Posted Jun 12 2012 10:13AM
It's so cute when NBA scouts fall in love.
They try their best to be crusty and cynical, but when they see a teenager who plays with passion and energy and makes an effort on defense, all their defenses melt away. They're over the moon.
And they're smitten with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Kentucky freshman whose nonstop activity at both ends of the court makes him the top choice of NBA personnel types at the small forward position right now, less than two months before the June 28 Draft. It isn't a deep class of threes to begin with, so Kidd-Gilchrist stands out even more. Barring some dramatic turn in opinion, the 18-year-old will be a top-three pick.
The other small forward prospect with Top 10 potential is North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, who surprised many last year when he didn't opt for the Draft after his freshman season. If Barnes had come in then he probably would have been a top five pick. This year, he's still likely to go top 10 because of his shot-making ability.
After that, when it comes to threes, everyone's guessing.
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||Michael Kidd-Gilchrist||Kentucky||Freshman||6-7 1/2||233||High Lottery|
|2||Harrison Barnes||UNC||Sophomore||6-8||228||High-mid lottery|
|3||Moe Harkless||St. John's||Freshman||6-8 3/4||207||Mid first|
|4||Jae Crowder||Marquette||Senior||6-6 1/2||241||Mid/late first|
|5||Jeff Taylor||Vanderbilt||Senior||6-7 1/4||213||Late first/early second|
|6||Draymond Green||Michigan St.||Senior||6-7 1/5||236||Early second|
|7||Kris Joseph||Syracuse||Senior||6-7||215||Early-mid second|
|8||Quincy Miller||Baylor||Freshman||6-10||219||Early/mid second|
|9||Darius Miller||Kentucky||Senior||6-7 1/2||233||Second round|
|10||JaMychal Green||Alabama||Senior||6-9||217||Second round|
There isn't another small forward who is expected to go in the lottery, with preferences split among players like St. John's freshman Moe Harkness, Vanderbilt senior Jeff Taylor and college fours like Marquette's Jae Crowder and Michigan State's Draymont Green, who are likely to have to play the three in the pros.
What makes Kidd-Gilchrist's ascension even more dramatic is the fact that he was neither a great shooter (he was a ghastly 25.5 percent from 3-point range) nor scorer (11.9 points per game, third on the team) in his one season in Lexington. He was a good-but-not-great rebounder, and he didn't add many assists or blocked shots.
But MKG is beloved by NBA scouts for a simple reason: he plays hard. His path to the pros is his relentlessness. Playing hard, as I'll say for the billionth time, is a skill.
"He's not overly vertical," said a Pacific Division executive of Kidd-Gilchrist, "but he plays the whole game. He plays all aspects of the game. He's a tough, tough minded kid."
That gives MKG the nod among every NBA personnel person I spoke with over Barnes. Teams both in and out of the lottery concurred that one thing a rebuilding team has to have is someone who'll challenge young teammates to play harder.
"As I study this thing more," said a GM whose team will not be in the lottery, "those players that are not energy guys, the Ray Allens of the world who are steady -- and I don't know who Barnes is going to be -- players like Gilchrist have more of an effect on your team, depending on who you are. Barnes is going to help the Celtics and the Heat, teams like that. Those kind of guys, bringing those guys to a young team, you have to deal with trying to find energy, trying to find what makes the guy go, trying to make the guy more aggressive ... when you have to try and get the guy going every freaking day, it's like another job."
No matter at which speed teams play, scouts say, Kidd-Gilchrist will be able to impact the game.
He's compared to Gerald Wallace and Richard Jefferson, neither of whom came into the league with great jumpers, but have had long and productive careers by being explosive around the rim and getting good enough around the perimeter.
"You can't have enough guys who play like that," said a Pacific executive. "I know (shooting) is a concern. But we've thrown around in a lot of meetings examples of guys who developed their shot. Guys like him, they just find a way. When you play that hard, you just find a way. I'm not saying you don't play off of him for the jump shot. But it's like Gerald Wallace. He's not a great ballhandler, not a great shooter. (But) for a guy who plays that hard, there's a certain value because of the way it rubs off on other players."
