The NBA Draft is slated for Thursday night in New York City, and for the first time in a decade, Georgia has itself a first round pick. After giving the fans in Athens (and there were a few of us, and I emphasize few) a season to remember garnering the first SEC Player of the Year award for a Bulldog since the Human Highlight Film, Greenville native Kentavious Caldwell-Pope began preparing for a career in the NBA. Originally discussed as a late first round pick, most people who had watched him play all year felt he was being underappreciated. Well, we were right, as KCP steadily got noticed, and scouts watched and re-watched, and his name slowly crept up draft boards to their current levels projected somewhere between 8 and 15.
So what does this mean for Georgia? Not much. It's a nice selling point in recruiting to show kids you can get recognized in Athens, as our last first round pick was Jarvis Hayes, 10th overall in 2003. But Mark Fox has proven all along he can prepare kids for the NBA (having helped transform Travis Leslie from nearly failing out of school to a promising prospect now excelling in the NBA Developmental League, as well as having several former players like Trey Thompkins, Jevale McGee, Ramon Sessions, Kirk Snyder, and others make NBA rosters). But while Fox may develop players as well as anyone, we're still waiting for the results and the recruits to show up on the floor in Stegeman. This spring has already gotten off to a bumpy start in recruiting, so we'll see how things develop going forward for the Hoop Dawgs.
But for KCP, his draft status is actually a pretty good thing. Land any later, and teams might overlook him for others when it comes to playing time. Any earlier, and you tend to get stuck with bad rosters on teams that routinely make bad personnel decisions. The 8-15 range though has a handful of talented, well run organizations where Caldwell-Pope could make an immediate impact for a playoff caliber team. Most mock drafts, including SBNation's own blogger draft, seem to have Minnesota targeting our favorite SG at pick #9. And while I may disagree on their choice of comparable players, the Timberwolves do seem to like him and make sense for him. Philadelphia is considering him at 11, Milwaukee's Bucks would love if he somehow fell to 15, while the Trailblazers and 10 are also a potential landing spot.
It seems our man is the consensus 3rd best shooting guard in the draft, behind Indiana athlete Victor Oladipo, and Kansas scorer Ben McLemore. So who is in that 8-15 range, and how well would KCP fit them? (It should be noted that the NBA draft can get trade happy, so while these teams are on the board there now, you could see multiple if not almost all trade up or down and someone else picking in these spots).
#8 Detroit - The Pistons have seen hard times the last few years, but that may be coming to an end as several bad veteran contracts expire this summer or after next year. They have former Kentucky star Brandon Knight still struggling to become a PG, but with two extremely talented young big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, they are in strong need of perimeter help and that is KCP. Of course, Michigan PG Trey Burke is expected here, and the local ties make that an easy choice. But if he's gone, they will add a G and the best one available may well be Georgia's star.
#9 Minnesota - The team an increasing number of mock draft seem to like for KCP. I guess he better get used to cold weather. Like the Pistons, the Timberwolves seem to be putting together a very strong young core with big man Kevin Love and PG Ricky Rubio. Both have had health problems, and reports in the past about wanting to be somewhere other than Minneapolis during the long fall, winter, and spring months of a basketball season. But they are also forming an extremely good pair of passers for a team that is still trying to add that signature star. KCP may not be that star, but the idea of him, Rubio, and Love dropping shots and throwing brilliant passes all over the place is extremely tantalizing.
#10 Portland - With the reigning Rookie of the Year winner at PG, Damian Lillard, and long term contracts at SF (Nicholas Batum) and PF (LeMarcus Aldridge), and another lottery pick from last year (Meyers Leonard) looking to take over at C, Portland looks likely to take a SG. If that's the case, there isn't likely to be anyone better than KCP on the board when they pick. His size and shooting ability make him a great fit, and they do have a gorgeous color scheme (red and black). I wouldn't be surprised to see this pick traded either, but KCP makes a lot of sense here.
#11 Philadelphia - Yeah, more cold and wet winters! With former #2 overall pick Evan Turner still around, and Jrue Holiday taking off at PG, this doesn't seem to make much sense. But hold on just a second. Turner has been solid, but underwhelming for a #2 pick these last 3 seasons. He could also play SF. And considering they just started former Dawg Damien Wilkins at 21 games this past season, they clearly need some help on the perimeter. Need help on the perimeter, AND likes Dawgs? I could see the 76ers front office looking to build around a Holiday/KCP backcourt for years quite easily.
#12 Oklahoma City - One of the best teams in the NBA is about to get richer. They already are set at PG (Russell Westbrook), SF (Kevin Durant) and PF (Serge Ibaka). They lost James Harden, so there is a need at SG and at C, with this draft likely giving them at least one of those needs. Most of the Cs are projected as one dimensional role players, which they could use, but KCP offers a whole lot more, and could be an ideal fit alongside Westbrook and Durant, splitting minutes with a decent role player in Thabo Sefalosha as KCP got up to NBA speed/strength before fully taking over. This is where I've wanted KCP to land for a while now, and if he's on the board, I like his chances.
#13 Dallas - A lot of reports say Dallas wants to sell this pick (yes, the NBA allows you to trade them for cash) so they can avoid the guaranteed deal of a first round pick for more spending on free agents. But those free agent targets (Chris Paul and Dwight Howard) may be fantasy, so who knows what Dallas does. They are losing everyone but Dirk Nowitski off their roster basically, so they need everything. If they keep the pick, they could use KCP, among others. But who knows what they'll do.
#14 Utah - Took Alec Burks at SG last year, and he just started while helping them make the playoffs. No need for KCP, but Utah has this pick and one later in the first round. So they could easily be looking to package both for a higher pick, bringing a team in the top 5 or so (Orlando, Charlotte, Phoenix) that does need someone like KCP to this spot.
#15 Milwaukee - A team that has been able to make the playoffs the last several years, but never anything more than that. They lose Monta Ellis, so SG is a need for them, and KCP would be an overall upgrade over Ellis (who can shoot and score, but does nothing else and often scores at the expense of others). On the off chance he falls this far, reports seem to indicate the Bucks will not let him keep falling. This would be the lowest KCP goes, but like every possibility besides Oklahoma City and Dallas above, it's nasty cold and our Georgia boy will be needing a lot more jackets in his closet next winter.