ve always enjoyed every genre (including Soul). I just never really chose to listen to it on my own seeing as I was more concerned with expanding my knowledge of Hip-Hop while still finding times to listen to the classic rock anthems I knew every word to.

My newfound interest in Soul, however, has been sparked more by my disdain for some other current genres than anything else. I’m not trying to get into a whole thing, but the EDM/Rave scene was just never my thing. That’s not the music I want to dance to. It’s not what makes me happy. On the Hip-Hop ode to Soul “Slow Jamz” by Kanye West, Twista, and Jaime Foxx, the song starts off with Foxx saying…

You know, I was talkin’ to this girl. She was talkin’ bout the music all fast in the club, you know. She gotta drink water cause she’s thirsty. She danced like ninety-two-hundered songs back to back, with ain’t nobody really tryna find out what she feelin’

I feel like Foxx was talking about me. I AM THAT GIRL WHO NEEDS A GLASS OF WATER.

That’s a great music video btw…

So I’ve decided, instead of listening to the same 25 Kendrick Lamar songs I’ve been living off the last two years, that’d I’d go on this journey of cultural enlightenment. For an entire month I will listen to nothing but Soul. I’m setting out to touch on every era, subgenre, and region. Surely some great artists will get lost in the shuffle. If anything, I’m going to attempt to shed some light on some less-famous artists by todays standards. We all know names like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Al Green, etc. So while I’m sure I’ll cover them at some point, my ultimate goal is to find new soul music to enjoy.

This brings me to a question I need to attempt to answer right away…

What is Soul?

I don’t know. You probably don’t either. It’s a loaded question. Soul draws from and gave to so many different genres that many prominent artists and album can count as Soul while also counting as Gospel, Funk, Disco, R&B, Doo-Wop, Jazz, Blues, Psychedelic, Hip-Hop, or even Electronic. But in order to not get too out of hand this month, I need to establish at least a working definition. There are many different subgenres of Soul but we’ll get into that later. So I looked on the interwebs and got some key compositional and vocal components that are often associated with Soul music.

They include but are not limited to:

  • Often consists of handclaps, and sometimes the lead singer almost having a conversation with the background singers (referred to as call and response).
  • Key instruments often include electric guitar and bass, Hammond organ, keys, and horns.
  • Vocalist usually has vocal range that can encompass a wide range of human emotions, hence the word “Soul”.
  • Utilizes silence of “empty space” in the instrumentation

That’s really all I got. In the late 60’s Soul became something else entirely as artists ventured into different genres, but still fit into Soul. You don’t have to define an artist by one genre. Take James Brown for example. Referred to as “the godfather of Soul”, Brown began his career in Gospel and eventually gravitated towards Funk. Many artists struggle to find their sound within one genre. James Brown helped invent two.

Classic example of soul music, and a great fucking album.
Classic example of soul music, and a great fucking album.

Any music I go through will at least be considered somewhat Soul by sites such as AllMusic, Wikipedia, etc. I’m not setting out to define Soul, because I can’t.

While it’s hard to word a definition for Soul, it’s not hard to know it when you hear it. You can tell if something is Soul pretty easily. So while some of the music I cover will also certainly fit into other genres, some characteristics of Soul need to be present in order for me to spend my time with it this month.

I don’t really have a plan for this. I’m just going to listen to a ton of music share it, and write everyday. I’ll surely miss some important artists. I’m only a human being with a full course load and a Spotify premium account, after all. And not to be selfish, but this journey is about me. I’m trying to discover what I view as the essence of of Soul music. That may be very different from your point of view. I hope that some of you will follow my example and attempt to expand your musical canon, or just listen to a little bit of Soul music.

But if not, that’s cool. This gives me an excuse to do my three favorite things; listen to music, write, and argue with people on the internet. I don’t have a plan for this, but here are some posts to expect in the coming days:

“The Rise, Fall, and Re-Rise of Neo-Soul”

“Philly Soul: Highlighting contributions from America’s oft-forgotten great musical city”

“I got Soul but I’m not a Soldier: Soul music and the Vietnam War”

“Kanye West, Auto-Tune, and the lost art of Soul-sampling in Hip-Hop”

“Motown vs Atlantic vs Stax. ULTIMATE SHOWDOWN”

“Is the King of Pop also the King of Soul?”

Enjoy and as always, follow me on Twitter for more thoughts.

Final 2014 NBA Mock Draft

 

“My theory on NBA Draft reporters is that they’re like mushrooms; feed ’em shit and keep ’em in the dark.” – Mark Wahlberg in The Departed

Okay, so that wasn’t the actual quote from the movie. Wahlberg was talking about federal agents, but it’s the same principle. It feels like we hear a new report about what team is locked in to what player every ten minutes this time of the year. They’re all smokescreens. What kind of quality organization would leak info about their preferable targets weeks before the draft? Maybe if they’re trying to bait another team for a trade, but other than that, it takes away your competitive advantage to let the world know what direction you’re leaning towards. So no matter how reputable the source, you have to take any NBA draft rumor with seven grains of salt.

Unless it’s Yahoo/Fox Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. That guy is to the NBA what Adam Schefter is to the NFL. It’s hard to take any breaking story or rumor seriously until you see him tweet it out.

Speaking of my favorite avian-themed social media outlet, we live in an era where everybody has an opinion. That’s cool if those opinions are based off anything concrete. Just don’t write the book on these guys already. Most of the player projected to go in the top 10 are still teenagers. I don’t want to hear any talk about Andrew Wiggins’ “killer instinct”. Don’t tell me about Marcus Smart’s “temper”. Aaron Gordon is only 18, so it’s pretty ridiculous to throw him out the window because he’s not “polished”. If I rewind the clock a few years to when I was 18, my main concerns were scoring beer and cramming for my accounting exams. There’s a good chance you were in the same boat.

This draft class has been hyped all year and now, as always, it’s beginning to be nit-picked right before the actual draft. It’s a very good draft class. The best in years. But there aren’t 10 All-Stars in it.

And finally with three days remaining before the draft we have enough clarity to make some actual predictions. Here are mine. I’m no scout, no big fancy NBA writer, and sure as hell no expert. I just watch more hoops, pro and college, than is healthy or reasonable. So I like to think I have a decent understanding of how some of these guys project as pros.

– No Trades

Stay with me, too. This post is way too long to go up on one of my usual outlets so I’m dong this for you guys, my dear friends, both on the internet and real life. We’re at 400 words already and I haven’t even made a pick yet, so I won’t take offense if you skim through some of the rambling just to see the picks. We live in an era of Bleacher Report slideshows and BuzzFeed lists, so I understand any hesitancy to invest your very important time in a lengthy WordPress post by a college kid with nothing better to do on a summer weekend. But if you’ve made it this far, you should be good.

Enjoy.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

cavs

The Pick: Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Kansas

I’ve believed Wiggins is the best player and was going #1 in this draft for well over a year. The news of Joel Embiid needing foot surgery only cements that idea in my mind. It’s between Wiggins and Parker here. That’s not really debatable. I understand that the Cavs are in “win now” mode and that Jabari Parker is the more NBA-ready player. But that “win now” mindset is what has kept the Cavs at the bottom of the league since losing LeBron despite being fortunate enough to have two (now three) number one picks. The idea that they’re just a few pieces away is what led the Cavs to overpay Anderson Varejao and Jarret Jack. It’s also what led them to make a bogus trade for Luol Deng.

The truth is, the Cavs aren’t close to being a contender unless a certain player was betray the Sith and come back to the good side of the force. So Cleveland needs to take the top prospect with the biggest potential long-term payoff. That prospect is Andrew Wiggins. It’s not like Wiggins isn’t ready to play at a high level right now, anyway. He’s already an outstanding perimeter defender. Oh yeah, and he can do this…

andrew-wiggins-jumping-meme

In all seriousness Andrew Wiggins is not as raw as some think. Yes, his handle needs major work and he continues to work on his shot. It’s not like he can’t shoot. 34.1% from deep isn’t great for a college wing looking to go #1 but it’s honestly pretty ridiculous to rely solely on a percentage from 35 games when determining a players actual shooting ability. That’s not even half an NBA season. More impressive, and reliable, stats exist nowadays. Wiggins doesn’t seem nearly as raw if you look at his 56.3 True Shooting %, his 26.3 Usage %, or his 4.9 wins shares in just 35 games. Wiggins has a smooth J that he gets off quickly. He’s going to be a good shooter. We live in a world where all these telling numbers/video clips are just a basketball reference search away; why the hell are people still looking at points per game to tell the tale? Oh, Wiggins also set the all-time freshman scoring record at Kansas. So even the more elementary hoops heads should be impressed.

I don’t care who Cleveland’s coach is. I don’t care about their plans in regards to LeBron. I don’t care if Kyrie Irving is a completely ball dominant offensive player. If you’re picking number one, you’re a terrible team. Terrible teams need to pick the best players available. As of now, June 22nd, that appears to be Andrew Wiggins.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

retro_logo_200w

The Pick: Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia

Yes, Jabari Parker is a legitimate option here. And I wouldn’t completely throw away the idea of Milwaukee, the worst team in the NBA, drafting Joel Embiid and being patient. Unlike the Cavs the Bucks seem to understand that they’re not going to become a contender overnight. Big-time free agents aren’t suddenly going to flock to Milwaukee hoping to see the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (I spent a solid 15 minutes looking for something in Brew City that possibly could be considered a tourist attraction).

Dante Exum, the International Man of Mystery, is the most intriguing prospect in this draft. Most of us, myself included, haven’t seen anything from him save a few very impressive YouTube clips. But we’re talking about a 6′ 6″ combo guard with outstanding athleticism and extremely high basketball IQ. The shot will likely come. To this point in his career Exum hasn’t really had to shoot because it’s so easy for him to get to the rim against his competition. Here’s a short highlight reel of Exum vs Team USA at the 2013 Nike Hoops Summit.

The Bucks like Brandon Knight but offensively he’s not a point guard. Drafting Exum would allow them to play Knight at his natural position while still having him guard opposing point guards since he’s way too small to handle NBA wings. Again, you’ll see most people have Parker going here. That’s makes sense considering most view him as the best player on the board. But a perimeter trio of Exum, Knight, and Giannis Antetokounmpo would be very exciting.

3. Philadelphia 76ers

fge4lf9ridpgum631fb0gg9tt

The Pick: Jabari Parker, SF, Duke

The Sixers are set on either Parker or Wiggins. This means that Embiid’s injury could potentially be devastating news for them if the Bucks go with one of those two. In this case, Parker is on the board. The Sixers tanked for Wiggins, but given the circumstances, they should be thanking their lucky stars if they still end up with Parker.

Embiid is not completely out of the question here, especially if Wiggins and Parker are gone. He’s a very different player than Nerlens Noel. But what the Sixers really need is scoring from the wing. Michael Carter-Williams is a nice young player, Thaddeus Young is solid, and I have high hopes for Noel. Jabari Parker would make this team significantly better right away. He’s extremely strong and skilled which makes him a menace when he’s facing the basket. He has the ability to develop a devastating back-to-the-basket game as well.

I personally don’t see the Carmelo Anthony comparisons. Parker is a more-athletic Paul Pierce to me. But no matter who you compare him to everyone seems to agree that Parker is going to be a perennial All-Star who gives you 20+ a game with great rebounding and the potential to develop elite defense.

 

4. Orlando Magic

orlando_magic_logo21

The Pick: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas

The Magic have the best overall roster out of any team picking in the top five. Combine that with the fact that they also hold the 12th pick and they’re in as good of a position as anybody to take a gamble on Joel Embiid. The upside at #4 may simply be too much to pass up. Though Exum is certainly a strong possibility if he falls. Marcus Smart and Noah Vonleh are also great fits as well.

