Posted Mar 26 2012 2:42PM - Updated Jun 12 2012 9:58AM
It is that time of year again, when a lottery team's thoughts turn to the Draft.
The end of the college basketball season is the unofficial beginning of the Silly Season, that time between now and Draft night, June 28, when everyone has "sources" with inside information about which teams made what promises to whom.
It's all a bunch of garbage, much of which is generated by agents trying to get their clients higher up the Draft board, much of which comes from teams trying to ensure a guy they like is still there when they pick. Believe any of this at your peril.
The only thing I try to do with the Big Board is give you a sense of what those who scout college players, as well as those that coach them and coaches and GMs that will have to select them, really think about their potential.
This year, as we decided to do last season here at NBA.com, we will include underclassmen who are expected to (or are at least thinking about) entering the Draft early. The reasoning was that the "one-and-done" kids who were planning to be in college only one year before turning pro are already pretty well known. (The listing "Some Scouts Like" will refer to players who are not certain to declare, but who are viewed as potentially draftable if they do. Emphasis on "potentially.")
And it makes no sense to rank players by position if you don't include all of the ones who are expected to be at the tops of said position. (Beginning this year, undergrads have only until April 11 to decide whether they will remain in the Draft or return to school, two months earlier than allowed in previous years.)
So we'll start the Big Board with point guards, and proceed every other week with the other positions, alternating with the weekly Morning Tip column. The final group, centers, is scheduled to come out May 14, two days before the NBA Lottery -- after which we'll know who's picking where. We'll refine the Big Board as the Chicago pre-Draft camp and individual workouts take place.
For now, heights and weights listed are from a player's college or international team Website; those will be changed once the Chicago camp numbers are available.
This is not a mock Draft. That comes later, as I, once again, make a complete and utter fool of myself by attempting to guess at what teams that have been lying about their intentions for months are really thinking. This list is a rough consensus of what NBA personnel types really believe is the pro potential of this year's incoming players.
POINT GUARDS | SHOOTING GUARDS | SMALL FORWARDS | POWER FORWARDS | CENTERS
A note on the rankings:
These rankings, based on discussions with 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, though a lot of scouts think Duke's Austin Rivers will play both guard spots in the NBA, more believe he'll be a two guard than a point guard. So he'll be listed at two guard on the Big Board.
• "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 camp. Measurements for players who did not attend the pre-Draft camp are from their respective university or team.
|1||Kendall Marshall||UNC||Sophomore||6-4 1/4||198||Lottery/mid-first|
|2||Damian Lillard||Weber St.||Junior||6-2 3/4||189||Lottery/mid-first|
|3||Tony Wroten||Washington||Freshman||6-6||203||Late first|
|4||Scott Machado||Iona||Senior||6-2||206||Late first/early second|
|5||Marquis Teague||Kentucky||Freshman||6-2||180||Late first/early second|
|6||Tyshawn Taylor||Kansas||Senior||6-4||180||Late first/early second|
|7||Tu Holloway||Xavier||Senior||5-11 3/4||187||Second round|
|8||Scoop Jardine||Syracuse||Junior||6-2||190||Second round|
|9||Isaiah Canaan||Murray St.||Junior||6-0||193||Second round|
|10||Dee Bost||Mississippi St.||Senior||6-2||176||Second round|
UPDATE, APRIL 16: Not much change in the overall rankings, though Murray State junior Isaiah Canaan, ranked ninth on the Big Board, opted to return to school for his senior season. So did Lehigh junior C.J. McCollum, who some teams thought could go late in the first round or early in the second after winning his second Patriot League Player of the Year award and leading the Mountain Hawks to a first-round upset of Duke in the NCAA Tournament, and Michigan freshman Troy Burke. Canaan's return to college pushes Mississippi State senior guard Dee Bost from 10 to 9 on the Big Board, with international prospect Tomas Satoransky moving up from Honorable Mention to 10th.
Pittsburgh's Ashton Gibbs, who led all players in scoring at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, and Seton Hall's Jordan Theodore -- like Gibbs, an all-tournament selection at the PIT, and who finished second in the Big East in assists -- may have earned themselves another look by pro scouts. So did Florida's Erving Walker, who led the Gators in assists and had some good games in Portsmouth.
