Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thoughts On The 2011 NBA Draft

The NBA Draft is tomorrow, and in the past I've basically ignored it from this blog's perspective. I certainly watch the Draft to see where players I care about go, and to see which players go to my beloved New York Knicks (yes, I loathe Isiah Thomas with every fiber of my being, so thanks for asking). I do always throw up a new bracket projection around the NBA Draft, and I will have one up in the next week. But that's it.

But this year I figure I'll write down my thoughts. I can't speak for the players that didn't play Division I basketball. I'm one of the 0.1% of Americans that cares enough about European basketball to at least check the scores and results from the Euroleague and EuroBasket on the web, but I basically never watch any games, and don't feel capable of judging these players. So for all the pre-Draft hype about a player like Bismack Biyombo, I have no educated opinion on his ability to play in the NBA.

But I do watch a ton of Division I basketball, and I do spend a lot of time projecting how players will develop, so there's no reason that I can't project tomorrow's draft picks a little bit. At the very least it will give people something to look back on and laugh at five years from now, since I'm sure I'll say at least something stupid.

The 15 Top Prospects:

The NBA always invites the top prospects to be in the "green room" during the Draft, and that list of players is here. Of those 15 players, 12 played on Division I teams last season. Here are my thoughts on a few of them:

Kyrie Irving - It might seem a bit silly to put the player expected by everybody to go #1 to be "underrated", but I'm calling him that in response to the near unanimity among draft analysts that this is a very weak draft, and that Irving is at best going to be an average starting point guard. I first of all would be hesitant to call this draft weak, since it's very hard to project that sort of thing. Typically, a draft is called "strong" if it has a superstar at the top (Oden/Durant, Derrick Rose, etc), which is a silly way to do it since about 60 other players will be selected.

I'm particularly confused by how down everybody is on Kyrie Irving. I know that he only played half a season in college, but that didn't stop plenty of people from hyping up Dwight Howard and Kwame Brown and other players who came right out of high school. Irving in particular is good at everything. He's an excellent passer and ball handler, and he's got a great head. He strikes me as very mature for somebody his age, and I expect him to be a hard worker and a team leader. He doesn't have the raw physical size or athleticism of a point guard like Derrick Rose, so I don't see an MVP in his future, but I think he's a future All-Star.

Derrick Williams - Williams is expected to go in the top four picks, but in my opinion it's insane if he drops below the second pick. Williams is 6'8", shot 42-for-74 (56.8%) behind the arc this past season, led all players from BCS conference teams in fouls drawn per 40 minutes played this past season, and is a great rebounder. He's got superb athleticism for his height. He's not a great defender yet, but he has all of the physical tools to become one, and once he does he'll be good enough to be the #2 or #3 guy on an NBA title team.

Kawhi Leonard - I can't speak for the foreign players, but of the Americans he'd be my third pick, behind Irving and Williams. Leonard does everything - he was the primary playmaker, the best scorer, the best rebounder, and the best defender on this past year's tremendously successful San Diego State team. His defense is particularly impressive in my view, and he can come into the NBA and immediately guard absolutely any guard. A lot of people don't realize how big he is - he was listed at the draft combine as 6'6", 227 pounds. To compare, Shawn Marion is listed by Dallas as 6'8", 228 pounds. So Leonard can come in and be a Marion-style defender, but with better scoring ability. Leonard can be a sixth-man off the bench as a rookie.

Klay Thompson - He's been a big time scorer since his freshman year at Washington State, but a lot of that was just volume scoring for a team that didn't have a lot of help for him. He's not a particularly efficient scorer (a 52.5 eFG% this past season), and he's not that quick for a shooting guard. The fact that he is 6'6" helped him score over college defenders, but it won't help him in the NBA. And he's never been a player who made his teammates better. His teams never won, and while part of that can be blamed on inferior teammates, I also saw that team go on too many runs with him on the bench. Not to mention the off-the-court worries with his marijuana suspension. Not only would I not take him with a Lottery Pick (Chad Ford has him going 10th overall), but I wouldn't take him with any first round pick.

Jimmer Fredette - This one pains me, because I thought that Jimmer was actually underrated by casual fans during the season. Too many people viewed him as just a white guy that shoots threes. His athleticism was tremendously underrated, and he is a very good passer. But that said, I'm shocked to see so many experts actually project him as a possible top ten pick, and say that he's a guarantee Lottery Pick. Fredette is, in my view, a little bit of a tweener player. He's projected as a point guard, but I don't think he has the quickness to be a modern NBA point guard. He's only 6'1", and will have trouble defensively against most anybody he is matched up with in the NBA. I think his ceiling is higher than a guy like JJ Redick or Kyle Korver, but there's too much risk that he'll turn out to be another one of those players. A three-point specialist simply isn't worth a Lottery Pick. I'd take Fredette if he fell to me outside the top 20 picks.

