We continue our Franchise Player Draft at Today’s Fastbreak with picks 11-15. Here are the explanations for picks 1-5 and picks 6-10. The selections were as follows: Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Russell Westbrook, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, James Harden and Blake Griffin.
Remember, this exercise isn’t a straight up player ranking, but picking who you’d want to start a franchise with right now.
11. Kawhi Leonard by Jeff Berest
There are three players in the history of the NBA who’ve won both the Defensive Player of the Year award as well as an NBA Finals MVP. Two of whom are Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon and arguably the greatest player to ever live, Michael Jordan. Any guesses on who the third player is? Let’s put it this way, if it’s anyone other than Kawhi Leonard, I’m doing a terrible job segueing into why I picked him at #11.
Besides the fact that Kawhi is ONLY 24 years of age, there were a variety of factors determining my pick other than “BPA” (that’s draft lingo for best player available). Elite wing talent is few and far between in the current NBA landscape. Kawhi’s offensive game is still blossoming and will surely continue to develop in an upward direction, especially as the centerpiece of this new franchise I’m starting (let’s call them the Seattle SuperSonics).
Maybe Kawhi isn’t the type of dominant scorer that LeBron or Kevin Durant are, but aren’t we all still in this phase of mimicking the San Antonio Spurs and more recently the Golden State Warriors? Of course it’d be nice to have a guy who can go off for 50 points on any given night, but I plan on surrounding Kawhi with other selfless players, who, like Kawhi, create offense from their defensive efforts and team-oriented play.
Kawhi is the best wing defender in the entire league, bar none. And in a league where LeBron, Durant, Harden etc. will be terrorizing teams for several more years, I want a guy who can lock down these stars more often than not. Not to mention his new five-year $90+ million deal will look like pennies in a few years after the salary cap has expanded even further (in this exercise we were supposed to ignore contracts, but obviously I couldn’t).
It’s also worth noting that Kawhi isn’t a diva and has yet to even appear in a tabloid headline or police blotter. He’s an unselfish character on the court and a humble one off of it. If I can’t have LeBron or Anthony Davis, I’m more than happy with having Kawhi lead my hypothetical SuperSonics into the future.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeff_berest
12. Andre Drummond by Michael Erler
There were a lot of worthy candidates available at No. 12. I considered Paul George, Rudy Gobert, John Wall and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Ultimately, I chose Drummond, who just turned 22 and is heading into his fourth season.
My reasoning is relatively simple: I don’t think I know as much about basketball as Stan Van Gundy. And one of the biggest reasons, besides the lure of the combo coach/GM role, that Van Gundy chose the Pistons when he had his pick of several open NBA jobs, was the chance to steer the Drummond bandwagon. Clearly he thinks he can turn him into the next Dwight Howard. And Howard during his Orlando prime was very, very good.
To be fair, it’s very possible that Drummond will never develop into Howard, who averaged 17.6 points and made his first All-Star Team during his age-21 season. Drummond by contrast averaged 13.8 last season, but more rebounds and the same 1.9 blocks per game that Howard had.
Drummond’s game has slowly and steadily grown, even though no one has noticed since he’s been stuck on a terrible and mostly uninteresting team. Van Gundy has him expanding his offensive arsenal, to the degree that 29.2 percent of his attempts came from the 3-10 feet range last season compared to 17.2 percent the year before, according to Basketball-Reference.com. That adjustment hurt his offensive efficiency numbers last season, but those growing pains should pay dividends going forward.
Drummond has improved, marginally, in his own end, both individually and as a team defender, but he’s still got a long way to go. He needs to get a lot better as a passer for the Pistons offense to really hum, and his free throw shooting continues to be embarrassing. If he can’t develop his stroke to knock them down at a 60 percent clip, he’ll never be the guy we want him to be.
He’s shown a lot of potential these past three years though, and it’s tough to pass up on a dude who averaged 13.8 and 13.5 at 21.
Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelErlerSBN
13. Giannis Antetokounmpo by Joey Wagner
I decided to go with Giannis Antetokounmpo not because of what he’s going to do for me this year, but rather in following years. He’s already a major mismatch for most offenses and defenses. He has a lot of basketball to learn and a lot of improvements to make, but you can’t match his size and (rather raw) skill set.
Admittedly, I had my eye on Kawhi Leonard and thought I had a reasonable shot at him. The brief run on young, unproven players lead me to believe I had a shot, but it’s no surprise he went before 13.
There’s a real chance The Greek Freak will be nothing more than a fun splash in the water and will never develop a consistent shot or always make the right basketball plays. That’s a risk I’m willing to take. He plays multiple positions and should excel more in the post as he continues to put muscle on.
My other option was Chris Paul. Save the playoff success narrative, because I don’t want to hear it. This guy is as tough as they come and one of the smartest players in the league. He pulls the most from his teammates. However, while Paul would’ve likely given me 3-4 good years, assuming he holds up (which is a concern), Giannis gives me 8-10 potentially good years.
Here’s to gambling.
Follow Joey on Twitter @mrwagner25
14. Damian Lillard by Miles Wray
Man, I feel like I could be making a mistake by passing up one of the 22-and-under players who could be my Ben Wallace-esque defensive centerpiece for a decade-plus — that would be Rudy Gobert or Nerlens Noel — but it’s hard to pass up taking a 20-per-game scorer who’s maximized his potential almost immediately.
One thing that was perhaps lost this July in the annual free agent mania: the Trail Blazers didn’t make a very spirited pursuit of then-free agent LaMarcus Aldridge. Instead, Portland decided that their best shot at getting back to legitimate playoff contention was to lock in Lillard for the long-term, and then surround him with as many experimental prospects as possible to see who’ll pan out. And you know what: I’m inclined to agree with the wisdom of their decision.
Here’s the one difference between Portland and my hypothetical team: this season, with playoff contention a mere pipe dream, I’m capping Lillard‘s minutes hard at 25 a night. And that cap only goes up to 30 a night for 2016-17. Lillard hasn’t missed a game in his three NBA seasons, but he leads the entire league in minutes played since his 2012 debut, going a hard 36.7 minutes a night. The last thing I need is some Durant- or Westbrook-esque wear-and-tear, followed by a plague of major injuries.
Follow Miles on Twitter @mileswray
15. Rudy Gobert by Trenton Jocz
Gobert’s emergence last season has the hype machine firmly in his corner, but that’s not why I picked him. I want to aim high and go for titles in this hypothetical league, so with the surefire “best player on a Finals team” types long gone at this point, factors other than talent become magnified. Since my franchise will lack one of those transcendent players, I need to maximize my window of forming a group that a superstar would want to join.
Players who are better than Gobert right now all have flaws. Chris Paul is the best player on the board, but he’s 30 and has thus far reinforced the axiom that it’s extremely hard for a team to win it all when its point guard is its best player. Kevin Love has put up the stats of a franchise player, except his lack of defensive prowess means he can’t play center, thus neutering the threat of small ball flexibility. Klay Thompson’s lack of shot creation clearly relegates him to sidekick status. The guy I really wanted to pick was Jimmy Butler, on the chance he takes another leap from All-Star to superstar, except he (like Serge Ibaka, another strong candidate) is 26 years old with an injury history.
At 23, Gobert allows my squad a longer time to build chemistry with the other core players and/or lure a true alpha dog, yet he can also anchor a quality squad sooner than some of the youngsters who are already off the board. Though his presence removes the potential of having five mobile threats on offense, the 7’2″ Frenchman gives my team a leg up on establishing a defense-first culture, and if all else fails, the scarcity of quality rim protectors means he’d fetch quite a bounty in trade. Wing production can be approximated, but there’s only one Stifle Tower.
Follow Trenton on Twitter @TrentonJocz