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Friday, April 29, 2011

Using History to Gauge Expectations for the Draft

Note: This article isn't meant as a way to help scout players. It is more meant to show what to expect from certain draft ranges. Don't take it as me saying that numbers don't fluctuate or history can't be rewritten.

The draft can almost be looked at as a science. There are years of data from previous drafts that can show teams what they can expect from picks from their slot, and unlike what many think, the lottery is not an automatic ticket for an all-star. In fact, using data from 1997-2007 (found here), only 25% of top ten picks reach all-star status.

That is not to say the draft is overrated. The draft can turn a franchise around if they land a gold medal superstar type player (defined as a top 5 player in the NBA). For small market teams, it is almost impossible to acquire a player of this caliber unless they are drafted. You saw what LeBron James did for Cleveland and what Kevin Durant is doing now in Oklahoma City. Both of these franchises struck gold through the draft. Unfortunately for Cleveland, they lost LeBron to a more appealing city, which makes the reason for small market teams drafting well that much more important. The Thunder on the other hand have managed to gather complementary players through the draft to help Durant. With their strategy of targeting athletic, long, and defensive-minded player with high character, the Thunder are now in the second round in the playoffs and have an extremely bright future.

The only problem is there are only so many franchise changing players. Not every draft has one. This draft is arguably one of the weakest all time, mainly for the reason that there is no huge superstar. Irving and Williams are nice, but could they turn around a franchise? A great deal of luck is required to end up in position to draft LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Derrick Rose, and Kevin Durant. For other franchise level players like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Tracy McGrady and Dirk Nowitzki it also takes some risks and good scouting.

The draft is a little different now that high school kids can't declare, but taking a chance on a high upside guy in the 5-15 range were the ways some teams got competitive. It may take a teams a few tries before finding their man, but once they hit a home run, they were set for a decade (see Mavs, Lakers, Wolves). In this year's draft, Perry Jones could have been that big lottery ticket that could be had after the the first few players were off the board. There is still some hope for a gold medal superstar in this draft, though, for teams outside the top 5. The hope is through the international players.

The international phase has slowed down since its peak about 6 years ago, but with a weak NCAA crop, there are quite a few internationals in the lottery discussions. Motiejunas, Valanciunas, Kanter, Vesely, and Biyombo all offer that sort of mysterious upside that NBA teams are intrigued by. Without high school players, international players are the great hope for "getting out of the hood" (aka the lottery). Dirk managed to do it, so for over a decade, everyone has been searching for the next Dirk. Maybe this draft has it, maybe not. But there will be plenty of teams willing to take a shot at one of these guys in the lottery.

Why?

Besides the fact that some of the NCAA guys have lower ceilings (no Gold Medal Superstar potential), but also because the lottery is a lot more of a hit and miss than what is perceived. When only 25% of the players in the top 10 become all-stars, why not swing for the best chance of turning your entire team around. Often times, teams find solid starters in the NBA by selecting sure things in the lottery (see Timberwolves by taking Wes Johnson over Cousins), but it does nothing to help them in the win column. Golden State may find an above average player like Curry, but all it does it take them farther away from their chance to strike gold in the following draft.

It is all very much a guessing game and weighing your options. Many scouts opinions on actual players aren't far off from one another, the main difference I see is the way they approach the draft. Do you want a high risk/high reward player or a player you know will end up being a solid starter, but nothing else?

Answering that question really all depends on the situation and how you feel about certain players. You don't take Perry Jones if you have a bad feeling about him just because of the notion that he has high upside. Talent evaluators should trust their instincts, but also be sure to look at the bigger picture. It also depends on your current roster. When the Thunder had another top 5 pick in 2008 after drafting Durant in 2007, they didn't need to find another superstar. They needed to find a player that could fit in with him. And they did by taking Russell Westbrook. To read more about finding players that fit your team, check out this article.

Anyway, to examine realistic expectations for this draft, I will use the chart posted at the beginning of this article as a basis and apply it to my current mock draft. Keep in mind that this draft is a little weaker than normal so it may be necessary to round down the numbers.

Current Top 5
1. Kyrie Irving
2. Derrick Williams
3. Bismack Biyombo
4. Jan Vesely
5. Brandon Knight

On average, one or two players from the top 5 turn out to be all stars (one and a half to be exact). Since players can't be split into two and this is a weak draft, I'll choose Derrick Williams as the only all-star. Another one or two players from this group should become starters (again, one and a half to be exact). I'll go ahead and choose two to bring us up to a total of three players. Kyrie Irving and Jan Vesely will be my choices, with Irving being closer to landing an all-star bid.

There is still hope for the other two guys. If you are picked in the top 5, it is almost a guarantee that you become a rotational player. Only 10% (one every other draft) have failed to contribute at least in that way. It would make sense for both Biyombo and Knight. Knight has the making of a solid 6th man off the bench while it isn't hard to see Biyombo not living up to the hype but still contributing on defense.

