By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
Posted Jun 21 2009 10:18AM
They are like pictures slightly out of focus, veal just undercooked.
The crop of potential small forwards in this year's NBA Draft has great potential, but more than a few of those considered the best prospects occasionally underwhelmed in college last year. Consistency was a big issue; great games would be followed by lackluster ones. And inconsistency, more than lack of talent, is what drives NBA types crazier than anything.
One scout sat one of the top prospects down during the prospect's interview with his team.
"I told him, 'You realize the NBA season is 82 games long,'" the scout recalled. "You'd really be doing us a great favor if you could just circle the games now that you're going to play hard, so we can tell the coach and he'll be prepared."
Nonetheless, the talent level of the top prospects will be too good to pass up. Some, like Pittsburgh's Sam Young, haven't had a problem with inconsistency and will be solid pros. The lure of a potential lucrative payday on a second contract will convince others to max out, and some will develop a better work ethic as they mature and play with true pros. And a few will simply fade away. Which is well in keeping with how they played in college.
To recap: the rankings are mine, based on numerous conversations over the past months with more than 30 NBA personnel directors, scouts, general managers and coaches, as well as college head coaches and assistant coaches whose teams played against the potential draftees last year. In exchange for their candor, I'm not quoting them by name. Players listed are expected to play most of their time at small forward, though some could play some power forward (and some guard prospects not listed could play some small forward). The measurements listed below come from the Chicago pre-draft camp last month; those heights and weights with # next to them come from the player's team website.
Like beauty, projecting Clark's future is in the eye of the beholder.
The 6-9 forward would be a lottery lock if he had the consistency of effort of, say, his teammate, guard Terrence Williams. Williams may not be the scorer that Clark can be, but he brought it defensively almost every night, and as his offensive production improves, he'll get regular minutes on the court in the pros. Clark will also get minutes, but can he keep them?
Said one Big East assistant whose team played Louisville last season: "I thought Earl was very, very talented. You just don't know which Earl is going to show up. He's long, athletic, can score. But at that next level you can't just get out there on the court and expect things to happen. You have to make things happen. People are going to draft him expecting him to be a scorer for them. If he doesn't pick up his intensity, that second contract will come around and he'll be somewhere else."
Then there's a GM of a lottery team: "He's very talented. The last half of the year he was very good. He was good in the workout for us. He's creative. He's really talented. I think he's going to be just fine. It may take him a couple of years."
The question, as another personnel wag put it: Is Clark going to be Lamar Odom, or Tim Thomas? Not that there's anything wrong with Tim Thomas. There's just a difference. Despite all that, it's still not likely that Clark gets out of the first half of the first round.
The 20-year-old Casspi is likely to become the first Israeli player to make the NBA after a strong season for Maccabi, more than holding his own in Chicago and excellent group workouts in Minnesota and New Jersey. Word is New Jersey is intrigued, but not at 11; the Nets would have to get another pick to get Casspi later in the first round. Casspi's game is reminiscent of Boki Nachbar, currently with the Nets.
"He plays so dang hard," says a Central Division scout who saw Casspi overseas. "That's what people like. He competes. He'll bang. Teams like those tough-nosed guys."
But the 6-9 1/2 Casspi only has a 6-9 3/4 wingspan, which may make it hard for him to operate in traffic at the next level.
Says an Atlantic Division birddog: "He's a very aggressive player and that's going to get him somewhere. But I don't like those guys with short arms, man. You have to get to the rim."
Pittsburgh's Young has been holding steady throughout the workout season after a strong season for the Panthers en route to the Elite Eight. A little older than most college players coming out (24), Young's hops and strength make him a first-round lock. A no-nonsense player like Young would be right up Jerry Sloan's alley at 20 when the Jazz pick, and if he somehow slipped a little, the Thunder could be scoping him at 25, where Young would back up Kevin Durant and bring his scoring and athletic ability off the bench.
"He had some huge games for Pitt this year," says an admiring Northwest Division personnel man. "And he went up after the workout in Toronto and got hurt (Young cut his elbow while he was performing a vertical leap test for the Raptors), and he showed up at the [Chicago] combine and worked out hard. He went up in a lot of people's eyes."
