To those of you who are used to the format, welcome back.
For those who are not familiar with how I do draft work, here’s a short synopsis: I do two distinct mock drafts, one of which is the Predictions mock and the other which is what I would do if I were the GM of each team. For this time, I have not put in trades on either mock, but they will be in soon. After that, I have my 67 player deep Draft Board, which is a semi-exhaustive list of draft-eligible players. This year, that list includes a ton of guys who are eligible but declined to enter, so it gives a sort of prospective on who to keep an eye on and where those guys would stand.
At the outset, I’d like to note how bad of a draft we have this year. Below the Draft Board, I have included for the first time my tier rankings, which basically group players based on how good I think they will be in their prime. The most jarring part is that there is a total of one Tier 1 draft-eligible player (Rubio) and a very, very small number of Tier 2 guys. The number of fringe starters and rotation players is not horrendously off of the average draft, but the top being so weak pushes those players much higher this time. A good basic rule is that outside of the top few picks, moving everyone down 8 slots would put them where they would go in an above-average year.
Predictions Mock (no trades projected this time):
- LA Clippers– Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma. No surprises here. I don’t doubt that the Clippers are listening to offers, but I doubt they actually move the pick.
- Memphis Grizzlies– Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn. My take is that they see Rubio’s threat as credible (mostly because it is) and take the guy that is #2 on their board, which apparently is Mr. Thabeet.
- OKC Thunder– James Harden, SG, Arizona State. A much better fit between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, plus he still keeps the possibility alive of trading for Tyson Chandler, which is a serious possibility.
- Sacramento Kings– Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain. There would be no happier fanbase, and it has a serious likelihood of happening if Memphis passes (which I think they will). What Sacto needs to watch out for is being jumped by Minnesota, Golden State, or the Knicks, especially since Sam Presti has no problem accumulating assets coupled with the knowledge that neither the Kings nor the Wizards would realistically take Harden.
- Washington Bullets– Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona. The likely BPA on their board also makes sense if they are considering moving Antawn Jamison, as has been heavily rumored.
- Minnesota Timberwolves– Jrue Holliday, PG/SG, UCLA. An incredibly hard pick to project at this time, but they end up settling on Jrue because he is a good fit next to Randy Foye as a primary ballhandler with size. Honestly, there are about 5 guys who would not remotely surprise me at this pick, so we’ll have to wait and see.
- Golden State Warriors– Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy. If he is around, it would be genuinely shocking to see the Warriors go in any other direction should they have the pick.
- New York Knicks– Stephen Curry, PG/SG, Davidson. There is ZERO chance that if Curry is around he falls past the Knicks. He is a solid fit off the bench for next season and as a starter once the 2010 class gets sorted out.
- Toronto Raptors– Tyreke Evans, SG/PG, Memphis. A pretty solid fit, though there is the possibility of DeJuan Blair if the Bosh situation clears itself up before draft day.
- Milwaukee Bucks– DeJuan Blair, PF, Pitt. If they are losing Charlie V (and signs indicate that they will), Blair is a natural fit next to Bogut. Obviously, PG is a possibility here, but I see them going after a more established PG like Kirk Hinrich over a rookie who is a little ways away.
- New Jersey Nets– Austin Daye, SF/PF, Gonzaga. Gives the Nets even more length on the perimeter and a guy who they can work along slowly as the rest of the team comes together.
- Charlotte Bobcats– Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke. If it were any other team, I’d have DeMar DeRozan here, but Charlotte has shown a penchant for taking guys like Henderson both under the Jordan regime and during the rest of Bob Johnson’s tenure with the team.
- Indiana Pacers– Earl Clark, PF/SF, Louisville. Considering the wealth of talent already on the Indiana roster, a flexibile guy like Clark who would be perfect in Obie’s system makes a great deal of sense. Don’t rule out a backcourt player here, but I think they like Ford and Rush enough to not rock the boat with another lotto pick.
- Phoenix Suns– DeMar DeRozan, SG, U$C. Because he’d be a great fit for their team and an absolute (perceived) bargain at this point.
- Detroit Pistons– Terrance Williams, SG, Louisville. Williams screams “Dumars player” to me: he’s great defensively and is flexible enough to do a lot of different things as he retools their roster.
- Chicago Bulls– Jeff Teague, PG/SG, Wake Forest. The Bulls replace Ben Gordon with a younger, cheaper version.
- Philadelphia 76ers– Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse. Another big value pick, and a guy who can help the Sixers in both the short term and the long term.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (via Miami)– Chase Buddinger, SG/SF, Arizona. With the Point Guard situation under control thanks to Holliday and Telfair, the next logical spots for the T-Wolves are a shot-blocking C or a swingman. Since the C pile is effectively empty, Buddinger becomes a logical choice.
- Atlanta Hawks– Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina. Oh man, this would lead to one of the most entertaining teams in the entire NBA. Lawson’s stock appears to be dropping, and with the PG’s sliding a little bit, Atlanta gets their backup who they can groom to take the reins.
- Utah Jazz– Eric Maynor, PG, Virginia Commonwealth. The Jazz finally get a bona fide backup for Deron Williams.
- New Orleans Hornets– BJ Mullens, C/PF, Ohio State. If they keep the pick, the Hornets HAVE to take some size to back up Chandler and West and to cover when they get hurt.
- Dallas Mavericks– James Johnson, SF/PF, Wake Forest. Mark Cuban gets the man who might be the heir apparent to Josh Howard from Josh’s alma mater.
- Sacramento Kings (via Houston)– Tyler Hansbrough, PF, North Carolina. With the PG spot locked down, Sacto gets a big man who can get some minutes for them.
