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Monday, February 25, 2013

Defense is the Best Recipe for NBA Rookies

As a rookie, defense is the key to getting on the court. This holds even more true for second rounders as their offensive talent usually isn't good enough to offset anything lacking on the other end of the court. If you are looking for second rounders to in their rookie season, the best option year in and year out has been to go with the best defenders and rebounders. Kawhi Leonard and Kenneth Faried were two of the bigger surprises of last year's rookie crop and earned their minutes with their toughness, motor, and ability to do the little things. Both players played key minutes on playoff teams even though they were selected outside of the lottery.

The 2012 Draft featured some excellent defensive players at the top of the draft - Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - and all 3 of them are logging big minutes already for their current clubs. Davis and Drummond find themselves in the thick of the rookie of the year race, right behind Portland' Damian Lillard.

Its important to note some of the lesser touted rookies getting minutes this year - Kyle Singler, Jae Crowder, Jeff Taylor, and Festus Ezeli join Drummond, Davis, and MGK in the top 20 in minutes played amongst rookies. Festus Ezeli was the highest draft pick of the group, going to the Warriors with the last pick of the first round. All of these guys entered the NBA with experience, a defensive background, a reputation for improving, and a high motor.

Bernard James has earned his way into the Mavericks rotation and is averaging 16 minutes per game this month. John Henson has shown glimpses for the Bucks this year in a deep frontcourt and was a big key in their rotation in January. Dion Waiters sports the second high Drtg among rookies and receives starter minutes in the process.

The only guy with a better Drtg than Waiters among rookies is DeQuan Jones - a complete afterthought in the draft and proof that defense is the best way to earn a spot in the league. Even Tyler Zeller, Waiter's teammate, has earned minutes because of his defense.

Only 4 top 20 picks have averaged less than 12 minutes per game this season - Kendall Marshall, Terrence Jones, Evan Fournier, Jeremy Lamb, and Royce White. All had questions about their defense and/or energy coming into the draft. Marshall only has average athleticism and struggles to stay in front of his man. Terrence Jones is a tweener who struggled to grasp the concept of team defense at Kentucky. Fournier is offensive minded. Jeremy Lamb faced questions of complacency and whether he was intense enough. Royce White's defense has always been the biggest question mark with his game.

So what guys in this year's draft can you expect to see playing regular minutes from the start? And what top guys may need more time?

Among lottery picks, there are quite a few that are still learning how to defense - most notably some of the big men. The importance of defense for a big is even greater than a perimeter player so thats why guys like Alex Len, Anthony Bennett, Isaiah Austin, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kelly Olynyk may struggle to get regular playing time right off the bat.

Some of the freshman perimeter players will also struggle as they will be asked for the first time in their careers to defend without any mental lapses. The NBA constantly runs defenders through screens and asks that you defend tough and with energy. You have to be willing and able to chase your man. For guys like Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, Shabazz Muhammad, and Glenn Robinson III this could prevent these potential top 20 selections from getting as many minutes as their talent suggests they should. They have the physical tools - but heart, toughness, and motor are the keys to defending in the NBA.

Not all freshman are created equal though - Marcus Smart is one freshman who can come in and defend right away. Smart can be a leader on defense vocally. He already treats defense with importance and has a strong NBA ready frame as well. Smart's versatility will also be helpful - a key in a league that revolves around creating mismatches. Smart can guard both guard positions and his strength will even allow him to at least put up a fight against some forwards. Above anything, Smart has that heart, toughness, and motor that others lack. His only weakness may be him trying to be too perfect which results in him getting shook out of his shoes an odd amount of times for such a strong defender. Smart's lateral quickness isn't great either, but he has tremendous anticipation skills.

Two other top 10 wings will be able to jump in and play 20+ minutes right way for whatever team that drafts them. Otto Porter is one. He has the versatility that is ever so important and also the smarts. Helpside defense is huge in the NBA where one guy is never enough to contain the opponent's top players. Having a cohesive 5 man group on defense that understands where they need to be at all times on the court is huge and Porter won't miss a beat in that regard. He isn't especially quick laterally, but his anticipation skills and length make him more of a valuable team defender than lockdown guy.

Speaking of lockdown guys, the other wing that will warrant major minutes from the get-go is Victor Oladipo. Oladipo has the biggest motor in this draft and outstanding physical tools to go with it. He's a guy that can shutdown an opponent's best player and would relish the opportunity to do so. Oladipo is an extremely hard worker and nobody would ever question his heart or toughness. His understanding of the game has come a long way since his high school days at Dematha - as he would admit himself.

