Round seven and still going strong.
It’s been a fun ride so far and this middle part of the draft is where it gets really exhilarating. The pressure of conforming to general opinion from the earlier rounds is gone, but the pickings aren’t yet slim enough that you can let up a bit like you may be able to do in the latter rounds. This is where you start seeing and doing things you might not have expected heading into the draft, and where big-time steals are made.
Henry got me nodding, grimacing and raising my eyebrows in round six, so I’m hoping to give him (and you) a similarly emotional ride here in round seven.
I could call this round the “Dirty Dozen,” since there are so many dudes being taken here that might cause you to groan in boredom and agony. But there are some exciting picks, too. Read on and hold onto your butts — this might be a rocky one:
73. Marcus Thornton (joins K. Durant, T. Evans, A. Horford, P. Pierce, M. Camby, J. Terry): Thornton had incredibly hot streaks during the last three-plus months of last season, his surprisingly productive rookie campaign. He only played 25:36 per game but managed to average 1.6 threes, along with strong shooting percentages. The Hornets barely made any moves this summer and with Luther Head no longer set to sign with the team, Thornton has very weak competition at the SG spot. This, along with the fact that CP3′s helpful return, could translate into a huge breakout season for Thornton, who should play at least 30 minutes a night and has a shot at averaging 17/4/2 along with around 2+ threes. His small name might make this seem like a reach, but Thornton put up top-35 numbers for much of last season. The Jet at No. 72 (a potential steal, though Rodrigue Beaubois’ emergence worries me) and Thornton at No. 73 gives this team some scoring and three-point shooting thrust to add to KD’s strengths in those categories. This team continues to impress me.
74. Rashard Lewis (joins L. James, B. Roy, C. Billups, J. Noah, K. Love, L. Deng): In all honesty, Lewis shouldn’t be falling this low. Yeah, he struggled last season but he’s still a lock for 2.5 threes per game along with solid FT% and 1+ steals. I fully expect Lewis to be more comfortable playing alongside Vince Carter this season, which should be good for his numbers. In fact, I think he’ll easily be worth more than Deng when all’s said and done in 2010-11. This team doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses yet, though the health risks of Roy and Deng concern me.
75. Gilbert Arenas (joins C. Paul, C. Bosh, J. Johnson, R. Gay, M. Williams, C. Kaman): Oh yes, I went there. First the reasons not to like this pick: his knee, his love for absolutely obliterating fantasy owners in recent years, John Wall, his shift to SG, rust and a potential trade that could send him to Orlando, where he’d have even less value. Now the reasons to dig this pick: plenty of rest for his knee, career averages of 22.7/4.2/5.6 along with 1.7 steals and 2.1 threes and Wall, who will take over ballhandling duties, which will push down Arenas’ turnovers and create better looks for him (read: higher FG%). Do the risks outnumber the reasons for optimism? Yes. Does that make Arenas something of a gamble anywhere north of round eight or nine? Yes. Will his numbers take a step back this season? Yes. Is there a fighter’s chance that Agent Zero could end up exceeding all expectations and finish the season with top-40 value? Absolutely. Arenas is the poster child of a player who carries just as much fantasy baggage as real-life baggage, which makes him very unappealing. But with memories of his fantasy stardom so far in the back of many owners’ memories and with his unappealing situation in Washington, it’s quite possible that expectations for Arenas are too low. I don’t think he’ll completely thrive in his SG role, but I do think his knack for knocking down tons of threes and stealing bunches of balls isn’t going away because of that. Keep in mind that the Wizards dealt away two of their biggest offensive weapons last season while Arenas was buried in off-court troubles, which means plenty of shots are still available for him in D.C. I loved the Kaman pick and I love this pick, especially since the team was getting a little boring. Who better to spice things up a bit than Hibachi himself?
76. Vince Carter (joins D. Nowitzki, J. Kidd, A. Iguodala, A. Jamison, A. Brooks, M. Beasley): VC has a bad reputation, and for good reason. He’s a softie on the court and settles for jumpers more than he should. But for fantasy purposes, he’s still a very useful player. Though he shoots the ball poorly from the field, he’s still good for 1.5+ threes, 17/4/4 per game, not to mention strong shooting from the free-throw line. And believe it or not, Carter’s soft play may be making him a more reliable player — he’s only missed 18 games in his past five seasons. Tack on the possibility that he’ll be more comfortable in Orlando this season and it’s clear that Carter should be able to easily justify his selection at No. 76. Beasley (who I wasn’t sold on in the sixth round) and Carter as back-to-back picks may cement this team as the least likable of the bunch so far. It looks healthy in threes and FT%, but I’m not sure if it really stands out anywhere else. Also, this team needs a center like Kanye West needs lessons in humility — I just thought it was too early to reach for one.
