Posted Apr 16 2012 8:39AM - Updated Jun 12 2012 9:56AM
The good news: If you're looking for a shooting guard in the Draft, there are a lot of good ones.
The bad news: You may pick one much higher than he deserves because so many of this year's prospects are so similar.
After Florida freshman Bradley Beal, generally considered the top prospect and a high lottery pick, there are a half-dozen good guards who will almost certainly be in some team's rotation. There is, however, not much separating them in the eyes of many NBA personnel types. Interviews and workouts before June will be critical, but even then it may take years to sort out who's better.
Last year, Washington State's Klay Thompson and Colorado's Alec Burks stood out. This season, Beal stands alone.
UPDATE: POINT GUARDS (first posted April 2): 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."
POINT GUARDS | SHOOTING GUARDS | SMALL FORWARDS | POWER FORWARDS | CENTERS
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 camp. Measurements for players who did not attend the pre-Draft camp are from their respective university or team.
|1||Bradley Beal||Florida||Freshman||6-4 3/4||202||High Lottery|
|2||Austin Rivers||Duke||Freshman||6-5||203||Mid-late lottery|
|3||Jeremy Lamb||Connecticut||Sophomore||6-5 1/4||179||Mid first|
|4||Dion Waiters||Syracuse||Sophomore||6-4||221||Mid/late first|
|5||Evan Fournier||Poitiers Basket (France)||19||6-6||195||Mid/late first|
|6||John Jenkins||Vanderbilt||Junior||6-4 1/4||212||Late first/early second|
|7||Terrence Ross||Washington||Sophomore||6-7||197||Late first/early second|
|8||Jared Cunningham||Oregon St.||Junior||6-5||188||Early second|
|9||Will Barton||Memphis||Sophomore||6-6||174||Second round|
|10||Doron Lamb||Kentucky||Sophomore||6-4 3/4||179||Second round|
Most of the time, a two guard who shoots 44 percent, and 34 percent from 3-point range isn't viewed as a major pro prospect. And many times, a player who's reluctant to shoot in college is deemed not tough enough to play at the next level.
But Beal, the freshman guard from Florida who announced he would be eligible for the Draft, appears to be the exception.
Beal, who finished second on the Gators in scoring last season, is the choice of just about every pro scout and evaluator I've spoken with, and there isn't one of them who believes he won't be taken in the top five or higher in June's Draft.
"I'm not comparing him to Ray (Allen), but he's the best I've seen since Ray in terms of being able to catch and shoot," said an official from a Southeast Division team -- who, indeed, just compared the 6-foot-3 Beal to Allen, the NBA's all-time leader in 3-pointers.
If Beal is that good a shooter, he'll strenghten any team's roster. He'd be a great fit playing next to John Wall in Washington, or Kemba Walker in Charlotte, or Kyrie Irving in Cleveland. He would be a solid first piece of a rebuilding effort in Portland -- which has the Nets' first-round pick after the Gerald Wallace trade, a top-three protected choice for New Jersey -- or in New Orleans.
"He has a chance to be really good," said a Central Division personnel man. "Super high-character guy, too. He can do a lot more than he's shown. Works his tail off. Just all of the things you want. He's like the flavor of the month."
Said a Northwest Division scout: "He's not tall, but he's big and thick and strong. He has a lot of poise to him. I think he has upside. He didn't have an elite shooting year, but it'll get better. His stroke is good. It's just a matter of taking more shots and making them."
The only uncertainty about Beal comes from his deportment during his one year in Gainesville.
Beal played alongside upperclassmen Erving Walker, the Gators' senior point guard, and junior guard Kenny Boynton, who led Florida in scoring. With two guards that dominated the ball, Beal would often defer.
"The one thing that hindered him was Boynton and Walker were chuckers," said a Southwest Division scout. "I saw him against Arizona and I wanted Bradley to get (ticked): 'Why don't y'all pass the ball?' But he stayed in his lane. If Bradley had played with a better point guard, he probably would have had better numbers."
Beal's numbers do not blow one out of the water. He finished tied for eighth in the SEC in scoring and 13th in 3-pointers made. His player efficiency rating was not in the top 100 in ESPN.com analyst John Hollinger's rankings of college players.
"I like Beal," said a college coach whose team played Florida this past season, "but for some reason he didn't shoot the ball well. The shot looks good, though. I think he has a good feel for (the) game. Athletic, but didn't seem aggressive enough at times."
But in the NBA, Beal's size should be sufficient to play shooting guard. He is strong and physical, and was a very good rebounder for his position -- though one veteran scout cautions that Beal's board work at Florida (6.7 rpg) came, in part, because he was a de facto forward for the Gators playing with two small guards.
