POSTED: May 6, 2014 2:52 PM ET
UPDATED: Jun 25, 2014 9:33 AM ET
Some want to compare Kentucky's Julius Randle to the Grizzlies' Zach Randolph.
No position has changed in the NBA in the last 10 years as much as power forward.
Long gone are the days of back 'em down fours like Elvin Hayes, or face-up fours like Horace Grant. Today, the NBA power forward, at a minimum, has to be able to hit the corner 3-pointer consistently. The "stretch four" is more the norm than the exception today, and in this Draft, there are a few bigs who can knock down open shots.
But not many.
This year's power forward prospects will have to get playing time in different ways. Some have great athletic abilities; many have high basketball IQs. But there's not a lot of perimeter pop in '14 -- at last not at first glance.
Good players adapt. Kawhi Leonard was almost exclusively a power player at San Diego State; within a year in San Antonio, he was shooting 38 percent behind the pro 3-point arc. Many of the college and international fours who aren't competent shooters now are expected to be tolerable or better within a year or two. And that will make a power forward class with some promise even more effective, with a chance to have lengthier careers.
Today's look at the four spot is the fourth of our Draft previews in TipLand. After today, we'll look at the center prospects on May 19, a week from Monday, two days before the lottery.
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.
For example: UCLA's 6-foot-9 sophomore Kyle Anderson is a point guard in college (he was a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation's top point guard). And he'll certainly handle the ball a lot as a pro whenever he's drafted. But more NBA teams with whom I've spoken list him as a power forward prospect as a pro. So we will list Anderson as a power forward on the Big Board.
Again: This is not a mock Draft. They are a complete waste of time, especially this long before June. No one has any idea what will happen between now and then; we don't even know all the teams that will be in the lottery, much less in which order they'll be picking. We don't know if there will be a major injury that will impact what a team wants or needs, (Of course, I will humiliate myself yet again and post a mock Draft just before the June 26 extravaganza. Y'all seem to like it.)
In the interim, what follows is a rough consensus of what NBA personnel people, GMs and coaches, and college coaches that I trust -- and that, obviously, can't be quoted by name -- believe is the pro potential for this year's crop of college and international players.
• "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.
RANK | NAME | SCHOOL/TEAM | CLASS/AGE | HT | WT > Projected
1. Noah Vonleh | Indiana | Freshman | 6-9 1/2 | 247 > High Lottery
2. Julius Randle | Kentucky | Freshman | 6-9 | 249 > High-mid Lottery
3. Aaron Gordon | Arizona | Freshman | 6-8 3/4 | 220 > Mid Lottery
4. Dario Saric | Cibona | 20 | | 6-9 | 207 > Late Lottery-Mid 1st
5. Kyle Anderson | UCLA | Freshman | 6-8 1/2 | 230 > Mid1st
6. Adreian Payne | Mich. State | Senior | 6-9 3/4 | 238 > Mid 1st
7. Clint Capela | Elan Chalon | 20 | 6-10 | 207 > Late 1st
8. Jarnell Stokes | Tennessee | Junior | 6-8 ½ | 2633 > 2nd Round
9. James Michael McAdoo | North Carolina | Junior | 6-8 3/4 | 228 > 2nd Round
10. Johnny O'Bryant III | LSU | Junior | 6-8 1/2 | 257 > Second Round
Some Scouts Like: Kristaps Porzingis (20) 6-9, 207, Cajasol (Spain)
Randle more Willis than Z-Bo
Comparisons can be flattering, but also facile. Greg Page was not, in the end, the next Muhammad Ali, just because he came from Louisville, too. And so you hear that Kentucky's Julius Randle is, on the court, the next Zach Randolph, which is a heck of a compliment to the 19-year-old. But it's not exactly correct.
The reason why Randolph has been able to succeed for 12 pro seasons despite being a non-jumping, undersized power forward is that he has two of the longest arms ever attached to a human body. They allow him to get his shot off over taller guys and get his mitts on rebounds. Meanwhile, Randle, while having normal arms for most homo sapiens, has short arms for a basketball player. Think Kevin Willis.
"I saw Zach play in high school, and he's got such good footwork, and he's a guy you always threw the ball to," a longtime talent scout said. "Randle, I don't want to say the polar opposite, but it's pretty close."
But it's still likely that Randle's going to be a very good pro.
