POSTED: Apr 22, 2013 10:09 AM ET
UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad is strong, plays hard ... and still has a lot of questions.
This is not a year of clarity, or quality, for small forward Draft prospects.
There isn't a whole lot of depth at what normally is one of the deeper positions in the NBA Draft. Part of the reason is the evolution of the pro game. As it downsizes and gets smaller, the need/hope to get mismatches at the nominal power forward position has only grown. So players that may have had to adjust to playing small forward in the NBA may now be kept at the four.
For example, what position does Creighton junior Doug McDermott play in the NBA? A three? A four? Yes. If McDermott opts in, he will join at least a half-dozen other forward prospects who are hybrids, much like the 76ers' Thaddeus Young. Young's quickness and ability to run the court make him a more effective power forward, where he has advantages over many, than a small forward, where his inconsistent shot hinders him.
For now, since McDermott is still deciding, I'm not putting him on any Board. But if he does, I'm going to start him as a power forward and see how the two months before the Draft shake out. The same goes for Syracuse junior C.J. Fair, who has declared for the Draft.
As you know, in the past, we never included underclassmen on our Draft boards until they officially declared. But the "one-and-done" players and other early entries are almost always well known well now. So we list underclassmen that most NBA scouts and personnel people believe will enter the Draft, or those who are seriously considering entering the Draft.
We started with point guards two weeks ago, and will continue with small forwards, power forwards and centers after today, every other week, until Monday, May 20, just before the Lottery on May 21.
By then, we'll be well into the individual workouts and will have just completed the Chicago pre-Draft combine, which runs from May 15-19. (After Chicago, we will update the Board with official heights and weights, and add player wingspans as measured there. For now, player heights and weights are their listed ones from their schools or teams.)
Again: This is not a mock Draft. They are a complete waste of time, especially this far removed from June. I have no interest in trying to show you how smart I am, when all I can do is look like an idiot. Who knows what trades will take place between now and then that could impact a team's Draft needs, or what players have incredible individual workouts that send them high up on the board? This is a rough consensus of what NBA personnel people that I trust -- and who obviously can't be quoted by name -- believe is the pro potential of this year's crop of players.
DA's Big Board Schedule
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.
• "Some Scouts Like" are players who are not certain to declare, but are viewed as potentially draftable if they do -- with an emphasis on "potentially."
• All measurements are the official ones available after the Chicago pre-Draft combine. Measurements for players who did not attend the pre-Draft camp are from their respective university or team.
|David Aldridge's Big Board: Small Forwards|
NBA Combine: Glen Rice Jr.
MAY 20 UPDATE: A few changes on the Big Board, most notably the meteoric rise of prospect Glen Rice, Jr., who has come on strong in the last few weeks after his MVP turn in the NBA Development League finals for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. A year ago, Rice was a washout, having been kicked off Georgia Tech's team during his junior season following a series of off-court incidents. He chose to go the route of the NBA Development League after being drafted by Rio Grande instead of transferring to another college or playing abroad. He sat early during the Vipers's season, but came on strong the second half, blowing up over his last 10 games, averaging 29 points and 9.5 rebounds. In the D-League Finals, Rice led the Vipers in scoring, averaging 16.5 points on 57 percent shooting, as Rio Grande defeated Santa Cruz for the title. His dramatic improvement on and off the court put him on NBA teams' radars, and he now is a solid first-round prospect. Our own Chris Dortch chronicled Rice, Jr.'s comeback trail and Rice, Jr.,did more than enough in Chicago to keep his status high.
"You look at him, he's already had a year in the D-League, traveling," a Southwest Division executive said of Rice, Jr., the son of former Heat star Glen Rice. "He's mature. I think coaches look at that as kind of a positive, like we can bring him in and he's going to do well. He's not great, but he's okay. (His previous mistakes) didn't follow him in the D-League. He did what he had to do. He got humbled. Nobody's perfect; we all make mistakes."
A Northwest Division scout thinks Rice is better off having become a primary option in Rio Grande. "Next year he'll be a lot better, because he'll be called on to do more," the scout said. "Like with (Michigan sophomore guard) Trey Burke. Coming back to school helped him. Not saying you have to be the guy in our league, but (after a year in the D-League), when you're called upon to score, you're not looking your shoulder at LeBron and D-Wade to see if they thought you took a bad shot. ... like Dorell Wright. He never went to college and knew who he was. Then when you walk in a room and everybody's been the man, you don't go into a shell and it takes you three years to get your confidence."
Porter one of the few dependable prospects
Draft Combine: Otto Porter
Almost always these days, players taken in the top five of a Draft are taken for their potential, not their production.