I don’t know what the long-term effects of Embiid’s chronic back, and most notably, foot problems will be. Anytime a seven-footer has foot problems it’s concerning; even more so with a guy like Embiid whose best attribute is his footwork. He could very well be the next Greg Oden. But just a few days ago he was being compared to Hakeem Olajuwon. Going from Hakeem to Oden is a lot like Halle Berry going from winning Oscars and starring in Bond/X-Men movies to doing a TV show on CBS.

I’m a big Embiid fan. Obviously he’s a defensive factor (though he fouls too much) but what’s most impressive if the growth he’s shown on offense. He’s a great passer and has developed some devastating post moves. He’s like Hakeem or even Kevin McHale in the sense that if he gets his feet in the right spot and goes into his move there’s no physical way you can stop him. You just have to hope he misses the easy shot. Yes, he’s still developing. Yes, the injury is a major concernBut I really can’t see Embiid falling too far, even in a draft as talented as this one.

45663726

5. Utah Jazz

8316e7nrg5xuouqqo21bjgem9

The Pick: Aaron Gordon, SF/PF, Arizona

Every time I talk about the NBA Draft I feel obligated to defend my man-crush Aaron Gordon because everybody thinks the book is written on him already. So here I go.

He’s 6′ 9″ and has a 39″ vertical. Even more impressive is is 2.76 second shuttle time, the fastest of ANY PLAYER AT THE COMBINE. He has better lateral quickness than Smart, Exum, Tyler Ennis, etc. At 6′ 9″. I don’t care if Gordon never makes a free throw in his NBA career, he’s an ELITE defensive player who can guard both 3’s and 4’s right now. He’s also a terror in transition. He can’t dribble, has an ugly jumper, and needs to get physically stronger if he wants to score and/or defend in the post. He is very raw. I can’t deny that. But guess who else were very raw and a lot like Gordon coming out of school? Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. (Sidebar: George should be the NBA superstar Gordon is compared to, not Blake Griffin. I hate to play this card but anyone seriously comparing Gordon to Blake is just repeating what they heard and/or taking into account skin color)

Back to the Jazz. They would love Exum to slip here but that is highly unlikely. Noah Vonleh is very much a possibility and most seem to think he’s moved past Gordon and Julius Randle. I don’t disagree, but the Jazz have a pretty stacked front court rotation as is. They could surely find minutes for Vonleh given his versatility but Gordon just seems to be a more logical fit. Again, even if Gordon never develops his game we’re still talking about an elite defender here.

 

6. Boston Celtics

bostonceltics

The Pick: Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana

If this is how the draft plays out things get very confusing here and Danny Ainge will likely be making calls trying to move the pick. If they hold it, here are my odds.

Noah Vonleh: 40%

Marcus Smart: 40%

Julius Randle: 15%

Kendrick Perkins’ back sweat: 5%

The Celtics have a murky backcourt situation given the fact the Avery Bradley is a restricted free agent and Rajon Rondo is once again right in the middle of multiple trade rumors. Personally, as a fan, I’d want Randle here but Vonleh seems to have surpassed him and Smart is a common pick being mocked to Boston. The Celtics will surely be taking the “best available” approach so this pick ultimately comes down to which of those three guys you think is the best. I think Smart is being over-rated and it has nothing to do with his jumper. A 1.78 assist-to-turnover ratio is bad even for a college guard and the teams that Smart apparently “ran” at Oklahoma State were all terribly inefficient on offense.

Vonleh has impressed with his length and skill set. While not an elite athlete, he runs the floor extremely well. He’s a great rebounder as well. He certainly needs to develop a better post game and it remains to be seen if his jumper will yield the results some expect but Noah Vonleh has all the tool to be a Chris Bosh-type player.

The Celtics rebuild is going to be a multi-year process. Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens have both said so. Take the guy who you think is going to be the best player down the road. If Gordon is off the board, that appears to be Vonleh.

7. Los Angeles Lakers

minn lakers

The Pick: Marcus Smart, PG/SG, Oklahoma State

The Lakers sort of just have to wait and see how the top six picks play out. The group of guys they would choose from (Exum, Gordon, Vonleh, Randle, Smart) will be cut down by the time they pick. Here, I have Smart and Randle on the board. Not only is Smart a good fit for a team lacking both a point guard and any resemblance of perimeter defense, but Randle’s injury doesn’t exactly help his stock.

I don’t think Marcus Smart has “character concerns”. In fact, I hate that term all together. What worries me with Smart is his inability to shoot the ball and tendency to make boneheaded plays. But he’s talented. He’s physically strong to go with his impressive burst. He won’t have a problem imposing his will on either end of the floor. He doesn’t have the elite athleticism to develop into a Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, or John Wall type but there’s not really anything he can’t do on a basketball court.

His ball handling is a major problem. As mentioned early, he made a lot of turnovers. He has a loose handle for a point guard and does tend to telegraph passes. But with good coaching (insert Lakers joke here) Smart should be able to develop into a very good NBA point guard. He will be a terror on defense.

marcus-smart-shove-meme

8. Sacramento Kings

Kings_Logo_sac

The Pick: Elfrid Payton, PG, Louisiana Lafayette

A lot has been made about the Kings looking to trade this pick and that makes a lot of sense. But I’m not doing trades. The uncertainty surrounding Isaiah Thomas makes a point guard the likely pick if the Kings do in fact stand pat. Smart is gone. Exum is gone. I’m not sold on Zach LaVine as a point guard and there’s no way Shabazz Napier or Tyler Ennis go this high. Enter my other man-crush in the draft, Ragin’ Cajun Elfrid Payton.

Payton has dominated workouts. His body (6′ 4″, 6′ 7″ wingspan) and his elite defense actually make him a relatively safe pick. He’s an outstanding ball handler as well. At the very worst, you’re going to get a great defensive player who can handle the ball off the bench. If he can improve his shot and bulk a bit, we could be talking about an elite point guard here.

Historical Note: Payton would be the first Ragin’ Cajun to go in the 1st round since Kevin Brooks in 1991.

9. Charlotte Hornets

nba_e_hornetslogo_gb1x1296_600x600

The Pick: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke

The Hornets desperately need perimeter shooting, which is why everyone and Ray Allen’s mother has them taking Doug McDermott here. That’s very much a possibility and I think Dougie McBuckets will be a solid NBA player but the other Duke guy in this draft presents much more upside.

A 6′ 8″ lefty with solid athleticism and penetrating ability, it’s Hood’s ability to pull up from the mid-range or from NBA three-point range that make him such a tantalizing prospect. He shot 42.0% from deep at Duke, many of those shots coming well behind the arc. He plays within the flow of the offense too. Now, he’ll definitely need to add some muscle in order to defend NBA wings. He also should make more of an impact on the boards.

In an NBA so reliant on three point shooting Hood has a strong case for being a top 10 pick. He’s a knockdown shooter but has the body, skill, and athleticism to be able to do other things on both ends of the floor as well. Personally, I’d rather have Hood than any of the other wings on the board (James Young and Nik Stauskas most notably).

 

10. Philadelphia 76ers (via New Orleans)

fge4lf9ridpgum631fb0gg9tt

The Pick: Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky

Randle slides in this draft, in part due to his injury and in part due to him not being a physical specimen like Gordon or Vonleh. Philly gets lucky. Getting Julius Randle, once thought to be a possible #1 overall pick, at 10th after already getting Jabari Parker would all of a sudden make them an intriguing threat in the Atlantic Division. Obviously, this is all contingent on both Parker and Randle slipping a bit. But if the team that tanked so shamelessly came out of this draft with Jabari Parker and Julius Randle, they’d be ecstatic.

While Randle has relatively limited upside I also think he is the least bust-prone player in this draft. He’s going to rebound (19.2 Total Rebounding %) and use his strength to finish with his left inside. If he can hone his post moves, his perimeter skills, and his all-around defense he will be an All-Star. The Sixers would be the most exciting young team in the NBA if they could throw out a lineup consisting of MCW, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, and Nerlens Noel. Don’t forget about Thaddeus either!

Dario Saric has been linked to Philly here for a while. And given their desperate need for perimeter shooting Stauskas and James Young are probably in play but I think it’s be hard for them to justify drafting another wing if they get Parker and Randle is on the board here.

 

11. Denver Nuggets

5991

The Pick: Zach LaVine, PG/SG, UCLA

The general consensus that is if the Nuggets keep this pick they’re going to go with either Stauskas or Gary Harris. I expect both of those two to be solid NBA players for a long time but neither carries the upside of the 6′ 6″, freakishly athletic, silky-smooth shooting Zach LaVine.

LaVine was buried on the UCLA bench most of the year due some of his mind-boggling on court mistakes and physical weakness. He is certainly one of those “project” players we hear a lot about. He’s a little raw right now so when his jumper isn’t going in he struggles to score.

But again, the tools are there. LaVine brings a combination of shooting and highlight-reel dunking ability only a handful of current NBA players can touch. There’s a good chance he makes next to no impact for whatever team drafts him. There’s also a chance he emerges as one of the best players in this class. Denver doesn’t seem comfortable with anyone on their roster other than Ty Lawson, an uber-short point guard. LaVine makes a lot more sense than Gary Harris here. Here’s LaVine’s crazy athleticism on display thanks to his agency.

 

12. Orlando Magic (via Denver)

orlando_magic_logo21

The Pick: Gary Harris, PG/SG, Michigan State

James Young, Dario Saric, and even Tyler Ennis are in play here. If the Magic take the risk on Embiid at #4 I think they use this pick to give Victor Oladipo some help in the backcourt.

Neither Harris or Oladipo are natural point guards but the combination could be quite intriguing especially given Oladipo’s ability to defend shooting guards. Measuring at 6′ 2″ w/o shoes at the combine was very bad for Harris but he’s an exceptional all-around basketball player who plays bigger than his listed size. He’s a good athlete with a good jumper. What’s most impressive is how he can get that jumper off from any position. Fading away, pulling up in transition, coming off a screen, it doesn’t matter. Harris is always prepared to score the rock.

He’s also an extremely underrated playmaker which should ease some of the concern regarding his height.

 

13. Minnesota Timberwolves

4nlaen3fgtkwiqgivisid6h4u

The Pick: Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton

Obviously this is up in the air until we know whether or not the dust is going to settle around Kevin Love before the draft. I’m not going to compare McBuckets to Love, but he has a similar skill set. McDermott is obviously a knockdown shooter but he’s also physically strong and rebounds well. He has outstanding footwork as well. He also recorded a 36.5″ vertical at the combine, so he’s not that terrible athletically speaking.

He is slow however and will be a liability on defense. There are also some concerns that he doesn’t have a true position. He was able to bully guys in college with his strength but that won’t be the case in the league. McDermott isn’t going to be a star in the NBA but he’s simply too skilled and smart not to carve out a role.

Saric and Adreian Payne are legit options here, too.

 

14. Phoenix Suns

487_phoenix-suns-secondary-1969

The Pick: James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky

This pick seems easy. Phoenix desperately needs a wing. Stauskas is still on the board but James Young is a much better athlete who projects as a better defender. Both can obviously shoot.

James Young may not necessarily be elite at anything but he’s very good at pretty much everything. He was probably Kentucky’s most reliable player throughout the year.

The Suns would probably be ecstatic if Rodney Hood was still on the board but that isn’t the case here. Fans should be fine with the selection of Young. He’ll help this fast-paced teams transition offense and perimeter shooting right away. If they don’t go with Young or Stauskas my money would be on Saric, Kyle Anderson, or even TJ Warren.

