David Aldridge's 2015 Big Board: Point Guards
POSTED: Mar 23, 2015 10:25 AM ET
UPDATED: Jun 25, 2015 6:51 AM ET
Even in limited action overseas, Emmanuel Mudiay made NBA types salivate with his point guard skills.
So, maybe, the 2014 Draft wasn't the greatest collection of young talent ever assembled.
Every year, people whose jobs depend on hyping up 18- and 19-year-olds try to make that year's Draft the one that will change the NBA. But the yak went up to 11 last year, with Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker the lynchpins. (It's never the kids' fault ... they're not to blame for chasing their dreams.) And as it turned out -- as it always turns out -- there was more heat than light.
Wiggins was traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers before he ever played a regular season game there (he did play in the Summer League for Cleveland, though). The Cavs were caught up in the backwash of LeBron James' return home and dealt Wiggins as part of a package for Kevin Love to Minnesota. Wiggins has begun developing and learning the league in relative peace, and where he has shown signs of, someday, becoming an outstanding player. Parker was doing good work in Milwaukee before tearing his ACL in December.
Much of the rest of the class, though, has developed along the usual lines you see every year -- a couple of players have blossomed, but most of have struggled to earn minutes or shots, just like rookies do every season. And so, the 2014 class is a work in progress, which is what you'd expect from kids.
I mention all this because today begins my least favorite time of the year -- trying to predict which teenagers are going to grow up the fastest, and which teams will be luckiest in choosing which teenagers are going to grow up the fastest.
It's Draft Time, kids!
Twelve weeks of speculation, guesses and flat-out lies. Twelve weeks of breathless accounts of "phenomenal" workouts in empty gyms, arranged by agents who spoon-feed favored reporters. Twelve weeks of teams maneuvering to move up or move down and keeping everyone in the dark about their true intentions. What's not to love?
But, I get it.
The Draft is more important than ever.
Given the chasm between the league's haves and have-nots, and with player development now front and center among the NBA's best-run organizations, correctly identifying players that will accept coaching, discipline themselves and put the work in is among the most important investments a team can make.
And so, we begin our annual countdown toward the June 25 Draft, with a look at the point guard crop.
As ever: believing it's better to be thorough, we include undergrads that are likely or expected to declare for the Draft in these evaluations. By this time, with the NCAA Tournament in full flower, it would be a little presumptuous to think guys have yet to think about their future intentions, or that they'd be swayed one way or the other by seeing their names on a Draft board. So, we include them all. This is not a mock draft (though one of those is, sadly, coming).
We go 1 through 5 when making our assessments, so we'll start again this year with point guards, and go every other week with the other four spots, alternating with the Morning Tip. (The full Big Board schedule is below, FYI.)
DA's Big Board Schedule
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.
Players are listed at the position at which NBA people believe they'll play as pros.
For example: while Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell certainly has the size to be a two guard in the NBA, and may well play some off guard in his career, everyone thinks of him as a point guard at the next level. So he is listed as such on the Big Board. We want to be as accurate and as early as possible with what we think is the correct ranking of all the likely entrants in the Draft.
Again: This is not a mock Draft (though one of those is, sadly, coming).They are a complete waste of time, especially this long before June. No one has any idea what will happen between now and then; we don't even know all the teams that will be in the Lottery, much less when they'll be picking. We don't know if there will be a major injury that will impact what a team wants or needs. What follows is a rough consensus of what NBA personnel people, GMs and coaches, and college coaches that I trust -- and that, obviously, can't be quoted by name -- believe is the pro potential for this year's crop of college and international players.
In the interim, what follows is a rough consensus of what NBA personnel people, GMs and coaches, and college coaches that I trust -- and that, obviously, can't be quoted by name -- believe is the pro potential for this year's crop of college and international players.
• "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" will refer to players whose intentions are not yet known for certain, but who are viewed as potentially draftable if they do. Emphasis on "potentially."
• All measurements have been updated to reflect the heights and weights taken from the 2015 Chicago pre-Draft Combine. If the player did not attend the Chicago combine, we are continuing to use the height and weight listed by his college and/or international pro teams.
