Looking at the potential player pool for the 2011 NBA Draft, I find it intriguingly similar to 2006. That class was extremely difficult to project because there was no consensus hierarchy even minutes before the draft started.
Brandon Roy dropped to sixth overall despite some very serious consideration far earlier and Rudy Gay, a projected top-two when his sophomore season began, fell to eighth overall. Rajon Rondo and Marcus Williams fell into the twenties, one for good reason and the other for Tubby Smith reasons.
I don’t expect a hierarchy to crystallize with this class either, partially because of how the caliber of talent is fairly level, but also because two of its projected top-five players, Kyrie Irving and Enes Kanter, either sat out their entire freshman season or nearly their entire freshman season. There isn't an automatic franchise player this year, but there will be more really good role players and ten-year starters than it might seem initially.
The following mock takes team into consideration, but is still heavily based on slot projection at this point. My annual player-specific reports that go into far greater detail are forthcoming in the coming weeks as I begin to transcribe my notes.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke
Irving is a smooth, confident and cerebral point guard, who understands the nuance of the game and has excellent all-around ability. He is an inventive shotmaker near the bucket despite lacking supreme explosion. Without question he has plus athleticism, but he is not a physical freak in the way Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Rajon Rondo are physical freaks. For that reason, he has far more in common with points guards of the early 1990s like Kevin Johnson and Tim Hardaway.
He is very shifty with the dribble laterally, knifing through lanes in a zig-zag. Irving has great touch with floaters near the bucket and he also profiles to become an excellent mid-range jump shooter.
Defensively, his heart doesn’t seem to be in it the way he becomes electric with the ball in his hands and the culture of the team he is drafted by will largely shape the type of player he becomes on that end of the floor. He has all the tools, however, to be an above average defender.
It is unfortunate on multiple levels that Irving lost the majority of his freshman season due to injury, but he is the type of player a team can feel confident in drafting first overall despite a small body of work.
2. Sacramento Kings: Derrick Williams, PF, Arizona
Williams defies the eye a little bit because it is sometimes hard to believe he is as efficient as he is with his inside/outside scoring. But he is incredibly strong with the ball and imposes his will upon defenders while maintaining excellent control of his body. He is as crafty of a shot creator as we’ll see at his age. He’ll finish in a multitude of ways in the paint, all of which translate to the NBA. Most notably, Williams has a way he finishes with his left hand that is extraordinarily unique and has to be seen in multiple instances to appreciate properly.
His three-point shooting has been very interesting to follow this season as it has remained patently absurd at 60.3%. It is beyond the realm of normal possibility that it becomes almost dubious, but I’m buying into it. I’m not sure how far his range will sustain itself, but there is a purity to his jumper with consistent of movement and good arc. It is also clear Williams puts full trust into it.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves: Enes Kanter, PF, Kentucky
Even worse than Irving’s situation, Kanter was ruled ineligible before even stepping on the floor for an actual game for Kentucky. Losing an entire season of game action is a difficult ordeal for any teenager regardless of how advanced he is as the most skilled big in the draft class.
At this point, I’m going mostly off the jaw-dropping performance in the Nike Hoop Summit a year ago and the hope that he is continuing to build upon his excellent foundation with Kentucky in practice. The workouts are critical for Kanter to sustain his current stock.
4. Washington Wizards: Harrison Barnes, SF, North Carolina
The issue I have had with Barnes this season has been almost exclusively mental. He does so many things well and is a smooth, pure basketball player but has been too soft for long stretches. The best way to describe his game is that is sometimes lacks soul. He is a natural ballplayer and has plus athleticism (not elite however), so the game sometimes appears to be coming too easy for him and he doesn’t impose his will upon the opponent. His clutch play during the final stretch of the season has allowed him to climb back up to the top-five from outside the top-10 where I had him a few weeks ago. I do so with reservations and that my expectations for his career have been tempered as a very good complementary starter rather than the franchise player he appeared to be on the verge of becoming out of high school. He is still capable of becoming an All-Star, but it would require an almost seismic shift in demeanor.
As a team-specific sidenote, Barnes is the ideal high IQ player the Wizards need to begin acquiring to surround John Wall, especially if they are serious about the Oklahoma City model.
5. Toronto Raptors: Perry Jones, PF, Baylor
In a draft with several enigmas, Jones will likely remain the most polarizing through its culmination. He unquestionably plays the game like a guard despite his length and age. In terms of pure skill and upside, he arguably has more of both than any of the four players I have slated ahead of him, but scouts are justified in questioning his aptitude in putting it altogether.