Part of the reason I like Biyombo so much is because of the realities of the draft. He offers that mystery and upside, but also should be a positive addition even if he doesn't develop because of his defense and character. He is the kind of guy the Thunder would have looked for in 2008 to help out Durant. It is hard to go wrong with a hard working, defensive-mind, player with great length and athleticism. Plus, centers are expensive. You can find cheap backups for any position except center. There are too many backup centers out there making the full mid-level exception. That is one of the reason centers are always drafted higher than their talent may suggest - they are cheaper than finding one in free agency.

Moving on to picks 6-10...

6. Kawhi Leonard
7. Enes Kanter
8. Kemba Walker
9. Jonas Valanciunas
10. Donatas Motiejunas

The international players hold a strong presence in this draft. If you are looking for the next big thing, go ahead and take one in this weak draft. A guy like Motiejunas has a high bust rate, but some scouts have likened him to the next Dirk. Think he will slip past the top 10? Doubt it.

Out of this block of players, one of them should make become an all-star. If I had to guess, it would be Enes Kanter. I love Kawhi Leonard more than most, but he doesn't offer that kind of upside. Neither does Walker. Motiejunas is more of a gamble, even though he has actually played competitive basketball recently. I don't see the intrigue in Valanciunas as much as others, at least not as an all-star.

At least one more guy figures to be a starter based on draft history. I have to stick to my guns here with Kawhi Leonard. He doesn't have the upside, but he has the makings of a very solid player, which is why I rank him so high despite of his ceiling.

The numbers get foggy from here between a rotational player and a bust, but there is usually at least one of each. With Kemba's scoring ability, he looks like a great bet for a role player. It would be tough for Valanciunas to not be a role player wither if he decides to come over. Motiejunas is the wildcard of this group. He defines high risk/high reward. He could end up being the best or worst of this array of players. Most teams would agree with that, but different teams would have different ideas of what it means his worth is.

This is where it can get depressing for teams with a lottery pick. Since the 1997 draft, there have been no all-stars draft in the 11-15 range (Kobe, Peja, and Steve Nash were all picked in this range in the 1996, however). Once every two years a team can find a player worthy of starting. Half end up having no real impact while the rest find spots in the rotation.

11. Terrence Jones
12. Alec Burks
13. Tristan Thompson
14. Jimmer Fredette
15. Marcus Morris

In this case, the above statistics really make a lot of sense to me. I see Jimmer as a likely bust. I haven't been a fan of Terrence Jones all year. Marcus Morris is an underwhelming pro prospect. Tristan Thompson has some upside, but isn't ready to contribute. Even my favorite player of the group, Alec Burks, is far from a sure thing. Rather than picking a player to end up being a successful starter from this group, I'd rather place my money on whoever the Houston Rockets pick. The later in the draft you go, the more important it is that the guy goes to a team with a good coaching staff and player development team. The Rockets always put their players in good situations to succeed (Landry, Patterson, Brooks, Lowry, Hayes to name a few).

Remember at the beginning of the article how I noted that this isn't a way to scout players. See the next draft range (16-20) as a reason why. This range has actually produced a few all-stars in the past ten years - Ron Artest, Jamaal Magloire, Zach Randolph, David West, Jameer Nelson, and Danny Granger. Its very weird indeed how the previous range was unable to produce all-stars, but you would be foolish to believe that picking in this range is somehow better. Talent evaluation is more important than draft position. In the end, you have to have trust your drafting abilities over a ten year snippet of history.

16. Kenneth Faried
17. Klay Thompson
18. Nikola Mirotic
19. Nolan Smith
20. Jordan Hamilton

One of these guys likely becomes a starter. Nolan Smith and Kenneth Faried are both viewed as solid backup types. Mirotic may not ever come over to the NBA. I'd say this would be between Hamilton and Thompson and I like Thompson better. At least one other should become a rotational player. This is tough because I see role playing abilities in all of these guys. As other people have said, this draft is weak up top, but around this area, there are some solid players to be had. If I had to choose one, it would be Nolan Smith I guess. The only reason I wouldn't take Mirotic, even though I like him more than any other player in this group, is become his interest in the NBA seems very low. He just signed a big contract with Real Madrid to enforce this belief.

21. Josh Selby
22. Markieff Morris
23. Tyler Honeycutt
24. Justin Harper
25. Travis Leslie
26. Tobias Harris
27. Chris Singleton
28. Jereme Richmond
29. Reggie Jackson
30. Iman Shumpert

By now, you get the point. We are grasping for straws here. A lot of these guys I believe can contribute in the NBA, but the situation they are placed in will play a big part in their career path. There have been some all-star caliber players, but not every year. In this group, Richmond and Honeycutt have the best chance of making that happen in my opinion. Selby offers some upside too, but as more of a 6th man scorer.