"I think he can guard people," the Northwest scout said. "He's really, really strong, very physical. I think he takes it personally. He wants to guard. And if you're going to play for Billy (Donovan) you have to have some of that in you."
Austin Rivers made an impression in his one season at Durham. The son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers made some big shots -- including the game-winner in a stunning Blue Devils comeback in Chapel Hill to beat North Carolina in February. And he is expected to go high in the first round after declaring for the Draft. While he can handle the ball some, most scouts don't think he's going to be a one in the NBA -- though he could handle the ball and initiate offense some.
Scouts expects Rivers to be able to get to the basket and to the foul line in the pros, no matter what position he plays.
"I have him as a guard," said a Southwest Division executive. "The role is a starter/scorer, come off the bench and score. It's a nice way of saying he's not a one. But the way the rules are, with the lane opening up a little bit more, his game is more conducive to our rules. His mindset is not really to organize a group, think for the team, (but to) break a team down and get to the rim."
Said a Northwest scout: "Right now, I think he's a two. He's a talented kid. He's a head scratcher. He sees the floor. But does he really make his teammates better? I don't know that yet. And he's so young, and now you have to make a judgment, which all of us are going to have to do. When you watch him play, he's looking to score, but you can't teach too many guys to see like he can. It's not a picture-perfect shot, but it goes in there. He's got talent. But we've got to figure out what he is."
Rivers led the Blue Devils in scoring (15.5 per game), and because he was the only Duke player who could consistently break down defenses, he probably shot more than he had to. He struggled to find his shot early in the season, but became more assertive as the season wore on.
"Mike (Krzyzewski) utilized him right for where he was, but he's got some growing to do as a scorer and facilitator," said a longtime coach with ACC ties.
Defensively, Rivers isn't a great athlete. But neither was his father, Doc, who was smart, tough and physical enough to become a top-notch NBA defender. But that was 20 years ago, when the NBA's rules allowed hand-to-hand combat between guards. Austin Rivers won't have that luxury. Against Lehigh in the NCAA tournament, Rivers -- and, to be fair, all of Duke's other guards -- couldn't stay in front of C.J. McCollum, who scored 30 points in Lehigh's 79-75 win.
"His size is the biggest issue for me," a Northwest scout said of Austin Rivers. "If he was 6-foot-5 you could live with it. I'm curious to see what he measures at. They list him at 6-foot-4 and I'm not convinced ... he has to guard those guys, too, like Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade and Landry Fields and Rip Hamilton, big guys like that. And he's smaller than that."
Rivers' pedigree as the son of a solid pro player and outstanding NBA coach is a blessing, but could also be a burden. Scouts aren't certain whether Rivers' confidence will serve him well at the next level or put a target on his back that may be difficult to escape. If Rivers, who is likely to go in the lottery, somehow slipped down to where Boston is drafting -- somewhere in the 20s -- it could provide an agonizing call for the Celtics' organization.
"He's got a lot of maturing to do," said a Southwest Division scout. "It's gonna be interesting to see how he handles an NBA locker room. Guys aren't gonna care who he is."
Said another Northwest scout: "He's probably somewhat spoiled. He's got the mindset of Michael (Jordan), where he knows how good he is -- or he thinks he knows how good he is -- and he thinks he can knock down shots any time he wants to ... I don't think he's close to anybody, but I don't think Kobe (Bryant) was close to anybody coming out of high school.
"He's got a high opinion of himself. He's Doc's son. He's grown up around the NBA. He went to a very good high school, and he went to Duke ... but the times I've talked to him, and they were brief, he seemed fine to me."
Some scouts have Lamb rated ahead of Rivers. Lamb, who contemplated entering the Draft after starring as a freshman on UConn's championship team a year ago, is skinny, but he is skilled, long and can make plays. He finished third in the Big East in scoring (17.7 per game) and was one of the few bright lights on a Huskies team that fell apart and got bounced in the second round of the NCAAs.
UConn fell apart, but that shouldn't all be put on Lamb's shoulders -- even though much was expected from him.
The first-team all-Big East selection shot a solid 48 percent, and scored 20 or more points 10 times, including 32 against Villanova. He is just the sixth sophomore in Connecticut history to score more than 1,000 points.
"He's really talented," a Northwest Division scout said of Lamb. "He's a little laid back as a kid but he's a really talented kid."
Some question whether Lamb is too laid back. He has been painted with the "S" word by many evaluators: soft.
