June 3, 2011

The 14 Most Pressing Draft Questions

With the draft less than a month away, teams, players and fans are starting to get antsy. This particular draft, with its bevy of mysterious (and elite) foreign talents, odd disbursement of picks (the Cavs are the first team to hold multiple top four picks since 1983), and alleged lack of superior talent, has presented a great deal of questions that need answering so that we can start to make sense of the puzzle. Just as the 14 lottery picks often define the draft, these 14 questions encapsulate the most pressing issues concerning the draft, and what will eventually come to define it.

14. Which unproven prospect will a team most likely reach for?

The obvious answer might appear to be Bismack Biyombo, though the Congolese center has actually proven himself more than many of this year’s most popular high risk/high reward prospects. Biyombo averaged 2.3 blocks in just 17 minutes for a top international team this past season and recorded the first ever triple-double at the Hoops Summit. Fellow raw talents Travis Leslie, Josh Selby, Jereme Richmond and Cory Joseph, in comparison, have done nothing, but their potential can’t be totally ignored. After a terrific combine, Selby usurps Leslie as the player most likely to get the most looks from teams picking anywhere from the early teens right on down to the early forties. Selby, as many predicted, was a workout wonder: his 42” max vertical leap was matched only by Iman Shumpert, and ranks as the ninth highest jump recorded in the history of the combine. At 6-3/195, Selby measured as big as could have been expected, staking his claim as the most physically gifted PG prospect. One team in the first round will doubtlessly turn a blind eye to his horrible freshman stats with the hope that he can fulfill his potential.

13. Will the Knicks reach for a potential franchise PG or take the best player available?

You can always count on the Knicks’ faithful to put on a good show immediately after the team’s selection is announced, and for them to be reliably displeased with whoever they take; unless Brandon Knight falls to them at 17, you can count on a fairly entertaining reaction. But from a serious basketball perspective, this pick is extremely important considering the Knicks’ massive potential. With no NBA-ready centers expected to be available at 17, the Knicks will likely take a PG or a versatile scorer who can help out immediately, though they’ll also give a couple defensive specialists, especially Kenneth Faried, a hard look. If the Knicks are to go with a PG, they would likely be choosing between Darius Morris and Josh Selby, with Morris being the much more sensible pick. Morris has amazing size (6-5/190) and the pass-first mentality that a team with Amare and Carmelo requires. However, the PG that they draft would be expected to become their franchise floor general, and there might not be one worthy of that responsibility. It will be very hard for them to pass on Jordan Hamilton, Klay Thompson or Marshon Brooks, as their depth was decimated in the Carmelo trade.

12. What is Enes Kanter’s game, and where does he fit?

[Player; Enes Kanter] has just about all the qualities scouts look for in an elite center prospect: size (6-11/259), post moves, good form and range on his jumper, satisfactory athleticism, and a willingness to bang in the post. The Cavs cannot justify taking him number one because the consensus is that he simply isn’t as good a prospect as Derrick Williams or Kyrie Irving. The Wolves would love to nab a franchise center, but Kanter could be seen as too similar to Kevin Love, a skilled big but lacking in defensive attributes. The Jazz could ultimately pass on him in favor of Brandon Knight because of their loaded frontcourt. Kanter plays like a true center but won’t hesitate to take the open 16-footer, making him a perfect fit for the Wizards, a team he has expressed interest in playing for. But they already have an athletic, defensive-minded center in JaVale McGee firmly in place. A good center is the rarest player in the NBA right now; you’d think there would be a greater premium on a guy with Kanter’s size and skill.

11. Which franchise is under the most pressure to hit a home run?

Just a couple years ago, crazed Pistons fans were rocking the Palace of Auburn Hills and leading the league in attendance as the team tried to earn a seventh consecutive conference finals berth. This past season, the Pistons struggled to win 30 games, almost deserted their coach, and finished 18th in the league in attendance. The Cavs are still the team most in need of a miracle, but with the first and fourth picks, it will be hard to criticize them. The Pistons, on the other hand, are set to pick eighth, a relative no man’s land where the can’t-miss prospects will be gone and the guessing begins. They have glaring holes at point guard and center, and a major hole at the swing, with Prince and McGrady set to become free agents. With no worthy point guards expected to be on the board, look for them to target a nice mix of solid bets (Kawhi Leonard), good fits (Tristan Thompson), and extremely high risk/extremely high reward big men (Biyombo). In whichever direction they choose to go, the Pistons will need to make the most of their pick, because should they swing and miss, they could be handicapped for years.

