After yet another year-long sabbatical from the world of freelance blogging, I think it’s time to dust off the old fingertips and talk some basketball for the first time since discussing last year’s NBA draft prospects. Hell, the 2012 draft is just a handful of days away; why not pick up where we left off?
Basketball fans have spent the past two months gushing over the annual war zone that is the NBA playoffs, which concluded on LeBron James’ terms last night. Miami’s 2012 title run is something we won’t forget, as it was perhaps the turning point in “The King’s” career and indisputably the certification he so desperately needed in order to knock on the door of public acceptance. However, the time to discuss all of that ended around lunch time. Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless and Mark Cuban verbalized virtually everything that one could possibly say on the matter during this mornings “First Take” episode on ESPN2. The season is over, and let’s be honest, there’s only so much you can say about LeBron’s journey before the “Brett Favre effect” sets in.
Now, it’s time to dive into what will be the primary topic of discussion throughout the next week – the NBA draft.
After the New Orleans
Hornets Angels(?) get the ball rolling with their unanimously anticipated selection of Anthony Davis with the first pick in this year’s draft, the majority will shift their focus to the top names featured on various mock drafts throughout the internet. You’ve got Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson and a plethora of other prospects that everybody consistently talks about when breaking down talent in the 2012 NBA Draft.
As history has shown, however, there are no guarantees. Just because a guy is projected to be the second coming of Shawn Kemp, it doesn’t mean he isn’t in fact the next Stromile Swift after all. Likewise, not every late-first round or second-round pick proves his critics correct. Every year, there are major flops as well as diamonds in the rough. Don’t act like you don’t chuckle a bit when you look through the history of the NBA draft and stumble upon names like Rafael Araujo at eighth overall, nor can you hide from the fact that you shake your head every time you look at the 2001 draft and see names like Tony Parker and Zach Randolph being taken later than junior college prodigy Kedrick Brown (11th overall). What kind of sorry excuse for a general manager was running that team?!
Alright, that last example may have contained a small personal vendetta. Moving on…
The point is, you never know. Plenty of key contributors are slept on in each and every draft pool. Guys like Gilbert Arenas, Carlos Boozer and Manu Ginobili prove the value that second round picks can have, and to a lesser extent, even names like Paul Millsap and Mo Williams. Four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace was undrafted, for Christ’s sake.
This year is no different. Let’s take a look at some potential sleepers in Thursday night’s upcoming draft.
Through good health, mark my words, Quincy Miller will be the steal of the 2012 NBA Draft. People seem to have forgotten that he was unanimously considered a top five prospect coming out of high school, before a December 2010 ACL tear had increased doubt regarding his professional prospects. Even so, he was constantly talked up as a lottery pick throughout his freshman season at Baylor. Now, for some reason, he appears to be pegged as a mid-to-late first round pick on nearly every mock draft you can find.
All I know is this: if Miller isn’t taken in the lottery, there will be a large group of general managers drinking away the pain five years from now. The kid can play. Any time you have a long 6’10” athlete with ball skills and a motor, you’ve got something worth investing in. But a long 6’10” athlete with ball skills, a motor and natural scoring instincts from the block to the three-point line? What’s not to like? Miller has some maturing to do both physically and mentally, like any 19-year-old does, but he’s got the natural gifts that scream “game changer” and “mismatch nightmare” at the next level.
Additionally, they say it takes most athletes at least one full year removed from an ACL injury before he starts to regain his abilities and confidence. It has now been a year and a half for Miller, which suggests that his 37-game NCAA sample-size was not indicative of the kind of player he’ll be next time he hits the hardwood. To play devil’s advocate with myself, who am I to say he isn’t the next Jonathan Bender when it’s all said and done? Only time will tell, but the NBA draft is all about taking chances. I’ll take my chances with Miller.
The biggest topic of discussion surrounding White throughout the draft process is not his basketball skills or character, but rather his anxiety disorder that severely impedes his willingness to fly on an airplane. It’s so serious, in fact, that rumors suggest that some teams could use that as their deciding factor on whether or not they would draft him. I don’t care about that. If White can’t move past those demons, he was never fit to make it in the first place. Let’s just assume he will one day get over it and accept the fact that if he wants to make a living on the basketball court, he doesn’t have much of a choice.
All anxieties aside, there’s a lot to like about White from a basketball standpoint. The number one thing that jumps out at you is his versatility. Outside of LeBron James, there aren’t many 6’8” guys carrying around a 260-pound frame that can lead a fast break with the ability to handle and pass the ball like a guard. While he’s not much of a jump shooter, he can also do a lot of damage in the halfcourt setting with his ability to both drive and create from the high-post and finish in post-up situations. In addition to that, he’s not afraid to throw his weight around in the paint and bang with the trees on the glass. He might even give you some bumps and bruises.
He still has plenty of questions to answer, mostly centered around the consistency in his effort, defense (especially on the perimeter) and character, but he possesses a skill set and feel for the game that reminds a lot of people of Anthony Mason.
Some people get scared off by seniors in the draft, NBA executives included. The argument is “why would I draft a 23-year-old who I believe has reached his peak as opposed to taking this 20-year-old that has the upside to be twice the player in a few years?” Hey, that can be justified. That’s the beauty of NBA draft, a lot of it comes down to a gamble.
But what if that 20-year-old doesn’t actually put in the time or turn out as good as you thought? Looking back, you might wish you took that NBA-ready senior who could have fit into your rotation right away. A few years from now, don’t be surprised if Kim English is one of those guys that GMs wish they had taken instead of the boom or bust prospect that just so happened to bust.
