Monday, June 24, 2013

Previewing The 2013 NBA Draft

The summer is always a slow time for a college basketball blog. There just isn't a lot of news to talk about. The one time college basketball gets back into the news is around the NBA Draft. So... let's talk NBA Draft.

The past two seasons I have done this same type of NBA Draft preview. You can see those here and here.

Here's how we're going to do this. I'm going to separate out prospects into three groups: "Green Room Guys", "Late 1st/Early 2nd Round Guys" and "Everybody Else". The first group is obvious. The second group is guys that might slip into the Lottery, might fall into the 2nd round, but really should get drafted. The third group is guys who will likely either go in the 2nd round or won't be drafted at all.

I don't ever really watch European basketball, but I do watch a hell of a lot of college basketball. Throw that in with the advanced stats that we have at our disposal these days and I think we can have a more well-rounded look at these prospects than you'll see from NBA writers, who are often just going off of highlight reels.

So let's get into these:

Green Room Guys:
Cody Zeller - The list of "Green Room Guys" this year is here. I don't think my regular readers are too surprised to see Zeller here. I've been banging the drum for him all season long. Coming back for a sophomore season after such a good freshman season meant basically a no-win situation for a player like Zeller. He was blamed for every loss his team had, yet never got any credit for wins (that typically went to Oladipo, who understood the art of slapping the ground a lot.... seriously, if you're a young player and want to get praise from announcers, slap the floor a lot on defense).

Indiana's point guard situation was really mediocre, and the team did a bad job of getting him the ball. But when he did get the ball he was a very efficient scorer. He also is a really good all-around player - he can rebound, defend and pass. And he's an excellent athlete - watch clips of him running fast breaks at Indiana. Barring some terrible injury, it's hard to see how Zeller doesn't become a regular NBA starter. Best case scenario for him is an All-Star. In this year's draft, I wouldn't let him get out of the Top 5.

CJ McCollum - If McCollum had gotten to play in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, his stock really might have taken off. He's just a great pure scorer. He is a really strong shooter, but also really reminds me of Marquette-era Dwyane Wade with his ability to beat his man, attack the lane and dunk on anybody in his way. Despite barely playing this past season, he still had the chance to blow me away in that game against Baylor. The Bears have an NBA front court in terms of athleticism and length, and they focused their entire defense on stopping McCollum, yet CJ attacked over and over again and torched them for 42 points. Just incredible.

If I had the #1 pick in the Draft this year I'd probably take Nerlens Noel, because the tiebreaker is his injury (i.e. a much higher 2014 draft pick). But after Noel, you can make a really strong argument for McCollum at #2. It's realistic that McCollum could end up the most successful NBA player out of this draft class.

Alex Len - The fewer college basketball games you watch, the more you like Alex Len. If you watch 5 minutes of highlights from the 2012-13 basketball season, or you watch him at a draft workout in a gym, he's a guy who blows you away. He's a 7-footer with tremendous athleticism. The problem is, he was just invisible most of the season. I watched a lot of Maryland games this past season, and what you'd often see would be two or three incredibly plays by Len, and then 20 minutes later he'd make another tremendous play and you'd wonder if he had been sitting on the bench the past 20 minutes.

In his final 19 games of the season, he scored more than 10 points just 7 times, never scored more than 20 points, and had more than 10 rebounds in a game just once. Against ACC opponents, Len averaged 10.8 ppg, 48.4 FG%, 8.1 rpg and 1.7 bpg. This is a guy who's supposed to be a Top 5 draft pick? Len reminds me a lot of Meyers Leonard from last year. Leonard was another 7-footer with tremendous athleticism who really wasn't very productive in college basketball yet was a lottery pick. In what was not a surprise to me, Leonard really didn't produce much as an NBA rookie this past season. Expect Len to be the same type of disappointment.

Anthony Bennett - Honestly, I don't think Bennett really is that overrated. With the green room reduced to ten players this year, the average quality is higher than usual. The only player I'm really down on is Alex Len. But if I have to pick a second guy, I think it has to be Bennett. Anthony Bennett has really gotten a ton of buzz, and is likely going to be the second or third pick in the draft. I have two worries about him. The first is that he didn't blow me away with his production. Bennett is a really strong athlete, but he's not a great scorer. UNLV as a whole had a pretty mediocre offense (0.96 PPP in conference play). Bennett is a strong rebounder and a decent defender for his size, but at 6'8" you'd really like him to be a better perimeter defender. There's a real risk that he'll turn into a guy in between positions. He's worth a lottery pick, but I'd definitely take guys like McCollum and Zeller first.