 

15. Atlanta Hawks

hawks-logo

The Pick: Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan

Stauskas falling out of the lottery would be a blessing for Atlanta, a team that desperately needs shooting. All of the international big men (Saric, Clint Capela, and Jusuf Nurkic) make sense given Atlanta’s history but Stauskas would give this playoff team the best immediate boost.

While he’s not a great athlete or defender, Stauskas is much more than just a catch & shoot guy. He’s a pretty good passer who doesn’t turn it over. He also has the ability to pull up off the dribble or use the threat of his jumper to get to the rim. He’ll find ways to score in the NBA. And even if by some chance he ends up being just a shooter, he does that so well that he’s worth the 15th overall pick.

 

16. Chicago Bulls (via Charlotte)

chicago_bulls_logo-300x287

The Pick: Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia

With the draft playing out the way it has there are enough quality perimeter shooters remaining for the Bulls to wait and snag one with their next pick. You’re probably thinking that the last thing the Bulls need is another front court body. But Dario Saric is so versatile and skilled that he really could add to any roster in the NBA.

He’s a combo forward. While his slow feet limit what he can do defensively he can dribble and pass, which makes him a matchup problem on offense at 6′ 10″. Another basketball IQ guy, Saric is an okay shooter. He doesn’t have the athleticism to get his shot up from weird spots, but give him an open jumper, and he can stick it. He’s also a great positional player which allows him to rebound effectively and at least make some impact on defense despite his lack of athleticism.

The Bulls could very well grab a shooter here (PJ Hairston, CJ Wilcox, etc) or they could go with a backup point guard (Tyler Ennis, Shabazz Napier, Jordan Clarkson) but given the current board Saric presents great value at this pick. Some think he can creep into the top 10. Below is a nice Saric highlight reel.

17. Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn)

bostonceltics

The Pick: Spencer Dinwiddie, PG/SG, Colorado

Maybe a bit of a surprise, but hear me out. With the uncertainty in their backcourt the Celtics could use a combo guard who can do it all: run the offense, fill lanes on the break, hit the three, get to the line, defend, etc. Well, Spencer Dinwiddie is that guy. He flew under the radar and is still recovering from a torn ACL but if he gets healthy he could be a steal.

He’s a great athlete and a 41% three-point shooter. Always viewed as a “team guy”, he really can play the point guard at 6′ 6″. One negative is that he’s not an outstanding penetrator so he relies on others to get him his shots. If he’s playing with Rajon Rondo, that won’t be a problem.

It’s rare that players with the athleticism and skill set of Dinwiddie are around at pick #17. He has a chance to be one of the great sleepers in this draft. And injuries have never prevented Boston from drafting guys in the past.

 

18. Phoenix Suns (via Washington)

487_phoenix-suns-secondary-1969

The Pick: Clint Capela, PF/C, Switzerland

Europe’s best rebounder and shot blocker may not come over to the states immediately but that shouldn’t deter Phoenix from drafting who might be the next Serge Ibaka in time. Capela is extremely raw, mostly because he’s 19, but he’s an explosive athlete who will make some highlight reel plays in the NBA.

Phoenix has built some nice depth and can afford to let Capela develop. They don’t really have that intimidating post presence though and that is what Capela would potentially provide. They could very well grab another offensive minded wing like TJ Warren or Kyle Anderson but I think Capela is the right pick here. Below is a quick clip showing Capela’s ability to rise at the 2014 Nike Hoops Summit.

19. Chicago Bulls

chicago_bulls_logo-300x287

The Pick: PJ Hairston, SG, North Carolina/Texas Legends

Chicago is back on the clock and here they get a guy they’re probably seriously considering with their first pick. Chicago is still my bet to land Carmelo Anthony but I’m not taking that into account in this mock. After getting Saric they still need shooting and a backup point guard (which makes Ennis, Napier, and Clarkson legit options). Hairston is a knockdown shooter who is also physically strong with enough athleticism to score at the rim.

Hairston doesn’t have great foot speed which hurts him on defense but the way the Bulls play they don’t really require their guards to stay in front of everyone at all times. If Hairston makes the right rotations, he’ll be fine defensively.

It’s hard not to mention off the court stuff with Hairston but everything I’ve read says he was deeply humbled by his time in the D-League and impressed every team he interviewed with.

 

20. Toronto Raptors

raptors

The Pick: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse

With all the questions surrounding Kyle Lowry’s free agency the Raptors are almost surely grabbing a point guard here. Even if Lowry is back, they need another ball-handler on their roster. Tyler Ennis is a polished point guard many think will go in the lottery who happens to be Canadian, so he makes sense here.

Personally, I have major concerns about Ennis in the NBA. He’s slow, weak, and un-athletic by modern NBA point guard standards. He’s terrible on defense and his steal numbers were elevated greatly because he was at the top of the 2-3 zone in college. We’ve never seen him be the focus of the opposing defense, either. Syracuse had plenty of more effective scorers so Ennis really didn’t have to do all that much other than dribble the ball up the court and make easy passes. He did hit some huge shots though.

Maybe I’m being hard on Ennis. He’s a very smart and poised player who will likely carve out a role as a very good backup/fringe starter. I just know that I sure as hell don’t want him as the PG of the future for my team.

 

21. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Dallas via Houston via Lakers)

seattle supersonics logo

The Pick: CJ Wilcox, SG, Washington

The Thunder grab one of the drafts best shooters here and wait to grab a big man with their next pick. Having a reliable floor stretcher in the backcourt would really open things up for this team. CJ Wilcox is a knockdown shooter from both deep and mid-range who has the size to get his shot off at the NBA level without any problems.

He’s a solid defender but he’s not going to able to create his own shot. That shouldn’t be a concern though as whoever drafts him will be strictly looking for a catch and shoot guy. Wilcox is possibly the best at that in this class.

They could choose to go big here which would put Jusuf Nurkic very much in play.

 

22. Memphis Grizzlies

efgmdqnx7x9vie7e1zkzecqv3

The Pick: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State

With Zach Randolph possibly out of town, the Grizzlies need insurance both down low and on the scoring sheet. Payne, who is a steal this late, provides both. TJ Warren and Jarnell Stokes are possibilities but I feel Payne pairs best with Marc Gasol.

Payne is a very good athlete with a deft touch on his jumper. He will be lethal as a pick-n-pop guy. He rebounds well and can score from the block as well. On the offensive end, Payne is probably the best big man in this draft at this point in time.

However, a player with his height and athleticism should be a factor on defense. Payne is not. Not only is he not a shot blocker, he’s just not very good guarding guys down low. Payne also cannot dribble and pretty much refuses to pass. But he’s too good not to be a great role player in the NBA. Think a taller Brandon Bass.

 

23. Utah Jazz (via Golden State)

8316e7nrg5xuouqqo21bjgem9

The Pick: TJ Warren, SF/PF, NC State

Warren makes a lot of sense here seeing as he’s one of the drafts best scorers and I have the Jazz taking Aaron Gordon with their first pick. They could use a big-bodied guard, would like Exum, but at this point they may as well just wait. Warren is a good value pick here.

Warren doesn’t have typical NBA wing athleticism or big man size but he makes up for it with his ridiculously polished scoring ability. He’ll find away to put the ball in the hoop wherever you play him. He runs the floor and cuts well. He can shoot from anywhere. He bullies weaker players and hits the boards hard. Warren is basketball player. He was flat-out unstoppable at times for the Wolfpack.

Utah could grab a guard here like Jordan Clarkson or even Jordan Adams but Warren is a significantly better prospect than either of those two.

 

24. Charlotte Hornets (via Portland)

nba_e_hornetslogo_gb1x1296_600x600

The Pick: Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG, Serbia

Even after getting Rodney Hood the Hornets desperately need reliable shooters. Bogdanovic is intriguing due to his frame, defensive ability, passing, and streaky shooting. He should be able to become more reliable from deep.

He can defend the 1-3 due to his athleticism. He’s not necessarily an explosive athlete but he’s an efficient athlete who won’t have any problems gliding up and down the NBA court. I’m not 100% sure he’d come to the league right away, but he’s the most underrated international player in this draft. And he has a badass name. Check out this clip.

25. Houston Rockets

vr7yd7ghightk5f9g3jh5ltnc

The Pick: Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse

The Rockets could use some wing depth and Jerami Grant is a long and athletic guy who can run the floor, finish at the rim, and defend. He doesn’t have great perimeter skills but as a role player on this roster that shouldn’t hold him back much. He’ll come in to spell Chandler Parsons or even play the 4 in a small ball lineup. A Parsons/Grant/Howard front court would cause problems.

Grant literally can’t hit a jumper unless he’s within 10 feet of the hoop, however. He will have to greatly improve his shooting and handle if he ever wants to more than just an energy guy off the bench. Think Al-Farouq Aminu with Grant.

 

26. Miami Heat

95a4dc7a78b83b2c25cbfbbf5bcfc823

The Pick: Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA

I know what you’re thinking. The Heat need a point guard! Shabazz is still on the board! Shabazz! Shabazz! Shabazz!

Here’s why Miami shouldn’t draft Shabazz:

– He’s a marginal NBA point guard talent.

– You draft marginal NBA point guard talents as backups, not to replace other marginal NBA point guard talents (Mario Chalmers & Norris Cole).

– The last thing the Heat need is another player who is just going to dribble out the entire shot clock before playing hero ball.

Here’s why the Heat should draft Kyle Anderson:

– He’s the best player on the board and might go in the lottery.

– He can pass, handle, and shoot like a point guard but rebounds like a center.

– He’s the best player on the board and might go in the lottery.

Kyle Anderson isn’t really a 6′ 9″ point guard like some are making him out to be. He’s way too slow to guard the point in the NBA and putting him there would take away the competitive advantage his skills give him at his natural position. But Kyle Anderson is a very good all around basketball player. He’s the kind of guy the Spurs would draft. In fact, if he is for some reason still on the board when the Spurs pick, I guarantee they take him.

 

27. Phoenix Suns (via Indiana)

487_phoenix-suns-secondary-1969

The Pick: KJ McDaniels, SG/SF, Clemson

McDaniels is just too athletic and dominant on defense to fall out of the first round. He’s made great strides on offense but still has a lot of work to do. Even if it never comes, McDaniels will be a Tony Allen-type player.

He rebounds well for his size (6′ 6″) and his explosive athleticism allows him to still produce despite his offensive deficiencies.

Even after getting James Young earlier in this draft Phoenix could use a wing. McDaniels gives you a great defender with the potential to develop into a starting caliber player.

 

28. Los Angeles Clippers

clips

The Pick: Cleanthony Early, SF/PF, Wichita State

Anthony is a versatile forward who made a lot of money in the game against Kentucky during the tournament. He’s going to have to be a 3 in the league but given the Clippers size he could certainly play the 4 in small ball lineups with DeAndre Jordan on the bench.

He’s a great athlete who shoots well. It’s the dribbling that is the biggest concern when it comes to Anthony making the full time transition to the perimeter. He has some nice moves both slashing and in the post. Early won’t ever be a star, but you can pretty much guarantee you’re getting a solid bench guy at the very least.

 

29. Oklahoma City Thunder

seattle supersonics logo

The Pick: Mitch McGary, C, Michigan

We saw how the Thunder struggled without Serge Ibaka. After grabbing a shooter earlier they can set their sights on a big man here. McGary would’ve likely gone in the top 10 last year. The biggest concerns with him are conditioning-related. Everyone knows he can play.

McGary has some nice moves and is a great finisher down low with either hand. He’s a hustle guy who often bulls himself into position for a rebound or on defense. He’s not a great athlete but he doesn’t really need to be given his size and skill set. He doesn’t have the upside of other big men but McGary is ready to get his weed crumb-covered hands dirty right away. Hehe, joking, just seeing if you were paying attention.