77. Ray Allen (joins K. Bryant, A. Jefferson, M. Ellis, M. Gasol, R. Felton, L. Scola): This team had a lot going for it heading into this round and Allen falling to it this late in the draft is a potential steal. We all know his value — threes, strong shooting percentages and solid all-around numbers, albeit in muted volumes. The one potential weakness for this squad is threes, which Allen should help shore up. Other than that, this pick really doesn’t need much commentary. I just hope we can find a solid SF for this team sooner than later.
78. Paul Millsap (joins D. Granger, J. Smith, N. Hilario, D. Rose, J. Richardson, J. Crawford): The perennial sleeper should finally have a chance to wake up this year in Utah. It seems that he’s set to inherit the starting PF spot and play alongside Al Jefferson, making Mehmet Okur the biggest loser on the Jazz this summer. Then again, on the off-chance that Millsap is relegated to sixth-man status yet again, this pick will prove to be a bit hasty. He’ll be drafted earlier than this in many drafts, but with the addition of such a strong rebounder who mixes it up inside like Jefferson does, it’s tough to see Millsap putting up steady double-doubles. No. 78 seems just right for him, and on a team that used its last three picks on guards, this is a pleasing selection. This team now has four players who can feasibly average 1+ steals and 1+ blocks per game each, which is quite sexy.
79. J.J. Hickson (joins P. Gasol, R. Rondo, T. Murphy, Z. Randolph, K. Martin, O.J. Mayo): Sorry in advance, Henry, for taking so many juicy picks this round — I couldn’t resist Hickson here. The kid is this year’s Anthony Randolph, though less hyped. He played well during the Summer League and showed what he can do when Shaquille O’Neal was out for parts of last season. With the PF spot undeniably his and with minutes at C coming his way, Hickson should be in for a big year on a depleted Cavs team. Inconsistency may plague parts of his 2010-11 season, but of the players left on the board you can make a very strong case that Hickson has the most untapped upside. It’s a gamble but if Hickson can churn out anything close to what he’s capable of, this frontline looks like a formidable complement to a solid backcourt.
80. Jameer Nelson (joins D. Williams, B. Lopez, D. West, D. Gallinari, H. Turkoglu, B. Griffin): This pick came down to one thing: if D-Will was to miss time with an injury (he’s missed 20 games in his last two seasons), who would this team plug up the PG spot with? Don’t get me wrong — another nice big here would’ve been great, but I wasn’t willing to reach that far down. Nelson has his downsides: always-suspect health, two capable point guards ready to gnaw at his minutes and a very disappointing 2009-10 campaign. But even with all this, he seemed to be the best available point guard at this spot. (The other two I was considering? Andre Miller, who doesn’t hit as many threes and has Jerryd Bayless breathing down his neck, and Jrue Holiday, who’s still too unproven and raw.) I’m holding my nose as I click to make this pick, but Nelson gives this team some more assists and threes, and when he’s playing well, he can offer top-40 value. If Griffin lives up to expectations (and I think he does for the most part), this team has most bases covered.
81. Eric Gordon (joins S. Curry, C. Anthony, T. Duncan, A. Bogut, D. Harris, K. Garnett): Boy oh boy, this team’s looking as frail as Kate Bosworth on a windy day. Gordon had a disappointing 2009-10, thanks mostly to various injuries, but the appeal he offers is clear: he can score and hit threes in bunches. If he can stay healthy, Gordon should return top-40 value. His minutes in L.A. are secure (unless you think JamesOn Curry and Willie Green are set to have breakout seasons) and he’s just 22 years old, which leaves big room for improvement to his already solid game. I’m with Henry in not being all that excited about this team, but if all its players can stay relatively healthy, it’ll have a shot at winning a lot of matchups.