In terms of big men, Nerlens Noel is obviously going to be the biggest difference maker. But a guy like Cody Zeller will prove invaluable to teams. Zeller won't make many plays seemingly - but he will stop many positive plays from happening for the other team. He has a great understanding of team defense and moves his feet really well. Zeller is listed as a center, but he may be best off playing the power forward position role in the NBA where his ability to defend away from the basket will be best utilized. When people think of him as a center, they automatically assume he's a bad defender because of his T-rex arms and lack of explosive leaping ability. If you ask him to play the role of power forward though, his strengths will be maximized as opposed to his weaknesses.

Besides the big men already mentioned, Mason Plumlee is generally thought of as the next best one. I would disagree, but he shouldn't have a hard time finding minutes as a fourth big in his rookie season. Hailing from Duke, he already has been well-coached of the nuances of defending. I don't think he has a great defensive upside though as I see him as a bit of a tweener. Plumlee doesn't have the lateral quickness to defend PFs while at the same time, isn't an imposing shot blocking threat that centers are expected to be nowadays. He would have better lateral quickness than an average center or better shotblocking skills than your average power forward, but as he is in between those positions, it is kind of a moot point.

I actually like both Gorgui Dieng and Jeff Withey more in terms of defensive potential. Withey is obviously intriguing because of how well he blocks shots and even more miraculously - doesnt foul. The transition as a NBA defender won't be as seamless as some would assume though for the Kansas big. Withey relies too much on his shot blocking abilities in college and hasn't shown enough strength in the post or hedging ability on screens. NBA defensive specialists all usually exhibit a certain kind of toughness and edge to them that Jeff Withey just hasn't shown up to this point. Withey has more of the laidback west coast personality to him and that should be of concern to scouts.

Dieng though, has anchored Louisville's top defense under the tutelage of Rick Pitino. He has great length and mobility and has been a vocal leader on that end of the court. Dieng, in my opinion, will be more ready than both Plumlee and Withey in terms of defense his rookie year.

Now for guys that may not be household names yet, but could be key rotational players for your favorite NBA team at this time next year. These guys won't be top 20 picks, but they could very well be playing more of a role than your team's first selection in the draft.

Jamaal Franklin - When you talk about toughness and heart, Jamaal Franklin definitely fits the description. And he also has that certain edge to him where he welcomes the challenge of shutting down an opponent. Franklin earned his stripes last year defending power forwards inside and learned to be the best rebounding guard in the nation. He does a good job fighting through screens and actively thinking of the best way to navigate through traffic in the paint. Franklin's natural instincts are also top notch and his footwork on defense looks like that of a cornerback. Franklin plays very much like a football player and actually wanted to go to Florida to play college football.

Michael Snaer - Snaer is the next plus defender coming out of Florida State, already well-schooled on the nuances of defense. Following in the footsteps of Chris Singleton, Bernard James, Toney Douglas, and Al Thornton these guys all were playing sooner than later. In fact, Douglas, Singleton, and Thornton all received over 19 minutes a game their rookie years before seeing their playing time taper off in subsequent years. If that doesn't tell you about the importance of defense for rookies as well as the job Hamilton does coaching them up, then nothing will. Anyway, Snaer has good physical tools and plays smart. He can defend both guard positions, rebounds well, and is a leader.

Richard Howell - Nothing says toughness like Richard Howell. On a team filled with talented players, Howell  may be one of the least talented but also the most productive. He is a force on the glass and a bull defending the post. There are tough power forwards taken in the second round year after year that end up being steals and Richard Howell fits that mold this season.

Patric Young - Young has been touted as a lottery to mid-first round pick in each of his first two years at Florida in large part due to his physique. Young still has that same strong build in his junior year, but his offensive game has yet to show progress. That has caused his stock to drop into the second round territory where he could now be a steal. If nothing else, Young can give a team 10-15 minutes of strong defense. He has strong hands, moves his feet well, and picks up a fair amount of steals for a center. He will be able to guard a variety of big men and can make an impact within his first year.

Reggie Bullock - The ultimate role player, Bullock thrived his sophomore season at UNC as a gritty glue guy. He hustled to gain UNC extra possessions, crashed the glass, and often guarded the opposing team's best player. Bullock played with fire and did a good job keeping players in front of him and contesting shots with his length. Bullock may not be a lockdown guy at the next level, but he should be what we'd call a "plus"
defender where he will offer more than an average NBA defender.