Randle was among the most consistent of John Calipari's many freshmen this past season, helping lead the Wildcats to the national championship game. He averaged a double-double (15 points, 10.4 rebounds per game), and was the Southeastern Conference Newcomer of the Year, showing a brute force in the paint that allowed him to be effective. That ability to dominate inside makes Randle the consensus top prospect at power forward.
Randle plays hard, he's got good hands, and he is likely to translate his rebounding skills in college to the next level.
"The thing with Randle is going to be, his NBA skill is probably [being] a bully," an Eastern Conference general manager said. "He bullies his way into scoring at an exceptional level."
Playing against grown men, of course, is a lot different. Randle won't be able to push pros around or under the basket nearly as often or effectively. During the season, opponents got wise to his moves, playing his left hand. Again, in college, he could beat most defenders on straight-line drives. That's not going to happen in the pros.
"He's going to have to develop a counter," one scout said. But most NBA people think he will develop his perimeter game with time.
"A big thing with Randle is how much teams feel he'll be able to improve in terms of knocking down a 15-, 17-foot jump shot," the Eastern GM said. "I think some teams will think he's not going to be able to depend on his postups with his size and his arms. He's got a very high motor. You can't be a pick 4 through 8 as a bully. You have to add something to your game."
Said an Atlantic Division executive: "I think he's going to be able to consistently hit a 16-, 17-foot jumper. I think there's a good chance he's going to be an average NBA 3-point shooter. What I like about him is his energy and the fact that he can track rebounds down. He doesn't have great length. We're all going to be super curious what that is (at the Chicago Pre-Draft camp). He reminds me somewhat of Al Horford, who's a little undersized. Not a super skilled guy offensively, but he gets things done by being super tenacious."
Defense is another issue.
Randle was a below-average defender (and some believe he was even worse in college). He will, as all fours have to do these days, be able to guard the NBA's pet play, the screen and roll, time and time again. Without the length to challenge stretch fours beyond the 3-point line, he'll have to dramatically improve all aspects of his defensive game.
But pro scouts believe he'll be OK at the defensive end -- at least in the paint.
"He's strong enough to guard his position," one executive said. "He can do some of the things that Zach and the other undersized fours do. He's going to be able to hold his own because he's so strong."
High-motor Gordon may be a Marion type
Arizona's Aaron Gordon doesn't approach Randle's strength, but the Wildcats' freshman may play harder than anyone in the Draft. The 18-year-old is a special athlete, who showed above the rim explosiveness on a nightly basis, leading Arizona to the Elite Eight after having to move to power forward during the season because of an injury to starter Brandon Ashley. His work ethic made Arizona's practices better, and his hops made him play bigger than his listed 6-9.
NBA types can't wait to see Gordon use his speed and length to guard pros on the perimeter.
"I love his motor," a Northwest Division personnel man said, "and I think his skill is going to develop some. This kid is way better than [Michael] Kidd-Gilchrest, to me, even with his skill set now."
Another Pacific man concurred.
"His motor is probably one of the biggest attractions," he said. "The guy doesn't take any possessions off. Real athletic, so active on the floor, he does create things at both ends. He will be a good defender in time and be able to defend multiple positions."
But, like Kidd-Gilchrist, Gordon is severely challenged offensively outside of getting to the rim. He shot 49 percent for Arizona, but he won't be able to live on the rim runs and lobs he got with the Wildcats. When he had to shoot, he often had a hitch in his shot, with occasional side spin. And he was worse from the foul line, shooting 42 percent. In practice, though, scouts say, Gordon doesn't have any problems shooting, so there's hope.
"Offensively is where his next NBA coach is going to have to find a position for him," one GM said. "He didn't show much of a touch around the basket. Everything was a dunk, and he struggled at the free-throw line. But in a climate where every player doesn't play hard, his combination of an elite motor and athleticism is going to play well for him. Maybe [Gordon becomes) a Shawn Marion. As ugly as Shawn's shot is, he's developed it to the point he can make it now."
Said a Western Conference scout: "It bothers me about his confidence ... I think the free throw thing is confidence. I think he's got a mental block. I think he'll get better as a shooter and to the point where you have to honor it. Now, it may not happen until his second year."
Uncertainty surrounds intriguing Saric
Croatian Dario Saric could be as talented a prospect at the four as anyone in the Draft, putting many in mind (I know, I know) of Toni Kukoc. At 20, Saric is already a veteran of international play, spending last season at Cibona, in the Adriatic League, leading his team to the league title. His skill sets, tenacity and smarts are all NBA-ready. He's got lottery talent.
