NBA Draft Preview
Those people who know me personally understand that the NBA Draft is one of my absolute favorite moments of the entire calendar year. While the Draft is still about two and a half months away, the NCAA Tournament got me thinking about the different players who have helped or hurt their status in terms of the NBA Draft. Along with profiles of these players and detailed descriptions of their statistical strengths and weakness, I also include their current projection for the 2009 and/or the 2010 draft.
Boot Up: Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins, Kansas – It is a very logical argument as to why these two youngsters are suddenly shooting up draft boards: in 2008 Kansas won the national championship, then six players were drafted, and these two were entrusted with the reign of the program under Coach Bill Self. Kansas won the Big 12 regular season title again this season, and advanced to the Sweet 16 where they lost to the eventual Final 4 representative in Michigan State. Aldrich became the first person since Shaquille O’Neal to put up a triple double with blocks in an NCAA Tournament game, while Collins drew dozens of comparisons to former Chicago native point guard Tim Hardaway. Both will probably wait one more year until they jump to the pros, but at the rate they are progressing, will be guaranteed locks for the lottery when things are all said and done: Aldrich (Top 10 pick in 2010) and Collins (Mid-to-late first rounder in 2010.)
Boot Up: Toney Douglas, Florida State – One of the best players you have never heard of in the country, as Douglas, a senior, won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award and was a first-team all conference selection. He was the point guard for the improved Seminoles in 2008-2009, but would be under-skilled point guard in the NBA, and at 6-5 could be an ideal shooting guard and perimeter defender in the mold of Delonte West for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Led the ACC in scoring this year as well at 21.46 points per game, and is an above average three-pointer shooter at 37.2% over the last two seasons. The scouts might not be too high on him, but I have a good feeling about his future success in the pros, and think that he could be a real difference maker on a team like Utah, New Orleans or Phoenix if they give him a chance in the second round: Second round to undrafted in 2009.
Boot Up: Chris Wright, Dayton – What a scenery for a career game, as the sophomore Wright put up a new career-high in 27 points in the Flyers first round win over West Virginia. It was the first NCAA Tournament victory for the University of Dayton since 1990, and put Wright back on the NBA Draft radar after a disappointing season coming off knee issues in his first year. He is no longer a NBA superb prospect, but his improved scoring abilities as noticed late in the season (averaged 15.2 points in 26.2 minutes in the final ten games) should make him a decent draft pick. Derrick Brown out of Xavier will more likely than not be the first Atlantic-10 player selected in the draft next season, but I have now seen Wright as high as 26 in draft boards for next season: late first to early-second rounder in 2010.
Boot Up: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue – If NCAA Basketball had a most improved player award, it would probably go to this sophomore forward from Purdue. The 6-10 Johnson provided an amazing complement (and replacement) to Robbie Hummel late in the year for Coach Matt Painter and company, and will now be squarely in the first round of draft boards for 2010. He improved his field goal percentage from 42.1% to 54.0% this season, a big reason why his points scored per 48 minutes improved from 15.52 to 23.93 this season. As impressive however, is the fact that his non-point production raise from 11.03 per 48 minutes last season, to 17.69 this year. He has a tremendous wingspan, and if he can bulk up his 215-pound frame, could easily have the potential to be a starting power forward in the NBA in the mold of a player like LaMarcus Aldridge from Portland or David West from New Orleans: Mid-to-late first rounder in 2010.