 

30. San Antonio Spurs

san antonio spurs logo

The Pick: Khem Birch, PF, UNLV

Here the Spurs get a guy with a 7′ 1″ wingspan and 36″ vertical who averaged 3.8 blocks a game last year. Tim Duncan isn’t going to be around forever, well maybe he is, and Splitter is a little slow to be relied on as the sole rim protector.

Birch is also great at team defense, making him a nice fit. He rotates, helps, and has great closing speed when guys attack the rim. He obviously rebounds well. Running the floor is a strength, and he could become a nasty alley-oop finisher.

 

Welp, that’s all folks.

Here are my top 10 prospects who didn’t go in the 1st (ranked in order, best to worst)

1. Semaj Christon, PG, Xavier

2. Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan

3. Jarnell Stokes, PF/C, Tennessee

4. Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia

5. Shabazz Napier, PG, UCONN

6. Jordan Clarkson, PG/SG, Missouri

7. DeAndre Daniels, SF, UCONN

8. Jordan Adams, SG, LSU

9. Patric Young, PF/C, Florida

10. CJ Fair, SF, Syracuse

Just over 6,200 words. Could’ve been worse. Follow me on Twitter @ZakKondratenko.

 

Suits ‘n Ties Yelling Out, “Pay the guys!”: 2014 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings

wiggins

The dust has settled and the smoke has cleared. At least a little bit. We don’t know the extent of Joel Embiid’s back issues. We still don’t know if Kevin Love will be moved before the draft. We can’t even begin to predict the multitude of draft day trades that will surely go down. But for the teams with so much hinging on this draft and the next five weeks, the final draft order provides some clarity. Or as much clarity as you can expect in a league that uses ping-pong balls to dictate the fate of some of its teams.

Here are some prospect rankings. The 2014 NBA Draft is unique in the sense that many of the players can be grouped together based on pro potential, playing style, or their respective college careers. So that’s what I did. I grouped them together and ranked them, taking who I deem to be the top 30 guys.

Note: this is not a mock draft. I, or anyone else for that matter, should not pretend to have any clue what is going through the heads of these GM’s at this time (especially considering the numerous mind-boggling selections we witness every year).

Let’s do this. (Heights and weights are most recent figures from DraftExpress).

Big name college players who don’t crack the top 30:

Nick Johnson, Patric Young, Aaron Craft, C.J. Fair, Russ Smith, Scottie Wilbekin, Sean Kilpatrick.

Whew. That’s out of the way. Now let’s do this.

Group 1: BIG Guys

No, seriously. These kids are freakin’ huge.

30. Jusuf Nurkic (6′ 11″, 280, Bosnia)

29. Mitch McGary (6′ 10″, 263, Michigan)

Jusuf Nurkic is a grown man, a pure space-eater down low. Unfortunately, his slow feet and inability to leave those slow feet pose a problem in a modern NBA that covets quickness and athleticism out of big guys. Mitch McGary is also a load, but has a nice skill set. He catches the ball well, sets hard picks, and has great touch in close. Would he have benefited from staying in Ann Arbor for another year? Probably. But the NCAA’s ludicrous, and recently amended, recreational drug policy essentially prevented him from doing so. Regardless, if McGary is in shape, he’s ready to step into an NBA rotation right now.

Group 2: “A lot of people go to college for seven years.”……”Yeah, they’re called Robbie Hummel-er, I mean, Doctors.”

This lot probably would’ve benefited from going back to school.

28. Jerami Grant (6′ 8″, 210, Syracuse)

27. Jarnell Stokes (6′ 8″, 260, Tennessee)

26. DeAndre Daniels (6′ 9″, 195, UCONN)

Jerami Grant is a bouncy athlete who excels in transition but may be a bit of a twiner. He’s too little to play the post in the NBA and another year at Syracuse would’ve given him more opportunities to hone his perimeter skills. Stokes is another big who used his mass to dominant the boards in college but doesn’t have the athleticism or measurables most teams want in a 1st rounder. He’ll get exposed if he’s on the floor for too long, but like McGary, should be ready to handle the physicality of the NBA right away. DeAndre Daniels saw his stock skyrocket during the tournament and has an intriguing length/skill/athleticism combo. But he’s very raw, needs to bulk up, and didn’t play well on a consistent basis at UCONN. Why did he declare this year? He’s not going to go in the lottery, and teams in the late 1st are probably looking for an immediate contributor to help their title bid. He may be a D-League guy to start.

Group 3: Transitional Caution

Dominant college players who might struggle against NBA competition.

25. TJ Warren (6′ 8″, 220, NC State)

24. KJ McDaniels (6′ 6″, 195, Clemson)

23. Kyle Anderson (6′ 9″, 230, UCLA)

TJ Warren was a very productive scorer and rebounder for the Wolfpack but like many guys in this draft, he may be too short to play PF and not skilled/athletic enough to play SF. He’s very strong though, and he shoots well. Warren has made serious efforts to improve his permitter game and he be able to carve out a role in the NBA. KJ McDaniels’ leaping ability allows him to get away with some things. He was able to rebound effectively without boxing out and score 17 points a game despite not being very good at anything on offense. He needs work, but at the very least projects as a plus-athlete who can help a team in transition and on defense. Kyle Anderson is one of the most polarizing prospects in the draft. He’s basically a point forward at 6′ 9″. He’s an outstanding passer and solid shooter. The fact that he’s 6′ 9″ makes those two things much easier for him. The problem is that Anderson isn’t very quick or athletic. He will struggle to create for himself in the pros and will be a major liability on defense.

Group 4: “They are who we thought they were.”

NBA-ready guards who don’t have the upside of some others on this list.

22. Shabazz Napier (6′ 0″, 175, UCONN)

21. CJ Wilcox (6′ 5″, 200, Washington)

20. Tyler Ennis (6′ 2″, 180, Syracuse)

Shabazz Napier has carved himself out a nice place in NCAA Tourney folklore, but he lacks the raw explosiveness Kemba Walker has. He’ll be fine in the league though. He’s a heady guard with an array of finely-tuned dribble moves and shots that will allow him to be a scoring threat. He has also made great strides as a floor general, though you wouldn’t know it from watching UCONN’s tourney games, where it seemed like every big possession he just dribbled around for thirty seconds before making some ridiculous shot. Again, Napier will be fine. Just don’t expect a superstar. CJ Wilcox is a polished player with an outstanding jumper, but like Napier, his lack of physical tools and short arms may limit him to bench duties. Tyler Ennis knows how to run a team. He’s an exceptional floor general also capable of turning his own offense on when he needs to. But in an NBA with so many electric PG’s, can you trust this guy to impose his will and defend when you throw him out there? Ennis leaves a lot to be desired in the athleticism department, and his steal numbers at Syracuse were heavily inflated due to him playing at the top of a 2-3 zone.

Group 5: Skilled Big Men

No explanation needed.

19. Adreian Payne (6′ 10″, 240, Michigan State)

18. Dario Saric (6′ 10″, 225, Croatia)

Payne is a better athlete and tougher defender/rebounder than most think but it is obviously his perimeter touch that has scouts excited about him. That touch, along with his size, should make him a very effective pick-n-pop guy in the NBA. A big knock against Payne is his lung capacity. But he’s most likely going to be a role player in the NBA so I wouldn’t expect that to become a problem as I don’t see him playing huge minutes. 6′ 10″ people aren’t supposed to be as skilled or coordinated as Dario Saric. He’s a very smart player but he lacks the athleticism to be a dominant wing like he was in Europe. His best bet is to become a stretch-4.

Group 6: 3 Feet High and Rising

This is a group who have seen their stocks rise in the last month or so.

17. Cleanthony Early (6′ 7″, 210, Wichita State)

16. PJ Hairston (6′ 5″, 225, North Carolina/Texas Legends)

15. Zach LaVine (6′ 6″, 180, UCLA)

14. Elfrid Payton (6′ 4″, 185, UL-Lafayette)

13. Rodney Hood (6′ 8″, 210, Duke)

After four greats years at Wichita State, it’s nice that everyone is finally starting to recognize Cleanthony Early as a 1st round wing prospect. He needs to work on his ability to create his own offense, but he runs well off screens and has impressive athleticism when he does attack the rim. After leaving UNC, PJ Hairston dominated the D-League with the Texas Legends, re-affirming his position as a 1st round prospect. He’s a knockdown shooter, a solid defender and rebounder from the perimeter, and he’s just very strong physically. He lacks the ability to create his own shot but Hairston should enjoy a long career and a “3 & D” guy at the next level. Zach LaVine is a boom or bust prospect. He’s a legit 6′ 6″ point guard with good athleticism and a nice jumper. The problem is he was buried at UCLA due to his poor decision making and inability to handle any sort of physicality. He has a long way to go, but a 6′ 6″ point guard with his upside won’t fall out of the lottery.

Elfrid Payton is a big and quick guard who dominated for the Ragin’ Cajuns this past year. He’s a great finisher, ball-hander, and defender. He needs to prove he can consistently hit from deep though, and 3.8 turnovers per game are far too many for a college player with his talent. Rodney Hood is a tall, athletic wing who can score inside but also possesses a deadly jumper. He’s going to have to get stronger, work on his skills, and show that he’s actually willing to defend to make it in the NBA but all the talent is there. He wasn’t necessarily dominant at Duke, but it was hard to watch them and not think that this guy is an NBA starter one day.

Group 7: Jump-shooting and…Jump-shooting and…

These guys are known for their ability to hit the trey but there is much more to their games than just that.

12. Gary Harris (6′ 4″, 205, Michigan State)

11. Doug McDermott (6′ 7″, 220, Creighton)

10. Nick Stauskas (6′ 6″, 205, Michigan)

9. James Young (6′ 7″, 215, Kentucky)

Measuring in at just 6′ 2″ without shoes certainly didn’t help Spartan standout Gary Harris, but the guy is a physically strong athlete who can shoot, drive, and defend. I don’t think it’s completely out of the question that whatever team picks Harris moves him to PG a la Russell Westbrook. He’ll need to work on his vision and handles, but Harris is just too good of an all-around player to fall out of the lottery. I’m not buying the idea that Dougie McBuckets can’t play in the league. He is an underrated rebounder, defender, and distributor. Putting up a 36″ vertical at the combine certainly eases some concerns about athleticism surrounding him. He’s not gonna average 25+, but he’s going to make whatever team takes him better immediately.

The 6′ 6″ Nick Stauskas is an intriguing prospect. Some say all he can do is shoot. Some say his handling and passing abilities are grossly underrated. He won’t give you much on defense, but he just finds ways to score. I’d want Stauskas on my team over some of the more athletic wings in this class. James Young is a good athlete, a better defender than you think, and obviously a solid shooter. He doesn’t jump out of the TV in any one area of the game, though. But there were times when he put the entire Kentucky offense on his back when the other freshman were struggling. Of guys I have ranked outside the top 5, I think James Young has the best chance to become a superstar. It seems like he is just starting to realize everything he can do on a basketball court.

Group 8: Falling?

Here are a couple guys who might not go in the top 5 like we initially thought, but that has more to do with others surpassing them than anything they did wrong.

8. Marcus Smart (6′ 3″, 225, Oklahoma State)

7. Julius Randle (6′ 9″, 250, Kentucky)

I feel like I sway my opinion on Marcus Smart every other day. On one hand, he’s a physically imposing guard with experience running a team who can be a terror on defense when he wants to be. On the other hand, measuring at 6′ 3″ wasn’t that impressive and the teams he ran weren’t all that great. He also can’t shoot. Smart could go as high as #4, but could also fall into the 8-12 range if other guys standout during individual workouts. I hate to write this about a kid, but the lack of composure he displays on the court -and I’m not just referring to THE incident- is alarming.