"I think that's his deal," said a Central Division executive. "It gives you a little bit (of concern) but that program's turned out a lot of good players. I think you have to give him the benefit of the doubt. If you can play for [coach Jim] Calhoun you can play for a lot of coaches. He's got some tools. He's really athletic. And people seem to like the kid, too. He's just pretty passive."
Said a Southeast Division scouting head: "I like Lamb. But he plays that style, that silky smooth style. If you play that way, you better be real good. Because that's a high switch position."
One college coach whose team played Connecticut this year said he doesn't like Lamb's motor.
"When you give him space and you let him do his thing he's got it going pretty good," the coach said. "But when you get up in him and deny him the ball and make him work for his shot, he doesn't seem to be the most competitive guy. But he's good. He can shoot it. It just depends on how competitive he's going to be on that given day."
But Lamb is likely to be very impressive in interviews and in drills at the Chicago pre-Draft camp and individual workouts. Despite all the qualms, Lamb is almost certain to go in the top half of the first round.
Whether he's ahead of Syracuse's Waiters may well depend on who's drafting.
The sophomore guard is the X factor at his position, drawing the kind of praise -- "I'm a huge, huge Waiters fan," gushed a Southeast exec -- that might precipitate a big jump in Draft position. He's a first-round pick, and he could go as high as the late lottery. Teams think he will be a great pick-and-roll guard in the pros.
"The wild card is Waiters," said a Pacific Division scout. "He's a little bit of a hybrid. He's not a point guard but he's not your traditional two guard. He's explosive -- the most explosive by far. Can make plays for people but it's not the number one thing on his agenda. He's someone that people see could really rise up -- maybe top 10."
Waiters gets high marks from scouts for his passing ability and his willingness to pass. He was one of the country's top sixth men, splitting time with Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche in the backcourt. And in a league where James Harden has made himself quite valuable to one of the league's premier teams coming off the bench and moving the ball around, there's an NBA role waiting for Waiters.
"I like Dion," said a Northwest Division scout. "That's a manchild there. He's got that grown man body. And he's gonna hunt. You don't have to force that dog to hunt. The thing about him, coming into our league, he's already coming off the bench. So that's not gonna be an adjustment for him. He's got the body, he's strong, he's got bounce. He's just gotta get better with the deep ball."
The Pacific Division scout likens Waiters' explosiveness in the open court to Dwyane Wade.
Said a college coach whose team played Syracuse: "He can score and get his own shot. He can rise above you and shoot over the top. Athletic. Got a good body. He's more aggressive than Lamb. If you had to pick one of the two I would think he might be more ready to play at this level than Lamb. Lamb is a more consistent shooter but Waiters can jump above you. He can do everything. He's one of those guys that knows he can do it, too."
Among the only international backcourt players with a chance to stick and make an impact this year is France's Evan Fournier. The 19-year-old first made an impression on NBA scouts last year at the Nike Hoop Summit and the adidas Eurocamp. That led to a spot on the French national team last year.
This season he played for Union Poitiers Basket in the French Pro A League. His team didn't do so hot, but Fournier did nothing to harm his Draft status, earning player of the month honors for March. He may play some small forward in the NBA, but his best projected position is shooting guard.
"He's going to play in our league," said a Northwest scout. "He's got a shot of going somewhere in the late first, depending on how well he's progressed. He's got good size. He plays hard. He's not a bad shooter. I don't think he's as soft as some of the so-called French kids are. I think he's got a shot."
But Fournier has to convince others. Tony Parker has shown that he can take the pounding and Ronny Turiaf has had a solid pro career, but other French players, like Boris Diaw, haven't withstood the test of time. Fournier has to overcome that stigma.
"He's a teaser," said a longtime international personnel evaluator. "He's a little soft. Talented as hell. He's got skill. But I'm just not sold on him. He's playing well in France but I've got some questions. I just wonder about his toughness -- like, Thabo (Sefolosha)'s tough. (Carlos) Delfino's tough. Those guys can adjust. Talent-wise, he can play in our league, no question. But I question his toughness."
Vanderbilt's Jenkins has an NBA-ready skill; he's as good a shooter as there is in the Draft.
The two-time leading scorer in the SEC and all-SEC selection ended his career as the Commodores' second all-time leading 3-point shooter (306) and tied the conference's all-time single season record for 3-pointers this past season with 134. He shot almost 44 percent behind the college arc last season and 83 percent from the line.
The names Anthony Morrow and Daequan Cook were used in comparison; if the ball is swung to Jenkins on the weak side, book it.
