NBA Draft Preview: Taking a look at the top power forwards

Monday June 20, 2011 11:33 AM

2011 NBA Draft Preview: Part IV

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

Jason Friedman

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, 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 power forward position. Click here for Part I in which we break down the best prospects at center, here for Part II for a discussion on the top two-guards, and here for Part III featuring analysis of the small forward position. 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.

Derrick Williams, Arizona: 20 years old, 6-9, 248

The key is to accept Derrick Williams as a basketball player, as a forward, instead of asking whether he’s a small forward or a power forward, or where you’re going to play him. You just throw Derrick Williams out on the floor and you’ll get productivity, specifically scoring – like Michael Beasley, like Antawn Jamison; guys who you may say, ‘I think maybe he could turn into a 3.’ Enough. It doesn’t matter. Just accept him for what he is, understand his limitations offensively and defensively, and plow ahead and realize that he’s going to be a consistent scorer for you.

That 3-point shot, I was waiting all year for his percentage to drop and it didn’t happen. It’s just remarkable that a player who shot 25 percent as a freshman could improve the way he did and shoot 57 percent with the incredible number of makes, too.

He can’t really create off the dribble like a true small forward does when they face up and slash by you; his is a much more controlled, precise dribble to get to an open spot. He is a 4-man who’s trying to show you that he can become a 3; it’s not natural for him at this time. Obviously he has the shooting, but it’s standstill shooting when he’s composed and hits an open jumper – it’s not coming off a screen, catching, shooting, spring up, boom. That’s not where he is right now but I don’t think you could have found anybody who would have said he’d be as efficient a shooter from the wing and perimeter as he was this year, so maybe this is a guy who puts in the time and will continue to get better in that area, too.

I just don’t believe that his body is predisposed to playing as a prototypical 3. Defensively, what are his liabilities? He weighs around 245, so he’s not going to have the agility to cover a 6-7, 220 pound 3-man – his body just doesn’t move like that. And if he’s playing the 4-spot, he’s going to be a little height challenged there.

Jan Vesely, Partizan Begrade: 21 years old, 6-11, 240

We have him listed as a power forward for now but he’s someone who will almost certainly see plenty of time at the small forward position, too. You don’t typically find this kind of athleticism in European players. He’s a legit 6-11 and plays with so much of his body above the rim and loves to get out in transition and push the ball and finish, and he plays with such energy and passion. He’s got a gritty verve to his game. There’s a chance he could fail but I just see there being such big upside here that it really outweighs the downside. I don’t see him as a huge risk, but I definitely see him as a high reward player.

He’s got to work on his shot and he has to work on his body, but you can get him into a game if you’ve got a point guard who’s going to put pressure on the other team and you’re going to be a running club with this guy filling the lane. He’s clearly more equipped to play in an up-tempo game and he may struggle if it’s a more slow-paced, half-court game – at least for the early portion of his career.

Donatas Montiejunas, Benetton Treviso: 20 years old, 7-0, 220

In the American college system a lot of times we have four-year players like Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith who become relatively stale names because they stay in school for so long. However, they’ve got this level of NBA readiness which prepares them more to get on the court right away as opposed to their underclassmen counterparts. Montiejunas is an international example, I think, of a guy who has become somewhat stale now. He was so hot at the Hoop Summit game a couple of years ago, but now people have seen him so much more so he no longer has the buzz that comes along with the meteoric rise that happened to him initially.

He’s obviously a solid first rounder but now people are starting to question his physical toughness; they want to know if he can hang against the physical NBA players in the low post and if will he be a face-up 4 whose skill level will be able to carry him. I think there have just become more questions marks about him, both on the defensive end and whether or not his offense will be potent enough to carry him to NBA success, and some of it is unjustified, in my opinion. But again, the more you see a guy, the more you find the potential chinks in his armor.

Nikola Mirotic, Real Madrid: 20 years old, 6-10, 226

He showed in the Hoops Summit game that he’s a skilled guy with size. He’s not strong enough to do anything significant in the low post in the NBA right now; he’d be more like a Vladamir Radmanovic type with a solid mid-range and 3-point shot while not doing much work on the boards.

That said, if he’s not coming over to play in the NBA right away, he’d have the luxury of getting stronger, honing his skills and becoming a much better prospect when he’s ready and able contract-wise to make the jump. From what I’ve seen of him thus far, I don’t think he’s equipped at this moment to impact NBA games, so he could be a very logical pick for a team that doesn’t need him right now.

Tristan Thompson, Texas: 20 years old, 6-9, 227

A one-and-done guy who still plays with a youthful gawkiness. When you watch him play, he’s able to succeed at the college level because he’s athletically superior; he’s got the package to run, jump and elevate, but the poise and maturity are absent from his profile.

He can’t really shoot free throws and he’s streaky when he’s facing up. He just doesn’t compose his body like a mature player, so in that regard he reminds me a little of Tyrus Thomas when he entered the draft; someone who could run, jump and block shots while he was at LSU, but his lack of polish when he elected to leave after his redshirt freshman year really affected what he’s become so far. He’ll always have suitors because he can run and jump, but he just never fully developed that skill set and I think that’s a problem that Tristan Thompson could have. He’s definitely someone who could benefit by playing 30 minutes a game in the D-League during his rookie season, as opposed to playing 12 minutes a game in the NBA.

