Prospect Breakdown with Luke Winn
Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Luke Winn (Luke Winn archive on SI.com) spends quite a bit of time in college basketball arenas, so we enlisted his (expert) services to analyze a number of prospects heading into the June 26 NBA Draft. Below is a transcription of our conversation:
Mike Trudell: Andrew Wiggins is a guy many people have been high on for some time now. What about him stands out and how would you describe his game?
Luke Winn: People had a whole year to pick (Wiggins) apart and I think people have many of the same reservations now that they did in the preseason, just about his feel for the game, his takeover mentality, all that kind of stuff. But his athleticism is too much for people to pass on. The clips you see of him in the open court would just be superior with the amount of ground he can cover with a few steps and his explosiveness. That kind of stuff is tantalizing enough to NBA teams. There will be concerns about his ability to create offense in insolation against good athletes. He has a weird lack of feel on how to do that. But he’s still young and he can learn that. That’s my one reservation. A lot of the time you’d see Andrew Wiggins settle for pull-up jumpers. It’s like: ‘Come on, you’re the most athletic player in college basketball, by far. Get to the rim. You can get to the rim.’ If someone can teach him to do that consistently, he can be a great player. If not, he’ll end up being an average small forward.
MT: Another guy that people think has great upside is Joel Embiid. He worked out for some scouts here in Los Angeles recently and was apparently extremely impressive.
Winn: The concerns about Embiid’s back seem to be fading. People are so scared of a Greg Oden repeat, but Embiid’s injury isn’t serious, as far as I know. It’s not the kind of long-term serious injury that derailed Oden. You look at the progress Embiid made – he hasn’t been playing basketball long – and if you saw him a year ago in the spring, he’s made extremely rapid progress. I think he’s already beyond that project phase. He can do the “Dream Shake” in the post. He had some really fluid, excellent post moves. Last year, you had the top post prospect in Nerlens Noel where his ceiling was an impact defensive player. Joel Embiid could be a high impact guy on both ends – a franchise center.
Q: How would you summarize what you saw from Jabari Parker during his freshman season at Duke?
Winn: He’s the safest pick (between Wiggins and Embiid) because you can bank on him being a quality scorer in the NBA, at minimum. Not a good defensive player, but he’s a guy that has power forward size but he scores like a fluid perimeter player. His rebounding production was excellent. I really think he’s a future All-Star in the NBA. People see more potential in Wiggins if he puts it all together because he’s more athletic. But to me, Parker is the safest available on the board.
MT: We simply haven’t been able to see much of Australian prospect Dante Exum. How do you make a proper evaluation?
Winn: Any media person that tells you they have a complete and sure take on Dante Exum, they’re lying. You can’t have seen him play much against legitimate competition yet. There’s just nothing other than FIBA U-19’s and that’s brief. The guy hasn’t played against top-level competition. NBA teams will see things from workouts soon and extrapolate based on that stuff. I can’t even tell if he’s a point guard or a shooting guard. That’s how hard it is. I realize the potential and I acknowledge. From the FIBA U-19’s, he looked good. He wasn’t the singular standout player in the tournament, but he was one of the good ones. He’s benefitted from this because of the mystique. Flat out, he’s benefitted from it. He had the option of going to college for half a season. That was available to him. Indiana had an in with him, but he chose not to.
MT: You saw a lot of Indiana this season: what did you make of freshman Noah Vonleh, who impressed athletically and with measurements at the Chicago combine?
Winn: The one with the most upside (of the young power forwards) is Vonleh. I don’t think he had as good a freshman year as the other two guys, but when you look at Vonleh and when you look at the way people are playing power forward in the NBA, Vonleh has the size, the rebounding production and I think the best ability to stretch the floor and hit three’s. He only shot 33 three’s as a freshman, but he hit 48 percent of them. His shooting form looks the best of those three. When you’re looking at a guy who can guard power forwards and act as a stretch four – his limitation maybe is he’s not explosive and he’s not going to block any shots – he rebounds well and shoots well. If you’re looking at a long-term power forward, he’s my pick.
MT: How do you decipher watching these guys play during the regular season and the NCAA tournament versus seeing them test out at the NBA Draft Combine?
Winn: With Vonleh, his testing confirmed his prospect status. He has Kawhi Leonard hands. (Kentucky freshman) Julius Randle, the only reason you could get a little bit worried is, a lot of production in college is he bullied people. He was incredibly mature for his age. Randle showed up and he was more physically mature than a lot of college seniors. He’d lower the right shoulder, get into them, drop the lefty hook over them, and push his way around the post. You wonder if it translates against 7-footers. He was a little sloppy with the ball with better defenders on him digging into him on drives. You worry that some of that stuff won’t translate as much. He was flat out a better player than Vonleh, he played in bigger games, produced at a higher level. If you think your team needs a power forward to get double-doubles in the next three or four years, it’s Randle. Six years down the road, Vonleh probably ends up being the better player.
MT: And what about another young forward, Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon?
