Tuesday, June 21, 2011

NBA Draft 2011 Projections

Hey, I'm back! After an INCREDIBLE NBA playoffs and one of the best finals series any of us has seen in ages, it's time for one of my personal favorite events of the year: the NBA draft. 

Unfortunately, this year's draft is one of the weakest since probably 2000, when the only All-Stars in the first round were the overall #1 pick, Kenyon Martin and Jamaal Magloire, who went 19th. (Wait, he was an all-star? This is news to me, as well)

Fortunately, I think the players in this draft have a bit more potential than that draft. After all the very best players from the 2000 draft turned out to be Martin (definitely a below-average product for a #1 pick), Jamal Crawford, Hedo Turkoglu (who sucks now), and Michael Redd (who has been sitting on the bench with an injury for what seems like 12 years)

So in light of the overall shittiness of this draft, I'm going to do a mock of only the lottery starting from #14. Keep in mind, these are my evaluations, and are probably different from widely regarded opinion. I'm also ignoring team needs. In reality, I don't believe at all that this is how the top 14 shakes out at all, but in 5 years, looking back in retrospect, I believe these will ultimately be the top 14 players from this draft.

14. Jon Leuer - PF - 6'10" 230 lbs. - Wisconsin
NBA Role: Shooter, Rebounder

Jon Leuer? A lottery pick?? What the hell am I smoking, right? Nope, I'm not going crazy guys, this is the type of power forward that succeeds in the NBA right now. Leuer fits the profile of a stretch-4, a la Dirk Nowitzki, albeit a homeless man's version of the newly crowned finals MVP. What is a stretch-4? Leuer is a big guy who can hit perimeter shots, out to 24 feet. I could see his potential ceiling as a solid rotation player off the bench, coming in for rebounding and spotting up for jumpers. Call him Matt Bonner 2.0. He's not going to be the strongest guy down low, but his ability to hit the NBA 3 and stretch the opposing team's big man out to the perimeter will be invaluable. Don't forget, this guy averaged over 25 points a game his senior year on his way to a 1st team all-Big-10 season. Many mocks have this guy going in the 2nd round, but I believe he will have a long, successful NBA career as a role player.

13. Tyler Honeycutt - SF - 6'8" - 190 - UCLA
NBA Role: Shooter, Perimeter Defender

At this point, you might think my opinions are completely worthless, but hear me out. Obviously his biggest weakness is his lack of bulk. At a slender 190 pounds, he's not going to be banging around down low. However, other than that, there's a lot to like about this guy defensively. He's got LONG arms, plays with great effort, and has good bounce, which helped him lead the Pac-10 in blocks this past year. On the offensive end, he's more of a project. He needs to work on his ball skills so that he doesn't turn it over against the myriad of unbelievable defenders at his position in the NBA. His jumper is pretty decent, so he will at least be able to spot up and use his length to get his shot off over defenders. Normally, I would not have rated a guy like him this high, but for some strange reason, Ben Howland's players always seem to come in to the draft vastly underrated. Every Howland product has massively outperformed his estimate as a pro. This is over a period of seven years involving 13 NBA prospects, and all of them except Josh Shipp outperformed; many of them did so by wide margins. (Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Aaron Afflalo are good examples) We'll see how Honeycutt fits this model.

12. Bismack Biyombo - PF/C - 6'9" - 245 - Democratic Republic of the Congo
NBA Role: Post Defender, Rebounder

Biyombo is your typical athletic freak who is an absolute BEAST on defense and can't throw it in the ocean on offense. Make no mistake, this guy is a lottery pick based on his potential. At worst, he's Ekpe Udoh. At best, maybe Ben Wallace . . . okay maybe not that good. After all, Wallace was a multiple defensive player of the year. But still, this guy has the tools.

With a 7'7" wingspan, unreal hops, a chiseled 245 pound body at just 4.8% body fat at the combine, this guy has an NBA body, there's no question of that. He runs the floor well and finishes at the rim with explosiveness. Just don't expect him to be hitting jumpers anytime soon.

11. Jordan Hamilton - SF - 6'8" - 230 - Texas
NBA Role: Scorer, Shooter

Hamilton struggled pretty badly when he was forced to play behind 3 stars on last year's Texas squad when he was forced to come off the bench, but after the departure of Damion James and co., Hamilton managed to bring up just about every stat across the board in his sophomore year. He dropped 23.5 points a game and shot 44% from the floor, including 38% from three. While he doesn't possess the quickness to become a dominant slasher in the pros, he does have the ability to power through smaller defenders and make very difficult shots. As a result, he's likely to take some bad shots when he's in the game, although he probably will hit a few of them. The only question is, will he learn to adjust to being a role player, or will his alpha dog mentality get in the way of his talent?