- Portland Trailblazers– Gani Lawal, PF, Georgia Tech. With the PG’s sort of at an awkward place for Portland, they take a good little PF that can become an immediate part of their rotation.
- OKC Thunder (via San Antonio)– Nick Calathes, SG/PG, Florida. Sam Presti clearly has no issue taking guys who are going to be abroad for a few years, and their roster flexibility allows them to get a guy who will be just nasty in a few years.
- Chicago Bulls (via Denver thru OKC)– Derrick Brown, PF, Xavier. The Bulls need big man depth, and Brown is probably the best option at this juncture.
- Memphis Grizzlies (via Orlando)– DaJuan Summers, SF, Georgetown. There is always the distinct possibility they take a PG here, but I see them as the frontrunners for guys like Sergio Rodriguez, so Summers makes sense as a Chris Wallace pick here.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (via Boston)– Victor Claver, PF/SF, Spain. The T-Wolves are adding enough new pieces as it is, so they can either keep Claver in Europe for a year or just bite the bullet and dump a 2010 expiring to bring him over now.
- LA Lakers– Sergio Llull, PG/SG, Spain. Seems like an awfully good fit in the Triangle for a team that needs productive PG play like nobody’s business.
- Cleveland Cavaliers– Sam Young, SF, Pitt. The BPA just happens to be the swingman that the Fightin’ Lebrons need.
“If I were the GM” Mock:
- LA Clippers- Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain
- Memphis Grizzlies- Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma
- OKC Thunder- James Harden, SG, Arizona State
- Sacramento Kings- Jrue Holliday, PG/SG, UCLA
- Washington Bullets- DeJuan Blair, PF, Pitt
- Minnesota Timberwolves- Stephen Curry, PG/SG, Davidson
- Golden State Warriors- Eric Maynor, PG, VCU
- New York Knicks- Earl Clark, SF/PF, Louisville
- Toronto Raptors- Austin Daye, SF/PF, Gonzaga
- Milwaukee Bucks- Tyreke Evans, SG/PG, Memphis
- New Jersey Nets- Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina
- Charlotte Bobcats- Nick Calathes, SG/PG, Florida
- Indiana Pacers- Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona
- Phoenix Suns- Terrance Williams, SG/SF, Louisville
- Detroit Pistons- Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke
- Chicago Bulls- Jeff Teague, PG/SG, Wake Forest
- Philadelphia 76ers- Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (via Miami)- Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn
- Atlanta Hawks- Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse
- Utah Jazz- Victor Claver, PF/SF, Spain
- New Orleans Hornets- BJ Mullens, C/PF, Ohio State
- Dallas Mavericks- DeMar DeRozan, SG, U$C
- Sacramento Kings (via Houston)- Sam Young, SF, Pitt
- Portland Trailblazers- Josh Heytvelt, PF, Gonzaga
- OKC Thunder (via San Antonio)- Gani Lawal, PF, Georgia Tech
- Chicago Bulls (via Denver thru OKC)- James Johnson, SF/PF, Wake Forest
- Memphis Grizzlies (via Orlando)- Rodrique Beaubois, PG, France
- Minnesota Timberwolves (via Boston)- Omri Cassipi, SF, Israel
- LA Lakers- Taj Gibson, PF, U$C
- Cleveland Cavaliers- Lee Cummard, SF/SG, BYU
Vegan Fish Tacos Draft Board
1. Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain. As someone who has been semi-obsessed with Rubio for a few years now (just ask Rahim), it has been fun to watch him develop and get a sense of what he will become. I’ve been tracking the NBA Draft for 10 years now, and Rubio has passed Shaun Livingston as my second best PG prospect during that time period (behind Chris Paul). In short, the most important traits for a PG prospect are court vision, passing ability (variety, crispness, etc), and an unselfish and team-centric nature. Rubio has all of those in spades, plus a flair for the dramatic that makes him so much fun and Youtube-friendly despite his age. Also, the fact that he has produced against such quality opponents is a gigantic plus for me- the kid is used to pressure and the big stage and has delivered. His weak jump shot is a problem for now, but that can improve and the physical tools and great attitude he has are what separate him from almost everyone else.
2. Kyle Singler, SF, Duke. An astonishingly underrated pro prospect for now. He has very good touch and is a surprisingly good passer for his size and position. He may not be the next Larry Bird, but he’s probably the closest to it of anyone not in the NBA. One thing to remember with him: Singler is playing wholly out of position at Duke- he will be a pure SF in the pros. He probably will not become a #1 scorer at the NBA level, but Kyle is the type of player that will magnify the talents of the players around him, a trait that is incredibly rare at his NBA position.
3. Greg Monroe, PF/C, Georgetown. Monroe really needs to expand his game, but his physical tools are some of the best for a big man in college today, which warrants his lofty spot on this list. Any player who could become more than a serviceable C in the NBA holds a great deal of value compared to PF-only guys (which will come up later too), and right now Monroe appears to be able to handle either position at the next level, though he may very well end up like Jason Thompson, a guy who can play C when necessary but primarily plays PF.
4. Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina. I see Ed as what many people envision Blake Griffin as in the NBA. He has better physical attributes and a more complete game that is pivotal for a PF in today’s NBA. He clearly is not in the Marion/Tyrus Thomas mode of Power Forward, but I firmly believe that the only reason that group is so in vogue right now is because of the lack of “true” PF’s that are worthy of starting spots, and guys like Speights, Blake Griffin, and Mr. Davis should be able to help move the 4 back to its roots. Well, at least its role about a decade ago…
5. Jrue Holliday, PG/SG, UCLA. Easily one of the hardest guys to place in this draft. For me, the possibility of Jrue becoming a legitimate starting PG in the NBA makes him worthy of this spot on the list. His play this season was less encouraging than expected, but what makes Mr. Holliday so special is that he combines immense natural talent with a solid drive to get better. Ironically, part of the reason I like him so much as a prospect is that despite having somewhat similar physical characteristics to a guy like OJ Mayo, Jrue should be able to play PG at the next level. Much like how Mayo’s defense would be better if he could guard PG’s full-time, Jrue will get that benefit and with proper coaching should be able to use his superior size (and some solid instincts on that side of the ball) to succeed, and it is worth mentioning that he can rebound fairly well from the guard spot too.
6. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, Davidson. The entertainment industry talks about “it” a great deal. Whatever “it” is, I see that personified in Stephen Curry. He’s a kid who isn’t intimidated by the big stage or the big shot but is a team-first player who genuinely wants to become a great player on a great team. Undoubtedly there are players on this list with worlds more talent, but no one on this board has a better chance to maximize themselves. I’d love to see him play alongside Lebron or another unselfish talent (D-Wade, Brandon Roy, Deron Williams, etc) and let them roll. Furthermore, I think he can handle running an offense from the PG spot if there is enough talent around him so that he doesn’t feel like he has to take all the shots he has at Davidson. His usage ratings and the load he was asked to carry in college belie his otherworldly tools as a secondary scorer and creator for other players. His measurables were not fantastic and pretty much limit him to the PG slot at the next level, but I do not see that as a particular problem considering Stephen’s game. There are justifiable opinions that go in a multitude of directions on the Curry Man, but my take is that he’ll deliver in a major way.
7. Nick Calathes, SG/PG, Florida. Potentially one of those guys who will cause major debates in draft circles, since he may not have a definite position but sure seems like a talented basketball player at this point. I really like what he has shown thus far in terms of all-around game even if his NBA position is somewhat nebulous at this juncture. As I said with Rubio above, I love guys with great court vision and passing ability, which are two of Calathes’ strongest traits. The best comparison I have for him is Brandon Roy without the #1 scoring ability. He’s a big lead guard who could allow one of the millions of undersized SG’s playing PG in the NBA to play off the ball and still guard the other team’s point.
8. Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma. A very, very interesting prospect, not because people disagree on where his stock is but because I think people are dramatically overstating his potential impact on the NBA. Blake does suffer a little bit from Big XII Syndrome, meaning that his competition in terms of in-conference bigs is so bad that it makes him look good (see: Durant, Kevin and Beasley, Michael in terms of rebounding), but what makes him different is that he works so hard to get what he gets, which is a simply great sign in terms of NBA potential. There are a few big issues with Blake that aren’t getting discussed: first, he is solely a PF in the NBA, and he’s not even that big of a guy for the position in terms of reach (and his height is a little less than ideal too when you take off the ½ inch). This could be just fine, but I worry because the track record of PF’s with his attributes in the league currently isn’t strong as far as All-Stars go, coupled with the fact that PF’s of his size may just be the easiest find in the NBA right now. Secondly, his free throw shooting is incredibly rough, and for someone who hopes to draw fouls at the next level, it’s something he has to improve. Thirdly (and maybe most importantly), Mr. Griffin is a terrible defender at this point in his development. Of course, this is something that can be largely remedied, but I always worry when a player comes into the league with bad defensive habits and what look to be rough defensive instincts. He has the physical tools to get there, but I’ll need to see more of it before giving him the “can’t miss” hype he is getting presently. That said, I love Griffin in the right niche in the NBA, but I see him more as a very good long-term starter than an All-Star. Now, that is totally fine for an NBA PF (think Al Horford’s value to the Hawks) as long as that is understood and embraced.
[NOTE: I’m working on a big Blake Griffin piece that should be out in the next 2-3 weeks going into much greater detail on these core issues]
9. James Harden, SG, Arizona State. Harden is a player I have seen a ton of (including one game in person), and it’s genuinely hard to explain why I like him so much without speaking entirely in generalities. To toss out one of them, he’s a “gamer”. The kid has a good shot and sufficient physical tools, but what puts him this high on the list is his mental toughness and attitude. He has such a good sense of his game and does all the little things (court vision for a SG, effort on D) and has zero fear taking the big shot, which was astonishing for a college freshman and continued for the most part during his sophomore year at ASU. I worry that he may end up seeing his stock soar to the point where he becomes a better player on a bad team rather than a 3rd option on a championship team.
10. Andrew Ogilvy, C, Vanderbilt. Gotta love this kid- plays well and has definitely impressed so far. Refining his technique and adapting to more attention could really help prepare him for life in the bigs.
11. Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas. There is the possibility that he will suffer from Big XII Syndrome too (which is part of why Ogilvy is above him here), but I see Aldrich as a guy sort of like Chris Kaman when healthy- not the best C around, but good enough to hold down the starting spot, which is worth a whole lot right now.
12. Larry Sanders, PF, VCU. Quite possibly my favorite draft-eligible player that isn’t a PG from Spain. Sanders is a true difference-maker who should work out to be pretty close to what the “experts” thought Tyrus Thomas would turn into: An impactful shot blocker with a respectable offensive game who can board and beast when necessary.
13. DeJuan Blair, PF, Pitt. One of the regrets I have about not putting out my 2009 Draft materials before now is that it has prevented me from lording over everyone in terms of being the first person to hype Blair as a real deal lottery pick. Blair reminds me so much of Elton Brand (in all ways but Elton’s scoring in his prime) that it is a little bit scary. He may be small height-wise, but he uses both his width and his fantastic wingspan to get in position and get boards. There will be a need for bruiser PF’s as long as there are soft C’s, so Blair has 10-15 years of value in the NBA as either a decent starter or a tone-setter off the bench.