"He played much more like a point guard (in Portsmouth) than he did at Florida, where he shot the ball a lot" said a Midwest Division scout. "He may have helped himself a little bit."
One of my smart-aleck personnel buddies got back to me on the phone Sunday afternoon.
"You said you wanted to talk about point guards," he said. "There are none. How are you gonna do a story about point guards when there are none?"
Personnel types love talking like this before a Draft, bemoaning the lack of talent. But this year, there is near-unanimity that this is a below-average crop of point guards. If you needed a point guard in the Draft, you should have gotten one three years ago, when Ricky Rubio, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Eric Maynor, Darren Collison, Toney Douglas and Roddy Beaubois all went in the first round (2009). Nor is there a guard with the potential of John Wall (2010) or Kyrie Irving (2011).
"It's a little thin," a longtime Western Conference scout said this weekend.
That is good news for Steve Nash, Andre Miller, Jamal Crawford and Ray Felton -- all veteran point guards who will be free agents this summer. Teams may take a chance on spending a little more on a veteran instead of the uncertainty of a rookie.
"That's what's going to happen," a Western Conference executive said. "You're going to punt (on taking a guard) and take one of the 15 power forwards in this Draft."
But the young guards have one thing on their side: They're going to be decidedly cheaper to sign and maintain than the vets. That makes them cost effective, and with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement making cap room a precious commodity, rookies are going to be more valuable than ever. And haunting just about every personnel guy is the file they have on Jeremy Lin, when they no doubt wrote that the Harvard guard was too slow and not a good enough shooter to make it in the NBA. So, point guards will always get a chance.
At the top of this year's list is North Carolina's Marshall, who lazy folks will compare to Jason Kidd because both are big, pass-first point guards. But Kidd was a blur when he came out of Cal in 1994. Marshall's foot speed is much slower. But he is very, very good, leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.48) and finishing second in assists (9.8).
Most pro types expect Marshall -- a 6-foot-4 sophomore who won the Cousy Award as the nation's top college point guard and set the ACC's single-season assists record -- to keep his name in the Draft after announcing he'd take a look at the pros along with teammates Harrison Barnes and John Henson last week.
"He's not a great athlete," a Pacific Division exec says of Marshall, "but damn, I haven't seen anybody pass it like that in a long time. And obviously he makes that team go. His game is not going to change by going back, and it's not going to change his shooting and it's not going to change his athleticism."
He is the prototypical make-everyone-else-better point guard.
If you must compare Marshall to a pro, compare him to Andre Miller, who is just as (not) fast as he was a decade and a half ago in college, but is still just as effective because he is smart, strong and knows how to play.
Marshall's size makes up for his lack of quickness.
"If he was 6-1 and slow he wouldn't make up for it," a Central Division scout said. "But 6-4, at the position helps him. He's shown some slight improvement in his ability to make a shot from the outside. At 6-4, he can afford to be a step slow. Because he can space some guys, maybe more than a smaller point guard who would have contested shots. With smaller guys on him he can see over top of them."
Marshall's absence in the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament after breaking his right wrist was clearly the difference between the Tar Heels making a title run and getting bounced in the regional final by Kansas. One former ACC coach, whose team played against Marshall, was "stunned" Marshall came out early -- considering the questions remaining about his defense.
"Even Marshall, as good as he is, you wonder about his quickness," an Atlantic Division executive said. "Will he be able to get in the lane and do what he can do against NBA players? But he has a fantastic court awareness that you haven't seen in a long time. It's hard to find a guy in the NBA who plays like him, because most of the guys in the NBA want to score."
In that way, Marshall is a throwback. With the NBA's new rules, scoring point guards are the rule, not the exception.
"It's not really where the game's going," a Southwest Division executive said, "but generally speaking, coaches like having a pass-first, pass-second, reluctant-shooter third guy on their team. (Marshall) will be good with deflections and steals, because he has good instincts, and he's a pretty good kid, too."