As you can see from the success rate of previous drafts, these players often just fade out of the league. Teams picking in this range are likely playoff teams, so they have to fight hard to get playing time. If I had a pick in this range, I'd prefer to swing for Honeycutt or Richmond in most situations (some reservations though with Richmond if the lockerroom isn't perfect. Cant have him being a distraction for a contending team...but there is always the D-League). For other contenders, they might be looking for something specific. Some teams might need a stretch four to play ten minutes a game. Justin Harper is your guy. Others need a lock down defender - consider Shumpert or Singleton. A big body? Markieff Morris. Scorer? Josh Selby. You get the point. Rankings can go out the window here unless there is a guy you really think is underrated. Here, it is all about putting your player in the best position to succeed.

In the second round, without guaranteed contracts, you just want to pick a guy that has a chance of sticking on your roster. International players or guys with passports are pluses because you can hold onto their rights while they play overseas. The second round has had some gems like Michael Redd, Gilbert Arenas, Carlos Boozer, Manu Ginobili, and Marc Gasol. There is hope, but be happy if you ever see the guy logging minutes for your team

Monday, April 25, 2011

For Comparisons Sake Part II (Jereme Richmond)

Due to the length of this article, I'll limit this to strictly one player. I feel strongly about this comparison so I have a lot to say.

The first time I saw Richmond play in an Illinois uniform, I thought of Devin Ebanks. As it turned out, they have a lot of similarities on and off the court.

The physical similarities stood out first. They both possess long and slender frames, while playing tougher than they appear. Their toughness benefits them on the offensive glass, where they each pulled down over 3 offensive boards per 40 minutes. Without great skill sets, both players make the most of the opportunities they get to crash the boards and get easy buckets.

As I said, their skill sets aren't great - neither can hit a three pointer and struggle driving all the way to the basket - but they still show good feel on offense. Even without great quickness and handles, they both surprise you with sneaky good passes and cuts around the basket. They both managed a positive assist to turnover ratio and in the process, averaged over 3 assists per 40 minutes (pace adjusted). That is rare to find for two guys with average ball handling abilities at best.

Offensively, their futures revolve around being a slasher. They both have good touch around the hoop and have shown signs of a mid-range game. Their jumpers inside the arc are way too inconsistent now, but both enjoy taking the shot and can learn to convert in the future. And even though I praised their feel for the game, their IQs on offense could use some work. Richmond didn't average 22 minutes a game because he had zero flaws and Ebanks made plenty of boneheaded plays at West Virginia (most notably his decision at the end of the Villanova game late in the year).

Note: Oddly enough, Ebanks and Richmond both averaged 13.9 points per 40 minutes (pace adjusted) their freshman seasons.

While their offense has a ways to go, both have all the physical tools to contribute immediately on defense at the next level. In college, they were forced to play the PF position more often than they would have liked, but they both showed they had the toughness to battle inside. They rebounded extremely well and floated around 1 steals and block per game. In the NBA, they will guard SFs for the most part, and despite great lateral quickness, they both have a shot at being successful in this venture.

If their on court style seems similar, dig further into their off the court track record. While being willing teammates on the court, both have reportedly been in altercations with teammates off the court (Ebanks got in a fight with Truck Bryant, Richmond fought Brandon Paul). Ebanks was also suspended at the beginning of his sophomore year for academic reasons (apparently).

Richmond was no stranger to fights back in high school either, which makes his character perhaps more suspect than Ebanks. Devin seems to be adjusting fine in the NBA. In high school, Richmond also got in a fight with a teammate and in a separate incident, he got kicked off the team after getting into an argument with his coach. His history sends up some major red flags.

Reaching for some more similarities, both of them were big time recruits in high school. Richmond was an All-American and Ebanks most likely would have been if not for his post-grad status.

The draft results may end up being similar as well. Richmond would be lucky to be drafted by a team with the Lakers, and since they have 4 second rounders, his odds aren't awful. Of course, going in the first round would be ideal, and I wouldn't count that out either. Nobody likes to give guaranteed contracts to players with major red flags though.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

For Comparisons Sake (Scotty Hopson, Iman Shumpert, Chandler Parsons)

This article is a bit hypocritical, but I enjoyed doing the research in order to find comparisons for this years draft class. So many comparisons get thrown around these days for fans looking for a simple answer, rather than taking the time to read a quality scouting report like those provided by draftexpress.com. There is much more to learn by taking time out to read in-depth reports, as no two players are exactly alike, but not everyone is a draftnik willing to spend their precious time reading delicate scouting reports.

That is where we get comparisons like the famous DeShawn Stevenson to Michael Jordan comparison by nbadraft.net. In their defense, comparisons can include a lot of things. You can compare one player to another because of how good they will be, their production level, college success, or their playing style. Rarely are you going to find two players with all those things in common.

For the sake of this article, I came up with some comparisons, but I will attempt to explain how they are alike as well as their difference. Most of these players are late first to early second round picks because I find that players with star potential are a lot more individually unique. LeBron James, Dirk, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Wade, etc are all their own player without anyone matching their style or production. Lesser players have more similarities because they are forced into their own role and style once they hit the NBA.