Boot Up: Blake Griffin, Oklahoma – I wonder if any doubt remains questioning whether the Oklahoma sophomore will be the first pick in this year’s NBA Draft. As improbable as it seemed two weeks ago, Blake Griffin actually improved his draft standing with an unbelievable NCAA Tournament. In his four games and 141 minutes played, he averaged 28.5 points and 15.0 rebounds per game on 78.0% shooting. None of those are typos and in fact, on the entire season, he averaged 32.71 points and 20.77 rebounds per 48 minutes played, making him a phenomenal prospect for the bigger and stronger NBA. The most accurate scouting projection I ever heard of Griffin is that he has the body and rebounding ferocity of Carlos Boozer, with the inside scoring abilities of LeBron James. His defensive rebounding (15.20 per 48 minutes this season) would easily have been the best in the NBA last year (Marcus Camby at 14.05) or even this season (Troy Murphy at 13.95.) Now if only he lands on the Oklahoma City Thunder next year, they could easily make the playoffs quickly: number one pick in 2009
Boot Up: Ben Woodside, North Dakota State – Two years ago I predicted that Louisiana Tech forward Paul Millsap would be a great player in the NBA because he had led the NCAA in rebounding two years in a row. Now he is on the verge of signing a massive contract in the upcoming off-season, and could likely be the franchise power forward in Utah over oft-injured Carlos Boozer. Now, listen to me on Ben Woodside, a player who opened a few eyes with his play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Minneapolis against Kansas. The twenty-three year old 5-11 fifth year senior playing for Bison of North Dakota State was eighth in the nation in scoring this year, and even scored 60 points in a ball game earlier this season. In his four playing years with the Bison, he always averaged at least 16.4 points, 5.1 assists, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game to go along with 39.2% three-point shooting. His numbers will not directly translate to the pros because of his strength of schedule in college, but I believe he has a high ceiling as a poor man’s Mike Bibby or Kirk Hinrich: Second round to undrafted in 2009.
Boot Down: Everyone on Wake Forest – There was a good reason why Wake Forest started this season 16-0 and at one point was #1 in the nation; they have about as much young talent as any team in the nation. Between 6-9 freshman forward Al-Farouq Aminu, 6-9 sophomore forward James Johnson and 6-2 sophomore guard Jeff Teague, the Deamon Deacons had three legitimate prospects with NBA Lottery capabilities this season. In the NCAA Tournament, Wake Forest was a #4 seed because of their 8-6 slide leading up to March Madness, and had the pleasure to face the #13 seed Horizon League Champions from Cleveland State. We all know the story by now that the Vikings won their first Tournament game since 1985 en route to losing to #12 seed Arizona, who lost to #1 seed Louisville who lost to #2 seed Michigan State, but lost in this was the fact that all three prospects from Wake Forest took a significant hit in their draft status. Well, probably not as much as I initially thought, but all three lack strength and toughness, and it might be a while until they are impact players in the NBA: Aminu (Lottery pick in 2009), Johnson (Mid-to-late first rounder in 2009), and Teague (Mid-to-late first rounder in 2009).
Boot Down: Greivis Vasquez, Maryland – Greivis Vasquez was one of the more surprising players in the ACC this season, leading an upstart Maryland Terrapins team to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He failed to make significant jumps on NBA Draft boards all season, despite a triple-double earlier in the year against North Carolina, being one of the better guard rebounders in the country at 5.4 boards per game. Then the 6-5 junior guard decided to up the ante a bit, and called on the Memphis Tigers in the Tournament declaring, “They would have a losing record in the ACC.” With these carefully chosen words he emulated Joey Dorsey of Memphis two years ago he criticized Greg Oden of Ohio State, and both lost their respective games. Way to make a fool out of yourself General Greivis, but with one more similarly productive year in school you could be a lottery pick: Late-first to early-second rounder in 2010.
Boot Down: Jrue Holiday, UCLA – This standout point guard from North Hollywood, California came into the season as the #4 recruit in the nation according to the ESPNU100, ahead of such players as B.J. Mullens, Demar DeRozan, Willie Warren and Al-Farouq Aminu. Unfortunately, he was underwhelming all season and failed to live up the expectations of his Coach Ben Howland. On the season, he averaged only 14.96 points, 6.52 assists and 6.67 rebounds per 48 minutes, and played 27.14 minutes per contest. In the post-season especially, it seemed that Holiday just disappeared as the Bruins stumbled into and then out of the NCAA Tournament. In fact, in his final twelve games of the season he only averages 5.67 points per ball game with only three double-digit performances. He may have been the least impressive recruit in the nation this season, and may have a harder time sneaking into the lottery this year than Ohio State big man B.J. Mullens: Mid-to-late first rounder in 2009, or lottery pick in 2010.