RANK | NAME | SCHOOL/TEAM | CLASS/AGE | HT | WT > Projected
1. Emmanuel Mudiay | Guandong Tigers (China) | 19 | 6-5 | 200 > High lottery
2. D'Angelo Russell | Ohio State | Freshman | 6-5 | 193 > High/mid lottery
3. Cameron Payne | Murray State | Sophomore | 6-1 ½ | 182 > Mid/late first round
4. Delon Wright | Utah | Senior | 6-5 ½ | 181 > Mid/late first round
5. Kris Dunn * | Providence | Sophomore | 6-3 | 205 > Mid/late first round
6. Tyus Jones | Duke | Freshman | 6-2 | 184 > Mid/late first round
7. Jerian Grant | Notre Dame | Senior | 6-4 ¼ | 198 > Late first round
8. Joseph Young | Oregon | Senior | 6-2 | 182 > Late first round/Early second round
9. Ryan Boatright | Connecticut | Senior | 5-11 | 169 > Second round
10. Terry Rozier | Louisville | Sophomore | 6-2 ¼ | 190 > Second round
Honorable Mention: Cedi Osman (19), 6-7, Anadolu Efes (Turkey); George de Paula * (18), 6-5, 196, Pinheiros (Brazil)
Sleepers: Keifer Sykes, 5-11 ¾, 167, Wisconsin-Green Bay: Askia Booker, 6-2, 175, Colorado; T.J. McConnell, 6-2, 187, Arizona
Some Scouts Like: Andrew Harrison (SO), 6-5 ½, 213, Kentucky; Monte' Morris (SO), 6-2, 170, Iowa State; Nigel Williams-Goss (SO), 6-3, 190, Washington; Tyrone Wallace (JR), 6-5, 200, California
* = opted not to enter NBA Draft
Top prospect again a young star from overseas
Like last season, when Australian teen Dante Exum's potential was intriguing enough for the Utah Jazz to pick him fifth overall despite his never having played college basketball in the States, this year's top point guard prospect never played a second of amateur U.S. ball. It won't hurt Emmanuel Mudiay's stock, either.
The 19-year-old was supposed to play for Larry Brown at SMU this season, but opted instead to play in China for the Guangdong Tigers, for a reported $1.2 million. Both Mudiay and Brown insisted that the reason was financial and not due to any eligibility issues.
He's got strength, he's got the size, can get to the basket, take a bump and finish ... He's a natural point guard. He's going to be an NBA caliber talent.
– Western Conference scout on Emmanuel Mudiay
Like Exum, Mudiay, whose family emigrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Dallas, made an impression on NBA personnel people last year at the Nike Hoop Summit while playing for the World team. He wowed personnel types during the week of practice, and in the game against the U.S. team, Mudiay had 20 points and three assists.
Scouts were looking forward to seeing him play this year for Brown, who knows an NBA prospect when he has one and would have certainly let Mudiay's talents shine. But they had to get over to the CBA -- the Chinese Basketball Association -- to see Mudiay play. He didn't play that long.
Mudiay was more than solid through November for Guangdong, one of the top teams in the CBA. In his first 10 games, he averaged 17.7 points, six rebounds and 5.9 assists. In his second game as a pro, he went for 29 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals. But he injured his ankle in late November, which kept him out of action for a month. By the time he was healthy, the Tigers had signed former NBA player Will Bynum, who was outstanding in Mudiay's place.
Since CBA teams can only carry two American players on their roster -- and the Tigers needed the other spot for center Chris Daniels -- Mudiay sat through all of December, January and February.
He returned to the lineup March 1 for the Tigers' last two games in the CBA playoffs, and again played well. But even teams that didn't get to see him live in China have seen enough to believe that the 6-foot-5 Mudiay is the top point guard prospect.
"A lot of guys saw him at the Hoop Summit," one Western Conference executive said. "Just like us, a lot of teams saw all his tapes. He's got strength, he's got the size, can get to the basket, take a bump and finish. He has to become a better shooter, but he's a natural point guard. He's going to be an NBA caliber talent."
