Lauri Markkanen, other power forward prospects reflect new age of big men
Thornton Mellon: In response to Roman numeral … section three, part two…of subset D…of the question… the answer is…
Professor Barbay (stunned): Right.
— “Back to School,” 1986
In today’s NBA, the answer is also four.
What ballhandling position separates good offensive teams from great ones, and great ones from lethal ones? Four.
How can a team play small and still defend every position on the floor, despite seeming mismatches down low? Four.
What position, whether in screen-and-roll action or parked in the corner, becomes nearly impossible to keep from scoring with the spacing available in today’s game, with the rules the way they are and the point guards as dynamic as they are? Four.
So if you’re going to get anything done in the NBA these days, you better have a legit four. Draymond Green is the gold standard at the position now — capable of spotting up and shooting 3-pointers, playmaking, getting switched on guards and keeping them out of the paint, snuffing fools at the rim — and everyone is in search of a similar unicorn.
It probably does not exist in one package anywhere else. But there are a lot of fours in this Draft who can provide a little of everything — elite shooting, scoring, defense, rebounding — and who could help teams right away and down the road. There is an international flavor to this class, too, including players born here that lived somewhere else, and players from somewhere else who went to college here.
ICYMI, here are the other evaluations:
And so you can mark your calendars, the NBA’s Draft Lottery is on May 16.
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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.
We include underclassmen that are expected to declare for the Draft, or are at least thinking strongly about it. No one who hasn’t thought about declaring is going to be swayed by seeing his name on a Draft board. So we include everyone.
Players are listed at the position at which NBA people believe they’ll play as pros.
For example: when I originally did the small forward Big Board, I thought that Syracuse forward Tyler Lydon was more likely to play the three in the pros. But most scouts and team execs with whom I’ve subsequently spoken have strongly said they believe that Lydon will, at least for now, have to play more power forward than small forward. So I took him off of the small forward Big Board (with everyone originally behind him moving up a spot, and Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu moving into the number 10 spot) and put Lydon on the power forward Big Board.
Players who declare for the Draft have until May 24 — 10 days of the end of the NBA Combine, which was from May 9-14 in Chicago — to pull out of the Draft as long as they don’t sign with an agent. This rule was instituted last year to give players more time to make a more informed decision about their potential Draft status after talking with and working out for NBA teams at the Combine.
Again: This is not a mock Draft (though one of those is, sadly, coming). No one has any idea what will happen between now and June 24; we don’t know if there will be a major injury that will impact what a team wants or needs. What follows is a rough consensus of what NBA personnel people, GMs and coaches, and college coaches that I trust — and that, obviously, can’t be quoted by name — believe is the pro potential for this year’s crop of college and international players.
• “Sleepers” are players almost certain to go in the second round, or may go undrafted, but who could nonetheless make a roster or otherwise have an impact on the teams that select them if they overcome perceived shortcomings.
• “Some Scouts Like” will refer to players whose intentions are not yet known for certain, but who are viewed as potentially draftable if they do. Emphasis on “potentially.”
• If a player was not invited to the Combine, his height and weight is his listed one from his school and/or his pro team if he’s an international prospect.