82. Trevor Ariza (joins D. Wade, A. Stoudemire, A. Bargnani, B. Davis, A. Randolph, L. Aldridge): Ariza put up strong numbers last season — if your league didn’t count shooting percentages. After getting a year in Houston under his belt, and with the prospect of having an anchor in the middle if Yao Ming returns as planned, Ariza should be able to bump up those miserable percentages to respectable levels this season. Besides that he really does it all, which makes him a potentially great fit for any squad. No. 82 overall sounds just right for the budding SF, and he continues to add to this team’s all-around strengths.
83. Caron Butler (joins G. Wallace, D. Howard, M. Ginobili, R. Westbrook, A. Blatche, J. Wall): Remember when people used to say “Doorknob” whenever they smelled something funky, then punch the supposed culprit of the olfactory crime? (Or maybe you still do?) Well, this pick makes me want to shout “Doorknob” at myself in the mirror while I punch my left arm till I can’t feel it anymore. That’s how lame I think Butler is. There was a time when he was an exciting fantasy player, but his days of putting up 20/7/4 along with 2+ steals per game are long gone. Now he’s just a good player whose only guarantee is racking up 12+ DNPs per season. So why did I pick him here? Two words: contract year. Tough Juice is getting into peak shape this offseason and no one should underestimate the power of the dollar. Also, this squad needed a SF or SG to bring things together. Butler seems about right late in the seventh round, and with a year in Dallas in the books, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him play a bit more comfortably in Dallas in 2010-11. This pick is a bit safe but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one. (I’m still punching myself.)
84. John Salmons (joins D. Lee, S. Nash, C. Boozer, S. Jackson, J. Green, B. Jennings): He just signed a big contract and is now on a Bucks team that looks quite deep, which all seems to herald cloudy days ahead for Salmons. The good news is that his value isn’t totally dependent on his shots and scoring. Playing 4:24 fewer minutes and shooting the ball four fewer times per game in Chicago than in Milwaukee still led to 12.7/3.4/2.5, along with 1.4 threes and 1.3 steals. The major bump to his value came from his improved shooting numbers in Milwaukee. With more offensive weapons around him, Salmons should maintain his solid FG%, and his other numbers should remain decent. At No. 84, he could be a downright, dirty steal. There were some more risky picks that I was tempted to make here, which would have also helped to avoid drafting two Bucks back-to-back, but it didn’t feel quite right taking a big risk for this team — yet. Besides, Salmons builds on this team’s strengths, which is a good thing at this point.
To recap, here are our 12 teams after seven rounds of drafting, with grades that reflect how good they look to me so far (letter grades are getting boring — maybe I’ll use another rating system for round nine):
Team 1: K. Durant, T. Evans, A. Horford, P. Pierce, M. Camby, J. Terry, M. Thornton (A-)
Team 2: L. James, B. Roy, C. Billups, J. Noah, K. Love, L. Deng, R. Lewis (A-)
Team 3: C. Paul, C. Bosh, J. Johnson, R. Gay, M. Williams, C. Kaman, G. Arenas (B+)
Team 4: D. Nowitzki, J. Kidd, A. Iguodala, A. Jamison, A. Brooks, M. Beasley, V. Carter (C+)
Team 5: K. Bryant, A. Jefferson, M. Ellis, M. Gasol, R. Felton, L. Scola, R. Allen (A-)
Team 6: D. Granger, J. Smith, N. Hilario, D. Rose, J. Richardson, J. Crawford, P. Millsap (A-)
Team 7: P. Gasol, R. Rondo, T. Murphy, Z. Randolph, K. Martin, O.J. Mayo, J.J. Hickson (B+)
Team 8: D. Williams, B. Lopez, D. West, D. Gallinari, H. Turkoglu, B. Griffin, J. Nelson (B+)
Team 9: S. Curry, C. Anthony, T. Duncan, A. Bogut, D. Harris, K. Garnett, E. Gordon (B)
Team 10: D. Wade, A. Stoudemire, A. Bargnani, B. Davis, A. Randolph, L. Aldridge, T. Ariza (B+)
Team 11: G. Wallace, D. Howard, M. Ginobili, R. Westbrook, A. Blatche, J. Wall, C. Butler (B)
Team 12: D. Lee, S. Nash, C. Boozer, S. Jackson, J. Green, B. Jennings, J. Salmons (B)
What do you think? Which team looks the best so far? Let me hear your reactions in the comments section below. Look for round eight at Weakside Help sometime soon.