Boot Down: BJ Mullens, Ohio State – Now let me move on to the #5 prospect in the nation from last season, the third Ohio State big man in as many years to declare for the NBA Draft. Ironic to a certain extent, that Mullens announced his desire to jump into the draft, on the exact same day that former Glen Oak standout and Buckeye center Kosta Koufos packed his bags for the NBDL. Mullens has bust written all over him, despite the impressive per-minute numbers from his only season in the collegiate level. He definitely has the inside scoring abilities that are critical for a soft seven-footer, but he lacks toughness, stamina and court savvy, especially to compete in the much more physical NBA. One example of this is that Mullens only registered 671 minutes played this season, sixth on a very young and inexperienced Ohio State team that only had only healthy returning starter this season. Some team will take a gamble on him, but it probably will not pay off until the time I graduate from college: Mid-to-late first rounder in 2009, or top five pick in 2010.
Boot Down: James Harden, Arizona State – I think this sophomore guard is one of the more difficult players to analyze in this year’s draft despite being in the top five in the Pac-10 in scoring for the second consecutive year this season. The 6-5 guard out of Los Angeles, California is a pure scorer, and because of that is currently among the top four or five picks in this year’s draft. What concerns me however, were his struggles down the stretch this season. In his first 66 games of his collegiate career, he averaged 26.68 points per 48 minutes to go along with 1.154 points per field goal attempt. In his final three games this season against Southern Cal, Temple and Syracuse, he only had 12.77 points per 48 minutes and 0.593 points per field goal attempt. He is going to have to have a very impressive workout for scouts to forget his final images in the college game, but even so, he is too talented to fall out of the top ten: Top five pick in 2009.
Boot Down: Stephen Curry, Davidson – Scouts were jittery over the possibilities with this junior guard out of a small school from North Carolina, who lit up the NCAA Tournament scene en route to the Elite Eight. This season however, things are starkly different for Curry and the Wildcats, as they lost in the Southern Conference semifinals and then in the second round of the NIT to San Diego State. Scouts are now saying that he has a very limited upside, with average athleticism and weak defensive capabilities. His game may not transfer to the professional level immediately, and it is looking like with a more impressive 2009, he could possibly be a lottery pick after he graduates. This season, I know that LeBron James is interested in having him in a Cavaliers uniform, and that would actually be a distinct possibility if the Cavaliers did not need more bodies in the frontcourt: Mid-to-late first rounder in 2009, or lottery pick in 2010.
Current Lottery for this year’s Draft (averages are only for 2009 mock drafts):
1. Blake Griffin (average: 1.00, Oklahoma, #1 on ESPN Big Board)
2. James Harden (average: 2.50, Arizona State, #5 on ESPN Big Board)
3. Jordan Hill (average: 3.00, Arizona, #7 on ESPN Big Board)
4. Hasheem Thabeet (average: 3.50, Connecticut, #4 on ESPN Big Board)
5. Brandon Jennings (average: 5.25, Italy, #11 on ESPN Big Board)
6. Gerald Henderson (average: 6.50, Duke, #20 on ESPN Big Board)
7. Stephen Curry (average: 9.00, Davidson, #15 on ESPN Big Board – undecided, small sample size)
8. Demar DeRozan (average: 9.25, Southern Cal, #10 on ESPN Big Board)
9. Willie Warren (average: 9.50, Oklahoma, #9 on ESPN Big Board)
10. Al-Farouq Aminu (average: 9.67, Wake Forest, #6 on ESPN Big Board)
11. Earl Clark (average: 10.50, Louisville, #16 on ESPN Big Board)
12. Jeff Teague (average: 11.50, Wake Forest, #26 on ESPN Big Board)
13. Tyreke Evans (average: 15.50, Memphis, #14 on ESPN Big Board)
14. Ty Lawson (average: 15.75, North Carolina, #23 on ESPN Big Board)
Averages and projections are from these following Web sites: