Each week, Tyler Lashbrook will let loose on whatever Orlando Magic subjects capture his interest. Welcome to Ty Tuesday. - ED
We've talked a ton about the top five or six prospects in the 2014 NBA Draft. We know that they are all very good prospects and that the Magic are in a good spot if they can snag any of the guys with superstar potential in that top range. We've talked a little about the WoNK pick, that second little sweetener the Magic have in their back pocket, but not enough. Let's use this space to talk about their second first-round Draft pick in 2014, where it could land, and who could be available in that range.
Checking in on Denver
It's been a roller coaster year for the Denver Nuggets, who have gone on a number of different winning and losing streaks this season. Just when you think they are going down the drain, boom, they pop up with five wins in a row. They've ripped off several good games? BAM. Eight-game losing streak. That's kind of what happens when you're dealing with a rookie head coach, an unhealthy roster, and inconsistent players.
They've lost their last two games--against the Charlotte Bobcats and Toronto Raptors--and are currently 22-23, putting them at eleventh in the West and 3.5 games back of the no. 8 spot. Three and a half back doesn't sound bad, but that might as well be six or seven back in the hardened Western Conference. The two teams directly ahead of them--the Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks--are both better than the Nuggets and neither of them would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.
Danilo Gallinari will have surgery, effectively ending his season, and Nate Robinson recently underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL. Take away those two players and factor in JaVale McGee's stress fracture and Denver's daunting depth starts to look a little thin. The remaining players are a mixed bag--Ty Lawson would be an All-Star in the East--but injuries have certainly hurt one of the Nuggets' biggest advantages.
And it isn't going to get any easier. Western Conference teams aren't going to fall off the cliff all of the sudden and the last 12 games on Denver's schedule are especially tough. Eight of those games come against the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, and San Antonio Spurs and another is in Oklahoma City. That's an incredibly tough way to end the year and it's difficult to imagine any scenario in which Denver comes out about .500 in that stretch. The problem? It will have to play well over .500 to make any serious type of push to the playoffs and that seems sort of impossible.
Checking in on New York
The New York Knicks' disappointing pre-All-Star break has been well documented. The NBA's biggest-market team made moves this off-season in order to compete for a championship this season. Thus far, they have been nowhere near a top team in the East and they've worked most of the season has a bottom-tier team in the Atlantic, the league's most depressing division.
They play at a snail's pace, score at a rate that is slightly below average, and play some of the league's worst defense. They shoot a lot of three-pointers and hit them at nice clip, but they don't rebound and they rarely ever get to the free throw line. Carmelo Anthony has had a fantastic season, but he's had practically no help: Andrea Bargnani is completely inefficient and is a negative on defense; J.R. Smith has regressed after a fun Sixth Man of the Year campaign last season; and Tyson Chandler has slowed down from injuries.
But they are just a half game back of the no. 8 spot, even with a 19-28 record. Barring a major win streak, they don't figure to catch the Raptors, but they are very much in playoff contention, even though it's funnier to imagine that they aren't. The team directly ahead of them, the Detroit Pistons, hasn't really figured out how to play either side of the ball consistently and its odd roster construction has really bit them in the rear end. The Bobcats are at no. 8, but do we really trust them to stay the course without Kemba Walker? Their defense is surprisingly cohesive but even a resurgent, and borderline dominant, Al Jefferson isn't enough to consistently squeeze out points on an otherwise stalling offense.
The Knicks, therefore, are simply in the playoff hunt because of Eastern Conference incompetence. No one really knows whether the teams below them--the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando, and Milwaukee Bucks--even want to win, and so the Knicks are in the hunt by virtue of simply wanting to be. Making the playoffs, obviously, takes Orlando's pick out of the lottery. Anything can happen after the All-Star break, but it won't be surprising if New York sneaks in the playoffs with an awful record.
Seven WoNK pick candidates
There's still no telling exactly where this pick will fall, but we can pretty intelligently guess the range. In order to continue this exercise, let's take a look at the guys I have in that 12-18 range, as that seems to be a pretty realistic spot for this pick to fall.
12. Doug McDermott; 6-foot-8 forward; Creighton
My preseason Player of the Year has lived up to that title and is dominating the college ranks. He showed last summer with the USA trials that he can hang with and even step up against NBA players. This season, he's using a hair over 36 percent of Creighton's possessions, turning the ball over just nine percent of the time, and scoring over 31 points per 40 minutes on incredible efficiency. He can post with either hand, shoot off screens or in spot up situations, and he gets to the free-throw line at a high rate.