Scouts also think spending the year being challenged by Kentucky coach John Calipari will help MKG, too.
"He's going to do everything he can to help the team, and he's already been yelled at and (cursed at) by Cal, so you know he can be coached," said an Atlantic executive.
Barnes' skill is catching and shooting. He's a smooth perimeter talent, and at 6-foot-8 he's more than big enough to get his shot off against most pro threes. A team with a low-post option or a penetrating point guard could have a field day rotating the ball out to Barnes on the weakside.
"No question he's a catch-and-shoot guy," said an Eastern Conference exec. "He's not a slasher. He's not a good finisher at the basket. Doesn't look all that athletic. But he's going to look good. I have to believe he'll be all of 6-8, NBA body, he can shoot the ball and would be a willing defender. He didn't have a great year, but I still don't think it's going to hurt him."
The Tar Heels made the Elite Eight, but lost to Kansas. Barnes scored just 13 points on 5 of 14 shooting in that game, and when he tried to take over he couldn't get going. That game exemplified Carolina's struggles without point guard Kendall Marshall, who fractured his wrist during the tournament.
Scouts are almost apologetic when they describe their concerns about Barnes, who is by all accounts a solid young man. And that quality may have hurt his Draft position.
Without Marshall, Carolina didn't have anyone who could really create a shot for himself or others. Barnes couldn't really do it, either, but he was the best Carolina had, so he tried. It wound up hurting his numbers.
"What you ended up seeing was those bad shooting nights," said a Northwest Division executive. "He had several NCAA games where he just struggled. Some of that was being forced to do too much. He averaged about one assist a game, so you've got to be thinking, is that on him or is that the lack of scoring on that team?"
Said a Southeast Division talent evaluator: "They took a guy who was essentially a jump shooter, and at the end of the year they have him putting the ball on the [bleeping] ground and driving. Young fella, that's not what you do. What you do is knock down jumpers off two bounces, and off the catch."
Scouts also think Barnes may have felt obligated to live off of the hype that accompanied him out of high school to Chapel Hill.
"I think he should be an adequate defender, but to be honest, he's got to get over the fact that he was the high school player of the year and the greatest thing going, and the fact that he's no longer that," said a Pacific Division scout. "I don't know where his head's at. But he's a quality kid. No reason he can't figure it out. When he came to college I expected someone who was ahead of Shane Battier at that developmental stage, and Shane's had a pretty good career ... I never saw Harrison Barnes as LeBron James or Kobe Bryant or Jerry Stackhouse. I just saw a nice, solid player."
That isn't a bad thing, and scouts know that.
"I think Harrison could be a guy that we get down on and forget about, and then he has a solid, 15-year career," a Western Conference executive said. "You always want more from him, but he's talented enough and good enough that he's going to last. When you come in with so much hype, it's a disappointment when you don't live up to that."
Harkless won Big East Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 15.5 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Red Storm. His 32 points in his conference debut against Providence set a conference record for scoring in a player's first Big East game, bettering marks set by Georgetown's Allen Iverson and Notre Dame's Troy Murphy.
An athletic 6-foot-8, Harkless is an even worse 3-point shooter than Kidd-Gilchrist (21.5 percent). But Harkless was on a preposterously young St. John's team -- he was one of nine freshmen who played for coach Steve Lavin -- and he was one of the best players on that team. Despite the Red Storm's 13-19 record, Harkless made an impression.
"For me, the most talented guy (after Kidd-Gilchrist and Barnes) is probably Harkless," said a Western Conference general manager. "He's got size, he's got length, he rebounds. He played out of position all year, which for him will be an adjustment. He can catch and shoot, at least. He's got a lot of long term upside. He's still really, really young. He produced in a good league and he had to play out of position. He's got some long term potential."
A Central Division exec seconds that emotion, saying, "of all the guys that put their name in early, he's the most intriguing to me."
Like most players coming out of college, Harkless would do better not going to a bad team. Scouts are worried about his ability to guard in space and off the dribble. He will also be making the adjustment from college power forward to NBA small forward.
