David Aldridge's 2016 Big Board: Power Forwards
POSTED: May 2, 2016 11:31 AM ET
UPDATED: Jun 16, 2016 2:10 PM ET
LSU star Ben Simmons was a capable scorer and solid playmaker in his lone season with the Tigers.
Finally, a position with depth.
As we continue looking at Draft prospects for next month, we get to power forward, where there is something approaching versatility and lots of strong prospects who can handle both stretch four duties of today's game and the older traits associated with people of that size -- rebounding, post defense. You remember those, right?
After today's look at prospective fours, we'll only have the centers to go over, on May 16 -- the day before the Draft Lottery, when we'll finally know who's picking where, and will have some sort of clarity about who's staying and who's going. (One surprise name last week who's staying is Cal sophomore forward Ivan Rabb, who was a likely Lottery selection. Instead, he'll return to Berkeley. I hope people realize this is not a bad thing for Rabb.) We've already gone over point guards, shooting guards and small forwards.
We go 1 through 5 when making our assessments, so we'll continue with guards, and go every other week with the other three spots, alternating with the Morning Tip. (The full Big Board schedule is below, FYI.)
The evaluations go in this order: point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center. After this week, we'll continue with positions every other week (April 4, April 18, May 2, May 16), the last coming the day before the NBA's Draft Lottery, on May 17.
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.
We include underclassmen that are expected to declare for the Draft, or are at least thinking strongly about it. No one who hasn't thought about declaring is going to be swayed by seeing his name on a Draft board. So we include everyone.
Players are listed at the position at which NBA people believe they'll play as pros.
For example: there are two players who'll definitely be taken high in the first round of this year's Draft -- Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray and Michigan State's senior, Denzel Valentine. Both have been on the ball for much of the season for their respective teams. But the vast majority of NBA people I've spoken with believe that Murray's best position in the pros will be at the point, while Valentine will be a two -- or, maybe, a point forward. So Murray is on the Big Board as a point, while Valentine isn't.
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."
• If a player was not invited to the Chicago Draft Combine, his height and weight is his listed one from his school and/or his pro team if he's an international prospect.
RANK | NAME | SCHOOL/TEAM | CLASS/AGE | HT | WT > PROJECTED
1. Ben Simmons | LSU | Freshman | 6-10 | 240 > High Lottery
2. Dragan Bender | Maccabi Tel Aviv | 18 | 7-0 | 216 > High Lottery
3. Henry Ellenson | Marquette | Freshman | 6-11½ | 242 > Late Lottery
4. Marquese Chriss | Washington | Freshman | 6-10 | 233 > Mid First
5. Juan Hernangomez | Estudiantes | 20 | 6-9 | 230 > Mid-Late First
6. Skal Labissiere | Kentucky | Freshman | 6-11¾ | 215 > Mid-Late First
7. Domatas Sabonis | Gonzaga | Sophomore | 6-11 | 240 | Mid-Late First
8. Deyonta Davis | Michigan State | Freshman | 6-10½ | 237 | Mid-Late First
9. Brice Johnson | North Carolina | Senior | 6-10½ | 208 | Late First/Early Second
10. Guerschon Yabusele | Rouen (France) | 20 | 6-7 | 240 | Late First/Early Second
Honorable Mention: Petr Cornelie (20), 6-11, 225, LeMans (France); Perry Ellis, 6-8, 225, Kansas; Ben Bentil (SO), 6-8¼, 229, Providence; Joel Bolomboy, 6-9, 224, Weber State; Jarrod Uthoff, 6-9¾, 214, Iowa; Zach Auguste, 6-10, 240, Notre Dame
* = opted not to enter NBA Draft
Simmons solid, but not a plug-and-play superstar
All year, the Cult of Ben Simmons has been in full effect.
The 19-year-old Australian has been the top guy on almost every 2016 Mock Draft board for more than a year, a combination of size and passing ability rarely seen together. Ever since he popped at adidas Nations in 2012 as a 16-year-old that led his Australia team to a strong showing, everyone in basketball knew that Simmons would be one-and-done in college. And it was thus, with only his choice of school -- his godfather was an assistant head coach at LSU -- a minor surprise, making the Tigers a preseason Top 20 team.