The NBA has become a Futures league, much like Major League Baseball. A player with one year of college ball under his belt is a Rorschach, with different teams seeing different things. Can Russell Westbrook play point guard in the pros? Very few NBA teams thought so in 2008. But one of those who did, Oklahoma City, took the plunge, and wound up getting one of the league's best players.
Yet gambling on the future is just that -- a gamble. (See Oden, Greg.) Some years, you just want a solid basketball player. And this year, at small forward, Georgetown's Otto Porter is your man.
"I haven't seen a Draft where there's as big a drop between the first guy and the next guy," one general manager said of the gap between Porter and the next small forward on most team's boards, UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad.
Porter is the only small forward projected by NBA scouts and general managers as a lock top-five overall pick. He impressed scouts who thought Georgetown an ordinary team if not for its all-America forward, who led the Hoyas to a share of the Big East regular season crown with eventual national champion Louisville.
Porter's coming-out moment was an outstanding 33-point effort at Syracuse, in the last regular season game between Georgetown and the Orange, at the Carrier Dome. That win started the Hoyas on a win streak that made them a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That Porter and the Hoyas were trounced by upstart Florida Gulf Coast in the second round -- the fifth straight season Georgetown lost decisively to a lower-seeded team in the tournament -- did not hurt Porter at all with NBA types.
"What you'll see is what you'll get," a Western Conference general manager said. "He's a very safe pick. Good basketball IQ, does a little bit of everything, makes winning plays. I think he's going to be well-liked by coaches. He's not a super athlete, but he's athletic enough."
Said a Southeast Division executive: "What he is is one of the most solid players in the Draft. In terms of playing the game and versatility, he might be the most well-rounded guy. He's definitely a top-five pick in this particular Draft. The only thing if you want to knock him down a few points is just the athleticism. He's not a great athlete. But he's a great basketball player."
Comparisons for Porter have been plentiful: Tayshaun Prince and Kawhi Leonard are just two. The underlying concept is the same: those two players went to veteran teams early in their careers, and were able to integrate their solid play into rotations that needed stability, not flashiness. Porter's impact will also depend on who gets him.
"Kawhi Leonard is a very valuable piece for the Spurs right now, but if you took Tim Duncan and Tony Parker off the team, I don't know how good Kawhi would be. That's how I see Otto," an Eastern Conference GM said. "If ... one of the top 12 teams in the league were to do something similar [as San Antonio did to get Leonard in 2011], trade up to, say, the seventh pick to get Otto Porter, he could have a great impact on a team that's good. But if he's taken by a team that's in the Lottery based on their record, he might be only so-so."
At least one of those teams would like to find out.
"I'd love to have Otto Porter," one Lottery team's personnel man said. "He'd be terrific for us. He's a very high IQ basketball player. One of the things that really good players do at the NBA level is they have a sense of when to assert themselves, and when to let the game kind of come to them. The really good players, they know that.
"Otto Porter seems to have that same ability at the college level. There's times when he's just out there, going with the flow, and then, bam, bam, bam, bam, Georgetown's up 10 points because Otto Porter scored six points, and set up the other four with a rebound or an outlet pass."
There are also questions about whether Porter can shoot the NBA 3-pointer consistently.
"You've got to know that you're sacrificing something there from an athleticism standpoint," one scout said. "Depending on what a team has at the four and the five, you can make up for it if you're a bad team ... but his basketball IQ and ability to make plays, and size, is going to be beneficial. I don't think anybody is looking at anyone in this draft as a guy who is going to turn your franchise around. You're looking at a guy who's going to improve your talent base."
Muhammad full of talent ... and caveats
Muhammad came to and went from UCLA in controversial fashion, and that kind of uncertainty is exactly the kind of thing NBA types don't like dealing with. But the Pac-10's co-Freshman of the Year, who led the Bruins in scoring, still won't last long on Draft night. He plays too hard and has too much potential.
Many people around the league think Muhammad may have to play some shooting guard in the NBA. There's a lot of "yeah, but" when people talk about him.
"Shabazz is going to have to figure out how to be a two," one Eastern Conference executive said. "Because I don't know he's big enough at the small forward. He's not a great athlete. He plays bigger and stronger than most kids. I'm not gaga over Shabazz like some people. He plays hard. But there may be more hype than real substance for me. I could show up at the run with C.J. Fair against him and be OK."
One college coach whose team played against UCLA this season said Muhammad plays extremely hard, and comes to play. But ...
