Take Three: Who should go No. 2?

June, 19, 2012
6/19/12
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There is no debate about No. 1 in the upcoming NBA draft. Anthony Davis has that one locked up. But who should go No. 2? Three of our writers weigh in on which player they'd take if they were drafting second overall:

[+] EnlargeKentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Mark Cornelison/Getty ImagesMichael Kidd-Gilchrist has proven he can play and win, qualities general managers should be after.
Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Dana O'Neil)

The NBA draft has confounded me for years, with general managers and scouts selecting players on upside and potential, imagining what a player might someday be instead of considering what he already is. To me, it should boil down to two simple, easily answered questions: Can he play and does he win?

With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the answer to both is an emphatic yes. That’s why I’d take him with the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft.

As much as Anthony Davis dazzled through Kentucky’s national championship run, I believed it was Kidd-Gilchrist’s tenacity, especially through the slow grind of the regular season, that kept the Wildcats going. He was a freshman who never played like one, using his energy and toughness to lead vocally and by example.

Davis was the star, Darius Miller the veteran, but I believed MKG was Kentucky’s heart. He has the things you can’t teach -- relentless rebounding skills, a swarming defensive presence and a never-let-you-lose toughness -- and he's just 18 years old, so he can refine the rest. Yes, his jump shot would make most shot doctors’ "don’t" lists, but surely someone in the NBA can help clean that up.

I get the questions. I get that he doesn’t fit in neatly with the NBA’s checklist. He’s not an obvious No. 2 pick because he’s not exactly the right size for any one position and he’s not exactly an offensive player and he’s not exactly a slasher.

I’ve also never heard anyone wax poetic through the NBA Finals about a player’s wingspan and how it’s won a team games. The Charlotte Bobcats are in dire need of a lot -- an intervention, perhaps, at the top of the list -- but above all else, they need two things: They need guys who can play basketball and guys who know how to win.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist knows how to play and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist knows how to win.

Sometimes you just don’t need to make things more complicated than that.

[+] EnlargeBradley Beal
Jeff Blake/US PresswireA spectacular March put Bradley Beal in the conversation for the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft.
Florida's Bradley Beal (Myron Medcalf)

A former college standout once told me that regular-season performances proved little. “When the lights come on” in March and April, however, the true talents emerge, he said.

I respect that mantra. Former Florida Gator Bradley Beal lived it. The freshman earned instant street cred as a key piece in UF's run to the Elite Eight.

Beal looked like a top-10 prospect in the first three months of his first and only season of Division I basketball. And then March happened.

During an SEC tournament loss to Kentucky, Beal scored 20 points. He also finished with eight rebounds and five assists. He connected on 4 of 7 from beyond the arc.

But he didn’t stop there. Beal averaged 15.8 points per game and connected on 42 percent of his 3-point attempts during the NCAA tournament. A youngster who’d entered the Big Dance as a possible lottery pick had thrust himself into the “What if he’s the second-best player in this draft?” conversation.

Thomas Robinson might make more sense for the Bobcats at No. 2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has a near-perfect build for an NBA small forward. Hard to argue against either of those guys.

But Beal deserves that slot based on his versatility and potential. He’s a 6-foot-4 guard who can play point and wing. He has range (34 percent from 3-point range). He’s athletic. And he commits to the little things, such as rebounding and defense.

In recent weeks, Beal has been compared to Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade and Eric Gordon. He’s a tough guard who can extend defenses with the 3-ball or crash the lane as a penetrator. He's definitely worth the gamble at No. 2.

[+] EnlargeThomas Robinson
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThomas Robinson has the potential to be an All-Star power forward in the NBA.
Kansas' Thomas Robinson (Eamonn Brennan)

The NBA draft is often about extremes, about choices between two disparate sets of needs. Do you draft for production or potential? Do you want a player with a limitless ceiling, or one who will deliver immediate results? Put more topically, do you want Andre Drummond or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?

Perhaps no player in the 2012 NBA draft (other than Anthony Davis, of course) bridges these divides quite like Kansas forward Thomas Robinson. His projected competitors in the top five, players like MKG and Drummond and Brad Beal, will, regardless of position, force GMs to make some sort of underlying choice.

With Kidd-Gilchrist, you know what you're going to get. With Drummond and even Beal, you are assuming the player's potential will vastly eclipse his production as a freshman. (Beal seems like the much sounder bet here, but it is nonetheless a bet.) That might be right. It might not. Robinson presents the best of both worlds: Already a very good player -- the consensus runner-up for 2012 national player of the year -- T-Rob still has tons of room to improve.

Robinson's past two seasons (a sophomore campaign backing up the Morris twins and a breakout junior year) offer evidence of both. In 2012, the Kansas forward posted a rebounding rate of 30.5 percent, the highest mark in the nation in a skill that typically translates well to the NBA. Robinson's offensive rebounding rate fell to 11.5 percent last season from 18.8 percent in 2011, but that had as much to do with his new role as KU's go-to scorer as anything else.

Bottom line: At the very least, Robinson will do what every NBA power forward must do: He will rebound. He has the athleticism and tangible production to back that prediction. Worst case, if he ends up becoming a more-skilled Kenneth Faried, well, which NBA coach wouldn't sign up for that?

But Robinson's evolution from a rebound machine/energy backup to go-to guy is still a work in progress, one that should make most NBA scouts salivate. T-Rob is still building his offensive skills away from the rim, still finding a midrange-to-18-foot jumper, still working on post moves over both shoulders, still refining many of the offensive and defensive fundamentals that separate the best post players from the merely mediocre.

Robinson is not a finished product by any means. If this finishing process goes well, he could be an All-Star power forward one day. Even if you're being conservative, maybe he becomes a more athletic, above-the-rim version of Utah Jazz-era Carlos Boozer. Again: We're dealing with a high ceiling here.

There are players with more potential, and there are players who offer a stronger predictive picture without the ceiling to match. But other than Davis, I'm not sure there is a top-five-level player with equal measures of both. Less risk, more potential. If I'm an NBA GM and I can't take Davis, that calculation sounds pretty good to me.

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