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David Aldridge’s Big Board 2017: Power Forwards
Rank | Name | School/Team | Class/Age | HT | WT > Projected
1. Lauri Markkanen | Arizona | Freshman | 7-0 | 230 > Mid Lottery
2. Zach Collins | Gonzaga | Freshman | 6-10 | 232 > Late Lottery
3. John Collins | Wake Forest | Sophomore | 6-9 | 225 > Mid-first round
4. Isaiah Hartenstein | Zalgiris | 19 | 6-11 | 249 > Mid/late first round
5. Ivan Rabb | California | Sophomore | 6-10 | 219 > Mid/late first round
6. TJ Leaf | UCLA | Freshman | 6-9 | 222 > Mid/late first round
7. Harry Giles | Duke | Freshman | 6-10 | 232 > Late first round
8. Tyler Lydon | Syracuse | Sophomore | 6-9 | 215 > Late first round/Early second round
9. Johnathan Motley | Baylor | Junior | 6-8 | 238 > Late first round/Early second round
10. Jordan Bell | Oregon | Junior | 6-8 | 223 > Late first round/Early second round
SLEEPERS: Kyle Kuzma (JR), 6-9, 222, Utah; Jonah Bolden (21), 6-10, 216, FMP Radnicki; Alec Peters, 6-8, 232, Valparaiso; Alpha Kaba (20), 6-10, Mega Leks; Tim Kempton, 6-10, 245, Lehigh
SOME SCOUTS LIKE: D.J Wilson (JR), 6-10, 234, Michigan; Cam Oliver (JR), 6-8, 238, Nevada
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Markkanen’s shooting touch entices
It would be grossly unfair and incorrect to compare Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen to the New York Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis because they share some physical characteristics. The 7-footer from Jyvaskyla, Finland is not “The Unicorn” yet, and he may never be. But he is the best power forward prospect in this Draft, with shooting ability that is rare in anyone his size.
Markkanen was a first team all-Pac 12 selection in his one season at Arizona, and also made the conference’s; all freshman team. He was fifth nationally in Offensive Rating (134.1), per sports-reference.com, ninth nationally in Offensive Win Shares (4.9) and tied for 11th in total Win Shares (6.7). And he shot better than 42 percent on 3-pointers for the Wildcats, leading Arizona to the Sweet 16 before it fell to Xavier.
There hasn’t been a steady flow of NBA players from Finland — only Hanno Mottola, a second-round pick by the Atlanta Hawks out of Utah who played in Atlanta from 2000-02, has made it to the NBA out of that country thus far. Lauri Markkanen, whose father, Pekka, played at Kansas in the late 1980s, will be the next.
Markkanen is a classic modern stretch four. The ball comes out of his hand easily no matter the distance, and he’s comfortable along all parts of the college 3-point line. He was a capable scorer for Arizona, going for 20 points or more nine times this season, and posted six double-doubles, including a 26-point, 13-rebound effort in a win at Washington in February. At 230 pounds, he’s also capable of handling at least some banging in the paint without wilting, and he shoots it exceptionally well from the foul line as well (83.5 percent). His skill set, and work ethic — Pekka found a diary that showed Lauri shot the ball four and a half hours a day at times as a child growing up — makes him a talent who won’t get out of the Lottery.
“I think he’s going to be able to play both positions (power forward and center), and he can play with his back to the basket,” a Pacific Division college personnel man said of Markkanen. “And he can face. And he can stretch. I think he’s more of a modern day 4/5, or 5/4. I look at him more as a five, just because the league isn’t as big as it used to be. Certainly, he’ll be able to play four, and most people have him as a four, and I think he probably wants to be a four. I think he’s going to be able to play both positions once he gets physically stronger.”
Markkanen is more an area and opportunity rebounder (7.2 boards per game) than someone who powers his way to the glass and through opponents. He’s shown quick enough feet to be capable of guarding the pick and roll in college, but it’s not something you’d want him to get a steady diet of in the pros. He will no doubt be isolated by opponents who will try to isolate him on point guards.
“He’s definitely a terrific shooter. At his size and his age, to be able to shoot the ball the way he does, how it looks and what the stats tell you, it all lines up.”
Southeast Division executive, on Lauri Markkanen
“From a weakness standpoint, I think just the speed of the game … I think it’s great that he’s playing at Arizona, which is a guard-oriented program,” the Pacific personnel man said. “So I think he’s got a step up on some similar kids that are 6-10 and 6-11, seven foot, that aren’t great athletes, that really get shocked by the pace of the game. He’ll still have to adjust to that.”
A Southeast Division executive, while noting of Markkanen, “I don’t think he’s a home run for sure,” acknowledged that the Finn nonetheless could be a significant impact player.
“He’s definitely a terrific shooter,” the exec said. “At his size and his age, to be able to shoot the ball the way he does, how it looks and what the stats tell you, it all lines up. He’s suited for our league, no doubt, with what he brings offensively. But he doesn’t rebound at a high level, he doesn’t protect the rim and he’s not really all that mobile. He’s going to have to be a Ryan Anderson-type shooter.”