And despite a season that can only be viewed as quite disappointing -- the Tigers didn't make the NCAA Tournament and declined an NIT bid -- Simmons is still expected to go first overall.
Simmons is compared most often to Lamar Odom, who was taken fourth overall in the 1999 Draft after one year at Rhode Island. Like Odom, Simmons is a pass-first lefty who can score, but is more often moved to move the ball. It doesn't mean he can't score; Simmons averaged 19.2 points per game, along with 11.8 rebounds (seventh-best in the country), en route to first team all-SEC and SEC Rookie of the Year honors, along with being named a consensus all-American.
He is not the catalyst, and he does not have the mental makeup to say, 'okay, I'm coming in here to average 25, be the man.' He wants to fit in.
– Southeast Division executive, on Ben Simmons
However, his is a game that may require discretion and patience for fans of the team that takes him. This is not a player who's likely to lead a 20-win improvement next season for a Lottery team.
More than a few scouts don't expect Simmons to come in and dominate right away. And that could be difficult to explain to fans of a team that's using the first pick overall on him. A franchise like the Philadelphia 76ers, for example, whose fans have had to wait on the likes of Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, may be hard-pressed to pick Simmons if the payoff isn't immediate and there are other players whose impact would be felt quicker.
"He needs good players around him to be as good as he's going to be," a Southeast Division executive said of Simmons. "He is not the catalyst, and he does not have the mental makeup to say, 'okay, I'm coming in here to average 25, be the man.' He wants to fit in. Lamar, you watched Lamar some nights, you said, man. As a talent, I thought he was one of the top 10 players in the league -- based on talent. Based on results, he was probably top 50, or 60. Because he didn't want the responsibility every night. He was comfortable deferring. And that's what this kid is."
Simmons was efficient this season (shooting 56 percent overall) and he was consistent (22 double-doubles). He had some monster games, too, including 36 points and 14 rebounds at Vanderbilt and 28 points and 17 rebounds at Florida. He was also fourth in the nation in free throw attempts (297).
But LSU was just 11-8 in conference play, and went out quietly in the second round of the SEC Tournament to Texas A&M, in an embarrassing 71-38 rout. There have been players taken first overall whose teams didn't make the NCAA Tournament the year they were drafted, but it's been quite rare lately -- only Pacific's Michael Olowokandi, taken first in 1998 -- has gone first under such circumstances since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Simmons will thus require a different kind of thought process for the team that takes the leap.
"You have to build your team around his strengths, because it's a unique skill set he has," a Central Division evaluator said. "You have to make sure the players around him fit. He doesn't have a game that you can just plug in and play with any roster. The shooting piece, he's going to have to improve upon. He has a world of talent, big-time talent. But it's going to take time to see how he fits and who fits around him. For him, he's going to need some other guys around him. He can score, but he's also not wired to get 30 every night. He wants to pass."
Simmons has lots of intriguing pieces -- huge hands, along with an ability to finish with either hand in the paint (he was top 20 nationally in PER). And like Odom and other big passers, his size allows him to see over most players guarding him, giving him different passing angles than most -- and an ability to try higher-risk, higher-reward passes.
In the pros, teams could use him at either end of a pick and roll -- as the ballhandler or the screener. Either way, off the switch, he could have an advantage. And while he's not a classic low-post player, he could be dangerous passing out of the post, either to cutters, or across the floor if he can consistently warrant double teams.
He has a world of talent, big-time talent. But it's going to take time to see how he fits and who fits around him. ... He can score, but he's also not wired to get 30 every night.
– Central Division scout, on Ben Simmons
But he'll have to expand his range -- he shot just 33 percent on 3-pointers at LSU -- to be a threat defenses have to honor as, for example, a pick-and-pop player out the screen and roll.
And, Simmons will have to bring it every night. Defensively he was no great shakes, but that's common for a lot of college players, even the elite ones. But that's different from not putting your mark on a game, making sure everyone -- teammates and opponents -- know who the best player on the floor is on a given night.
"He's a tough one," the Central man said. "Even your coach, you're going to have to adapt to him a little bit. At LSU, you saw everyone have to adapt to him and his style ... you'd like to see a little more competitiveness with him in terms of finishing games. In stretches where you wanted to see him compete a little more, he didn't show it."
