Nearly four months into the NBA season, we've got a pretty good line on a deep rookie class. Some teams played it just right on draft day, others mis- fired. Here's a look at how the first eight picks could have gone:
-- 1. Clippers: The Blake Griffin pick was a disaster, but only in the sense that he has been injured -- a vintage bit of Clippers misery. There's still a good chance that when he gets into the lineup and feels his way around the league, he'll be the best of all rookies. The Clippers need a coach, some direction and some long-sought good fortune, but they shouldn't have any regrets about this.
-- 2. Memphis: Hasheem Thabeet has been a defensive presence off the bench, but he's not a big part of the Grizzlies' resurgence. They're bringing him along slowly, asking him to worry only about shot-blocking and defensive stops. Considering that they could have drafted Tyreke Evans, who had a spectacular freshman season at Memphis before turning pro, they blew this pick. Evans could have helped attendance in a city mostly enamored with the collegiate game.
-- 3. Oklahoma City: Club executives surely would be tempted by Thabeet, because the team lacks a forceful center, but they're fine with James Harden. He can score, pass and defend, and the team likes his character. Only the Thunder's depth -- particularly defensive-minded Thabo Sefolosha -- has kept Harden out of the Rookie of the Year picture.
-- 4. Sacramento: With Evans unavailable, they'd make a run at Ricky Rubio. He bailed on Minnesota, but from what the Kings could determine, he would have signed with Sacramento. It was the only team he visited twice, he would have been guaranteed the starting point-guard slot (as opposed to teaming with Jonny Flynn in Minnesota), and management would have bent over backward to handle the buyout with Rubio's Spanish club, FC Barcelona.
Reports from Spain indicate that the 19-year-old Rubio, aside from his brilliant playmaking skills, is playing tough defense, crashing the boards and improving his outside shot -- all good signs. He won't play for the Timberwolves, and they're kidding themselves if they think he will. But now that he's committed to Spain until 2011, at the earliest, they're not likely to trade his rights any time soon.
-- 5-6. Minnesota: With two picks at hand, Thabeet would be a tempting option. But the T'wolves have two frontcourt stars in Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, and they had the right idea in drafting two guards. Rubio wouldn't be an option in this draft, and Flynn is an aggressive floor leader who willingly takes to every coaching move, even if it doesn't necessarily work to his benefit. Ty Lawson would be an equally fine pick. In the draft that could have been, you pair either one with Stephen Curry.
-- 7. Golden State: Don Nelson wouldn't go near DeJuan Blair, because he's much too bulky, doesn't shoot that well from the outside and isn't much help on the fast break -- but this is my draft, and I intend on actually winning, and he goes to Oakland. Any other franchise, based on today's evidence, wouldn't even think twice.
If you long for guys who really took care of business around the boards, you'd love Blair. He got 22 points and 23 rebounds in the rookies-vs.-sophomores game at All-Star weekend, a real man-among-boys scenario, but he's doing such things for real for San Antonio on a nightly basis. Concerns about Blair's knees dropped him all the way to the No. 37 pick in the draft, and a lot of teams wish they had a do-over.
-- 8. New York: It sounds as if coach Mike D'Antoni didn't have much use for Brandon Jennings and pushed hard for forward Jordan Hill, who barely played this season. According to one theory, the Knicks didn't want to draft any ball-oriented playmakers because in their quest for free-agent riches, they wanted to tell LeBron James he'd be in charge of the offense (downright pathetic, if true).
The Knicks need star power, a reason for fans to care right now, and Jennings is all of that. Promising "it's going to be a show," Jennings went into Madison Square Garden in the first week of February and lit up the building with his astounding quickness. That's New York's loss -- and if James takes a really hard look at this franchise, he'll know it's a dead end.