By Jonathan Givony, for NBA.com
Posted Jun 19 2009 9:38PM
Versatility is the name of the game in today's NBA at the small forward position. As Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu showed us, having the luxury of an additional ballhandler and shot-creator on the floor at all times can make things increasingly difficult on opposing defenses. There is plenty of value in having a specialized niche, though, as Trevor Ariza can tell you. After all, there is a lot to be said for having a long, ultra athletic defensive stopper on the wing who can also make spot-up jumpers from the perimeter when called up.
This year's small forward crop is an interesting one, as it has a little bit of everything. Rangy athletes, dead-eye shooters, lock-down defenders, total unknowns -- teams that do their homework should be able to find a solid role player they can plug into their rotation right away or in the not-too-distant future.
In terms of physical attributes, no player looks the part of an NBA stud more than USC freshman Demar DeRozan. A super athlete with a great frame and solid scoring instincts, DeRozan is the type of player an NBA team takes and tries to mold to fit their needs over the next few years. The lack of range on his shot and so-so ballhandling skills mean he's a ways away from being able to contribute consistently, but the fact that he's coachable, willing to defend and just 19 years old leaves plenty of room for optimism regarding his future.
If players were drafted solely off their workouts rather than off their entire body of work, Austin Daye would likely be a Top 5 pick. He's simply oozing with talent, starting with his gigantic measurements -- 6-foot-11 in shoes with a 7-foot-3 wingspan -- and continuing with his extremely high-skill level, showing beautiful footwork, the ability to create his own shot at will, and a devastating pull-up jumper. Daye's instincts for putting the ball in the net are like no other player's in this draft, but he looks a long ways away from being able to hold his own on the defensive end due to his incredibly narrow 192-pound frame. There are also some concerns about his maturity level. Still, he's the kind of player NBA GMs can't help salivating over, which is why it wouldn't surprise anyone to see him land somewhere in the late lottery.
Just having turned 24 years old a few weeks ago, Sam Young is easily the oldest player projected to be drafted -- he's five and a half years older than Ricky Rubio for example. Considering the college program that he comes from and the fact he'll be slated on a very cheap rookie scale contract for the next four seasons, that might not be all that much of a detriment relative to where he'll be picked. Young is one of the toughest, most defensive-minded players you'll find, making it very easy to see him sliding into an NBA rotation right away. His ability to knock down shots and get out in the open floor and utilize his outstanding athleticism only adds to that sentiment.
When you're 6-foot-7, extremely athletic and a 40 percent 3-point shooter on nearly five attempts per game, it's not very difficult envisioning a role for you in the NBA. Chase Budinger comes with the added benefit of being a very experienced college player with an excellent feel for the game, making him a natural fit as a quality role player on a team looking for depth on the wing. Budinger will have to show that he can defend his position at the NBA level if he's to justify his playing time, but all the pieces are in place for him to stick in the league for a long time as long as he continues to improve.
NBA teams are getting used to a new trend that seems to be emerging -- getting caught in a game of chicken with international prospects. Spain's Victor Claver isn't interested in getting caught in the rigid restrictions of the NBA's rookie scale like fellow ACB league members Rudy Fernandez and Tiago Splitter, so he's simply boycotting the NBA pre-draft process. Claver is refusing to subject himself to private workouts, interviews, or most importantly (especially for a player who is coming off a serious ankle injury) a physical examination in hopes of falling to the second round. If he indeed falls there, he could be one of the best values around, as he's, after all, a 6-foot-10 terrific athlete with nice perimeter skills and a very good feel for the game.
A veteran of the Israeli Army, Omri Casspi has been showing his NCAA counterparts that he's not the type of guy they want to mess with in a one-on-one setting. He's been drawing rave reviews for his toughness and competitiveness everywhere he's gone to the point that he's legitimately raised his stock into the late first round. With his excellent size at the small forward position, solid athleticism and decent skill-level, it's not difficult to see Casspi coming off the bench and adding a dimension of physicality that a lot of NBA teams just don't have.
Other than Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko is the biggest small forward in this group --he's reportedly been measured by teams at 6-foot-10 in shoes. Unlike Daye, though, Jerebko actually has some meat on his bones, and most importantly, is not afraid to use it. Jerebko has been playing the small forward position exclusively for the last two years in one of the highest levels of competition found outside the NBA -- the Italian first division. He's been responsible for shutting down some of the top scorers in that league, and has done an excellent job, particularly as the season moved on. Jerebko's size, length, athleticism and terrific motor allows him to absolutely smother opponents on the perimeter and emerge as quite a factor in the passing lanes and on the glass. He's the type of player who can defend multiple positions and is always around the ball, often wreaking havoc switching onto smaller players on the pick-and-roll. Jerebko has strong buzz these days and seems to be in the mix for quite a few teams drafting in the 25-35 range.
Craziest Measurements: Paul Harris -- Although only 6-foot-3 in shoes, Harris has an outrageous 6-foot-11 ½ wingspan and weighed in at a chiseled 237.
Best Role-Player: Danny Green -- Green will play the same exact role in the NBA as he did for NCAA champions North Carolina -- being a lock-down defender on the wing who makes shots when called upon.
Best Undrafted Free Agent: Micah Downs -- A long and super athletic defensive stopper who can make shots, but may be considered too much of a "tease" to get drafted in the second round.
Biggest Mystery: DaJuan Summers -- A good athlete with an NBA body and solid perimeter shooting ability, the concerns about Summers' lack of mental and physical toughness will drop him much further in the draft than his talent suggests he should.
Best pick-and-roll player: Emir Preldzic -- Somewhat of a poor man's Hedo Turkoglu, Slovenian Emir Preldzic played an important point forward role for a prestigious European team in Fenerbahce Istanbul, but his lack of length, strength and perimeter shooting ability may make it difficult for him to effectively translate his style of play to the NBA.
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