Bender not exactly a Porzingis clone
Another international player who'll almost certainly go top three is 18-year-old Dragan Bender, who played this season for the Israeli power Maccabi Tel Aviv.
He's been on NBA radars since a star turn at the Under-18 FIBA European championships in 2014, when his Croatia team won the bronze medal, and he was outstanding last year at the adidas Eurocamp in Italy. His return to Maccabi this year after a season with Ironi Ramat Gan in Israel has done nothing to quell the ardor -- even though his playing time was more limited.
At 7-foot-1, Bender has great height, and his wingspan of 9-foot-2 is impressive. But he is skinny -- real skinny -- and that will make it harder for him defensively at the start of his NBA career. Nor, while Bender is a good shooter, is he as good as New York Knicks rookie forward Krystaps Porzingis, with whom the uninitiated will surely compare him. They are two very different players.
"His biggest challenge is, when he gets drafted, people are going to think Porzingis," an Eastern Conference scouting director said. "He's not as strong or as physical as Porzingis right now. But the guy can really shoot the ball. He's a top five pick. When he came over (Maccabi played two exhibitions against Italian power Milan last year in the Euroleague World Tour), we followed in Chicago when he played, and in New York as well ... he's not one of these guys that tries to be a one-dimensional player. Even though he's not strong enough right now, he's not timid. He's not going to let you punk him. He's not afraid to be physical or challenge people physically."
Bender has impressed NBA types by showing more than a passing willingness to try and defend. "He tried to sit down and guard some people," one admiring Southeast Division scout who saw him said. Again, at 215 or so pounds, what he wants to do may not gibe with what he can do defensively once he gets to the States. But at least he seems willing to put in the effort. He may well be able to handle switches and guard smaller players in space, at least until the help arrives.
"I love Bender," an Atlantic Division executive said. "If you had asked a lot of people last year who they would have rather had -- Bender or Porzingis -- I think a lot of people would have said Bender. The situation over there, and his playing time this year, he kind of got screwed. The guy handles the ball, he passes, he moves real well. The only he doesn't do as well as Porzingis is shoot it, but I think over time, he will."
He will likely have to be a pick-and-pop, swing guy early on offensively. There will not be many postups until he gets stronger -- though scouts think he can get up to 250 pounds if he remains serious about weight training without giving up his quickness. But he will be able to make plays early with his vision.
His biggest challenge is, when he gets drafted, people are going to think Porzingis. He's not as strong or as physical as Porzingis right now. But the guy can really shoot the ball. He's a top five pick. ... Even though he's not strong enough right now, he's not timid. He's not going to let you punk him.
– Eastern Conference scouting director, on Dragan Bender
"I think he's a really good player," another Atlantic man said. "He'll be helped in this draft by the way Kristaps has played. All of the weaknesses he has in his game -- that he's a perimeter guy, that he's not strong enough yet, that he hasn't grown into his body, and all of those things -- anybody who passed on Kristaps is probably going to look him and say, can some of those things (be overcome) and he'll still be good in the NBA."
There are some concerns, though. The lack of playing time this season, around 13 minutes a game, made it difficult to determine if Bender has progressed or regressed. Either would be important to know for an NBA team deciding whether to use a high Lottery pick on him.
"His biggest issue is, when you're playing limited minutes, he's got to rebound better," a Southwest Division evaluator said. "He doesn't pass the ball real well. But as an athlete, he's very average. And most teams that saw him play Euroleague or EuroCup games, he played real inconsistent minutes. He played maybe 10 minutes a game in those competitions. When I went to watch him play, I didn't see him ... the sample you got was very limited. He was playing against 28-, 30-year-old men. In hindsight, he probably should have stayed in Croatia for one of the stud teams there, played in the Adriatic League, where he would have played 25, 30 minutes a game. I don't think he's improved, and the limited playing time concerns me."
But he's 7 feet tall, skilled, plays hard and wants it bad. He won't be on the board past 8 o'clock on Draft night.
The uncertainty will grow significantly among power forward prospects after Simmons and Bender are off the board.