Trevor Mbakwe - Mbakwe is very old for his class, much like Bernard James last year, and because of that will be expected to earn his draft selection right away. Not to worry, Mbakwe won't need any time in the summer to get his body beefened up for the NBA. Mbakwe already has a very strong base and rebounds well. He is gaining his explosiveness back from ACL surgery in 2012 and is starting to look like his former self. Mbakwe offers more to the table with his rebounding than his defense, but his toughness will be welcomed in both areas.

Rodney Williams - Rodney Williams may be too far behind offensively to contribute right away in the NBA, but there is no doubt he has all the defensive tools to eventually carve out a role. Williams is an outstanding athlete with the ability to leap out of the gym and has shown off his leaping ability more often this year. His motor has ran low at times in the past, but ever since he was moved to the power forward slot late last season, he has made a bigger impact. Williams still has room to learn in terms of defensive rotations and his motor still runs cold at times. In a weak small forward class though, he offers some hope for a team in need of an athletic forward.

Cory Jefferson - Jefferson is another power type who has constantly played for energy even while playing for a underperforming Baylor team. He came onto the scene this year after playing behind the likes of Perry Jones, Quincy Acy, and Quincy Miller last year and showed that he wasn't just sitting in idle during his time on the bench. He has a great motor and is a great run and jump athlete as well. Jefferson is comfortable guarding away from the basket and showcases his physical tools on every possession. He is a strong shotblocker at the rim and has done a nice job in the weight room to improve his body.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Which Shooting Guard Will Rise to the Top of The Pack?

There are quite a few upperclassmen shooting guards in this years draft class, mostly juniors, who could look to declare for the draft. The deciding factor may be whether they get a first round guarantee or not and as of now - it seems they all have some hope to cling onto. There is room for at least another shooting guard prospect to rise up the board and into the mid to late first round area. Right now, Jamaal Franklin appears to be the favorite but these 5 other players could all very likely declare for the draft and challenge for supremacy.

(Numbers in parenthesis are where each player is ranked on DraftExpress.com and Chad Ford's Big Board)

JR Tim Hardaway Jr (DX: 62, CF: 59)

What He Does Best?

Among the group, Hardaway Jr is the best at putting the ball on the floor and making plays in the paint. He is best with the ball in his hands and the freedom to create. Hardaway Jr is very creative getting his shots off inside the arc, can hang in the air, and has nice touch at the rim. His crossover is not as good as his dad's, but is another strength of his game, and he is able to get shots off after creating space with the move. Playing for one of the best teams in the country won't hurt his stock.

What He Needs to Improve?

Hardaway Jr is one of the more ball dominant players of this group and makes his biggest impact with the ball in his hands. He goes one on one too often, dribbles the ball way too much, and has been an inconsistent spot up shooter. And for all his dribbling, an average of only 4 free throws per 40 minutes and the lowest assist percentage in this group, doesn't look good. Up until this year, he looked like a streaky spot up shooter at best, but he is shooting over 40% from 3 this year. His 73% FT shooting suggest that this may be a fluke and there is little doubt that he is one of the worst spot up shooters in this group. Hardaway Jr also needs to make a bigger impact off the ball and on the defensive end.

JR Allen Crabbe (DX:48, CF:38)

What He Does Best?

Crabbe does an excellent job moving without the ball, seemingly gliding to his spots and working hard throughout the entire game. He has a knack for getting open even though Cal's offense revolves around him and Justin Cobbs as much as any offense revolves around two players. Crabbe does most of his work before he gets the ball in his hands and doesn't just move around screens to set up outside shots - he is equally as good finding seams in the painted area for easy floaters. Because of this, Crabbe has improved his 2-pt% this year and is one of the most efficient scorers of this group despite a "down year" shooting the ball. In the past two years, he has shot just at 40% from deep and over 80% at the line. He's proven himself as a consistent and pure shooter throughout his 3 years in Berkeley.

What He Needs To Improve?

As mentioned, Crabbe does much of his work before he gets the ball so he doesn't flash the same kind of ability to create shots that a guy like Tim Hardaway Jr does. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing since he moves so well without the ball and the NBA needs more guys like that. Crabbe also isn't very explosive getting to the rim and struggles to get all the way to the cup - although he shoots 76% at the rim - better than any other wing in this study. Crabbe is a solid defender and rebounds well, but doesn't project as anything special on defense.