14. Earl Clark, SF/PF, Louisville. I have a long history of overrating Louisville players, and while he may be in this group in the end, there is a great deal to like here. He could end up being a very capable defensive player and he does a great job of getting his offense within the flow, which is simply key as the talent levels around him improve both in terms of teammates and opponents.
15. Eric Maynor, PG, Virginia Commonwealth. He’s just a combination of tools and attitude that I just love in a PG. Also, he has the size to potentially make a difference in the NBA, which is part of what separates him from many of the other smaller conference guys. I’m not completely sure whether he is a long-term starter or just an amazing PG off the bench, but either role makes him worth this draft slot.
16. Willie Warren, SG, Oklahoma. It’s hard for me to say much more about Warren than that he’ll be a solid starting SG in the NBA for a while, but I don’t see him as a #1 scoring option.
17. Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky. Like Marresse Speights last season, Patterson has the potential to be much greater than this slot, but he needs to overcome the limitations on his game to move up this board, though he will get every chance to do just that next season.
18. Evan Turner, SG, Ohio State. Evan should become a very solid SG down the line, very similar to Gerald Henderson in terms of role, though he is a better offensive talent and a worse defensive one. He also seems like a solid leader and character guy, which helps.
19. Austin Daye, SF/PF, Gonzaga. He has a long, long way to go, but I still like what he brings to the table. Like Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings, the best thing for Daye would be to go to a team where he has a good character mentor who can teach him the value of growing his game and fighting hard at all times on the floor. His shot-blocking and jump shot are particularly interesting when put in the context of his physical gifts- talk about a guy who can handle the pick and roll on both offense and defense with proper coaching.
20. Tyreke Evans, SG/PG, Memphis. Man, Evans is an incredibly difficult guy to get a handle on. He has so many of the physical tools that makes players stick in the NBA, but Tyreke’s big problem is that his head is not in the right place to make his role in the big leagues clear. Evans has a nasty, nasty habit of taking bad shots just because they are open, which can be corrected but is still worrisome to any team that would want him as a primary ballhandler. It would be best to put him on a team with a great mentor and give him the time to get right before throwing him into the fire as a starter. In fact, he may be one of the biggest losers of the Draft Exodus of 2009 because he is getting forced up into the teams that are flawed enough to use him incorrectly out of need or incompetence, but I wish him the absolute best. Here’s hoping he can go to a team where he can play off the ball and learn to make the most of the right shots while working hard on the defensive side of the ball.
21. Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona. He’s OK, but there is just something missing about him. In a way, he reminds me of Eric Gordon last year- Jordan is a player who in the optimal situation could make a team very, very happy, but I can’t put him any higher than this because the chances of him falling to that perfect team just are not that high.
22. Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina. It really is hard not to love Ty Lawson. He’s Mr. Intangibles and Mr. Tangibles (with a few notable exceptions) and he really is a winner. Lawson falls down to this spot on the board because his size worries me in terms of being an NBA starter (though he’s a prototypical 6th man PG) and it can be hard to separate the talents of great players on the same college team.
23. Terrence Williams, SG/SF, Louisville. If you want a SG who can do almost everything but score, here’s your man. I’m not sure Williams’ rebounding stats will hold up at the next level, but he is definitely a great player who could work very well as the 1st perimeter guy off the bench or a starter on a team with strong talent around him.
24. Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke. How much a team should like Henderson is purely a matter of perspective. He should work out to be a starting SG who can be a decent #3 option and defend his man well, but it is hard to see him growing beyond that role. If that works for someone (like next to a dynamic SF like Durant), that’s great. If a team needs a #1 scorer from the SG slot, then they have a problem. The other worrisome thing about Henderson is that wing stoppers that are SF’s have a much better success rate since they can effectively guard SG’s and SF’s, thus giving teams more flexibility to deal with star players and hide bad defensive SF’s.
25. Jeff Teague, PG/SG, Wake Forest. If Ben Gordon and Monta Ellis had a lovechild and gave it consistency issues, it’d be Jeff Teague. Jeff has a lot of Microwave in him, but it seems hard to envision him as a starter at either position at the next level. That said, his talent is undeniable just as his performance against Cleveland State is inexcusable.
26. Brandon Jennings, PG. Selfishness is not necessarily a big deal at most NBA positions. It’s not a particularly desirable trait, but a team can handle a swingman who looks out for #1. However, the one position where this cannot happen is the Point Guard slot. Whenever I’ve seen Jennings, he shows off some of his nice tools (jets, court vision), but I see a Villanueva-esque me-first mentality on the court that is more than troublesome. This was particularly evident in the McDonalds game, where he did what many people criticize Jose Calderon for: only making passes to guys when they look like clear assist chances. A PG’s job is to run the offense and ideally to key the defense too, and right now Jennings does neither. If he can turn his head to match his talent, he is worth the risk that a team is inevitably going to take on him, but that is a gigantic if considering where he is right now.
27. Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, Wake Forest. He is a more talented but way more raw Sam Young right now, with a worse stroke from the field. Aminu has more room to grow than almost any draft-eligible player- we just have to see how he develops and luckily a team won’t have to put a lottery pick on him right now.
28. Sam Young, SF, Pitt. Much like his larger college teammate, Sam Young has a clear NBA role. If you are a team that wants a Battier-esque glue guy who plays great D, works hard, but is not anywhere close to a #1 scorer, you should be considering Sam. He has an underrated jump shot, is a very solid rebounder for the SF slot, and sure seems willing to do the dirty work that all great teams need to succeed. The big worry with him is that his measurables put him more in the SG camp, but I still think he can play SF at the next level, though it may affect his ability to guard them as effectively as previously anticipated.
29. Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse. Jonny Flynn’s recent hype completely baffles me. Unlike Ty Lawson whose stock is purportedly falling, Flynn has never run an offense that even remotely resembles what he would be asked to do as an NBA PG. Of course, this does not mean that he can’t do that, but it means that he is much more of a wildcard. He definitely has a role in the NBA, but I do not see him as a starting PG. A spot as a firecracker off the bench (sort of like what Sebastian Telfair should be) would work incredibly well for him, but I worry that any team taking him with visions of him being the lead PG will be horrendously disappointed.
30. Victor Claver, PF/SF, Spain. I just love Victor- he has NBA size and talent. What makes him such a fascinating prospect for the NBA is that he is a very good finisher at the rim (around 60% this season) but can also shoot the ball fairly well. My dream spot for him would be with another tweener SF/PF who can grind and ideally even handle the better offensive player (like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute). Claver’s sometimes streaky scoring could be better used off the bench, but a guy with his talents will be in the NBA as long as he wants to be there.
31. Samardo Samuels, PF, Louisville. Another guy who will make a much higher appearance on the list once we have a true vision of his NBA role. I always think of Samardo as one of the most talented high school players around, but he really can become more than his physical tools if he becomes more of an all-around PF. Samuels has a special set of skills, particularly on the low block, that will keep him around NBA rosters for a long time to come, but he needs to grow to become starter-quality at the next level.
32. DeMar DeRozan, SG, U$C. Besides the UCLA guys, I have seen a higher percentage of DeRozan’s games than any draft-eligible player. Keeping that in mind, it is amazing how much distortion seems prevalent when draftniks talk about DMDR. He does not have the size to defend SF’s at the next level, so he is largely limited to SG, which is one factor that hurts his value. The other one is that when evaluating a player who is far from his potential as an NBA player, a prudent analyst looks at how likely that player is to reach that level, which goes to mental factors as much if not more than physical ones. Much like I graded down Tyrus Thomas for this exact reason, DeRozan slips because while his optimal NBA role and talent is up pretty high, he still won’t be a #1 scorer and he is not prohibitively likely to make it there. I wish him the absolute best, but it would be depressing to see another low-rotation player go in the lottery.
33. Jerome Jordan, C, Tulsa. Another player who is floating below the radar in draft circles, though he will have a whole year of scrutiny with the added change of no Calipari-led Memphis dominating Conference USA. He has NBA Center size and is a surprisingly good natural shot-blocker. The reason his is this low on the list considering that is that his offensive game needs a great deal of work (though he has the tools in place to develop it) and we still have to discount some of his statistical success because of the simply horrendous big man quality in C-USA. Make sure to give him a look next year when Tulsa is on your TV- the kid can play at the next level.
34. Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn. Jay Bilas has Thabeet at #2 because he has an NBA skill. I absolutely will not discount Thabeet’s shot blocking- he can be a difference maker in changing shots and swatting them away at the next level. The fatal flaw in Bilas’ analysis is that guys with just great shot-blocking ability are the most frequent busts per capita in terms of “NBA skill” guys coming out of college and the fact that Hasheem brings extremely little to the table other than his shot-blocking. The parallels to DeSagana Diop are far stronger than those to Dikembe Mutombo- Deke was always a better offensive talent at Georgetown than Thabeet ever was at UConn and his rebounding was far better too. Hasheem just was not that good a rebounder for his size in college, and the height/talent discrepancy between him and his opponents will change sharply in the very near future. Furthermore, he got bullied in college (particularly by Mr. Blair), which is never a good sign for a big man, especially one that you want as an anchor. I think Thabeet is DeSagana Diop as a prospect: a very good shot blocker/changer who is an OK rebounder (Diop was better here), with some offensive potential but a long way to go before he carries his own weight in terms of point production. Would you take Diop in the top-5 picks? I wouldn’t, and he is the unofficial mascot for this site.
35. Josh Heytvelt, PF, Gonzaga. To call Heytvelt a unique draft prospect seems to be a gargantuan understatement. The guy may have the most fascinating character red flags in the last decade (possessed shrooms but tested clean, and missed the rest of that season). For some players, that would end their NBA dreams, but Josh has the ability to make teams seriously think about drafting him. His scoring around the bucket is incredibly good (72% of his shots there) and his shooting stroke is very good for a 6’11” player. He does not have great judgment on the floor, which you can see from his shooting % at points and turnovers, but the different positives he brings make him a matchup nightmare for opposing teams, especially if he can become more consistent at putting himself in the right place on the floor to succeed. Heytvelt before his injuries would be one of the 5 most naturally talented players in this draft, and any team with the right coaching would benefit from having him on the squad, even if it takes some time to see him become the asset he should turn into.
36. BJ Mullens, C/PF, Ohio State. MENTALLY WEAK. Any player who failed to deliver on his talent as much as BJ did in college should not be comparing his game to Kevin Garnett, Dirk, and Amare. He is one of the best combinations of athletic attributes in the last 5 years, but the chances of him delivering on it waver between slim and none. If a team can afford to roll the dice on the chance that he pulls a Jermaine O’Neal and emerges as a swan 3 years from now, it would not be the worst plan in the world, but anything more than that is shaky at best.
37. Luke Babbitt, PF/SF, Nevada. Another guy to watch for 2010 and beyond. It is rare to find a guy as young as Babbitt who has a particularly good sense of his game in both the short and the long term. While he may be a little smaller than teams would like their starting PF to be, he should be able to cut out a niche either off the bench as an offensive jump-starter or even as a starter in the right system.
38. Jarvis Varnado, PF, Mississippi State. Jarvis is sort of like the PF version of Jerome Jordan, except a much, much better shot blocker. Varnado was the best shot blocker in America over the last two seasons, and should be able to use his length to develop a deeper offensive game with a more reliable hook shot and ideally a step through move as well. He could end up being a poor man’s Marcus Camby, which would be enough to make more than a few NBA teams think about taking him in the top 20 next year.