Ellenson may need to add a 'D' to his name
Marquette freshman Henry Ellenson is probably next, after a strong season that garnered Big East Freshman of the Year honors. The 6-foot-11 Ellenson almost averaged a double-double (17 points, 9.7 rebounds) for the Golden Eagles, leading the conference in total rebounds. But despite a 20-win season, Marquette didn't make the NCAAs.
Ellenson can, and will, pass the ball. And he can shoot well enough inside the 3-point line. But he shot just 29 percent on 3-pointers last season. He will have to improve significantly in that area going forward. It is one of many challenges he'll face.
"Can he play 100 percent power forward? Nope," a Pacific Division executive says. "He's not quick enough. Laterally, he'll struggle, like (Boston Celtics big man) Kelly Olynyk. Same body type, same kind of bone structure. What is Olynyk? Well, sometimes he plays power forward, because he wants to face up and shoot, which is what this kid wants to do. But defensively, a lot of times, (Celtics coach Brad) Stevens has to play him at five. So, to me, I know what the kid wants to do, but can he do it physically? Can he guard Draymond Green? I don't think so."
He's not athletic, he's not fleet of foot, he's not quick. ... Teams will involve him in screen and roll all day, just because of his lack of lateral quickness.
– Eastern Conference executive, on Henry Ellenson
And with almost every team downsizing in the NBA, Ellenson will have to guard players like Green.
"This kid, they're going to have to slide back and forth, depending on matchups," the Pacific man said. "I know Henry and his family want him to be a power forward; they don't want him down there banging and all that. 'Cause he's got the offensive skills, certainly, to be a stretch four. I'm just worried about his lateral ability to handle pick and roll, to be quite honest. The game is mostly drag and pick and roll, anyway -- at least 70 percent is."
This question comes up frequently when evaluating Ellenson.
"Who will he defend?," an Eastern Conference exec asks. "He's not athletic, he's not fleet of foot, he's not quick. His biggest challenge is going to be at the defensive end. He's not a power forward ... you start playing against guys who have quickness, and I think there's going to be some questions about him even being able to get his shots off. Teams will involve him in screen and roll all day, just because of his lack of lateral quickness. And either he's going to have to defend the four down low, (and) if he defends somebody in the post, he's not that strong right now or athletic that he's doing to be able to deal with that."
But Ellenson's going to go very high in the first round anyway. The positives outweigh the negatives.
"He's probably more ready to step in and play" than other prospects, a Northwest Division executive said. "He's got the ability to be a stretch four, even though I don't think he shot the three well this year. I've seen him in the past where he has shot the three, so he has the ability to do that. He rebounds his position pretty well, which translates to our level."
'Unpolished' Chriss must improve shot
Washington freshman Marquese Chriss opted to enter the Draft as well after just one season of solid if unspectacular numbers (13.8 points, 5.4 rebounds) for the Huskies, who made the second round of the NIT. He joins fellow UW freshman Dejounte Murray as an early entry candidate.
Chriss has athletic chops, to be sure -- the word "bouncy" was used by one scout. He can comfortably get his head above the rim. But he has to show he can do more during his workouts and the Chicago Draft combine. And he'll have to put all that ability to better use at the defensive end than he did in college, when he led the nation in a dubious category -- personal fouls (138).
"He's an unpolished player in all senses of the word," a Western Conference exec said. "As we go along here and do more intel, to me, you can see he can run and jump and he can do those types of things, but what else can he do? It could be that he's an Amir Johnson type. He's okay. Could he become an Antonio Davis, where he's better than okay? I don't know yet. I don't have an opinion on him yet."
Chriss did show significant improvement on 3-pointers the second half of the season, making 13 of 30 (43.3 percent) behind the arc in his last 11 games after making just eight total in his first 22 games. That would help his game significantly in the pros.
It could be that he's an Amir Johnson type. He's okay. Could he become an Antonio Davis, where he's better than okay? I don't know yet. I don't have an opinion on him yet.
– Western Conferece executive, on Marquese Chriss
"I think he's naturally gifted and it's going to take time to learn how to play," one Central Division man said. "It's a process. You're going to have to wait on him."
But teams will be willing to take a chance because of Chriss's athletic potential, which reportedly includes a 38-inch vertical leap.
