Jun 21 2011 6:37PM

NBA Draft Preview

OK, this draft won't be mixed up with 1984. Or 1996. Or 2003.

Try 1998. Or maybe 2000.

There will be some talent. The consensus top two picks, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams, both look like sure things, but after that, there's a drop off in talent. Add to that a bunch of quality players who decided to stay another year in school—including Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and Kentucky’s Terrence Jones—electing to play another year of college ball, a crop of NBA prospects that was already viewed as thin became even more so.

“With the number of high-profile kids who decided to go back to school, that took away some of the strong top from this Draft,” says an Eastern Conference personnel VP. “That may elevate some kids who weren’t going to be lottery picks into the lottery. It doesn’t say they’re not solid players. They’re just not impact players.”

With that in mind, here is a listing of the top 15 players in this draft, according to a sampling of NBA executives around the League.

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Kyrie Irving
Height: 6-2
College: Duke
Projected Position: Point Guard

There can be little doubt Irving is the best point guard in a draft not exactly brimming with talent at the position, and since the style of play in the League is so slanted towards that spot, it’s natural he would be the first player chosen. “He’s a slam dunk, a can’t miss prospect,” says a Western executive. “He has all the tools.” Irving is helped by the limited time he played at Duke last season, since scouts had fewer opportunities to look for warts. Even though he is likened to the Hornets’ Chris Paul, Irving has less experience on the college level than Paul did when he entered the NBA and needs to develop. “Eventually he will be an NBA point guard,” an Eastern exec says. “He’s a traditional point guard more than a lead guard, but he has a great ability to see the floor.”

Our Take: Irving is as sure of a sure thing there is in this draft. With the League's emphasis on point guards, Cleveland's need for a top talent and new face of the organization to build around, Irving is an obvious choice. He won't turn them into a playoff team overnight, but at least the Cavs can check off an integral position in their rebuilding.

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Derrick Williams
Height: 6-9
College: Arizona
Projected Position: Small Forward

Williams’ meteoric rise up draft boards coincided with his big NCAA tournament performance, when he showed he could score all over and work hard inside, too. The question with him is whether he is a power forward or a small forward. He’s listed at 6-9, but he may only be 6-7 or 6-8. “Is he a tweener?” asks the Eastern Conference basketball VP. Williams showed he could hit the three-pointer at Arizona and also handled the ball well. But he’s not overly athletic, and the Western exec says, “He wouldn’t be the No. 2 pick in a very good draft.” Still, Williams is an “amazingly efficient scorer,” according to the Eastern exec. “If you get him 12 shots a night, he might get you 19 points.”

Our Take: The best big man in this draft is either a stud or just meh, depending on who you ask. We think he'll be a solid player with a long NBA career ahead of him. If he puts in the work and on the right team, he might even eke out an All-Star season or two.

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Enes Kanter
Height: 6-10
Country: Turkey
Projected Position: Center

Kanter has a lot of the same things going for him Irving does. First, since the NCAA did not rule him eligible to play for Kentucky, he last played basketball full time in 2009-10. Second, in a draft that has few pivots, he stands out. “There will be a lot of questions, because he hasn’t played,” the Eastern VP says. Kanter is able to handle rough stuff in the post while still stepping out and shooting the perimeter jumper. “If you’re desperate for a 5, you’ll take him,” the Western exec says. “He has a good skill level, is agile, has good hands and can shoot. He’s a player.”

Our Take: Not overly impressed. The old adage is that you can't teach size and Kanter has 82 inches of height going for him. We think he'll wind up as a middling pivot or a good backup.

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Brandon Knight
Height: 6-3
College: Kentucky
Projected Position: Point Guard

John Calipari’s latest one-and-done point man follows in the tradition of Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall. But even though his body is right for the position, his mindset is more of a shooting guard. “He can make shots, but he’s not a true point guard,” the Western exec says. “But everybody is looking for a scoring point guard.” Knight is good on the pick-and-roll and has a sterling character, something that always excites GMs and personnel executives. “The fact that he’s a bright kid will help him,” the Eastern VP says.

Our Take: In the past, caught-between-the-guard-spots prospects would be forced to play a way that was ultimately unnatural for them, leading to an eventual demise from the League, but in today's NBA, players like Knight can benefit from new offenses that take advantage of their skill set and smaller lineups that feature three guards on the floor. This will aid someone like Knight who will likely have to adapt to positions based on floor need.