Julius Randle is a left-handed Paul Millsap to me. That’s not an insult, you’ll take that in the top 10. He has outstanding hands, angles his body well to maximize his strength, and crashes the boards hard on both ends of the floor. While he has a decent mid-range jumper, his perimeter skills don’t seem to be as impressive as we all thought they were coming into college. He’s also not very tall for an NBA big. One time thought of as a possible top overall pick, Randle has safely settled into the 4-8 range on any list or mock draft you’ll read.

Group 9: #Upside

They have flaws. They weren’t all that productive in college. But that upside, mmmm…..

6. Noah Vonleh (6′ 10″, 245, Indiana)

5. Aaron Gordon (6′ 9″, 220, Arizona)

There are a lot of Vonleh-Chris Bosh comparisons being thrown around. Vonleh isn’t anywhere near the refined offensive player Bosh is now or was coming out of Georgia Tech, but he has a 7′ 4″ wingspan and huge hands to pair with his tantalizing athleticism. He flew under the radar this year, mostly due the fact that Indiana was awful, but a guy with his dimensions isn’t falling out of the top 10. Aaron Gordon is my man-crush in this draft. He is a dynamic and explosive athlete on every level. He’s the best leaper in this class after Wiggins, and frankly, in game action Gordon looks even more athletic than the potential top pick. Measuring at 6′ 9″ was big for him. he’s ready to be a lockdown defender right away but he doesn’t have the strength or back-to-the-basket game to be a true PF in the NBA. To play on the perimeter, Gordon will need to greatly improve his shooting and ball-handling. I’ve been enticed by Gordon for a long time now, he reminds me a lot of Paul George coming out.

Group 10: Dante Exum

Players in this group are named, you guessed it, Dante Exum.

4. Dante Exum (6′ 6″, 195, Australia)

When it comes to watching Dante Exum, most of us here in America are limited to YouTube highlight reels. But, damn, are those highlight reels impressive. Measuring at 6′ 6″ at the combine re-affirmed the idea that Exum has tremendous upside at the PG spot. He’s a smooth athlete with great burst who almost looks like he gains speed when dribbling the ball. He’s an outstanding passer, and the reports from every interview have him chalked up as a high character kid. Exum’s shot needs work though and he certainly needs to bulk up. The idea that he can’t score in the mid-range is slightly overrated though considering he never has had to because he always gets to the rim with ease against the competition he’s faced. There were reportedly multiple teams -including the Lakers- considering Exum with the #1 pick. He’s the wild card in this years top 5.

Group 11: The Big 3

The pretty-much-unanimous top three guys in the draft.

3. Jabari Parker (6′ 9″, 235, Duke)

2. Joel Embiid (7′ 0″, 250, Kansas)

1. Andrew Wiggins (6′ 8″, 200, Kansas)

Let’s start with Parker. He’s widely considered the most NBA-ready guy in this class and the odds-on favorite to win ROY. I agree. Where my take tends to shift is on his upside. He has a slow first step and at the NBA level he will be just a slightly above-average athlete. He also has an inconsistent jumper. That’s nit-picking though, this kid projects as a superstar. He’s a superbly skilled and smart player who can do everything on the court from being your leading rebounder, to your top defender, to your go-to scorer, to your primary ball-handler. He has a plethora of moves when attacking the rim. He has all the tools to develop a dominant back-to-the-basket game if he wants to, much like the player he is compared to, Carmelo Anthony. Parker doesn’t have the ceiling of Andrew Wiggins, but his floor isn’t as low.

Joel Embiid being ranked this high is 100% contingent on his back and knee checking out in medical evaluations. If he gets medical clearance, watch out NBA. He’s a long, fluid athlete with exceptional balance. This is so rare for a seven footer. In fact, you can probably count on one hand the seven footers in the history of the NBA who have the raw balance and coordination Embiid has (I can name Hakeem, Shaq, Dirk, and that’s it). Embiid will make a major impact on defense right away and his offense game is more refined than most think. He’s worked on his post game and actually has improved his touch in the mid-range. He also passes the ball and moves within the flow of the offense. This is important considerimg how far out to the perimeter most centers extend in modern NBA offenses.

Wiggins didn’t remind us of LeBron, so what? Saying Wiggins had a “disappointing” freshman season is just a moronic statement. All he did was set the all-time Kansas freshman scoring record. But let’s not focus on what he has done. What about what he can do? Obviously, Wiggins is a ridiculous athlete. He makes it look effortless but he is a flat-out explosive leaper. He runs well too and is already dominant in transition. His elite lateral quickness will allow him to be an exceptional defender (remember LeBron wasn’t much on defense at this age, but the tools were there, and now he’s the best defender in the league). He really improved his shot. What’s perhaps most impressive about Wiggins is that he does all this within the flow of the Kansas offense. He passes when he should. Yes, he probably should’ve been more aggressive in their tourney loss but there are so few 18-19 year olds who have the “killer instinct” people say Wiggins lacks. LeBron developed it. Durant developed it. Wiggins shouldn’t be compared to those two because he is a very different player, but as a wing prospect, he’s as close as we’re going to get.

 

Thanks for reading! Make sure to tune into the draft on June 25th, and throw me a follow on Twitter. @ZakKondratenko.

2014 NFL Mock Draft

There are more mock drafts on the internet nowadays than there are “Which character from _____ are you?” quizzes. Why? Well, first off the NFL brand is growing in popularity every year despite some recent issues with ticket sales and that whole concussions thing. On top of that, a mock draft is a list-style article that is easy to read (or just skim through and see the picks). Why should you read mine? No reason in particular. I don’t have the time to spend countless hours watching game tape that some major scouts and draft writers do. I don’t have “league sources”. I didn’t go to the combine. But I watch quite a bit of football, don’t really have any school obligations until the end of the week, and am sick of NHL fans acting like their playoffs are gods great gift to humanity. Note: Last year, the first round of the NFL draft garnered 6.2 million viewers while the Stanley Cup Finals averaged 5.7 million. And that was with the Bruins and Blackhawks, two of the leagues most popular teams, duking it out in an epic series. No more stabs at the NHL. You get my point. The NFL still rules the sport culture in America.

A couple of notes before I dive into this thing:

– I don’t mock trades. It’s far too confusing. Just keep in mind multiple teams in the Top 5 (Houston, St. Louis, and Oakland) would all like to move down.

– I’m not capable of mocking past the first round. I don’t watch enough mid-level college football. If I was making picks in the later rounds, it’d basically be me guessing.

– I’m not mocking a running back or a center in the first round. Not only is their a lack of top prospects at those spots this year, but value metrics have basically proven that picking one of those two positions in the first (unless we’re talking about an Adrian Peterson type prospect) is stupid.

Let’s do this.

 

1. texans Houston Texans

The Pick: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

If you’ve been following football at all over the last two years you know that every NFL GM is gushing over Jadeveon Clowney. Say whatever you want about motivation and conditioning issues, but they’re not supposed to  make human beings like this. We’re talking about a guy who is 6′ 6″, has a playing weight of about 275 lbs, ran a 4.51 40-yard dash, and had some other ridiculous combine numbers to boot (37 1/2″ vertical, 4.43 shuttle). Clowney jumped into the national spotlight with his crushing hit on a poor Michigan RB a couple years ago but he has been considered a rare talent since he was in high school. Maybe he didn’t play every game  at South Carolina like it was his last, and maybe he does play too high at times and gets knocked to the ground by powerful tackles who can get their arms under him. But let’s not forget about the power of good NFL coaching.

GM Rick Smith has publicly stated Houston is looking to trade down but is anyone willing to give them an RG3-type trade package for a defensive end? Khalil Mack is a fit too, and Houston’s need for a QB is obvious but if they don’t move down they might be forced to draft Clowney. He’s easily the best pass rushing prospect since Mario Williams and most people think he trumps him too. This is a draft where different teams are coveting different QB’s. There’s no unanimous #1 guy and depending on who you ask a guy could rank anywhere from one to seven. So there’s a good chance Houston can grab one of the best QB’s in this class later.

I’d pretty much bet the bank that Clowney is going #1, the interesting question is what team ends up with the pick. If Houston ends up with JJ Watt and Clowney on the same line, I don’t think things are going to get any better for Trent Richardson.

 

2. mFYxkfP5kValdc3WtMaRGlA St. Louis Rams

The Pick: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

The Rams, who are a solid team but own this pick due to the RG3 trade, are another team that would like to move down and load up on depth picks later in the draft. The problem is that if/when Clowney goes #1, there isn’t a guy that is going to have multiple teams coveting this pick. There will be some interest around the league in Khalil Mack, Johnny Manziel, and Sammy Watkins here but not enough to spark a blockbuster trade. The Rams don’t need Khalil Mack and they aren’t taking a QB here. It comes down to WR Sammy Watkins and OT Greg Robinson.

Not only is OT a more dramatic need for the team but a lot of people feel Robinson is the best prospect in this class other than Clowney/Mack. He’s separated himself from Jake Matthews (the next best OT in the draft) and has drawn comparisons to none other than former Rams great Orlando Pace. Robinson is still developing as a pass blocker but he’s already a mauler in the run game (watch literally any Auburn game from last year, the holes this guy plows are amazing). Some call him a product of the system and inexperienced but like with Clowney the physical tools are too much to pass up on here. He would immediately step in at RT and give St. Louis a major upgrade in the run game and has the ability to become an elite, 10-year LT as well.

 

3. newjagslogo Jacksonville Jaguars

The Pick: Khalil Mack, DE/OLB/ Buffalo

This is where the draft gets intriguing as the Jaguars could easily go with Mack or WR Sammy Watkins or a QB here and there wouldn’t be any outcry. I don’t think Watkins is an AJ Green/Julio Jones/Dez Bryant prospect like some are saying but every writer and scout I respect says he is one of the elite guys in the class and shouldn’t fall out of the top 5. And while there are questions about the future of oft-troubled WR Justin Blackmon, I think the Jaguars have a much bigger need for pass rushing help than they do for another weapon who may not even have an adequate QB to get him the ball next year.

If Clowney is the LeBron James of this class than Khalil Mack is the Carmelo Anthony. He played at Buffalo, but broke into the spotlight by dominating Ohio State in their season opener this year. Physically speaking, he’s actually just about as impressive as Clowney (6′ 3″, 250. 4.59 40 time. 40″ vertical, 4.18 shuttle). His ability to play in pretty much any scheme helps him as well. He’s also more polished than pretty much any defender in the class and he’s the easy choice for defensive rookie of the year. We all know the Jaguars needs to sell tickets and this wouldn’t be a “sexy” pick like Clowney or a QB but we’re talking about a guy who is unanimously considered an elite pass rushing prospect. In today’s NFL, that’s too enticing to pass up.

 

4. cleveland-browns Cleveland Browns

The Pick: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

Despite what ESPN is spreading, every other reporter is swearing the Browns are not interested in Johnny Manziel here. Don’t they sort of have to take a QB here though? My money is on Bortles, despite their reported love for Derek Carr.

I don’t personally think Bortles will pan out as a franchise QB but some of his highlights and measurables are quite enticing. He’s big, athletic both inside and outside the pocket, and has a good enough arm. He’s not an elite thrower and needs to improve the mental aspect of his game but he reminds me of Jake Locker a lot, and if Locker can go 8th overall Bortles should go higher. The Browns have built an interesting core of pass catchers and at this point the only thing holding them back is a decent QB. Is Bortles the guy? Maybe. I’m still a firm believer that Manziel is the right pick here but everything I’ve read the last two days (well, everything other than ESPN) says Manziel isn’t going here.

