Posted Jun 23 2010 7:45AM
Bigs take longer.
That old chestnut has been an article of faith in the NBA for years, and the notion that you have to wait a little longer for big men to develop is still a factor in this year's Draft. Even lottery teams in the midst of rebuilding are under pressure from increasingly impatient fans and owners to show the biggest possible improvement in the shortest possible time, which makes it harder to wait on a young player, especially one that doesn't dominate the ball.
Most of the power forward prospects in this year's Draft have great potential to, in time, be dominant. But none of them are anywhere near finished products. And "when you're talking about teams in the Lottery," said an executive of a team that is indeed in the lottery, "I would lean more toward drafting a guy [who will be ready] closer to Day 1."
But someone will have to take that leap of faith. To get past the likes of Dwight Howard and Orlando in the East, or Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the West, you need size. And there is size and skill available at the four spot.
Leading the pack is Georgia Tech freshman Derrick Favors, who started off slowly in the ACC but came on strong as the season went on. At 6-foot-10, with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Favors has the kind of length and build to make him a prototypical power forward, though there are some NBA scouts that think he can also play some center. He didn't post overwhelming numbers in his one college season, but Favors believes if he had an NBA game tonight, he'd be able to come in and rebound immediately.
"I know I can do that in my sleep," Favors said during the Chicago pre-draft camp. "It's real man's work. That's the only way you can get your points most of the time. Some point guards aren't going to pass you the ball. They're going to miss you sometimes. If you work hard to get the rebound, it's an automatic two points for you."
But a lot of NBA types think it will take him a while to be a regular contributor: "For me, it was sort of a two-year deal, I thought," said one longtime personnel man. "Definitely not next year. He would play some more his second year and if he was ready for big time he'd be ready that third year."
Said an Atlantic Division executive who likes Favors: "He's 18 years old and he has tremendous upside and he seems like a great kid. But can you guarantee it? No. I liked his improvement from the beginning of the season to the end of the season, but would he be equipped to know what's going on on offense and defense, know about schemes and things? I'm not sure. But the positive thing is how he developed this season."
There are questions about Georgetown sophomore Greg Monroe as well, but they have less to do with his talent -- "he's the best skilled big man in the draft," a Central Division executive says -- or his knowledge of the game than with his athletic ability and whether he can increase his energy level in the pros. Monroe is tall, but he's not as explosive as other fours, and the comparison that some have made with Lamar Odom is a facile one, likely owing more to the fact that both are left-handed.
"I think he can run the court at times, but I don't think he runs it well enough," a Northwest Division executive says of Monroe. "I don't think his lateral reactions are good enough; he'll get better at it. I don't think his explosiveness is good enough, but he can get better. He's not a Lamar Odom, he's not a Blake Griffin athlete ... he's just an average athlete."
But Monroe's passing ability makes him an ideal system player, which makes sense, coming from the Princeton-heavy system that Georgetown coach John Thompson III runs. And bigs that come out of that system -- OKC's Jeff Green comes to mind -- tend to improve even more as pros, as they're allowed to use more of their individual skills while being grounded in Thompson Team Fundamentals. If Monroe were to last until No. 9, which is not likely, a team like Utah would seem to be ideal for him.
Monroe knew he had some work to do even before he decided to leave school.
"The biggest question I was asking myself was, mentally, was I ready?," Monroe said in Chicago. "Physically, I know I have skills. I know I have to work on getting stronger and getting quicker, things like that. But it was more of the mental aspect. Was I ready to take the next step into the NBA?"
Compared to some of the others, Baylor's Ekpe Udoh is an old man at 23. He went to Waco after two seasons at Michigan, and helped resurrect a program that had been left in ruins by a series of NCAA rules violations under former coach Dave Bliss and the murder of player Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson in 2003. Under new coach Scott Drew, Udoh's defense and shot-blocking were key to the Bears' trip to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament last season.
With one of the longest wingspans (7-foot-4 1/2 inches) in college ball, Udoh has drawn comparisons to former pro Derrick McKey and Bulls rookie forward Taj Gibson, each excellent defenders. But McKey was more of a perimeter defender, and other scouts don't think Udoh has that kind of defensive range yet. Under the basket, though, he's formidable, and as Ben Wallace proved for a decade, you can be a major part of a contender without ever scoring a point.
Udoh can do some things offensively; he can face the basket and put the ball on the floor for a dribble, some pro scouts say. But he'll get on the floor as a rookie for his prowess at the other end of the court.