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Jonas Valanciunas
Height: 6-11
Country: Lithuania
Projected Position: Center

A lot of people like his countryman, Donatas Motiejunas more, but Valanciunas is someone with an excellent future and more of a defined position. “He’s long, athletic and very energetic,” the Eastern VP says. If there is a question, it’s whether he’ll come over to the NBA and if the buyout from his club team, Lietuvos Rytas, will be too high. But Valanciunas has good toughness and is willing to play close to the basket. “He is very skilled, physical, with great hands, and he’s going to fill out,” the Eastern exec says. “In a couple years, he’s going to be a very, very, very good big man.”

Our Take: If Valanciunas falls into the middle of the first round, some shrewd team will pick him up and stash him away overseas since there seems to be some issues involving his American transfer. The additional seasoning overseas won't hurt him either, since he's still a bit unrefined to make an impact just yet.

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Tristan Thompson
Height: 6-9
College: Texas
Projected Position: Power Forward

Thompson is not a finished product by any stretch, but teams looking for help inside, particularly on defense and the backboards, will like him. “He’s a freak of nature,” the Western exec says. “He has shotblocking instincts and great hands, but he’s incredibly raw.” In addition to his skills, Thompson has something that isn’t always found in top players: want-to. “He plays so hard,” the Eastern exec says. Don’t look for offense out of Thompson, at least at first. “His shot will make you go blind; he’s an ugly offensive player,” the Eastern exec says. “But the effort is there.”

Our Take: No, Thompson won't likely be an NBA star, but he does have a solid career ahead of him. Like guys like Jason Maxiell, Tyrus Thomas and DeJuan Blair, Thompson has a chance to carve out a niche as a effort big man who provides plenty of rebounding and shotblocking, two qualities that few teams overlook.

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Jan Vesely
Height: 6-11
Country: Czech Republic
Projected Position: Power Forward

If a team is looking for intangibles, Vesely is the guy to take. He is tough, plays with great energy and can finish above the rim. “He’s a long, very athletic, high-energy player,” the Eastern VP says. “He’s a capable finisher in transition or slashing to the rim.” In a draft that doesn’t have many big men, Vesely is attractive because he will play big while still handling some chores at the three spot. He isn’t a very good shooter, but his effort is infectious. “You’re not going to run plays for him, but he gets his points off the glass,” the Eastern exec says. “He’s a high energy guy, like [Chicago’s Joakim] Noah.”

Our Take: He reminds us a bit of Golden State's Andris Biedrins, a strong rebounder who can pound the offensive glass, but isn't your prototypical banger underneath.

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Alec Burks
Height: 6-6
College: Colorado
Projected Position: Shooting Guard

There aren’t many proven wing guards in the upper reaches of the draft, but Burks is definitely one of them. Once he improves his shooting range, he might be the whole package. “He scores like he breathes,” the Western exec says. “He’s going to be a 20-point scorer in this league.” Burks needs to work on the consistency of his shot, but he can handle the ball, create for himself and is able to finish at the rim. He also works at the other end of the court. “He can guard either backcourt spot,” the Eastern exec says.

Our Take:No one is really talking about Burks and he might be the sleeper of the entire draft. In this age of the three-point shot, Burks' assumed lack of one might hurt him, but one of his strengths that might offset that is his defense. He might be the type of guy that comes into the League with defense as his calling card, but develop into an offensive player (think Latrell Sprewell or Gilbert Arenas) down the road.

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Kemba Walker
Height: 6-1
College: Connecticut
Projected Position: Point Guard

Walker’s performance in March was one of the finest in recent memory. He started by helping the Huskies win five games in five days to take the Big East title. He then keyed UConn’s NCAA title run with great leadership and clutch plays. The question, though, is whether NBA GMs will be unduly influenced by that performance. “He’s going to be taken too damn high,” the Eastern exec says. “He’s not a starting point guard. He can do a lot of things, but if you take him in the top 10, you’re going to regret it.” Walker takes a lot of shots and is only about 170 pounds, so there is a durability factor. “He’ll average 15 [points] and five [assists], and everybody will be excited,” the Western exec says. “In a meaningful game, he doesn’t get it done.”