"He does something that's elite: he can really, really shoot it," another scout said. "And I think his feet are better than he's gets credit. He's got decent feet. He's not great, but he's not terrible. He's got size. He's maybe 6-foot-4, but he's big. It's different if you're 6-foot-4, 195. But he's not in that other group (the other top two guard prospects). He's going to be challenged athletically."
Scouts point out that for all the shots and attention Jenkins had at Vanderbilt, he only averaged 4.4 free throws last season. "He doesn't get to the rim," said a coach whose team played Vanderbilt this season. "He's non-athletic, and can't guard anybody."
"Putting it on the floor, creating -- no," another scout said. "And he's got a bad body, too. But he can definitely shoot it off the catch."
But a Pacific Division scout said that Jenkins' ability to shoot supercedes everything else about him. The scout said Jenkins is a better catch-and-shoot guy than J.J. Redick was when he left Duke.
"Plus," another scout said, "he was guarded like heck in the SEC. People talk about Jeffery Taylor (the Vanderbilt senior forward), but Jenkins was the guy everybody focused on. Kentucky switched off of every screen he came off of."
Washington's Ross intrigues a lot of scouts. The sophomore -- and the latest pro prospect from Lorenzo Romar's team, along with backcourt mate Tony Wroten -- has textbook two-guard size, and came on as the Huskies advanced to the NIT semifinals. He averaged 25 points and 5.5 rebounds in the four NIT games, including a career-high 32 against Northwestern, shooting almost 41 percent from 3-point range during that run.
During the season, Ross averaged 16.4 points and 6.4 rebounds for Washington, earning first-team all-Pac 12 honors. He finished fourth in the conference in scoring and sixth in rebounding.
Ross is a "two-bounce" player, scouts say -- someone who can handle the ball well enough to dribble and get to the rim, but isn't a great passer. But he's "bouncy long," one scout said, and can make enough shots.
"He was kind of inconsistent as a shooter, but a lot of that was the way Washington played," said one scout who saw Ross several times this season. "They were really up and down. They played with a lot of freedom that Lorenzo lets them play with. He didn't get to the free throw line a lot. A lot of pullup shots. People like him around the league because of his athleticism. He should be able to run the floor."
Barton brings out conflicting emotions in scouts.
"I'm a big Will Barton guy," said one. "I don't know if he's ready to be a two yet; he's probably going to have to be. But I love his effort."
"Not a fan," said another. "I think he should have stayed in school. Plays hard and with energy, but ... he's gonna play in the D League. He can't help a team right now.
Said a third: "He's a tough one for me. He's athletic, but he's awfully thin."
Barton, the Conference USA Player of the Year, filled up the stat sheet for the Tigers, leading the conference in scoring (18.0) and finished fifth in steals, fourth in minutes played, seventh in rebounding and 11th in field goal percentage. His energy will be his route to the NBA.
"He was a very productive player," one scout said. "Real thin body. And yet, man, he rebounds. He's like a cobra, the way he springs into action around the ball. The basketball skills are not that bad, but they're not great. The main thing is high energy."
The same goes for Cunningham, the two-time first-team Pac 12 defensive team selection. Cunningham isn't Gary Payton, another former Beaver, even though he tied Payton's record for most steals by an OSU junior. Nor is he really a point guard. But he's got some people intrigued -- "keep him on your radar," a Pacific executive said.
Cunningham played both guard positions for Oregon State during the season. At the beginning of the season the Beavers had him playing off guard; by the time the Pac 12 Tournament rolled around, he was handling the ball. But most pro scouts think he'll have to play shooting guard in the NBA -- if he makes it. He's a likely second-round pick.
"I do like him, but he's not ready," a Central Division talent evaluator said.
With Russell Westbrook making the transition to point guard quickly in the pros, players like Cunningham could get a look. But Westbrook played point guard in high school. Cunningham is still learning. And he's not Westbrook.
"He's trying to get himself prepared to play point guard on our level," a Western Conference scout said. "I think he passes the ball OK, but I don't think he's got that point guard ability where he sees plays, where he sees a guy get open three or four steps before it happens. I don't think he has that. And he's not a shooter; he's a slasher/driver, which he'll be able to do at our level."
Like Jeremy Lamb a year ago, Doron Lamb, Kentucky's sophomore guard, also helped shoot his team to a championship. Doron Lamb's 22 points led the way to the Wildcats' victory over Kansas in the national title game. And Doron Lamb also left for the pros after his second season. (The two Lambs are not related.)
Doron Lamb's stroke is as good as anybody's in the college game; he made 46.6 percent of his 3-point attempts this season. That will get him some looks, and his performance in the title game may get him into the late first round or early second.
