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Monday June 21, 2010 9:51 AM

Breaking Down The 2010 NBA Draft: Part III


Draft expert Jim Clibanoff dishes on the biggest names in this year's draft

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. Last week, during Part I and Part II of our draft series, we spent ample time examining the bigs, wings and guards which might be available if the Rockets stay at 14 or move further back. Now it's time to take a look at the players they might target if an effort is made to move up. 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.

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.

John Wall – Kentucky: 19 years old, PG, 6-4, 196

Jim’s take: I read something the other day where someone referred to him as the greatest pure athlete point guard prospect since whenever. No, there aren’t a lot of guys historically who can throw an alley-oop and catch an alley-oop with the flair that (Wall) does. But that’s not what the game is about – it’s about running a team; it’s about the thumb on the hand that gets the job done and produces victories.

I throw out the name Monta Ellis, and granted he doesn’t play as a pure point guard, but he’s a guy who puts up numbers but doesn’t put up wins. Now Derrick Rose is a rare one-and-done guy who’s turning into a point guard leader of a good team. But my concern is that, by just going to college for one year, there’s going to be some problems for Wall.

Stephon Marbury was a tremendous college player during his one year at Georgia Tech but he never figured out how to win NBA games. Marbury was a tremendous talent who just didn’t have the understanding of how to do it from a mental standpoint. I’m not saying Wall won’t but I’m saying you have to analyze his downside if you’re going to stroke him as much as you are for his upside.

John Wall is going to be a scorer. I find it very hard to believe he’s going to be a guy who ranks among the top-5 in the league in assists. I don’t think he’s got the Chris Paul or Deron Williams gene in him to be a 20-point, 10-assist guy every night. He could be a 26-point a game guy, though. He’s a high volume guy who’s going to look for his offense. But I don’t see the cerebral approach to the game just yet.

Jason’s take: Jim is certainly right to point out that, while Wall is an undeniably phenomenal prospect, he’s not a perfect prospect. As with any 19-year-old player, you can always find holes to harp on and nits to pick. That said, Wall is about as close to a sure thing as you’ll find in this year’s draft and, if all goes right, he’ll be a perennial All-Star for years to come. Everyone who watched the NBA playoffs this year saw what a dramatic impact point guards had on the game this postseason and there’s very little reason to believe Wall won’t find himself doing similar things in the near future.

Evan Turner – Ohio State: 21 years old, SG/SF, 6-7, 214

Jim’s take: I think more has to go right for John Wall to emerge as the best player from this draft, the best player capable of leading his team to victory, as opposed to Evan Turner.

It’s all about his versatility. It’s the ability to be some kind of combination of Joe Johnson, Brandon Roy and Penny Hardaway. Turner was the only guy in the country to average at least 6 rebounds and at least 6 assists. He’s guy who, out of necessity, played point but by the end of the season he looked like a guy who could possibly be an NBA point guard. You could definitely give the rock to Evan Turner, say ‘Go be my point guard,’ and he wouldn’t flinch at it and it could definitely be a worthwhile experiment.

Then on the flip side, if you want to move him off the ball and play him at the 2-spot, no problem. He’s a suspect NBA 3-point shooter, but Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade weren’t consistent 3-point shooters early on in their careers; heck, Dwyane Wade still isn’t. I think Turner will work on his deficiencies and he can even play some small forward as well.

I think that the proven versatility of Evan Turner is incredibly compelling and I believe that his ability to play multiple positions at the college level paves the way for him to do something similar at the pro level, like a Joe Johnson type. I don’t know if he’s got the wherewithal from within to immediately emerge as the best player on a team; I don’t know if that happens in year two or year three – I don’t know if that ever happens at all. But if it does he can be one of those stat sheet stuffer guys who will be on a good team and will lend himself to creating victories because creating a successful NBA team is different from just filling out a roster. I think if he has the right components around him that mesh well, then you could have something special.

That hallmark of versatility is why Scottie Pippen was such a tremendous player; he could do so many different things on the court. He was never, except for when Jordan retired, the leading scorer on his team but in all those years when the Bulls were succeeding he was the best No. 2 in the league. He was arguably one of the top-10 players in basketball but he was always the second best player on his team. Evan Turner could morph into that guy: the one who gets you 17 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists but is still the second best player on his team.

Jason’s take: I’m fascinated to find out what Evan Turner’s future holds. Like Brandon Roy, he has this sneaky bit of veteran savvy to his game which allows him to consistently get to his spots without the benefit of truly elite athleticism. He creates for both himself and his teammates, operates well using the pick-and-roll and, as Jim mentioned, his versatility will give teams the ability to play both big and small. There’s no question he has significant work to do in terms of improving his 3-point shot and I’d like to see him use his creativity to draw a few more fouls as well. But he’s the kind of guy that every team would love to have and, even though I don’t think he’s a future superstar in this league, I do believe he’ll be a pleasure to watch for years to come.