Weber State's Lillard is ranked just as highly as Marshall by some teams -- "Lillard's probably my favorite," a Central Division executive said -- though he doesn't have Marshall's natural passing skills. But Lillard, who finished second in the country in scoring (24.5 points per game), is a big-time scorer who does it efficiently, a skill that will serve him well in the NBA, though he may not wind up being a lottery pick.
"He almost lets the game come to him," a Northwest Division scout said. "You like guys who let the game come to them. But he almost did it to a fault. I wouldn't call him a selfish scorer. He's a willing passer, but I don't know if he's a natural passer."
That is OK with some talent evaluators.
"He's got a better feel for the point guard position, but he reminds me a little of Mo Williams -- similar size, can shoot," a Central Division evaluator says. "He's going to be able to manage the point guard position a little more. He plays on a team where he probably could take seven or eight more shots, but he makes the right basketball play. I watched him in a game and he had a quiet 25 -- and they won, too."
Some compare Lillard to Detroit combo guard Rodney Stuckey. Coming out of Eastern Washington, he had to show he could make the adjustment to the NBA from a smaller school.
"Even though he's small college [guy], with guys like Stuckey and George Hill having success Iike they have, I don't think that's held against you like it used to be," a Southwest Division executive said.
But some have questions. One Pacific Division executive believes Lillard is, at best, a backup.
"As a point guard, you want guys to be more assertive, more aggressive, and he's more passive, which is a rarity," a Northwest scout said.
After Marshall and Lillard, the prospects generate much less unanimity.
Wroten, the Pac 10 Freshman of the Year, is trying to decide whether to enter the Draft. Pro scouts are split on whether his skills as a scorer can overcome his occasional wild decision-making.
"I'm not saying the guy's not talented, but holy cow," one scout said. "I don't care if you're playing rec ball, AAU ball, you have to look at a point guard and say, 'Would I want to play with this guy?'"
Said another: "He's always trying to make the spectacular play instead of the easy play. He sees the easy pass to make, but instead he does the lookaway, and he gets a turnover. Probably the best body, the most physical of those three (Marshall and Lillard). Between he and Kendall Marshall, it's a crapshoot on who's a worse shooter. Game-wise he compares to Tyreke (Evans), just a real aggressive scorer."
But another longtime personnel man likes Wroten's athleticism, his strength and his ability to get where he needs to go -- even as he acknowledged Wroten's shortcomings.
"He had an opportunity to win a game -- twice -- by hitting free throws, and he missed them," the personnel man recalled. "Most guys who knock down shots and win games do it early, and it carries over. Guys who miss them early in their career, that usually also carries over."
Machado led the nation in assists (9.9) as his Gaels led the nation in scoring (more than 83 points per game). He is a pure point, but is he a first-round pick?
"I'm a big fan in every way," said a college coach whose team played Iona this season. "I'm not with him every day, but I think he's a high character kid. No doubt he has an NBA skill, the way he passes the ball. There's a reason he led the country in assists. He makes it happen. He makes players around him better ... he's athletic enough and big enough and strong enough and changes speeds and all that stuff. And he becomes a guy that can shoot it, too. He makes college threes."
Scouts believe Machado is a rotation player, but may not be starter material.
"He's learning the game, he's pretty good, but you have concerns about his length and ability to finish," one veteran scout said.
Another said Machado was clever with the ball and likened him to Omar Cook, the former New York high school sensation who turned pro after one year at St. John's, was taken by Orlando in the second round in 2001 but never could stick in the NBA. (Cook has played in Europe for the past several years.)
Teague, the younger brother of the Hawks' Teague, is the latest freshman point guard sensation at Kentucky. He's hoping to follow in the footsteps of Wall and Brandon Knight, taken No. 8 overall by Detroit last year. Teague won't have a lot of time to make up his mind after the title game.
After struggling early in Kentucky's season, Teague has gotten better and better as the season has gone along, especially since Kentucky began conference play in the Southeastern Conference.
"His decision-making has gotten better," a Central Division personnel director said. "Tough kid. With the lack of depth in that position, he's easily a first-round pick if he comes out."