He's not as explosive as Exum is, but scouts believe he has more natural point guard ability -- even though he's still got a lot to learn.
"He's got a wild handle," a Southwest Division executive said. "Pretty explosive north to south, like John Wall. John had to tighten it up. This kid's the same way. So he's got to learn to play a little east to west."
Mudiay is "a bully guard," the executive said. "He has a monster personality to attack, and he will attack. He doesn't finish okay. But he has a chance to be good with his size and frame. He's got a lot of positive upsides. Maturity will help him."
Mudiay also gets high marks for continuing to work hard while he was inactive, in a country where he didn't know the language and had little incentive to remain. He didn't pout and didn't raise a fuss. And he was able to get in some competition against former NBA players like Lester Hudson and Bobby Brown.
But teams in need of a point guard are still hopeful that Mudiay will play in Chicago at the pre-Draft camp, which will feature 5-on-5 play this year again for the first time since 2009.
"You really would like to see a game or a practice to see if his shot has improved," a longtime scout said. "He's got the body, he's got the athleticism. He's got the ability to probably be a better defender than he's shown."
Fortunately for teams that may still be a little squeamish about taking a flier on a floor general with that small a body of work, there are alternatives. Well, there's one real alternative -- Ohio State freshman D'Angelo Russell.
Russell a potential No. 1 overall pick
The 6-foot-5 guard, who somehow got out of his native Louisville without committing to Rick Pitino and the Cardinals, was named an all-America last week, as his Buckeyes reached the second round of the NCAAs before falling to Arizona on Saturday. There aren't five people, even in Columbus, who believe Russell will return to town for his sophomore season. His potential to be an NBA star is just too great.
One veteran birddog has Russell as his No. 1 pick in the entire Draft, ahead of two big men who are the top two selections in most mocks and are considered the top names by most teams: Duke's Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns. His reasoning is thus: the NBA game has become a game where teams hunt 3-pointers, layups and free throws on offense. Russell, who shot 41 percent on 3-pointers and got to the line 4.5 times a game for the Buckeyes, can do them all.
"Bigs can't do all of those things," the scout said. "The only people who can do all three are perimeter players, and usually the guys with the ball in their hands. He can shoot the ball. He will get fouled. And he can make a play for others to make other people better. If you're talking about putting together a team for the core future of your team, you have to give as much thought to this guy, and (Mudiay), as you do the two big guys."
Russell played two guard a lot in high school, and played off the ball quite a bit for Ohio State, with senior Shannon Scott playing the point, and Russell averaged 19.3 ppg this season for the Buckeyes.
But it's Russell who's been a YouTube sensation with his collection of incredible passes to teammates. When someone has that kind of court vision and the size Russell has, NBA scouts begin salivating.
"The one thing he can do is pass the (bleep) out of the ball," one GM said. "He was playing against double teams, and I'm talking about putting it right on the money. He can shoot it okay, but he's a great passer. He's got it."
Russell is not a quicksilver guard, though, and in the modern NBA, that can be a problem for a point guard. The rules, analytics and the Phoenix Suns' success with Steve Nash orchestrating the league's most exciting offense have put a premium on attacking guards. Conversely, that makes finding people who can stay in front of players like Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving imperative.
"Is the athleticism good enough at our level?" one scout asked. "But he's got some things that are tough to teach. The ability to move the ball quickly, and with speed on the pass. To see over the defenses and being able to see the play ahead of the play. That's stuff you can't really teach."
And that potential will almost certainly result in Russell going in the Lottery.
"I'd take him ahead of Mudiay," a Southeast Division executive said. "He's got something special. Him going out (in the NCAA Tournament) isn't a problem. So much poise. I watched him at practice and I was like, this guy is so even keeled. And he can shoot it. I think he'll be fine (defensively). I look at him in that (James) Harden mold. He's got enough length. And most freshmen don't know how to play defense anyway. If he can get away from his man (on offense) when he wants to, he can stay in front of his man when he wants to."
There is no consensus on who the next point guard taken will be. But there are players who have strong supporters around the league.
