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Thursday June 16, 2011 3:11 PM

2011 NBA Draft Preview: Part III


Taking a look at the top small forwards available in the upcoming draft

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON -The NBA Draft is right around the corner so the time has come to take an in-depth look at the players hoping to hear their names called out by Commissioner David Stern on the night of June 23. To help with the process, Rockets.com is once again enlisting the help of NBA draft expert Jim Clibanoff.

The formula is simple: our man Clibs will break down the draft position by position, offering his thoughts on the top prospects, while sprinkling in a few feelings on some lesser known players who might be worth a closer look in the draft’s later stages.

Today’s feature focuses on the small forward position. Click here for Part I in which we break down the best prospects at center, and here for Part II for a discussion on the top two-guards. One final note: players' height and weight are taken, when possible, from the NBA’s combine measurements, with each prospect’s listed height rounded up to the nearest inch while wearing shoes.

Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State: 19 years old, 6-7, 228

There’s probably no better NBA-ready player at this position than Leonard. He has tremendous poise and focus. He doesn’t have to star on a team, so he won’t have to be reprogrammed as an NBA player. He’s going to be able to fit in in a myriad of ways.

He’s got incredible arm length and huge hands, so despite measuring at only 6-7 he can play much bigger and appear to be somewhat of a hybrid four, if you will, whereby he’ll be able to rebound, I’m hoping, like Shawn Marion did early in his career, when Marion – as a guy who was 6-7, 215-220 – was a spectacular rebounder.

Leonard has this diligence and blue-collar focus about him. He’s got such a unique profile in that he was also San Diego State’s backup point guard. As a freshman, he was more of a four-man and I remember someone telling me about him and, I won’t say I wrote him off, but he was one of those guys who was a great rebounder as a freshman but I doubted his ability to develop the skills he was going to need to play the small forward position, and he really proved me wrong. So if he’s shown that much progression in just two years, I shudder to think what he’ll be able to do the next 2-3 years in the NBA.

The biggest knock on him from a numbers perspective is his 3-point shooting. But if a kid like that works that hard to overcome his lack of 3-man game, you know he’ll be willing to put in the work on his 3-point shooting, too. As we’ve talked about before when discussing other positions, when you look at the history of NBA players, there are a ton of guys who weren’t great 3-point shooters when they came into the league, but they work on it and they know their limitations. That’s another thing I think Leonard knows; he plays with such poise because he knows what he can’t do. But at the same time, with his worth ethic he’ll certainly work to cure those deficiencies sooner than later.

You also have to think back to last year and some of the characteristics of Patrick Patterson that I really admired – I see a lot of that with Kawhi Leonard. He’s just so focused on the game and he’s such a man, as opposed to guys who can run faster and jump higher, this guy’s just out to kick people’s butts and get wins. Obviously San Diego State had such a great year last year and I attribute a lot of that to Leonard.

Chris Singleton, Florida State: 21 years old, 6-9, 230

Most McDonald’s All-Americans are very much of the mindset that they’re going to score their way into the lottery. Chris Singleton, when I first saw him play duing his second game as a freshman, he had no idea how to play but he looked the part, so I always had him on our early entry tracker, but he never really developed offensively.

Then again, in (Florida State head coach) Leonard Hamilton’s program, other than Toney Douglas and Al Thornton over the past few years, he hasn’t had prolific scorers. So I think playing in that system, it allowed him to focus on defense. Again, it’s so rare to find a McDonald’s All-American so committed to defense and I think he and Kawhi Leonard are the two best defensive forwards in this draft, and that’s going to get them on the floor as rookies. So he could end up being a mid-first round pick and end up playing a good deal of minutes because of his defensive capability.

He reminds me a little bit of Derrick McKey, who was an unassuming player who was so important to his team. I think that’s what Singleton can do. Like I said, he looks the part and, you never know, his offense could take off, too. I mean, Derrick McKey averaged around 14 points a game during his best years and had a very productive career.

If you’re an NBA coach, you’re going to look down the bench and say, “Can I trust that guy?” and if you look down and see a guy who can potentially defend both 3s and 4s like Singleton, you’re going to put him in the game.

