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Friday, June 24, 2011
Lists of Fury: Five biggest draft surprises

By Eamonn Brennan

It's the day after the draft. For me, that means sitting at my desk, staring at my computer screen, and wondering if what I saw unfold last night is really how things went down. In other words, I'm still processing all this.

You know what else the Draft Day Plus 1 means? Listicles. Lots and lots of listicles.

You know what I always say: If you can't beat them -- if you can't think of a similarly efficient content delivery format that doesn't rely so heavily on lists, basically -- join them. Without further ado, here's one of a few college hoops-inclined looks at last night's action. First up: The five biggest surprises of the 2011 NBA draft.

Iman Shumpert stock rose after testing well at the draft combine.
Iman Shumpert stock rose after testing well at the draft combine.
1. Iman Shumpert drafted No. 17 overall by the New York Knicks: It's almost like Isiah Thomas never left the Knicks front office. Thing is? If Zeke did one thing well as a general manager, it was find value in the NBA draft. And the Knicks' recent draft history, even under Thomas's successor Donnie Walsh, isn't totally worthy of ridicule. So maybe the Shumpert pick, which the Knicks made just a few spots removed from the lottery Thursday night, will end up looking like a brilliant one. Maybe. From what we know right now -- and what we know is that Shumpert was a thoroughly mediocre college basketball player who impressed scouts with individual workouts and athletic measurements -- there were plenty of good reasons for New York fans to boo so lustily after their first-round pick.

2. Cory Joseph drafted No. 29 overall by the San Antonio Spurs: Remember when Joseph was merely testing the draft waters? And we all thought there was no way he would possibly stay in the draft? Remember when he did stay in the draft, and we all wondered what in tarnation -- I'm bringing "tarnation" back, y'all -- Joseph was thinking? He might not even be drafted? Why not come back to Texas for a year and make a run again next spring? Why rush this? Apparently, Joseph knew better than we did. Not only was the Longhorns guard drafted, he landed a guaranteed contract with the San Antonio Spurs, who savvily cleared room in their backcourt by trading George Hill to the Pacers for the rights to Kawhi Leonard. If Joseph plays well, he has a chance to be a rotation player on one of the smartest, best-run and most well-coached franchises in professional sports. In other words: jackpot.

3. Jereme Richmond goes undrafted: When Richmond announced his decision to leave Illinois after a so-so freshman season, the explanations made some sense: Richmond wasn't happy at Illinois, he was reportedly struggling to get along with coaches and teammates, his academics were (again, reportedly) a cause for concern, and besides, while he may not have been ready for the NBA just yet, at least he had the sort of first-round talent that didn't make his one-and-done decision look totally foolish.

Alas, for every Cory Joseph there are 10 Jereme Richmonds, players that should have either a) stayed in school or b) been sure that they could handle the rigors of the draft workout process. Richmond did neither, and for his trouble, he was never selected on draft night. Despite the rumors of poor workouts and bad interviews, Richmond didn't lose that first-round talent; it was a surprise to see him go undrafted. Now, Richmond will have to convince an NBA team he's worth bringing in as an undrafted free agent. If the talented but troubled forward needed a wake-up call, well, here it is.

4. Josh Harrellson takes his jorts to the big city: Drafting Shumpert at No. 17 was arguably the second-most surprising move the Knicks made Thursday night. In the second round, looking to draft a proven low-post banger, the Knicks went with ... Kentucky's Josh Harrellson? Hey, Jorts just got drafted! All right, Jorts!

Many believed Harrellson would go undrafted, and the fact that he was even a contender for a late second-round pick is a testament to how much the bulky big man improved during his senior season. A year ago, this would have been unthinkable. Even now, the notion of watching Harrellson don the Knicks' timeless uniforms and take the floor in Madison Square Garden ... well, who saw that one coming?

5. Is Josh Selby the steal of the draft? Maybe I'm the only one who thinks NBA scouts and general managers were too wary of Selby's unproductive freshman season. Maybe I'm the only one who thinks his struggles had just as much to do with ineligibility and nagging injuries and a senior-laden Kansas backcourt as any lack of talent on Selby's part. Maybe I'm the only one who thinks that small sample size doesn't necessarily outweigh the massive talent Selby displayed as a high schooler, when he was arguably the best player in the country.

In other words, maybe I'm the only one that was surprised by just how far Selby fell Thursday night. Once considered a mid-to-late first round pick, Selby dropped all the way to the Grizzlies in the second half of the second round, when he was drafted No. 49 overall. I'm not sure how many minutes Selby is going to be able to carve out in the Grizzlies' backcourt, but he was undeniably the most purely talented player selected anywhere near this late in the proceedings. (Harrellson went four picks ahead of him. Jorts!) Now the athletic guard is all upside and no risk for the Grizzlies, who won't have to guarantee his contract and can give him time to figure out the NBA life as a developing reserve on a playoff contender. Why didn't someone roll these dice 15 picks earlier?