Wednesday, June 27, 2007

NBA Draft Preview: Lottery Prospects; Oden v Durant Part Deux

We're gonna do this the same way we did this last year--Instead of a mock, we decided to just rank the players. This is not the order I see them being picked, this is just the order I feel that they should be ranked by talent & potential. In this draft, the first 2 picks are locked in, but after that the draft starts to get more intriguing. With the usual swirl of trade winds brewing, a team's needs can shift quickly & certain players start to freefall if they're not the right fit. Below we rank the draftees 1 thru 14.

1) Greg Oden (Ohio St) 7-0 C--Physical force with huge soft mitts, and has a frame that can probably handle 285 lbs. without losing any speed. Great athlete for his size. Absolute eraser on the defensive end--whatever team drafts him, guarantee their Def FG% immediately tumbles down. Will challenge Dwight Howard for rebound supremacy for years to come. Like Dwight, Greg's offensive game is still somewhat raw right now. Really just consists of dunks & a little hook shot he shoots from his side. But like Dwight, he can still be pretty successful offensively because of his freakish physical tools. But definitely will need to work on his post moves if he ever wants to be close to as dominant as Shaq was offensively. Hall-o-Fame potential.

2) Kevin Durant (Texas) 6-10 SF--Most dynamic offensive player in this draft, and the best offensive draftee since the '03 draft trio. Really can do everything you want on the offensive end: 3pt. range, hits pull-ups everywhere, variety of post moves, great ball-handler for his size, & good passing ability. Great rebounder to boot, especially for a pure SF. One knock on him right now is his body & strength, definitely could use some extra girth, but not too concerned since he's primarily a SF. Defense is a little bit of a question mark, and might have trouble holding position if asked to defend 4s. Like Oden, potential Hall-o-Famer.

3) Mike Conley (Ohio St) 6-1 PG--Born to play point. Like the comparisons to Parker: very adept finisher, uses floater well, shot over 50% this year, but his main flaw is his poor outside shooting. Will have to improve his jumper like Parker to prevent defenses from sagging off. Think Conley might be a better distributor in the pros than Parker. Tremendous handle, has the ball on a string which makes him very shifty & tough to contain. Plays passing lanes very well, and has the markings of a solid defender. Had to give him a slight nudge above Horford because he's a PG, and good PGs are a harder commodity to come by.

4) Al Horford (Florida) 6-10 PF--Ready to step-in & contribute right away. NBA body with underrated athleticism. Great all-around defender, who will not be phased stepping out the perimeter to handle pick/rolls. Think he can handle guarding a lot of centers when needed, thanks to his strength. Solid offensive player, but nothing spectacular. Uses drop steps well, but still could use some more refinement in his post moves. Don't know if he will ever be a mid-20s ppg scorer, but think he could a nice second scoring option, possibly cracking 20ppg. Underrated interior passer. Needs to work on his free throw shooting.

5) Jeff Green (G'Town) 6-9 SF--Multi-talented player who can shoot, handle the ball, good passer, & has a nifty post game. Smart floor game paired with good athleticism. Steadily improved his shooting to where he's pretty solid. Capable defender, who's strong enough to defend some 4s at the next level. Measured out well & can play the 4 when needed. Gets bashed too much for underwhelming semifinal game, but people have to realize he played in a very structured offense that does not really call for the player to take over individually; if there is anyone to blame, blame Coach Thompson for not making adjustments.

6) Joakim Noah (Florida) 7-0 PF/C--Not sure why this kid is taking so much flak---he's a proven winner who constantly hustles. Very good passer, and passes off the move well, which is rare among 7-footers. Good rebounder, and a very active defender who should be able to handle pick/rolls well. Ugly outside shot that needs to be overhauled & it transfers over to subpar free throw shooting. Likes to finish with his left hand. Runs the floor very well. Needs to add a little bit more weight. Turned the ball over a little too much this year. Don't expect him to ever be anything special of an offensive player.

7) Brandan Wright (UNC) 6-10 PF--Long, lanky athlete who has a nice touch around the basket. It's just when he gets outside of 8 feet, his touch seems to suddenly desert him & is evident in his poor foul shooting. Questionable rebounder. Were his numbers affected by being alongside a rugged rebounder in Hansbrough? Not sure, it's a possibility. No idea how he will hold position on the block offensively or defensively. Some people compare him to Bosh, but Bosh was 225 coming in after his freshman year, Wright is only 200 lbs. That's is something to be concerned about. Does have enticing potential, though. Gets off the floor extremely quick.

8) Nick Young (USC) 6-6 SG--Best pure 2-guard in the draft. Great athlete who finishes well with both hands. Probably the best mid-range game of any player in the draft. Uses a nifty turnaround fadeaway to create space for himself. Nice shooting touch & shot the ball great this year. Solid ball-handler, which helps his mid-range game. Needs to improve his passing skills. Has shown the ability to be a solid rebounder for a 2-guard (averaged 6.6 rpg last year).

9) Corey Brewer (Florida) 6-8 SF--His defense is his calling card--can be excellent wing defender in the mold of Tayshaun. Expect to see Corey assigned to PGs on certain occasions as well. Great activity on the defensive end. Offensively, nothing special right now. Does slash all the way to the rim well, but nothing special of a shooter. Some people are under the misconception he's a good shooter because they just started paying attention to the NCAAs during the Final 4 weekend. Has a hitch in his release that needs to be tweaked, has never shown the ability to shoot off the dribble or coming off of screens either. Pretty solid passer, but sometimes gets out of control with his dribble. Some people compare him to Josh Howard, but Howard was a better rebounder in college. Maybe Brewer's rebound numbers are skewed because he played next to Noah & Horford. A possibility. Needs to start pounding the whey protein immediately.

