By Chris Le
The NBA Draft is a whole lot of guesswork. A half-blind appraisal, really, with a success rate so low that NBA teams might as well let fans pick through an online poll, à la All-Star voting.
But that’s half the fun. Opinions vary, as much as they are ubiquitous, and anyone who has read my blog knows I can’t resist chiming in. But I don’t bother with draft order or team need. I have neither the time nor the inclination to think about either. I leave that to NBA front offices, and Chad Ford.
Instead I imagined, as I think all guys do at one point in their lives, that I was the GM of my very own NBA team—the San Jose Bowls of Pho, as I would call them. Then I asked myself, “Who would I most want to build my franchise around, and in what order?”
That thought experiment led to this list.
Caveat: Only includes players I’ve watched. So the likes of Paul George—who toiled in obscurity at Fresno State but now, after a few epic workouts, has scouts slangin’ their firstborns for a shot at him—are not included. There’s only so much you can ascertain from highlight videos on YouTube; in the hands of a talented enough video editor, I’m sure even I could look like the Asian Manu Ginobili. And I suck at basketball.
Tier 1: Generational Talents
1. John Wall, PG, Kentucky – You already know why so I won’t prattle. The tangible tools are obvious: size (6’4, freaky 6’8 wingspan), redline speed that is tailor-made for the NBA, extreme aggression on the fastbreak, volatile athleticism and the best off-handle dribble I have ever seen in a prospect. Complete left-hand control, even at full sprint, and he can finish with it, up and over for a dunk or with a gentle kiss off the glass. Blows my mind every time. No joke, it’s not far behind LeBron’s.
Physically, Wall is as impressive as Derrick Rose and shares his score-first mentality. That’s not to say he’s selfish or can’t set up for others; just that he can score at any time so why the hell not, right? Great demeanor, too. He’s mature beyond his years and steps up on both ends in pressure situations (game-winner in his first college game, game-sealing block against Vanderbilt are among his highlights). A scary combination of skill and will—the type of player I want to start a franchise with. This kid has greatness in his eyes, and he isn’t afraid to embrace it.
NBA Comparison: Russell Westbrook/Derrick Rose
Tier 2: Immediate Contributors
(Picks 2-4 are as close as Anna Paquin’s eyes.)
2. DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kentucky – The highest potential—to boom or bust—in the draft. Word is he’s lazy (came into the combine at 16.4 percent body fat and 292 pounds, about twenty north of his playing weight, despite claiming strict adherence to a salad and seafood diet. Was it a “see food, and eat it” diet, DeMarcus?). Courtside hissy fits also suggest that he may be a cancerous malcontent in a league eager to obviate prima donnas.
But Cousins was hugely productive in limited playing time at Kentucky (15 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks in only 23.5 minutes). He is a behemoth in the paint and a physical mismatch, and will be even in the pros; imagine a destitute man’s Shaq. That big ass of his and wide-as-a-truck shoulders can unseat most solo defenders and gain prime position to score or rebound. What I like most, though? His footwork and hands, which are Velcro and adequately supple to corral knuckleball rebounds or low trajectory bounce passes; if the ball is within reach, he’s gettin’ it and uprooting fools in the process.
However, a strong locker room presence—the right coach or a veteran leader—who can mentor Cousins as a player, and as a man, is vital. Proper tutelage could make or break his career.
NBA Comparison: Erick Dampier to Al Jefferson
3. Evan Turner, SG, Ohio St. – Should sexiness, as in pizazz and excitement, play a role in drafting? Probably not, but as GM, I also realize that a prospect’s sexiness is proportional to his potential. And Turner is as sexy as under-the-covers missionary position—effective, to the point, all business, but lacking a little sumthin’ sumthin’, kinda like Brandon Roy did in 2006.
The Brandon Roy comparisons are belabored but fitting. Turner is a fairly accurate carbon copy: half-court extraordinaire because of his handles, advanced mid-range game and high basketball smarts, with slightly better rebounding and versatility. Only slightly because Turner measures in at a marginal 6’5 ¼”, without shoes, spreads a 6’8″ wingspan (same as John Wall’s, by the way) and his athleticism is merely above average; I don’t foresee his dynamic rebounding translating to the league, at least not at his college clip of 9.1 per game.
In the end, I have Cousins at number two on my Big Board because of Turner’s lower ceiling, even if his floor is higher. A gamble I’m willing to take.
NBA Comparison: Anthony Parker to Brandon Roy
4. Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech – How long and athletic is Favors? He measures favorably to Dwight Howard (within half an inch in height, reach and vertical)—a freak athlete with potential to spare. They also share the same penchant for defense.
Okay, he’s a physical beast. So why the low production in college? This concerns me. It’s not quite a red flag—a pink one, maybe—but enough to make me think twice about taking him at 3, though not past 4.
Like Howard, Favors lacks assertiveness, which prevented him from becoming the dominant presence his physical gifts hint at. I’m always wary of overwhelming talents with underwhelming college careers. It usually points to a mental quality. Is he too much of a nice guy? Does he have the telltale signs of a second fiddle and not a star? I don’t know, but he didn’t leave the mark at Georgia Tech that I expected. He did not separate from a mediocre team, and instead played down to his teammates. Not exactly what I want for my rebuilding team. The Dwight Howard comparison is optimistic, but Favors is a great prospect nonetheless and should immediately make the starting lineup.
NBA Comparison: Antonio McDyess to a less bouncy Amare Stoudemire
Tier 3: Solid Building Blocks
5. Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, Wake Forest
6. Wesley Johnson, SF, Syracuse
Both are similarly long and athletic, epitomes of mismatches in waiting. But like insurance companies, NBA General Managers are ageist. Johnson, 23, is NBA-ready and polished but middle-aged by draft standards. That’s why I’d rather have Aminu, a rough gem who is young for his class at 19, with extra years before the verdict (bust or boom?) is set.