Derrick Favors – Georgia Tech: 18 years old, PF/C, 6-10, 245

Jim’s take: He’s unproven. People want to say he’ll be the next Amar’e Stoudemire but, when you see him play, his offense is very basic. The guy is explosive from 8-feet and in but he doesn’t have a consistent jump shot yet. You’re assuming that he’s going to add those components to his game, and he very likely could but, again, when we talk about upside, it’s also very important to assess a guy’s downside. What if he never does do that? What if he goes to a team that has him play alongside someone he doesn’t mesh well with? There’s just not a certainty that he’s going to get there.

He averaged 12.4 points and only 1 assist per game. Usually a very good indicator of a player’s basketball IQ is assist productivity and assist-to-turnover ratio. Favors had a 0.4 assist-to-turnover ratio – nothing spectacular at all. He shot 63 percent from the free throw line. So this is a raw player for sure. Could he morph into something like a Stoudemire? Absolutely. But what’s the percentage chance that happens and what’s the percentage chance he ends up being no more than an Antonio or Dale Davis; serviceable, legitimate guys who average close to double-doubles for their career, but just not considered top-30 NBA players?

I’m very much compelled by him but how long does it take him before he hits his stride? His offense is not flowing or graceful at this point. Worst case scenario he’ll be a rugged rebounder in the interior of the post. He could become a Kenyon Martin or Antonio McDyess type of player. I just think his first two years are going to be very telling. Favors is more a bundle of athletic intrigue right now and the pieces still have to come together for him.

Jason’s take: Upside, upside, upside. Favors just has so much of it. Yes, he’s raw but let’s face it: big men usually take longer to develop than most other positions and let’s not forget this kid is still just 18-years-old – how refined and fully developed should we rightfully expect him to be? There’s no question patience and a proper plan will be key to Favor’s future success. But if those pieces are in place and the Atlanta-native is diligent with his work, five years from now we might discover that Derrick Favors was the best player in his class.

DeMarcus Cousins – Kentucky: 19 years old, C, 6-11, 292

Jim’s take: It’s just not that often that you have such a current cutting against an incredibly talented player from a fundamental standpoint. DeMarcus Cousins right now can go in an NBA game and get you 15 and 8. He’s that big, he’s that skilled and he’s that polished. The question is: is he a head case?

I use the Derrick Coleman comparison: Coleman was the No. 1 pick in the 1990 NBA Draft and he had a very productive NBA career, just not as good as everyone wanted or as good as it could have been. But virtually 25 NBA teams could use that consistent productivity where at the end of the season they look down and they’ve got a guy averaging nearly 10 rebounds per game and shooting a good field goal percentage. Cousins can absolutely do that assuming he doesn’t regress by trying to be guard in a post man’s body.

Now he does have questions to answer: will he be a cancer on a team or a spoiled brat? It’s hard to tell. So much attention is being paid to that now; maybe an inordinate amount but perhaps it’s legitimate. So you have to temper his basketball skills with the potential that the guy blows up.

Jason’s take: The NBA is starved for quality big men. Always has been, probably always will be. And in DeMarcus Cousins you have one of the best prospects at the center position the league has seen over the course of the past decade (a group that includes Yao Ming, Dwight Howard and Greg Oden – all of whom ended up becoming No. 1 overall picks). Furthermore, ESPN.com’s John Hollinger ran the numbers and his draft rater placed Cousins at the very top of his class, and by a rather significant margin. Why, then, is Cousins not even being considered for the top spot?

Quite simply, the Kentucky product has questions to answer about his attitude. Teams want to know that he’s fully committed to maximizing his prodigious talent. It’s a fair question and one that must be asked given the significant investment clubs make in top picks. But, wow, what a prospect. And in the risk-reward world of the NBA Draft, surely several teams will be more than willing to gamble that the dividends Cousins provides will ultimately prove well worth the roll of the dice.

Wesley Johnson – Syracuse: 22 years old, SF, 6-7, 206

Jim’s take: Great college player and an NBA rotation player for sure. Will Wesley Johnson use his athleticism on a regular basis to optimize his gifts or will it just get too physical for him and he’ll end up becoming more comfortable settling for the midrange and 3-point shot to the detriment of some serious slashing game, which he needs to be at his most versatile? I’m concerned about that.

I saw him go for 21 and 19 in a game and even though he got that many rebounds I just wasn’t convinced that the guy is going to be a factor on the NBA glass like a Shawn Marion is – the player to whom he’s drawn comparisons.

He doesn’t have a killer instinct. He didn’t show that at Syracuse and he definitely didn’t show that at Iowa State. Again, he’s very good compared to the talent at the college level but against grown NBA men, I don’t know if he’s got it in him to be great. I feel he can average double-figure scoring as a rookie but what’s going to keep him from getting to the upper echelon of the NBA strata is that killer instinct which I don’t see.

