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For NBA prospects, being a first-round draft pick is more than a badge of honor — it’s the best financial security in professional sports. Contracts are fully guaranteed and are scaled based on where a player is selected, so teams have little wiggle room to lowball rookies. A first-round pick can sign for 80 to 120 percent of the value of where he was picked. For example, the base salary for this year’s first overall pick is scaled at $4.4 million, so he could earn between $3.5 million and $5.3 million as a rookie.
Second-round picks have none of this security. There is no scale and contracts, negotiated on a player-by-player basis. are rarely guaranteed. Former Colorado point guard Spencer Dinwiddie was no less than a first round lock before he tore his ACL January 12. Now his draft status is nebulous, but it’s more important than ever that he is selected in the first round. His knee scares teams, not only because they’re worried he won’t be the same player, but also because they don’t want to be on the hook for a guaranteed contract if he is not.
Right now, Dinwiddie’s chances aren’t good. He picked a bad draft to enter injured. There is a lot of depth at guard, so teams can pass him over for a healthier player without sacrificing much talent. Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Australia’s Dante Exum, Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, Michigan State’s Gary Harris, Kentucky’s James Young, and D-Leaguer P.J. Hairston would have been taken over Dinwiddie even before his injury.
Dinwiddie, of course, is confident about his draft stock. He said when he declared for the draft that he is one of the best prospects, injuries and depth be damned. And despite the uncertainty about his knee, his confidence might be rewarded.
Before Kansas center Joel Embiid was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot, the top three picks in the draft were fairly solidified — Embiid first to the Cleveland Cavaliers, then Duke forward Jabari Parker to the Milwaukee Bucks, and finally Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins to the Philadelphia 76ers. Embiid’s injury will probably force him out of the top three at this point. Milwaukee and Philadelphia need guard help, so they will both give Dante Exum a long look with the second and third picks, taking a guard off the board a few spots earlier than any were projected to go.
Guards being drafted early on is good news for Dinwiddie. His best hope is for one of the many guard-needy teams picking 20 and below to take a leap of faith. Five teams picking 20 and later — Toronto, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Utah, and Miami (plus Chicago at 19) badly need help in the backcourt.
Count Chicago out. They’re unlikely to keep either of their first-round picks (they also chose 16th) because they want to trade for a veteran scorer. Even if they keep the picks, the Bulls wouldn’t choose Dinwiddie and his torn ACL to back up point guard Derrick Rose, who tore his left ACL and his right meniscus in consecutive years.
Toronto probably won’t take Dinwiddie, either. It likes Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis, a Toronto native. It won’t be Miami; the Heat already have a flame with Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier. Utah might draft a guard with the fifth overall pick, and small forward is a greater need for Memphis than guard.
This deduction leaves only Oklahoma City. The Thunder have the 21st and 29th picks. They had promised to take Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis 21st, but he recently withdrew from the draft. Oklahoma City will now probably use both of its picks on perimeter players; opponents just didn’t guard any of the Thunder’s wings other than Russell Westbrook in the playoffs. They badly need a perimeter player who can shoot, handle the ball and score off the dribble — James Harden still leaves a massive void in their roster.
Dinwiddie’s skillset is a perfect match for Oklahoma City’s needs. He’s versatile enough to play on and off the ball. He loves pushing the pace. He’s not above-the-rim athletic, but he’s lithe in the paint — he has one of the best Eurosteps in the draft — and can finish through contact.
Oklahoma City’s offense is little more than three players running in circles until Westbrook or Kevin Durant shoot. The Thunder never run plays more complex than a basic pick-and-roll. This is where Dinwiddie could be an asset. He is one of the draft’s best pick-and-roll guards, both as a scorer and a passer. He’s quick enough to blow by a hedge and get to the paint, and he can pull up off the dribble if his defender goes under a screen. That might be his most valuable skill right now; every great NBA scorer needs a midrange game, and Dinwiddie already has one. Not to mention that he draws fouls at an astonishing rate (he averaged almost ten free throw attempts per game last season).
Defensively, Dinwiddie is more of a mixed bag. He is the rare NBA prospect who plays good transition defense. He doesn’t get many chasedown blocks, but he plays passing lanes well and knows how to stop the ball without fouling. The San Antonio Spurs killed Oklahoma City on the fast break in the Western Conference Finals, and the Thunder barely outlasted the Los Angeles Clippers’ blitzkrieg offense in the second round of the playoffs. Oklahoma City needs a good transition defender if it wants to win back the West.
Few NBA players are good defenders initially, though. Defense can be learned. Dinwiddie’s allure comes from his offensive versatility — not many players enter the league as five-tool weapons. Also, do not overlook the influence that Thunder forward Andre Roberson might have here. Roberson was Dinwiddie’s teammate for two years at Colorado. A second-year, rarely used combo forward might not have much sway over his team’s front office, but it would be surprising if Roberson didn’t put in a good word for Dinwiddie with Thunder general manager Sam Presti.
Dinwiddie thinks he’ll be the biggest steal of the draft, and if his knee heals, he could fulfill that prediction. Proving doubters wrong is nice, but doing it with a guaranteed contract is nicer. Dinwiddie needs help to sneak into the first round of a loaded draft, but if Oklahoma City has done its homework, Thursday could be his lucky day.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Tommy Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.