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David Aldridge

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After powering Arizona's standout season, Derrick Williams now stands atop the power forward crop.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Draft's strongest prospects found in power forward crop


Posted May 2 2011 7:11AM - Updated Jun 23 2011 9:59AM

If there's one position in this Draft that has some talent -- young talent, international talent, still-needs-seasoning talent, but talent nonetheless -- it's power forward.

In a year where there aren't many obvious difference makers, one of the few that gets just about every personnel type around the league excited is Arizona's dynamic young forward, Derrick Williams -- a clear top-two selection at this point with Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving. While Williams may not have a definite NBA position (more on that below), he looks ready, if his NCAA Tournament play is any indication, of being productive in the frontcourt. The four spot is also where international players abound, perhaps the next great generation of foreign talent as Dirk Nowitzi, Pau Gasol and Andrei Kirilenko begin to age.

That's why a number of NBA general managers and scouts will go Monday to Lexington to watch Kentucky freshman Terrence Jones work out with fellow Wildcats Brandon Knight, Josh Harrelson and DeAndre Liggins for the Kentucky Pro Day. Then, many will fly to Europe, where many will see top power forward prospects Donatas Motiejunas and Jan Vesely, and small forward Nikola Mirotic playing for Real Madrid in the European Final Four. (Mirotic is expected to stay in Europe for at least one more year after signing a long-term extension recently, but as one NBA scout said, "if I had to wait a year on any of those [European] guys, it would be Mirotic.")

Along with the obvious gambles of taking unproven players early this season is this: grade inflation. The decision of likely lottery picks like Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Baylor's Perry Jones to return to school for their sophomore seasons have pushed some power forward's Draft position higher than it probably would have been. So if you're sitting seventh or eighth in the Draft and need a big, do you pull the trigger on a talented-but-green player like Texas' freshman Tristan Thompson, knowing that he may not be a lottery-level player in a "normal" Draft year?

To reiterate: we are now ranking all players who've officially declared for the Draft, including underclassmen, in order to give a more accurate and complete look at who NBA people are taking the hardest looks at as the May 17 lottery approaches. Again, this is a not a predictor of when these players will be chosen; team needs always come first. A team that already has a physical forward or center could go for a more finesse (or stretch) four in the Draft, and vice versa.


POINT
GUARDS
SHOOTING GUARDS SMALL FORWARDS POWER FORWARDS CENTERS

A note on the rankings:
This is not a predictor of when these players will be taken. These rankings, based on discussions with dozens of NBA and college coaches, and NBA college scouts and team executives, address the question of how ready players are to play the position which they are assigned: in other words, if there was a game tonight, who would play better at that position tonight, not in three years. Players are ranked based on the position that the coaches and scouts believe is their best NBA position, and even then, there is always disagreement between teams.

"Sleepers" are players almost certain to go in the second round but who may have first-round talent or otherwise have an impact on the teams that select them if they overcome perceived shortcomings.

Players listed as "Some Scouts Like" category are those who are not certain to declare, but are viewed as potentially draftable if they do -- with an emphasis on "potentially."

For now, all measurements are the ones listed from a player's school or team. Official player measurements will be available after the Chicago pre-Draft camp in early June.

Editor's Note: Rankings now reflect June 14 update.

POWER FORWARDS
Rank Name School/Team Class/Age Height Weight Wingspan
1 Derrick Williams Arizona Sophomore 6-9 248 7-2
2 Jan Vesely Partizan Belgrade (Serbia) 20 6-10 240 TBA
3 Tristan Thompson Texas Freshman 6-9 227 7-1
4 Bismack Biyombo Baloncesto Fuenlabrada (Spain) 18 6-9 243 TBA
5 Donatas Motiejunas Benetton Treviso 20 6-11 222 TBA
6 Trey Thompkins Georgia Junior 6-10 239 7-1
7 Markieff Morris Kansas Junior 6-9 241 6-11
8 Kenneth Faried Morehead St. Senior 6-8 225 7-0
9 Malcolm Thomas San Diego St. Senior 6-9 223 7-1
10 JaJuan Johnson Purdue Senior 6-10 220 7-2