JR CJ Wilcox (DX: 49, CF: 41)

What He Does Best?

Wilcox has been a shooter from the moment he stepped on campus and is the only guy in this group who has shot over 40% from 3 in each of his years in college. Wilcox started off as a spot up shooter - playing off the likes of Terrence Ross, Tony Wroten, and Isaiah Thomas - so he is very use to the role that will be asked of him in the NBA. He also has great length for a wing (with a 6-8 wingspan) and is the best shotblocker among these 6 prospects.  Through hardwork, Wilcox has transformed his game into more than just a shooter and is now able to function as the focal point of the Huskies offense - taking 29.5% of their shots while on the floor.

What He Needs to Improve?

Only Reggie Bullock gets to the line less among this group. While he has stepped up his overall offensive game, Wilcox still projects as just a jump shooter at the next level. He gets to the rim less than any other player looked at, although his length allows him to finish well in limited opportunities. And in terms of operating off the basketball, he is nowhere near the level that Allen Crabbe is at. Wilcox usually coasts around screens with zero urgency to get open and has been held to under 15 points in each of his last 5 games. Currently his team  has lost 6 of their last 7 and he has failed to step up and stop the skid. A large part of this may be attributed to a stress fracture he suffered in early January. but it doesn't look like Wilcox will have another chance this year to show what he can do when completely healthy.

JR Jamaal Franklin (DX: 23, CF: 19)

What He Does Best?

The simple answer is rebounding. Franklin is by far the best rebounder of the group and has grown his craft by acting as San Diego State's power forward much of the time on defense. Franklin as a football background and it is evident in his toughness, competitiveness, and instincts. He is an explosive leaper and is the best shotblocker listed besides CJ Wilcox. Franklin treats defense as very important and takes on the challenge of covering the oppositions best player. On the offense end, Franklin is aggressive and thrives in transition. He is a explosive finisher and a good playmaker for his teammates. He does the best job at drawing fouls out of this group - showing an array of old man moves to get his defender off balance. Franklin's work ethic and coachability has often been praised by the coaching staff.

What He Needs to Improve?

Franklin is the least efficient player in this overview and the most turnover prove. He is an outlier in terms of shooting - as he shoots just 26% from behind the arc this season. Franklin's offense is more predicated around heart, assertiveness, and athleticism than any particular skills. He has a good crossover to get by defenders, but his overall handle is sloppy and out of control in the paint. His shooting is incredibly streaky. Franklin is a good passer, but has a poor A/TO ratio because he tries to do too much on the offensive side of things. He also has some character red flags in the past and needs to continue to keep his aggression channeled towards basketball.

JR Reggie Bullock (DX: 50, CF: 43)

What He Does Best?

Bullock has improved immensely as a shooter to become the most efficient scorer and highest percentage shooter amongst the group. He is shooting over 43% from the arc and nearly 90% from the free throw line. Bullock is the ultimate role player and gets his team extra possessions through his work on the offensive glass and diving for loose balls. He is the best offensive rebounder of the group by a fair margin. Bullock also is very intense of the defense end and has the potential to be a very good defender in the NBA with the ability to cover both wing positions. His assist to turnover ratio is double of any other player compared here.

What He Needs to Improve?

Part of the reason why Bullock has such a good assist to turnover ratio is he doesn't attempt to make many plays off the bounce. His scoring efforts come off offensive rebounds, transition opportunities, and jumpers. That is what makes him an ultimate glue guy, but at the same time very much limits him. This year, North Carolina has needed a guy to handle to scoring load and Bullock has been unable to deliver anything different than in prior years. He is what he is as an offensive player. Bullock's possession % ranks him last among the 6 player field. His free throw rate also puts him at the bottom of the list.

SO Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (DX: 38, CF: 36)

What He Does Best?

At only 20 years old, Caldwell-Pope is easily the youngest player that we are going to look at. His team has struggled mightily during his stay, although they've been starting to play better as the young guys mature. Caldwell-Pope is actually one of the more experienced guys on the team and has had a lot of pressure as basically their only scoring option. He is a dead-eye shooter who is always ready to get his shot off and has athleticism to go along with it. Caldwell-Pope has a good first step and can pull up off a couple of dribbles going in either direction. He is very good with this type of mid-range jumper and is a good finisher at the rim. In fact, his 2-pt% is the highest amongst all 6 players we looked at. It is fairly safe to say that Kentavious is the most talented offensive player in this group. On the defensive end, Caldwell-Pope generally shows a lot of energy in defending and going after rebounds.

