Vanderbilt fans watched a historic event unfold last night, as three Commodores were taken in the first two rounds of the NBA Draft for the first time in school history. John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli became Vandy's first first-rounders since Will Perdue in 1988, while Jeffery Taylor just missed the cut as the first pick of the second round. Despite being picked late in the draft, all three are expected to be immediate contributors at the next level.
Some of these picks were predictable (not that I even came close). Others were not. The Hawks needed to infuse their backcourt with some youth, so they grabbed the best shooter in the draft with the 23rd pick. Charlotte's choice of Taylor, one round after grabbing his mirror-match Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, was a bit more peculiar. Here's where the trio ended up, and how they'll fit in with their new teams.
Who drafted him?: Atlanta, with the 23rd pick of the first round.
How will he fit?: Jenkins pulled the upset by being the first Commodore drafted on Thursday night. In the process, he proved that NBA teams valued players with one elite skill over more well-rounded but less proven veterans. He ended up with the Atlanta Hawks, a team that needed to add youth and athleticism to their backcourt. Currently, the only other shooting guards on the roster are Kirk Hinrich (31 years old), Willie Green (30), Joe Johnson (31), and Jerry Stackhouse (37).
Johnson's length and experience makes him a valuable player in Atlanta's backcourt, as he can handle duties at shooting guard, small forward, and as a point forward. Since he's starting to slow down a bit, he's a candidate to play more at the 3, which would open up space for Jenkins to earn playing time as a rookie at the only position he can reasonably handle - shooting guard. Johnson played the majority of his minutes last season at SG, but the Hawks didn't really have anyone on the roster that made sliding him to SF a priority. If Jenkins starts the season hot, he can change that.
In the long term, Jenkins could pair with Jeff Teague to create a solid backcourt combination. Those two aren't likely to carve up any All-Star games, but they can provide a strong support network for a team with a proven scorer in the frontcourt.
Who drafted him?: Golden State, with the 30th pick of the first round.
How will he fit?: Once again, Ezeli finds himself playing behind a talented, but frustrating, Australian center. This time, it's Andrew Bogut instead of A.J. Ogilvy. The Warriors needed an athletic big man to fit into their uptempo offense, and Festus should be able to fit that bill. He's big enough to be a bruiser in the paint and nimble enough to get up and down the court without holding up his teammates. With shooters like Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, and Dorell Wright around, Ezeli won't be asked to carry the load on offense, and he'll be able to spend his first few seasons adjusting to the pro game as a defensive presence.
The Warriors now have six players on their roster who can play center, but Ezeli will have a good chance to emerge as Bogut's backup - a good place to be considering the Aussie's injury history. Andris Biedrins currently fits that role, but he has fallen off dramatically in the last three years and averaged only 1.7 points and 3.7 rebounds last season. Ezeli would provide a stronger presence in the paint and can replace much of what Biedrins brings to the table at a fraction of the price. Had GSW not already blown their one-time amnesty cut on Charlie Bell, now would have been the perfect time to eliminate Biedrins's $9 million from counting towards their salary cap.
Who drafted him?: Charlotte, with the first pick of the second round.
How will he fit?: Well, the good news is that at 7 pm last night, the Bobcats' only small forward was Derrick Brown. The bad news is that Michael Jordan ended up taking a player that many scouts hyped up as being a better version of Taylor an hour beforehand. Charlotte chose a 6'7", hyper athletic, high-level defending small forward with the second pick of the draft, and then did THE SAME EXACT THING 29 picks later.
The thing is, we know how Jeffery Taylor stacks up against Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. In head-to-head matchups, Taylor ruined him. In three games between Vanderbilt and Kentucky, MKG was held to just 17 total points and fouled out twice. While Taylor received a third of the hype that Kidd-Gilchrist did last year, he put together the more impressive season and will likely be the more court-ready player when opening night rolls around in October.
So if Taylor outplays Kidd-Gilchrist in practice and the preseason, will he earn a starting spot? A move like that would be like admitting that MKG's pick at 2nd overall may have been a mistake. Taylor will have to be impressive to get a GM like Jordan to admit that he's wrong, and even then it may not be enough. It's not a no-win situation for Taylor, but it is certainly a tough one.
For Taylor to succeed, he'll have to play well enough off the bench to force coach Mike Dunlap's hand. He should earn immediate rotation minutes on a team that's otherwise devoid of small forwards, but Kidd-Gilchrist is going to be the starter thanks to his high draft status. If MKG struggles, it will be up to Taylor to make a play for a bigger role on the court. He's a rookie, but on a team like Charlotte, he's also going to be tasked with providing a steady hand. He'll have to go above and beyond what he did at Vanderbilt, but if that's just a matter of pushing himself harder, that won't be a problem for Taylor.