"I've got him ahead of Taylor and Green and Joseph," said the Atlantic executive. "He'll be drafted ahead of those guys. Big upside. If you get him in the early 20s or something, that has a good team and can work with him, that's a good pick."
Crowder, who led the Golden Eagles in rebounding and helped lead Marquette to a Sweet 16 appearance, will also be making the four-to-three adjustment in the pros.
"He's going to have to play an awful lot of three to make it in the league," a Southwest Division talent evaluator said. "He's not big enough. He can shoot the ball. He can handle it on the break. He's probably from a big-boned family. I think that he's going to try to change his body."
A Pacific scout wondered if Crowder was close to his ceiling, yet allowed that he could have a professional career like a Ryan Gomes.
"He really benefitted by playing as a power forward in college, because he was a hard matchup, yet big enough and strong enough to guard any four that was out there," the scout said. "He can shoot the ball at 3-(point) range, but defending off the dribble, defending people out there, I'm not sure. You've got to respect Crowder, and he's gonna come in there ready to go."
A Western Conference GM said that Crowder may get a look because of the reputation Marquette coach Buzz Williams has of producing hard-nosed, hard-playing guys like Wesley Matthews, Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler.
"I think he makes it in our league," the GM said of Crowder. "I don't know if he's a rotational player or not, but he's going to be a guy that it's going to be hard for a coach to cut. No matter where he goes, you're going to love him because of how hard he plays."
One college coach whose team played against Syracuse, Marquette and St. John's this season said that Crowder was the most physically ready now of all three players to play in the NBA, though Harkless' upside was bigger.
"Physically. Crowder will go in right now and be a junkyard dog," the coach said. "He'll come in and compete right away. He's better than the two Marquette guys that got drafted before him. I think he's better than the kid in Minnesota (Hayward). He's probably better than the kid in Chicago (Butler). People just like the fact that he'll compete. Crowder doesn't shoot it great, but he's capable."
Taylor joined his Vanderbilt teammate and fellow NBA prospect John Jenkins as an SEC's first team all-conference selection, finishing second to Jenkins in scoring both for the Commodores and in the league, and finished his college career third on Vanderbilt's all-time scoring list. But pro scouts are more sold on his defense; Taylor made the all-SEC Defensive Team three times in four seasons, joining Mississippi's Jarvis Varnado as the only players in conference history to achieve that honor.
"He really improved this year," one Western Conference GM said. "He didn't play well late but I love his versatility at the defensive end. He's got good enough feet and size to guard a big one, both wings. He shot it well. He doesn't handle it well, like Thabo (Sefolosha, the Thunder guard). Not quite as long and rangy as Thabo, but he can contest screens. He's a defensive piece for somebody. He definitely could help somebody."
Taylor is a little older than most incoming college players -- he'll turn 23 next month -- and some teams have a bit of a concern about that. His defense, though, makes believers out of many.
"He's a stone-cold stopper defensively," an Eastern Conference GM said. "He's one of those really high-level defenders. He's going to go in the 20s to one of those teams that asks him to just guard people, and he's going to have a really good career ... the number of guys who can stop people is really, really low, and he can do it. He's Alonzo Gee with a jump shot. He has to go to a team that can absorb the lack of moves (he has) offensively. But that dude's a menace defensively."
Draymont Green will be another undersized three in the pros after being effective playing on the block in college. But the NBA is now full of smaller threes as the center-starved league continues downsizing. And Green will be the latest in a long line of Spartan Dogs that will get a look because of how smart and tough he was playing for Tom Izzo.
"He's probably going to have to play some three," a Northwest Division executive said. "He's got all the intangibles -- great hands, he's tough, he's physical, has a great feel for the game, has a high basketball IQ. Other than last year, his teams won in high school, his teams won at Michigan State."
Joseph was a first-team Big East selection for the Orange, which made the Elite Eight, and the school's 119 victories during his four seasons are the most for any four-year player in school history. He led a balanced team attack at a little more than 13 points per game. But in the Big East tournament, Joseph was terrible, shooting just 3 of 14 in two games.