10. Alec Burks - SG - 6'6" - 195 - Colorado
NBA Role: Shooter, Scorer

Burks is a smooth and versatile scorer. He has good length and athleticism and is coveted by several teams now because of his ability to create shots for himself. He is an explosive slasher with the ability to kick it into another gear on fast breaks. He has good shooting ability from mid range, but his long range jumper isn't quite up to par, evidenced by his 29% shooting from three last season at Colorado, and he occasionally has difficulty finishing at the rim. Burks has the physical tools to become a good defender in the NBA, but he's not there yet. I think once this guy puts on some weight and learns how to play, he will be a pretty effective guard on any team. I think down the road he could be a Raja Bell kind of role player. 

9. Tristan Thompson - PF - 6'9" - 230 - Texas
NBA Role: Post Defender, Rebounder

It's hard for me to put my finger on this one. On the one hand, he gets to the free throw line at an incredible rate because of his ability to get in the paint aggressively, he's an above average athlete with size and length who plays with a lot of energy. On defense, he's protects the rim with his good anticipation and timing. But on the other hand, his skill level is far from ideal. Once he gets to the free throw line, he shoots just 49% from the stripe. His jumper is equally atrocious and he's only an average finisher around the rim. Then there is the question of whether or not he has the size to play the 4 in the NBA. Whoever drafts Thompson is getting a raw product, it remains to be seen what his potential ceiling can be if he works hard enough.

8. Klay Thompson - SG - 6'7" - 205 - Washington State
NBA Role: Shooter

Thompson is a sniper with deep range and excellent size for a wing. His mechanics are impeccable, and his stats back it up, as he hit around 50% of his open attempts last year at Washington State. He also made some strides in his ball handling and passing in his junior season, which has upped his draft stock on many mock drafts substantially. Although he does have some athletic and defensive limitations, there's not a better catch and shoot guy in this draft class. He can help a lot of teams right now.

7. Brandon Knight - PG - 6'3" - 180 - Kentucky
NBA Role: Distributor, Scorer

Here is a great example of how players who do well in the NCAA tournament are overvalued on mock draft boards. I would say the majority of the mock drafts I've seen have Knight going 3rd overall to the Jazz. I won't argue with this pick, since the Jazz do need a franchise point guard, and many scouts do seem to agree that Knight is the 2nd best point guard in the draft. And he did have a 30 point game in the NCAA tournament along with two game winning shots. 

That said, he also shot a measly 33% from the floor throughout the tournament while committing 3.4 turnovers a game. That's not really the recipe for success in the pros. Can he improve? Probably, yeah. Do I think he's a franchise point guard who will someday be an all star? . . maybe. I think his upside is better than just about anyone, including Kyrie Irving, because he's a big guard, very athletic, but he's got a lot of things to learn about how to run a team. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the kid, he's got a great attitude, a ton of heart, and his basketball IQ is second to no one in this draft, but Knight is still learning how to run a team. Learning on the fly in the NBA isn't the ideal  way to do it, but there was no way he would go this high in next year's draft, so he made the right choice.

6. Kawhi Leonard - SF - 6'7" - 225 - San Diego State
NBA Role: All-Purpose Defender, Slasher

A lot of teams love Leonard, and it's easy to see why. Standing at 6'6" with no shoes, this guy has a 7'3" wingspan, reportedly one of the largest ever for a player of his size or smaller. His hands are equally freakish, and are comparable with the hands of a 7 footer. Leonard weighed at 227 at the combine, which actually ranks him heavier than most of the power forwards in this draft class, leading some to believe that he is capable of guarding the 4 at the next level. Because of these unusual physical gifts, Leonard is a very good defender just about anywhere on the floor, and is an above average ball handler for a wing. While he was not a great shooter in college, he has made some strides in that department as of late, and has been impressive in shooting workouts. I personally think this guy is the real deal, and will be an impact player. He could potentially develop into a Luol Deng type of forward. 

5. Kemba Walker - PG - 6'0" - 185 - Connecticut  
NBA Role: Distributor, Scorer

Kemba Walker probably has more doubters than believers, especially considering how high he is projected to go in this draft. I, for one, am a solid believer. His critics will point to his relatively low shooting percentages and his obvious lack of size, but I find those arguments to be overly harsh. Walker played on a UConn team which was young, devoid of play makers, and relied heavily on Walker to do much of the scoring, somewhat similar to Derrick Rose's Bulls this past year. Walker is quick, athletic, and has great decision making. Although he will be one of the smallest players ever to go the lottery, there has been precedent that players his size can succeed at this level. Allen Iverson, Chris Paul, and Ty Lawson immediately come to mind. Now, Walker has a LONG way to go to catch those guys, but I believe he can an effective point guard even with his lack of size. I think he compares most favorably with Aaron Brooks and Jameer Nelson.