Jordan Hamilton, Texas: 20 years old, 6-9. 228

Believe it or not, I almost think Hamilton might end up being more of a two-guard. Look, we’re all enamored by size and if you’ve got a 6-9 guy playing the two-spot that’s going to be big. But at the small forward position, I just don’t think he’s programmed to rebound or play defense really hard. Granted, he really improved his rebounding this year and averaged more than 7 boards per game.

He’s one of those guys who has so much talent that I’m just not sure he’s going to be willing to apply himself and play that gritty role. But he’ll definitely be a crafty, savvy scorer, and that will be his calling card. He’s going to get buckets, the question is whether he’ll defend, be rugged and get rebounds.

I like him for his NBA readiness. He’s one of those kids who was always highly touted. Could he have benefited from going back to school another year? Absolutely. He’s not an elite athlete, but he can get the job done right now because he has this craftiness to his offensive game, almost the way Paul Pierce does.

I like Jordan Hamilton, I just don't want to see him degenerate into just a jump shooter.

Tobias Harris, Tennessee: 18 years old, 6-8, 223

Most one-and-done players come out as great athletic phenoms whose knowledge of the game and basketball IQ hasn’t yet caught up to their physical gifts. Tobias Harris sort of flip-flops that equation. He’s an average athlete at best by NBA standards but his understanding of how to play the game is very high. He’s a cerebral player who only averaged about 1.3 assists per game but I could see that improving as he gets on the floor with NBA players and he figures out how to fit in.

Whereas some guys are NBA-ready, I think of Harris as someone who is ready to be tested by the NBA. I can’t conclude based on a limited sample size of games that he is ready – but he’s definitely ready to be tested and if he passes that test I think you’re going to see him in the rotation.

He’s very young still. He’s got that understanding of the game, but he’s still morphing his body – he used to be a heavier kid. Jared Dudley is a very good comparison. He’s like an NBA veteran in that he’s got that understanding of how to efficiently expend his energy instead of running around the court like a chicken with his head cut off.

Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA: 20 years old, 6-8, 186

Needs to get stronger, clearly. But as far as ball skills, he’s another guy I actually think could end up as a two-guard down the road. He’d be very appealing there as a 6-8 player on the wing. If he can’t get stronger and more physical then he’s going to gravitate more toward the perimeter, and he’s already got a full complement of guard skills. He can really bust out with his dribble and he can really see the floor; his passing is going to take off when he’s playing with higher caliber NBA players.

If he figures out how to channel his length properly on the defensive end he can become very effective there. You look at him and see almost a Tayshaun Prince type of build, but is he going to aggressively play that end of the floor? I don’t know. Again, he’s got a little bit of California coolness to him, so the key is: is he Cali smooth or Cali cool? Cali smooth will get the job done whereas Cali cool will not. I think it’s a roll of the dice well worth it because he’ll be able to play multiple positions on both ends of the floor.

Kyle Singler, Duke: 23 years old, 6-9, 228

The kid played four years at an elite program. He could have come out early probably any of the previous seasons and been a solid draft selection, but by staying in school four years there are now sort of two ends of the spectrum: one is all the younger “upside” and lesser-seen guys are going to push him down in the draft; but by the same token, his NBA readiness is going to be so much higher than those counterparts of his because he knows how to play and how to fit in.

Sometimes when you look at a guy’s career stat package and you don’t see tremendous increase in numbers, you think that he’s stalled out as a player. But instead, I refer to it with Singler as great consistency because he’s played with so many All-Americans during his career. He can star when he needs to or he can fit in when he needs to and it’s all within the flow of the game.

For a couple of seasons, I wanted to dislike him but when I saw him last summer working out with the select team against the US national team in New York, I said to myself, “There’s no way this guy can’t play in the NBA.” He just gets it. And whether or not getting it means 6.5 points per game or 11 points per game, he’s just going to figure out a way to stay on a roster or stay in the rotation. That scrappiness can endear him to plenty of folks. Your Shane Battiers of the world get it; they go under the radar, but they’re an integral part of the rotation and I can see Singler figuring out a way to succeed in that regard.