An Atlantic Division executive concurs: "He's a tough sonofagun."
By contrast, Daye, the junior from Gonzaga, has to convince NBA types that he won't float through games. But when talented guys on the fence decide to stay in the Draft, it's usually because they've heard something they wanted to hear from a team with a first-round pick.
The son of former UCLA star Darren Daye, Austin Daye is long (his 7-2 3/4 wingspan was topped only by Hasheem Thabeet and USC power forward Taj Gibson among the 50 measured players in Chicago) and he has good ballhandling and shooting skills for a big man. He scored a career-high 28 points for Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament. But over the whole season he wasn't a dominant player for the Bulldogs, who threw the ball inside to burly big man Josh Heytvelt more than the 192-pound Daye.
"When I watched him play I didn't see him liking to play," said a college head coach whose team played Gonzaga last year. "I don't know if it was because he was running the floor and they weren't running plays for him. But they're not going to run anything for you in the league, either...he was kind of like the fourth option. And he really was the best pro on the team. [But] he doesn't have a dominant skill. You're not going to post him up because Heytvelt takes up so much space."
An assistant on another team that played Gonzaga says of Daye: "He can put it on the floor a little bit. I've seen him stroke it and put up some numbers, but when he played against us was a little soft."
That length, however, will likely make Daye a better pro than he was in college.
Summers's issue with many teams was explaining his role in Georgetown's second-half collapse last season. The Hoyas went from being a top 20 team to not qualifying for the NCAA tournament, and were a quick exit from the NIT. An upperclassman like Summers should have helped right the ship, but that never happened.
"The biggest problem with him, really, was how the team fell apart and how much was attributable to him and how much was it the jealousy among the players," a Pacific Division scout says. "Physically, he's got the skills. I don't think he's necessarily soft; I think he's just a guy that doesn't go for the ball. He can play two spots."
At least one BIg East assistant whose team played the Hoyas last year thought Summers had a foot out the door most of the season, waiting for the NBA. But that assistant allowed that Summers might show more in tryouts with NBA teams, and that's exactly what's happened. Summers has shown a handle and explosiveness that will make him a good pro, and the history of Georgetown bigs in the NBA doesn't hurt.
"He was very impressive," says a Central Division personnel man whose team worked Summers out. "People tend to forget that we didn't really see what Jeff Green could do until he got out of school."
North Carolina's Danny Green and Jurebko are both expected to make their marks in the NBA at the defensive end of the floor.
Jurebko, whose father played at Syracuse in the 1970s, is a Swedish import who started the last two years in Italy. He is not a great shooter, though he made some 3s at the Reebok camp. He's not quite big enough to play power forward, but his long arms will make him a defensive asset. He's likely to go early in the second round, though there is a chance a team that doesn't need a player right away late in the first could take a look.
"Tough as nails," says an international scout. "He plays hard. He's solid. He'll be a great guy coming off the bench."
Xavier's Brown has been coming on the last few weeks, benefitting from long arms (a 7-2 1/2 wingspan) good workouts up and down the first round, and the pedigree of bigs that Xavier has produced for NBA teams, including Brian Grant, Aaron Williams, Tyrone Hill, James Posey and David West. He's active -- "bouncy," one personnel man says.
"Sometimes, kids get better and I think he's one of the kids that's grown with the process," said a Northwest Division executive. "He's been able to expand his game a little bit and show some of the things he couldn't show at Xavier."
Among the other international small forwards, Australia's Ingles was hot about a month ago, but interest in him has cooled a bit as he's worked out for teams. He's got good size and a good shot and could go late first or in the second, but two scouts, independently, said the same thing: they're not sure Ingles is better than Brad Newley, another Australian who was taken in the second round in 2007 by Houston. The 20-year-old Claver stayed in the Draft, which surprised many after his season was derailed by a broken leg. Again, we're probably looking at a second-round promise, with Claver either coming over this year to get to his second NBA contract as soon as possible or staying over for another year for seasoning.
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