Our Take: We think Walker has tremendous upside, but scouts and critics have him anywhere from being the second-best PG in the draft to someone who's not worth taking in the first round. Much like Rajon Rondo, Walker will need the right personnel and system to blossom, so his success will depend on the team that plucks him.

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Markieff Morris
Height: 6-11
College: Kansas
Projected Position: Power Forward

A lot of mock drafts have Morris’ brother, Marcus, going higher, but it’s possible Markieff has a better game for the NBA. First off, he’s a real 4 man, who can stretch to the 5, while Marcus is something of a tweener. Folks also like his demeanor a little more. “He doesn’t have as high an opinion of himself as his brother does,” the Eastern exec does. Morris has a “higher ceiling,” according to the Western exec, who likes his athletic ability, his rebounding and shotblocking. If his jumper improves, he’ll be a productive pro. “He is a natural power forward and can shoot it a little bit,” the Eastern VP says. “He has a good touch and can rebound.”

Our Take: The latest set of NBA twins, Markieff and his brother Morris differ from recent identicals in that both their games are similarly ranked as opposed to having a bigger gap. We don't think too highly of either. At best, Markieff will be a bench player who can spell some minutes at the forward spots and maybe some spot duty at center.

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Marcus Morris
Height: 6-9
College: Kansas
Projected Position: Small Forward

There can be no disputing Marcus’ polish when compared to his brother. But at 6-9 (or perhaps smaller), there is concern he is not really a power forward and may not develop into a full-time NBA player. Still, he has a future in the League. “He’ll be in the NBA for 10 seasons,” says the Western exec. Morris has the ability to play on the perimeter and has the ability to shoot. “The biggest question with him is whether he’s a 4 or a 3,” the Eastern VP says. “Defensively, can he match up against starting 3s?” And will Morris be able to play a team game? “He thinks too much about himself,” the Eastern exec says.

Our Take: Marcus' game is more suited for the 3, since unlike his twin, Markieff, he can shoot the basketball. We have Markieff ranked just a bit higher since at the very least, you'll be able to get solid defense from him, something that remains a question mark for Marcus.

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Jordan Hamilton
Height: 6-7
College: Texas
Projected Position: Small Forward

You don’t have to worry about whether Hamilton will bring a defined skill to the NBA. Unlike others, who rely on athletic ability or do a lot of things reasonably well but nothing great, Hamilton puts the ball in the basket. “I love his competitiveness,” the Eastern exec says. “He can make shots. He isn’t very skilled and doesn’t handle the ball well, but he’s a shot maker. I saw him six or seven times this year, and he impressed me as someone who can score.” Hamilton isn’t always judicious with his shot selection, but he can hit from all over the court and will reward the team that takes him with instant offense.

Our Take:College scorers like Hamilton usually find that when they make the leap to the NBA, it's much harder to garner points without a fundamental offensive base that starts with a reliable jumper. One of the recent exceptions to that rule is fellow Compton, Calif. native DeMar DeRozan. If Hamilton can develop a either a midrange or long-range jumper, he could turn into a serviceable wing player.

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Donatas Motiejunas
Height: 7-0
Country: Lithuania
Projected Position: Power Forward

The designation “power forward” doesn’t quite fit Motiejunas, since power is not found anywhere in his game. He can shoot from the perimeter and handle the ball quite well for someone his size, but when the elbows start flying, he’s far from the action. “He’s a skill player,” the Eastern VP says. “He’s capable of playing a little bit under the basket, but he can put it on the floor and shoot it from the perimeter. He’s a stretch four.” That’s one version of the story. The other is a little harsher. “He’s tissue-paper soft,” the Western exec says. “He as all the tools, but he never uses them to get near the rim.”

Our Take:Another soft Euro, according to many scouts, but in today's game of having five guys on the floor that can force the defense to extend themselves, Motiejunas is an ideal pick for a team looking for that. Just don't expect him to do anything outside of that.

