Thursday, June 26, 2014
Once again it's time for the biggest night of the G:TB year, NBA Draft night. For whatever the reasons, the night of the NBA Draft almost always draws a large and possibly intoxicated crowd in the comments. It probably shouldn't come as a surprise given all that the NBA Draft entails…hugs, tears, trades, truly regrettable sartorial choices (we're not just talking about the draftees here), vicious booing of the NBA Commissioner (Get ready, Silver. You can't hide behind David Stern anymore) and the occasional draftee emerging from the stands. I'm getting excited already.
This year promises to bring us all (or most) of that and more. Unlike recent years which saw some extremely uninspiring crops of prospects, this year's draft is loaded. Featuring both elite talent near the top and possibly the deepest overall group of prospects in a decade.
On a personal note, I've been locked into draft coverage even more than usual because my Orlando Magic have two picks in the draft's top 12. Of course, as luck (?) would have it, the recent injury to presumed #1 pick Joel Embiid has completely changed the landscape of this year's draft at nearly the last minute. It once seemed like a lock that the Magic would take Australian guard Dante Exum at #4. In anticipation of that I watched approximately 40 hours of Dante Exum clips on YouTube over the past couple of months and, as a result, had completely talked myself into him. Now it's looking more and more likely that Exum will be gone by the time the Magic make their first selection and nearly as likely that I'll be pissed off at whatever that selection is. But enough about me. Well, that's not true. More about me actually. As always, here's my list of potential draftees I like/Don't Like/ Have No Clue How About.
Nik Stauskas (Michigan) - Stauskas is the player I had targeted as my personal favorite for the Magic's pick at 12. Of course, because the Magic can't have nice things. it now seems that Stauskas has built up enough momentum over the last month that it's likely he won't be available at 12. Either way, I love Stauskas' current game and future potential. He already has an NBA ready skill as a shooter. He can catch and shoot as well as make shots off the dribble. He's 6'6" and showed himself to be a much better athlete during his sophomore season at Michigan than most originally thought. Further, Stauskas improved immensely as a ball handler and passer over the past year. This is a pretty deep draft for shooting guards (which is currently the weakest position in terms of depth in the NBA) and Stauskas is the best among them. Did I mention he can shoot?
PJ Hairston (UNC/D-League) - Another shooting guard. If Hairston had played at UNC this year he'd be a lottery pick. As it is, he ended up getting kicked off the team at UNC. As a result, Hairston has been dinged by scouts over character concerns. Essentially, Hairston was kicked off the Tarheels for smoking weed and not having enough common sense to avoid being pulled over (repeatedly) for speeding in a car an agent's runner rented for him (multiple times). Neither of these concern me much. Hairston ended up playing in the D-League this season where he averaged over 21 ppg on 45% shooting and 36% shooting from 3. He's 6'5', athletic, a rugged defender, as well as a terrific rebounding guard. If a team gets Hairston in the 20s then they're getting a steal.
Elfrid Payton (Lousiana-Lafayette) - I first became aware of Payton when he played for the Billy Donovan coached USA Basketball team at last summer's U-19 World Championships. Payton was the last player invited to the tryouts after his coach lobbied hard for his inclusion after Payton wasn't invited to the Chris Paul Nike Skills camp. Payton showed up to tryouts, beat out a number of higher profile players and eventually ended up starting every game for the gold medal winning team. This past season, Payton led the NCAA in free throw attempts per game while leading Lousiana-Lafayette to the NCAA Tournament. He has reportedly been extremely impressive in predraft workouts. Taking on all comers and more than holding his own. Payton still needs to improve his jumpshot and I'd love him more if he was slated to go in the mid-teens to 20s like he was just a month ago but he's still only 20 with great size for a PG and is a lockdown defender.
Julius Randle (Kentucky) - This is largely about value. Randle has gone from being a projected top 3 pick to somebody that may fall out of the top 10. That's ridiculous. While Randle isn't Zach Randolph (that's a lazy comparison because both are left handed, tough post players), I don't' believe their are 10 players better than him in this draft. Like most young players, he still has to learn how to diversify his offensive arsenal as well as become a better passer against double teams. With that said, he's a true post presence in a league where that is becoming increasingly rare. It's also my belief he did less than he's fully capable of this past season at Kentucky because of the makeup of that team (if he wasn't playing on the block then nobody was). He may struggle to finish over NBA length and athleticism early on but he's skilled enough to figure that out.
Aaron Gordon (Arizona) - Here's all the things wrong with Gordon: He can't shoot (42% from the line as a freshman), he doesn't have a defined position and he is somewhat slight of build. Here's why I don't care about these things: He's 6'9" and amongst the best athletes in this draft. He has elite lateral quickness and vertical explosiveness. He's a beast on the glass and already a very good and versatile defensive player. He's also billed as a great kid and an extremely hard worker. He has an older brother who was first team All Mountain West at New Mexico after transferring from UCLA and now plays in Europe. Finally, he's 19. It's my belief that Gordon will become a better shooter. Certainly adequate enough to force defenses to guard him in certain areas of the floor Ultimately, he's big and athletic enough to play some time at each forward position. As the NBA continues to evolve to a more wide open, somewhat position-less game this defensive versatility is extremely valuable. I think he has a great chance at being Shawn Marion 2.0 (possibly better). If a team gets that between 8-12 in this draft they'll be happy.
