#360USA: NBA draft – From ridiculous outfits to sublimely skilled

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A kaleidoscope for Christmas: The incoming Cleveland Cavaliers Rakeem.

The basketball season is over, but the drama never goes out of style.

Anyone tuning in late to Thursday night’s NBA draft would have been forgiven for thinking a host of college rookies have suddenly switched gears and become singer-songwriters vying for a Grammy Award. Or, perhaps it was a highly anticipated contest for the “worst suit of all time.”

– GALLERY: How the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race was won
– NBA: Towns set to become first pick of this year’s draft
– Athletics: Salazar rebukes caims of doping in open letter

You can take a slice of both and get close to describing the visual spectacle. Of course, there was some serious business being done by the also-rans who failed to reach the postseason.

For the record, the Lakers struck gold with D’Angelo Russell, the 76ers ensured the highly-rated and coveted Jahlil Okafor has joined one of the worst teams in the league, while the Knicks made their ever-irascible fanbase even more tetchy by signing a gigantic Latvian most have never heard of.

It was hard to wipe the smile off Kristaps Porzingis’ face. After all, he clearly got the memo about wearing a red tuxedo with black leather lapels, and can look forward to two year, $8 million (Dh29.3m deal in the Big Apple).

Yet, the real winners – or losers, depending on your penchant for fashion – were the designers.

When the draft was introduced in the 1950’s, the garments on show were more conservative. Yes, it was a night to shine, but everything was sensible. There wasn’t a spiked shoe in sight. No sparkling medallions either.

How times have changed. It was a competition to look the most garish. The wonderfully named Rakeem Christmas wore a multicolored jacket no one would want in December – or any time of year – while Frank ‘The Tank’ Kaminsky (below), now of the Charlotte Hornets, threw open his blazer to show – you guessed it – two embroidered green military tanks stitched inside.

It’s about making a statement but classy becomes gaudy in the blink of a stitch.

Away from the fashion faux pas, the event at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center epitomised everything that makes American sport so compelling and often bewildering.

Where else in the world would fans turn up in droves to watch their teams aim to sign players who have just finished university? The college system here ensures the likes of Russell,  No1 pick Karl Anthony Towns, and Okafor are already names in places other than their own households.

There is a production line which delivers rough diamonds who will soon be polished NBA wonders.

Imagine a Premier League draft: Leicester City are competing with Norwich for the best student players in the UK. No, neither can I.

The prospect of being drafted by one of the big guns is such a brilliant incentive for these players and one of the most heartwarming sights is to see them hugged by teary-eyed parents when their lottery tickets come rolling in.

It really is the stuff of dreams.

That’s why the pigheaded boos which greeted the Knicks’ selection of Porzingis stuck in the throat.

On the face of it and considering just how badly New York’s supposed finest stunk out the NBA last season, it’s a serious leap of faith by GM Phil Jackson who has already admitted the rakish 19-year-old may take two years to develop.

Jackson clearly sees the forward as a Pau Gasol or Dirk Nowitzki-type figure. A host of scouts say the same. Considering Jackson could well be gone by the time he starts to make waves also ensured the tabloids here wasted no time slaughtering the decision.

Yet none of this is Porzingis’ fault. Unlike many others, this is a player who was desperate to join the Knicks. This is his dream ticket. Something he fantasised about from the first time he got those huge hands on a basketball.

And forget about the so-called fury of Carmelo Anthony. A man who insists there is indeed an ‘I’ in team. Melo’s decisions, which often involved millions of dollars, have always revolved around himself, so the moral high-ground he’s living on right now could soon give way.

“Carmelo is always on my mind. He’s our favourite son. At this point in his life, that’s the way it should be. But the second-most important thing is what we do for this franchise,” Jackson said. “And I let Melo know that.”

It’s highly likely that playing anywhere else other than in front of the impossibly hard-to-please New York public would have been a better fit. Yet, just like some of the suits on show, it was a night when not much made sense.

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Winners and losers of the NBA draft 2015

Jay Asser 27/06/2015
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The class of 2015: The draftees at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Not every team can leave the NBA draft with renewed hope.

– GALLERY: How the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race was won
– NBA: Towns set to become first pick of this year’s draft
– Athletics: Salazar rebukes caims of doping in open letter

Here are some of the winners and losers of this year’s draft:

WINNERS

Minnesota Timberwolves

It’s stating the obvious, but Minnesota came away with a franchise building block in Karl-Anthony Towns with the first overall pick.

Yes, all the Timberwolves had to do was select a player pretty much everyone agreed was the best prospect in the draft, but head coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders deserves a little credit for not overthinking the decision.

Miami Heat

Does Pat Riley ever lose?

Despite his indifference towards draft picks, Miami somehow still had Justise Winslow fall into their lap at No10, coming away with the steal of the night.

Winslow was projected to go as high as four, but slipped when teams passed on him to seemingly fill roster needs instead of taking the best player available.

He’ll fit nicely into the Heat’s line-up and it’s likely some teams will regret skipping him over. 

International prospects

Both Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonja, despite being somewhat unknown, were enticing enough for New York at four and Orlando at five to stick.

Whether those selections will work out – and to what degree – is anyone’s guess, but it’s encouraging for foreign players that teams with high picks continue to be confident enough to pull the trigger.

