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Bennett a star-in-waiting among power forward prospects

POSTED: Jun 24, 2013 11:27 AM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst


UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett has the most tantalizing potential among the power forward crop.

The upcoming Draft continues to fluctuate seemingly every week, with prospects capable of playing multiple positions, depending on with whom you speak.

Two weeks ago, I had Croatian forward Dario Saric solidly on my small forward Big Board. But after speaking with other scouts and personnel types who insist Saric is going to be a power forward in the NBA, I'm tempted to include him in this week's rankings. I have the same temptation with N.C. State's C.J. Leslie, Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas and North Texas' Tony Mitchell -- each of whom was listed as a four this week by the majority of teams with which I spoke. (Conversely, Kentucky's Nerlens Noel got tabbed a future NBA center by most, which is why he's not on the Board this week but certainly will be with the centers in two weeks.)

As we've talked about before, the downsizing of the NBA game makes the need to create mismatches a near imperative. Carmelo Anthony, for example, has to play the four for the Knicks to be their most effective offensively because of the major problems foes have matching defenders to him. When defenses have to scramble and double Anthony as a result, that, in turn, creates opportunities for other Knicks behind the 3-point line.

In the end, though, it really doesn't matter. Saric, Leslie, Thomas and Mitchell are going to play both forward positions, depending on who drafts them and those teams' depth charts. So let's leave them be. (Another player I'm leaving alone is Syracuse's C.J. Fair, whom I mistakenly said two weeks ago was entering the Draft. Fair is staying for his senior season at Syracuse. I apologize.)

As you know, in the past, we never included any underclassmen on our Draft boards until they officially declared. But most of the "one-and-done" players and other early entries are almost always well known well before they declare. So now we list those underclassmen that most NBA scouts and personnel people believe will enter the Draft. (We know for sure now that the April 28 deadline for underclassmen to declare has passed.)

We are now up to power forward rankings, after going through point guards (March 25), two guards (April 8) and small forwards (April 22). After today we just have the centers, who will be ranked on Monday, May 20 -- the day before the Lottery. By then, we'll be well into the individual workouts and will have just completed the Chicago pre-Draft combine, which runs from May 15-19. (After Chicago, we will update the Board with official heights and weights, and add player wingspans as measured there. For now, player heights and weights are from their schools or teams.)



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.

• "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" are players who are not certain to declare, but are viewed as potentially draftable if they do -- with an emphasis on "potentially."

All measurements are the official ones available after the Chicago pre-Draft combine. Measurements for players who did not attend the pre-Draft camp are from their respective university or team.

David Aldridge's Big Board: Power Forwards
Rank Name School/Team Class/Age Height & Weight Wingspan Likely drafted
1 Anthony Bennett UNLV Freshman 6-8, 240 N/A High lottery
2 Cody Zeller Indiana Sophomore 7-0 ¼, 230 6-10 ¾ Late lottery/mid-first
3 Mason Plumlee Duke Senior 7-0 ½, 238 6-11 Mid-first
4 Kelly Olynyk Gonzaga Junior 7-0, 234 6-9 ¾ Mid/late first
5 Richard Howell N.C. State Senior 6-7 ½, 250 6-10 ¼ Second round
6 Erik Murphy Florida Senior 6-9 ½, 240 6-10 ½ Second round
7 Kenny Kadji Miami Senior 6-10, 242 7-3 Second round
8 Jack Cooley Notre Dame Senior 6-9, 246 N/A Second round
9 Ryan Kelly Duke Senior 6-11 ¾, 228 6-11 ½ Second round
10 Brandon Davies BYU Senior 6-10 ¼, 242 7-1 ½½ Second round
NOTE: Power forward rankings updated as of 6/24/13
UPDATE (6/24/13): Forward Norvell Pelle, from Los Angeles College Prep Academy, pulled out of the Draft last week. He was a longshot to be taken in the second round.
SLEEPERS: Marko Todorovic, 20, 6-11, FC Barcelona Regal (Spain); Jackie Carmichael, 6-9, 241, 7-1 ½ , Illinois St.
SOME SCOUTS LIKE: Grant Jerrett (FR), Arizona, 6-10 ¼ , 232, 7-2; Norvell Pelle, Los Angeles College Prep Academy, 20, 6-10 ½, 207, 7-2 ½


Bennett's potential has scouts salivating

In a year where there are a lot of maybes, UNLV's freshman power forward Anthony Bennett is as close to a certainty as you will get -- and that's among the reasons why Bennett is almost certain to be a top-four pick in June.

