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Wednesday June 16, 2010 10:32 AM

Breaking Down The 2010 NBA Draft: Part II


Jim Clibanoff dishes on the guards and wings that might be available when the Rockets are on the clock

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer

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 24. To help with the process, Rockets.com spoke with NBA draft expert Jim Clibanoff.

As always, mystery and smokescreens abound this time of year, as clubs do their best to keep their draft strategies secret. Much like an episode of Lost, any answers which eventually surface tend to only bring with them at least a dozen more questions. This certainly holds true for the Rockets as well, especially given the fact their draft nights have always featured plenty of wheeling and dealing.

Here, however, is what we do know: for the time being Houston has the No. 14 overall selection in this year’s draft. Might they move up or down? Of course. But for now we’re proceeding as if that’s where the team will be picking, so we’ve selected to shine our spotlight on 19 players who figure to come off the board anywhere from the middle stages of the lottery to the beginning of the second round. The format: Jim will do much of the heavy lifting while sharing what he likes and dislikes about each player before Jason chimes in with a few comments of his own.

After tackling the draft eligible bigs on Tuesday, today our draft takes a look at some of the available wing and guard prospects. One final note: players' height and weight are taken from the NBA’s combine measurements, with each prospect’s listed height rounded up to the nearest inch while wearing shoes.

Avery Bradley – Texas: 19 years old, PG/SG, 6-3, 180

Jim’s take: I don’t think there’s a problem projecting Avery Bradley as an NBA point guard. I’ve seen him listed other places as a combo guard, but I actually saw him play in high school and he’s got a great grit and determination to him. He projects as a tremendous defender as well. I think that will get him on to the court.

Could a third string point guard role be a very good entry point for him and then possibly work his way up from there? Absolutely. He played with a bunch of talent at Texas that underachieved. There are some red flags: he doesn’t get to the free throw line a lot and his free throw percentage was under 60 percent. So there are definitely concerns but this is a kid who has shown character and a work ethic that gets you to believe that, once he’s a pro, he’ll be able to focus on the things he needs to do to improve.

Expecting him to be a back-up point guard when he first gets into the league could be setting him up for failure. If people are truly going to use the D-League as it needs to be used – as a developmental league – then he’s a perfect candidate for that.

Jason’s take: The No. 1 thing I like most about Avery Bradley: his physical, in-your-face perimeter defense. Yes, he still has much to prove in terms of playing the point guard position and rounding the rest of his offensive game into form. But if you can come into the league and lock guys down from day one, you’re going to have an opportunity to make an impact while the rest of your skills play catch-up. Maybe he never becomes the offensive force like a Russell Westbrook but with that defensive ability and those physical attributes (Bradley is lightning-quick with a 6-7 wingspan) he’ll have a home in this league for years to come.

Damion James – Texas: 22 years old, SF-PF, 6-8, 227

Jim’s take: When people refer to athleticism, it’s usually agility and run-jump athleticism. Damion James is a very good athlete but he’s not a regularly above-the-rim kind of athlete. He’s a glue guy and an energy guy. I don’t think his offense is going to take root at the NBA level but good teams find ways of finding good role players and that’s Damion James is going to emerge as.

Expecting him to be a double-digit scorer is setting him up to fail but he’s a guy like a Leon Powe who was such a critical reserve for the Celtics a couple years ago. I think that’s the kind of player James can be.

I was always dropping him in my rankings because I had him on my small forward list but his game is not prototypical of an NBA small forward, and he’s undersized and not wide enough or bouncy enough to be a small NBA power forward. He’s just a second unit, energy guy who can hopefully find a way to impact the game in those little gritty areas. The Rockets have been really good at finding those types of players, who some like to call overachievers. And if you can assimilate them in the cauldron and make it all gel together, that’s how you can sneak up on a team.

Jason’s take: There’s very little in the way of upside here. What you see is what you get. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. James can defend multiple positions and if energy is a skill – and I think it is – James brings it by the boatload. You win with guys like that. James has drawn comparisons to Milwaukee’s Luc Richard Mbah A Moute and you better believe any NBA team would be thrilled to emerge with that type of player in the second half of the first round.