10) Julian Wright (Kansas) 6-8 SF--Explosive athlete with great length for a projected SF. Very strong finisher, can use both hands. Hits glass well for a SF. Excellent passer for guy his size, you could run offense thru him in a point-forward role. Underrated footwork in the post & will be able to take other SFs down on the block. His biggest flaw is his shooting. Right now, he's the guy the defense will have no qualms of helping off of. Has the potential to be a versatile defender you can throw on 2s, 3s & 4s. The main question facing Julian--is he just a tweener? Not sure, but his passing ability does provide some hope he can prosper on the perimeter. Most importantly, he just has to work diligently on improving his jumper.

11) Yi Jianlian (China) 7-0 PF--Don't know how comfortable I feel putting him here, but have to give some credit for his skill set at his size. Let's just say I'm in the camp that is not too confident about Yi's NBA prospects. Not saying I think he will be a bust, but not feeling an All-Star caliber talent either. The handful of World Championship games I watched, Jianlian just left me unimpressed. He just seemed to disappear out on the court & you would not even realize he was out there. Not a good sign. His athleticism for his size is impressive, and he did use it occasionally to finish strong. But this talk that he compares to Dirk are way off-base. Anytime a 7-footer can hit 20-footers, they are automatically compared to Dirk. But what's key to Dirk's game is his ability to pull-up off the dribble from anywhere 25 feet & in. From the few games I've seen of Yi, he's never shown the footwork or ball-handling ability that Dirk has to be able to hit pull-ups from anywhere. He was just nothing special in the Worlds. Right now he seems to be creeping up the boards more for his off-court appeal. Which I really can't blame teams for considering.

12) Tiago Splitter (Tau Ceramica/Brazil) 6-11 PF/C--On sheer talent alone, Tiago is lottery material; not sure much separates him from Noah. It's just his contract situation is holding him back. Earliest he can come over is next summer, and that might not be even a sure deal because his Spanish team, Tau, could play hardball to keep him since they will be possibly losing his frontcourt partner, Scola, next summer. Good athlete with a NBA-ready body. Tough interior defender who's not afraid to be physical. Solid rebounder. Has plenty of big-game experience playing in the highest level of Int'l ball. Been a key cog on one of the best teams in Europe that reached the Euroleague Final 4 two years in a row. Had a very good World Champs where he outplayed frontcourt partner Andy Varejao last summer. But somewhat like Varejao, his offensive game is limited right now.

13) Rudy Fernandez (Spain) 6-6 SG--Just like Splitter, a lotto talent but has some contract issues as well. Very good athlete who is a potent finisher. Loves to run the floor. Very good outside shooter. Solid passer off the move as well. Has proven himself at highest level outside the NBA. Rudy was the 3rd best scorer in the toughest domestic league in Europe, finishing just behind L. Scola & Juan Navarro. Also, was 2nd in the league in steals just behind teenage phenom, Ricky Rubio. Was a key contributor on Spain's World Champ squad last summer where he shot the ball great & provided great energy off the bench, especially in the Semi vs. Argentina. Biggest drawback is his skinny frame--needs to start gorging on the paella, pronto.

14) Acie Law (Texas A & M)--Tough competitor who wants the ball in hands in crunchtime. Might be more of a 2-guard than a point, but the NBA seems to be kinder to combo or scoring points these days. Some people comparing him to Cassell, which I think is apt (their college numbers match up well), but also has shades of Van Exel in his game. Measured out better than expected & actually has the same standing reach as Crittenton. Shot the 3-ball really well this year, but was only 32% from deep thru is first 3 years. So not ready to call him a deadeye just yet, but he's seems adequate enough. Able to create shots for himself at the college level, but will it transfer to the next level since he's not an amazing athlete.

Continue: our breakdown of draft prospects 15-25



Some last pre-draft thoughts as I'm still recovering from reading John Hollinger's absolutely first-rate piece on evaluating college players, which was downright exhilirating to read.

A couple days ago, I briefly chronicled why Kevin Durant was making me think harder than I ever thought I'd have to about the No. 1 pick.

I just wanted to follow up with a few quotes:
Kevin Durant in SLAM:
    "I think I have a winning mentality. Even though I'm young, I can bring leadership to an organization. I'm just cold-blooded. I really don't care. Whoever's in front of me, I'm going to do my best to destroy them."
Kevin Durant in ESPN The Magazine:
    "I've been training to be a franchise player since I was 9.... I wasn't training just to make an NBA team, though. I don't want to be a role player. I want to be the guy a team depends on."
Portland GM Kevin Pritchard, on Chad Ford's Daily Dish:
    "Kevin Durant, we classify him as a little bit of a predator. When he steps on the court, it is about showing the world that he is the best player.
From David Halberstam's Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made:
    And his own teammate Luc Longley, asked by a television reporter for a one-word description of Jordan, said simply, "predator."
All of these are just words, so I don't want to get carried away, and I certainly wasn't trying to compare Durant to Jordan overall - what I was trying to get at was this:

In the Oden v Durant blurb I wrote a couple days ago, I alluded to the fact that Durant is the X-factor - if you think he's a Jordan-Kobe type guy, he obviously goes 1; if you think he's a T-Mac or a Carmelo, he goes 2.

The more I read and discover about Durant, the more I think his mindset falls under the Jordan-Kobe category -- that he is single-minded about trying to become the best basketball player on Earth. Couple that with his skill set -- and Hollinger placing him off the charts based on his stats as well-- and I'm starting to believe that Durant leans more toward the Jordan-Kobe camp.

Still, I... just... can't... pull the trigger. The visions of Oden controlling the entire game on the defensive end just won't leave my head. He is too rare of a commodity.



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