Late 1st/Early 2nd Round Guys:

Shabazz Muhammad - A year ago, it seemed safe to assume that Muhammad was going to be one of the most overrated players in the nation. He was a hyped recruit, he was playing for UCLA, and his eligibility issues were making national news. Yet once he became eligible he disappeared from the news, and when it turned out that he is a year older than he had said he was his draft stock just tanked. The thing that is forgotten is that Muhammad played really, really well this past season. On an impossibly thin UCLA team, he bore nearly the entire load (only Jordan Adams picked up any significant playmaking and scoring). He really reminds me a whole lot of James Harden in his playing style and talents. There's a good chance that he won't be picked in the lottery and he could fall into the second round, and that would be a huge mistake. I think you'll see Muhammad on an NBA All-Star team one day. I wouldn't let him drop out of the top ten.

Kelly Olynyk -Olynyk was probably the most improved player in the nation this past season, which is always a good thing to look for in a draft pick. Of all the big men in the draft, he's the best passer, and he's an offensive efficiency monster. He will be a good offensive player in the NBA. If there are concerns about him, it's his ability to play defense against NBA 7-footers, but he got a lot better at that this past season, too. I think that about 25 different NBA teams should feel comfortable taking him in the middle of the first round and plugging him in the starting lineup almost immediately.

Jeff Withey - My regular readers knew this was coming. Withey was maybe the most underrated player in the nation during the 2011-12 season. He got more attention during his senior season, but not nearly enough. Withey is probably the best defensive big man I have seen in the past decade in college basketball. Let me give you some stats to make that argument: Withey was basically the only big man on his team, first of all. The only other regular over 6'6" on Kansas weighed 190 pounds. So by himself Withey anchored a defense that led the nation in 2P% and eFG% defense, and was second in the nation in blocks per game. The 2P% shooting Kansas allowed (39.3%) was the best by any Division I team since the 2005-06 Kansas Jayhawks. In the last four seasons, three different teams have held opponents below 40.0% on twos, and two of those three teams had Jeff Withey.

Not only is Withey a monstrous shot blocker and shot re-router, but he's an incredibly smart defender - his 2.7 fouls/40 minutes are staggeringly low for a player his size who is so aggressive defensively. You never see Withey get caught with dumb fouls 15-25 feet away from the basket like you see so often from young big men. And I know, he's a senior, but he's also a player who has gotten significantly better during each of his four seasons. There's no reason to think Withey is not going to continue to improve once he gets into the NBA. Worst case scenario, in my opinion, is Nick Collison (who himself is one of the most underrated players in the NBA). If he drops out of the lottery, he's a steal.

Reggie Bullock - Bullock is not as much of a slam dunk as the previous few guys, but I do think he's going to be a really good value if he slips (as expected) into the mid-to-late 20s in the draft. Bullock was a junior this past season, which always hurts a player's draft stock, but he improved a whole lot during each of his college seasons. This is the same argument I made for Jeff Withey, by the way. To me, age isn't the be-all end-all. Some guys get to college and don't improve over three or four years, but others keep improving each season. The latter players are likely to keep improving in the NBA, while the former are not. Bullock was a guy who improved dramatically, particularly his shooting, throughout his three seasons. He and PJ Hairston were why UNC overcame a disappointing start to the 2012-13 season to be one of the 20 best teams in the nation late in the season. They could have made an NCAA Tournament run if not given a brutal Round of 32 draw against Kansas. Bullock isn't a guy to expect a ton from as a rookie, but if he goes to a team that really preaches defense he has the raw athletic talent to be a strong two-way player.


Shane Larkin - Larkin is a popular dark horse draft pick with the media. There's a good chance that he'll slide all the way up into the lottery. And to me, this is nuts. There are a lot of warning signs with Larkin. First of all, beware players who have a famous father - particularly one who is attached to ESPN. Sometimes it works out, but more often than not you end up with Austin Rivers. Larkin was a good player, but he wasn't really much of a scorer. He was a distributor who didn't often look for his own shot. At 5'10", he's awfully small for an NBA player who doesn't have overwhelming speed. He did improve a lot between his freshman and sophomore seasons, which is a good sign, but why isn't that also an argument for a guy like Reggie Bullock, who was better in 2012-13 than Larkin?. Larkin's play was overrated by the media all season long (his making second team AP All-American over Erick Green was an absolute joke), and he's being overrated heading into the draft. He's a big time stay away.