Given that coach John Calipari almost always has a replacement at the ready, Teague may not have much choice but to come out now. But Teague is not viewed as quite as ready as his older brother, who played two seasons at Wake Forest before being taken 19th overall.
"You don't know who he is or what he's going to do at times," a Western Conference scout said. "Cal's done a pretty good job with him." And a former general manager who's watched Teague this season offered: "Can't go right, can't handle right, can't shoot right. He always wants to go to his left."
Another Central exec also had questions about Teague.
"I wouldn't trust him with my ball," the exec said. "He's a good little athlete, quick and all that, but his decision-making, I do not think he's equipped to run an NBA team next year. But somebody will probably take him. I watched him a lot this year. Something's missing for me. Probably the least prepared of all the Kentucky point guards that have left after a year, just from a cerebral standpoint. Athletically, he's a good athlete. I can't argue that."
Taylor, the Kansas senior, is capping a stellar career with the Jayhawks. His shot has come and gone, but he's also made a bunch of big plays, like the two free throws he made in the final seconds to help Kansas seal a come-from-behind win over Ohio State in the national semifinal game.
Scouts believe Taylor can play the point. He is not Russell Westbrook, but he has some of Westbrook's skill set, including an ability to blow by defenders and get to the basket.
"He's shooting the ball better this year," a scout said. "But his decision-making can be awful atrocious at times. But he's another one like (Ohio State guard Aaron) Craft who can play pretty good defense."
Taylor is viewed more as a scorer than a point guard -- "He's played well because they moved him off the ball," a Western Conference exec said -- and has combo guard skills. But his scoring ability intrigues scouts, even as they wonder about incidents like his role in a fight with members of the Kansas football team in 2009 in which Taylor dislocated a finger in his hand, and a two-game suspension last season for an unspecified violation of team rules.
"I like Tyshawn Taylor. I've always liked him," one team executive said. "I'd have to talk to him before (drafting him), though. He's had so many ups and downs off the court."
Holloway thought about coming out last year after being a third-team All-American, but decided to return to Xavier for his senior season. That season was marred by the December brawl with Cincinnati in which eight players -- four from each team -- were suspended. Holloway seemed unrepentant to say the least afterward, with his reference to a "bunch of gangsters" on the Xavier team in a postgame news conference.
But in the pros, Holloway's makeup will be a plus. "Tough kid," an Atlantic Division exec said.
A college coach whose team played Xavier this season thinks Holloway actually lost some of his drive after the brawl.
"I think he kind of lost the very thing that made him very good -- his boldness, his brashness," the coach said. "He just didn't have that chutzpah that he had ... he's still going to be seen lacking. Maybe a Randy Foye with a little less athletcism and size? He's a good college player but I'm not sure it transfers.
"But if you are looking for a point guard to beat yours and read his, he's beating his (guard) and then he's looking at the rim."
Jardine's leadership skills aren't in doubt, as he led Syracuse to a school-record 34 victories and an Elite Eight appearance. He played on and off the ball at Syracuse this season, with Dion Walters splitting the ballhanding duties with him.
"He's got quickness but I think he plays a little too erect," said a college coach whose team played against Syracuse this season. "But that's good for him because he's bigger and stronger than everybody he's playing against ... I'm not sold that he's a great ballhandler who's going to make players better. He's got the good component that he's unselfish. He does want to get the ball in other players' hands. But I don't know if he's capable."
Scouts believe Jardine can guard in space, and his length and range will help him in the pros.
Canaan is a big-time shooter (45.6 percent from 3-point range) who led Murray State to 31 victories and a third-round appearance in the NCAAs. His size will hurt him in the pros if he decides remain in the Draft. But no one doubts he can put the ball in the basket.
Canaan ("a lot of swagger," one scout said) can score without taking a lot of shots.
"He's good, man," said a coach whose team played Murray State this season. "He can really shoot the ball. He can score. Great presence. He can defend. Great presence. To me, he's an NBA player. He's really good. He controls the whole flow and everything, strong, aggressive. He doesn't rush it. He has great presence on the floor."