After Markkanen, a pair of Collinses, not related, will be considered by NBA types.
Zach Collins, the freshman from Gonzaga, and John Collins, the sophomore from Wake Forest, have different games, but both have NBA skills.
Gonzaga’s Collins must get stronger
Zach Collins was expecting to play more in Washington state this season; he was a McDonald’s All-American as a senior in high school after winning three straight state championships, and was a prominent recruit for Mark Few at Gonzaga. But when the Bulldogs’ incumbent center, Przemek Karnowski, came back for his senior season, Collins had to take a reduced role off the bench. He only averaged 17 minutes a game for Gonzaga, but he was extremely efficient and effective in that limited time.
“It’s a small sample size, but he’s really talented,” a Northwest Division executive says. “He’s young, got a little mean streak to him. He can face up and score. Somebody’s going to get a good player.”
He was fourth in the country in True Shooting Percentage, at .703, and he shot it well no matter the circumstances — 65.4 percent during the regular season, 64.3 percent in the West Coast Conference Tournament and 64.5 percent in the NCAA Tournament, as Gonzaga reached its first national championship game. Collins made major contributions for Gonzaga during the tournament, with a double-double in the national semifinal victory over South Carolina. And despite the limited run overall, Collins was a second-team all-WCC selection and made the conference’s all-freshman team.
“Tough dude, mean as a rattlesnake,” said a college coach whose team played Gonzaga this season. “He’ll be like (Bill) Laimbeer.”
And despite never starting a game in college, Collins could well be taken in the top half of the first round, taken for potential down the road with his combination of youth, length and size more than what he may provide immediately.
“As evidenced by the NCAA Tournament, he gets physically knocked around. He’s got to really work on lower and upper body strength. That will come with age.”
Western Conference scouting director, on Zach Collins
“Ideally, if he had gone back to school, he might be able to come in a little more ready,” a Pacific Division executive said. “I don’t know that he’s ready to contribute. People are going to draft him on his upside. He’s got some length. He doesn’t seem afraid. He’s got good hands and got some fundamentals. I think he’ll be able to, in today’s game, I think he’ll be a center. He’s a four, but in today’s game, with all these small ball lineups, (he can play center) when he fills out a little bit. I didn’t see him shoot a lot of jumpers. His game is still developing. If he has that in him, now his value probably goes up even more.”
Collins will have to get much stronger, though, at the next level. He got pushed around on more than one occasion and his inability to hold the post defensively led to frequent foul trouble — he fouled out of seven games for Gonzaga. That included the national title game against North Carolina, when his foul difficulties kept him benched on a night when he had nine points and seven rebounds in just 14 minutes, while Karnowski struggled mightily.
“The biggest thing with Zach — he has no strength,” a Western Conference scouting director said. “As evidenced by the NCAA Tournament, he gets physically knocked around. He’s got to really work on lower and upper body strength. That will come with age. When I look at him, he looks really young.
“But you could see he has a good IQ and he knows what to do, but sometimes he’s not allowed to do it because of a lack of strength … if it turns out that (Collins) has pretty good confidence, from playing at a big-time school, and it’s mostly physical, I think he’ll be better than John Collins. But if not, I could see him more like (Washington Wizards reserve) Jason Smith.”
Wake Forest’s Collins a rebounding maven
John Collins wasn’t on anyone’s radar Draft-wise when the college basketball season started, having put up pedestrian numbers in limited minutes in his freshman year at Wake Forest. But given a prominent role this season by Demon Deacons coach Danny Manning, Collins erupted as an NBA prospect.
He nearly averaged a double-double for Wake, at 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds in nearly 27 minutes a game, but he was lethal across the board, showing a quick second jump that is crucial to rebounding in the NBA and a knack for the offensive glass.
He led the nation in Player Efficiency Rating, at 35.9. He shot 62 percent from the floor, ranking 13th in the country. He was 16th nationally in Effective Field Goal percentage (.622), and was 17th both in Offensive Rating (129.9) and in Offensive Win Shares (4.6). And, he shot almost 75 percent from the foul line.