 

 

5. Oakland-Raiders-Logo Oakland Raiders

The Pick: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

Here’s my first surprise pick coming from a team that has been known to make some pretty surprising picks. You’ll see Sammy Watkins mocked here a lot if the board falls this way, and that’d be a fine pick, the Raiders desperately need weapons. Then again the Raiders need pretty much everything and it doesn’t seem as if they’re committing to being competitive this coming season. Why not build your team in the trenches? Aaron Donald is not only the clear-cut best DT in this class but he’s a dynamic pass-rushing prospect from that position, which is rare and incredibly valuable to a defense (see Geno Atkins, Ndamukong Suh).

Donald is a bit under-sized but his burst off the line is ridiculous and he was incredibly productive in college (had multiple 11 sack seasons at Pitt). This is no doubt a reach, most consider Donald in the 8-15 range as far as this years prospects go, but the Raiders reach quite often. The new management should be looking to build in the trenches as one of the Raiders problems in the draft recently has been they load up on guys with impressive 40 times and sort of forget about their defensive line, often choosing to overpay veterans. The Raiders will also be begging to trade down if both Clowney and Mack are gone here (they have just four picks in the top 200). They need a QB too but since Bortles is gone here there’s a great chance whatever other guy they’re looking at will be available later. The pick may very well be Sammy Watkins and I wouldn’t complain, but Donald would immediately make one of the most dreadful units in the league better. Donald would also make a nice, diverse pair with run-stuffing DT Pat Sims.

 

6. 299 Atlanta Falcons

The Pick: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

The Falcons desperately need both pass rushing and pass blocking and they’ve been actively engaged in trying to move up seeing as the top three guys for them; Clowney, Mack, and Robinson, will all surely be gone by this pick. The problem is the team is still recovering from the Julio Jones trade and doesn’t have the ammo a team like the Rams or Texans are looking for. Matt Ryan needs help. He’s got talent on offense and this is probably a team that is just a few players away from becoming a legitimate contender again. After Clowney and Mack there’s a big dip in pass rushers so if the draft plays out like this the Falcons pick will likely come down to the best two OT’s available; Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews.

Matthews’ stock has taken a slight hit due to his relative lack of athleticism whereas Lewan has been a bit of a sleeper throughout the entire draft process. At 6′ 7″, Lewan could probably benefit from adding some weight to his 307 lb frame but he’s a dominant athlete and pass blocker. He plays angry too, which is often the biggest problems top blocking prospects initially face when coming into the league. Lewan was a blue-chip recruit and was a four year starter for Michigan. He’s not a Jake Long-type prospect but he’s a solid top 15 talent with perhaps the most upside of any offensive player in the draft. He would start at LT for Atlanta right away.

 

7. bucs Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Pick: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

If the draft plays out the way some expect, with one of the QB’s and Watkins both going in the top five, the Bucs will look to trade down. They like Manziel, but that’s not the right pick given the board and their needs. Their needs really don’t align with the top of the draft. But in this mock, luckily for them, the best WR in the draft happens to fall to them. Sammy Watkins would pair with Vincent Jackson to provide a dominant WR duo for whoever the Bucs QB-of-the-future ends up being. WR Mike Evans is in play here too, especially if Watkins is gone, but Watkins is considered the clear-cut best WR in the class and Evans’ game may resemble Vincent Jackson’s too much anyway.

Watkins is a fluid athlete who accelerates quickly and doesn’t lose much speed making his breaks. He’s not as fast as someone like DeSean Jackson and despite his decent size he’s not as physical as someone like Dez Bryant, but Watkins is a polished prospect with a nice combination of talents. Good ball skills, a great route runner who can line up anywhere on the field, and he gives whoever drafts him a major boost in the return game. From a fantasy football perspective, Watkins is the most interesting player in the draft. Most have him going in the top five, but there’s no way he falls past the Bucs if he’s still in.

 

8. 5e371227-7882-45ba-ac02-a5c9d6250716 Minnesota Vikings

The Pick: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

The Vikings are the team most likely to draft a QB in the first round. With the way the draft will play out it’s almost a guarantee that Manziel and/or Bortles will be in play here while the other elite guys they could take (Clowney/Mack) will be out. They could look at CJ Mosley but that’d be a reach. Depending on what you read you’ll hear different things about which QB the Vikings prefer but everyone agrees it’s either Bortles or Manziel. In this case, Bortles is gone. Easy choice for the Vikings and even if Manziel struggles out of the gate he should be an upgrade. For what it’s worth most report the Vikings having Manziel at the top of their QB board.

Manziel is a better pro prospect than many think and made some great strides in the pocket last season. He’s developed decent accuracy and his lack of arm strength is being blown way out of proportion. He can make all the throws, as he has proven throughout the draft process. His throws do tend to float but with the NFL trending towards taller pass-catchers that’s not the problem it once was. My biggest concern for Johnny Football is his durability. He’s going to get destroyed if he doesn’t change his style of play. I am confident that Manziel will be the best QB in this class, whether that means he’s an actual franchise QB I don’t know. The talent is there.

 

9. bills Buffalo Bills

The Pick: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

The Bills could very well be safe in this case and take Jake Matthews, a guy who would start on their O-line right away. But their WR core of Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, and (now) Mike Williams probably needs some help and in this mock one of the drafts most intriguing prospects in available. A TE is also in play here but that’d be too big of a reach for a team that just needs to upgrade their talent in general.

The physically imposing (6′ 5″, 230, 38″ vertical) Mike Evans bailed Johnny manziel out quite a bit. He has a ridiculous catch radius, exceptional body control, uses his size, and has very good hands. His biggest weakness isn’t his straight line speed as much as it is his burst and cutting ability. But Evans won’t likely be lining up inside very much. This is a guy you send down the sidelines and if he has one-on-one you just throw it up to him. He can really help a QB who struggles with accuracy, which EJ Manuel most definitely does. The Bills aren’t as far aways from being a wild card team as people think and if Evans can come in and help EJ Manuel (and get the other guys favorable match-ups) the Bills offense could become much more efficient. They already have a playoff ready defense.

 

10. cwuyv0w15ruuk34j9qnfuoif9 Detroit Lions

The Pick: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

There’s a bit more clarity here after the Lions signed Golden Tate but it’s still anyones guess. The Lions need to upgrade at CB, TE, SLB, and DE. Looking at the board I’d guess they’re choosing between TE Eric Ebron, CB Justin Gilbert, pass rusher Anthony Barr, and ILB CJ Mosley. All would be fine picks here as the elite prospects are all off the board. Corner jumps out to me as the biggest need (doesn’t it always seem like Detroit needs secondary help?) despite a couple of signings this offseason. They re-signed Rashean Mathis, but’s he’s marginal starter at best and is 33.

Justin Gilbert is the best CB in this class. He might not be quite as lauded or as polished as Darqueze Dennard but Gilbert is the superior talent and comes without the “character concerns” (which probably means the Lions take Dennard). Gilbert backpedals and changes direction with ease and has this remarkable ability to seemingly have his eyes on both the QB and WR at the same time. He’s got the ideal body and is also a solid tackler who can play physical off the snap too. Another bonus is that he’s a major threat in the return game and can take any pick back for six. The biggest concern for Gilbert is his footwork technique and tendency to “grab”. That’s a penalty every time in the NFL. But coaching should fix that. He’s the best CB in the class and the Lions need a physical corner who can also move if they want to compete with the likes of the Bears and Packers.

 

11. 1053 Tennessee Titans

The Pick: Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA

The Titans signed Shaun Phillips to help their awful pass rush as it transitions to the 3-4 but Anthony Barr is still definitely in play here. As is a CB. Tennessee addressed their needs at OT and ILB through free agency so this pick may very well come down to Barr or Dennard/Kyle Fuller. Shaun Phillips is 33 though and while he should be productive for a couple more years getting a blue-chip pass rusher (which some consider Barr to be) would really help this defense moving forward.

Barr’s stock isn’t as quite as high as it was a year ago, where some thought he was even a better prospect than Clowney, but he’s an NFL-ready pass rusher. He struggles in the run game and is terrible in coverage but lining up in the 3-4 should help minimize his weaknesses. As a pass rusher he’s tremendously well-balanced and agile not to mention the fact that he’s just a dynamic physical presence. At 6′ 5″, 250 with long arms and tremendous burst there’s certainly some Aldon Smith in Barr. We’ve seen teams takes somewhat raw but talented pass rushers high recently and have it pay off. I wouldn’t consider Barr “raw” but he definitely needs to address his weaknesses if he wants to be an every down player. But teams salivate over pass rushers, and Barr is by far the best pass rushing prospect in this draft after Clowney and Mack.

 

12. NY-Giants-logo1 New York Giants

The Pick: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

The reason the Giants fell off is because they completely ignored their aging linebacking and offensive line units in the draft. Now they desperately needs multiple LB’s and lineman. They could be one of the teams that attempts to move up, but I’m not mocking trades, and in this case Jake Matthews falls right into their lap. Some consider Matthews a top five prospect, so he presents great value and fills a need at pick 12.

Matthews is without a doubt the most polished and NFL-ready pass blocker in this class and is also a great run blocker. He uses his arms exceptionally, which helps hide the fact that he has terrible feet and isn’t a great athlete. That is why I think he’ll fall. Taylor Lewan has much higher upside and as we saw last year with the Chiefs taking Eric Fisher over Luke Joeckel that is what teams are coveting in tackle prospects. Regardless, the worst case scenario for Matthews is probably becoming a decent starting-caliber RT. The Giants can’t really afford to pass that sort of guarantee up if it’s available here.

 

13. mFYxkfP5kValdc3WtMaRGlA St. Louis Rams

The Pick: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama

If the Rams keep the #2 overall pick and take Robinson they’ll almost certainly be looking for secondary help here. They don’t really have a single good starting safety and Clinton-Dix is one of the best players on the board here. They could definitely go corner or receiver here too and Odell Beckham out of LSU has been rocketing up draft boards.

But Clinton-Dix is a smart player with ideal size and athleticism. The fact that he just just destroys ball carriers helps too. The concerns with him are all mental as he often plays too aggressively, trying to go for the big hit instead of just wrapping up. He projects as plus-safety immediately and would certainly help the Rams. Louisville’s Calvin Pryor has been climbing up boards and has established himself as the clear #2 safety but he’d be a reach here. And if there’s a team looking to cash in on the WR or secondary help available here the Rams will certainly listen to any trade offer.

 

14. Bears-logo Chicago Bears

The Pick: Kyle Fuller, CB/S, Virginia Tech

The Bears have done an excellent job improving their offense the last couple of drafts. The problem is their once-elite defense has aged, fallen apart, and is now completely reliant on turnovers. They’ll almost certainly take the top defensive player on their board here with the exception of pass rusher. Safeties, CB’s, DT’s, the Bears have needs all over their defense and despite a couple of re-signings these needs are still, well, needs. Charles Tillman simply isn’t very good in coverage anymore. They signed a couple of safeties as well but none of them are solid starters and Bears fans are still having Chris Conte nightmares.

Kyle Fuller might not be quite as sound in man coverage as Darqueze Dennard or be as intimidating as Calvin Pryor but he’s an extremely versatile, NFL-ready guy. He can play literally anywhere in the defensive backfield. Outside, in the slot, safety, doesn’t matter. A team that needs as much secondary help as Chicago really can’t pass that up. Fuller isn’t elite in any one area of the game and he’ll never be an All-Pro talent but you can plug him in pretty much anywhere right away and he’s going to be a solid player. Bonus points for being the best blitzer from the secondary in this class.

 

15. steelers-logo Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pick: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

The Steelers pretty much have to go CB here given the depth of this class and their embarrassing play at that spot last season. They can address their pass rush and get Big Ben some weapons in the later rounds. They couldn’t cover anybody outside last season.