HONORABLE MENTION: Justin Harper, SR, 6-9, 228, Richmond; Jon Leuer, SR, 7-0, 223, Wisconsin; Jamie Skeen, SR, 6-8, 242, Virginia Commonwealth
SLEEPER: Lucas Riva Noguiera, 18, 7-0, 200, Asefa Estudiantes*
SOME SCOUTS LIKE: Terrence Jennings, JR, 6-10, 230, Louisville*

To view David Aldridge's complete Big Board, click here.

UPDATE, MAY 16: The surprising (at least to NBA types) decision of Kentucky freshman Terrence Jones to withdraw from the Draft and return to Lexington for his sophomore season means the No. 5 power forward spot on the Big Board is now manned by Kansas junior Markieff Morris, who is now followed by brother Marcus Morris. And Richmond senior Justin Harper cracks the top 10.

A lot of teams think that Terrence Jones and Vesely will play a lot more small forward than power forward in the NBA. But the majority of teams have those players as power forwards on their Draft boards, so we do, too. Conversely, most teams have Jonas Valanciunas and Enes Kanter listed as centers, so they will be included in the center rankings in two weeks.

For the first year-plus of Derrick Williams' career, there weren't many people who thought he was a big-time NBA prospect. And then, all of a sudden, he was. As he Tweeted last month when he made his decision: I don't think anybody thought I would only be here for 2 years....not even me.

But following a sensational sophomore season in which Williams led Arizona to the Pac-10 championship and the Elite Eight, the 19-year-old has rocketed to the top of most mock Drafts and certainly to the front of the pack among power forward prospects. Showing the ability to shoot with NBA range as well finish at the rim has a lot of pro personnel types eager to add Williams to their frontcourt, even as they aren't sure whether he'll be a better power forward or small forward. Williams draws comparisons to small forwards like Andre Iguodala and power forwards like David West.

"Certainly Derrick has shown all kinds of versatility," one pro personnel man said. "He's got something that not a number of people have in the Draft have shown. He's got that explosiveness he showed in the Anaheim (NCAA) games in particular (when Williams went for 32 points and 13 rebounds in Arizona's rout of Duke, followed by 20 points in the Wildcats' loss to Connecticut). I'm not saying he's Amar'e Stoudemire, but he showed prolific explosion. There's probably a lot of things Derrick Williams can do that we haven't even seen yet ... I think you're going to be surprised by him."

But while Williams dunked early and often last season, he isn't a Blake Griffin type at power forward. Some think his wingspan makes him more athletic-looking than he actually is. He's more of an inside-outside player, even though physically, many think he's strong enough to play inside at the pro level and play with his back to the basket. But he's clearly at his strongest playing pick-and-pop basketball. Defensively, there are concerns about his ability to guard small forwards, which would also mean more time at the four.

"Right now he's much more comfortable facing the basket, but he's big enough, quick enough and strong enough to be able to play inside," a Pacific Division personnel man said. "You ought to initially let them play where they're most comfortable before you try to convert them."

But most believe Williams is an NBA four.

"He better be a four, because he's damn sure not a three," a Central Division personnel man said. "You have to -- if you believe in the notion of stats and charting -- believe the guy is going to be good. But you have to be a magician to figure out what he's going to do. He was swallowed by length in college ... [he] is not going to rebound at a great rate. I buy the David West (comparison) to this point: the best part of his game is shooting jump shots. But David West has a grit to his game that this kid doesn't have, and this kid has an explosivess that David West never had."