Someone who comes, relatively, out of nowhere to become a legit Lottery possibility in one offseason has put a lot of work in, and John Collins thus gets high marks from NBA types.
“I’m watching him practice; I was down there (at Wake) for a couple of days,” a veteran scout said, “and based on those practices in mid-October, you wouldn’t have even written him up … he certainly came on by Christmas and once they got solidly into the conference season everybody was like, ‘we have to circle back and see this kid.’ Because he can shoot the basketball … in our league now, you’ve got to be able to score. If you can’t score, but you’re a great defender, it’s hard to get on the floor.”
Collins was a force the second half of ACC play, scoring 20 or more points in 12 straight games, with double-doubles against Syracuse (23 points, 12 rebounds), Boston College (26 and 16), Georgia Tech (20 and 11), Notre Dame (24 and 14), Clemson (29 and 10), Duke (31 and 15), Pittsburgh (22 and 13) and Louisville (25 and 11). Wake made the NCAA Tournament after losing in the second round of the ACC tournament to Virginia Tech, and even though the Deacons lost in their NCAA opener to Kansas State, Collins made an impact with 26 points and nine rebounds.
“He just makes baskets,” an approving Northwest Division executive said. “He really does. And he can rebound. He doesn’t do anything else. He may have 10 assists this year (actually, 17, which is still … awful). He doesn’t dribble. He doesn’t block shots. But he can score over his left shoulder. One day down the road, I think he can stretch the floor and make threes — kind of what (Al) Horford does now.”
It’s just a guess at this point, because Collins only attempted one 3-pointer in his two seasons at Wake.
“If he can continue to stretch the floor,” the veteran scout said of Collins, “and continue to improve his shot to where he can consistently hit a 17 to 19 foot jump shot, and eventually go out farther, to our line, which I think (he can do). He’s improved, easily, 55 ,60 percent, which is exceptional. He must have internal fortitude and must have a real high IQ and a real desire to be a really good basketball player. If you asked anybody going into December 1 in this league, no one — no one — had John Collins being where they have him now. No one did.”
So … which Collins is better?
And some folks are still not quite sure which Collins they’d pick.
“I would lean more toward Zach, but it’s close,” one Eastern Conference evaluator said. “Zach has a little more two-way potential. I don’t think John is as good a defender. John’s more physically ready but it’s only a matter of time before Zach is ready. John is built to play in the paint, but Zach can face the basket now and he’ll show some back to the basket as he physically matures.”
Scouts looking for consistency from Hartenstein
Earlier this year, 19-year-old Isaiah Hartenstein was thought of as a potential high Lottery pick. He’s dropped a little since then, but the international four (he was actually born in Oregon before moving to Germany when he was 11) is still a solid bet to go in the first round after playing for Zalgiris in the Lithuanian League this season. He played 24 games for Zalgiris, starting six, and averaged 5 points and 3.9 rebounds, shooting 48 percent from the floor.
Hartenstein played for the German national team in the Under 16 and Under 18 FIBA tournaments, but being raised in the States as a kid, he’ll likely have less adjusting to do when he returns. But he’ll have to show NBA folks a little more than he did when he played for the World Select Team at the Nike Hoop Summit last month.
“He was okay,” a veteran scout said. “He had moments where you kind of sat up in your seat. He wasn’t as consistent as everybody wanted — okay, you gave me that flash, now give me five or six plays in a row. He’s strong. He’s big. He’s got a little pop to him. But I don’t trust his shot at all — his rotation is really (messed) up. His Euro numbers say he rebounded really well, but I just wanted him to be more frenetic. I think he fancies himself as a perimeter guy. Kind of a mobile four — I can handle it a little bit, which he can, and I can face and shoot a little bit, which he can. But you say, man, with that body, you should do more damage inside.”