Kemba Walker - Walker was the big star of the NCAA Tournament, so he's getting a ton of hype and he's almost universally being projected to go in the top ten, and some have him in the top five. Besides the fact that guys whose stock soar during the NCAA Tournament have a tendency to flop in the NBA because of the fallacy of judging a player on a really small sample size, there are a bunch of reasons to be down on Walker. He's only 5'11", which means that many point guards are going to tower over him and make it difficult for him to shoot. He scored a lot of points and created a lot of highlights in college, but that was because he had the ball in his hand and was asked to make the play on almost 100% of possessions while on the floor. He will have to be more efficient with less of the ball in the NBA. He's an average-at-best defender, and he's a poor outside shooter (33% on 227 threes taken this past season). Other than his ball handling skills, I don't see what he's supposed to be elite at. After Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight is the only other big time point guard prospect this year, in my opinion. If those two are gone and you've got to take a point guard, I'd probably take Norris Cole before I'd take Walker. I'd even view Isaiah Thomas as basically the same player as Walker, and he's projected to go in the mid-to-late 2nd round, mostly because he played in the Pac-10 instead of the Big East, and because he didn't have a glamor run through the NCAA Tournament.

Marcus Morris - He was a good college player, but I'm very surprised to see everybody taking him as a top ten pick. He'll probably drop no further than 12th no matter what happens. I just don't get why anybody think he's ever going to be an NBA starter. What is his skill? He's 6'7", 230 pounds, which makes him about halfway in size between Derrick Williams (6'7 1/4", 248) and Klay Thompson (6'6", 206). Carmelo Anthony is 6'8", 230, as is Rudy Gay. Even classic "undersized bigs" that succeed despite struggling against bigger players are much bigger than Marcus Morris, such as Carlos Boozer (6'9", 266) and Zach Randolph (6'9", 260). What has anybody seen from him that makes them think he can play small forward at the NBA level? He's a power forward who is way too small to play power forward. There's no way I'd spend a Lottery Pick on him.

Late First/Early Second Round Picks:

Isaiah Thomas - I'm a big Isaiah Thomas fan (despite his name - see above). I know that he's only 5'9", but Kemba Walker is only 5'11", and it's not like you'd be spending a Lottery Pick on Thomas. What Thomas did in the Pac-10 tournament this past season was remarkable (you can read my take on it here). He's a great scorer and playmaker, has improved rapidly throughout his three seasons at Washington, and is a great clutch performer. His height will keep him from ever being a superstar, but he can be an explosive player off the bench for a good NBA team. If I was picking late in the first round I'd definitely grab him.

Marshon Brooks - He probably compares closest to Klay Thompson. They're both shooting guards who dominated the ball for inferior teams, and they're only an inch apart in height. But Brooks had teammates that were even worse than Thompson, played better competition in a better conference, and was a more efficient scorer. He's also quicker and didn't rely on using his height to score. And Brooks developed more during his career than Thompson, who was a star right away as a freshman. It's insane to me that so many people are projecting Thompson above Brooks. To me, it's a lock that Brooks will be the better pro.

Kenneth Faried - With draft picks you can talk about ceilings, and I'll readily admit that Faried is unlikely to be a superstar. There are plenty of other players in this draft with a higher ceilings. But to me, Faried is a sure thing. He's going to be an outstanding rebounder, he will provide toughness, he'll be a solid defender, and a high quality character. I'll be surprised if when all is said and done, he doesn't end up being one of the ten best players from this draft. I know that his rebounding numbers were inflated by his weak competition, but rebounding is also the skill that always translates best from college to the NBA, and he did dominate the paint against Louisville in the NCAA Tournament. I'd take him with any pick outside the top ten, unless I already had elite rebounding on my team and a guy like Marshon Brooks was still available.

Norris Cole - Very unknown because he played at Cleveland State, but he was quite the star there. He's a good scorer, a great passer, and an excellent defender. He did absolutely everything for a Cleveland State program that hadn't made a postseason tournament in almost 20 years before he showed up, and won a conference title, won an NCAA Tournament game, and also made a pair of NITs before he left. He doesn't have the size or speed to be an NBA star, and he's going to have to work on his outside shooting to be a successful NBA player, but there's no way I'd let him get out of the first round.

Josh Selby - His stock has dropped like a rock, but he's still being projected to go in the middle of the first round by a lot of people. I think I've seen him projected to go to my Knicks with the 17th pick more than any other player, and I'm begging them not to do it. He was disappointing after all the hype he got, and didn't even start down the stretch for Kansas. He definitely needs another year or two at the college level before he'll be ready for the NBA, which means there's a real chance he'll end up in the NBDL. He dominated high school ball, but he doesn't have a skill that was even good at the college level. He wasn't one of the best perimeter defenders on Kansas, he's not a good passer, and he's not a good shooter for a guard (36.2% behind the arc). His 93.8 Pomeroy ORtg made him by far the least efficient offensive player on Kansas (every other player in the 11 man rotation had an ORtg over 100). There's no chance I'd spend a first round pick on him.