"I like him. I don't love him," the coach said. "I like him because he does have a good motor. He's gonna have to be a two guard in the NBA. He's not a great one-on-one player, taking you off the dribble. You bring him off screens, surprisingly, he can knock down shots (Muhammad shot 37.7 percent on 3-pointers). But other than getting it on the catch, he doesn't have anything to beat you off the bounce with.
"I know he's rated real high and all that stuff, but ... he's not a great one-on-one player. He doesn't do enough stuff for a guy as athletic as he is. His numbers are just average for a guy as athletic as he is. He can adjust his attitude. He has to be a little more inspired on the defensive end."
Another East exec has Muhammad at small forward in the pros.
"He knows how to score, because of his ability to create space for himself," the exec said. "He's powerful. But I don't think he's as athletic as Porter. I think one of his biggest advantages is he's left handed, but he overpowers people with his size and his strength. He doesn't blow by people and he doesn't jump over people."
The exec says Muhammad's time at UCLA had a "mercenary" feel to it, likening it to the saga of O.J. Mayo at USC.
Draft Combine: Shabazz Muhammad
"There's a lot of people who don't have a real positive reaction to him," the exec added. "But here's what I will tell you: you put him on the floor, he's gonna get you double figures."
Another executive says Muhammad would be a real gamble high in the Lottery, but would be fine in the No. 8-12 range in the first round.
"He's looking to put points up, and he looks to do it by overpowering you," this executive said. "What you hope with Shabazz is he gets a little bit better at his skill set ... at the NBA level, your main talent cannot be to be a bully. Because every team has a bully ... the biggest question will be what is his actual talent?
"He needs to work on his conditioning. He has a body sort of like Michael Redd's when he came in. Shabazz is going to have to get himself in better shape than what he played at UCLA."
Front offices cooling on Saric
Croatian forward Dario Saric doesn't have body issues. At 6-foot-10, 223 pounds, he has the classic look of a European big man prospect, and he has a lot of NBA supporters. But that support has started to waver a little in the last few weeks. (Of course, that could be people who like him just lying their behinds off in hopes that Saric will slip down toward them.)
"He's one of the hardest working players in the Draft," a Southwest Division evaluator said. "He's probably got the best basketball IQ. The kid's been a winner playing in the junior tournaments. [He's] definitely the best passing big man coming into the Draft. Shot needs some work. Knows how to play. Decent athlete -- not a great athlete -- but again, if he was playing in college, in the States, he would be a lot higher than people expect."
Last year, playing with and against players his age, he was an all-tournament selection in the Nike International Junior Tournament. But this season, playing in the A1 League for Cibona Zagreb, the 19-year-old Saric couldn't find a consistent shot. He made just 44 percent from the floor and 29 percent on 3-pointers. And Saric isn't as athletic as Jan Vesely, the Wizards' first-rounder in 2011 who isn't a great shooter, but can run the floor and block shots.
"He's really struggled this year," a Western Conference general manager said of Saric. "It's explainable. He's an 18-year-old kid playing with men, and with a 24-second shot clock, and coaches who are literally coaching day to day to save their jobs. The main thing teams are going to have to resolve is that he's really struggled shooting the ball. He's been able to score because he was bigger, but now he's playing against guys his own size. Mentally, he's gripping it pretty tight."
Said an Eastern Conference GM: "When I saw him, I wasn't that impressed with him. If guys are raving about him, I wasn't on that page ... I personally saw a guy in the game that's not very athletic, didn't shoot the ball very well, had a decent basketball IQ but didn't do anything really great on the court.
"If you can't shoot, someone said it was just a bad shooting night. I said it doesn't look like he has any confidence out there."
Saric could also have had problems trying to live up to the pressure of being the next great Croatian player, following in the shoes of Toni Kukoc and the late Drazen Petrovic. There were, and are, questions about whether Saric will stay in the Draft if he doesn't get a promise to be taken high in the first round.
"The uncertainty of his desire to play in the NBA based on where he wants to be drafted has caused him to fall more than his talent has," one Eastern Conference GM said.
Said a Pacific Division executive: "The assumption by everybody is that he is coming. The people I've talked to have him coming. He doesn't shoot it well. So he's gonna have to get to the right team, you'd almost say a systems team. But he does everything else pretty well."
Adetokoubo a blooming point forward?
If Saric is an unfinished product, 18-year-old Giannis (pronounced Yawnis) Adetokoubo, a Nigerian-born Greek, is little more than a few sketches on a pad. But they are very interesting, intriguing strokes, that have some comparing him to a young Nicolas Batum. This is a young prospect who knows how to play.