LOSERS

Philadelphia 76ers

They were likely targeting D’Angelo Russell all the way and then couldn’t pass on Jahlil Okafor when he was still on the board.

General manager Sam Hinkie has been all about asset collection and though he grabbed another prized one in Okafor in the draft, it was once again another big man.

With Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid already on the roster, filling the frontline was last on the list of needs. Unless a trade is coming, they have quite the logjam.

Boston Celtics

By all accounts, there was no team more aggressive in changing their draft position than Boston.

They tried everything they could to get into the top 10 to select Winslow, but their collection of assets apparently were lacking enough value.

Instead, the Celtics were forced to make all four of their picks and regardless of who they ended up with, the fireworks never came and that in itself was a disappointment.

Charlotte Hornets

One of the teams Boston tried to trade with were Charlotte, who for some reason rejected the Celtics’ desperate offers.

The Hornets reportedly turned down six draft picks, including four first-rounders, to stay at nine and take Frank Kaminsky. They basically fell head-over-heels for a player, compromising their judgement. Kaminsky better be worth it.

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Towns first pick in NBA draft, Satnam Singh Bhamara makes history

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Towns (r) as a Timberwolves signing.

Teen big man Karl-Anthony Towns was chosen by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the first pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, while Satnam Singh Bhamara made history as the first India-born selection.

– GALLERY: How the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race was won
– NBA: Towns set to become first pick of this year’s draft
– Athletics: Salazar rebukes caims of doping in open letter

Towns averaged 10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots a game last season for a University of Kentucky squad that went unbeaten until losing to Wisconsin in the national college tournament semi-finals.

“This is what you live for,” Towns said. “I’m going to go in right away and be as versatile as I can be. I’m coming with a winning attitude. I’m not coming to look for individual success. I’m coming to look for team success.”

The Timberwolves, who won last month’s NBA Draft Lottery to claim the top overall pick, have not reached the playoffs since 2004.

Bhamara, a 19-year-old center from a small Punjab village, went 52nd overall to the Dallas Mavericks, the same NBA club that in 2001 made Wang Zhizhi the first Chinese player in an NBA game.

A 7-foot-2 (2.18m) big man, Bhamara became the first player in a decade taken after not playing for a US college or overseas pro team, instead playing for the IMG Academy squad.

Likely bound for a developmental team to hone his skills, he follows in the footsteps of Canadian-born Sim Bhullar, who became the NBA’s first player of Indian descent after playing for the Sacramento Kings last April.

Bhamara could open the door to the NBA into cricket-loving India much the way Yao Ming did for the league in China.

“I think I can open the door for everyone to come here and play so it’s good for India and all the players, it is good for me and my country,” Bhamara told the Washington Post after a workout with the Washington Wizards earlier this year.

The Los Angeles Lakers landed Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell with the second pick while center Jahlil Okafor was taken third by the Philadelphia 76ers.

“It’s a surreal moment,” Russell said.

Latvian power forward Kristaps Porzingis, who played for Sevilla last season, was selected fourth overall by the New York Knicks, whose host-city fans booed loudly when the choice was announced after already enduring a 17-65 season.

Porzingis became only the second player from his homeland to be taken in the draft and could become only the third Latvian to play in the NBA.

“It was my dream to play for the Knicks,” he said. “Hopefully I can be part of something special. These people don’t know me, might think I’m soft, European, a bust. I’m different. It’s my passion that sets me apart.”

Since Yao was taken first overall by Houston in 2002, there have been 19 international players taken with lottery-decided picks and none have become all-stars.

Orlando selected fifth and the Magic took Croatian swingman Mario Hezonja, who played last season at Barcelona, making him the highest-ever pick from his homeland.

Another Kentucky big man, center Willie Cauley-Stein, was taken sixth by Sacramento. He was among a record 13 US college freshmen taken in the first round.

Emmanuel Mudiay, a point guard from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who played for China’s Guangdong Southern Tigers last year, went seventh to the Denver Nuggets.

Mudiay, who came to the United States in 2001 at age five, averaged 18.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.6 steals for the Tigers last season.

“I’m just going to be myself, show what I’m about, my competitive spirit,” Mudiay said.

The only other international player taken in the first round was Serbian Nikola Milutinov, a center for Partizan Belgrade selected 26th overall by San Antonio.

Minnesota opened the second round by picking Macedonian forward Cedi Osman, who played in Turkey last season, while Philadelphia selected Spanish big man Guillermo Hernangomez, who played for Sevilla, four picks later at 35th.

Argentina forward Juan Vaulet was taken 39th overall by Charlotte while Lithuanian center Arturas Gudaitis was taken 47th overall by Philadelphia.

Shooting guard Marcus Eriksson was taken 50th overall by Atlanta while Spanish forward Daniel Diaz was chosen four picks later by the Utah Jazz.

Haitian-born center Cady Lalanne, who grew up in Orlando, was taken 55th by San Antonio while Serbian guard Nikola Radicevic went 57th to Denver.

Greek 20-year-old forward Dimitrios Agravanis of Olympiakos went to Atlanta with the 59th pick while Philadelphia selected Serbian forward Luka Mitrovic with the 60th and final selection.

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