Note: My research was helped immensley by draftexpress.com's college stats search found here. If you want to search for all the years in their database at once, change the web address from what ever year you originally seached for and insert the word "all". Because I used their database, my comparisons are fairly recent, dating back only to 2001. I wouldn't be able to compare farther back anyway, though, due to my age.

Scotty Hopson
Hopson entered the college ranks as one of the best high school players in the country. He has improved each year at Tennessee, but has failed to become a star. He physically looks the part, but his college numbers are more similar to a role playing shooting type like Thomas Gardner. While Gardner was built for that role, Hopson has a higher ceiling and a different mindset. I find it hard to see him lasting in the league as strictly a shooter, unless his defense picks up.

The two guys I would relate him to over anyone else would be Rodney Carney and Rasual Butler. Carney had even better athleticism than Hopson, but wasn't able to put it to use either. With their average ball handling skills, they were both relegated to more of a jump shooting role, which takes away from their strengths. They both have solid form, but aren't what NBA guys would classify as shooting specialists. They need more from the defensive end. Despite their athletic tools, though, they both put up underwhelming numbers in college in terms of rebounds, steals, and blocks. They have the tools to defend, but haven't shown the consistent effort and awareness to be an above average defender.

With Rasual Butler, I think they played similarity offensive in college. Butler had a more consistent jumpshot, while Hopson is somewhere in between Carney and Butler in that area, although Hopson has also shown some promise with his shot. Statistically, they mirror each other with a bad assist to turnover ratio and the lack of free throw attempts. They both move well, but have proven to be more effective off the pass or one or two dribbles. They aren't the type of guys to make teammates better.

In terms of draft stock, I see Hopson going somewhere in between where Carney (#16) and Butler (#24 in round 2) went. He has above average athleticism, but not on Carney's level where he has a good shot at intriguing a team with a mid-first rounder. He's a late to early second round pick right now.

Iman Shumpert
Shumpert's strength is fairly obvious to even a casual viewer - his defense. Right now he is labeled as a late first to early second round pick which is right where Kyle Weaver's draft range was. Weaver was also a very versatile defender who could handle and distribute offensively, but lacked a jumper or anything to stand out on that end. He has bounced around from the D-League and the NBA, but I believe Shumpert has a lot better chance of making an impact.

While Weaver is a very good defender, he isn't as gifted athletically as Shumpert. When looking at college numbers, he rivals Dwyane Wade (a fellow Chicago guard - he also shutdown another guard out of Chicago, Evan Turner, in last year's tournament) and Rajon Rondo with his ability to rebound and rack of steals from the guard position. Shumpert, Wade, Mardy Collins, and Cedric Jackson are the only guys to have over 7 rebounds (per 40 min pace adjusted) and 3 steals ("") in a college season since 2001.

Not only does his athleticism give him more of a chance to be effective defensively than Weaver, but offensively too. He has a better chance of playing point guard and with Paul Hewitt coaching him his entire college career, I think some qualified NBA coaching could really help him. Shumpert was another top 25 recruit that failed to improve under Hewitt. Guys like Anthony Morrow, Derrick Favors, Will Bynum, Jarrett Jack, Chris Boh, and Thaddeus Young were all better off after leaving for the pros.

For a late first to early second rounder, Shumpert is a good guy to take a flier on. He can step in right away and be a great defender and there is plenty of untapped potential offensively too.

Chandler Parsons
Searching for comparisons for Parsons is a meticulous task, as Parsons is a rare kind of player. He won SEC player of the year despite not being a big time scorer or a great defender. Instead, he showcased a wide variety of skills and unselfishness that ultimately helped his team earn a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

The first player that stood out to me as similar was Luke Walton. Walton has probably close to 35 pounds on him which has made him more effective posting up in the triangle offense, but the rest of their games are similar.

Like Parsons, Walton has a great feel for the game which shows up in the win column. During Walton's two years at Arizona, his team reached the Sweet Sixteen twice - one time making it to the Elite Eight. For their high skill level and feel for the game, both surprisingly struggled to shoot the ball, although Walton has gotten better over times. As I've said previously, I think Parsons will become a better shooter too, as he already showed signs of finding his stroke by shooting over 40% from three in conference play this year.

The second, and most accurate comparisons for Parsons, would be Mike Dunleavy. The Dukie, was yet another point forward type that was part of a winning college tradition. His physical strength more closely represent Parsons' than Walton, while Walton and Parson are more similar in their lack of consistent shooting. They all have an outstanding feel for the game in common though.