39. Gani Lawal, PF, Georgia Tech. Another fun raw PF prospect. What makes Lawal so interesting in that group is that he produced very well in college (led GT in scoring, boards, and FG%) despite having some footwork issues and shooting 55% from the free throw line. On the defensive end, he is a little too much of a gambler now and he doesn’t have Josh Smith-like tools to get away with it. If he can settle down and really focus on creating an NBA identity, Lawal should stick around pretty well, but I think he is at worst a capable backup.
40. Lee Cummard, SG/SF, BYU. Lee is a guy who is going to make some team very, very happy when they get him in the 2nd round. What I love the most about Lee is that what he is good at (shooting, positioning), he is very good at- his release is probably the nicest of any draft-eligible player at this point. His defense leaves a little bit to be desired, but he is an incredibly crafty player who should be able to minimize his physical deficiencies on that end with time and quality coaching. We could be looking at the next Mike Miller, without the weird hair.
41. Craig Brackins, PF, Iowa State. I simply have no idea how Brackins’ game shows scouts that he could be a starting NBA PF at this point. He was not an efficient scorer last season, doesn’t succeed in pick and roll spots, and has a shaky jumper. There are clearly things to like in Craig, particularly his rebounding stats (though I worry about Big XII Syndrome, especially on ISU), and he made the wise decision to come back, which should actually help him because the multitude of PF prospects right around his tier will be gone.
42. Omri Cassipi, SF, Israel. One of the biggest advantages of evaluating Euro prospects when compared to American college players is that sometimes you see role players in a slot very similar to their NBA role, and Cassipi is a perfect example of that. Omri is the spark plug for Maccabi Tel Aviv, and that is just about the role that he will play across the Atlantic, though he may be more of a 7th/8th man type of spark plug. Unlike many European guys that come over pretty far along in their development, Cassipi is only 20 and is still growing by leaps and bounds as a player. I see him as a guy who can come off the bench and get 15 MPG right off the bat and potentially turn into a starter for a team that has a #1 scoring option at another position. Plus, he has the added fuel of becoming the first Israeli to make the NBA, which he has admitted is a driving force for him and that pride/duty will help keep his nose to the grindstone.
43. Darren Collison, PG, UCLA. Very interesting guy because his defensive prowess and three point shooting are somewhat masked by his lack of size and weakness in the true PG attributes of court vision and passing. It would be wonderful to see him guard PGs with another ball handler (he’d be perfect next to Brandon Roy or Lebron), and he’ll have a role in the league as a complementary guard off the bench at the very least.
44. Rodrique Beaubois, PG, France. I spent all of last year calling Nicolas Batum the French Rudy Gay (which was imperfect, but not bad). Well, Beaubois is the French Rajon Rondo, but you replace Rondo’s solid distributor skills with a more reliable jump shot. Beaubois has wingspan for days and has shown some of his otherworldly potential on that side of the ball. That said, he needs to get a whole lot better at running an offense and drilling open shots to move from being a solid PG off the bench to one that can regularly run the show. It would not surprise me at all to see him end up as the 2nd or 3rd best PG in this draft when all is said and done, but he has a whole lot to do before making that happen.
45. Patrick Mills, PG, St. Mary’s. Patty is a guy that I just smile when I watch play, then have to sit back and wonder at what his role is in the NBA. His first step absolutely translates as he moves on up, but he does not have PG instincts at the level that you would want for a starter or even a #2 PG at this point. He also needs to get better at using that killer first step to get to the line, where he shoots a very respectable 86% when there. His dynamite performance with the Australian National Team should give everyone hope that he can become a difference-maker in the NBA, but I would have liked to have seen a lot more variation and depth to his game at St. Mary’s this past season.
46. James Johnson, SF/PF, Wake Forest. Inevitably, there will be people who are completely baffled by a potential Top 20 pick being down this low. The problem with James Johnson isn’t with what he does well- his mid-range game is solid and he can get the ball in the hoop a lot of different ways. The issue I have with Johnson is that he does not have a position in the NBA that he can defend at this point. Let’s be clear here- Johnson has decent tools and effort on that side of the ball, but I just do not see him handling SF’s with regularity and he does not have the size to defend most PF’s. There is absolutely a chance that he can become a starting SF, but I see him as more of a Ryan Gomes-type SF who would be better served coming off the bench, and for me, off the bench SF’s slide down the board.
47. Taj Gibson, PF, U$C. A man who has a clear role as a fan-favorite PF off the bench. He is a rough and tumble defender who is incredibly good at irritating his counterpart by blocking shots and blocking out for rebounds. On the offensive end, he can work very well as a 4th or 5th option with his decent mid-range game and putback opportunities. The fact that he’s incredibly old (24 by the start of next season) factors against him a little, but I don’t think it matters a whole lot for a PF off the bench.
48. Marcus Thornton, SG, LSU. The test for Thornton is going to be whether he can transition from being a clear #1 option with heavy usage at LSU to more of a lower-tier option at the next level. One thing that this UCLA alum has to give Trent Johnson (Marcus’ coach) credit for is that he did an incredibly good job putting Marcus in position to succeed scoring-wise. Thornton’s near-doubling of his assist-to-turnover ratio is incredibly encouraging as well. Why he is down on the list is that the transition to much better defenders and scorers at the SG position should cause him lots of problems at the start, as will his change from being the focus of his coach’s game plan to getting points when he can get them more naturally. Some players (Courtney Lee) can make this transition well, but I see Marcus making it but still having size problems that make him a solid backup instead of a starter.
