By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
Posted Jun 19 2009 10:44PM
Every year, in January and February, NBA personnel types almost always uniformly say the same thing: "this is a terrible draft. Worst in the last 10 years."
Then in March and April, during the NCAA tournament, that changes, a little: "well, there's a few good guys that'll be there. But it's still a very weak draft."
Then comes May and June, when they work out the underclassmen, seniors, Euros and other wannabes in their own buildings. And afterward, they'll say, "you know, I didn't know Joe Blow was this good. He's really got a chance."
Such is the annual dance of expectations, hopes and (second-) guessing that we call the NBA Draft. Two rounds. Sixty picks. And a whole lot of lying. Not to mention the lying. Did I mention that there's a lot of lying going on this time of year?
Like the renewed interest in A.J. Price's brain, for example.
Price, the Connecticut point guard, is fighting to make a place for himself in a draft that is loaded at his position. It won't be a surprise if at least five of the top 10 picks are points. Price won't be among them. He'd love to slip into the late first round, but that's not likely; it will be a successful night if his name is heard at all. So any movement, up or down, could be a godsend or fatal to his hopes of sticking.
So Price was surprised to hear a couple of weeks ago that teams supposedly had renewed concerns about an aneurysm he had suffered three years ago after his freshman season at UConn. Supposedly, despite having had surgery and not having had any relapses, there were teams that believed the aneurysm could resurface somewhere down the road in Price's pro career. This very well might be true. Or, it could be that there's a team, or teams, that would love to create enough doubt about Price's health to get other teams to take a pass on him so that he'd slip down to them. (At least one team that had red-flagged Price after the Chicago pre-draft camp in May now says its own examinations and information from Price's physicians have cleared him.)
"All the doctors who checked me out know there's no lingering effects from that," Price said this week in Washington, where he had a workout for the Wizards along with Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings -- two points that will be taken well before him. "I had surgery three years ago. I never have to worry about it again. In fact, I know more about my brain being perfect than anybody else. So, I'm fine. You don't want to point fingers at different people or different groups, and say they're at fault, but things happen. This is a big time for a lot of people. Guys want to go in the right situations. And if they can do anything to hinder what you're able to do, they'll try to do it."
These are the stakes, Lyndon Johnson once said about something way more important than the draft. But with a week to go before the proceedings at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, teams are hunkering down in their war rooms and starting to get serious. The real trade offers, and not the nonsense you've heard about over the last month, are being made. Teams with high picks like Sacramento, Minnesota and Memphis are having a last round of workouts and interviews this weekend with the top prospects.
That's where I come in.
I don't do mock drafts. I know you like them. But they're a total waste of your time and mine. Even the best draftniks in basketball and football, the guys who spend all year looking at people, get more than half of their guesses wrong, because a) most teams are lying to them when they say we're taking Player X, and b) trades that haven't even been thought of when the draftniks are making their guesses come up at the last minute. Or something happens that no one expects.
For example, most people think Oklahoma City, picking third, is going to keep its pick and take a shooting guard. That very well may happen. But what if a player no one thought was available -- let's just say, for the sake of argument and not because it is actually happening, Caron Butler -- became available. The Thunder might well jettison the pick. Another example: everyone has Washington trading the fifth pick, which is certainly the Wizards' intention at the moment. But what if there's no offer to their liking? Would they take Curry at five? I think so. And that would ruin many a mock board.
What I can do is give you a "Big Board" of 50 players, the top 10 at each position. Where they go is something none of us is going to know with any certainty until just before the Commish walks up to the podium. (Wait. Strike that. We know Blake Griffin is going first, and unless the Cavs offer LeBron or the Hornets offer Chris Paul, Griffin's going to the Clippers.)
Let's start with the deepest position in this draft, point guard. For purposes of this discussion, we're listing players at the position that will likely play in the NBA. That's why, even though Tyreke Evans played some two guard for Memphis last season, he's listed as a point guard here. The measurements you see are the ones taken at the Chicago pre-draft camp in late May. Players that weren't there have estimated heights and weights, taken from their team's Web sites abroad or from reputable basketball sites like FIBA.com. The rankings are mine, based on discussions over the past several months with more than 30 NBA scouts, general managers, player personnel directors and coaches, along with college coaches whose teams played against the prospect last season. In exchange for their candor, I'm not naming most of them, other than their job position and the division in which their team plays.