But Aminu needs to use, and further develop, his perimeter shot. That’s the only thing keeping him from Tier 2 status. As is, however, Aminu is a freak athlete who works best in transition, and he isn’t afraid to get dirty on the boards either—a quality I love in a prospect. Plus, he’s got two kickers: 1) He’s a descendant of Nigerian Royalty, so he’s got to be badass, and 2) His name translates to “The chief has arrived.” That alone almost ranks him above the ninny-sounding Wesley Johnson.
NBA Comparison: Thaddeus Young to Marvin Williams to Josh Smith
Wes has the opposite problem. With his physical tools, which should allow him to penetrate at will, Johnson’s reliance on his jumper is disconcerting. Too often he settles for the bailout perimeter shot, instead of attacking; though aversion to physicality, I hear, is a classic characteristic of middle age. (That was a joke. I agree, not that funny.) He was productive in college, as he will be in the pros. But just that—productive, in a ho-hum manner—without much star quality.
NBA Comparison: Travis Outlaw to Shawn Marion to Joe Johnson
Tier 4: Projects
This is where the draft nosedives. The aforementioned players are elite—top ten picks in most any draft—with John Wall being a transcendent talent. The following players have athleticism and/or skill—lottery level athleticism and skill, some would argue—but each has a distinct weakness, a peccadillo that could translate into an Achilles Heel in the pros: lack of size or athleticism; a jack-of-all-trades, master of none; or an absent killer instinct. Whichever team decides to pick these players should have surrounding talent that masks the prospects’ deficiencies.
(Gut Pick Alert!)
7. Eric Bledsoe, PG, Kentucky – Bledsoe’s draft stock has taken a hit because he didn’t play much lead guard at Kentucky. (Fellow freshman John Wall was too busy kicking ass as floor general.) This is a problem for Bledsoe because he projects as a point guard in the NBA. Despite his inexperience, however, I think Bledsoe can run the point; maybe not as a pure guard in the vein of Steve Nash or Jason Kidd, but as a scorer/defender with “Holy shit” athleticism. This pick might not make sense today, or even next season. But it will three years from now.
NBA Comparison: Poor man’s Russell Westbrook
8. Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina – Right now, Davis is a one-sided player; that side being defense. Despite his lack of girth, he projects as a solid rebounder/shot-blocker combo based purely on his hustle and intensity. And he runs up and down the court smoothly, a good sign that his body (more importantly, his knees) can withstand the herk-and-jerk of 80+ games (unlike Oden and Thabeet, who both labor to get back). With an additional 20 pounds of muscle, Davis will be highly productive on and off the ball defensively, but still not much of an intimidator. His natural slenderness, along with his crude skills, will hurt him on offense, where he’ll struggle to shed defenders.
NBA Comparison: Udonis Haslem to maybe-but-probably-not Chris Bosh
9. Greg Monroe, PF, Georgetown – I’ve questioned Monroe since his high school days when he was a top recruit. Now that he’s entering the draft, my reservations are the same. Monroe shies from the ball, notably in the clutch, and there’s a little too much finesse in him to play a power position. I don’t see the heart to be a star.
Can you say Chris Webber? And a Webber ceiling might be generous. But would I take a player who’s versatile, highly skilled and may one day give me 15-9-3-1.5 a night but can’t be relied on in the crunch with my 9th pick? Sure. Just as long as he’s not my best player, or second best player.
NBA Comparison: Josh McRoberts to Brad Miller to Lamar Odom
10. Xavier Henry, SG, Kansas – Good height (6’6), great frame (210 pounds). Too bad he doesn’t know how to use his size yet. Henry can finish nicely at the basket; the problem is getting there. He doesn’t have the quickest first step so turning the corner on a defender will be difficult. But teams will draft Xavier (pronounced Zah-vee-A; how fancy) for one thing and one thing only: his three point range. Henry may struggle to create but will serve as a dangerous spot-up shooter and a solid complimentary player.
NBA Comparison: James Posey
Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas – One word: Limited. Defensively, offensively, athletically … he’s limited. He’s constantly compared to Joel Przybilla. But is that supposed to excite me as a GM? Hell yeah, the next Joel Przybilla! Clear the cabinet for future championships!
NBA Comparison: Offensive-minded Joel Przybilla
Also beware of: Daniel Orton, PF, Kentucky; Gordon Hayward, SF, Butler
Brian Zoubek, C, Duke – Another Przybilla clone. (Man, not a good crop of centers if Joel Przybilla is the most used comparison.) Zoubek probably won’t get drafted. And why should he? He’s foul prone, uncoordinated, laterally slow as molasses and can barely dunk despite being 7’1″. But he does one thing exceptionally well: rebound the offensive board. No one in the last decade compares, except maybe DeJuan Blair, and if you can rebound, that just might be enough to have a career in the NBA. Also overlooked is Zoubek’s passing. He can pass in traffic or, as he likes to do, out of the post—a skill that should keep him on some NBA roster.
So if they’re both splices of Przybilla and dog turd, why is Zoubek a sleeper and Aldrich a bust? Location, location, location. Aldrich will be taken in the lottery while Zoubek is likely a free agent signee, maybe a late second rounder. Zoubek may be an inferior prospect, but they both project as similar players. More bang for your buck with Zoubs.
NBA Comparison: Joel Przybilla.
Also watch out for: Greivis Vasquez, PG, Maryland; Jordan Crawford (aka “Dude Who Dunked On LeBron”), SG, Xavier; Lance Stephenson, SG, Cincinnati