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Bounds of talent and off-the-charts athleticism are what make Jan Vesely a sure-fire top-five pick.
P.A. Molumby/NBAE via Getty Images

Like Williams, the 21-year-old Vesely is expected to play both forward positions. For his European team, Partizan Belgrade, Vesely has played both positions and defended threes, including NBA small forward prospect Bojan Bogdanovic this year. At 6-foot-11, 240 pounds, Vesely still possesses an athletic ability that is rarely seen among European prospects.

"His athleticism is off the charts," an Atlantic Division personnel man said. "He runs the floor. Does a lot of things that are factors in the game. Has personality on the court. When he dunks the ball, you know he dunks the ball."

Said a Northwest Division executive: "He plays hard and he cuts off the ball. He's going to survive because of that. He plays like (Andrei) Kirilenko when he was super athletic."

Vesely's European team hasn't been quite as good this season as last, when he first became known as a top NBA propsect. But that doesn't deter his supporters in the least. "Right now I would say forget the mock drafts," the Atlantic Division man said. "I still say, talent-wise, he's a top five pick."

The 20-year-old Motiejunas has been on the international scene about as long as Vesely, starting out at 16 as a pro for Zalgiris Kaunas and developing his game over the last four years and getting bigger and stronger. He entered his name into last year's Draft but pulled out after being unable to secure a top-12 guarantee in the first round. After that, he underwent oral surgery to remove his tonsils after having throat discomfort for the better part of a year. But there aren't concerns about his long-term health -- "he's had the injuries, but he's very solid and talented," a Northwest Division scout said.

As he has matured physically, Motiejunas' game has changed from a perimeter-based offense to include more of a low-post game, though he is by no means a finished product inside. He can score, especially on the wings, and displays point-forward skills as a passer; one personnel man compared him with former Clippers forward Danny Manning (though another personnel guy strongly disagreed with that notion). But scouts remain concerned about several aspects of his game.

"He doesn't really love basketball," a Central Division executive says. "He doesn't seem to appear to like to do anything that's even a little difficult. That scares you a little bit. The only thing he gets an excellent on is offensive rebounding and putbacks, and that's because he's doing it against midgets."

Said an Atlantic Division exec: "Right now, it's not even close. Vesely is a player and Motiejunas is an unknown. I've seen him play too many times when he would get two rebounds, three rebounds. He's projected in all these mocks to go top 10. I don't think so. I think he lacks passion for the game. He looks like he's got short arms. That might be a factor.

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Scouts wonder if foreign prospect Donatas Motiejunas has the passion for the game he needs.
Hannah Johnston/Getty Images

"He gets pushed under (the basket) a lot and then he reaches up. Guys are going up over him to get rebounds. He lacks fire, lacks emotion. Always has the same demeanor on the court. If you're 7 feet tall and you have any hope of coming over here you have to be, routinely, getting 10, 11 boards ... I can't get excited about him."

Texas' Thompson changed his mind after initially saying he'd return to Austin for his sophomore season. But after some of the other freshmen like Sullinger and Jones opted to return, Thompson's Draft status was likely to rise, and it has. One GM said Thompson has probably gone from a mid-to-late first-round pick, somewhere between 15 and 25, to a pick between 10 and 18. Thompson is raw, but he scored enough (13.1 ppg) and rebounded more than well enough (7.8 per game) to convince people he can play power forward in the NBA.

"A lot of these guys get sold a bill of goods that you have to get lean," one GM said. "Remember Chris Wilcox? His agent was so happy the guy got down to 219. He showed at the (pre-Draft) workouts he was trying to shoot the three. I was like, what are you doing? You've got to be going the other way. I hope someone's doing that with Tristan Thompson, (telling him) that he needs to get bigger, stronger, develop that post play. Because he's very raw offensively. But he plays hard. That's a definable skill."

A Western Conference GM said Thompson would ultimately figure out what he doesn't know.

"He'll get stronger," the GM said. "I have more concerns that he's a 50 percent free-throw shooter than his body."

The Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, are among the older (21) college prospects coming out, with three years at Kansas under their belts. The Morrises led Kansas to the Elite Eight and showed marked maturity in their junior season, and are compared favorably with another set of twins who made it in the NBA: Robin and Brook Lopez. Markieff is the slightly bigger twin who, like Robin Lopez, is expected to be a better defender and rebounder. Marcus is the better scorer, like Brook.

Said a Southwest Division executive: "When they came into college, Marcus was the clear favorite. I think it's more equal now."

"I think both of them have a chance," said a college coach whose team played Kansas this season. "There are character issues with both of them. But the progression they made from their frosh year is prettty remarkable. Obviouwly length will be an issue, especially with Markieff. He's more of a five. Marcus is strictly four."

The 245-pound Markieff Morris "rebounds at such a permanent basis that there's no way he doesn't play for 12 years," said an Eastern Conference executive. "I think he'll be a starting four on a playoff team down the road. I like him better because he has a definite position. He'll rebound well enough ...

"Marcus reminds me of an Al Harrington. He's a better competitor. He's less likely to be a statistical kid. Same hybrid 4-3 game. He will never do work in the post against like-sized fours. He won't be a wing that plays great against like-sized players. But he can put the ball in the basket. He's going to be a big-time scorer. He's a scorer everywhere. He's shown proficiency in scoring in every conceivable way: in isolation, in transition, as a spot-up shooter, in the post, off of cuts."

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Some scouts view twins Marcus (left) and Markieff Morris as almost identical talent-wise now, too.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

But everyone doesn't agree. A Northwest Division man said Marcus Morris doesn't yet shoot the 3-pointer consistenly, and isn't yet a consistent post player. That will be his dilemma, the Northwest man said.

But he added, "Marcus will eventually have that 3-point shot, you can tell. He'll work on it. He won't defend that (four) position very well. He's not long enough. And he won't be able to score enough inside. In the NBA game, will he be able to find the way? He has to develop one of those two things quickly."

Marcus Morris "dominated this level becuase he was bigger than everybody else," the college coach said. "He has a good turnaround over his right shoulder, but can he get it off against the Duncans? But they (both) play hard. They seemed passionate about the game. It depends on who they go to. If one goes to the top 10 they're obviously going into a rebuilding situation."

Jones was part of John Calipari's latest group of talented freshmen who played a single season at Kentucky before turning pro. Calipari's dribble-drive offense doesn't have a lot of post-up action, so Jones may have been forced to the perimeter as much by the structure of the attack as anything, but he spent a lot of time acting like an NBA stretch four during the NCAAs.

"You have to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he can play out there," said a Western Conference scout. "He's a four that can play away from the basket but I don't think his three skills are such that you can play him out there. I don't know that you want to put him out there defensively against threes. He does like to shoot a few too many threes for his success (32.9 percent) rate."

NBA scouts also don't know that Jones is good enough with the ball out on the wing to able to play small forward. "He's kind of stiff and mechanical with the ball," said a Central Division executive. "He patterns himself as a guy who can do more with the ball." Another exec views Jones as having a "bound-up" lower body that may keep him from being a great NBA athlete. Jones should have an advantage in tight spaces, where he could use his quickness, the second exec said. "But he doesn't play like that," the exec said.

Said a college assistant coach whose team played Kentucky: "He probably would be better if you just let him play. If you just went up and down he'd probably be better than if you run a bunch of plays for him. He's got a stand still jump shot. He's pretty skilled. I mean, how tall is Chris Bosh? He's kind of like that, but a little bit more perimeter. He ain't going to wow you with a lot of stuff but he can do a lot of things good enough. A little bit of this; a little bit of that. You look at the stat sheet and you go 'Damn, I didn't know he had that.' "

Then there is Biyombo, the Congolese power who has dominated younger and thinner talent, most notably at the Nike Hoop Summitt in Portland a few weeks ago, displaying his incredible (reportedly 7-foot-7) wingspan in the Spanish ACB League for Fuenlabrada. As has been reported here and elsewhere, there are concerns among some about exactly how old Biyombo is. Some believe he's older than his listed 18, though most NBA types don't care as long as he isn't older than 22.