For four years, NBA types have been waiting for Ricky Rubio. The wait is almost over.
"I love the kid," says a Central Division team's player personnel director, and he's not alone. A YouTube sensation since he was 15, Rubio, now 18, has played for money against men throughout his teenage years, and he's never failed to impress with his knowledge of the game and how to get his teammates the ball. Playing in the ACB Division of the Spanish League -- considered by many to be the best in the world outside of the NBA -- since he was 14 (he is the youngest player to ever play in that league), Rubio has become a star for DKV Joventut, whose notable alumni include Portland's rookie sensation Rudy Fernandez and Jordi Villacampa, who is now the team's general manager.
His teams in Europe have won all manner of Cups and championships (including a title in the Under-16 European championships in 2006), when Rubio had a mere 51 points and 24 rebounds in a double-overtime victory over Russia. Any remaining doubts about Rubio's ability to play under the bright lights were dispelled last summer as he helped lead Spain to the Olympic gold medal game against the United States. Try as they might, All-Star guards Paul and Jason Kidd couldn't rip the kid, who was playing with an injured right wrist.
Add to that the good looks of a Spanish kid who loves hip-hop, and you have a potential marketing dream no matter where he goes, someone who could sell tickets in a still-sodden economy with an electric, no-look, lob-pass kind-of-game.
"He's a basketball player and he will survive as a basketball player," says a second Central Division personnel man who's seen Rubio extensively in Spain for two years. "Will he be an All-Star? I'm not sure; he could go either way. But as a basketball player, he will make his teammates better. He's an aggressive on-ball defender, not quick with his feet, but his hands are so quick. A great thinker of the game, and a great feel for the game. He's going to play in the NBA, and the four players he'll play with will be pretty good (playing with him). He will make a difference. He won't fall flat on his face. He can play."
The only on-court question about Rubio is an inconsistent jumper that he will have to make adequate to keep defenses honest.
"He's a good defender," a third Central Division personnel man says. "But he's not a shooter at all. I compare him to Jason Kidd and Randy Livingston when he was healthy. They can control games without scoring. But you wonder about the offense there."
Off the court, a huge buyout with Joventut ($6.6 million) is still an issue; if Rubio doesn't pay it by the end of the month, it rises to $8 million, a huge nut for a guy that played for less than $100,000 last season. (And while Rubio has some potential to sell shoes in the States, it's not likely any shoe company would front that kind of check against potential future earnings.) The matter is currently in arbitration in Spain, with Rubio looking to get that buyout number lowered. It will not affect his draft status in any case; he could go as high as two to Memphis (or a team trading with the Grizz to select him there).
Right behind Rubio is Evans, the Memphis freshman who will likely follow Derrick Rose as a high lottery selection after one year of school for John Calipari. At nearly 6-foot-6, Evans has great size for a point guard and scouts love his toughness and willingness to work at his deficiencies -- and he still has one big one (more on that below). More than one scout compares him favorably with a Larry Hughes, able to play both guard spots (some teams still list him as a shooting guard), but with a better handle and more toughness.
"He's growing on me," says a Northwest Division personnel man of Evans.
One Conference USA head coach whose team played against Memphis twice last season was impressed that Evans' teammates made no fuss when Calipari gave Evans the ball midway through last season.
"He's so great going to the basket and he has that sixth sense as far as driving the basketball and going where it needs to be," the coach said. "He was unstoppable all year whether you played zone or man. They were going for a national championship and when they moved him to the point there was no complaining."
Another C-USA head coach whose team played Memphis points out that Evans may do better in the pros because the Tigers' dribble-drive motion offense didn't have many screen-and-roll sets, something that Evans will do well in the pros.