What He Needs to Improve?

For Caldwell-Pope, a lot of it is between the ears. He makes a lot of "freshman mistakes" still and puts up contested jumpers early in the shot clock. On his current team, you can live with that though. More concerning is his defense. Not his effort, but his understanding of positions and help defense. Caldwell-Pope is the guy who face guards you in middle school and annoys you to know end. He can shut you out of the game, but be completely oblivious to what is going on around him. Because of his style, he is prone to losing his man on cuts to the rim and he gets ran through a lot of screens. He has trouble understanding the relation between the ball and his man - something that comes naturally to most players - but for him you can tell it is something that he is constantly trying to figure out where he should be.

Offensively, he has a poor handle and struggles to make moves with a defender nearby. He relies purely on his quick first step. He isn't able to attack pick and roll - resulting in many teams blitzing him. He gets himself stuck in double teams and isn't a very good passer. He is able to get to the rim on straight line drives due to his explosiveness, but lacks any creativity to his game. He also needs to learn how to play off the ball to take advantage of his gifts.

SR Michael Snaer (DX: 53, CF: 100)

What He Does Best?

Snaer came out of high school as an All-American and has now spent four years learning defense from Leonard Hamilton. Needless to say, Snaer is a great defender who has the physical attributes along with the proper schooling to be ready to contribute ready away at the next level. He is a leader on the floor and understands the game at an advanced level. Along with the defensive expectations, Snaer has also had a lot of responsibility on the offense end of the table, especially with Ian Miller battling injuries all season long. Still, Snaer is shooting nearly 40% from 3 and over 80% from the line - something he has done each of the past two season. Snaer also racks up more assists than anyone not named Jamaal Franklin as he is often asked to be the primary playmaker as well as scorer for his team. Snaer has been able to show an all-around offensive game. He's shown the shooting, playmaking, ball handling, and leadership that make him arguably the most well rounded player we've looked at. On top of that, Snaer may be the most clutch performer in college basketball with 3 buzzer beaters this season alone to his credit.

What He Needs to Improve?

Snaer's team is in a down year with quite a few key players leaving and his numbers have dipped quite a bit as well. He trails only Jamaal Franklin when it comes to TS% while also turning it over as much as any other player besides Franklin. The difference between him and Franklin's FG% is Snaer actually can shoot from deep - where he is struggling, oddly enough, is from the mid-range area. According to hoop-math.com, he has connected on just 22% of all 2-pt jumpers. Another thing to look at though, is just 8% of the jumpers have been assisted which speaks to how much he is expected to have the ball in his hands and make plays for himself. His 2-pt % on jumper is the worst it has been in his career. Leonard Hamilton is an expert on defense, but his offense has always lagged behind and you can chalk up many of Snaer's inefficiencies to lack of offensive structure. His high turnovers also are a result on him having to do entirely too much. Snaer isn't a guy you'd generally associate as an inefficient player - he is very smooth, smart, and makes good decision with the ball - but he's been asked to do way too much this year and point guard is not his natural position.

Conclusion:

If you were to ask me who'd I'd pick first out of this group, it would be either Michael Snaer or Allen Crabbe. Right now, it seems that Jamaal Franklin is currently the favorite to be selected in that mid-first round area all these players are vying for, but I don't see much upside to his game. Snaer is a better defender, shooter, ball handler, and has a better background with no character issues. Franklin is limited by his decision making, shooting, and ball handling on offense and while his athletic highlights give the notion that he has a high upside, it is tough to overcome his shortcomings.

In looking for a shooter, Crabbe presents the most intriguing combination of saavy without the ball to go along with his ability to shoot. He isn't the defender than Reggie Bullock is, but has much more potential as a scorer.

Tim Hardaway Jr does have some upside and it is hard to count him out, but Im not sure how his style will translate to wins. His shooting still seems like somewhat of a fluke and his defense doesn't effect games. He is a guy who needs the ball in his hands and while he can put up points in the NBA, will he contribute to winning?

As for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and CJ Wilcox, Caldwell-Pope still has a long way to go in terms of learning the game. As of now, his natural feel for the game isn't very promising when looking at his future. Returning to Georgia for another season will be his best bet unless he gets a first round promise. CJ Wilcox on the otherhand, is what he is at this point and doesn't present much intrigue. He can make it in the NBA as a shooter, but there are plenty of guys out there like him that all need to find the right opportunity to succeed.

