Monday, June 18, 2012

The Lance Thomas Equation

****UPDATE: I drafted this write-up awhile back in December, but never published it. It turns out that another Dukie, Miles Plumlee might fit this category better than any of the guys I discussed. At the time, I didnt see him as much of a prospect, and still dont really, but he fits the mold and has a good shot to be drafted now. He only lost 6 games in his high school career and was right around the 100th best recruit in the nation. Not exactly the elite pre-requisites I looked for in the other guys, but he followed up high school with a NCAA career that certainly fits the bill.****

Seeing Lance Thomas on the Hornets preseason roster, and getting legit minutes, took me by surprise. Here is a guy that looked completely incapable of any offensive game at Duke and was pretty underwhelming from a physical standpoint. Still, a year later, here he was competing against NBA players. He's in the D-League now and putting up solid numbers with a solid chance of getting a call up at some point.

The appeal with Thomas is that he possesses many qualities that many teams look for in role players. Not the role players that get 20 minutes a game, but the role players at the very end of the bench getting their only run in practice. For those spots, teams have been known to settle for lesser talented players - guys who won't care if they get minutes, play hard in practice pushing the other players, and display good character. Towel waving classes are welcomed.

With Lance Thomas, you get a guy who will do the dirty work. He already proved that at Duke, and even as far back as his high school days at St. Benedict's Prep. He has always been on talented, winning teams and has always contributed in anyway possible. In High School, his team was one of the best in the nation, and he was a big time presence down low while also doing the small things to win. He wasn't the only great player on his team so he was fine making his adjustment to a role player at Duke.

He obviously has some talent, though, as there was a reason he was ranked in the top 25 in his recruiting class. He didn't bust in the sense of many top prospects - those who lack the understanding of the game, play selfishly, can't adapt to the team setting, etc. He just accepted a role on a great college team and it resulted in winning a championship his senior season.

I wanted to look for more players potentially like Thomas - guys who were highly regarded out of high school and then went on to have a solid, but unspectacular career on a great college team. Guys who are going to be in the draft either this year or next, who could sneak up on some people who have soured on them after never living up to their potential. Guys who have won at every level and do the little things that count. Preferably, Im looking for guys with a chance of making a bigger impact than Thomas - after all, I wouldnt argue that Lance Thomas should have been drafted - he shouldnt have. But there are some players out there with a similar background to Thomas that might warrant a draft pick.

First player that I found was Alex Oriakhi of UConn. He's a little more highly regarded than others on this list, but his stock is dimming now with not much of a chance of resurrection. He probably gets drafted, but I think he has a good shot at making a NBA team when he declares.

Like Thomas, Oriakhi played on a very good high school team, teammates with Jamaal Coombs-McDaniels, another UConn recruit. He won a National Championship last year at UConn as the starting center, but now has been miscast next to Andre Drummond. Oriakhi has high character, rebounds well, and is a solid defensive anchor like all UConn big men before him. His offensive game isn't polished, but is an efficient finisher at the rim. His 7'3 wingspan gives him respectable size for the NBA game. He should be a definite draft pick.

Next guy went from St. Patrick in New Jersey, a rival of St. Benedict's, to North Carolina, staying congruent on the opposite side of Lance Thomas. Dexter Strickland has been receiving solid minutes at UNC since stepping onto campus as one of the top 25 recruits in the country. However, he has played a complementary role the whole time, with no signs of it changing when he goes into his senior year next season. Still, he's a starter on one of the best teams in the country, providing great defense of team's top guards and displaying incredible speed and athleticism in the open court. As a guard, he's shooting over 50% this year from the field, mainly off easy buckets. His efficient play, lack of ego, and elite athleticism have helped him draw interest from scouting services as a potential NBA player. He's got his flaws, mainly shooting, but he could potentially be another Iman Shumpert type.

Delvon Roe would have been a good candidate this year had it not been for the unfortunate knee injuries. Then again, those knee injuries were a big part in why he didn't perform as well as he could have at Michigan State.

Ryan Kelly doesn't have the defensive and rebounding ability of a role playing power forward, but he fits the bill as a smart, efficient player. He's improved a lot in college, putting on weight, and his work ethic is promising for the future.

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