Parsons may be slightly behind these two in terms of stock, but he did outshine both of them in rebounding despite playing with Macklin, Young, and Tyus. He is one of my sleepers and he would make a fine choice early in the second round. He would fit best with a team that pushes the ball, just like Dunleavy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

2011 NBA Draft Senior Rankings (#6-10)

A week ago, I started this series by ranking the top 5 seniors in the draft. A week later, this have changed for the better for this senior class. The top 5 guys all look like first round picks now that Barnes, Jeff Taylor, and others have announced that they are staying. This makes these senior rankings all that more important. In one of the weakest drafts ever, seniors offer a sense of security with a pick, and the second round could end up looking like one from 15 years ago when kids stayed in school. This senior crop isn't great, but many of these guys can get drafted and take advantage of the lack of underclassmen entering.

 Top 5 Seniors

6. Keith Benson - I wrote about Benson in March.

There is no doubt that Keith Benson will be taking his talents to the draft, as he has already turned in 4 productive years in college. He has put up great numbers and has all the measurables, but it may not be enough to get him in the first round. One may blame it on the small conference, but it is obvious from watching him play that he could for put up great scoring numbers anywhere in the country. He is that talented offensively. He can shoot it, put it on the floor, and moves wonderfully for a center. The problem, though, is his strength. At the age of 22, he still lacks the muscle to hang in the post at either end of the floor. That will surely effect both his gaudy rebounding and block shot statistics, and probably make him more of a liability on defense despite a great wingspan. It doesnt help that he doesnt have the best BBIQ. Offensively, his strength is going to make him mostly and jump shooter and driver.

His weakness makes him a strong candidate for the D-League where he will almost certainly spend his fair amount of time over the next year or two. In the right organization, he can eventually work his way into an NBA rotation, maybe even as a starter. More than likely, though, you will still find him as a fringe NBA player years down the road. He reminds me of Courtney Sims of the D-League, who puts up excellent numbers each year, but never gets more than a 10 day call-up. To avoid being like Sims, Benson needs to gain that strength and become more gritty. OKC would be an ideal fit for both parties. They have their own D-league team and do a good job of developing their own players, while the Thunder would benefit by having an athletic big with a face-up offensive game. The Thunder love athletic, super long centers so it could be the perfect match. Right now, he would be a stretch in the first round.


The first round is more of a possibility now, as there aren't many options at center, especially if you want a athlete like Keith Benson. Lucas Nogueira and Nikola Vucevic are his biggest competition for a team looking for a center late in the first round.

7. Chandler Parsons - I'm one of the biggest Chandler Parsons supporters around. I think a key reason that people are underrating him is the perception that he can't shoot. He looks like a stereotypical shooter, but that has been his weakness - up until conference play this year. He shot over 40% from three in conference play and his stroke is fine. With the rest of his game, he can be an excellent role player if his shooting keeps up. He has a great feel for the game, showing excellent passing instincts (and unselfishness), and solid ball handling. It is impressive the way he impacted the game in many ways, while Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton controlled the ball most of the time. He was clutch his juniors year, but Walker and Boynton stole his thunder this season. He needs to get stronger, but he would fare well in an up-tempo system. I honestly see some Mike Dunleavy in him (beyond skin color, people!) with point forward potential.

8. Jimmy Butler - Butler is a guy I've thought highly of for two years. He is yet another Marquette player to look appealing to NBA teams for their role playing abilities (Wes Matthews and Lazar Hayward). He plays very smart - filling up the stat sheet while making great decisions that put his team in better position to win. It is no surprise that his team won the Portsmouth Invitation Tournament with their teamwork and togetherness. Butler certainly had a big part in that and led by example. He is a bit of a tweener, but if you ask me, he is a basketball player. He can defend multiple positions (see the Xavier game where he helped shutdown Tu Holloway), pass the ball, make open shots, and crash the boards. He may not be a lockdown defender or a guy you can count on for buckets, but he will be a guy that will fill his role and do whatever it takes to win. He's looking like a lock to get drafted now.

9. Kyle Singler - In a Singler versus Parsons debate, I like Chandler but Singler could fit better into a halfcourt offense. His toughness is unrivaled and he sports great awareness and intelligence. Early on at Duke, he looked great playing at the power forward while capitalizing on mismatches, but he is definitely a small forward in the NBA. His time playing small forward his last two years exposed some of his weaknesses, but in the long run, it will help him. He struggled at SF, especially last year, until Coach K made it a point to run screens for him to get him open shots. That will not happen in the NBA and I don't see him creating many shots for himself. His footspeed is average as well and his athleticism doesn't help him finish inside. There are a lot of things going against Singler, but he is a winner who will lay his body on the line every game. Can that body survive an NBA season?

10. Andrew Goudelock - Goudelock helped his stock a lot at Portsmouth as I predicted. He's a fairly simple player to understand - a combo guard with deep range on his jumper who can run the point at times. I believe his jumper and fearless mentality on the court is strong enough that he can help a team. With Goudelock, its as simple as that - make shots. His shot making ability can get him into the league.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

2011 NBA Draft Senior Rankings (#1-5)

The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament is now in the past as well as four college basketball seasons from each of these seniors, so the majority of their evaluation periods are over. Most of these players strengths and weaknesses are no mystery and scouts know what to expect from them. Ranking these players have a lot to do with personal preference over anything else. Most ceilings are relatively low and I wouldn't been surprised to hear that any of these guys are out of the league in three years. In the second round, where most of these guys will go, teams will either take a senior they feel very good about or take a shot with a guy that fills a need and fits their style. This list would look vastly different from team to team, but this is how I would rank them in general.