The 20-year-old Canadian was the Mountain West Freshman of the Year, averaging 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in 27.1 minutes a game. He posted 12 double-doubles for UNLV, which made the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season (and lost in the first round for the fourth straight time). Bennett's not as big as most other power forward prospects, but he's more consistently productive than just about all of them. He finished in the top 25 nationally in Player Efficiency Rating while drawing comparisons with another undersized four from UNLV's recent past that had NBA success -- Larry Johnson. Johnson was a junior with an NCAA championship under his belt when he came out. Bennett doesn't have those credentials. But he's got great potential.

Anthony Bennett averaged 16.1 ppg for UNLV and led it to an NCAA Tournament berth as well.

"He's a beast on the boards," a Southwest Division personnel man said. "He can't guard threes, though; he will have to guard fours. He'll be able to score on the post and trail to shoot threes ... it would be good for him the first year to come off the bench and develop that way instead of being the man. He's a phenomenal teammate. He's serious. He does his work. He's still young, but you have to take him. He's one of the safest guys to take in the draft. You'll feel good about him going into the summer league. You'll be like, 'We're all right.'"

Bennett is aided by long arms that help him do work inside against bigger opponents. And he plays exceptionally hard. Add a deft shooting touch for a man his size (he shot a more than respectable 38 percent from 3-point range), and Bennett could become a prototypical modern-day four in the NBA: capable of scoring from all over the floor, but with the quickness and length to cause a lot of teams matchup problems.

"He's a little bit undersized, but he's got long, long arms," a Northwest Division scout said. "He can score in many ways. He can go inside or outside. He got hurt toward the end of the season so he didn't finish that strong. I like him some, but the more I watch some of these other guys, I like him more ... guys like him, they've been in the league, guys like David West. He can go outside and play with his back to the basket. [But] undersized guys just scare the hell out of me."

Bennett is seen as a power forward prospect with room to grow in the NBA.

One veteran scout believes Bennett will not be more than 6-foot-6 ½ when he's measured in Chicago. That's dangerous territory for a power forward, even one with Bennett's potential.

Another concern is Bennett's history of injuries. He was sidelined for long stretches in his last two seasons at Finlay (Nev.) Prep, and suffered back and shoulder injuries at UNLV. Indeed, his shoulder -- which some NBA teams think was just tendinitis, though others aren't sure -- and an asthma diagnosis are still issues that will have to be assuaged by NBA team doctors when they examine him before the Draft. Bennett's numbers in the Mountain West also leveled off after a hot start.

But most teams believe Bennett's best days are in front of him. They believe he will become a more dominant player as he matures and gets into NBA shape.

"He's going to figure it out, because he's got the scoring piece and he can really shoot the ball," a veteran personnel man said. "... It was just really, really hard to get a look. Was it asthma related? Was it the system? Was it the coach trying to keep him in school? The question is not whether he'll be a good NBA player. I think he'll be a top 9 or 10, serviceable pick. The question is whether he's going to be an All-Star level player. You never really got a full look at him, because the other guys dominated the ball. When you did get a look at him, he was pretty damn good."

Okur-like Olynyk turns into solid prospect

NBA Combine: Kelly Olynyk

Gonzaga junior Kelly Olynyk had a checkered three seasons in Washington state, but the last one made him a consensus first-team all-America selection, and a likely Lottery pick.

Also Canadian like Bennett, Olynyk clashed with Gonzaga's coaches his first two seasons, who wanted him to develop his inside game -- while Olynyk still thought himself a guard, which he was until a late growth spurt brought him to his current height. Stuck behind power forward Elias Harris and center Robert Sacre (who was taken last year in the second round by the Lakers), Olynyk was planning to transfer, and Gonzaga was planning to let him.

But cooler heads prevailed. Olynyk took the unusual step of redshirting after his sophomore season -- which was Sacre's senior season -- to work on his body and his game. After Sacre left for the NBA, Olynyk became Gonzaga's starting center, and he made the most of the opportunity.

The 22-year-old was third in the nation last season in field goal-percentage, shooting 62.9 percent, and was first in the country in Player Efficiency Rating (36.57). He led Gonzaga to a 16-0 mark in the West Coast Conference and a storybook 31-2 overall record, giving the Bulldogs a top seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Gonzaga lost in the third round to Wichita State, an upset that, in retrospect, doesn't look so bad with the Shockers' run to the Final Four.

In the interim, Olynyk -- who has already graduated -- became a cult sensation in college, with his long hairstyle belying an increasingly sophisticated game. Olynyk displayed an ability to score in the post and on the perimeter.

