From the top, it’s all sensible
It was always going to be John Wall, and who among us would be surprised if we were to learn somewhere down the road that the clincher was watching Rajon Rondo in the playoffs?
I say that because Wall, like Rondo, like Steve Nash, like Chris Paul, and like Derrick Rose, is a one-man fast break. Get him out on the open floor, and you have someone who can take it coast-to-coast against any retreating defense. That outweighed any worries about his expertise in the half court (where he has turned it over a bit too much), and, in the end, is why the Washington Wizards made him the first pick of the 2010 NBA draft.
Is he as good an all-around player as Evan Turner, whom the 76ers took at No. 2? Probably not. The 6-foot-7-inch Turner was the darling of league purists, a polished, poised, versatile inside-out threat who, because we a re a sports society that always cries out for comparisons, has been continually likened to Portland’s Brandon Roy. Turner is a safe, solid pick. Wall is a sexy pick. The Wizards, who were last truly relevant in the Jimmy Carter administration, need sexy. Actually, they need everything. Wall makes sense for them.
So there was no surprise here. The fun started with the third pick.
The question was simple: who would bite on DeMarcus Cousins?
On paper, the answer should have been “Everybody.’’ Cousins is 6-11, rugged, very clever inside, and clearly the best rebounder of the bunch. He also got better as the season progressed, not a surprising development since he is just a kid, albeit a feisty one.
And that was part of the problem. Cousins was a highly demonstrative player who had run-ins with coach John Calipari (who downplays them now), referees, and, frankly, himself. The second warning flag was conditioning. It was a major part of every preseason Kentucky analysis and it was a major topic as he went through the predraft process. It did not help his image, or his chances of going in the top two or three, when he was officially weighed at 290-plus when his desired playing weight is about 270.
The final issue was that there was a standard of comparison, Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors, another large young man with similar skills. The two, in fact, have been in competition in some form for a long time.
Favors did not carry the baggage Cousins did, and when the New Jersey Nets went to bat in the third spot they opted for Favors.
Cousins had to wait until the fifth pick to hear commissioner David Stern announce his name, as Sacramento’s pick. Minnesota had No. 4, and it decided on another nice, safe pick, Syracuse forward Wesley Johnson. He is a 6-7 transfer from Iowa State who had one of the great all-around seasons in Syracuse history, and that’s saying something when you’re discussing one of the great programs of the last 35 years.
So Cousins went fifth, and his college coach says Washington, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Minnesota had better take heed. “He’s the kind of kid who will never forget who passed him up,’’ John Calipari told ESPN this week. “When he’s 35, and in the league 15 years, he’ll always remember who passed him by and he will want to drop 50 on them.’’
Wall and Cousins were two of a record-five Kentucky players taken in the first 29 picks. Kentucky is the fourth school to have at least four first-round picks, the others being, not surprisingly, Duke, North Carolina, and Connecticut. The other Wildcat selections were forward Patrick Patterson, guard Eric Bledsoe, and backup center Daniel Orton. Patterson went to Houston at No. 14, Bledsoe will wind up with the Clippers after being taken by Oklahoma City at No. 18, and Orton is a noted shot-blocker who went to Orlando at No. 29.
There is usually much tittering about so-and-so “sliding’’ to the point where a team could take him and begin babbling about how “we never thought he’d be there.’’ (Exhibit A: Paul Pierce in 1998). But there didn’t seem to be any such example in this draft. It was a very formful process. You might arch an eyebrow about Butler’s Gordon Hayward going to Utah at No. 9, but no one saw him going much lower than 14. And if anyone in this draft was born to play for Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz, it was Gordon Hayward. He probably knows their plays already.
There have been two great trends in recent drafts. One is the rise of the international player. Last year there were six in the first round. This year the only European/Latin American/South American/African/Asian player taken in the first round was Kevin Seraphin, a 6-9 French product selected by Chicago on behalf of Washington at No. 17.
The other trend is to treat four-year players as if they had a communicable disease. The previous low spot to find the first senior taken was No. 12, in both 2002 and 2008. But things reached a new low this year when Clemson’s Trevor Booker, a 6-7 forward, was taken by Minnesota at No. 23.
All in all, it’s a utilitarian draft, not a glamour draft. There might be some nice rotation players in here somewhere, but for sizzle it pretty much begins and ends with John Wall. For vengeance, there will always be Mr. Cousins.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com.