Even though there are certain things you can point to statistically in his favor defensively – shot blocking, steals, etc. – I think he needs a lot of work to have his defense carry over to the pro level. The tools are definitely intact but you need the right glue to keep everything together and moving ahead.

Jason’s take: To follow up on Jim’s point about Johnson’s defense, I think it’s worth noting that many players who make the transition from Syracuse’s 2-3 zone to the NBA’s more man-to-man defensive schemes do experience their fair share of struggles early on. That said, a player with Johnson’s ample athletic gifts should be able to rise to the challenge sooner rather than later.

Offensively, I question Johnson’s ability to be a true go-to guy. He needs to improve his ball-handling , get stronger and use his athleticism to draw more fouls. Is he a future All-Star? I’m not so sure. But if you’re sitting around pick No. 5 and have a chance to select a player who compares favorably to Shawn Marion, you’ll happily hand him a jersey every time.

Greg Monroe – Georgetown: 20 years old, PF/C, 6-11, 247

Jim’s take: He’s been touted for his pure skill level, vis-à-vis a guy with those dimensions, ever since he’s been an underclassman in high school. To have a guy who’s 6-11 and 245 with those kind of skills, you don’t see that a lot.

Like I was saying with Wesley Johnson, I don’t know if there’s a killer instinct in Greg Monroe. There are terrifically talented players who come into the NBA and just don’t get it. I’m not saying Monroe is going to be that same kind of guy but that’s the type of player you need to consider when you’re thinking about Greg Monroe. I don’t know if he has it in him to destroy everything in his way. He’s a great fit-in player but will he get you half a triple-double – 7 points, 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 19 minutes – or is he going to be a future starter on a great team? I don’t know.

I always wanted him to be a combination of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol but I just don’t see the internal grit yet but sometimes the Princeton-style offense (that Georgetown runs) hides certain things.

I like Monroe, I think he’s a top-10 pick but, like the guys I lump him in with – Patrick Patterson and Ekpe Udoh – he has certain strengths but also certain weaknesses to his game. I’m not sure Monroe is ready to be thrown into the NBA grind and fire just yet. But I think his skill level is the greatest of those three players, especially considering his size.

Jason’s take: I’m really high on Greg Monroe. People seem to fixate on the fact that he doesn’t fulfill their expectations of what he should be with all that talent. They do the same thing with a guy like Lamar Odom. But guess what? As much as Odom might drive you mad with his inability to play at a star level night in and night out, he’s still managed to play a pivotal role on a championship team two years in a row. I could easily see Monroe experiencing a similar fate: constantly facing questions about why he’s not a superstar while his teams just keep racking up wins thanks to his length, skill and steady contributions.

Al-Farouq Aminu – Wake Forest: 19 years old, SF/PF, 6-9, 216

Jim’s take: He’s really a guy I’ve always listed as a small forward and until (Atlanta’s) Josh Smith had his success playing as an undersized 4-man I just always thought Aminu was an under-skilled 3. In certain lineups he’ll probably be able to get by as a finesse 4 but I don’t know if that’s going to be a very optimal lineup that you have out there, if that’s the route some team goes on a regular basis.

The term upside normally equates to a great athlete who is not yet that skilled. I think that’s what we’re talking about with Aminu. His run-jump athleticism is off the charts but if you look at what his assist productivity (1.3 assists per game) and, like Favors, a 0.4 assist-to-turnover ratio, this is not a purely skilled player; it’s more an athlete making plays on the basketball court instead of a basketball player making athletic plays.

He’s a terrific offensive rebounder but that’s because he can run faster and jump higher and more agile than the typical college player. When you superimpose that profile onto the NBA landscape, a lot of questions emerge. He shot 44.7 percent from the field which, for a guy with that athleticism, is a little bit of a surprise. He’s not NBA ready, so if you throw him into the mix right away, you could be setting him up to fail.

Again, we use the term upside and there’s definitely a chance he puts it all together but there’s also definitely a downside with Aminu. I would definitely draft him earlier than a lot of guys at his position, I’m just not sure I would insert him into a meaningful possession as an NBA rookie.

Jason’s take: Aminu will, like so many others before him, serve as a perfect example of the difference between success and failure at the NBA level. So many players are blessed with an embarrassment of riches in terms of pure athleticism that it’s folly to believe you can rely on that alone to lift you to the greatest of heights. What separate the great from the merely good are the work ethic, discipline and diligence demanded of those who refuse to be satisfied with the status quo.

Put simply: if Aminu combines those characteristics with his athletic gifts, he’s sure to experience NBA success. If not, then he and the team that selects him will be left to ponder what might have been. And that, ultimately, is the message which must ring loud and clear on draft night: enjoy the evening for everything it means and stands for; then wake up the next morning ready to work toward the goal of taking full advantage of the amazing opportunity which awaits.

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