In his junior season, Bost was suspended 14 games by the NCAA for failing to withdraw in a timely manner from the NBA Draft as a sophomore and for academic issues. But he returned for his senior season and while the Bulldogs only went 21-12 and lost in the first round of the NIT, Bost impressed some birddogs -- "I like him," said an assistant on another SEC team.
"There's a lot of good things about him," one Eastern Conference scout said. "Not a tremendous athlete or a tremendously quick guy. But he's played four years. He's got a pretty clever game for scoring. He may go from 50 (overall) to undrafted but he has a chance to make a roster."
Nedovic has very good size for a point guard prospect and he defends better than many European guards, but it's not known whether he'll put his name in for the Draft. He played well at the adidas EuroCamp in Treviso last year and averaged almost 20 points a game for Serbia in the Under-20 championships. His numbers weren't as impressive for Red Star this past season (6.7 ppg), but he caught some scouts' eyes.
It's more likely that if Nedovic stays in the Draft, he'll be drafted and kept overseas in Europe for more seasoning.
"He was kind of interesting," said one scout who saw him play overseas this season. "I was trying to picture, where would this guy be if you put him on one of these college teams? He was pretty good with guys his own age. He's a sleeper."
Satoransky is not a good shooter, and he doesn't have the foot speed to stay in front of quick guards. But his size and ballhandling ability intrigue.
"He's not a true one or two, but he's a good basketball player," said an Eastern Conference executive. "Good defender, plays hard. I like the way he plays, but for me, he doesn't have a true position."
Jordan Taylor and Ware both get marks for their toughness and their experience as four-year players who led their respective teams to the NCAAs. Both are projected as players who, if they went undrafted, could latch onto a summer league team roster and likely impress more. Ware is an especially good on-ball defender.
As sleepers go, C.J. McCollum -- not Ray McCallum -- is on the minds of a lot of NBA types. The junior from Lehigh and two-time Patriot League Player of the Year led the Mountain Hawks to an upset win over Duke in the second round of the tournament. He had 30 points, many against Austin Rivers, a blue-chip freshman and likely lottery pick.
McCollum has shown that ability throughout his career at Lehigh; this season he was fifth in the nation in scoring, at 21.9 ppg. He is slight of build, but he can get his shot off against just about anybody, and became a better passer this season.
"Certainly, with what he's done this year, there's plenty of teams that have paid attention," one Southwest Division executive said. "It's not just the Duke game (that proved) that he's a legitimate player."
Said a college coach whose team played Lehigh this season: "He's definitely an NBA player ... I think he could go somewhere in the first round. That's not everybody's assessment ... he's definitely good enough to be a good player. He can play point guard, given the style of play in the NBA. He's more like a Westbrook -- not as good of course -- but more that than the Nash/Chris Paul-types."
McCollum must decide whether he comes out now, or returns to Lehigh for his senior season and tries to improve his Draft stock for 2013. Next year's Draft class isn't viewed as highly as this year's, so if McCollum produces at a high level again, he would probably be a first-round lock. But if he doesn't, or gets injured, and doesn't make the NCAAs again, he may regret not coming out when his status was as high as it is now.
"There's an argument for him to come out (now) because the point guards are so weak," a Central Division personnel man said. "There's also an argument that he made a name for himself and if he goes back to school he could be one of the top guys next year."
McCollum rates ahead of other underclassmen like Brown, who is very skilled and has potential. But most NBA men think he needs to go back to N.C. State for another season to gain more experience. Brown is talented and unselfish, but can't thread the needle as well as he tries to on occasion.
Burke was an AP All-America Honorable Mention, the first Michigan player who got the award since 1988, and was All-Big 10 second team and Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He's extremely quick, but needs to work on his floor game. He hasn't decided what to do, but got unsolicited advice from Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis last week, who tweeted to Burke that he should believe in his own heart and mind. (That drew a swift reprimand from Michigan's AD, in his own Tweet.)
Ray McCallum played for his father, Ray, Sr., and both led Detroit to the Horizon League title and an NCAA berth for the first time since 1999. McCallum, Jr., led Detroit in scoring and is viewed as a strong-willed, attacking guard who didn't play the traditional "coach's son" way. His size would be an issue in the NBA. Scouts believe he should return to Detroit for his junior season.
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