My Rankings:

1. Allen Crabbe
2. Michael Snaer
3. Reggie Bullock
4. Jamaal Franklin
5. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
6. CJ Wilcox

Out of the Mix:

Early in the season, it looked like Sean Kilpatrick had a horse in this race but he's fallen off as the season goes on. His power dribbling style doesn't translate well to the NBA and his shot hasn't been as automatic as it appeared before. He's a junior with athletic limitations.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

2013 NBA Mock Draft

1. Charlotte Bobcats - FR Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
2. Washington Wizards - FR Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV
3. Cleveland Cavaliers - SO Cody Zeller, F/C, Indiana
4. Orlando Magic - FR Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
5. New Orleans Hornets - FR Shabazz Muhammad, G/F, UCLA
6. Phoenix Suns - FR Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas
7. Oklahoma City Thunder - FR Archie Goodwin, SG, Kentucky
8. Sacramento Kings - SO Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown
9. Detroit Pistons - SO Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
10. Minnesota Timberwolves - SR CJ McCollum, G, Lehigh
11. Philadelphia 76ers - SO Alex Len, C, Maryland
12. Dallas Mavericks - 1992 Rudy Gobert, F/C, Cholet
13. Phoenix Suns (from Lakers) - FR Isaiah Austin, PF, Baylor
14. Charlotte Bobcats (from Minnesota) - SO James Michael McAdoo, PF, North Carolina
15. Boston Celtics - FR Alex Poythress, F, Kentucky
16. Atlanta Hawks (from Rockets) - SO Michael Carter-Williams, G, Syracuse
17. Utah Jazz - JR Victor Oladipo, G/F, Indiana
18. Milwaukee Bucks - FR Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan
19. Atlanta Hawks - SR Mason Plumlee, F/C, Duke
20. Brooklyn Nets - SO LeBryan Nash, SF, Oklahoma State
21. Indiana Pacers - JR Kelly Olynyk, PF, Gonzaga
22. Denver Nuggets - SR Jeff Withey, C, Kansas
23. Chicago Bulls - SR Michael Snaer, SG, Florida State
24. Utah Jazz (from Warriors) - JR Ray McCallum, PG, Detroit
25. New York Knicks - 1994 Dario Saric, F, Cibona Zagreb
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Memphis) - FR TJ Warren, F, North Carolina State
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (from Miami) - JR Doug McDermott, F, Creighton
28. Los Angeles Clippers - JR Reggie Bullock, G/F, North Carolina
29. Oklahoma City Thunder - JR Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville
30. San Antonio Spurs - SO BJ Young, G, Arkansas

31. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Bobcats) - 1993 Sergey Karasev, SF, Triumph Moscow
32. Washington Wizards - SO Tony Mitchell, F, North Texas
33. Cleveland Cavaliers - JR Phil Pressey, PG, Missouri
34. Cleveland Cavaliers (from Magic) - JR Patric Young, F/C, Florida
35. Philadelphia 76ers (from Hornets) - JR Jamaal Franklin, G/F, San Diego State
36. Phoenix Suns - JR CJ Leslie, PF, North Carolina State
37. Memphis Grizzlies (from Toronto) - SO Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G/F, Georgia
38. Sacramento Kings - SR CJ Wilcox, G/F, Washington
39. Detroit Pistons - JR Deshaun Thomas, F, Ohio State
40. Portland Trailblazers (from Minnesota) - SR Richard Howell, F/C, North Carolina State
41. Philadelphia 76ers - SR Jackie Carmichael, PF, Illinois State
42. Dallas Mavericks - SO Myck Kabongo, PG, Texas
43. Los Angeles Lakers - JR Andre Roberson, F, Colorado
44. Denver Nuggets (from Portland) - JR Russ Smith, G, Louisville
45. Portland Trailblazers (from Boston) - SR Brandon Paul, G, Illinois
46. Atlanta Hawks (from Houston) - SR Mike Muscala, F/C, Bucknell
47. Utah Jazz - JR Lorenzo Brown, PG, North Carolina State
48. Milwaukee Bucks - 1991 Bojan Dubljevic, F/C, Valencia
49. Atlanta Hawks - SR Trevor Mbawke, F/C, Minnesota
50. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Brooklyn) - 1992 Lucas Nogueira, C, Estudiantes
51. Indiana Pacers - FR Ricky Ledo, SG, Providence
52. Phoenix Suns (from Denver) - SR Rodney Williams, F, Minnesota
53. Chicago Bulls - JR Tim Hardaway Jr, SG, Michigan
54. Orlando Magic (from Warriors) - 1992 Leo Westermann, PG, Partizan
55. Washington Wizards (from Knicks) - SR Erick Green, G, Virginia Tech
56. Los Angeles Lakers (from Memphis) - SR Nate Wolters, PG, South Dakota State
57. Miami Heat - 1991 Nemanja Nedovic, G, Lietuvos Rytas
58. Detroit Pistons (from Clippers) - SR Durand Scott, G, Miami
59. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Thunder) - 1991 Oleksandr Lypovyy, SF, Donetsk
60. San Antonio Spurs - SR Isaiah Canaan, G, Murray State