10. Who benefitted the most from his measurements?

USC power forward Nikola Vucevic, who measured 6-11.75 in shoes when he was thought to be 6-10, is not the type of player who will rocket up mock drafts because scouts are now confident that he will be able to play his position and not be consistently outmatched defensively. No, Vucevic now looks like an entirely different player. Vucevic was very much a classic Euro big man in his time at USC, showing off a terrific jump shot to complement a reasonably well-developed post game. With a 7-5 wingspan, Vucevic is as big as Greg Oden and is no longer seen as a tweener, but a legit big man who can get his shot off whenever he wants. He also weighed in at 260, a full 20 pounds more than anticipated, and with only 6.1% body fat, qualifying him as a legit center. Granted, Vucevic tested extremely poorly in the athleticism portion of the combine. Considering this draft didn’t have a single center who played college ball in the US and was projected to be a first round pick, Vucevic could see his stock soar from mid-late second round to late first.

9. Who will turn out to be the best scorer at the next level?

The most glaring indicator of a subpar draft class is the absence of a player that will be expected to average 20 points per game in the pros. Derrick Williams and Kyrie Irving might have the best odds, but because Irving is a pure point guard and Williams has a more unconventional game (and won’t have the freedom he had at Arizona), the field is wide open. With his much-improved shot, Kemba Walker demonstrated his ability and willingness to take over games. If he isn’t as overmatched as some think he might be, Jimmer Fredette could easily be the best scorer. Alec Burks is an incredibly athletic and smart slasher with the potential to average 20 points once his jumper catches up, and Providence’s Marshon Brooks, who scored 52 points in a Big East game, was compared to Kobe by his trainer, Tim Grover (who’s trained Kobe). While I would put my money on Derrick Williams due to his ability to get the stripe with uncommon ease, I also wouldn’t bet against Jordan Hamilton. The former Longhorn possesses the most well-rounded skill set of any scorer in this class, improved immensely as a sophomore (10.6 points to 18.6 points), and at 6-8 can easily play either of the wing positions.

8. Is Derrick Williams a potential franchise player?

His explosive game at times resembles Blake Griffin's, he can play inside and out, shoots over 50% from three-point range, is a relentless competitor, and as his sophomore year indicated, he has a very high ceiling. But that might not even be enough. Despite his offensive efficiency, Williams is not seen as the type of player who can routinely score 25 points and shoot his team to victory, and despite his determination and effort, he’s not yet an elite defender. He’s caught between two positions, a trait that franchises don’t necessarily love when they’re pegging a future leader, but shouldn’t he still at least be eligible to be considered a potential franchise player? Williams could average 20 points and 10 rebounds at the small forward position and change a team’s outlook with his motor and energy while he willingly does all the little things. The Cavs will certainly wrestle with the idea of Williams being a franchise player, which brings us to the question…

7. Would the Cavs be better off taking Williams with the first pick and a PG with the fourth?

Kyrie Irving is believed by many to be the best prospect in the draft, and he appears pretty confident that the Cavs will take him with the top pick. While Irving may be the best prospect available, the Cavs are in a unique position, holding not just the first, but also the fourth pick in the draft, and by taking Williams first overall, they could nab a more talented player with the fourth pick. If they take Irving first, they will likely be forced to target players such as Jan Vesely, Kawhi Leonard and Jonas Valanciunas with their next pick. However, if they were to take Williams first, they could grab a point guard (Knight, if available, or Walker) or one of the two big men they’re targeting, giving them more flexibility and the opportunity to take the two best players possible. Neither Kanter nor Valanciunas is a sure thing, and even Irving has question marks. For a team that has no room for error when it comes to drafting, taking Williams first and watching the chips fall might be the smartest move.

6. Does Kenneth Faried have the size to fulfill his potential at the next level?

The most aggravating and disappointing aspect of the draft is the number of highly skilled and determined players who are passed up because they’re too short by NBA standards. Morehead State’s Kenneth Faried is the very player that would usually undeservedly fall to the second round, but the numbers he posted in college are too incredible to ignore. Still, the question remains, does he have what it takes to be the next Dennis Rodman? Or even the next DeJuan Blair? Or is he the next Luc Richard Mbah a Moute? ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla boldly claimed that if Faried was 6-9, he would be the top pick in the draft. A stretch considering all he does is rebound. The sad truth, however, is that Faried is just 6-7 in shoes, and with little offensive game to speak of, teams will have to hope that he’s as tough as advertised. Faried did measure a very respectable 9'0 standing reach. He is the best rebounder to enter the draft since Paul Millsap, and a great all-around defender to boot, but in the much bigger, stronger, and faster NBA, he will be tested like no other prospect in this class.