49. Chase Buddinger, SG/SF, Arizona. He is a fascinating offensive player with underrated passing ability for his position, but he is a Mentally Weak loser who has Zero (think absolute zero, but for effort) desire to play any semblance of defense and chose to go to a college that would accept that instead of challenging himself to be a better player. There may never have been a prospect in any sport that I resent as much as Buddinger, so keep that in mind.
50. Jon Brockman, PF, Washington. If Jay Bilas thinks that having an NBA skill is worthy of a high pick, I’d love to see what he says about Jon Brockman. I said last year that Kevin Love was one of the best natural rebounding big men I’d ever seen, and he just happened to have the best rebounding season for a rookie in NBA history (by the way, Rebounding % is one of the best stats around- more on that in future columns). Well, Brockman fits into that group too. His positioning skills and desire allow him to board over and around guys with much better physical tools. His less developed offensive game makes him more of a backup than a starter in the NBA, but his transcendent rebounding talent makes him worth a pick in the late 1st/early 2nd for a team that has most of their pieces already in place. Don’t be surprised if he turns into what some people think Tyler Hansbrough will be in the NBA.
51. Scotty Hopson, SG, Tennessee. One of the most interesting draft-eligible players because of what he could become. Right now, Hopson screams role player at the next level- good size for the SG slot, and a pretty good spot-up shooter. The problem is that the rest of his game is potential and not production. He could be a good defensive player and solid finisher at the hoop, but is neither yet. There might not be a player on this board that could jump higher from now until 2010 than Hopson, if he can get a better handle on the ball and use his length and athleticism to become a more impactful player.
52. Luke Harangody, PF, Notre Dame. The poor man’s Kevin Love minus the passing ability. Harangody’s offensive game was very good in college, but he will run into the problem of bigger and better defenders head on in the NBA. Luckily, his face-up game has potential and his productive rebounding stats should translate fairly well. His lateral quickness will be a problem on the defensive end, but if he can keep up his effort (which shouldn’t be too hard considering his college work and the fact he’ll be playing less minutes), he can be a very good rotation player for a team like Portland or New Orleans.
53. DaJuan Summers, SF, Georgetown. Another guy who could become a very good NBA player but still has a long way to go to get there. The most worrisome part of his college game was how many contested shots he took- Summers’ open looks were pretty successful. He also has the tools to be a good defensive player, but we need to see than potential in play on that side of the ball when a player is a Junior in college, particularly at a program like Georgetown that has produced players with good defensive tools and flashes like Jeff Green. If he can get used to being a 4th option and get better looks, he could move up to starter level.
54. Jonas Jerebko, SF/PF, Sweden. Much like Omri Cassipi, Jonas has a clear sense of what his role is on a team: he is a defensive difference-maker with a very limited offensive game. He could end up being a valued piece off the bench in the NBA, though I worry about whether he will want to stay over in the US as a SF off the bench instead of being a starter on a high-level team in Europe. If he wants to stay, I would be overjoyed to have him as early as the high 2nd round.
55. Jodie Meeks, SG, Kentucky. A gifted natural scorer, Meeks will have almost exactly the same adjustment as his SEC competitor Marcus Thornton- both were high usage guys who will have to make the most of different opportunities. What separates them is that Thornton has much more potential on the defensive end. Regardless, Meeks’ ability to shoot the rock from long distance (40% from three) should make him worthy of minutes from day one, much in the same way Daequan Cook found a role in Miami fairly quickly.
56. Jeff Pendergraph, PF, Arizona State. The Pac-10: Where NBA backup PF’s are born. Pendergraph is a player who should be getting dramatically more visibility than he is right now. Has a ton of NBA potential but needed to do more against top competition, though he did fine in the Tourney.
57. Tyler Hansbrough, PF, North Carolina. The definition of a guy whose perceived success is situation-dependent. I spent five full minutes of game time watching just him in the Alamodome, and was floored to see that the inklings of what I’d seen during the year were far more pronounced in person. He is a better offensive player than he is perceived to be, but his fundamentals are not nearly as good as advertised and his rebounding instincts leave alot to be desired. He won’t get the calls in the NBA that he got at the college level, and since so much of his game is predicated on drawing contact (a point that Jay Bilas has nailed spot-on) it will hurt his success beyond UNC. I fully agree with Mike Wilbon that his whiteness has dramatically impacted the media’s treatment of him and it is appalling to say that he is the “hardest worker in the history of college basketball” because that requires an assumption that no one else has ever worked themselves as hard as they can which is simply false.
58. Dionte Christmas, SG, Temple. Now here’s a guy with a clearly defined NBA role! A whopping 57% of Christmas’ field goal attempts this past season were three point shots, and he shot a very respectable 35% (considering the volume) from long distance. What’s more, he is a more complete scorer than Daequan Cook, and he can change his game pretty well to fit what a team needs at a given time. He has decent but not great defensive tools, and his problems with foul trouble will be reduced on an individual level with less minutes in the pros, though it could be an issue in terms of team fouls. The discussion between him and Summers is a classic one: Would you rather have a guy who is solid in his role with less upside or a guy with huge potential but a more nebulous spot on the team? I’d go with Summers’ upside, but don’t be surprised to see Christmas become a fan favorite and a contributor.
59. Wayne Ellington, SG, North Carolina. I think of Ellington in two words: Fade away. He shoots the shot a lot, and he tends to do it from time to time in games. Players who come off the bench in the NBA need to go full-bore all the time- that’s why they get minutes, and that is what is most concerning about Ellington. His shot is very pretty and his footwork is good for a SG, but he has defensive limitations and is not nearly as aggressive at getting to the line and getting the best shot as he should be. If he chooses to maximize his talent, he can become a valued role player in the NBA, but that is not likely enough to move him any higher on the list.