"It wouldn't matter to me if he was 21, because he's going to be in his prime when you have to pay him," said an Eastern Conference executive. "If he ever played up to a big contract that's when you're going to be concerned about it. He's very much more Bo Outlaw than Gerald Wallace at this point. Like Bo, crazy atheltic at both ends and keeps the ball alive at both ends and he's got a real charismatic personality. People like him for all the right reasons."

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Though his age is in doubt, scouts love the way Congolese big man Bismack Biyombo plays.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Said an Atlantic Division talent scout: "even if he's 22, he does a lot of things that are pretty interesting. Rebounding the ball. The thing that impressed a lot of people was he was very vocal, very much a leader on the international team. He definitely didn't act like a shy, quiet 18-year-old kid. That matters. He's probably an undersized five."

Added a Northwest Division scout: "A lot of people have Biyombo over everybody right now, but I'm not sure ... I think he's just the latest guy to the party, and thought of as more attractive than the same guys people have already seen too much of."

A couple of NBA veteran personnel men compare Biyombo to Saer Sene, who rocketed from Senegal, seemingly overnight, and wound up being taken 10th overall by Seattle in the 2006 Draft, but never lived up to his high status and lasted just three seasons in the NBA.

"This kid's way better than Saer Sene," the Central exec said. "He played big minutes on a good team. This kid's gonna go pretty early. He's got the mystery thing going for him, which is really important. Because we're all looking for upside, right?"

But like the others, Biyombo could be both helped and hurt by moving up in the Draft will all the withdrawals. Helped in that he may be taken higher in the first round than he would have otherwise. But hurt because of the high expectations that are placed on top-10 picks.

"My argument is, what difference does (his age) make? The only difference it makes is where you pick him," a Western exec said. "The good thing about picking (Serge) Ibaka and (Andrei) Kirilenko and those guys is there's no pressure. But in this Draft, you pick Biyombo at 6 (or) 8, you have all the pressures that the Darko (Milicics) and those guys went through. It's immense. He has a chance. [What] people don't know is he led the ACB in blocked shots. You can almost say he got that one year in Europe, Biyombo also got that by playing on the ACB team, got that experience. Maybe there's some justice to picking him that high. He's going to rebound. He's going to block shots."

Morehead State's Faried is the second coming of Paul Millsap, the Jazz forward who made his bones in the NBA as a three-time NCAA rebounding leader at Louisiana Tech.

Faried broke Tim Duncan's record for most rebounds by a college player since freshmen were allowed to play in college in 1973. Faried averaged 14.5 boards a night even though he doesn't have a great inside game. His 17 rebounds provided the backbone for Morehead's upset win over Louisville in the first round of the NCAAs.

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The immense rebounding skills of Kenneth Faried will get him playing time in the NBA.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Millsap is "a little more skilled," a Southwest Division personnel man said. "But (Faried) is a hell of a rebounder. He needs the right coach, who can handle an unskilled guy on the floor. But guys that can rebound find their way to the floor."

Thompkins was an all-first team SEC selection this season for the Bulldogs. He got good experience playing for the U.S. Under-19 team that won the gold medal in New Zealand in 2009 along with future first-round pick Gordon Hayward and fellow potential draftees Klay Thompson of Washington State, Pittsburgh's Ashton Gibbs and Butler's Shelvin Mack.

Noguiera, known as "Bebe," is a project that puts some in mind of Hassan Whiteside, who played a single season in college before coming to the NBA and going to Sacramento, where he spent much of the year in the NBA Developmental League

"He's not ready for prime time," said a Southeast Division scout. "Long, very thin and very weak and rather robotic. I would say that he does not win the Samba contests in Brazil."

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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