He improved his ballhandling and dribbling as a sophomore; even though he played 171 more minutes this season than his freshman year, he had six fewer turnovers overall.
"If I want the guy to be in the corner off the draw-and-stretch, I'd want Doron," one scout said. "The hardest thing is to come back that sophomore year. When you've had success like that as a freshman, you think (you've arrived)."
The two Missouri guards, Denmon and English, have suitors. Denmon was an AP second-team all-America who led the Tigers in scoring, and has some toughness. But no one believes he's his listed 6-foot-3, or that he can make a transition to point guard in the NBA. Making it as a two guard in the pros at 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2 is a tall order, no pun intended. But some at that size, like Eddie House, have had successful careers.
English, who was second on the Tigers in scoring behind Denmon, shot almost 46 percent from 3-point range this season, and has the size to be a more prototypical two guard in the pros. But he played with a bruised quad in Missouri's upset loss to Norfolk State in the second round of the NCAAs, making just 1 of 7 shots and finishing with two points.
Now healthier, English played better in the Portsmouth tournament last week, earning all-tournament team honors.
"I think I like English a little better," one scout said. "I don't know if either one of them is a first round pick. I don't think they are."
One veteran scout who was in Portsmouth, however, was impressed by how English tried to get his team to play some defense, always a challenge in any all-star format.
"I thought he was a little soft his first two years there and he's gotten a lot tougher," the scout said. "I think he's got a good understanding of the game. He's a second round guy naturally but I think he might surprise some people. I liked the leadership he showed at Portsmouth. That was impressive to me."
Georgetown's Thompson could wind up playing more small forward in the pros; he's got the size to be a natural swingman. Two personnel men, independent of each other, compared him to Miami's James Jones. And he shot it like Jones for the Hoyas, finishing first on the Hoyas' all-time 3-point percentage (44) list. He led the Big East in the same category (43 percent) last season.
"He's got great mechanics on his stroke, great rotation," one scout said. "He's got one of those shots that when he shoots it you say 'damn, he's gonna make that.'"
Some believe that Thompson could blossom in the pros the way other former Hoyas who weren't showcased as college players -- like centers Roy Hibbert and Greg Monroe -- have done in the past few years. That's not a knock on Coach John Thompson III's system, which emphasizes ball movement over static postups or pick and rolls. But Thompson's skills at least give him a chance, though some scouts are skeptical.
"I think he's a kid where if he gets in the right situation he can be on somebody's team in a couple of years," one scout said. "And he could come off the bench and knock down shots if he's open. But right now I think he would have been better served going back and trying to improve his game."
Tennessee Tech's Murphy leapt onto the radar in January by scoring 50 points in a win over Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. His scoring average of 20.6 per game was 10th in the country.
Against better competition, though, Murphy often didn't fare as well. He shot just 5-of-15 against Miami, and just 2-of-11 against West Virginia, finishing with just seven points. He did average 22.5 points in two games against top-20 Murray State, however, and he played well this past week in Portsmouth, scoring 27 on Wednesday night and being named to the all-tournament team.
"I could see him getting some looks, being in somebody's camp," said a college coach whose team played Tennessee Tech this past season. "He has an NBA body for a two guard ... he can put the ball on the floor and create some space."
Young finished 13th in the country in scoring (20.4 per game) and was third all-time in school history and fourth in Summit League history with 2,286 career points. And another former Jaguar, guard George Hill, overcame the small school issue when the Spurs took him late in the first round of the 2008 Draft. Young is not a great shooter but he can score.
"He tried to force the ball a little but coming where he's from he had to force it if they were going to score," one scout said of Young. "Coming to our level he's going to have to learn what a good shot is."
Brown doesn't have nearly enough size to play the two in the NBA comfortably, but it's shooting guard or bust for the 6-foot-1, 197-pound junior. He gets his points off the dribble, and he's looking to get his points. That's not a bad thing, but it makes you unsuited to play the point.
Still, there are some smaller guards -- Charles Jenkins, who scored in bunches at Hofstra before being drafted by the Warriors last June, comes to mind -- who have made it in the NBA recently at a "1 and a half" position.
"He's a two that's gonna have to learn how to play the point, and he's not gonna learn that, because that's a feel," one scout said of Brown. "He's a hunter. He likes to hunt and get his shots, and they're gonna be like 'we don't want you to be a hunter, we want you to be a gatherer.'"
Brown, who led the Big 12 in scoring (20.1 per game, 14th-best in the country), said he was leaving Texas early, in part, to provide for his daughter, Jordyn.
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