There are issues with his defense: he almost certainly can't guard NBA wings on a full-time basis and bigger post players will bully him inside. But don't forget that he's a pretty sturdy guy and is listed at 6-foot-8 in shoes. He also has the stretch ability that Ryan Anderson has in which playing him alongside a shot-blocker won't absolutely kill your team defense. He'll likely lose stock when he inevitably measures poorly at the Draft Combine, but with McDermott, you know that you're getting a guy who will play in the NBA for years.
13. Rodney Hood; 6-foot-8 wing; Duke
Jabari Parker gets most of Duke's attention from opposing teams and NBA eyes, but Hood is a fine, versatile scorer and should get a lot of looks come Draft time. He's a knock-down shooter--netting nearly 45 percent of his threes--and he can score in a variety of ways. That said, he doesn't really have 3-and-D potential because he is only slightly above average athletically and his wingspan is pretty underwhelming. Still, shooting, and scoring in general, is something that almost any NBA team could use.
14. Nik Stauskas; 6-foot-6 guard; Michigan
As my colleague Sam Vecenie has proclaimed, Stauskas is the closest thing to J.J Redick since J.J Redick. The Michigan sharpshooter is lights out from behind the arc and has drastically improved as a play maker in Trey Burke's absence. Last season, he served mostly as a spot-up shooter, but this season his assist rate has more than doubled, and that's while even improving his True Shooting to 66 percent--up three ticks from a season ago when he had an even lower usage rate. He's a versatile offensive weapon and that's something I like a lot--if you can't tell--when I'm evaluating prospects.
15. Willie Cauley-Stein; 7-foot center; Kentucky
From offense to defense, here we are with Kentucky's big man. Cauley-Stein is long and wiry and has a wide frame that should fill out as he gets older. He blocks a ton of shots and records a ton of steals for a big man. In that sense, he's a little like the guy he's replacing, Nerlens Noel. But Noel was much better around the rim, had better passing instincts, and looked more comfortable with the ball in his hands. Cauley-Stein is a bit of a stiff on offense. He has nice hands and can catch alley-oops, but he's often in the wrong spot and he tends to just throw shots at the backboard, rather than laying them in. There's potential here on defense, but it's going to take some sitting and watching.
16. Zach LaVine; 6-foot-4 guard; UCLA
I'll admit: I didn't know who LaVine was coming out of high school. And that's a pretty big deal to me, since I tend to follow recruiting and usually have a grasp on 15-20 incoming freshmen. But I've been impressed with what I've seen out of LaVine. He's an explosive athlete, a confident shooter, and he looks comfortable with the ball in his hands. He's not a point guard and he'll likely never be one barring some major fine-tuning in the summer, but he's a very good scorer. He's only playing 25 minutes a night because his defense leaves a lot to be desired and he's been quiet over the past couple of weeks, but there's a lot to like here, even though he'd probably be better served waiting around for the 2015 Draft.
17. Adreian Payne; 6-foot-9 big man; Michigan State
Another senior in this range, Payne, like McDermott, is a sure thing in the NBA. At 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds, Payne has a 7-foot wingspan and is basically the prototypical NBA power forward. He's an explosive athlete with the skill to finish around the rim with either hand and he's a gritty, versatile defender. On offense, he's expanded his range behind the arc and he's now hitting over one triple per game at a 44 percent clip. This doesn't appear to be a sample size thing, either: He shot 38 percent last year and has hit over 80 percent of his free throws in the last two seasons. He's improved in all four years at Michigan State and has molded himself into a decade-long NBA player. If he were this good at 20 years old, we'd be talking about a top-eight pick.
18. Montrezl Harrell; 6-foot-8 forward; Louisville
Have you ever been high on a player just because you like watching him play? Maybe that's what's happening with Harrell for me. I love watching him fly all over both ends of the floor for Louisville. He has a super-long, 7-foot wingspan, he's exceptionally athletic and he knows how to use both of those assets. He attacks the offensive boards and is a menace in transition. He's undersized, but he's dominated lately and he reminds me a lot of Kenneth Faried. Basically, he's just fun to watch play basketball.