NBA types have been flying over to Europe in increasing numbers over the last month, to see what the big deal is with Adetokoubo, who is playing for Fliathlitikos, a team in Greece's second-tier league, not the one with traditional Greek powers like Olympiacos and Panthiakos. Adetokoubo (there are other spellings of his name out there; this is the one I'm going with) has wowed people with his passing ability, to the point where some teams think he could play some point guard in the pros.
"I walked out of there saying/ 'Holy cow, this kid's a freak,'" one general manager said. "He has no body. He's got pipe fitter legs. But he's got Magic Johnson kind of handle and court vision ... what I saw was a guy who can handle it, who can make plays. People are going to want to make him a point guard. He might be a point forward at the end of the day."
Adetokoubo's wingspan and hands alone are making some people giddy. But others aren't as convinced.
"There's a little bit of a hype behind it," a Southeast Division executive said. "He's not [Portland's Nicolas] Batum, my friend. A lot of conflicting reports, but the guys who've seen him have told me not to get too excited."
The likely scenario is that Adetokoubo (whose brother, Thanasis, also plays for Filatlhlitikos, and is also an NBA small forward prospect) will be a long-term project for anyone that takes him.
"I can't imagine how he plays in the league for a couple of years, maybe longer," another executive said. "Especially the way the rules are. You have to absorb the cap hit over the summer so you really lessen your ability to spend money."
Said yet another executive: "it's going to take a while. You know how that goes. How many times have we seen that with European players? And you've got to be careful in this draft, because it's a perceived weak Draft. It's easy to hype somebody and shoot them up the board."
Taking a first-round gamble on such an unproven yet promising European talent is nothing new. But Adetokoubo has so little in the way of a proven body of work at his age, it is reminiscent of when the Nuggets took Nikoloz Tskitishvili No. 5 overall in the 2002 Draft, even though he played very little in actual games for his team, Benetton Treviso.
"In my opinion, he needs to stay," one Western Conference birddog said. "Very long, thin body. Big ol' hands. He needs to come in a year later. He played in a low division. He's not ready yet. Very, very skilled, very talented. Somebody's gonna pick him. If he does stay in, I would say second round. But I think he should go back."
Others echoed that sentiment.
"I try to follow these guys from a certain age," one general manager said. "So you watch them in the Under 17s, the Under 19s, the world championships. The guys that don't do that, the guys that I've noticed, they seem to have a way of not making it, failing. Even if they don't [fail], it just takes them such a while. Their talent springs up. Guys like Skita, [Mouhamed] Sene [taken 10th overall by Seattle in the 2006 Draft], [Bismack] Biyombo [acquired via trade by Charlotte in 2011] to an extent. He played that last year [before the '11 Draft] in Spain but the year before that he played in Qatar."
Adetokoubo still does not have a visa to travel abroad, and sources indicated his parents also have issues with the requisite papers. Initially, he was scheduled to be part of the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland last week, but the document issues kept him abroad. He is expected to have everything in order by the end of the month.
Mitchell a potential sleeper
North Texas sophomore Tony Mitchell has been on the NBA's radar for two years, but he opted to remain in school another year after winning Sun Belt Freshman of the Year honors. It helped him some among NBA types, but there are still a lot of questions about him. On the court he is as athletic as any prospect in the Draft, evidenced by his double-double average last season, combined with his 2.72 blocked shots per game, which ranked 14th nationally.
He wound up at North Texas after he enrolled in but never played a game for Missouri, after his transcripts were red-flagged following his stint at a Florida prep school. And there were other hiccups, such as when Mitchell violated a team rule and was benched for the start of a game early last season against Lehigh -- a game that more than 70 NBA scouts came to see, so they could look at both Mitchell and Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum.
But Mitchell still scored 22 points after coming onto the floor.
"At some point, because of his athleticism, somebody's going to take a chance," one Eastern Conference executive said.
Said another: "He plays like a four. But he's going to have to learn to guard some threes. He's the second- or third-most athletic player in this Draft. Extreme athleticism ... he did not do well with the new coach's system [at North Texas]. A lot of ticky-tack fouls, careless fouls. But he will do very well with a team that plays in the open floor, plays an up-and-down system, like [Lakers coach Mike] D'Antoni."
Notes on the rest of the crop ...
• Like Mitchell, Colorado's Andre Roberson averaged a double-double (10.2 points, 11.2 rebounds), the second year in a row he accomplished the feat. Those boards were good for second in the nation, behind Siena's O.D. Anosike (11.4 per game). But Roberson, the Pac 12's Defensive Player of the Year winner, is still wrestling with whether he'll go into the Draft, looking like he'll go all the way to Sunday's deadline before deciding.
If Roberson puts his name in the Draft and keeps it in, he'll have to adjust from playing inside at Colorado to trying to play on the wing in the pros.