"We all know my offensive game is still developing; it's something I have to work on," Udoh said. "But defense, I hold my hat on that. I love to play defense ... it's just something I love, blocking shots. It's something that gets everybody going. 'Cause the next time, they're going to look you right in the eye and say 'oh, man, here he comes again.'"
It also does not hurt Udoh that he's one of the nicest kids in the Draft -- polite and charming. Teams that interviewed him in Chicago were blown away by his demeanor.
"He sat down, pulled out a notepad and pen, and took notes as we interviewed him," one executive recalled. "That's the first time I think I ever saw a kid do that. He's making sure what we say, he's writing it down. He's a very thoughtful, pretty articulate guy, a little on the quiet side, but that could be the thought process he's going through now."
North Carolina's Ed Davis thought about turning pro after his freshman year at Chapel Hill, when he was a rotation player on Carolina's national championship squad. But he stayed in school, and the Heels went through the floor, finishing 10th in the ACC during the regular season and failing to make the NCAA tournament, though Carolina righted itself enough to make the finals of the NIT.
Davis is crazy athletic, with one of the best second jumps in the college game, but has a ways to go to be a regular contributor in the pros, most scouts say. He had the ideal situation in 2008, they say, when he was the third forward behind Tyler Hansbrough (now in Indiana) and Deon Thompson. So while it would sting a little on Draft night if Davis were to fall, it might benefit him in the long run to be taken by a team that is good enough to have the time to develop him instead of throwing him out there early.
"When you watch him and study him right now, you're taking a little bit of a leap of faith," one executive said. "He's more athletic than what people give him credit for. Around good players, he can play with other good players. But I give Udoh the slightest of nods as far as coming in and being ready to play."
France's Kevin Seraphin is the only international player who seems a lock to be taken in the first round. Big and rugged, the same name comes up over and over as a comparison for the 20-year-old: Nene, the Nuggets' center, who needed time to overcome injuries and inexperience but is now one of the better pivots in the league. Seraphin is raw, but he's got an NBA body already.
Said an Atlantic Division exec: "It's a 100 percent fair comparison to Nene. He's strong, he's got big hands, got that athletic ability. Slightly mechancial. You know how Nene is. You can almost tell what he's going to do. Seraphin might turn out to be a better rebounder. He tracks the ball. It's going to take a while for this kid to get there [offensively]. Nene's pretty good and this kid is going to turn out like that."
Seraphin was uncertain about whether he'd stay in the Draft after suffering a slight meniscus tear in his during his French team's playoffs, but the injury is not serious; he couldn't work out for NBA teams that traveled overseas to see him earlier this month at the Adidas Camp in Italy, but he more than passed the eyeball test.
"I wasn't disappointed in what I saw," said a Southeast Division personnel man. "He can play some five [in the NBA] like Al Horford. I was not disappointed in the size. He was pretty thick."
Kentucky's Patrick Patterson is likely to be the fifth first-round pick of the Wildcats, which would be a record for the most players taken from one school in the first round. But Patterson is the only upperclassmen of the bunch; he pulled out of last year's Draft despite likely being a first-rounder in order to graduate in three years and to improve his all-around game. It worked. With DeMarcus Cousins inside, Patterson had to step outside and made the most of it, becoming a much better perimeter shooter.
"He has to be a four," said a college head coach whose team played Kentucky last season. "Can he guard people out in space who can put the ball on the court? At the four he is more versatile. He's really athletic at the rim and he can shoot it."
Caracter, who transferred to UTEP from Louisville, Harangody -- who was the strongest player in Chicago, bench-pressing 185 pounds 23 times -- and Samuels will have to find the right situations in order to excel early in their pro careers. Varnado will have to find a neighborhood Five Guys or In-N-Out Burger and camp there for a while.
Rail-thin at 210 pounds, Varnado's incredible shot-blocking talent -- he is the NCAA's all-time leader, though it must always be pointed out that blocked shots stats did not begun to be compiled regularly until the 1970s -- will not matter if he can't put on enough weight to hold his position against grown men in the pros. But that great timing will give Varnado a chance, and he measured a legitimate 6-foot-10 in Chicago.
"Here's what's interesting about him," says a Southeast Division scout. "He's gotten better every year. He's got a little jump hook. Left shoulder turn. What he's realized is, he doesn't try to do things that he can't. He doesn't expose himself."
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