"He really disappointed me at the end of the year," one scout said. "He can some of everything a small forward should be able to do: he can shoot it some, he can get to the basket. But he doesn't do anything really well. And he's not very forceful in the way he plays."
Another evaluator concurred, talking about Joseph's "low flame."
"He's got a very mature, old man kind of game, which is what they say when you did a poor job of rebounding (Joseph averaged just 4.7 boards per game) and didn't get in shape," the evaluator said.
Quincy Miller originally said he wasn't going to enter the Draft after one season at Baylor. But he changed his mind last week and put his name in, and is likely to go somewhere in the first round despite lingering concerns about his right knee. Miller had been a top collegiate prospect after wowing people in the FIBA Under 18 Championships tournament in San Antonio in 2010, hitting the gold medal-winning 3-pointer for the U.S. team over Brazil.
But Miller tore his ACL early in his senior year in high school, and missed most of that season. Although he recovered enough to start 35 games for Baylor, which set a school record for wins this season, pro scouts don't believe he's anywhere near as explosive as he once was.
"He was really up and down this year," one college scout said. "You look at his game logs, they were all over the place. He's a future pick. He may end up being picked by a pretty good team and they might get something down the road. But he could be picked in the Lottery because somebody decides they'd rather gamble on something like that than take a guy who's more polished and is closer to his ceiling."
But one team that will likely have a high Lottery pick has already taken Miller off its board because of concerns about the knee. An Atlantic Division executive said that Miller will have to do a lot of convincing of skeptical teams at the Chicago pre-Draft camp next month. If not, Miller could slide down the board.
"The knee thing, that's a tougher read," a Pacific executive said. "How and where does that end up? Is he still getting better? Is he leveling off? He's a really skilled, talented guy, but the knee makes it a little bit of an enigma."
Said a Central exec: "He needs to spend these couple of months actually working out and rehabbing, and he never did it. He clearly never rehabbed. The atrophy in his leg was incredible. If he gets his leg strength back, he's Durant-like in his ability to get a shot off. He's 6-10 and he can snap his shot off with no trouble."
Darius Miller was a Mr. Basketball in Kentucky in high school, a star in his own right. But he took a subordinate role the last two seasons at Kentucky, playing the steady upperclassman as the Wildcats rolled waves of one-and-done freshmen through Lexington. Over four seasons and 152 games, Darius Miller played with more than 40 teammates.
In the NBA, Miller would likely have to repeat that status as a rotation player. But scouts believe he may be able to handle the role well. His perimeter shooting (career 38 percent from three for Kentucky) will probably get him a look.
"He can play," one scout said. "There's a limit of what he can do, and in all likelihood, since he's used to being in a complimentary, secondary role, he'd probably be happy coming in and being a 10th man. He's a solid, solid player. There's nothing special about him. He's the kind of guy that, assuming he brings the same attitude to the NBA, coaches will be very happy having him on the roster and putting him into a game."
Alabama's Green made the all-Tournament team at the Portsmouth Invitation Tournament last month. Another tweener, he was listed by Alabama at 228 pounds, but a scout said he weighed in at just 217 at Portsmouth.
"He scares me a little bit," one general manager said. "He never made a significant jump. This was his best year for sure. His motor turns on and off quite a bit. I give him credit -- he tends to play harder against good teams ... but I think the inconsistency, and he hasn't really improved his body a whole lot."
After that, the small forward pickings are slim. Middleton has some talent but many scouts thought he should have returned to A&M for his senior season. Zubcic can shoot it, but there aren't many who think this is a great group of international prospects at any position.
Among the others that might -- might -- get a look, Mississippi's Henry could warrant some attention. He also played well at Portsmouth and could be a prototypical "workout guy" whose physical gifts could impress in an individual workout for teams before the Draft.
"He's a classic guy you'd like to have in the summer," one scout said. "Really long, can spot shoot, and should be able to guard people if he buys into that, because he's so long. A lot of people look at him and see some upside. He's a late developer. You'll probably see him in Orlando on a team, and then in Vegas on a team, and then he'll be on another team in the fall."
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Anderson Varejao fights for the rebound and comes down awkwardly on his left leg and would sustain a leg injury.
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