Payne making NBA teams think hard
Murray State sophomore Cameron Payne is a bit undersized for an NBA point guard, but finished 16th in the country this season in assists (5.9 per game) while finishing 11th nationally in scoring (20.3 per game) for the Racers, who are in the second round of the NIT and will play Tulsa Monday night. The estimable Ken Pomeroy, who runs kenpom.com -- the bible of the college basketball analytics community -- ranked Payne third in the country this season in offensive rating (118.5), behind BYU's Tyler Haws and UC-Davis' Corey Hawkins.
There's only one question you ask about a player from a small school: does he have talent? And he does. ... He can do all of the things you need a guy to do at the point
– Northwest Division executive, on Cameron Payne
Payne weighed 145 pounds coming out of high school in Memphis, which made him a non-recruit for the local powerhouse Tigers, or the University of Tennessee Vols. So he went three hours north to Murray State, just over the border in Kentucky -- a school that has sent a few players to the NBA, from Hall of Famer Joe Fulks to journeyman Popeye Jones (now an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers) to Philadelphia 76ers guard Isaiah Canaan.
Players from smaller schools always attract more scrutiny due to the relative dearth of competition compared to those who play at high majors. But Payne has more than held his own against the big boys. He scored 23 against Xavier early this season, and went for 20 and 10 assists in Murray State's Ohio Valley Conference tournament semifinals loss to Belmont, the eventual tournament winner and NCAA qualifier.
Payne would certainly not hurt himself if he went back to school -- "he would be top 10" in 2016, one scout says -- but he's already shown he can create shots for himself and for teammates. He also plays with an edge that scouts like.
"His future is ahead of him," a Northwest Division executive said. "There's only one question you ask about a player from a small school: does he have talent? And he does. And for a left-handed player he's not John Lucas or Lenny Wilkens, who never goes to the right hand. He's a good shooter, not a great shooter, and he can play pick and roll. He can do all of the things you need a guy to do at the point."
Utah's Wright a more-than solid prospect
Utah's Delon Wright has good size (6-foot-5) for the position and has been a strong leader for the Utes during his two seasons there, after transferring from junior college. The first-team all-Pac 12 selection led the conference in PER (29.7) and Win Shares (8.4), according to Sports Reference.com/College Basketball. Pomeroy has him fifth in his Player of the Year standings, behind Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky, Arizona's Stanley Johnson, Kentucky's Towns and Northern Iowa's Seth Tuttle.
And like Russell, Wright -- the younger brother of Portland Trail Blazers forward Dorell Wright -- is a Wooden Award finalist. With 7-footer Jakob Poeltl, Wright has led the Utes to the Sweet 16, where they will face Duke.
"He really knows how to play," a Western Conference executive said of Wright. "He really passes the ball well. His shot has gotten better from last year -- still needs a lot of work. (Wright shot 52 percent from the floor this season, but raised his three -- point percentage significantly, from 22 percent last year to 36 percent.) And defensively he might be better than all of them. Utah wasn't much before he got there. He's got some winner in him. Of all the players, he's got a brother in the league and he's been able to learn stuff from him. And he's a great kid."
Injuries haven't hurt Dunn's stock much
Providence sophomore Kris Dunn did it all for the Friars, filling his stat sheet nightly. The Big East's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year -- the first guard in conference history to win both awards in the same season -- finished third in the nation in assists (7.5 per game) and was fifth in steals (2.73 per game), while also averaging 15 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He became the first player in school history to log a triple-double in conference play.
Most importantly for pro scouts, Dunn was able to get through the season healthy, after missing a large chunk of the 2012-13 season and almost all of the '13-14 season due to shoulder injuries that required surgery. (Dunn received a medical redshirt waiver after the second surgery that gave the now 21-year-old guard three years of eligibility.)
Dunn is not viewed as a true point like Wright, and there will be questions about whether he can get through the rigors of the pros if he had injury issues in college. But he's so dynamic a player that he won't last through the first round.
"He can really rebound and defend," one scout said.
Said another: "late in the shot clock, he's not going to be the guy that's going to get it, and that worries me. But he passes the ball well, and has a good feel for the game."
