Every decade or so, there’s supposed to be a draft class that comes along and gives the NBA a total shake up.
There was 1984 (MJ, Hakeem, Barkley, Stockton), 1996 (Kobe, AI, Steve Nash, Ray Allen and several others) and then 2003 with LeBron, Wade, Melo and Bosh.
The word on the street is that 2012 has the potential to be up there. After a couple of mediocre draft classes (really, out of the last two years, how many sure-fire All Stars are there? Kyrie Irving, possibly Demarcus Cousins, John Wall if he gets it together…and that’s it) there’s hope that this lot can provide the NBA with a talent injection that we haven’t really seen for some years.
Is it gonna be a class like that? Let’s take a look. I’m obviously not going to be able to cover all the players who are likely to be available – but here’s the dudes who interest me the most.
Kentucky big man Anthony Davis is, at this stage, a mortal lock to be the number 1 pick. If you haven’t had a chance to watch him yet, then for the love of God make sure that you can watch Kentucky’s Final Four game. This kid is a dead set freak. He’s a hybrid of Blake Griffin and a younger Dwight Howard, only a better free throw shooter (around 70% – Tim Duncan’s averaged that for his career). I’m in love after only watching him twice. By all accounts, he’s also got his head on right. Whoever ends up with the number 1 pick this year will be very lucky – franchise cornerstones like Davis come around only once every few years.
After Davis, you have two guys who are being touted as definite future All-Stars – his Kentucky teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Connecticut center Andre Drummond. Drummond probably intrigues teams more simply by virtue of him being a big, athletic center, but he’s not a finished product by any stretch. He can run the floor, play good defense, block shots and rebound passably. His offensive game, however, is pretty much non-existent – he has no post moves or mid range jumper and he only made 30% of his FTs this past college season. Yes you read that right. He’s a work in progress for sure – how he turns out depends on the team that takes him and whether they’re willing to put in work to improve his game. Me, I’m not easily swayed by potential. I think he can be a solid starting big in the league but his offensive game is so far away I wouldn’t take him in the top 5.
As for Kidd-Gilchrist, he’s a do-everything wing who plays with the kind of swagger and determination you love to see if you’re scouting guys. In terms of skill the main thing he lacks is a consistent jumper – he has a slightly awkward shooting form that a good coach may need to iron out. Otherwise there’s nothing to dislike about this guy, both in his approach to the game and his skills itself. He’s a hell of an athlete, can create for himself and others, plays lockdown defense and is a beast in transition. If he can get that jumper going he’ll make several All-Star teams – as it stands he comes into the league at 19 with an intriguing skill set and the size/skills to play shooting guard and small forward. I’d take him at #2 assuming Davis was off the board.
Next, let’s take a look at a couple of very different but intriguing center prospects. Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger is an old school back-to-the-basket bruiser. Lacking great size (he’s listed at 6’10″ but the TV eye test suggests he’s closer to 6’8″ and a bit) or athleticism, Sullinger nonetheless is a very effective, efficient college big man on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he has one of the most refined games of any big man coming out in years. His footwork in the post, shot selection and ability to pass when on the block is unmatched in this draft, and he rebounds and has a terrific basketball IQ. While he’s not going to be much of a defender at the NBA level – his physical limitations will catch up with him there – at worst he’s a poor man’s Kevin Love without the 3pt ability. His draft stock is variable – I’d take him in the top 5, but more than likely his lack of eye-popping combine numbers will move him to the mid-to-late lottery.
UNC’s Tyler Zeller, on the other hand, is more of a prototypical modern center. Tall, athletic and rangy, Zeller runs the floor as well as any 7 footer out there and has a nice offensive game inside the paint, with the ability to play above and below the rim. Zeller is also an effective shot blocker due to his length and hops, however he’s a bit lacking in other facets of defense. He tends to get outmuscled in the paint and doesn’t have the lateral quickness to guard the pick and roll/guys who can step outside and make moves off the dribble, and his rebounding needs to pick up. If he were a 19 year old freshman he’d be a top-3 pick contender, but since he’s a four year senior teams will probably consider him to have maxed out his upside. A team in the mid part of the draft who needs a center will take a long look at him though – as they say, you can’t teach height. 10-18 pick is his range.
Now it’s time to take a look at a couple of the enigmas. Harrison Barnes probably made a big mistake in returning to UNC last year. Even though he struggled in his first college season after being the #1 high school recruit the year before, there was still some hope that he was just adjusting slowly to the college game and that he had the upside to succeed – after all, 6’8″ guards who can shoot the ball aren’t a dime a dozen. Now, however, it’s beginning to look as if Barnes is what he is and may not have a lot of upside. The guy can put the ball in the hoop, but his defense and application to the game are often questionable at best. Nor can he create his own shot, which may be even more worrying to NBA scouts – he’s only really been effective when UNC had pass-first PG Kendall Marshall (more on him later) feeding him the ball. At the start of the season he was talked about as a top-5 pick – now he’s not even a certainty to go in the lottery. If I were Barnes, I would stay in school. His stock probably won’t drop a lot lower after being as badly exposed as he was in the NCAA tournament as he was, and another year in college may allow him to work on his game.
Baylor forward Perry Jones is the other guy with more questions than answers right now. At times he looks like a world beater – at others, lost and aimless. He has a somewhat unique skill set that may not be wholly suited to the more structured college game – specifically, his ability to handle the ball, get to the rim and use his athleticism. However, that’s no excuse for his inconsistent effort, poor rebounding or defensive struggles. Again, he’s a guy who I would not touch before about the 20th pick – but some team who loves upside guys will grab him.
Finally, I’ll leave you with my favourite player in college basketball this season – UNC point guard Kendall Marshall. It’s a fucking travesty he got injured in the tournament, and you can point to his absence as to why a stacked UNC team struggled against Ohio University (Cinderella squad just happy to be there) and lost to Kansas (who have only one lottery prospect in Tommy Robinson). In a league of combo, score-first PGs, Marshall is a throwback – a pure, old school conductor of his team’s offense. Think of him as a less flashy Ricky Rubio. He has amazing feel for the game and sees things happening before anyone else does. Unfortunately he’s also not the quickest guy out there and isn’t a brilliant defender, although he has shown in the tournament he can create shots for himself and make them if called upon (another knock on his game). In a weak PG draft, however, a smart GM will probably recognise what he brings to the table and use a lottery pick on him. I can’t see him falling past Phoenix either way.
I may do another one of these closer to the draft, but if you have any other prospects you wanna get my opinion about, ask in the comments section and I’ll give you my 2 cents.