Scouts wonder if Hartenstein will be able to adjust to the speed of the NBA game — not just the lateral quickness everyone needs to defend. And he’ll need to display more shooting range than he did with Zalgiris, where he made less than 30 percent of his 3-pointers. Part of that must be attributed to his relative lack of playing time, to be fair. But it’s still a question he’ll have to answer in workouts.
“I saw him in Toronto (at the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp during All-Star Weekend) last year,” one veteran scout said. “He’s not bad. Pretty assertive. I think he needs some time. But I like some of the things he can do. A lot of the Europeans, some of the guys seem afraid. I’ve been impressed with that on him, that he’s been pretty solid. Decent enough athlete. I figure he goes in the 20s somewhere.”
Rabb has look of potential Draft steal
California forward Ivan Rabb surprised many last year when he decided to return for his sophomore season in college, while fellow freshman Jaylen Brown went to the NBA and was picked No. 3 overall by the Boston Celtics. As kids are often chastised for leaving school too soon, it’s hard to penalize Rabb for wanting to get better and improve his game.
Rabb followed up a solid first year with a solid second one, averaging a double-double (14 points, 10.5 rebounds) for the Bears. But he and the team finished the year in a tailspin, as Cal fell apart down the stretch, losing six of its last nine games, and missed the NCAAs, going out in the first round of the NIT.
And Rabb missed the NIT game as well, with a previously undisclosed foot injury. The foot is calmed down now.
Rabb was a first team all-Pac 12 selection and finished 12th in the country in rebounds. Scouts think he may have to play some center as well in the pros, as he is only starting to extend his range (20 3-point attempts this season). Rabb is still a big, athletic guy who may not have been utilized as well as he could have been, and didn’t have the caliber of teammates he had a year earlier.
“I think he knows how to play a little bit,” one veteran scout said. “I think he can be on the second unit (on an NBA team), play with other good players. People were all over him when he was in high school — the best junior in the country. I never thought that then, and I don’t see it now. Some guys just get that kind of favor and that kind of hype.”
Rabb had several strong moments early in the season, including monster 17-point, 20-rebound game against UCLA in January, and 25 and 13 against Stanford. But he still will likely drop a few spots this year compared with where he may have been taken in last year’s Draft. Someone could thus get a player with bigger upside than normal later in the first.
“Obviously I don’t think he’s helped himself necessarily,” one scout said. “I worry about his balance; he’s got very small feet. He’s got some physical things going on that make it difficult for him to have good balance. The way he moves, his gait, that’s a concern to me.”
Scoring never an issue for UCLA’s Leaf
UCLA freshman T.J. Leaf played off of fellow frosh Lonzo Ball to great effect in their one season together in Westwood. Like Ball, Leaf was a no-doubt one and done player, declaring for the Draft after being named first team all-Pac 12 (along with Ball) for a Bruins team that was in the top five for five weeks and reached the Sweet 16.
Leaf, according to sports-reference.com, was eighth nationally in Effective Field Goal percentage (.652), 15th in field goal percentage (.617), 16th in Offensive Rating (1306) and 19th in True Shooting Percentage (.660). His is an offensive appeal — “T.J. can’t guard anybody,” one scout said — but this is an offensive league now, so someone who led his team in scoring and rebounding and shot almost 47 percent on 3-pointers is going to get a good, hard look.
“He’s probably smart to come out right now before he starts really getting picked apart,” a Western Conference executive said. “He’s not a special athlete or anything. I see him as a backup, coming off the bench, and he evolves into kind of a stretch four with your backup group. I don’t know if he has as much bounce as David Lee had coming out. He’s sneaky every now and then, I guess. I thought David Lee was a little more explosive.”
Some who saw Leaf in college believe he has more defensive potential than he showed.
“He probably should have gone to Arizona,” said one college coach whose team played UCLA this season. (Leaf had originally committed to Arizona before reopening his recruitment and picking the Bruins.) “Sean (Miller, the Wildcats’ coach) would have made him defend to play. UCLA kind of did him a disservice defensively. But it was probably a tradeoff to give a chance to showcase what he can do on offense. He’s much tougher than he looks.”