"I think he would be a pretty good pick and roll guard, like Deron Williams," the coach said. "He's very physical. He's got a tremendous work ethic. We got there early and he was the only guy out there, putting up a couple hundred shots...I think he's going to be a very good player. He had trouble with smaller, quicker guys [defensively], but he was a freshman. Rose wasn't a great defensive player his year, either, but he had Antonio Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts behind him. [Evans] never played point guards at the high school level. We tried to attack him there and he wasn't the best defensive player, but he was on a team with great defenders. I think he has a conscience for it and a feel for it."
But there is a big issue with pro scouts when it comes to Evans -- his jumper. It starts behind his head, like Jamaal Wilkes used to shoot. And he's the only one in recent memory that could shoot it that way in the NBA. Evidently, Calipari didn't want to tinker with it too much and left it alone, which was probably smart for a likely one-and-done guy. But Evans has work to do to make it better.
"I'm not a big Tyreke guy, 'cause he can't shoot the ball," says a scout for a team picking in the top 10 of the draft. "His shot is so inconsistent. He's got great size, but I don't know if I trust him with my ball. And you've got to play him at the point. You can't play him at the two. You're not going to guard him out there."
An assistant general manager whose team is also picking in the top 10, on Evans: "He's talented, but I think that shot is broken."
Says a Central Division college scout: "I'm not his biggest fan, but I did see him take over a basketball game. I don't trust his jump shot. But yeah, he could [improve]. He's such a driver, and [Hughes] could shoot his jump shot. Larry has a beautiful stroke. If Tyreke had a beautiful stroke I'd be a Tyreke fan. Sometimes you have to come off the screen and roll and shoot the jump shot -- and like shooting it. Tyreke doesn't like his shot. Everything else about him, I like. 'Cause he's a big, strong bully guard."
A Southeast Division scout has concerns about Evans' decision making at the point.
"When he played against UAB he was 3-of-14 and had 10 turnovers," the scout said. "They said we're going to make you make real decisions. His lineage is to score. That's what he's been doing since he was five years old. I love the experts who say because a guy can dribble, he's a point guard. He played against Syracuse and he was 2-of-7 with seven turnovers."
Nonetheless, Evans is considered too good to pass up. And to make sure, I called up a pretty good point guard in his day -- Rod Strickland, an assistant to Calipari at Memphis who is now with Calipari at Kentucky. If anyone would know about playing the point in the NBA, it's Strickland -- still, in my view, the greatest player ever who never played in an NBA All-Star Game.
"He's very unselfish," Strickland said of Evans. "He'll do the work. He will work on the jump shot and get better. He's strong. His arms are ridiculous. He'll come up and all of a sudden he's reversing the ball. You put it in front fo him and he'll rip it on you. He's got those Dennis Johnson arms. He's a basketball dude. He'll get in the gym and work. He's never ever going to be a problem. "
Coming up fast is Davidson's Curry, who played the point last season to show NBA types that he could after he spent two years mainly off the ball. His shot has never been in question; he has Reggie Miller-type range and he is Dell's kid, after all. But concerns about his size to play the point were alleviated in Chicago ("everybody said I was 6-foot-1; I'm 6-3," he said this week) and he has shown in workouts that he can make enough plays at the point at the pro level.
"I saw a lot of defensive strategies, a lot of different looks," Curry said this week. "So I got to adjust from game to game, and that's how it's going to be in the NBA next year. And conditioning-wise, running a team for 40 minutes a game, for the entire season...to have that kind of experience, it's very beneficial to me, and now I can just add on to what I learned last year."
Curry has come a long way from his first college game, when he had a double-double -- 16 points and 14 turnovers.
Said one of my Central Division guys: "I was reading something where some guy said that Curry isn't going to be as good as J.J. Redick. I'm thinking, has this guy seen Stephen Curry play? I haven't seen that. I think he's much more complete than J.J. Is he big time? I don't know about that. But I think he's going to be a real good player."
A Pacific Division scout: "My contention on Stephen Curry is that he would be best suited playing with a big, ballhandling guard. I thought [earlier] Curry would fall to Atlanta; he'd be a great pick. Like [Mike] Bibby, he's a pretty good shooter."
One assistant coach of a power conference team that played Davidson this past season also compares Curry favorably with Redick.