Eric Bledsoe – Kentucky: 19 years old, PG/SG, 6-2. 192

Jim’s take: He and his former teammate at Kentucky Daniel Orton are probably this draft’s two biggest wild cards. Can he play point guard? Will people respect him when he has the rock in his mitts? Is he going to be a true leader? I don’t know. This is not me saying I don’t know as a politically correct way of saying no – I just truly don’t know. I think it’s very hard to come to any firm conclusions one way or the other.

He played off of John Wall admirably and he fit in very well. But to give him the ball and say, ‘Go run my team,’ I just don’t know. I will say I wasn’t convinced Russell Westbrook was going to be that guy but he certainly did emerge as a pretty darn good player because of his athleticism, and ability to drive and defend. Could that happen with Bledsoe? Absolutely. He’s strong, has long arms and a bullish personality on the court but I just don’t know because there’s not enough evidence either way. That’s why he’s such a wild card.

He’s someone you could bring in for a work out and he could test off the charts with his strength and athleticism, and someone could say, ‘Wow, we can make him into our point guard of the future,’ and he could go at the 11 th pick. Or he could slip all the way into the early part of the second round because people just don’t know what to make of him. Neither outcome would really surprise me.

Jason’s take: Similar to Avery Bradley, Bledsoe is another guard with blazing speed and a pterodactyl-esque wingspan, facing legitimate questions about whether or not he’s a pure point guard, 2-guard or none of the above. For some he has Westbrook potential, while others see more of Marcus Thornton in his game. Whatever the case may be, there’s unquestionable skill here – it’s just a matter of finding the right fit and team capable of bringing out the best in his game.

Gordon Hayward – Butler: 20 years old, SF/PF, 6-8, 211

Jim’s take: He’s a little bit like a Chase Budinger in that he’s graceful, he’s smooth and he flows. But I don’t know if he has it in him to be enough of a (butt)-kicker to be an elite NBA player. He’s a great fit-in guy; a great basketball IQ guy who can play the 3-spot – on the US under-19 team he actually played some power forward as well – and I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point down the road a team experiments a little bit with him as a 2-guard. So he can fit in because he’s got the right mentality.

He was the best player on a team that almost won the national championship but it never looked like he was trying too hard. I think he’ll need a coach to really push him. I think he’s a great piece to the puzzle but to expect him to be the first, second or third best player on a team, I can’t see that easily happening. Then again, when you’re picking in the middle of the first round, I don’t think you’re really looking to find the first, second or third best player on your team, you’re just looking to get an asset.

Defense is going to be tough for him early because of his lack of physicality and I think the step up in competition will be bigger for him than for others in this draft. But, again, you can hang your hat on some of the experience he had with the under-19 team when he was very impressive. It’s easy to take him for granted but I wouldn’t count out a kid like that because he’s got a great work ethic. He’s obviously got a very young-looking body but his game is going to get better as he matures physically.

Jason’s take: Anytime a player draws Chase Budinger comparisons – even if it’s just in passing – your curiosity is bound to be piqued. That said, the Rockets already have the real Chase Budinger, not to mention a pair of firmly entrenched wings in Trevor Ariza and Shane Battier, so it’s tough to see where Hayward would fit into the equation right off the bat.

If Houston’s Basketball Operations department thinks Hayward is a star in the making then the aforementioned caveats obviously get tossed out the window and they should immediately take him should the opportunity present itself. But if they’re not convinced, it might be best to look in another direction.

James Anderson – Oklahoma State: 21 years old, SG/SF, 6-6, 207

Jim’s take: He’s a flat-scorer. He developed into one of the most potent offensive players in college basketball from the wing spot. He got to the line more than 7 times a game as a senior and he’s a good free throw shooter. I think there’s a good chance that his scoring will translate to the next level. He’s got some tools to be a defender as well.

I like the kid. He plays with composed athleticism. He seems to be a good character kid. I think if he goes to the right team he can give them instant offense. This is a three-year college player who’s got really good scoring savvy and I think it should carry over to the NBA.

I will say I think Anderson needs the ball in his hands in order to impact the game. Certain guys, like a James Harden for instance, can impact the game – and will – without even taking a shot. I’m not sure Anderson is that kind of guy and I can’t see, with the depth the Rockets have at that position, him really being a candidate there.

Jason’s take: James Anderson had the ball in his hands a ton at Oklahoma State and, to his credit, made the most of his many opportunities, ranking as one of the NCAA’s best in terms of points scored per possession. That sort of efficiency is certain to catch the Rockets’ eye, as will his ability to get to the free throw line and convert them at a batter than 80 percent clip once he’s there.

Jordan Crawford – Xavier: 21 years old, SG, 6-5, 198

Jim’s take: In my opinion, this is a guy you take in the second round. If you need a guy to go get buckets, Crawford will do that.

I teased myself with the notion that perhaps he could emerge as a point guard but that was based on what I saw from him on Indiana. But he totally interrupted the flow and just decided that he needed to get buckets for his team to win games. Deprogramming a player like that and trying to re-route his skills a different way is very hard to do.

He’s got a little bit of a surly on-court demeanor, so I think he needs buckets. And if he’s not getting buckets then, no, he’s not really going to impact the game. He’s not the kind of player who’s going to say, ‘You know what? I’m not getting shots so I better crack down defensively so coach puts me in.’ Guys like that just don’t have that attitude.

I like him as instant offense. But if you need something more diverse then you have to look in a different direction.

Jason’s take: Pure scorers will always find a home in this league, especially guys who display a knack for rising to the occasion in crunch time of big games, as Crawford did during Xavier’s extended run in the NCAA tournament this year. Hearing descriptors like “instant offense” and “questionable demeanor” conjure memories of Von Wafer, so perhaps – just like the former Rocket – Crawford simply needs a bit of time, maturation and the right situation to blossom on the big stage.

Luke Babbitt – Nevada: 20 years old, SF, 6-9, 218

Jim’s take: One of the guys he drew comparisons to, even as a high school player, was Chris Mullin. Mullin was not a very good NBA defender and if you want to sell yourself off a player, you ask that question: well who’s he going to check at the NBA level? But if you like a player enough, you look at all the things a player like Babbitt can do offensively and realize not many people are going to be able to stop him.

Babbitt does it with smarts, intensity and grit. He’s also just a forward, however I really think he’ll work on his small forward game and be much more of pure 3-man a year from now He’s got a tremendous work ethic.

He finished the year shooting 91.7 percent from the free throw line. To me that shows intense work ethic and focus and if you bring in a guy with those kind of raw materials, he’s going to work to cure his deficiencies and, a year from now, I think he’s going to be a 3-man and a very versatile one at that.

I really like him. I saw him play two games at the WAC tournament in March and I was kind of blown away. I liked him when I saw him on video but when I saw him play in person I was so taken by his work ethic and focus.

He gets his offense within the flow of the game and I think he’s gritty enough that he’s not going to be a huge liability defensively. He doesn’t have to have the ball in his hands to have an impact. He’s going to go in and slip through the cracks to grab rebounds, he’ll pass the ball and he’ll fit in even though he was his team’s leading scorer for two seasons.

I really like the kid. I think he’s got the mental edge to find a way to succeed. Sometimes it’s difficult for young players to sit on the bench for long stretches and Luke will probably be one of those kids who doesn’t hit his groove until the middle of the year but I don’t think he’s going to go into one of those rookie funks because he’ll continue to work and find a way to make the coach keep him on the court for some kind of minutes.

I think people are sleeping on him a bit. He doesn’t have great bounce but if you don’t apply athleticism consistently, it almost goes for naught. I think what Babbitt doesn’t have in elite athleticism he makes up for in grit, desire and focus. He’s going to work and bust his butt to make it and that really helps out with team chemistry. He doesn’t have a prima donna attitude and he’s going to go out there and try to earn it.

Jason’s take: The Rockets have been searching for a pure stretch-four for quite some time now and if the team believes Babbitt can add some bulk and eventually make the transition than you’d certainly have to believe he’s be on their radar screen. If that’s the case, Houston might need to trade up to grab him. Perhaps teams were sleeping on Babbitt before but he’s been generating a great deal of buzz of late and many mock drafts are finding him in the top-10 these days.

Paul George – Fresno State: 20 years old, SF, 6-9, 214

Jim’s take: He kind of came out of nowhere as a freshman. I remember watching him on video and being very impressed with just how long he was and his ability to impact the game in a lot of different ways. I think his sheer athleticism is what is kind of catapulting him right now. He’s a bit of a wild card because when you watch his demeanor I’m not sure he’s enough of an (butt)-kicker right now.