4. Jonas Valanciunas - C - 6'11" - 240 - Lithuania
NBA Role: Rebounder, Post Defender, Scorer

Valanciunas is no longer being considered for a top 5 pick because of his contract situation with his European club. As it stands, the 18 year old center will be unable to secure a reasonable buyout which would allow him to play in the NBA next season. 

Skill wise . . . Valanciunas has tons of potential on paper. He has the size, length, and soft touch around the rim to be an efficient scorer down low. He has soft, sticky hands, which should allow him to be a great pick and roll screener and finisher. Last season in Europe, Valanciunas converted on an incredible 73% percent of his catches while rolling to the basket. He plays with great energy and effort, and is a great rebounder and shot blocker as a result. 

While he hasn't quite developed the back to the basket post up game which he will need to score in the NBA, he is just 18 years old and his potential has many teams intrigued even though he will probably not step on an NBA court until 2013.

3. Enes Kanter - PF/C - 6'11" - 260 - Kentucky
NBA Role: Rebounder, Scorer

Enes Kanter hasn't played a single game since enrolling at Kentucky due to NCAA violations stemming from his time with a professional club in his native Turkey. Despite that, he is an enormously coveted prospect because of his massive size and his polished offensive capabilities. 

Apart from Kanter's outstanding size, he has good mobility, with the ability to run the floor and finish around the rim in traffic. He has a reliable mid range shot and soft touch on his turn around jumper, which seems to be his go-to post move at the moment.

The only knock on Kanter is his lack of experience in playing competitive basketball. NBA Owners and GMs need to be wary of what kind of effect this prolonged absence from the game could have on his development as a player. With a potential lockout looking more and more likely, Kanter could be held out of competitive basketball for a 3rd straight year, which could really hurt his growth. Other than that, there's a lot to like about the Turkish big man.

2. Derrick Williams - PF - 6'9" - 250 - Arizona
NBA Role: Scorer, Rebounder, Shooter

In terms of efficiency, there's not a forward in this draft who can compare to Derrick Williams' 1.16 points per shot in his second year at Arizona. He is an amazingly versatile player who can put the ball on the floor, get to the free throw line, play either role in a pick and roll situation, post up, and even knock down the NBA 3 with deadly accuracy. He is powerful enough to hold his own against bigger players and athletic enough to jump with the best of them. 

Despite all of that, Williams still isn't a sure thing. Didn't all of these attributes once describe highly touted forward Michael Beasley just a few years back? Williams will need to demonstrate that he can be an effective front court player in the NBA by rebounding better, particularly on the defensive glass, and also cutting down on his turnovers by making smarter plays with he ball in his hands. Other than that, Williams is definitely a tier above everyone else in the draft other than the last guy in this post . . .

1. Kyrie Irving - PG - 6'2" - 190 - Duke
NBA Role: Scorer, Distributor, Shooter  

In a draft full of players with question marks, Kyrie Irving has none. There just isn't a safer pick this year. Irving has everything you want in a lead guard: speed, quickness, court vision, great decision making, ability to finish in traffic, athleticism, leadership ability, dedication, humility, charisma, you name it, he's got it. While none of these attributes is particularly mind-blowing, the full package when put together is truly special. Irving has the unique gift of talent which very few players are blessed with. 

With the ball in any situation, Irving makes the right play time and time again to put his team in the best position to score. Despite only having seen him play 11 college games, it's easy to see how talented he is and how much he can improve a team. He's smart, he rarely turns the ball over, he can defend opposing point guards, he is a great shooter on the catch as well as off the dribble, he's dangerous in pick and roll sets, in transition, or one on one. He has a complete game and knows how to play the point guard position. It's no wonder he's a no-brainer for the number one pick this year.

I could be a biased Duke homer in saying this, but I believe Kyrie Irving has a chance to be a top 3 point guard in the league in 2 or 3 years. I say this knowing D-Will, CP3, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, etc. are already becoming the best group of point guards the game has ever had at one time. I base this on nothing other than pure speculation and the games that I have watched, but it has been a long time since I've seen a guy do things with the basketball like this kid. Most people fall into two categories on this one: He's either got a lot of Chris Paul in him, or he's Mo Williams. I'm obviously in the former category, but I guess we'll see.

Close, but I didn't feel like writing a longer column: Jimmer Fredette, Marcus Morris, Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely, Marshon Brooks, Kenneth Faried, Markieff Morris

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