Jamaal Franklin - Franklin is a player who has the potential to be an NBA starter someday, but that's just his ceiling. Despite playing three years of college basketball, he's still awfully raw and he has a lot to learn to be a quality NBA player. To me, that's a serious concern for where he's being projected (around the 20th overall pick). Franklin is a terrible shooter who relies on getting to the rim and getting to the line. That's going to be a lot harder in the NBA, where teams will play off him and force him to clank jumpers off the back of the rim. He's athletic enough to be a strong defender someday but, again, that's going to take some work. For the 20th pick in the draft, I would either want a higher ceiling (i.e. Shabazz Muhammad) or a greater certainty of NBA success (i.e. Jeff Withey). Franklin is a stay away until the 2nd round, in my opinion.

Tony Mitchell - This might be the biggest stay away of them all. The fact that Mitchell is currently projected by Chad Ford to go to my New York Knicks at 24th overall scares the hell out of me. Mitchell is 21 years old, and here were his stats this past season against the Sun Belt Conference: 10.9 ppg, 39.2 FG%, 8.1 rpg. Really? A guy who scores 11 points per game against the Sun Belt and who had a Pomeroy ORtg under 100 as a 20-21 year old is a first round pick? Throw in his off-court issues and I wouldn't even spend a second round pick on Tony Mitchell.

Everybody Else:

Erick Green -Erick Green might have been the most underrated player in the nation this past season. Of the three main All-America teams (AP, USBWA, NABC), Green managed to slip onto one of them, on the third team. When he won the ACC Player of the Year, the media seemed shocked that he won over Shane Larkin. In reality, Green was far and away the best player in the ACC and it wasn't even close. One thing that the media often gets wrong about players on bad teams is that they think it's easy for them to run up stats, and so the criticism of his ACC POY award was that he just got it for all of the points he scored per game. And that is true in some cases, but Green was actually staggeringly efficient. Being on a bad team makes that harder because the entire opposition is only trying to stop you. Everybody knew Green was going to try to take every shot, yet he still scored more efficiently than almost anybody in the country.

Despite taking 33% of his team's shots while on the floor, he had a 120 ORtg. The only player in the nation to have a higher ORtg while bearing that large of a load for their team's offense was Doug McDermott. Shane Larkin, who the media thought was the best player in the ACC, had a 117.2 ORtg despite taking only 21.4% of his team's shots while on the floor. Yes, Green was a senior this past season and is only 6'3", so his ceiling is limited. But I haven't seen anybody projecting him even as a first round pick. I wouldn't spend a lottery pick on him, but I think Green would be a really nice value late in the first round.

Mike Muscala - It's always a little bit questionable to like big men from tiny conferences. Nobody really challenged Muscala in the Patriot League, and he'll be taking a really big step up in opposition in the NBA, but it's hard to deny how good he has been the past few years. He is an efficient scorer and an awfully good rebounder, particularly on the offensive end. He just has really nice instincts, and I don't think I saw a player all season who had more regular offensive put-backs. He's just a really instinctual player. Don't expect Muscala to be an NBA All-Star, but he's about as much of a sure thing as there will be in the second round.

DeShaun Thomas - I understand the criticism of Thomas. He plays "old man basketball" and isn't a very good defender, but I don't see how you can overlook how good he is offensively. In terms of pure offensive scorers in college basketball this past season, I think you can make a good case that Thomas was second in the nation only to Trey Burke. And that defense, while not great, did come a long way this past season. He should continue to improve there, as well as on the glass. If you look at Thomas's shooting percentages they don't blow you away, but it's because he was Ohio State's entire offense. There were no other real scorers on the roster, and Thomas was always the focal point of the opposition (not too dissimilar to Erick Green, although not to the same extreme - Green's teammates were terrible).

Thomas took 32.2% of his team's shots while on the floor. To put that in perspective, the only players from BCS conferences to take more of their team's shots this past season were Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Erick Green and Russ Smith. There's a realistic chance that Thomas won't get drafted at all. In my opinion, he'd be a good value anywhere in the second round.

Pierre Jackson - Here we go again with Baylor point guards. Every Scott Drew team is loaded with super talented big men who can't get the ball because his point guards try to do everything themselves. Jackson is LaceDarius Dunn all over again. He shows flashes of greatness, but mostly he's just a ball hog. At 5'9" without a jump shot, and turning 22 years old this summer, I just don't see the upside.

CJ Leslie - Leslie reminds me of the worst parts of Alex Len. He has a few tremendous highlights each game, but they come so rarely. He disappeared for long stretches of games, and was only the third best player on an NC State team that was really only bubble quality. The best big man on that team was Richard Howell, not Leslie, and it wasn't even that close. Leslie is worth taking a shot on in the mid-to-late 2nd round, but he might actually end up a first round pick. That will be terrible value.