5. Who is the top Euro prospect?

Excluding those who have not spent the entirety of their basketball-playing lives in Europe (namely Biyombo and Kanter), there remains a distinct trio of extremely intriguing prospects that all stand around the same height and all play a very different style: The 7-0 Donatas Motiejunas (Lithuania), the 6-11 Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania), and the 6-11 Jan Vesely (Czech Repulbic). Though they’re all about the same size, they’re hardly similar. Motiejunas isn’t the greatest athlete, but he has arguably the most well rounded skill set, with a beautiful jumper, excellent speed and developing post game. Valanciunas is the rare European big that’s legitimately tough; he's not adverse to banging down low, is great around the basket and runs the court well. Vesely is the best run/jump athlete and the most versatile of the bunch and is similar to Andrei Kirilenko. Vesely is possibly the most intriguing of the bunch, Valanciunas is considered the best long term prospect but the furthest away while Motiejunas has the most offensive potential.

4. Is Bismack Biyombo the next Saer Sene or the next Serge Ibaka?

The Sonics selected Saer Sene with the 10th overall pick in 2006, simply because he was a legit 7-footer with an inhuman 7-8 wingspan. He could touch the rim without leaving his feet. They expected him to become a great shot blocker. He had only started playing basketball in 2003, and his NBA career spanned just 47 games. Serge Ibaka was slightly more well known when he was drafted by the Thunder late in the first round, and he’s since morphed into the league’s best shot blocker and the starting power forward for a team that nearly won the West. Biyombo is 6-9 with a similarly inhuman 7-7 wingspan and an extremely weak offensive skill set, and those picking in the lottery want to know who he’s more likely to compare to. Though he’s more comparable to Sene from a skills standpoint, all signs point to him being more like Ibaka. Not only does Biyombo have a more mature game than Sene, he has shown a motor that Sene was missing and had a legit impact playing in 10 games in the same Spanish league that Ibaka came from. There’s a chance he could still be a bust, of course, but only because he may end up being taken to high and expected too much from.

3. Is the draft as weak as many are saying?

When the 2011 NBA draft is mentioned, the first adjective that comes to mind is, probably, “weak.” That’s what so many scouts are saying, and it’s a hard claim to refute. Still, when the dust settles a few years from now, there’s a chance that it might not come to be viewed as such. It’s hard to recall a draft as rich with elite foreign talent, as we could see five international players taken in the lottery. If they’re all as good as advertised, that in itself would qualify this draft as being uniquely rich in talent. Then again, maybe that is a product of such a weak college crop. Depth is also a key factor in evaluating the strength of a draft, and this group is more solid at the bottom than it’s been given credit for, with every post-lottery prospect considered somewhat equal through the end of the first round. In all likelihood time will confirm that this is a relatively weak group, though every one of the 60 prospects that turn pro on June 23 might have something to say about that.

2. Does Kyrie Irving deserve to be called the undisputed top pick?

We’ve been spoiled in recent years, we really have. From Greg Oden to John Wall, each of the last four drafts have promised not just a superstar, but a potential Hall of Famer at the top spot. Possible #1 pick Kyrie Irving is unfortunate for having to follow these enormous talents, yet even considering how we have been conditioned to feel about top overall picks, Irving is not a legit #1 guy. But he’s something almost as good: a legit #2 pick, in almost any year. Irving probably will never start an All-Star game, but a sample of recent second overall picks suggests that he’s not necessarily overrated. The list reads like this: Darko Milicic, Emeka Okafor, Marvin Williams, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Hasheem Thabeet, Evan Turner. Irving could stand to be less cocky about what he believes his current standing to be, but he has the size and skill set to make a dent in this point guard’s league and should definitely be better than at least half of those aforementioned silver medalists.

1. What will David Kahn do?

From drafting three point guards in the first round, to proclaiming Darko Milicic to be equal to Chris Webber and the best passer he’s ever seen, to suggesting that the lottery might be fixed, Timberwolves GM David Kahn has achieved cult status among basketball fans, many of whom don’t think very highly of him. With his knack for making wild claims and obsessively collecting point guards, he’s the most unpredictable GM in the game, and therefore one of the most dangerous. This year, after losing out on the top pick, immediately discard your expectations on draft night. The Wolves likely cannot take the second best prospect, Derrick Williams, because he plays the same position as Beasley and Love (and the 21-year old Anthony Randolph, who averaged 11.7 points in 23 games with the Wolves). The Wolves are openly dangling the pick, but just what Kahn might demand, or give it up for, redefines unpredictable. The Wolves want veteran help, so expect him to pursue legitimate stars. Don’t, however, expect any of it to make sense.

The 14 Most Pressing Draft Questions
By Sam_Littman
Thu, 06/02/2011 - 11:36am

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