Top Five (Check back each week for the next five on the list)

1. Kenneth Faried - I've gone back and forth on him a few times. His rebounding, energy, work ethic, and athleticism are great. He is one of the best rebounders in the past ten years no matter what stat you look at, and everyone knows rebounding translates as well as any other stat to the next level. I'm not too worried about his size playing power forward. I think his offense will be better than most think. His scoring isn't pretty, but he gets the job done. In the college all-star game he took home MVP and looked impressive going up against Gary McGhee who is a great defender. He even drove all the way from the 3-pt line to the hoop - finishing with a dunk. His defense is actually what I worry most about. He played in a zone most of his career and didn't always have the best awareness. His energy level is promising, but he will have to body up guys better in the post.

2. Justin Harper - I wrote about Harper in March here. I'll take his shooting from the power forward spot over Jimmer's at point guard.

3. Jimmer Fredette - Mark it down that I'm what some would call a "Jimmer Hater", but I can't bring myself to rank him any lower than this. I think the chances are good that Nolan Smith turns out to be a more solid player, its just tough to disregard Jimmer's explosive scoring. His unique skills make him a more valuable pick than a the dime a dozen player that Nolan Smith is.

4. Nolan Smith - I've gone back and forth on Smith his entire college career. I was a fan of his while he was still figuring out the game and contributing in ways other than scoring. He broke out his last two seasons into a great college player, turning into a great scorer who was finally learning how to play point guard. His point guard skills still leave a lot to be desired, as he dribbles too much for his own shot, but it has nothing to do with him not being a wonderful teammate and locker room guy. I've watched him so many times over the years, waiting to see if he could breakout into a lottery prospect, but he was never able to convince me that he would be anything more of a backup. He does run the pick and roll well which will be even more important at the next level. He's not a point guard, nor is he a shooting guard, but he can do whatever is asked of him and fill a role. He can last in the league for awhile.

5. JaJuan Johnson - I like him and don't get a lot of the criticisms he gets from his detractors. You hear negative things about his defense, but Purdue was the 12th best defensive team in the nation according to kenpom and he was their sole post defender. Awards aren't to be taken as the gospel, but he did win the Big 10 defensive player of the year award this season. I understand that he doesn't have the strength to be as effective in the NBA, but he moves very well and has been well coached. He comes up with plenty of steals (0.9 spg) and blocks (2.3 bpg). The other negative I hear about him is his shot selection. I don't get that either. His shooting percentage went down below 50% for the first time since he had to make up for the loss of Robbie Hummel, but he never forced action with the dribble. He took some jumpshots early in the shot clock, mostly in rhythm, nothing that screamed "ballhog". He is a smart player who filled a role that his team needed him in. I don't see his shot selection being a problem in the NBA.

His athleticism and shooting touch are things that can't be taught and often leave scouts salivating. Johnson doesn't get the kind of respect an All-American should. He should get looks from playoff teams drafting in the late first round. Never underestimate what a good strength coach can do for a player.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

2011 Nike Hoop Summit Prospect Breakdown (Rivers and Wroten)

I profiled a lot of the Team USA standouts in my article about the McDonald's game that can be found here. A lot of the same players were impressive in the Hoop Summit - McAdoo, Beal, and Gilchrist - but I'd like to take a closer look at the game's MVP Austin Rivers and future Huskie Tony Wroten who didn't play in the Mickey D's event. The box score for the game can be found here.

Tony Wroten - Wroten didn't play in the McDonald's event, partly due to inconsistent play and also because he was coming back from an injury his senior year. Nevertheless, Wroten is a top tier talent and earned an invite as one of only ten players to make up Team USA's roster. At 6'5'' Wroten has great size for either guard position and really caught scouts' eyes with his court vision in this game. As a point guard prospect, he is a very intriguing player, one who could potentially go in the lottery.

At the Hoop Summit, he finished the game with 5 assists and 3 turnovers. The passes he managed to complete were all impressive. He had a few lob passes, no look bullets inside, and saw things other players didn't. While trying to make spectacular plays, Wroten also forced a few passes that resulted in turnovers. Right now he has the court vision but lacks the decision making. Out of all the players in the game, he has the biggest flare for the dramatic, which makes his upside noticeable, but also makes you less certain of him than guys like Beal and Gilchrist. He still needs to find a way to use his talents in an efficient way. The talent is there.