"He's a quicker jumper than (Michigan State's Deyonta) Davis and Ellenson, and he can jump multiple times," one scout said. "He can also step out and shoot the college three. He runs the court pretty well. He's young, he has a lot to learn, he has to get stronger. But his upside can be really good. With him, it's going to take time."
Hernangomez a potential steal of a pick
Spanish forward Juan (Juancho) Hernangomez intrigues because of his talents, and his family pedigree.
His older (two years) brother Willy has been on the rise for a few years in Europe, currently on a second tour of duty with Spanish power Real Madrid after being taken early in the second round of the 2015 Draft by the 76ers before his rights were dealt to the Knicks. Willy and Juancho's parents each played professionally and their mother made the 1992 Spanish Olympic team. And their younger teenage sister is an up-and-comer.
Juan Hernangomez, 19, is currently playing for Estudiantes in Spain after showing well for Spain's Under 20 team in the European Championships last year. And unlike many young NBA prospects playing in Europe, Hernangomez not only gets decent minutes (he averaged close to 23 minutes a game), he's started almost all season. And he's made the most of it -- his 9.3 points per game was one of the highest ever in ACB play for a player under 21.
The ACB League may the second- or third-best league in the world after the NBA. You're playing against grown men. If you make it there, chances are you'll make it over here. And, Juan Hernangomez doesn't have buyout language in his contract, which will give him leverage when and if he's drafted that most players don't have -- he can hold out for a more favorable deal if, say, he goes in the second round, or he can just go back to play overseas again next season.
"Whoever's going to get him is going to get a real steal," a Southwest Division executive said. "He can trail and shoot the three. He's a tough, physical player. What I like about him is he has a good wingspan, more than seven feet, and he plays above the rim, unlike his brother, who plays more below the rim. He's extremely light on his feet. He runs the floor very well and he isn't afraid to put a body on you and put the wood on you. His transition to our league, two things always translate to our league -- assists, like Ricky Rubio, and rebounds and toughness. This guy rebounds."
And Hernangomez was credible enough on 3-pointers (27 of 77, 35 percent) that he could be an athletic 3-and-D type guy down the road.
"He can really, really shoot," a longtime scout said. "Quick release. He'll be a pick and pop guy. You can use him almost like a Marvin Williams, you can use him at the three and at the four. He can make plays off the dribble. I think he's super skilled. The team he played on was not very disciplined -- they had two selfish point guards, so I don't think his numbers were great this year ... I think he's going to come over right away. The way he shoots it, and the way the league is going, I think he could be valuable."
Talented Labissiere still has 'long way to go'
Kentucky freshman Skal Labissiere came to Lexington with all kinds of hype, as Kentucky freshmen are wont to do, along with fellow first-year player Jamal Murray. Both were standouts on the international team that beat the U.S. team at the Nike Hoop Summit in 2015, with Labissiere going for 21 points, six rebounds and six blocks in the win.
But Labissiere struggled through much of the season at Kentucky to find his way -- not uncommon for many there, with so many likely first-round picks needing minutes, shots and everything else. Labissiere's numbers were, to put it mildly, underwhelming (6.6 points, 3.1 rebounds); after scoring in double figures in four of his first six college games, he only managed to do it again six times in his last 30.
But Labissiere is still 6-foot-11, with a lot of athletic ability. He showed at Nike that he can hold his own against talents like Duke's Brandon Ingram and UNLV center Stephen Zimmerman -- both Lottery bound. And thus, he's still almost certainly going to be off the board by the time we get deep into the teens on Draft night.
"It's just a matter of how you view his first year," one sympathetic talent evaluator said. "It was not what you expected. But what do you think he could do in a different environment? It's just going to be hard to pass on his length. He can hit the mid-range pick and pop. He's got to evolve into more of a shot blocker, more of a rebounder."
Labissiere puts at least one longtime scout in mind of P.J. Brown, who took a very similar build (6-foot-11, 225) and got 15 NBA seasons out of it as a hard-nosed defender and rebounder. "When P.J. came out of Louisiana Tech, everybody thought he was soft," the scout said. "And then he grew up and matured, and all of a sudden he became kind of a physical player, who could also make that little midrange shot. And that's what this guy can do right now."
It's just a matter of how you view his first year. It was not what you expected. But what do you think he could do in a different environment?