"He's really good, really skilled," said a coach whose team played Gonzaga last season. "He'll be a power forward in certain occasions, small forward in others. He shoots it. For his size he doesn't rebound [he averaged 7.3 rpg to go with his 17.8 ppg]; he's really a 4/3. He can handle it, can post. He's a someday starter. He's really good. He's the one guy in the WCC that is a no-brainer pro."

In other years, some scouts believe, Olynyk would probably go lower in the first round. But in a Draft where so few proven players are there, one with Olynyk's size is going to go early.

"I'd love to take him at the right number, and that's late first early second," a Pacific Division personnel man said. "He's skilled. He passes extremely well. A big man who can pass can be extremely valuable. I wonder if he will be able to rebound at the next level. He's a bit of an enigma. His game is at an even pace, and he's not going to panic. You're not going to see him get the jitters where he's trying to score six points in one shot. "

One veteran scout compares Olynyk with Mehmet Okur, the Turkish big who played several effective seasons for the Pistons and Jazz before injuries curtailed his career.

The rangy and long-limbed Olynyk could be an effective NBA defender as well.

"He's not as good a shooter, but he can hit the trail three," the scout said. "He had the No. 1 PER in the NCAA. Would it be that way at Georgetown? It would be good, because he's crafty with the ball. He knows how to score in the post. Likes physical contact. A team taking him in the top 15, you're going to walk away and say you've got a rotation player. In this draft, you're looking at safe picks."

In that regard, many -- not all -- teams have Olynyk rated ahead of Indiana's Cody Zeller.

Olynyk "has a little bit more of a defined position," a Southeast Division executive said. "He's a little more sturdy, steady, ready to go. He's a face up guy, back to the basket stuff. Played on the [Canadian] national team that went to Turkey [for the FIBA World Championships in 2010]. He blossomed. All of a sudden, stuff started making sense to him. When you get away from a place that knows you well, you try stuff that you would never try at home."

But not everyone is convinced. Some scouts think Olynyk still has a lot of work to do on his body, and that while he is a decent post defender he will have trouble defending stretch fours on the perimeter because of a lack of lateral movement.

There is also the issue of the three-game suspension Olynyk received early this past season for an unspecified violation of the university's conduct code. He returned and had no further disciplinary issues, but that suspension will have to be explained in more detail to NBA teams.

"I can't get over the fact that here's a guy that, they didn't play him," an Atlantic Division executive said. "And the argument was he was behind some pretty good players. But if you're that good, to be considered a Lottery pick, something was really wrong. Either the coaches didn't have a grasp of it, which I find hard to believe, or there was something else going on ... I'm leery of him a little bit."

Zeller still an upper-crust option despite stock dip

For much of the season, Zeller was projected as a high Lottery pick, considered by many to be the best running big man in college basketball. But Zeller's stock has slipped a little in the last month or so, despite being named a second-team all-American.

He had a nightmare game against Syracuse in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, making just three of 10 shots as Syracuse's big men took turns blocking Zeller any time he tried to drive through the Orange's zone. It left a few NBA types wondering if he could score consistently in the paint in the pros when the game becomes a halfcourt affair.

Draft Combine: Cody Zeller

"I really like him, and I still do like him," an Eastern Conference general manager said. "But I can see where his stock has fallen. He's a hell of a complementary player. If he's your third big, fourth big down the line, you've got a real good complementary player. But we're talking about a lottery pick, right?"

The 20-year-old Zeller, who was eighth nationally in PER (30.93) last season, has more than his share of fans, too.

"He's not a savior, not a star," another Eastern Conference executive said. "But if you look at supply and demand, and players that are 6-10, 7-foot, and internationally, there aren't that many of them. He grades out pretty well. He doesn't have great hands or great length, but at this stage, as a second-year player, we like him."

Said a Northwest Division scout: "What he's good at is if he gets the ball 10 feet from the basket, turns and faces. Now he can beat them off the dribble either way. I think he's a better face-the-basket player than back-to-the-basket player."

Another veteran scout was also intrigued by Zeller.

"He can pick and pop," the scout said. "He's never going to be a star. He makes free throws, he can run like the wind. He's a good player. Wherever he goes, you're going to get a good player. I think he can be a starter, if he's your fourth or fifth best player, depending on the other three or four, he's good enough. He can start. Now, maybe not tomorrow, but in a couple of years? Maybe."