Winn: Gordon is more of a glue guy because he was the best defender of the three, by far. He was, to me, the biggest impact player on the number one defense in college basketball. He’s a high character kid with a really good defensive IQ. He impacted Arizona’s defense around the rim and around the perimeter. He added so much value to that team. If you’re looking for a defensive role guy, that’s the one you take.
MT: Generally speaking, where do you see the potential of this draft class? Some GM’s have said that you can get a player in the back end of the top 10 that may have gone in the top three in previous or future seasons.
Winn: Yeah, I think that’s certainly accurate. And because of this wealth of American power forwards in this draft, I think (Croatian forward) Dario Saric is not being talked about enough. I was wowed by how his feel for the game is ahead of (Vonleh, Randle and Gordon). His athleticism is not as much, but he’s like a 6-foot-10 point forward with incredible passing skills. He’s been playing against high-level competition since he was younger than they are. He’s only 20 and he’s been producing in EuroCup competition in Europe. I honestly think there’s a chance he can better than all three of them. I know I haven’t studied him as much this season but I saw him a little bit in the FIBA U-19’s. If your offense can implement a point forward, he can possibly be a great NBA player.
MT: Doug McDermott had a really solid career at Creighton. Why do you think he looks like a solid NBA prospect?
Winn: I feel the worst-case scenario you get with McDermott is you get a 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8 guy who has really good three-point range and becomes a designated shooter. McDermott’s range and form is really good. He’s been a 40-plus percent shooter (from the three-point line) his whole career in college and the amount of defensive attention in college means he barely gets any open looks. His unguarded shot efficiency last year was incredible. It’d be better than many of the players in the NBA and put him at an elite level. At the minimum, you get a really good shooter. In college, he was probably the best shooter and the best post player at the same time. He’s got the best feel of any college scorer and he can put up points. I don’t think he’s horrible defensively. I just have the feeling he can be a very valuable offensive player for a long time in the NBA. I don’t know if he’s an All-Star ever, but he can be a good scorer on a team. For whatever reason, I don’t think it’s another Jimmer (Fredette) situation. Jimmer had to create a lot of stuff off the bounce and it didn’t translate as well. The previous white scorer flop in the NBA was Adam Morrison. I think McDermott’s long-range efficiency was so much better than Morrison’s. People will make comparisons like that, but I don’t think they’re valid.
MT: What sticks out about Oklahoma City prospect Marcus Smart’s game?:
Winn: His size, his defensive ability at his position, he profiles as an elite defensive player who can guard point guards, shooting guards and small forwards. Smart is an extremely versatile defender. Personally I have reservations about him. There have been some adjectives hyped on Smart with people calling him a consummate leader and a competitor. Some of that praise was heaped on him because he chose to go back to college and when he talked about it, he did it in a very mature way. I didn’t see the kind of leadership qualities announcers and some pundits were putting on him. He had two years on a pretty good team and he didn’t produce a Big 12 championship, a Big 12 tournament championship or a single win in two NCAA tournaments. I guess I have questions as to what Marcus Smart’s real leadership potential is as a point guard because I didn’t see it. When he came back for his second year, people hailed it as a mature decision, but he didn’t get that much better. He didn’t fix his shot, he can’t shoot from long range and I thought his shot selection didn’t get much better. I don’t have any concerns about his defensive ability, but I think there are some makeup questions there if you watched full games of him.
MT: How would you describe Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis’ game and what he can bring to the table for an NBA team?
Winn: Ennis is a much smaller guy than Marcus Smart. He doesn’t offer that physical package at point guard. But Ennis’ freshman stats as a point guard were off the charts. People look at pure point rating and his was one of the best ever seen from a freshman. If watched Ennis all season, this guy was unflappable. I think he has long-term potential as a pure, unselfish guard. Not as a takeover star, but as a distributor. He played in an offense with one shooter and he still did pretty well. If you put him on the floor with two or three other shooters around him, he’ll look great.
MT: And finally, how would you assess guards Nik Stauskas, Gary Harris and Zach LaVine’s game and their potential to contribute on the next level?:
Winn: Some draft guys may be more interested in LaVine than guys who actually covered college basketball. There are people who think LaVine can be a point guard down the road. I don’t really see that. I think Stauskas has more potential to play both (positions). His freshman year, he was a pure corner shooter and he was really good at it. His sophomore year, he added this whole pick-and-roll aspect to his offensive game, showed off athleticism and became a really attractive pick. He can make shots off the ball and he can create with the ball. I couldn’t fathom taking LaVine ahead of him despite LaVine’s athleticism. A lot of people talked about Aaron Craft getting praised as an elite defender in the Big 10. I thought Gary Harris was the best perimeter defender in the Big 10 last year. I thought he was a great lockdown guy. He’s an excellent shooter. He’s dealt with some injuries at Michigan State. As a full package on both sides of the ball, he’s the best one. Stauskas is the best shooter. LaVine is the best eye candy, looking at the (NBA Draft Combine) testing.