– NBA scout, on Skal Labissiere
Labissiere has to get much, much stronger. He's not a great rebounder and he's not a great shot blocker. So how does he get on the court early in his career? But, he did seem to find an equilibrium later in the season for Kentucky, even though it wasn't reflected in the numbers, and that will help get him a look.
"He has a lot to learn on how to play the game," a Western Conference executive said. "The good thing about Skal is he did look better toward the end of the year than the beginning of the year. He's still making a lot of mistakes, still missing shots, still taking shots that were a little questionable at times. But at least he was on the court a little longer and he was playing a little better. But he still has such a long way to go, also. How far can he stretch his jump shot? Is he going to be a pick and pop guy from 15 to 18 feet? I don't think he's a soft kid in terms of being to bang with people. I think he's a willing banger. I don't know if he's an able banger."
Sabonis likely to vacillate frontcourt positions
Gonzaga's Domantas Sabonis hails from basketball royalty -- he is the son of Hall of Fame center Arvydas Sabonis, considered one of the greatest big men ever to play the game. Domantas isn't his dad, to be sure, but no one expects him to be. He's a very solid player and pro prospect in his own right after two seasons at Gonzaga, where he was a first team all-West Coast Conference selection this year.
Domantas Sabonis was second in the nation in defensive rebounds this season, and tied with Simmons (see above) nationally in rebounds per game (11.8). Per sports-reference.com, he was eighth in the country in Win Shares (7.5) and tied for 16th nationally among college players in PER (29.3). As referenced above, though, Sabonis will likely move back and forth, especially early in his NBA career, between power forward and center. Many scouts think he'll have to play center because he doesn't have the shooting range to play four on offense or the foot speed and lateral quickness to defend most fours.
"To me, he's kind of a grinder," a Pacific Division scout said. "He's got to do the dirty work. His trainers, his people are trying to help him with his jump shot, show he can stretch the floor. Sabonis is almost the opposite of Poeltl; to me, Sabonis is definitely a center who may eventually be able to walk out and get out on the floor."
He won't have the physical edge he had in the WCC, either, where 6-10, 240 pounds makes you stand out amongst the crowd.
"Especially the way the game is going, I don't know if there's a four in the league that Sabonis can cover," an Atlantic division man said. "He really has to work on his jump shot. He overpowered everybody in that league because he had nobody there who could match up with his size. Up here, everybody will match up with his size. He won't be able to overpower people like that."
Davis' potential may outweigh his inexperience
Michigan State freshman Deyonta Davis will face a different kind of challenge after declaring following his one season in college. He was third in the conference in blocked shots (64 total), setting an MSU freshman record. But his decision to enter the Draft is one that puzzles a lot of NBA people. There's just not much of a body of work there on which to affirmatively base a decision to go.
"He may go 10 to 14, but he's not ready, though. At all," a Southeast Division personnel man says. "He's a nice, quiet kid. But now, you're becoming a project all over again. I haven't met the kid. Nice enough kid. I just don't think he knows what he's getting into. He probably can run. I was going to say block shots, but he doesn't know how to do that consistently at this level -- going over to the help side, or getting back and recovering."
Davis shot almost 60 percent and he should be able to rim run and fill the break for easy baskets in the NBA. And while he may have to learn how to use his body defensively at the next level, he's shown shot-blocking prowess both in high school, where he swatted six shots a game, and in East Lansing. That portends someone who should have at least some success protecting the front of the basket quickly in the pros.
Davis wasn't asked to expand his game at Michigan State, but scouts say he displayed more perimeter abilities in high school, when he was Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan and a McDonald's all-American.Scouts think he can comfortably step out up to 18 feet, and that will help. But he is still going to be a work in progress for a year or two until he finds his footing and gets stronger.
But it's understandable why he's taking the leap. You may never have another shot at a brass ring this lucrative.
"Right now it looks like he could go somewhere between 10 and 15, 10 and 16," one scout said. "That's a lot of money. And who knows, if he goes back, if he's still in that range or goes higher? He may go lower. He may get hurt."
Johnson projects to be like Bucks' Henson
North Carolina's Brice Johnson is a rarity -- a senior -- who was a consensus all-American, a Naismith Award semifinalist and a first team all-ACC selection in helping the Tar Heels reach the national championship game.