English will never blow you away with freakish athleticism or the numbers he puts up in the box score every night, but he’ll bring a lot to the table. The 6’6” senior has all the qualities of a consummate NBA role player. He’s a true professional with a strong work ethic, a high basketball IQ, a beautiful jump shot that falls with regularity, defensive tenacity and the knack to make the right play. Very rarely will you find him dancing with the ball or throwing up “hero” shots. If his shot isn’t there, he will keep the ball moving without hesitation and more often than not, he’ll dish it to the right spot. English also brings all the intangibles a coach could ask for. He’s competitive, he’ll dive to the floor for a loose ball, he’s got a great attitude and his teammates love him.
As far as comparisons go, think Calbert Cheaney meets Arron Afflalo.
If Green were about three or four inches taller, I’d be calling him a potential All-Star candidate at some point in his career. Due to his size, however, he is a bit of a tweener and that raises a lot of questions. Standing just a tad under 6’6” without shoes on, he might have a difficult time against taller and longer opponents at the four-spot. He has the wingspan, strength and motor to bang with the big boys, but does he have the size and leaping ability? Subsequently, he will have a lot of trouble staying with most small forwards on the defensive end at the NBA level. He’s got the height of a three, the gerth of a four and doesn’t possess the athleticism or lateral quickness to make up for it.
But make no mistake about it, Draymond Green is a player. He’s got an outstanding feel for the game, a high basketball IQ and strong rebounding ability to go along with a dynamic set of offensive skills. Much like Royce White, he can put the ball on the floor and is a magnificent passer for a guy of any size, except Green can shoot it a heck of a lot better. He can score inside, outside and from mid-range.
The thing that really sells me on Green, though, is natural intangibles that you simply cannot teach. This guy is tough as nails and a born leader with a contagious attitude. As Green said himself in a pre-draft interview, the one word to describe himself is “winner.” Small forward, power forward… it doesn’t matter. He’ll probably play a little bit of both. While his flaws won’t disappear overnight, I have a hard time believing he won’t be a productive ballplayer at any level of basketball.
He doesn’t look the part, but he can play it.
You have point guards, you have two-guards and then you have utility guards. Guys that can’t run your offense, but give you some minutes at the one. Maybe he can’t defend two-guards full-time either, but he’s dynamite off the ball and can give you instant offense and an extra ball handler to take the pressure off. Guys like Leandro Barbosa, Jason Terry, Delonte West and so on. You can’t classify them as point guards or shooting guards; all you know is that they are productive guards that can bring a lot of different things to the table.
Doron Lamb isn’t an explosive athlete with a giant wingspan nor is he a prolific one-on-one scorer, but he can really shoot the rock and he does a lot of other things well. You can’t give him an inch of space, he can shoot it efficiently off the dribble and in spot-up situations, he plays hard, he works defensively and when he gets hot, he can really fill it up for you in a short amount of time.
If Lamb slips into the second round, he’ll be an absolute steal. Expect him to be ready to step into a role off the bench right away.
Most of the guys discussed above are skilled players with limited athletic ability (excluding Quincy Miller, of course). Will Barton doesn’t raise many red flags from an athletic standpoint. He’s a good athlete that can run the floor and get off his feet, and he conveniently has a freakish 6’10” wingspan to accompany those physical gifts.
He can put the ball in the basket, too. Barton is very aggressive off the dribble, where he likes to get to the rim and create for himself and teammates. He doesn’t have the most consistent outside shot at this point, but he has a terrific mid-range game and finishes above the rim. Naturally, he is also dynamite in transition. He’s got the speed, floor game and scoring instincts to make a lot of things happen with the ball in his hands.
Though he can make plays offensively, he is arguably more intriguing on the defensive end. His quickness and length are outstanding tools on the perimeter, and he seems to have the anticipation skills to put his defensive potential over the top. He can move his feet to stay in front and his tremendous length really helps him make a lot of deflections and force some turnovers and tough shots. As his 8.0 RPG average suggests, Barton also gives you an extra rebounder from the wing.
Barton has a long way to go in the weight room and he’s going to have to put some time into that jumper if he wants to stretch the defense, but with time and effort, he has a chance to be a two-way game changer down the line.
Throughout Oklahoma City’s 2012 playoff run, one of the things that was constantly addressed on a number of broadcasts was the impact of Nick Collison off the bench. He’s not going to score many points, showcase a complete low-post repertoire or even grab the average basketball fan’s attention very often when he’s on the floor. But he does all the dirty work. He rebounds, sets good screens, makes timely defensive rotations, limits his mistakes, plays within himself and always plays hard.
Every team needs a big man like that on their team. Miles Plumlee can be somewhat of a seven-foot Nick Collison, in terms of impact. There are differences in the two physically, with the advantage going to Plumlee, who surprised everybody at the 2012 NBA Draft Combine. Not only did he measure out at just about 7’0” in shoes at 252 lbs., he also displayed a 40.5” vertical leap and above average mobility for a guy his size. Put that together with his high basketball IQ, he has a chance to add a dimension that a lot of teams don’t have – an aggressive, agile center off the bench.
He doesn’t have much of a post game, nor is he an intimidating shot blocker, but he can clean up the glass and make sound rotations to force the opposing offense to make other decisions. I think whoever drafts him will be getting a quality role player off the bench, and that’s generally difficult to find in a center late in the draft.
Honorable Mentions: Jeff Taylor (Vanderbilt), Darius Miller (Kentucky), John Jenkins (Vanderbilt)
Don’t sleep, general managers, because sleep is the cousin of death.