"Redick is a little bit better shooter in college," the assistant said. "Not much, but better. But Steph is a far better player. You take the rest of the game, it's not even close. He defends. He lurks, like we used to accuse [Larry] Bird of doing, and he'd get three steals a game. His savvy defensively is far better than Redick. His ability to pass and create is far better. And Steph hasn't seen single coverage in a long time. I saw some Devin Harris in him. He's not Devin, but he's not Chris Quinn, either. He can see. He's not going to blow by you but he can get you on his hip, and he's strong."
Some of my guys think UCLA's Holiday, despite barely playing the position and being 18, might be the most natural point guard of the whole bunch.
Says a Northwest Division GM of Holiday: "He's terrific. He didn't play well but there were a lot of factors. If you go back to what he did in high school, he needs the ball in his hands. He's cerebral. A thinker. He understands the position better than Westbrook did in college. He didn't show what he could do, in my opinion. I think he's going to be a good pro. And he's super young."
But there is far from a consensus on Holiday's skills. My top 10 team scout isn't sold yet.
"He didn't show anything in college," the scout said. "He's still an unknown. My thing is, dominate your peers, and then you can say I'm ready to come out."
Holiday's potential, though, will be too good for him to fall out of the top 10.
"He's gonna go higher than you think and I don't know if he deserves to," says a Northwest Division scout. "But he can really pass the ball. He can get on top of the basket and do some things. I think it was difficult for him playing out of position. But he made some passes that nobody else could make. Not a lights out shooter, but he's very young."
Syracuse's Flynn decided to come out after his sophomore season, and despite the crowded picture at the point, he probably made a good decision. A 5-foot-11 kid is never going to be everyone's first choice, no matter how talented. His heroic, 67-minute performance in the Orangemens' six-overtime victory over Connecticut in the Big East Tournament got a lot of people's attention, and Flynn's hops (40-inch vertical) and winning personality will make him a lottery pick for sure.
Flynn is the guy my top 10 scout would take at the point.
"He's got that bounce for a little guy," the scout said. "He's got real big time competitive fire. They played mostly zone, so you wouldn't really see him strap up [defensively]. He'll go in there and bang it on you. I thnk in our league, especially if you're a little guy, if you've got bounce, it gives you an edge, like T.J. Ford. Flynn's got the bounce and the J. He's not bad running a team. Flynn'll be all right in terms of managing a game. He's got a pretty good [basketball] I.Q. He's not clueless."
Says a Central Division GM: "A guy like Jonny Flynn, he can come in and play today. He's a nice kid but he's tough as nails. In Chicago, he tested off the charts with his vertical and his two foot jump and his strength testing. He's a little fireplug."
Jennings, as you recall, went the unconventional route, opting not to go to college for a contract playing in the rugged Italian League for Lottomatica Virtus Roma. He competed against Rubio over there, dissed him over here ("all hype," Jennings sniffed) but quickly apologized. Rail-thin at 170 alleged pounds, Jennings has one thing going for him -- he's the fastest guy with the ball almost anywhere, and that end-to-end speed will take him to the top half of the first round. Comparisons to Nick Van Exel came from more than one birddog, though they allowed that Nick the Quick had a much better jumper than Jennings.
"I think he's going to be a good player down the road," a Southeast Division GM says of Jennings. "He's got the tools, long arms. He's only 18 years old and he's playing against men over there ... he's got a chance down the road. He's a definite first-round pick. His shot looks better than it did. It's still not a knockdown shot, but it looks better."
Scouts that went over to see Jennings play in Europe tended to have a more positive view of him than those that didn't.
Says one, from a Southeast Division team: "I just talked to their coach, a couple of his teammates, and they all said the kid should have played more. He had the talent. I think [the coach] was just rebelling, getting a lot of pressure from the front office, you have to play this kid. He can fly up and down the court."
A Pacific GM thinks the uncertainty about playing time led to Jennings's decision not to participate in the Reebok Eurocamp earlier this month: "He basically reached his ending point in Europe. I think he just said 'I've got to get out of here.' Their season ended and he would have been there with nothing to do...He's blindingly quick. If you brought him in against one of the bigger pgs, he's ridiculously quick. He's hampered by the fact that he's 6-foot-1 and he's not really a one. He reminds me more of [Allen] Iverson than Van Exel."