"That's exactly who he is," one personnel man said, hearing the Kukoc comparison. "Same power forward mentality as a passer and creator, same size. But he plays harder than Kukoc. Saric is kind of like, you don't know what to expect from him. He may just go out and drop 30 on you one night."
But NBA teams are scared to death to pull the trigger.
Uncertainty about whether Saric, who flirted with coming to the NBA last season, will actually stay in the Draft or go back to play another season overseas has teams fearful. Players who have declared from the Draft have until June 16, 10 days before the actual Draft, to withdraw. Saric's new agent says he'll stay in the Draft if he's assured of a high lottery selection, but there have been strong rumors that Saric's father still doesn't think he's ready to come over.
No one knows.
"His father hasn't come back and said anything else, so we don't know for sure," a Northwest Division executive said. "The other thing is with his father saying he's not ready for the NBA and needs two more years, I don't see a lottery team taking him and waiting two more years. The rumor also was he had signed a two- or three-year deal ... I haven't seen anything on it. If that's in effect, yeah, the buyout could be prohibitive."
There are still NBA types around who remember the dance the Orlando Magic did with Spanish forward Fran Vazquez in 2005. To this day, those involved with taking Vazquez 11th overall in the first round in '05 will tell you they were lied to, that they were told Vazquez was definitely going to leave Spain's ACB League and join the NBA.
Orlando is still waiting.
And no one wants to be Orlando this time around.
"If you don't have clarity and you don't have a better idea of it, it's going to be very hard," one scouting director said. "Because of Fran Vazquez."
From a talent standpoint, there's no question about Saric. He's not a great athlete, but he's a terrific player -- "a nasty scorer," one NBA admirer said.
"If he was in college basketball, I'd have him in the top eight," a Southwest Division executive said. "He's a triple double guy, does a little bit of everything. He can play point forward, can run the team at the top, he can rebound, he plays frickin' hard, he's got a basketball mentality, he loves the game. He's a perfect guy to come to your team and be in a rotation. He's starting to make threes now, which is unbelievable, and if he starts making those, his ceiling is [unlimited]. The kid can [really] play."
Vonleh has forward and center skills
If taking Saric is too scary for teams, there are alternatives, like Indiana's Noah Vonleh. The freshman wowed pro scouts in his one college season, winning Big 10 Freshman of the Year honors (11 points, 9 rebounds per game). He has a 7-foot-3 wingspan and potential pouring out of him. A mid-lottery appearance is certainly possible.
"When it's all said and done, I think you're going to find most teams are that high on Vonleh," one team executive said. "He's going to be a guy that character wise is exceptional. He has high basketball integrity. High work ethic. Just an all-around great kid. I think he has one of the best upsides of anybody in the draft. Some would tell you if he hits his upside you could be looking a future LaMarcus Aldridge."
Vonleh did it all over the floor for the Hoosiers. Despite Indiana's so-so record -- the Hoosiers were trying to rebuild after lottery picks Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller left -- Vonleh was special, shooting 52 percent. He was 16 of 33 on 3-pointers. Some teams think he will play a lot of center in the pros, but most think he will start as a power forward, looking at his perimeter abilities.
"This kid has tremendous upside," the exec said. "Very skilled player. Right now he doesn't have very good range in terms of his shot. He's physically strong for a freshman, and he's athletic. Most of the time he touched the ball this season for Indiana, something good happened."
Vonleh, a McDonald's All-America coming out of high school, also looks really comfortable with the ball in his hands, showing playmaker potential -- or, at the least, the ability to initiate offensive sets.
"For a big, for that kind of size, he can really handle the ball," an Eastern Conference executive said. "He's a way above average ballhandler. You break his shot down, and it's real consistent, good ball rotation. We rate him an above average power forward shooter. Once he gets comfortable shooting the ball, and he's not looking over his shoulder, I think it's going in. You go back to high school, and he did. He had perimeter skills in high school. The kid wants to be a three, but I don't think he'll have the quickness factor to play the three."
Teams must determine Anderson's best position first
UCLA's Kyle Anderson also intrigues, for vastly different reasons. Teams aren't sure what he is. The 6-foot-9 freshman played point guard for the Bruins, and some people immediately went overboard, hyping Magic Johnson comparisons. Anderson is in no way Magical; a more fair comparison would be Boris Diaw -- or, for older heads, John Williams, the versatile forward from LSU whose promising pro career in Washington was throttled by a knee injury and his inability to stop eating. And, like those two, Anderson could be a very good player at the next level.