Dennard is the most NFL-ready cover corner in this class and would immediately become the Steelers best guy in the secondary. They need a guy they can throw outside with confidence seeing as they have to play both Josh Gordon and AJ Green twice a year. Dennard isn’t an elite athlete but he has exceptional ball skills and is as polished as college corners come. He’s got nice fluidity and is also very good in run coverage. Much like Kyle Fuller, Dennard might not have the upside of some 1st-round CB talents, but he’s ready to be a good starter right away. A Steelers team that feels they’re still a contender needs that.

 

16. Dallas-Cowboys-Logo-Teach-Me-Genealogy Dallas Cowboys

The Pick: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

Dallas would love Anthony Barr, Aaron Donald, or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix here but in this case they’re all off the board. DT Timmy Jernigan is an option but it’s recently been revealed he failed a drug test and that could lower his stock. America’s Team could also use some some help on the interior of their O-line but I don’t think Jerry Jones has the balls to do that two years in a row. If the board plays out this way, the Cowboys are sort of stuck here. CJ Mosley is an option though.

Some feel Clavin Pryor is the best safety prospect in this class due to his ability to hit like a linebacker and cover deep. He’s an intriguing talent but played in a strange scheme in college that required no man coverage out of him. He’s also prone to penalties. The Cowboys need at safety might not be as dramatic as their need at inside linebacker but Pryor’s stock has been rising whereas CJ Mosley’s has been sinking. But if both Barr and Donald are taken, Cowboys fans will likely be upset with this pick no matter what.

 

17. 98772 Baltimore Ravens

The Pick: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama

A bit of a surprise and reach here. If either Clinton-Dix or Pryor are in, that’s the easy pick for Baltimore. This is a tough pick to mock because Ozzie Newsome did a great job filling his needs already (WR, C, ILB, TE were all addressed). Michael Oher is gone and while the Ravens are confident in Eugene Monroe on the left side they certainly need a mauling run blocker. Ray Rice needs the help.

Enter one of the drafts most intriguing prospects, Cyrus Kouandjio. He’s a beast at 6′ 7″ 325 and he could probably add another 10 lbs and not lose anything. He’s both quick and strong and from an upside standpoint only Robinson tops him in this draft. He had an inconsistent season in 2013, many thought he should’ve gone back to Bama, but his raw talent could see him land in the 1st round. Newsome has taken on quite a few projects in recent years and this one could pay out huge if Kouandjio improves his technique.

 

18. 98792 New York Jets

The Pick: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

There’s a very good chance Ebron goes higher (Pittsburgh and Baltimore both could take him). The Jets, even with a couple of moves this offseason, desperately need talent on offense. Especially at TE. Eric Ebron isn’t anything as a blocker but he’s a fluid athlete who runs great routes and catches the ball at its highest point. He will create mismatches right away.

The Jets could definitely afford multiple upgrades in the secondary but in this mock Gilbert, Dennard, Fuller, Clinton-Dix, and Pryor are all off the board. Whether the starting QB is Mike Vick or Geno Smith, both play a style that would benefit greatly from having an elite TE (think how effective that Vick-Alge Crumpler combo once was). It remains to be seen if Eric Decker can be a #1 WR but having Ebron running down the middle will certainly help open things up for him. The Jets could go WR too, but Ebron is more highly-touted than any of the WR’s in play here.

 

19. Miami-Dolphins-Logo Miami Dolphins

The Pick: Zack Martin, OG/OT, Notre Dame

I’m aware the Dolphins have a new logo. I refuse to acknowledge it though.

The whole Martin-Incognito thing left even more holes on an already terrible O-line. Miami signed Brandon Albert which should give them a great player at one of the tackle spots right away but they still need three starters on this unit. Luckily for them, in this mock, Zack Martin is still in.

Martin can literally play anywhere on the line and could go as high as #12 to the Giants so this is not a reach by any means. Despite playing mostly tackle at Notre Dame his body is probably better suited to be on the interior in the NFL. And he projects as a plus-plus player at guard. He has exceptional technique, using his arms and butt to get low on defenders. While not an elite athlete, his athleticism is underrated because, frankly, he’s white. He can handle NFL defensive lineman, no doubt. The Dolphins continue to make splashes in free agency and they’re probably a good o-line and a little development from Tannehill away from dethroning the Patriots. Martin would certainly help.

 

20. Arizona-Cardinals-logo Arizona Cardinals

The Pick: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

The Cardinals are in an interesting position as they have a good-enough QB in Carson Palmer right now but need to look towards the future. Luckily for them, Carr is a talented but raw prospect who would definitely benefit from sitting out for a year or two. The team could certainly go safety or tackle here but the top prospects at those spots are gone. And with the signing of Jared Veldheer their need at tackle isn’t as extreme as most thought.

Personally, I am torn on Derek Carr. He’s without a doubt the best pure thrower in the class and is an underrated athlete but he struggled against good defenses in college and as with any QB who played primarily out of the gun there are questions about his ability to make reads and drop backs in NFL schemes (though I think in todays NFL that is less of a concern). The Cardinals are in a nice position to take a risk here though. If Carr doesn’t pan out, no biggie. With the way the CBA works now they won’t be committed to him financially. They can just try and find another QB whenever Palmer hangs up the cleats.

 

21. green-bay-packers-logo-nfl Green Bay Packers

The Pick: CJ Mosley, ILB, Alabama

The Pack desperately need a safety but there aren’t any worth taking here. Mosley presents good value at #21 and fills a need. The Packers will use this draft to fill a few holes and add depth as their core on both sides of the ball is in place already. Green Bay scored big taking Lacy out of Alabama last year, maybe the Crimson Tide can help them again. TE is an option given the uncertainty surrounding Jermichael Finley but I don’t think Ted Thompson is one to panic.

Mosley is widely regarded as the best ILB in the class and while his stock isn’t as high as it was coming into the season he still projects as an above-average NFL starter and is ready to play right away. That’s what Green Bay is looking for, guys who can improve their team now, even if they don’t have tremendous upside. He inconsistent as a tackler but he’s a great athlete who plays smart and can deliver punishing hits when he lines them up right. His athleticism allows him to stay on the field and not get exposed in coverage. It also allows him to get away with over-committing to a spot in the run game, he’s good at recovering from his mistakes.

 

22. philadelphia-eagles-logo Philadelphia Eagles

The Pick: Jimmie Ward, SS, Northern Illinois

Philly is definitely in an interesting spot if this is how the draft plays out. They have many needs that aren’t too dramatic (CB, WR, ILB) whereas their biggest need (safety) has seen its top prospect go already. I think the Eagles may surprise some folks by taking one of the draft late-risers and most intriguing guys, NIU safety Jimmie Ward.

Ward is an exceptional athlete in all situations he’s put in. He’s probably the best cover safety in the class already despite being fairly raw as an overall prospect. He misses a lot of tackles because he leaves his feet and he’ll have to adjust that in the NFL. He’s physical and has great closing speed as well. The biggest knock against him is his size (5′ 11″, 193) but we’ve seen some under-sized safeties dominate (cough cough Earl Thomas). Due to his solid lateral movement, Ward could become a slot corner if his size prevents him from being a safety.

 

23. cheifs Kansas City Chiefs

The Pick: Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU

Everyone and their mother is mocking a WR to Kansas City and it’s easy to see why considering their only reliable target is their RB. Andy Reid will be thanking his lucky stars if he gets to choose between Beckham Jr. Lee, and Cooks here. Beckham Jr. has risen up draft boards and many think he could go closer to the top 10 than this. He’s emerged as the third best WR prospect in this deep class.

He’s an exceptional route runner who anticipates defenses well and has great cutting ability. He accelerates fast. The big knock against him are his hands, which have improved but still need work. He’s also a little guy who doesn’t block well or project as a big time red zone guy. With that being said, he’s ready to get open in the NFL right away. And if he can do that consistently people will forgive some of his flaws.

 

24. bengals-tiger-logo Cincinnati Bengals

The Pick: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

The Bengals would love Dennard or Fuller to fall to them here but that didn’t happen in this mock. Their corners are all either aging, recovering, or unproven. Bradley Roby and Jason Verrett are both legitimate options here. They also need some help at C and DE. But the Bengals have built an impressive core through their last few drafts and have begun to take the “best available player” approach. That very well could be Ryan Shazier, who projects as an immediate starter at WILL and would allow the team to move Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga back to their natural positions.

Shazier is a polished player who’s ready to make in impact in both the pass defense and rush defense. He’s extremely rangy, allowing him to chase down RB’s. He also always seems to take the right angles on his blitzes.  The biggest concern with Shazier is his size. He could improve his tackling and coverage techniques as well but he’s one of the those rangy athletes both 3-4 and 4-3 teams are starting to look for at LB. (Think Lavonte David or Kiko Alonso).

 

25. San_Diego_Chargers San Diego Chargers

The Pick: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

Given the depth of the position at the top of this class, the Chargers will almost surely pick a CB here. In this mock, it comes down to Verrett or Roby. If the Bengals chose one of the two then that question is answered. Verrett is undersized, but he’s exceptional in coverage. That’s what the Chargers need.

Verrett can get pushed around and doesn’t give you much in run support but he’s so fluid, runs with WR’s easily, and has the best ball skills of any CB in this draft. He’s not capable of following a big, elite WR all around the field but NFL schemes are shying away from that strategy anyways (unless you have Revis or Verner). Despite his size, Verrett plays tough. Again, he probably won’t give you much run support in the NFL but his coverage skills are hard too overlook this late in the round if you need a CB.

 

26. cleveland-browns Cleveland Browns

The Pick: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

If the Browns take a QB at #4, which I have them doing, it’s unlikely the try and move this pick. They’ll probably take the best player on their board. Brandin Cooks might just be that guy. He would give them a flat out dynamic group of pass catchers.

Cooks is the most explosive WR in this class. He gets to his impressive top speed quickly and it looks like you’re playing Madden when he’s running in the open field. He’s little (5′ 10″, 189) but he has pretty strong hands and angles his body well so he actually manages to make some tough catches. Obviously he will be pushed around by the better corners in the NFL but chances are those guys are going to be covering Josh Gordon.

 

27. New-Orlrans-Saints-Logo New Orleans Saints

The Pick: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

Roby is the 5th corner I have going in the first round. You may think because the Saints signed Champ Bailey that they aren’t looking at a CB, but he’s more of a stop-gap solution and honestly isn’t even very good anymore. Besides, Roby has been labeled as immature and if that’s really the case he could certainly use a mentor like Bailey. The Saints could look at center here but this draft doesn’t have a first round prospect at that spot, Marcus Martin out of USC would be a slight reach.

Roby ran a ridiculous 4.34 at the combine. He’s sort of a workout superstar and is very raw at this point but his speed and athleticism allow him to bump and run with anyone despite the fact that he’s not overly physical. Roby has as much physical talent as any CB in the draft. The Saints are solid enough right now to make this pick and hope for the best.

 

28. carolina_panthers_logo_3989 Carolina Panthers

The Pick: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia

The Panthers are going to go either WR or OT here. With Jordan Gross retiring and the depth at WR in this draft, OT becomes the priority early. They need to make sure they get a guy who can protect Cam Newton’s blind side too. There are plenty of guys who project as starting RT’s remaining but that is not what Carolina needs.

Moses is huge and posses both great feet and hands. He gets about as low as a 6′ 6″, 320 lb man can get. He’s not a good run blocker and probably never will be but he’s as ready as any tackle in this class to handle elite pass-rusher right away. If the Panthers can get a solid starting LT at pick #28, they’ll be thrilled.