Nicola Vucevic - Like Marcus Morris, when I looked at the first mock drafts this spring I was shocked to see how high he was being projected. He's seen as a borderline Lottery Pick, and it's looking unlikely he'll survive the top 20 picks. The only rationale appears to be that of the top 100 prospects, he's the biggest (6'10 1/4", 260 pounds). But first of all, that height was a lot smaller than he was listed in college (as a 7-footer), and he's never played up to his size. He likes to play on the wing and takes a lot of jump shots, and he's a good-but-not-great rebounder. He can score, but no NBA team is going to run their offense through him, even on a second unit. He's going to get out-muscled by NBA power forwards, and isn't a good enough scorer to make up for that. I know that this draft is weak at the center position, but that's not an excuse to take a guy 20+ spots above where he deserves.

The Rest:

Jordan Williams - It's looking unlikely that Williams will go before the middle of the second round, and I think he'll be a steal there. He's going to be an undersized power forward (6'8" 247), but he's been a guy who always played bigger than his real size. He's tough and physical, and has an array of ways to score in the paint. I don't know how somebody who watched him and Nicola Vucevic play would take Vucevic over him. Vucevic is 2.5 inches taller, but if you didn't have a tape measure and just watched them play you'd have sworn that Williams was taller. And Williams dominated the ACC while Vucevic was just a good Pac-10 player. I'd definitely take Williams first.

David Lighty - I know that he was part of the Thad Five, and it feels like he was a 9th year senior this past season, but I don't get why NBA teams dramatically downgrade a prospect just because they're a year or two too old. Lighty is going to be a glue guy in the NBA. JaJuan Johnson was picked as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, but my pick would have been Lighty. And he's improved dramatically as an outside shooter (up to 42.9% behind the arc as a senior). Every team wants to have a guy who can defend both guards and small forwards well and can stand in the corner and hit threes. He will end up being one of the first guys off the bench for good NBA teams for the next decade. You're saying that's not good value for a late first round pick? Instead he probably won't even get taken at all.

Jon Leuer - He won't be physically ready to play big minutes his first year or two in the NBA, but he's still growing into his body. He was measured a true 6'10" at the Draft combine and will be even better when he adds 20 pounds of muscle. He's athletic enough to drive the lane, and can step outside and hit threes (37% on 146 attempts as a senior). He won't ever be an NBA star and he is not very good defensively, so I wouldn't spend a lottery pick on him, but he'll end up being a better NBA player than most of the players taken in the latter half of the first round, despite the fact that he'll almost certainly fall to the second round himself.

Matt Howard - I wouldn't spend a first round pick on him, but the fact that I haven't seen a mock draft yet that has him even being picked in the second round seems ridiculous to me. He doesn't have the athleticism to be a star, but he's a tough rebounder, a very good passer, a good outside shooter (39.8% behind the arc as a senior) and a high-effort/high-character player. I'd be ready to put him at the back end of my nine-man rotation right away if I was an NBA coach. It's a mistake that scouts often assume that 18-19 year olds will develop but 21-22 year olds won't . Howard is the perfect example of a guy who improved leaps and bounds between his junior and senior years, and there's no reason he won't continue to improve, particularly with the passion he plays with. I'd take him early in the second round.

LaceDarius Dunn - The fact that there are some mock drafts that have him getting picked at all makes me wonder if those people ever watched him play. There's no chance I'd let him on my team. He's a ball hog who doesn't know how to pass despite the fact that he's an inefficient scorer, and he punched his girlfriend in the mouth and broke her jaw. I even called for Baylor to bench him during the season. There is no upside. Don't touch him.

Jereme Richmond - If I'm an NBA team, I never draft a guy who can't even start for his college team. He was a big high school recruit, but not as big as Josh Selby, and he was even more of a disappointment during the season than Selby was. He scored only 7.6 points per game, with 5.0 rebounds per game and as many turnovers as assists. I don't even know what his skill is - he wasn't one of the best shooters, scorers, passers, rebounders or defenders on Illinois. He needs at least another year or two in college, and is almost a lock to go straight to the NBDL for a couple of years. I wouldn't take him even with the last pick in the NBA Draft.

DeMetri McCamey - I'm going back to Illinois for probably the single most disappointing player in the Big Ten last season. McCamey does not give good effort, he has a bad attitude (to the point that he was benched many times in his career) and hasn't developed at all since being a really good freshman (I was actually really high on him a few years ago). But he needs to get better to make an NBA roster, and if anything he's regressed over the past two years. There's no chance I'd spend a draft pick on him.

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