But, what is he? A point forward? A three? A one?
"It depends on how you want to play," one Northwest Division personnel man said. "I think he's a 1 or a 4. He's not a wing. He's got the capability of at times running your team, but there's no way he can guard one. It will take a really creative coach to hide him at the other end ... but the best thing he does is pass the ball. He's got a real good eye. How you utilize that when he's 6-9 and one of the least athletic guys in the draft. I rack my mind how you're going to utilize him."
Diaw looked like he would become a superstar early in his career in Atlanta and Phoenix, but it never really happened. He's still playing well for the Spurs, of course. But Diaw also has tricky post moves that Anderson has not yet displayed. Anderson will have to be on the ball more, at least early.
"The problem, the debate is, Boris was fine doing it and he can play off of that," an Atlantic Division executive said. "It took him a while to do that. This kid, what team is he going to go to that will let him handle the ball like that? It's going to take years. He's bigger than you think and he's got long arms, but he can't jump over you."
Anderson does, however, jump out with his smarts. He has to; a player nicknamed "Slo-Mo" better know how to play.
"Kyle has a great feel for the game," another executive said. "He's a very good passer and a very willing passer. He has a lot of positives. He's smart, he's skilled, he sees the floor. He shoots the ball pretty well."
Anderson filled up the stat sheet in Westwood, averaging 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists, as UCLA made the Sweet 16 and won the Pac 12 title for the first time since 2008. Anderson was also a first-team Pac 12 selection.
"He has an old man's game, old school game," said a college coach whose team played UCLA this season. "At the four, he becomes a mismatch problem. Because he really is a point guard. He's got good size. And he really improved his shot. He couldn't shoot last year. Showed he had a good work ethic. He got a lot better in one year. A lot better."
But Anderson will have problems at the other end of the floor. Pro scouts don't think he is near quick enough to guard small forwards, nor does he show the foot speed necessary to get out and challenge stretch fours.
"Finding somebody for him to guard at the NBA level is going to be a challenge," one exec said. "His NBA coach is going to have to come up with some creative ways to use him on defense."
Payne's outside shooting touch wows scouts
Michigan State's Adreian Payne probably was best known around the country this season for his unlikely friendship with
Lacey Holsworth, the cherubic 8-year-old known as "Princess Lacey" that battled cancer for more than two years. Lacey was a huge MSU fan, and Payne quickly became much more to her than another SpartanDog. The two were inseparable, with Lacey and her family becoming part of Payne's family.
Princess Lacey died last month, but Payne remains close to her family; they were there over the weekend when he graduated. Now, Payne will take his blossoming perimeter skills to the pros, where NBA teams think he has a chance at a long and productive career.
"Is there a better jump shooter at his position in college?," one Eastern Conference executive said. "And he showed that late, for the world to see, basically. He's going to be able to play four and five. Face up, stretch four. He's got 22, 23-foot range. You're going to run pick and pop with him all day long, and I think you're going to get him committed to run. With his speed and athleticism, I think he'll figure, if I run, I can get four, six [extra] points a night."
In his first two years in East Lansing, Payne totaled three 3-point attempts. But he became a real threat behind the arc by his senior year by willing and working himself into a better shooter. He tried 42 threes as a junior, and 104 as a senior, making 42.3 percent, as the Spartans reached the Elite Eight.
"He isn't a great shooter, but it used to be broke," one scout said. "And he's not broke any more."
Payne won't be taken in the lottery, but for teams in the late teens or early 20s, a 6-foot-10 forward who can shoot and who comes from one of the top programs in the country could be an easy call.
"You're getting into a four-year player, a guy who, from a skill standpoint, a trusting standpoint, you're dealing with a guy who's just safe," one executive said. "He's safe character wise. He's going to be safe basketball skills-wise. He improved in all of the different areas, from his three-point percentage to his free throw percentage. He impacted winning. He's got quick feet. I think he can guard multiple positions. He's got to get a little stronger, but in all the intangible areas, I think he's going to get better."
Is skinny Capela a future Ibaka?
Nineteen-year-old Clint Capela is a project, standing 6-foot-10, but just 207 pounds. A Swiss native, Capela played for Elan Chalon in France last season, and officially put his name into the Draft after playing for the World team at the Nike Hoop Summit last month.
But he is skinny.