Jones' clutch play makes him intriguing
Duke's Tyus Jones was a blue-chip prospect in his own right coming out of high school in Minnesota, but he has teamed with Okafor in international competition as well as in Durham the last several years. The duo was just as good as freshmen in the ACC, with Jones saving some of his best performances this season for some of the biggest games -- 22 points in a road win at Wisconsin, 22, 7 and 8 in Duke's improbable comeback overtime win over North Carolina, 24 points in Chapel Hill to lead the Blue Devils to a late regular season road win over the Tar Heels.
Listed at 6-foot-1, Jones may be a hair or two shorter. And that will cause problems if he chooses to come out early. He's not the fastest guard in the world, and if a little guy doesn't have great speed with the ball, his pro prospects suffer. But Jones will get a look because of his winning pedigree.
"He's athletic and he's little," one scout said. "But he's really good. You keep talking yourself out of him, and they're 30-4, and in the big games he's a (handful)."
A general manager echoed that scouting report: "If he comes out, he's the best point guard in the Draft," he said.
"The one thing he's fighting is his size. In college, you might be able to get away with some things, because the guys aren't as quick or as strong. I think it would be better for him to stay and get that much better, so when he comes back and we start scrutinizing his game, we can say he does A, B and C in spite of his size."
He's athletic and he's little. But he's really good. You keep talking yourself out of him, and they're 30-4, and in the big games he's a (handful).
– NBA scout, on Duke's Tyus Jones
But, can he guard NBA point guards?
"For a little guard, he really has no desire to play defense," another scout said. "And he plays at such a slow pace for a small guard. He's kind of in the same boat as Tyler Ennis. But Ennis might be a little longer, which gives him a bit of an advantage, I think. He doesn't scare me with speed."
And there's more ...
• Notre Dame's Jerian Grant also has pro roots. His father, Harvey -- twin brother of Horace Grant -- played for the Washington Bullets, Blazers and 76ers. Jerian's brother, Jerami Grant, currently plays for the Sixers.
Jerian Grant has become a star in his own right, of course, having been the author of what was certainly the dunk of the year -- maybe of the last 10 years -- in college basketball this season.
Grant was outstanding for the Fighting Irish, who earned a Sweet 16 bid with their overtime win Saturday over Butler. He was eighth in the country in assists (6.5), finished second to Okafor in ACC Player of the Year votes and was the only other player besides Okafor that was a unanimous first team all-ACC selection.
His size and ballhandling -- "he's an elite pick and roll player," one scout said -- gives Grant a chance to be a combo guard in the pros, though he'll have to improve on his 32 percent shooting on 3-pointers. That streakiness is a cause for concern. But a lot of scouts thought Grant had the best season of any of the guards in the Draft.
"I don't see him as a full-time point guard," one Eastern Conference executive said. "But I definitely think he can give you some (minutes) at both positions because of his size. He can help some teams. And he's another one with the DNA."
• So is Oregon's Joseph Young -- whose father, Michael Young, was one of the founding members of Phi Slamma Jamma at the University of Houston in the halcyon days of college basketball in the early 1980s. Michael Young finished as the third-leading scorer in Houston history and is one of just five players to have his Houston jersey retired.
Joseph Young started at Houston, where his father was director of basketball operations, before transferring to Oregon for his final two seasons. He's made his time in Eugene count. He was the Pac 12 Player of the Year this season, averaging 20.7 ppg (and shooting 92.5 percent from the foul line). Oregon's offense basically spreads the floor and lets Young go to work, and he has.
Young played the point for the Ducks last season, and it didn't really work all too well, which led to his decision to forgo the NBA and return for his senior season. This year he played a lot more two guard for Oregon, and he'll likely be a combo guard in the NBA. But he'll have to show he can do at least some playmaking.
"The best guy in our league is Joe Young," a Pac 12 coach said. "He's a poor man's Steph Curry. People forget, Steph came out of college, and he couldn't really dribble like that. Steph became that player. He didn't walk in the door that way. Young can shoot the ball, put it on the floor good enough. People are going to say he can't put the ball on the floor and he's not really a point guard.