Restoring Giles’ confidence key
There are more questions than answers at the moment about Duke freshman Harry Giles, who was among the top prospects in the country in high school. But Giles tore both his right and left ACLs while in high school (along with the MCL in his left knee), and his one year in college was marred by yet another surgery, an arthroscopy on his left knee last October.
Giles didn’t get back on the court until just before Christmas after the last operation, and what he showed in his 26 games for Duke was that he still has a ways to go to regain the dominance he showed pre-injury. Whether Duke held him back to get him through the season, or he wasn’t able to handle more minutes, Giles only played in 20 or more minutes once. And he was never a major part of the Blue Devils’ rotation.
None of that means Giles doesn’t have a chance in the NBA, or that he definitely will not get picked in the first round. He would seem a natural choice, for example, for a team that has multiple first-round picks and can take him knowing it may be a while for him to truly come back into form.
“He has no confidence,” said a source who watched Giles play frequently this season. “He needs to go where there is no pressure on him and try and regain his confidence.”
Giles should get more than a little credit for getting back on the floor at all after all the injuries. But they seem to have understandably, taken their toll; it’s not hard to see how someone could lose trust in their body and need time to regain their mental confidence as well as physical.
“He played conservative compared to high school,” another source said. “He handled the ball more often and plays for himself and others” in high school. (Take a look for yourself.)
Some of the physical questions can start to be answered in Chicago, if Giles comes and allows teams’ doctors to take a good look at him. It will go a long way to knowing exactly where he is and what the prospects for a long pro career really are.
“It’s obviously a concern,” one scout said. “We’re all concerned. How healthy is he? Where is he as far as his recovery? Is he 100 percent. Is he 82 percent? Where is he? He played (26) games and he didn’t look good. I know what his reputation was coming into school. I’d have to say, quite obviously, by the time March rolled around he was at, it can’t be more than 60 percent … if I look at his numbers, it’s like one of the stocks I bought. It’s flatlined.”
A note on Tyler Lydon …
As noted two weeks ago, Lydon was fifth in the ACC in rebounding (8.6 per game) and sixth in blocked shots (1.4), while also shooting almost 40 percent on 3-pointers. Syracuse barely missed getting into the NCAA Tournament, but Lydon could still get into the first round. And, as noted above, since more people now seem to think his NBA future is at the four rather than the three, he’s now listed as a power forward; he played the three early in the season for the Orange, but ultimately went to the four most of the time down the stretch.
(And part of that reasoning, as ever, is uncertainty about how well a Syracuse guy will do once he’s out of the protective cocoon of Jim Boeheim’s matchup zone and has to guard people in space in the NBA. So, Lydon’s a four for now.)
Talented Motley ‘a little wild at times’
Baylor’s Johnathan Motley was a top-20 rebounder nationally as a junior (9.9 boards per game), and finished 13th in offensive rebound percentage (13.2). The 6-foot-10, 230-pounder earned first-team all-Big 12 honors.
But Motley is recovering from a torn meniscus suffered in the Bears’ last game of the season — their Sweet 16 loss to South Carolina — that will have to be thoroughly vetted both for length and potential long-term impact (can it be repaired, which usually takes longer to recover from initially but is better for long-term health, or will he decide to have the meniscus shaved — which normally gets you back on the court quicker but, ultimately, often leads to bone-on-bone arthritic conditions?).
“He’s a little wild at times,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “I’m kind of on the fence. I want to talk to him a little bit, study him a little more. I’ve seen him be good and I’ve seen him be a little erratic.”
Bell has look of solid NBA role player
Oregon’s Jordan Bell jumped in for the Ducks after all-Pac 12 defensive team selection Chris Boucher was lost for the season with an injury just before the NCAA Tournament. Bell took over at center for Oregon and didn’t miss a beat.
The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Bell was Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year and all defensive team himself, fourth in the country in Defensive Win Shares and 10th in Defensive Rating, as well as being second Team all-Pac 12.