Zeller will have to show he is at least familiar with the NBA 3-point line; he only attempted two threes all season for the Hoosiers.

"Can he go outside?," a Pacific Division executive asked. "There's a guy who, he's not a five. He's going to have to play four. And they never did play him on the perimeter. Even though in warmups he shot it from the outside, I never saw it [in a game]. I'm not sure he's as good as his brother [Cavaliers rookie Tyler Zeller], to be honest. He might be in the long run, but right now, he really scares me. He's got good footwork but I'm really afraid of him ... he can't go up over guys and finish, and he's always off balance."

But if a college player with a similar style -- like the Pacers' Tyler Hansbrough -- can find a home in the NBA by playing hard and running the floor, so can Zeller.

"There's not a whole lot sexy about this kid," one executive said. "Just meat-and-potatoes basketball. He's going to rebound in position, but he's not an animal. He's a solid rotation guy. If he's your starter you either have a hell of a team around him or you're not very good."

After those top three prospects, there is a significant drop in expected NBA production.

Hustling Plumlee has his detractors

Duke's Mason Plumlee was, like Zeller, a second-team all-America selection, finishing 16th nationally in rebounds (9.9 per game). The first-team all-ACC selection, who led the ACC in win shares (6.9), according to, and led the conference in defensive rebounds. He also shot almost 60 percent. Plumlee helped lead the Blue Devils to the Elite Eight before they were beaten by eventual national champion Louisville. And like all Duke players, his effort will never be a question.

But how productive of a pro will Plumlee will be?

"He'll play in the NBA," a Central Division personnel man said. "But I don't like him that much."

Others are more favorable.

"I like him because of his energy and athleticism," one veteran scout said. "He plays hard. He's gotten better each year. I don't know how much of an upside he has, but at least you know what you're getting."

Plumlee may be able to defend stretch fours. But scouts don't know if Plumlee is big enough to handle things inside in the pros. By NBA standards, Plumlee is small in the hips and waist, where players have to have heft to anchor themselves in the post and not get moved around. (Think Rick Mahorn, with his, um, substantial gluteus maximus.) And Plumlee doesn't shoot it well enough outside to be a stretch four himself.

"He's a hard-working kind of guy," one veteran personnel man said. "He doesn't shy from contact. The thing about him is he'll be in our league, but I don't get excited about him. In my opinion, I've never seen a four-year player come through Duke's program in recent memory that makes as many mental mistakes as he does, time in and time out. Can you expect him to be a rotation player? I don't see him as a starter. I see him as a guy you're going to put in a game to fill in a gap."

Howell looking a lot like Millsap

N.C. State's Richard Howell fills many gaps, at 257 pounds. And if there's one skill that consistently transfers from college to the NBA, it's rebounding. That's exactly what the Wolfpack senior did better than almost anyone last season, finishing fifth in the country with 10.9 rebounds a game. He and Plumlee were among four players tied nationally for sixth in double-doubles, with 18. While Leslie may have gotten a lot more ink, Howell won a lot of fans among NBA personnel types.

"He could be a Paul Millsap type coming out of college," said one scout, referring to the Jazz forward who led the nation in rebounding at Louisiana Tech three straight years before being drafted by Utah in the second round in 2006. And Millsap has kept right on rebounding in the NBA, averaging seven boards a game in seven seasons.

"I wouldn't say he's a [Kenneth] Faried, because he doesn't have the athleticism Kenny does," the scout said of Howell. "We all look for that one NBA skill, and Richard Howell has that skill of rebounding the ball. If you can rebound in college you'll rebound in the pros."

Notes on the rest of the crop ...

• Florida's Erik Murphy also has an unmistakable skill -- he can shoot, and that makes him a pro prospect, likely to go sometime in the second round. Murphy made a Southeastern Conference-leading 45 percent of his 3-pointers last season for the Gators, finishing second in the SEC in win shares (6.1) and offensive rating (124.6).

The NBA has many guys with Murphy's pedigree: the Knicks' Steve Novak, the Spurs' Matt Bonner (also an ex-Gator) and the Pelicans' Ryan Anderson. A team with a legit low-post option could certainly use Murphy's 3-point consistency.

"People are looking for stretch fours, and that's what he is," one scout said. "He can really shoot the ball. If you look at [Duke's Ryan] Kelly and Murphy, I think Murphy can guard fours better than Kelly can. And they're about equal in terms of shooting."