"Now he's player of the year ... He has the cockiness. He can get to the rim. Got some toughness about him. That dude can play, man. That team was supposed to finish eighth in the conference and they finished second."
One NBA GM said Young was "a scorer on the verge of being out of control," but added that he had to look to score all the time to give Oregon a chance at winning this season -- which they did, getting to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Wisconsin Sunday (Young had 30 points).
"Obviously, he's not going to do that at the NBA level," the GM said. "But he does have the athleticism, the quickness to get to the basket, which could be intriguing."
• Connecticut has had incredible success sending point guards to the pros -- the latest Miami rookie Shabazz Napier, who followed Kemba Walker and Ben Gordon and Kevin Ollie. The next could be senior Ryan Boatwright, who has hung around long enough to become a leader for the Huskies.
UConn didn't have a typically successful season, missing the NCAAs and losing in the first round of the NIT to Arizona State. But Boatwright was solid much of the season, leading the team with 17.1 ppg. And he has won over some who didn't think he had any chance at an NBA future.
"I don't like him as a first-round pick," an Eastern Conference executive said. "But I think he plays in our league. He's like an Aaron Brooks, who's helped a lot of teams and played a long time. He's a better athlete coming in than Kemba Walker. He's got bounce, and he's got (guts). He's worked to improve his handle. He's a great second round pick."
• Louisville's sophomore Terry Rozier will have to make the adjustment to trying to lead a team in the pros, after playing off the ball for coach Rick Pitino most of the last two years. He played more limited minutes last season, but has become the Cardinals' main backcourt scorer this season (17.0 ppg). But he's only shot 41 percent from the floor (and 30.9 percent on 3-pointers) this season.
Everyone wants to compare him to Kyle Lowry. If they did, they didn't watch Kyle in college.
– Veteran NBA scout, on Louisville's Terry Rozier
After Pitino dismissed starting point guard Chris Jones for the season in February, he didn't move Rozier to the point. Instead, he gave the ball to freshman Quentin Snider. Rozier can put the ball in the bucket, as evidenced by his 25-point performance Sunday night vs. Maryland to lead Louisville to its fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance. But if Rozier tests the pro waters he will have to convince some skeptics.
"I just don't see damn near any point in that guy," a veteran scout said. "I just don't like his instincts as a point guard. Defensively, I do. I think he can guard points (Rozier averaged two steals per game this season, and made the controversial steal in the final minute to wrap up Louisville's tournament win over UC-Irvine). Everyone wants to compare him to Kyle Lowry. If they did, they didn't watch Kyle in college. Rozier really looks to score. I like some stuff about him, but I don't see him as a point guard. If he was a lights out shooter you could get away with him but he doesn't."
• The top international prospects are Brazil's George Lucas Alves de Paula and Turkish swingman Cedi Osman, who is more of a small forward now than a point, but who has potential on the ball.
Lucas plays on the same team, Pinheiros, last season as Bruno Cabolco, the Raptors' surprise first-round pick last season. Lucas isn't seeing a lot of time on that team, but he logged 30 minutes a night playing for Brazil's Under 18 national team and tied for the team lead in scoring at better than 13 points per game. It's more likely he'll be a stash player for a team with multiple first-round picks who'll be kept overseas a year or two or three to get stronger and better.
The same could happen for Osman, a 19-year-old playing for Anadolu Efes in Turkey with Dario Saric, the 76ers' first-rounder who will likely remain overseas next season as well.
At 6-foot-7, Osman certainly would be an intriguing point-forward prospect, but it will take time. But he does play for one of the best teams in Europe, he has been well-coached and he has gotten minutes.
"I think people over in Europe have a different idea on positioning than we do over here," a veteran scout said. "They think if a guy's big enough and he can bring the ball over and initiate the offense, than he can play the point. And that's not how we think over here. Osman is a pretty good passer, but he plays upright. They don't play a lot of screen and roll over there, and the guard doesn't have to make more point guard decisions. I see him more as a two who is a pretty good passer."
DA's Big Board
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.