 

29. New_England_Patriots_logo New England Patriots

The Pick: Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame

The Patriots are always a tough team to mock but Louis Nix, the best NT in this class, falling to #29 seems like an easy choice. Vince Wilfork’s days are limited, and as last season proved, it’s essential to have a space-eater in the middle of Belichick’s defense. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see the Pats go for a TE or interior O-lineman here but Nix seems like a great fit and a great value pick.

Nix is a monster and an exceptional bull rusher as well. The knee is a concern, as is conditioning, but apparently everything has checked out with him. He played at over 340 lbs last year and while he is nimble his ideal playing weight is probably around 330. That would help keep him on the field and allow him to change directions faster, which he’ll need to do since he won’t be able to simply overpower every single guy he sees in the NFL.

 

30. san-francisco-49ers-logo San Francisco 49ers

The Pick:Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

San Fran is loaded with picks and many expect them to try and move up to grab one of the top WR’s or CB’s. I think their is enough depth at both those spots for them to wait and instead go with the best player on the board here. Kony Ealy is one of the best players left and seems to be a nice fit.

Ealy plays a bit high and is raw but his athleticism is off the charts. He’s no Clowney or Mack but he’s not that far off. He does have a few dominant moves (both his spin and swim are NFL ready). He’s also shown some ability to play standing up. He can bat balls down at the line too. Ealy might not play a ton for San Fran right away, he needs to greatly improve in coverage and run support, but his pass-rsuhing upside is as huge as you can hope for this late in the first.

 

31. Broncos_logo Denver Broncos

The Pick: Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State

Broncos will be looking at all LB’s here and with Mosley, Shazier, and now Ealy all gone Carl Bradford emerges as the top option.

He won’t be an elite pass rusher like in college and tends to get thrown around but he’s a fluid athlete who excels in coverage, has great instincts, and has a nice first step as well. He’s somewhat limited physically but his versatility (plays DE, OLB, MLB) and football IQ should allow him to contribute right away to a team that needs linebacker help.

 

32. seattle-seahawks-super-bowl-parade-info Seattle Seahawks

The Pick: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

Obviously, the defending champs don’t have any glaring weaknesses. But despite re-signing Sidney Rice they could use a long-term outside WR. Allen Robinson probably doesn’t have the upside of some of the other WR’s, but he’s ready to start right away.

Not an elite runner, Robinson relies on his fluidity and large frame to get open. He’s also extremely physical when going for the ball. He won’t be pushed around in the NFL. He does run a bit upright though and doesn’t seem to trust his hands, he often tries to bring the ball into his body when he shouldn’t. But like I said, Robinson is ready to go right away and would certainly help the Seahawks overcome the loss of Golden Tate.

 

That’s all, folks. Here are some notables who I don’t think go in round 1:

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Marqise Lee, WR, USC

Dee Ford, DE, Auburn

Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State

Winter Is…Going to Stop Coming Eventually??: Why ‘Game of Thrones’ is Doomed

Don’t worry, there are no spoilers ahead.

Image

Let’s make one thing clear; I’m an obsessive ‘Game of Thrones’ fan. I read and (mostly) love the books. I watch and (mostly) love the show. Hell, I almost went to go see that garbage ‘Pompeii: 3D’ movie just because the actor who plays Jon Snow is in it. But on top of being a fan of everything Westeros I’m also a person who uses logic. And can do math. And can throw even my most fanboyish emotions out the window to look at and asses something honestly. When I look at it with my head and not my heart I see one clear-cut, indisputable fact…

The hit HBO series ‘Game of Thrones’, from a longevity standpoint, is completely fucked.

It may not be what you want to hear, but it’s the truth. Every reason why we’ll never see the epic ending author George R.R. Martin plans on writing make its way on the tube fall into one of four categories.

1. Martin’s inability or unwillingness to finish the book in a timely manner.

2. Current flaws with the show that will even become more clear in the coming season.

3. The cast aging.

4. Money.

I’ll start with the first one, which you can piece together with a few minutes of Wikipedia research. Martin started his epic series off with ‘A Game of Thrones’ in 1996. The series continued with ‘A Clash of Kings’ (1998), ‘A Storm of Swords’ (2000), ‘A Feast for Crows’ (2005), and ‘A Dance with Dragons’ (2011). The final two books in the series have both been announced but have no release date and we have been given no indication that Martin has finished the next one yet. Though he has said he expects each of them to be around 1,500 pages, we really don’t know anything else. He’s gives teases on his website, posting a chapter or two, but as far as a date for this all to conclude?

Now time for that math thing. For this series, Martin has averaged a book every three years. That’s not a terrible rate considering the scope and length of these novels. This series is grounded in literature and reality much more than something like ‘Harry Potter’, where the author patched up every plot hole and mystery by inventing some new form of magic. ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ demands that you see things from the various perspectives of a seemingly limitless cast of characters, that way you understand the world they live in from every angle. The upcoming season (debuting April 6th) will cover the second half of the third book. That means that starting in 2015, the series will have four more books to cover and two of them haven’t even been completed yet. Martin, at age 65 and overweight, is reportedly very healthy but the thought of Martin passing away before he gets a chance to finish the series will always rest in fans’ minds. Martin claims to have given major plot points to the producers in case that were to happen, but without Martin’s words on the page, would the show really be able to capture these characters?

To simplify things, here are the two potential issues that the series not being completed yet raises. A) Martin dies before he finishes the series. And B) The show catches up to the books. Issue B is the more likely and alarming of the two. ‘Game of Thrones’ COULD NOT survive a hiatus of even a year in order to give Martin more time. Delaying even a single episode of a show is financial suicide. TV is all about buzz and anticipation. Sure, ‘The Sopranos’ took some time off but the average viewer of that show is very different from the average ‘Game of Thrones’ viewer. ‘The Sopranos’ wasn’t as much about what happens next as it was about why things happened and the impact it had on the protagonist. ‘Game of Thrones’ is a bit more of a typical show in the “I wonder what’s gonna happen next week?” sense. Also, with the amount of child actors and young men and women in the cast the show could not afford any hiatus. (We’ll get into issues that the cast aging presents later).

Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are smart dudes, and they’ve addressed these issues. They’ve stated that they don’t want to do anything to hurt the momentum of the show, since momentum and “buzz” is really what TV is about, and would consider ending the show before the novels. They may be forced to go that route, but the content on our screens would almost surely suffer if they didn’t have a novel to dive into.

Image

So we haven’t actually talked about the content on the show yet, now’s the time. Critics and fans agree, ‘Game of Thrones’ is fucking awesome. Never has television seen a series so epic with such a vast cast of characters. Despite being held back by its medium, it never feels like its being held back. The acclaim keeps pouring in and gets more positive with every season. All that jazz is both a gift an a curse. ‘Game of Thrones’ is NOT a “perfect” piece of television. It doesn’t have the tight narrative, impeccable cast, and thematic ambition of shows like ‘The Wire’ or ‘Breaking Bad’. I’m as big of a fan as anyone but the show has its flaws.

The first is something that the show can’t help given the scope of the novels. There are just too many people and too much going on to keep track of. Even serious fans find themselves having to look up who’s who. It’s difficult to feel attached to a character when he/she is only getting 15 minutes of screen time an episode because there are other stories to deal with. This isn’t the shows fault, the novels are even more ambitious and potentially confusing. And the bigger problem is even more is about to happen this season and in the future. Sure, a lot of people die in ‘Game of Thrones’ but with seemingly every chapter (or episode) it feels like there are two new names for us to keep track of. This isn’t a problem if you’re an obsessive reader who’s read all the books multiple times. But for the average TV viewer who still can’t differentiate the Tyrell’s from the Bolton’s, this is a HUGE problem. A lot more people are introduced in the books that haven’t been adapted to TV yet. And there’s no sign that Martin will stop creating characters with the final two books. After all, it is what he does best.

The show has also completely butchered a few characters and storylines. In the novels, Sansa is one of the most complex and interesting characters. On the show, she’s the one fans pick on. I don’t necessarily think they’ve done a bad job with her and her story, but that is the general consensus. Given that (Minor Spoiler Alert) she isn’t getting killed anytime soon, this could become an even bigger problem. Bran Stark and Theon Greyjoy have also received mixed reception from both critics and fans. Both their stories in the third season seemed forced and whenever they were on screen it felt like everyone was just begging for them to cut to Tyrion or Daenerys.

The producers have done a great job casting the show (aside from a few choices) but it still feels uneven. Unfortunately there really are no “main” characters in this series. That’s just how Martin wrote it. This presents a problem on TV. We like seeing Arya a hell of a lot more than we like seeing Theon, why should they get a similar amount of screen time?

Image

The ‘Harry Potter’ film adaptions worked because the characters aged at least somewhat parallel to the actors that portrayed them. But Martin never gives us an explicit idea about how much time the books stretch over or how much the characters age. Arya is supposed to be a young girl but actress Massie Williams (16) is already outgrowing her and the meat of Arya’s story hasn’t even popped up yet. The same could be said for all the young characters on the show. Even IF this show did one season a year through all the novels and had no hiatus this is still going to be a major issue. Will the fans buy Bran looking like he’s 20? Or will they buy certain major roles being re-cast? The answer is no. It’s that simple. There is absolutely no way these actors are going to be able to pull off these roles three years from now. I get that makeup and camera artistry can do some amazing things but….no.

*    *    *    *

The first season of ‘Game of Thrones’ had a then-record $60 million budget. The next two seasons saw a budget increase of (reportedly) 15%. Even as the most expensive show in the history of television, ‘Game of Thrones’ still has to cut a few corners to make up for what it can’t afford. The producers have handled this beautifully and it’s really not noticeable unless you’ve read the books. But this still presents an issue as the story is only going to get bigger and will cost even more money to produce without completely screwing the fans over. Think the battle at the end of season 2 was epic and expensive? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

This would be less of an issue if HBO wasn’t a premium cable channel. If ‘Game of Thrones’ was on “regular” TV it could just drastically increase ad prices and due to the popularity of the show advertisers would still likely pay for the space. But it’s on HBO. It’s also the most commonly illegally downloaded show in history. People also share their HBO GO information so friends can catch it online. It’s simple, ‘Game of Thrones’ is bigger than HBO. Unless the executives at HBO figure out a creative way to generate revenue from this show it will likely start to lose them money, possibly as early as this season.

While HBO itself is a $20 billion entity of the Time Warner company no company can afford to be spending so much dough (an estimated $90 million for season 4) on a set of ten episodes that so many people are watching for free.

Also, we’ve already seen some of the cast penetrate the silver screen and see their celebrity rise. This will surely continue to happen and HBO is going to have to throw a lot more money at the stars to keep them around. Take fan favorite Daenerys (played by Emilia Clarke) for example; Clarke was just cast as Sarah Connor is the re-boot of the Terminator franchise. If she becomes a legitimate Hollywood leading lady, why the hell is she going to stay on ‘Game of Thrones’ if they don’t pay her HUGE sums of money? TV contracts for actors usually change from season to season because the network doesn’t know how long the show will go on. These talented actors on ‘Game of Thrones’ hold all the leverage.

Image

I hope I’m wrong. I hope Martin finishes the books ASAP. I hope Benioff and Weiss address the issues on the show with grace and artistry. I hope HBO finds a way to keep cutting the checks. And maybe all these people will do just that. They are, after all, much smarter than you or me. It’s just that looking at it realistically, I don’t see it happening. I don’t see them concluding this series on TV unless they rapidly rush things or deviate greatly from the source material. I don’t see them finding a way to keep Arya believable when Massie Williams is 20. I don’t see the forces of HBO being able to fight off the internet and keep their copyrighted material protected.

Us fans need to emotionally prepare for the fact that one of these days, in the near future, winter will not be coming.

Enjoy season 4 everyone!