In a way, he reminds me of a cross between OJ Mayo and Lance Stephenson. A combo guard type with immense talent, he just needs to tone down his playground style. Mayo has the jumper that Wroten is missing, which puts him in the same boat as Stephenson, but he looks to have Mayo-esque athleticism. His size and athleticism makes him a potential great defender and he already shows good instincts in the passing lanes. Even when he is not scoring, he can fill up that stat sheet.

Wroten is a guy that could go either way next year at Washington. Isaiah Thomas is leaving, but Abdul Gaddy is back from injury so we will see how they play together. I think they'll complement each other well since Wroten can get to the line and make plays, while Gaddy is more of the conservative type who hangs around the three point line. Wroten can have a big effect on a Washington team that should enter the year ranked in the top 25.

Austin Rivers - Rivers took home the MVP at the Hoop Summit, but I'd be hesistant to say he had a better game than Biyombo, Davis, and Gilchrist. He scored 20 efficient points (7-11 shooting) while not having an effect anywhere else in the box score. The 20 points were rather quiet, Rivers mostly created his own shots with his solid crossovers, since he wasn't one of the guards that were hounding the World team and creating steals. He isn't on the level athletically as other team USA members and it showed as the rest of the team were making plays in transition. Right now, Rivers is a one on one scorer who needs the ball to be effective. He is a very good scorer, but he needs to learn to play off ball. His point guard skills haven't shown yet and it is questionable if he is a franchise player. Often times he looks to the referees for help when he can't complete a play, when it really boils down to the fact that he isn't a great finisher at this point. He is a one dimensional scorer at this point and while it is still very earlier, he has to show some more things at Duke if he wants to be a top 5 pick.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

2011 Nike Hoop Summit Prospect Breakdown (Biyombo and Nogueira)

Team USA handled the World team easily in this years contest, but it was a good opportunity to see two potential 2011 first round draft picks - Bismack Biyombo and Lucas Nogueira. Both had an chance to show what they could do against an undersized USA frontline. Check out the box score here.

Bismack Biyombo - Biyombo's team lost by 12 points, but he stole the show with his athleticism. Earlier in the week he was measured with a 7'7'' wingspan and a chiseled (4.8% body fat) 243 pound frame. He used that length to help him record a triple double - registering 12 points, 11 boards, and 10 blocks. The loss was worse than the scored showed as the World team struggled to get into their halfcourt offense, but when they did, Biyombo worked hard inside to create space for himself in the post. His post game is very raw, but the USA didn't have a inside player that could handle him on the blocks. From my recollection, all of his points came off dunks, where it appeared no team USA player had a chance to contest his shots. He finishes strong and gets off the ground quick. He is constantly moving offensively, either battling for position or running out to set screens.

Team USA did manage to get a fair dose of alley-oops by him, but nobody could directly get a shot off against him. He blocked a shot with his elbow. He was one of the few players not intimidated by the talent on the opposing team. It was, in short, an all around great performance by Biyombo. The hype train is officially rolling. I've had him in the lottery since my initial mock on this site (mid-March) and now he could push even farther. We can compare him and Valanciunas another time, but the between those two will start to heat up. Personally, I would put Biyombo as the front runner.



Lucas Nogueira - He is definitely a project, but we already knew that. He reported into the event with only 218 pounds packed onto his nearly seven foot frame. With those measurements, he has a long way to go until he can handle NBA big men. I'd compare him to a Hassan Whiteside/Javale McGee type in terms of style and skills, but even though they weren't strong, they both were significantly bigger than "Bebe" is now. Whiteside weighed 227 pounds at less body fat than Nogueira last year (and he managed to pack on a lot of muscle after being drafted by the Kings) and McGee is a bodybuilder compared to both of them - 241 lbs at even less body fat when he was drafted. "Bebe" is a soft spoken kid too, which reminds me of McGee in a way. One would hope that wouldn't translate into lacking toughness when he does bulk up enough to battle in the paint.

Offensively, he shows solid potential like McGee and Whiteside. He can face up and hit a jumper and doesn't rush. He made a nice post entry pass in tonight's game against Team USA. He can even put the ball on the floor a little to get to the hoop. He moves well and gets solid lift off the ground. However, his strength prohibits him from getting many easy buckets and doing work in the post.

Defensively, he has to rely on blocking shots. He seems to be a very good shot blocker, but I would hesitate to put him on McGee's or Whiteside's level. I don't think he is as explosive off the ground as those two.

Overall, Nogueira seems to strongly be considering entering this years draft. He didn't help his stock in this game, but he is the kind of guy who would look good going up against a chair in workouts. I don't think he is a top 20 pick, or a guy who makes an impact anytime soon, but I could see a team taking him in the late first round. He could also slip into round 2 like Whiteside did last year.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hate it or Love it the Underachiever is on Top

But will he shine until his heart stop?

Or does he even have a heart?

The opening lines are a doctored version of the lyrics sung by 50 cent in the song "Hate it or Love it". The subject in question is Perry Jones.