Not Considered (Assuming they won't delcare):

Steven Adams
Rasheed Sulaimon
Shannon Scott
Montrezl Harrell
Khem Birch
Willie Cauley-Stein
Semaj Christon
Jarnell Stokes
Brandon Ashley
Allen Crabbe
Cory Jefferson
Gary Harris
Kevin Pangos
Dez Wells
LaQuinton Ross
Kaleb Tarczewski
Branden Dawson
CJ Fair

Top Undrafted:

Ryan Kelly
Laurence Bowers
Mike Moser
Elijah Johnson
Jack Cooley
Reggie Johnson
Pierre Jackson
Kenny Kadji
Sean Kilpatrick
Solomon Hill
James Ennis

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The 5 Best Bets in the 2013 NBA Draft

At this point in the season, things are starting to shape up to a clear enough picture that you can see what you a working with in the lottery. For me, there are 5 nearly clear cut starters that will be able to contribute sooner than later. They don't rank as my top 5 picks - but if I had a pick in the top 14, Id certainly look to put myself in position to get one.

1. Nerlens Noel

Why Noel? Noel is certainly very raw, but that doesn't mean you can't project him into a sure-fire starter by taking a small leap of faith. His defensive ability is already for the lights of the NBA which is something you can't say about many other 18 year old freshman centers ever. Right now he relies more on his outstanding physical gifts and motor, but for him, that goes a long way. Noel has been the only stable factor on this UK team all year long. It speaks volumes about his character and his understanding of his role. While Poythress gets benched because of lack of effort and Goodwin faces questions with his shot selection, Noel has been the rock inside for Kentucky all year long. Noel could have easily went down the wrong path at UK with no veteran leadership and varying success so far, but he's been everything you could want in a budding star. He has erased any concerns about who he thinks he is as a player and his work ethic is reportedly good. At this point, that is not only good enough to put faith in him as a NBA starter sometime soon - but also as the #1 overall pick.

2. Marcus Smart

Smart has been ranked as a top 5 pick on this site since November and has cemented his status ever since with strong performances in big games. Smart is not phased by these situations and has been the leader of Oklahoma State's team all season long. His leadership ability was raved about all summer long by coaches while he played for the U18 USA team. His natural leadership ability made him the easy choice for starting point guard and while he is still learning the position, he has shown plenty of potential in making plays for both him and his teammates. Smart also gets after it on the defensive end - making tons of plays and rebounding the ball - and Oklahoma State has gone from the 107th best team defensively last year to a top 20 team now (kenpom.com). Defense, leadership, maturity, excellent size, athleticism, and a good skillset are  a recipe for a player that wont let you down if you select him. And he's only 18 and brimming with potential.

3. Trey Burke

Trey Burke doesn't possess the amount of potential as the first two guys, but he is already a well-rounded and schooled point guard that can contribute right away. I don't expect Burke to go in the top 5 nor should he - but just like Kemba Walker, if Burke is to drop to the bottom of the top 10 he is an easy pick. Burke may end of National Player of the Year this year on top of leading one of the best team's in the country. He acts as both a scorer and playmaker for his teammates and can score in a variety of ways. Burke can push it in transition, finish at the rim, make plays in the halfcourt, and get his shot off the dribble. There simply is no weakness in his game and it is hard to see him not being a factor at the next level.

4. Ben McLemore

I was on McLemore quickly this year just like Smart. Some players you can just tell right away if they have something special to them. For McLemore, his mix of athleticism and shooting ability projects him very well to the next level. McLemore already has a good understanding of curling around screens and keeping himself squared to the basket to convert shots. The look of his jumper has drawn comparisons to Ray Allen. McLemore is also a big time finisher above the rim and with improved ball handling, his slashing game could become a factor as well. Right now, he is a dynamic shooter that actually has proven in college he can shoot - cough Brad Beal - which gives him a home in the NBA.