60. Jeremy Pargo, PG, Gonzaga. Potentially the most entertaining of the backup PG’s in this draft, what makes Pargo special is his combination of quickness with a very good handle. Of course, that also provides his problem because it feels at points like he is going a million miles an hour with no particular endgame in mind. Naturally, the PG has to be the guy with the plan, and Pargo needs to grow there to become any more than a fun change of pace. However, he is a tenacious defender who will give lesser offensive PG’s fits with his speed and strength. Pargo is a guy with an NBA game, but it needs some smoothing out before that role can expand to fit his talents.
61. Greivis Vasquez, PG/SG, Maryland. An extremely difficult guy to project in terms of position, I still like Vasquez too much to put him any lower. He is very good in transition and could work as a change of pace guy, particularly as the backup PG on a team with a super-quick lead guard. His D leaves a great deal to be desired either against PG’s or SG’s, but his hit-or-miss style could work well with the right surrounding talent and role.
62. Kemba Walker, PG, UConn. He is a long, long way from being ready to play in the NBA, but his potential warrants inclusion on the list.
63. Sherron Collins, PG, Kansas. I’m so happy he is coming back to Kansas for his Senior year. Collins has some great pieces in place to become a PG in the NBA (handle, mid-range game), but he needs to improve as a finisher and a decision maker before making the jump. Additionally, some improvements on the defensive end would make coaches more comfortable giving him meaningful minutes.
64. Jack McClinton, SG/PG, Miami. A guy who deserves a whole lot more attention than he is getting. What surprised me the most about McClinton was that he did very well in iso situations, which actually bodes fairly well for him making the transition as a role player. He needs to become a more potent defensive player to get substantial minutes, but his scoring should keep him around the league as long as he gets a fair opportunity.
65. Da’Sean Butler, SF, West Virginia. The classic example of a SF who does most things well but nothing great. His jumper is solid, he has a decent NBA body, and his defense is pretty good, but I haven’t seen that “NBA skill” from Butler yet. Fortunuately, he has another year to raise his profile and develop some part of his game that will keep him on the floor.
66. Patrick Christopher, SG/SF, Cal. Another player who will have more time to raise his NBA profile in college. What I like most about Christopher is that he can score in a lot of different ways. While his deep jumper isn’t stout yet, he is a solid finisher and has a pretty good handle for a SG. If he shows more defensive potential during his senior season, he could have a spot as a SG off the bench in the NBA.
67. Damion James, SF/PF, Texas. The poster child for Big XII Syndrome at the present time, James has been able to create opportunities for himself and teammates mostly through sheer effort. The problem is that he does not have the perimeter game of an NBA SF and is far too small to play meaningful minutes at PF.
One more thing to add here: Part of how I rate prospects is on a tier system. Players are put into tiers based on what I see as their most likely NBA niche in their prime. Here’s how I draw the lines:
Tier 1 – Superstars. Guys who you expect to make the All-Star game more often than not. (Examples: LeBron James, Dwight Howard)
Tier 2 – Great starters. #2 scoring options, solid bigs, and the like. Typically the #2-#4 players on high level teams. (Examples: Manu, Devin Harris, David West)
Tier 3 – Good to very good starters (or great 6th men). Guys who you are happy with starting for the team, but teams would still look for improvements. (Examples: Tyson Chandler, Antawn Jamison, Shawn Marion)
Tier 4– High-level rotation players. Players who would be better off coming off the bench, though many of them start. (Examples: Ronny Turiaf, Leandro Barbosa, Mickael Pietrus)
Tier 5– Rotation players. Guys who come off the bench but clearly have a spot in the NBA. (Examples: Anthony Morrow, Luke Walton)
Here is how the draft-eligible players fit into tiers right now:
Tier 1: Ricky Rubio
Tier 2: Jrue Holliday
Tier 3: Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings
Tier 4: Eric Maynor, Ty Lawson, Jonny Flynn, Jeff Teague
Tier 5: Darren Collison, Rodrique Beaubois, Patrick Mills, Jeremy Pargo, Nick Calathes, Tyreke Evans, Kemba Walker, Sherron Collins, Greivis Vasquez
Tier 1: None
Tier 2: James Harden, Nick Calathes
Tier 3: Willie Warren, Evan Turner, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holliday, Gerald Henderson, Terrence Williams
Tier 4: DeMar DeRozan, Stephen Curry, Sam Young, Jeff Teague
Tier 5: Lee Cummard, Marcus Thornton, Chase Buddinger, Jodie Meeks, Dionte Christmas, Wayne Ellington, Jack McClinton, Patrick Christopher, Greivis Vasquez
Tier 1: None
Tier 2: Kyle Singler
Tier 3: Earl Clark, Austin Daye, Al-Farouq Aminu
Tier 4: Sam Young, DeJuan Summers, James Johnson, Lee Cummard, Omri Cassipi, Jonas Jerebko
Tier 5: Chase Buddinger, Luke Babbitt, Damion James
Tier 1: None
Tier 2: Ed Davis, Blake Griffin, Greg Monroe, Larry Sanders
Tier 3: DeJuan Blair, Earl Clark, Patrick Patterson, Jordan Hill, Samardo Samuels, Austin Daye
Tier 4: Victor Claver, Josh Heytvelt, Jarvis Varnado, Gani Lawal, Craig Brackins, BJ Mullens, Luke Babbitt
Tier 5: James Johnson, Taj Gibson, Jon Brockman, Luke Harangody, Jeff Pendergraph, Tyler Hansbrough, Damion James
Tier 1: None
Tier 2: None
Tier 3: AJ Ogilvy, Cole Aldrich, Hasheem Thabeet, Greg Monroe
Tier 4: Jerome Jordan, BJ Mullens
Tier 5: None