Joel Embiid (Kansas) - This is all about injuries. I had Embiid in the 'Like' category until his second major injury of the predraft process. Now I'm like nearly every other person evaluating him. I'm scared he'll never be fully right physically. If he is, he and Anthony Davis will be the two most dominant big men in the league in 5 years. If he's not, he might not even be in the league by that point.
Gary Harris (Michigan State) - Depending on who you ask, Harris is either the #1 or 2 ranked shooting guard in this draft. I, however, just don't see it. He's a bit undersized, isn't a great athlete and doesn't excel at creating shots off the dribble. He's billed as a shooter but he's far from a knock down shooter like Stauskas or Doug McDermott. When I watched Michigan State I rarely ever found him to be their most impactful player. He's slated to go in the lottery. I think he's more of a mid to late first round type of talent.
Rodney Hood (Duke) - Hood is too one dimensional for my tastes in Small Forwards. Scouts see his size (6'9") and his frame and project what he can become. I see a player who created very few shots off the dribble in college and wonder how he changes that against bigger, more athletic players. Hood will be a decent NBA player but I doubt he's ever anything better than a fifth banana (at best) on a good NBA team.
Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) - Saying that I "don't like" Ennis is probably too strong. I do, however, struggle to see what makes him a good to great starting PG in the NBA. While Ennis plays with nice pace and knows how to run a team I don't think he's quick enough to consistently get in the lane or (more importantly) keep other PGs out of the lane. Ennis also, at this point, isn't a good enough shooter to keep teams honest and space the floor when he spots up. Ennis reminds me of a poor man's Jose Calderon at this point. He's efficient, won't make a ton of mistakes and will get you into your offense but I don't believe he's a difference maker on either end of the floor.
Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee) - Stokes is a rebounding machine and rebounding (along with blocks) generally translates from college to the pros. I'm not sure what else he does in the NBA though. He's only 6'8" (though he does have a 7'1" wingspan) and he doesn't get off the floor all the well. He has good hands and is tough but he mostly played Center at Tennessee. I believe Stokes will carve out a niche for himself but he lacks a consistent jump shot or the size/athleticism to guard other 4s in the NBA. At this point, Stokes reminds me a lot of DeJuan Blair. Not a bad player, but not somebody worth a mid first round pick in a draft this deep.
No Damn Clue
Zach Lavine (UCLA) - This draft's ultimate boon or bust prospect. He has great size (6'6"), a good stroke and played PG in high school so he possesses a strong handle and creativity off the dribble. On top of that, he's in the conversation with Andrew Wiggins and Aaron Gordon as the draft's most athletic player. However, he didn't start at UCLA and averaged less than 10 points a game as a freshman. He could be an All-Star in five years or he could be out of the league. Somebody's going to gamble on him in the top 20 and I doubt they'll feel good about it.
Kyle Anderson (UCLA) - Basically the exact opposite of his former teammate, Lavine. His nickname is Slo Mo for two reasons. First, he plays with a slow, methodical pace that's unlike few, if any, players around. Secondly, it's because he's actually slow. Like, really slow. Point forward is a terribly overused term but Anderson actually is. He's probably the best passer in the entire draft (6.5 assts/gm). The closest comparison to him is a better shooting, less lazy Boris Diaw. So, the lack of speed isn't a huge problem on offense. Defense is another story. Most question whether he can guard anyone in the NBA. His coach at UCLA, Steve Alford, is a Bob Knight disciple and thus never plays zone. Ever. Until this year at UCLA where they played zone almost exclusively. That had a lot to do with Anderson. He's 6'9" but he's frail and he's slow. I believe he can be successful in the NBA but much of that will be determined by where he ends up and if he has a coach that can properly utilize his strengths offensively while also hiding him defensively.
Mitch McGary (Michigan)- He hasn't played in a year due to back surgery and when he last played he was riding the wave of a really good six to ten game stretch following a somewhat underwhelming freshman season for such a highly touted prospect. He's also already 23 and just 6'9" with decent but not ideal athleticism for an undersized big man. Is he rugged enough to give a team minutes as an undersized center? Does he shoot it well enough to play in the high post?
Cleanthony Early (Wichita St) - Another guy who's old for his class (sophomore) at 23 years old. He played great against Kentucky in the NCAA Tourney but hasn't shown himself to be a consistent shooter or someone who creates shots off the dribble. If he can't create shots as a small forward then he has to become a knock down shooter on corner 3s, at the least. He's a big, strong athlete but he's also making a major jump in competition level on a night in/night out basis. If he becomes a more consistent shooter he can be the "3 and D" guy that NBA teams covet in their wing players. If not? Better get that passport updated.
TJ Warren (NC State) - I'm not sure what TJ Warren does really well. Make no mistake, having a definable elite skill is a large part of succeeding in the NBA for second and third tier prospects. Warren was a prolific scorer at NC State and was a constant matchup nightmare for ACC defenders. But will he be able to exploit mismatches as the competition becomes bigger, stronger and more athletic? He shot 27% from 3 in college and won't blow you away with his speed or leaping ability. He has a knack for finding ways to score but how does that translate when you're not the #1 or 2 option for your team offensively? Playing in an uptempo system like Phoenix or Denver would be a good match for him.
Come join me in the comments and tell me how wrong/stupid I am.