He filled up the stat sheet, leading the conference in field goals (267), defensive rebounds (301), PER (at 33, he was fifth in the country), while finishing 11th in the country in Offensive Win Shares and 14th in Defensive Win Shares.
Johnson had some insane outings -- 39 points and 23 rebounds in a win at Florida State; 29 and 19 in a loss to Duke; 25 and 12 in Carolina's Elite Eight win over Notre Dame. His template is former Tar Heel John Henson, who parlayed a similar skill set after being taken by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round in 2013 into a $44 million extension last year.
I know the knock is he disappears and he's not the toughest at times. But he's a freak athlete. He can shoot the jump hook. As athletic a 6-10 as I've seen in a long time. I think he's got a chance just because of his athleticism alone.
– Fellow college coach, on Brice Johnson
Okay, Henson's a little taller and a little bit better shot blocker. But the difference isn't that large.
"I love him," said a coach whose team played Johnson and the Tar Heels this season. "I know the knock is he disappears and he's not the toughest at times. But he's a freak athlete. He can shoot the jump hook. As athletic a 6-10 as I've seen in a long time. I think he's got a chance just because of his athleticism alone. I think he can make elbow jumpers, go out to 17-18 feet. Decent touch. That'll expand as he gets older. He's good guarding in space. He can guard threes but he can guard some stretch fours, sit down. He's got a good wingspan and he can use his athleticism. He can switch and slide and everything like that. And if they beat him to the rim, he's going to alter them at the rim."
Another coach whose team played Carolina this year thinks Johnson can be a 10 year NBA vet.
"In terms of size, athleticism, touch, passing, speed, he's not a skinny guy," the coach said. "He's got all the attributes of a guy who can play near the rim. He's not a three point shooter but he's a 15-17 foot guy, and a great rebounder. He's a very talented guy, which lends itself to the question, why was he in school for four years, if you're at Carolina and you have those sort of physical attributes?"
Yabusele could surprise in NBA
French-born Gerschon Yabusele, a 20-year-old playing for Rouen in France's A League, has a chance to be drafted after a strong season: 11.5 points and 6.8 rebounds, starting almost half of the games this season for Rouen. He's a little undersized to play the NBA four, at 6-7, but he's got the heft at 250 pounds, along with being very strong and very skilled -- he shot almost 44 percent on 3-pointers -- to make a transition a possibility.
And some notes on the others ...
• Another French prospect, 20-year-old Petr Cornelie, has late first-round potential as well. Playing for LeMans, the same team where Nicolas Batum played before coming to the NBA, Cornelie's athletic abilities at 6-foot-10, 220 pounds, are intriguing. Like almost every young player, he will have to get much stronger, and he's thin in the hips. But he can already run the floor and finish above the rim. His numbers weren't eye-popping (8.7 points, 5.3 rebounds), but he's got some people's attention. At the worst, he'll be a stash player who could come over in a couple of years.
"He's better than what people talk about," one scout said. "He can play outside and run the floor, and he can jump over you and dunk. His shot's not bad. He takes three-point shots. He pick and pops. He's good. Because he's not in college, people don't know him. And because his numbers aren't staggering in France, he'll be picked lower. I'm a big fan of Petr's."
And some notes on the others ...
• Kansas' Perry Ellis is older than Cornelie -- and, of course, the joke is that Ellis is older than most NBA players. That was the meme going around this season, as Kansas ran through the season and the NCAA Tournament. (Maybe it's his receding hairline.)
But, Ellis is just 22, a first-team all-Big 12 selection this season, Wooden Award finalist and second-team all-American who averaged 16.9 points and 5.8 rebounds this season. He'll probably have to be a small-ball four to stick in the NBA, though, rather than the post player he was in college. Shooting 44 percent on 3-pointers this season helped bolster his case that he can make the transition.
"He's become something of a specialty player," one scout said. "Perry's shown that he can shoot the three, so that helps him a little bit. It depends on the staff and the coaches and what they want from him. I think people are going to see is that he may be able to become a Danny Green type -- hit a spot up three and be able to guard a three."
But guys like Ellis can stick if, for no other reason, they are no-drama players. They practice hard and don't complain about minutes or shots, and when they do come on the floor, they do what they're supposed to, they're in the spots they're supposed to be in, and they're professional. You put them in a game and you won't wind up worse than when they came in.