"He's thin, but he's got the frame where when he's 23 or 24, he'll be fine," one longtime personnel birddog said. "I don't want to compare him to [Serge] Ibaka, but Ibaka was a limited offensive player as well. He's really a second or third jump around the basket. He's seductive because he's young and he's an athlete and he's young and he's tall. I don't think he's a dominant rebounder or shot blocker, which is where, at his age, he should hang his hat right now. Nerlens Noel is a good comparison. But Noel, with his motor, did rebound. You can't take him in the top 12, but if you're 18 to 30, you'd have to take a look at him."
Teams would not be drafting Capela believing he'd be ready to play in the league this season. Think about how Atlanta took center Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira in the first round with the 16th pick, then immediately stepped aside so he could get bigger, stronger and older playing in Spain this past season. That's Capela's likely future.
"He's not ready yet," one scout with international ties said. "He's raw, with a rebounding mentality, kind of like Serge Ibaka coming out but at a lesser level. Serge played in the ACB League. This kid played in France. But the same type of guy. Serge wasn't real, kind of a question mark coming in. I think Capela could have that same kind of ceiling level as Serge, a guy that could get better. Now, he could not, or he could stay the same. But no matter what, you're going to get a guy that is active, likes the game, will rebound."
And there's more ...
• North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo has had to live up to his surname for years. The son of Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo, a Heat assistant coach, James Michael McAdoo spent three years at Chapel Hill, and was named a second-team all ACC selection last season, averaging 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds.
He had several big games for the Heels, going for 20 and 5 against Randle and Kentucky in a December victory, 24 and 12 against Pitt and 16 and 10 in a second round NCAA victory over Providence. He obviously knows how to play, and though he's not going in the first round, he could make sense for a good team looking for competent second-round talent.
"He played harder and with more confidence than he did last year," one team executive said. "He stays in his lane offensively. You very rarely see him try to do things he can't do. His lane is around the basket. He struggles at the free-throw line. Good character kid, high basketball IQ. Everybody has always wanted a little bit more out of him than what they've seen. But if you look at the Kentucky game, he really defended Randle well. His length stood out against Randle."
Still, some teams thought McAdoo would be more dominant at the collegiate level.
"He's just an enigma to me," another executive said. "I just, throughout the last two years, I've been waiting for him to bust out and do something. Maybe now he'll blossom now that he's coming out. But I always wanted to see more from him. He's got talent. He can shoot and he's pretty mobile. He's got a lot of things going for him. Maybe he'll put it together and become a player."
• LSU junior Johnny O'Bryant III made a name for himself as a physical presence in the SEC, earning first-team honors in his last two seasons in Baton Rouge. He averaged 15.4 points and 7.7 rebounds last season, with eight double doubles. He could certainly get a second-round look.
"He definitely had that Pro Ready body," said a coach whose team played LSU this past season. "Skilled back to basket. Motor was okay, but I saw someone that would make a team and have a chance down the line if he's a worker."
Said a Central Division man: "He could be a better pro than a college player. The spacing of the floor at the NBA level is really going to benefit him ... he's got a lot of low-post moves. The crowding of the lane in college made it difficult to show what he could do. He's going to really benefit from a spaced floor at the NBA level. He can face 12 to 15 feet right now. He's going to have to get a little better from a face-up standpoint. But when he's guarded one on one, he's shown he can be dominant at the college level."
• Baylor's Cory Jefferson played alongside fellow big man prospect Isaiah Austin last season, averaging 13.7 points and 8.2 boards. He was a second-team Big 12 selection, and impresses NBA scouts with a solid mid-range game to go with his work inside.
"He has a nice stroke for an athlete-first player," one executive said. "He plays with a lot of energy. He could be an energy fifth big off the bench. I would like to see him handle the ball a little better. His shot is good, not great. Can be a little bit mechanical at times, even down to the way he moves. But he's a bona fide NBA athlete. He can come in and help a team right away."
• Latvian prospect Kristaps Porzingis may or may not stay in the Draft, but he reportedly hired veteran agent Andy Miller to handle his NBA business. The 7-footer has a lot of talent, though he has to fill out physically. At 20, Porzingis got regular run playing for Cajasol in the ACB League, one of the best in the world.
"He can run, he's long, he can play multiple positions," one Western Conference executive said. "He's not ready yet, but he's a guy that I would compare to [Nikola] Mirotic [the Bulls' impressive European prospect], except he's more athletic than Mirotic—a guy that's going to be great in the NBA. This kid's going to be great in time, but he needs a year or two in Europe just to get stronger. I think he's special. He's just not ready yet."
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