Bell was spectacular, averaging 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 3 blocks a game during the Ducks’ run to the Final Four. He seemed to be everywhere on the floor for Oregon defensively, including an astounding eight blocks against Kansas in Oregon’s Elite Eight win. All of that further endeared him to some NBA folks, who think a guy who was also efficient at the offensive end (20th nationally in True Shooting Percentage at .658) deserves a shot.
“Bell grew on me a little bit in the tournament,” one scout said. “I watched in the summer at the Nike camp last summer. Nothing spectacular. But there’s something to be said for a kid that’s going to play hard, defend, rebound. I think he’s a guy, I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody took him late in the first, a good team, as a role player, or if he went in the second round, (and could) be in the right place, he could be a solid role player.”
Said another scout of Bell: “he’s a bit undersized, but he’s a man. He’s strong, lower body and upper body. Plays with an edge of roughness and physicality. Protects the rim for a guy that small. Physical enough to guard a backup center. There will be matchups where he’s just too small. But his relentlessness will endear himself to somebody.”
And some notes on the others …
• Jonah Bolden played at UCLA in the 2015-16 season, but the 21-year-old Australian-born big man, who’d had issues qualifying before coming, gave up his last two seasons of college eligibility after that one year and played in Serbia for FMP. The 6-foot-10 Bolden averaged 12.7 points and 6 rebounds for FMP, which brought former Baylor player Isaiah Austin over during the season to back up Bolden.
And a few NBA folks are intrigued by Bolden, saying he’s more productive and aggressive than he showed in college, and looks like a different player now — someone that could go earlier than people who aren’t paying attention may think.
“That’s a kid I think people are kind of missing on,” a Western Conference executive said. “I’ve watched him intently. Serbian basketball has really taken a hit from a financial standpoint. They’re not playing in front of 20,000 people. But he’s accepted his environment. It can be a harsh place for minorities — not from a racial type thing.
“It’s just a real different environment. It’s a big city, but it’s a slum city. People don’t smile much. Older people don’t smile because they don’t have anything. The young people think what they see on TV is what comes out of America. It puts a lot of pressure on a kid who’s different from what they think. They’re on a shoestring budget, and he’s produced.”
Said a Southwest Division executive: “he’s off the radar now and starting to gain interest … watched him live in game and practice in Belgrade — he’s a slasher and runner — plays inside and out and shoots the three with ease. He’s improved.”
• Seton Hall junior Angel Delgado led the nation in rebounding average (13 per game), was first in offensive rebounds (166), second in total rebounds (430 and tied for seventh in offensive rebound percentage (16.5), earning unanimous first team all-Big East honors, and breaking the conference record for rebounding average in a season, grabbing 14.1 per game in conference play, besting the previous mark of 14 set by Pittsburgh’s Jerome Lane in 1986-87.
In case you didn’t figure it out, Delgado’s thing is rebounding. And rebounding is one of those traits that tends to translate from the college game to the pros; Paul Millsap caught many people’s eyes, and was eventually taken in the second round in 2006 by Utah, after becoming the first player in NCAA history to lead the nation three straight years in rebounding, at Louisiana Tech.
Delgado has gotten after it on the glass throughout his career at Hall; he averaged 9.8 rebounds as a freshman, winning Big East Rookie of the Year honors. Playing for the Dominican Republic at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, Delgado had 15 points and 6 rebounds against the host country, whose team featured first overall pick Anthony Bennett and current Brooklyn Nets forward Andrew Nicholson in its frontcourt.
“He played against men and here he is as a 19-, 20-year-old kid,” said an NBA birddog, who was there. “And he never backed down. He battled. He rebounded.”
And this year, Delgado really worked on his conditioning, slimming down noticeably as he bought in fully to what Coach Fred Hill demanded. He was second in the Big East in field goal percentage (.543) and free throw attempts, getting to the line almost six times a game. Now, he only shot 56 percent from the line, and that’s a problem. But a guy as active as he was drawing fouls helps his team.
“His body’s phenomenal,” said one college coach whose team played Seton Hall this year. “The biggest question mark is going to be how is he going to score? He’s a below the rim player. He can shoot out to about 15 feet but not much further than that. He can guard a four.”
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