But Jennings needs to work on his jumper, get stronger and compete at the defensive end more consistently.
"He does have some unique competitive spirit, even as a small guy, and maybe you give him a chance," one of my Central Division guys says. "He never stood out but his quickness stood out. In the all-star games he was pretty good, but I do question the size, the shot, the fact that he actually hasn't done anything where you could say here is a backup to this plan."
Among the others, Carolina's Lawson has a lot of admirers ("he was the reason they won," gushes one of my Pacific guys. "He was the X-factor. He was the thing that took them from a very good team to a championship team"), but even his supporters caution that he's best in a high-tempo game and not a halfcourt slugout. "What he does do is he really motors," says an ACC assistant whose team played the Tar Heels. "He's a bowling ball. You can't tackle him. He's just so round and strong, and he plays in tremendous straight lines."
Wake Forest's Teague has had to answer what exactly happened to the Demon Deacons after a great start -- rumors of in-team jealousies between several expected-to-be NBA players are suspected ("Teague said 'I wish we'd never seen an NBA scout," a Central GM says), but his ability to score made someone give him enough love to keep him in the draft; Mills, from St. Mary's, can flat out score, and was the chief option for the Gaels. His pride in becoming the first Aboriginal-born player to make the NBA may be a driving force for him that keeps him in the league; VCU's Maynor had a great junior season and a so-so senior one, but some of my guys have him ahead of Mills and Teague. He hasn't convinced everyone that he can play the point in the pros, but he's still likely to go in the first; there's a suspicion that the 76ers, at 17, may be interested, in part because Maynor's agent, Andy Miller, is also free agent to be Andre Miller's agent.
A darkhorse may be UAB's Delaney, who is the consensus choice among the four Blazers in the draft this year to make it. One of the Conference USA coaches that played against him said, "I was impressed. Evans was definitely the best player in the conference and the best pro potential, but behind him, I would put Delaney. He reminds me of Anthony Johnson, but he's more athletic. Very athletic, can get to the rim. He really competes, strong. He can't shoot it now, but if you look at those guys like [Rajon] Rondo and Rose that can't shoot it now but can be effective, he's a poor man's Rondo. He knows how to play, understands the game. I think he's going to find a niche in the NBA."
Florida State's Douglas had a strong senior season for the Seminoles and has his supporters.
Said one college head coach who saw Douglas extensively last season: "He's got a poise and a maturity about him that a lot of the guys coming out don't have. And I think he has hte ability to adjust in different systems. I think he can play full court, up and down, transition, and I also think he can play halfcourt in a grind. Because he's got the ability to go get his own shot. He doesn't necessarily have to come off the ball screen, coming off moving off the ball -- although he's good at that. He can kind of break you down off the dribble. He's very versatile."
Among the point guards who played abroad, France's Beaubois is most likely to make an immediate impact and get a late first-round call, the scouts and personnel types say. Most rate him higher than Beverly, the former Arkansas player that spent last season in the Ukraine. DeColo played with Beaubois in France and had a strong camp at Reebok two weeks ago that may well get him a second-round look.
"If you can teach [Beaubois] how to play a little more he could be a great third guard," a Southeast Division personnelisto says. "He's just so quick, like Aaron Brooks fast. And that's the kind of stuff when you're that small, you have to have something. He could be a good player and he could spend some time at Bismarck, too."
|Dominican Republic vs. USA Basketball|
The United States defeats the Dominican Republic in an exhibition game in New York, 105-62.
|Postgame: Krzyzewski, Irving|
Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Kyrie Irving talk to the media after Wednesday's impressive victory.
|USAB Postgame Discussion|
Vince and Dennis discuss Wednesday's impressive victory over the Dominican Republic.
|Postgame: Kyrie Irving|
Kyrie Irving talks with Matt Winer following USA Basketball's win over the Dominican Republic.
|DeRozan to Drummond|
Andre Drummond takes the pass and finishes with authority.