I really like what he can do with his length defensively but I don’t know if he applies himself enough there. He gets to balls with his length that he should have no business getting to but when the athletes are bigger and stronger at the NBA level, is he going to remain focused enough to still be able to do that?

He played on these Fresno teams that weren’t really successful which really blew my mind. He’s got all the physical components you want in an NBA swingman. Is he a two or a three? I don’t know. But he’s really darn athletic. You hear these McGrady comparisons and he shot nearly 91 percent from the free throw line.

I saw him play at the WAC tournament this year and I didn’t see that consistent intensity from him. He might have a little poutiness to his game, I’m not sure. The physical tools are clearly there: he can shoot from 3, he can flash, he can elevate but is he going to put it all together with enough of a professional attitude on a consistent basis? I don’t know.

I try to limit the amount of times I use upside but this is truly a kid with tremendous upside. If he becomes a prima donna or doesn’t work hard, I could easily see him falling out of favor with a team, almost like the way Stephen Jackson floundered around his first couple years. Jackson wasn’t a very refined kid off the court but he finally found his place in the league after taking a circuitous route. That could happen to a guy like Paul George, where he doesn’t “get it” until his second team.

He’ll be taken in the top 15 selections. I really like him. We have him rated highly in our rankings. But I just caution people about the potential downside, too.

Jason’s take: In terms of pure upside, George has to rank No. 1 among the wings we’re profiling. Though the McGrady comparison is unfair, George can do a little bit of everything and he can certainly do it with flair thanks to his tremendous physical gifts. He needs to cut down on his turnovers and improve upon his ball-handling, you can be sure more than one team will be more than happy to roll the dice on his star potential shortly after all the sure things are off the board.

Stanley Robinson – Connecticut: 21 years old, SF/PF, 6-8, 213

Jim’s take: On draft night you’ll always here the phrase, “best available athlete.” Teams shun positions and they shun their depth charts and they say, “Who’s the best available athlete we can have to increase the agility and energy on our team?” That’s what Stanley Robinson is. He makes more plays of an athlete than a basketball player and you can find minutes for guys like that.

I can see him possibly morphing into a great defender, someone the coach says, “OK, we’re playing against the Nuggets tonight. Robinson, go out and check Carmelo. We’re playing Oklahoma City, go out and try to make life difficult for Kevin Durant.” He’s never going to be a truly competent offensive player but he’s a guy you can throw in as a small forward or power forward on the second unit who’s going to amp up the whole intensity of a game. And if you want that for 8 to 16 minutes a game, Stanley Robinson can be that guy. But he’s not going to be a guy who goes out and averages 14 points per game because he doesn’t have that fundamental skill set.

For four years I have struggled to figure out whether Robinson is a small forward or a power forward, and I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s just a forward. So if you’re trying to find a guy you can fit neatly into one of those molds, you’re not going to want Stanley Robinson. But if you just want a forward, then he’s the kind of guy who can help you out in the frontcourt.

Jason’s take: Think of Robinson as a more explosively athletic Damion James, though without the same level of offensive polish James displayed more consistently this year. But forgot about what these guys can do offensively. The simple truth is, at the NBA level, both players will be desired for the energy they can bring to the game and their ability to defend multiple positions.

Xavier Henry – Kansas: 19 years old, SG, 6-7, 210

Jim’s take: There’s nothing spectacular and sexy about Xavier Henry’s game, but he’s patient, poised, mature, he’s got a good NBA body for the 2-guard position and he’s got a very good perimeter stroke.

My concern is that he’s going to just maintain this identity as a jump shooter, that he’s not going to be much more; he’s not going to take guys off the dribble, he’s not going to be someone to fill the stat sheet with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. He’s going to be a perimeter jump shooter unless someone forces him to diversify his game. Certain players have a ton of talent but they end up neglecting other areas of their game. This kid is such a good shooter that he may end up neglecting those other elements of his game.

Jason’s take: Rockets fans know how much their team values the 3-point shot so any quality young player with such a sweet stroke has to be taken seriously. His performance tailed off toward the end of his freshman season, seemingly dropping his draft stock somewhat but it’s interesting to hear people speak as if Henry is already a finished product. At just 19 years old, there’s clearly still much more room for him to grow and develop as a player.

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