Based on his size and athleticism, Thompson will be a very solid first rounder, but I’m leery of predicting what sort of success he’ll have because he’s so raw and unpolished from an offensive and defensive perspective. He blocked shots at the college level, but I’m not convinced he’ll be able to do that nearly as well against NBA players.

When you take a one-and-done guy, yeah, you’ve got the upside, but if there isn’t a plan in place, and if there isn’t a developmental process then that guy might never get it and he’ll just instead be relying on his athleticism.

Marcus Morris, Kansas: 21 years old, 6-9, 230

I’ve seen a lot of these kids play before they were in college and Marcus Morris, there’s just isn’t anything that really stands out about his game. I think his draft status, where’s he’s being mentioned to be selected in the 9-17 range, is more an indication of why this is a weak draft.

I envision him becoming at best a 9 or 10 point per game player who collects 4-5 rebounds as well, someone who can fit in and be a solid role player, but I don’t know if the people drafting him realize that his upside is capped. By NBA standards, he’s at best a 50th percentile athlete for a forward. Some people think he is stuck between being a 3 and a 4; we list him as a 4 because, like Derrick Williams, we don’t see him having the physical disposition to succeed as a 3. I don’t think Marcus Morris has that, which is why instead of calling him a power 3, I’d call him a versatile 4.

He’s a potential solid role player, but expecting him to be significantly more than that could be setting him up for failure.

Markieff Morris, Kansas: 21 years old, 6-9, 241

Like his brother, he doesn’t wow you when you watch him play. He obviously projects to play the power forward position and I think he might even end up spending some time as a small 5.

This allure that he’s someone who can face up and shoot because he started hitting some 3s I think is blown out of proportion somewhat. OK, he can hit an occasional 18-24 footer but that’s not going to become a staple of his game; he’s certainly not going to become Matt Bonner or Robert Horry.

He’s a guy who, at the college level because he was superior in size and had a decent pedigree and skill level, was a productive player. But I don’t see anything sexy or intriguing about him that leads me to believe he’s going to be anything other than a nominal 12-14 minute per game player.

Kenneth Faried, Morehead State: 21 years old, 6-8, 225

Too much is made of the Chicago combine measurements. People ask, ‘Is he 6-7 or is he 6-7.5? Is his wingspan 71 inches or is it 73 – We’re a lot more interested if it’s 73.’ Here’s what actually matters: Will his skill translate, because I can bet you dollars to donuts that Faried will record more rebounds than he will points in his NBA career – like Reggie Evans.

Everyone wants to compare him to Dennis Rodman. Rodman was a once in a generation player. Now that which propelled Rodman does seem to propel this kid as well: just a relentless pursuit of the ball. If he’s not getting it, he’s tapping the ball to his teammates; he really is on another energy level from everybody else. But Rodman, remember, was also an elite defender; he was checking 5s, 4s, 3s – Faried isn’t that kind of player, so just jettison that comparison, but just focus on who he is and what he brings and if that fits in to what your team needs right now.

He got stronger but he still runs a bit tipped over, so maybe that helps him in the long run to better navigate in between the NBA trees. Normally you want a guy to be bigger and stronger but this is a pretty exceptional player who isn’t going to be embraced by everybody. But if there’s a glaring need for what he brings and you want a spirit to just jolt your team, not a lot of people can offer that like he can. Renaldo Balkman made the league as a first rounder but Balkman was just an energy guy – Faried is an energy guy who does one thing exceptionally well.

JaJuan Johnson, Purdue: 22 years old, 6-10, 220

It’s hard to get into a guy who’s as wispy as JaJaun Johnson. One thing he did though over the last two years was really develop a competent 18-foot jump shot. He rises up, it’s hard to block, it’s smooth and he maintains his body composure.

That said, to be taken more seriously he’s got to put on weight and get stronger. I just don’t know how geeked up a coach is going to be about inserting a string bean type of player and telling him to go out there and take 18-20 footers. He’s not a great rebounder, he was a solid college shot blocker, but can he hold his position in the NBA post? Right now I’d lean toward saying not really.

He’s got a pretty darn good pedigree: First team All-American by several different outlets. But physicality is pretty important. If you look at guys like Austin Daye and Anthony Randolph, they are thin guys who have very competent skill sets all around, and JaJaun Johnson does not have that whatsoever, at least not at the same caliber.

Sleeper: Malcolm Thomas, San Diego State: 22 years old, 6-9, 223

He really showed something in the postseason. He’s easy to take for granted. He isn’t a prototypical power forward or a prototypical small forward at all. He kind of reminds me of Jerome Williams, who played in the league for 8-10 years. I think he’s one of those guys who when you look for a prototype at a position, he falls short of that, but if you look at him simply as a forward – and he’s actually a guy who can really pass, too – he can block shots, play with energy, and he could be one of those second rounders who doesn’t have a specific skill set, but if he’s embraced as just a forward he could appeal to some folks.

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