"What he is is just solid," an Eastern Conference executive said of Ellis. "You know what you're going to get every day. There's a beauty in that to coaches. Year after year he's consistent to what he does well. The game getting smaller is helpful to him."
• Providence sophomore Ben Bentil declared after being a unanimous first team all-Big East selection in a breakout season where he averaged 21.1 points and 7.7 rebounds for the Friars, who made the second round of the NCAAs. Playing on the road didn't seem to bother Bentil one bit: he went for 31 points and 13 rebounds in a January upset at eventual-national champion Villanova, 26 and 9 in a road win at Georgetown, 31 points at Seton Hall, 42 and 12 in a loss at Marquette and 23 and 10 in a win at St. John's.
Bentil has yet to hire an agent, so he could return to Providence for his junior season. He was, however, reportedly invited to the Chicago Combine.
• One player who hasn't gotten a lot of national attention is Weber State forward Joel Bolomboy, the Big Sky's Most Valuable Player who finished his career as the conference's all-time leading rebounder. Bolomboy was third in the country in rebounds per game (12.6) and top 15 in Defensive Rating (90 points per 100 possesions). His 26 double-doubles this season were third nationally.
"I think he might be able to surprise some people," one approving scout said. "The coaches allowed him to step out this year and shoot some threes. He showed the ability to knock down some threes, though he has to get more consistent at it. In our league, the first couple of years, he's going to shoot the corner three. He runs hard. Can protect the basket because he has long arms. You have to see what he does when he has to step up to another level of competition. But he has the skills to be okay. He's chiseled. He doesn't have much body fat on him. Runs the court very well, quick jumper. If you went and said let me put together what a basketball player should look like, he would be one of those."
• Seniors Jarrod Uthoff (first team all-Big 10, all conference defensive team for Iowa) and Zach Auguste (third team all ACC for Notre Dame) both bring solid credentials to NBA job interviews. Where they get taken -- somewhere in the second round -- will be a matter of fit and convenience. But they'll each get a look.
• Much has been made of 19-year-old Thon Maker, who successfully petitioned the NBA to allow him in this year's Draft after he completes a year of prep school in suburban Ontario. Maker argued that his high school class graduated last year, and since he was thus a year removed from high school, he should be eligible for the Draft.
In doing so, Maker turned down offers from college basketball's elite teams (Kentucky, Kansas, Indiana, etc.), thinking the direct pipeline to the NBA would be easier than a year of college or playing abroad. But he's going to be a long-time, long term project. He's listed at 6-foot-11, 240 pounds. Very few believe the 240 part.
Beyond The Paint: Thon Maker
David Aldridge sits down with Thon Maker, who could turn out to be one of the planet's next great players.
"He plays like a small forward, he runs like a gazelle, but he just doesn't have the skills to be effective at this level now," an Eastern Conference executive said. "The biggest thing he could have done was prep school or get a year of college under him. He's just too physically weak to compete. It's going to be more than a couple of years. I think guys forget, that even though guys have size, how skilled the guys are that have that size."
Maker, of course, has been sought after for the last several years, since he and much of his family emigrated from South Sudan via Australia when he was a boy to try and make a better life for themselves. Maker has worked very hard the last couple of years, and is getting bigger and stronger every day in Orangeville, about 45 minutes outside of Toronto.
But he will have to show NBA types that he can hold his own physically.
Maker would seem tailor made for a team with its own NBA D-League team in a nearby suburb, where he could practice with the NBA team during the days, then play with the D-Leaguers at night. This is a kid that needs to play, and play a lot, against grown men for money.
"He really has not played against top competition the last few years," a Northwest Division man said. "He's got to learn the game as well as get his body better. It's going to take him years, I think. He may not be able to get on the court and get significant minutes until his rookie contract is up, if he's a first-round pick. That's three years. I think it's going to take him a long time. Now, for a seven footer, he plays hard, and he runs the floor extremely well. The next best thing is he steps out on the floor very well and shoot jump shots. He can become a better shooter. He can become a better rebounder, shot blocker, rim protector. A team's got to have patience with him and a good strength and conditioning department."
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