Perry Jones has been a fixture at the top of draft boards the entire year. With his athletic gifts, he would almost have to intentionally perform poorly to drive his stock out of the lottery. There is no teaching a player of his size (6'11 with close to a 7'4'' wingspan) to do the things he does. He can be a dominate player - one who can handle and move like a guard, but kill smaller defenders in the post. He has shown flashes of doing that exact thing and the reality is, his numbers are actually really solid for what is being labeled as a disappointing year.

In his first season at Baylor, Jones averaged 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds on 55% shooting. Considering Jones likes to venture outside of the paint more than your average big man, 55% percent shooting is great. He was 16th in pace adjusted scoring (per 40 minutes) among freshman and only one player ahead of him had a better shooting percentage (Joshua Smith).

To add to that, Perry Jones did that with a overall selfish supporting cast, bad point guard play, and also was forced to play out of position. One thing you can't call Perry Jones is selfish - that is not the reason why Jones has question marks. From all accounts, he is a great teammate and while he does take some questionable shots, he doesn't demand the ball.

For a role player, you can chalk that up as a positive. It is what scouts call "role playing potential" since not everyone can star in the NBA. But for Jones, its not what scouts want to see. He CAN be a star in the NBA. The question goes back to the top of the article - does he have the heart?

Lack of heart and passiveness can go hand in hand. You can see it when he plays. For a guy with all his athletic capabilities, he gets less than a block and a steal per game. That is passiveness. You can get a steal a game just by being attentive and playing hard.

The steals and blocks also bring up another concern that doesnt get mentioned enough. Sure he could improve those numbers by being more attentive and playing harder, but a high basketball IQ can help just as much. For an 18 year old kid, I think there is more hope in him finding a drive to get better than there is for him to transform his poor instincts from a weakness to a positive.

Why?

He is 19 years old. So far in his life, he has been praised for his basketball skills and has had everything given to him. His athletic gifts got him a scholarship at Baylor - it wasn't because he averaged 12 points per game and his team was nothing more than mediocre. His athletic gifts got him into the starting lineup in college. His athletic gifts will get him money now (pause before someone mentions they already have) and drafted in the lottery. But in the NBA, playing time will not be handed to him. He will learn that quickly. Its a different game. It will be the first time that he will be forced to work in order to get what he wants and that may be a good thing.

His defense, though, bothers me. Its hard to justify his reactions and positioning when he is playing in one of the outside thirds of the 2-3 zone. Time and time again I've watched players sneak right by him as he is too busy focusing on a guy 20 feet away from the hoop. No adjustments are ever made. He prefers to stay outside and avoid having to be physical. Its extremely frustrating watching a guy with a terrible feel defensively, especially when they fail to even make obvious adjustments after the fact. He doesn't box out. His help side defense is all or nothing - either he gets the block or he gives up a bucket. Its pure athleticism he relies on for that kind of stuff, he doesn't ever make good reads to get in position before hand to prevent a shot attempt from even happening. Lacking a good basketball IQ and being passive aren't a good combination on the road to becoming a good defender.

His defense is why I think teams should consider playing him at small forward in the NBA. He has played center most of the time at Baylor and looked terrible doing it. It is obvious he dislikes contact and awareness and discipline is more vital to interior defenders than perimeter defenders. Give Perry a chance to play where he wants to. Tell him if he proves he can do it, he can remain at small forward. Give him something to strive for and work on. I think he could make the transition. Think about it, this is a guy who moves like a guard and has an enormous 7'4'' wingspan. He could give opposing small forwards fits.

The advantage could be carried over to the offensive end. While his first step could kill power forwards and teams should still attempt to get him matched up against one as much as possible, he could develop into a fine small forward too. He has a smooth mid-range game and would be able to get his shot off whenever he wanted to. He will be playing more on the perimater, which is where he would venture to anyway if he was playing power forward. Jones has good court vision and could deliver good passes over smaller defenders heads. The size advantage his team would have would cause so many matchup problems. After all, that is what the NBA is about anyway.

I'm not saying he should be an exclusive small forward because a lot of the time in the NBA teams are already running small lineups that Jones would have a size advantage even at PF, but it would be a different look that could involve into something more.

He could turn into another Tim Thomas out there, or he could end up into an Anthony Randolph at PF, who is more worthless when it comes to winning. Of course, if he finds that fire in his belly, this is all a moot point and he could become a Chris Bosh or Kevin Garnett.

It all is up to Perry Jones. If a team takes him in the top 10 and he busts, does that mean he is a bad pick? Certainly not. Jones offers more upside than anyone available and its worth the risk over a solid starter. From the other side of the spectrum, teams shouldnt be ridiculed if they pass on Perry Jones in the top 5 and he ends up being a star. Harrison Barnes, Derrick Williams, and Kyrie Irving are much safer picks that should all end up as above average starters.

Perry Jones is a big time high risk/high reward guy, but in a way, he is a guy whose draft stock should be most stable. It is just a matter of which team will swallower their scouting pride and pull the trigger; letting nature take its course.