The upcoming NBA Draft has already been dubbed the weakest in recent memory. Multiple players that would have been lottery picks including Harrison Barnes, Perry Jones and Jared Sullinger, backed out before the deadline. Kyrie Irving, the de facto number one pick is only given that title since there is no one else that appears to warrant it. In spite of this negativity, there is talent and value in the 2011 draft.
Like the NFL rookies and un-drafted free agents, incoming NBA players have the most to lose from the lockout. A significant lockout could hurt the potential of players' card values and on-court progression.
The following list will analyze the pros and cons of each player and their collecting relevance. The total list, which is being spread over two parts, contains five players likely to be taken in the top eight and one wildcard.
Duke Blue Devils, Freshman
The man most believe will hear his name called first on June 23rd, Irving is a terrific point guard and has the ability to be a strong NBA player.
Pros: As a Duke alumni, Irving comes from a strong basketball lineage. He will be chosen as the centerpiece for a rebuilding team and will be a starter from the beginning. Although his likely destination is not a great market for hobby interest like New York or Los Angeles, a wannabe king has shown that even Cleveland can foster hobby royalty. Considered by many experts as the most complete PG since Chris Paul, Irving will have the benefit of a team that is built around him.
Cons: The biggest obstacle for Irving would appear to be injury concerns. His one season at Duke included more than three months of missed playing time due to a ligament injury in his right big toe. Although injuries at the top of the draft are nothing new, they would obviously stunt his hobby value (i.e. Greg Oden) until he proves he can stay healthy and play well (i.e. Blake Griffin). The injury also kept Irving from getting a full year of college experience, which will make him even less prepared than the traditional “one and done" player. Another issue is the possible pressure of being the first pick and tasked with turning around a lame-duck franchise. Irving will never be LeBron James but that doesn't mean the expectations for a quick turnaround in Cleveland won't weigh heavily on him.
Irving will face bumps in the road during his first season but his collecting interest should mirror the previous number one pick, John Wall. Although he is not head and shoulders above his rookie class like Wall was, Irving should be the biggest collecting draw from the 2011 Draft. He also won't have another former number one stealing some of his hobby thunder like Griffin achieved this past season.
Arizona Wildcats, Sophomore
After a strong sophomore campaign, Williams cemented his inclusion in the top of the draft based on his accomplishments in the NCAA tournament.
Pros: Williams is a game-changer as evidenced by Arizona's run through the tournament on his back. Easily one of the more charismatic personalities in the draft, Williams believes he is the best players available and some are inclined to agree. His versatility will allow him to play the three or the four but his draft location may dictate that position for him. With the second pick, Minnesota needs several pieces but have Kevin Love at power forward already, so it's most likely that he would play as a small forward.
Cons: Williams is considered a “tweener" by many experts because he is small for the four and slow for the three. He claims he is a three in the NBA but the fact that he played the four at Arizona and might be forced to move will be a problematic switch. Collectors and fans like a good personality in their sports stars but Williams' confidence borders on arrogance. Also, at Arizona, Williams had freedom on the court that he will not be have on his new NBA team, so it may take time for him to adjust to an offense that does not go strictly through him.
Williams is highly coveted by several teams that are looking to trade up. If he can pair his on-camera persona with a strong stat line, he will be a viable contender for Rookie of the Year and will be likely have some of the more valuable cards of the 2011-12 rookie class once they start hitting shelves.
Looking ahead, a team with Ricky Rubio running the floor, Williams at small forward and Love at power forward would become a fantasy hotbed and put Minnesota back on the map.
Kentucky Wildcats (declared ineligible), Student Assistant Coach
A good season at Kentucky would have likely put Kanter at the top of the draft this year but he was declared ineligible based on the excess money he received while playing for the Turkish pro team, Fenerbahçe Ülker. Along with Williams and Irving, Kanter is the only other player that could be taken with the first pick and will not drop any further than sixth.
Pros: Possibly the best prospect in the draft, Kanter has looked strong in international play and was one of the best prospects at the NBA combine. He is also likely to get good minutes as a rookie because he would be an upgrade at center for most teams in the top of the draft. Kanter has solid athletic ability for his size and can shoot well for a big man.
Cons: Kanter has not played consistent basketball in over a year and the international game does not always transition well to the NBA. He is a bit small for center and might need to move to power forward at some point. Due to his lack of recent play, there is not a lot of video footage for teams to properly assess his skill set, which may scare teams off.
Kanter's hobby value may the hardest to gauge of this group. He has the tools to be a strong player but his young age and limited basketball minutes may increase his learning curve in the NBA. European players tend to be ignored by collectors and Kanter will have the most to prove to cement himself amongst the hobby elite for the 2011 class. If Cleveland takes Irving first and Kanter with the fourth pick, the Cavaliers may end up with the best overall players in the draft.