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Jimmer Fredette
Height: 6-2
College: Brigham Young
Projected Position: Point Guard

Fredette was so popular during the 2010-11 season that faculty at BYU asked him to stop coming to class because he was causing a commotion with his mere presence. There’s no denying his charisma or long-range shooting ability. But he’s too small to be a full-time shooting guard, shoots too often and is not polished enough to run the point, even though at his size, that’s his position. The team that drafts him must be willing to create opportunities for him to score. “For him, it’s all about fit,” the Eastern VP says. “If you can put guys around him who create off the dribble or a young low post scorer, he can play with them.” Many are expecting him to become a point guard, something the Western exec doesn’t see. “He’s a pedestrian athlete, plays no defense and is not a point guard,” he says.

Our Take:A team might be swayed by his impressive collegiate career or his fanatic following, but in the end, Fredette will likely be a role player suited to come off the bench to spread the floor out with his good stroke and range. Like JJ Redick Fredette neither possesses the quickness or size to get that shot off easily in the NBA. Some compare him to Stephen Curry, a lights-out college shooter, but Curry developed his PG skills in college to go along with god-given quickness and court vision.

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Kawhi Leonard
Height: 6-7
College: San Diego State
Projected Position: Small Forward

With Leonard, it comes down to whether he can develop his shot enough to be an asset offensively. He can do a lot of other things. “If he shoots the ball, people will think they found a baby Artest, because of his defense and rebounding,” the Western exec says. Leonard is not a polished player, but he works hard and has some intangibles. “He has tremendous hands and is the best rebounding small forward in the draft,” the Eastern VP says. “He’s able to defend on the perimeter and is a good passer. He’s a solid basketball player.”

Our Take:If you're looking for a ready-out-of-the-box small forward in the draft, Leonard is the right pick. Since a majority of teams draft based on potential, Leonard's lower ceiling pushes him down in the draft. But in 10 years when people look back at this draft, they might see Leonard as one of the best players in it.

Top 10 Point Guards
1.Kyrie Irving, 6-2, Duke
2.Brandon Knight, 6-3, Kentucky
3. Kemba Walker, 6-0, Connecticut
4.Jimmer Fredette, 6-2, Brigham Young
5. Reggie Jackson, 6-3, Boston College
6. Josh Selby, 6-2, Kansas
7. Darius Morris, 6-4, Michigan
8. Malcolm Lee, 6-5, UCLA
9. Shelvin Mack, 6-3, Butler
10. Charles Jenkins, 6-3, Hofstra

Top 10 Shooting Guards
1.Alec Burks, 6-6, Colorado
2.Klay Thompson, 6-6, Washington State
3. Nolan Smith, 6-2, Duke
4.Scotty Hopson, 6-7, Tennessee
5. E’Twaun Moore, 6-4, Purdue
6. Marshon Brooks, Providence, 6-5
7. Travis Leslie, Georgia, 6-4
8. DeAndre Liggins, 6-6, Kentucky
9. Andrew Goudelock, 6-1, College of Charleston
10. Isaiah Thomas, 5-9, Washington
Top 10 Small Forwards
1.Derrick Williams, 6-9, Arizona
2.Jordan Hamilton, 6-7, Texas
3. Kawhi Leonard, 6-7, San Diego State
4.Chris Singleton, 6-9, Florida State
5. Tyler Honeycutt, 6-8, UCLA
6. Chandler Parsons, 6-10, Florida
7. Kyle Singler, 6-7, Duke
8. Nikola Mirotic, 6-10, Serbia
9. Bojan Bogdanovic, 6-7, Serbia
10. Davis Bertans, 6-10, Latvia

Top 10 Power Forwards
1.Jonas Valanciunas, 6-11, Lithuania
2.Tristan Thompson, 6-9, Texas
3. Jan Vesely, 6-11, Czech Republic
4.Markieff Morris, 6-11, Kansas
5. Marcus Morris, 6-9, Kansas
6. Donatas Motiejunas, 7-0, Lithuania
7. Tobias Harris, 6-8, Tennessee
8. Kenneth Faried, 6-8, Morehead State
9. Bismack Biyongo, 6-9, Congo
10. Trey Thompkins, 6-10, Georgia
Top 5 Centers
1.Enes Kanter, 6-10, Turkey
2.Jordan Williams, 6-10, Maryland
3. Keith Benson, 6-11, Oakland
4.Lucas Nogueira, 6-11, Brazil
5. Greg Smith, 6-10, Fresno State