• Miami's Kenny Kadji, an ex-teammate of Murphy's at Florida before transferring to South Beach in 2010, also has 3-point skills, shooting 35 percent from there last season. Scouts compare him with the Suns' Channing Frye, a 2005 first-round pick of the Knicks who missed this season after being diagnosed with an enlarged heart. Kadji's pick-and-pop skills were on display throughout his senior season, when he was named a second-team all-ACC selection.

"If he impresses in the workouts, look out," one personnel man said. "That's what he does. Is he lights out? He's not Kyle Korver. He tries to post up and add that to his game, but he shoots the ball. That's what he does. Pick-and-pop, face the floor. His junior year they beat Duke at Duke and he impacted that game [with four 3-pointers in the Hurricanes' 78-74 win]."

But the French-born Cameroon native will need to convince NBA teams they should take a chance on someone who will turn 25 on May 19.

"Kadji's older, and someone will have to love him," one Southeast exec said. "What's hitting everybody now is that nobody wants to pay for a guy to develop. You put him in the [NBA)]D-League, he's still on the roster. A kid like Kadji, it might be in his best interest not to get drafted, so he can line up with the right team."

• Scouts aren't sure what Notre Dame's Jack Cooley will be able to do offensively in the pros, but they know he'll hit the glass. He led the Big East in rebounds per game and was 13th nationally in rebounding at 10.1, tying for fourth in the country in double doubles (19) and shooting 57 percent. "He's a great rebounder for his position," one scout said.

• Duke's Ryan Kelly missed 13 games last season with an injury to his right foot. He will miss individual workouts with NBA teams after undergoing surgery on the foot last month, which will sideline him another eight weeks. But NBA scouts saw more than enough from the senior during his abbreviated season to make him a true stretch four prospect. Limited to 23 games, Kelly shot 42 percent on threes. And his high basketball IQ will get him a look somewhere.

• BYU's Brandon Davies has made a full comeback from being dismissed from the team in 2011 for violating the school's honor code (Davies admitted having premarital sex with his girlfriend). Reinstated later that year, Davies has been solid the last two seasons, including a senior season when he averaged 17.7 ppg and 8.0 rpg for the Cougars, finishing 29th in the country in PER (27.65) and earning all-West Coast Conference team honors.

• Montenegro native Marko Todorovic could be a late first-round surprise after entering the Draft. The 20-year-old played last season for Barcelona Regal in Spain, his third season in the Spanish basketball system. The 6-foot-11 forward has become one of those prospects that intrigues NBA teams even though he's not currently a star on his current team.

"He doesn't get a lot of minutes because they're one of the best teams in Europe," one scout who's seen Todorovic this season said. "He's got a talent, got a skill. He's got good footwork. He really understands how to play. He's got a skill set where he can bring something over here now. If he stays in, someone will definitely take him. He's a guy who could go late first, and if he makes the second somebody will take him quick and put him somewhere where he can play."

Said an Atlantic Division personnel man: "He's a skilled kid. Good body. I think he's got a pretty good IQ. The big thing with him is athleticism. He's not a [Bismack] Biyombo, [Serge] Ibaka-type athlete ... the American pace of the game, can he adjust to it? He will be able to, but at what level, and what will that allow him to be as a player?"

• Illinois State's Jackie Carmichael has been one of the best rebounders in college basketball the last two seasons (he averaged 9.3 boards last season and had 15 double-doubles), and his skill defending the post makes him a legit sleeper prospect.

• A longer long shot is Arizona freshman Grant Jerrett, who could be a second-round pick as a potential developmental prospect, who would likely see very little NBA action next season even if he's taken by an NBA team.

• The same outcome is likely for Norvel Pelle, a 20-year-old forward who has not been able to stick anywhere for very long during a years-long odyssey. He went to three high schools in four years before college, and then committed to St. John's, but decommitted early in 2011 when he was declared academically ineligible for the first half of the 2011 season. After he decommitted from St. John's he went to three different prep schools over two years. He then committed to Iona last summer, but never made it to campus and never played a minute for the Gaels.

Pelle spent this season at Los Angeles College Prep Academy, and declared for the NBA Draft. He took part in a workout over the weekend for NBA prospects in California that drew a few pro birddogs, including Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak. Whether that will lead to a Draft night selection is still an iffy proposition. There are way too many unknowns, even though Pelle's been working on his body in L.A.

"He looks like a good athlete that doesn't know what he's doing on the court," one scout said. "It all depends on if somebody likes him in the [individual] workouts, unless he gets in the Brooklyn workout or the Minnesota workout [pre-Draft get-togethers for likely second-rounders and/or summer free agents], which is where he should be going."