Davis Bertans, Latvia: 18 years old, 6-10, 210

He’s a very one-dimensional player right now. He’s a great pure shooter who’s inferior from a physicality standpoint. He looks like he’s about 12 years old. He’s obviously got a great shot and looks like he has a bit of a feel for the game because he’s played in Europe but I just don’t think he’s going to be able to defend anybody in the NBA for awhile.

I can’t take him seriously until he’s about 12 pounds stronger and his body fills out as well. He’s definitely someone you draft and stash him in Europe for a few years so he can continue to develop at his own pace while his body matures and he continues to get stronger.

Chandler Parsons, Florida: 22 years old, 6-10, 221

A very unique player in that I think he could be used so many different ways; I wouldn’t be surprised to even see him used a little as a point forward down the line. He’s not a great shooter – he shot under 60 percent from the free throw line this year – but he’s got the reputation of being a shooter – it’s a little bit strange. So he certainly has to work on that element of this game.

He certainly has to get stronger as well. I’m not sure who he will defend. Since there are some glaring weaknesses in his game, I think a lot of people will dismiss him. But when you find an outside-the-box person or someone who saw Parsons perform well in works, they might be swayed by the different look he can bring a team.

When you can pass as well as he does, at that height, players like that find a way to get on to an NBA court because coaches will trust that element of their game. But again, I wonder if someone will fail to trust him because of his poor shooting and potential poor defensive attention.

Jimmy Butler, Marquette: 21 years old, 6-8, 222

He’s someone who definitely benefitted from attending the Portsmouth camp. He’s not exceptional athletically, he’s not exceptional or special in any element of his game. Instead, he just plays a role and does a little bit of a lot of different things. And in Portsmouth he showed that, even with his limits, he could be the MVP without even dominating that tournament. He didn’t miss a free throw, he played well defensively, he fit in – he’s just a good all-around teammate.

You might say he’s a second round version of Tobias Harris, albeit one with four years of college experience so he does have that element of readiness. Landry Fields, because he played four years, was so much more qualified to play and coexist with the men of the NBA, and Butler I think can play a limited role and not look like a fish out of water at all. He has very limited upside, but at the same time he probably should deserve NBA minutes quicker than some of these younger guys.

Sleepers

Justin Harper, Richmond: 21 years old, 6-9, 228

He’s a pick-and-pop 3-point shooter at the small forward position with a really good body, length and really showed this year that he can shoot the ball. A key to projecting Justin Harper is figuring out how he’s going to fare outside of the Princeton-style offense that they run at Richmond. He’s not a great rebounder at all. He has a good body but isn’t a very effective defender. He’s a clean and polished player and that’s something that could be viewed as either a positive or a negative.

Jereme Richmond, Illinois: 19 years old, 6-7, 205

He’s a one-and-done player who was a McDonald’s All-American in high school. He has questions about his maturity, but he's really gifted with a ton of talent. He can really pass the ball but with a limited sample size it’s hard to say with certainty that he’s going to “get it” as an NBA rookie, but he’s a guy who has got very high upside and a very high ceiling. He might have to spend his entire rookie season in the D-League. He’s a highly-pedigreed player who did not have a consistent freshman season.

Chris Wright, Dayton: 22 years old, 6-8, 225

If Travis Leslie is the most explosive player in this draft, then this guy is just below that, if not right at the same level. If it’s a running team and you can just roll the balls out and play, Chris Wright is your man. He played in the perfectly wrong college system at Dayton because he just couldn’t highlight his strengths enough. Dayton scored about 58 points a game this year; if Wright went to a transition team where he could really get out and fly and get easy buckets and be very exciting he’d have been in his element. And even though he didn’t prove to be a great defensive player at Dayton, he’s got the skill set to do that. He’s more athlete than basketball player on the offensive end; if he can figure out how to channel that athleticism appropriately, he could be a Ruben Patterson type of defensive player. But maybe that’s just being overly optimistic.

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