5. Cody Zeller

Zeller currently ranks lower than the rest of these guys on my rankings and that is mainly due to the lack of upside. But his basketball IQ and skillset make him the most NBA ready big man in this draft. And Zeller already has two brothers with NBA experience and it is hard to see him not being the best one. Zeller is known for his offensive skill in the post and this season his jumper that he has always said to have, is starting to show in games. What might be a surprise is what he can bring defensively for a team. Zeller is often criticize for his wingspan and lack of explosiveness, but most of the game of basketball is played away from the rim or with the idea of preventing a team from getting to the rim - and that is exactly what Zeller does. Zeller understands defense more than any other big man in this draft and is one of the few that can play NBA defense right away.


One more to consider: Otto Porter

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Michigan vs Indiana

Quick thoughts after Indiana beat Michigan 81-73 in Assembly Hall


- Cody Zeller looked like an All-American tonight. His defense gets underrated because he isn't necessarily a game changer at the next level, but he is one of the smartest big men in college basketball. I criticize a lot of center prospects for their lack of awareness on defense despite their strong physical attributes but Zeller is the opposite. He does the things that I'd like to see guys like Alex Len and Nerlens Noel do. He defends the pick and roll extremely well, protects the rim with his footwork, and plays good post defense. Zeller was also aggressive in attacking the boards on both ends of the court and finished strong on multiple putback jams.

Zeller's motor was cranked all the way up in this one and made quite a few hustle plays. He is always good at getting out in transition and going after loose balls. Indiana tends to go stretches without getting him the ball, but when he does get it, he did a great job making plays tonight. He is surprisingly quick putting the ball on the court and graceful shooting his version of the leaner. Zeller also has been connecting on his 2-pt jumpshots at a high rate recently. The hype around Zeller as a potential #1 pick has disappeared, but his value is still firmly in the lottery. Tonight's game was one of this best of his career.

- A lot of people suggested that Oladipo would garner the assignment of covering Trey Burke in this one. Oladipo started the game on Hardaway Jr and only ended up on Burke on a few possessions. Indiana was still able to slow down Burke without Oladipo . Ohio State set the blueprint on how to take away Burke's options off screens and Indiana followed suite with their own style. Will Sheehey covered Burke a lot and was able to play off him a bit and force him into jumpshots. Zeller and Watford were also big in stopping the pick and roll game - as mentioned before, Zeller is one of the best in the game at hedging on the perimeter. Burke had very little room to attack the lane and ended up having to take contested jumper after contested jumper. He finished the night shooting 9-24 from the field while half his shots came from behind the arc.

- Oladipo came out of the gate on a mission. For the first ten minutes of the game, he had Dick Vitale ready to compare him to Michael Jordan. Oladipo's athleticism and energy continue to form a magical combination that goes unmatched by anyone in the country. He was stifling on defense. He brought the ball all the way up court with a full head of steam and didn't stop until he was at the rim. Oladipo doesn't have great handles, but he manages to change directions with the ball quickly and has no problem getting by people. It seems like he is always on the verge of turning it over yet he manages to either finish it himself or find an open man out of the corner of his eye. Despite his lack of handles, Oladipo has become a great playmaker with the ball in his hands.

- Glenn Robinson finished with an 0fer tonight while playing every single minute of the game. Dick Vitale mentioned quite a few times that he needed to step up and make plays, but that just isn't his game. Robinson III has relied on Burke to break down the defense for much of the year and his lack of points was a direct result of Burke not getting into the lane. Robinson III is mainly a catch and shoot type player at this point who can also crash the boards once the defense is broken down. His lack of ability to create or step up shouldn't come as a surprise if you've watched him also season. Robinson III is a high efficient scorer, but not a creative one.

- With Jordan Morgan limited with a bad ankle, Mitch McGary was able to see the floor more and made his presence known. He did a great job denying entry passes and coming up with steals. McGary plays with a high motor, can bang in the paint, and looked good running the court in transition. He was one of the better players on the court tonight for Michigan. He continues to get more playing time and his 28 minutes was a season high - and those coming against Indiana should mean something.

- Yogi Ferrell will be one of the best point guards in the country within the next year. He was inefficient in non-conference play because he couldn't get his shots to fall, but has hit 9 long balls in his last 4 games. Ferrell is incredibly quick with great handles and looks very comfortable in pick and roll situations.