"He's an OK shooter," said a coach whose team played Colorado. "He doesn't put it on the floor like a three. He can put it on the floor. I don't see how he improves. Based on what he's doing he'll be the same player next year. But he's very active. He's a good rebounder and shot blocker. Excellent hands. He can defend multiple positions because he's mobile."
But if he doesn't have a true NBA position at the offensive end, he's expected to be able to defend multiple positions at the defensive end. There are comparisons made with Kenneth Faried, who worked the glass at Morehead State all the way to the first round of the 2012 Draft. But Faried is bigger, even though Roberson has a similar kind of motor.
"He's got big energy," one GM said. "But he's very thin to play the four, and that's why we're looking at him at the three. Does not have the skills right now to be an effective small forward, and would have to get really stronger to play the four. This year he tried to do a little more on the perimeter and really didn't do well with it. But he's got a high spirit."
• N.C. State's C.J. Leslie didn't display a consistent spirit, which is why NBA types question whether he can be a consistent performer at the next level. He will also likely have to play both forward spots depending on matchups.
"He's definitely more of a four," one Southeast Division exec said. "He wanted to be a three. He impacted the game with his vertical lift. He will chase down balls. But he's more athlete than basketball player."
Leslie was the preseason ACC Player of the Year pick, and he had some great moments, such as his 25-point effort in the Wolfpack's upset of Duke in January. (And seconds after the game ended, Leslie made his best assist of the day.) He finished a third-team all-ACC selection. But the Pack couldn't live up to its status as the conference's preseason pick to finish first, fading badly toward the end of the season and losing to Miami in the ACC semifinals.
Like his team, despite showing an ability to put the ball on the floor and create some, Leslie was up and down overall.
"I wonder about his motor," one college coach said. "When he's got it going, he's a Lottery pick. Then sometimes you wonder where he is ... but when he does bring it, he's outstanding."
• Syracuse's James Southerland was one of two seniors, along with guard Brandon Triche, who led the Orange to the Final Four, returning to play down the stretch after missing six games midway through the season for an unspecified academic problem. Southerland made almost 40 percent of this threes last season, and will be given a chance to make a roster as a guy who can fill it up.
"He's one of the best shooters in the Draft," an Eastern Conference executive said. "One of the top three or four shooters in the Draft. A guy who's going to do very well in workouts, because shooting is a big part of workouts. Did well defensively. I do see his game translating more to the NBA, just based on his ability to shoot the basketball. He's really a specialist, kind of like a Kyle Korver-type player."
• By contrast, Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas did work all over the court, finishing in a tie for 19th place nationally in scoring at 19.8 per game. He led the Big 10 in scoring, was first team all-Big 10 and helped the Buckeyes to the Elite Eight. Scouts say there is a potential role for him in the pros as a pure come-off-the-bench scorer, though he'll have to improve his ballhandling and show he can shoot the ball more consistently on the perimeter.
• Among other Draft possibles, France's Livio Jean-Charles led the World team with 27 points and 15 rebounds Saturday at the Nike game, though many of those points were layups that came when the World team broke the U.S. team's press. The 19-year-old, who played the last three years for Tony Parker's ASVEL team, also gets busy on the glass, which will give him a chance to play some power forward in the NBA as well as three.
"Not bad," a Pacific Division executive said. "I don't know that he's a Lottery pick. The European guys usually have a different time frame. I like him much better than the big kid [fellow French prospect Mouhammadou Jaiteh, a 6-foot-11 center for Maritime Boulogne]. A lot of people were high on him. He can't play. If he makes our league, he's a backup player. But Jean-Charles has got a chance. He's a pretty decent player."
• A couple of potential small forward sleepers are Arizona's Solomon Hill, a first-team all-Pac 12 selection for the second straight season, and Long Beach State forward James Ennis, the Big West Conference's Player of the Year, who made the second team all-tournament squad at the Portsmouth Invitation Tournament and projects as a potential second-round pick.
Hill made the adjustment from power forward to playing more on the perimeter this season and showed an increased willingness to take threes, making space for other pro prospects like guard Nick Lyons during Arizona's Sweet 16 run in the NCAA Tournament.
"They got notoriety because they went to the tournament but I don't think he had the kind of year I expected," said one college coach whose team played against Arizona. "He's surprising with his size because he's kind of thick, but he can turn it over on you. Tough kid. I thought he was an average defender for whatever reason. I don't think he impacted the game defensively like he did in the past. He's tough enough in his mind to do it. ... If you got him, you know what? He could be a good get for you. He's a senior so he won't get the respect because he stayed his senior year, and he might fall enough so that somebody can get him."