He has a handle that allows him to create off the dribble, which complements a good-looking jumper and a post game that features a little jump hook that should become his go-to unguardable move. He is a Rorschach test type of player, even depending on your mood at the time when you sit down to watch him. There are times where you see All-Star and others where you shake your head and say he’ll barely make it past his rookie contract; this is the burden and level of risk in these types of players.
6. Utah Jazz (from New Jersey): Jan Vesely, SF, Partizan
Vesely is one of the absolute best athletes in this class, particularly because it is so functional and will translate extremely well in the NBA. He reminds me a little bit of Julius Erving with some of his one-handed dunks, even though it is a sacrilegious comparison point. He plays with a fearlessness in the air that is impossible not to like especially with his high energy and high emotion.
He has encouraging mechanics on his perimeter shot that I believe can eventually be excellent if he reps it to death. Some of his misses from distance are really bad, often when he is unable to set his feet. This seems to be a mental block. Vesely also has an encouraging post game that will offset his slashing.
7. Detroit Pistons: Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky
I see Knight as a definite NBA starter, even if he is better suited to backup a lower minute veteran during his first season or two. He has a lot of NBA style moves and has a lot of intelligence for the game off the dribble. As I alluded to in my 68 Players To Watch article, this is my fourth year running where I am over the top high on a ball-dominant John Calipari guard. The point guard position has always been my favorite, so I’m predisposed to prefer that position over others, but I also am harder on those players I see as not being true to the position. Even though Knight has enough other skills to not be a true point guard, I see him as embodying the position and it is manifest for me especially with how he gets the outlet off defensive rebounds to trigger the transition game.
He doesn’t have Derrick Rose’s shot creation, Tyreke Evans’ physicality off the dribble or John Wall’s preternatural passing ability, but he has a bit of each of those guys in his game.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (from Clippers): Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State
Sullinger, like Irving and Barnes, is a very intelligent and polished player that almost certainly will have a productive NBA career. You can tell he’s the son of a coach with the way he plays and has all of the fundamentals you’d expect. Even though he has a good array of moves, he uses his size and pure skill to score out of the post more than any advanced moves that would work against above average NBA defenders. The college game has come easy to him and he will need to transform his body to become more explosive if he is going to reach any type of similar success in the NBA. I like him as a prospect and realize this is the probable low-end of his slot potential, but I feel his limited upside makes this part of the top-10 more appropriate for what teams should look for in prospects in the top-five.
9. Milwaukee Bucks: Nikola Mirotic, PF, Real Madrid
Mirotic is a tremendous finesse scorer, but he has a good physicality and athleticism that lets him remain comfortable chopping it up. He has a pure form with his perimeter jumper that will let Mirotic stretch defenses with his size and also be a pick-and-pop threat. But he also can score inside and in the post, even sometimes off the dribble.
10. Charlotte Bobcats: Bismack Biyombo, PF, Baloncesto Fuenlabrada
Biyombo unquestionably represents a humongous risk since he is so young and raw, but he has the capability to become the best player from this class if we look five or six seasons down the road. He doesn’t have a post game and is used almost exclusively in the pick-and-roll, but his physical profile is outstanding and he does things naturally at the age of 18 that are exceptionally rare.
He’s of course very new to the ACB, but he has played some intriguing minutes due to the way he uses his natural gifts at the rim on offense and as a shotblocker on defense. Biyombo uses his length to full effect, which I don’t typically see from a player his age and of his experience level. He has good natural instincts for where to be on the floor.
The expectation of this pick is that he will go to a system that develops players well since he is so far from being ready for meaningful NBA minutes. But you simply can’t teach that combination of size, athleticism and ability.
11. Indiana Pacers: Donatas Motiejunas, PF, Benetton Treviso
This is the third straight draft where Motiejunas has been around in the lottery at this stage in the draft process, which is a relative rarity these days. He continues to show marked improvement each time I see him play over the years. He has always been skilled offensively and he has improved physically from where he was this time last year.
12. Golden State Warriors: Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Diego State
Leonard’s NBA future is clearly as an exceptionally gifted rebounder where he can use that man amongst boys athleticism to maximum impact. His defense is another area where he is predisposed to be above average because of his athleticism, but his play has been a mixed bag for me. Leonard’s understanding of positioning needs improvement, as he too often loses his man in help defense. He also needs to increase his commitment level before he reaches his defensive ceiling.
Offensively, he is an obvious candidate to be a slasher depending on the system. Leonard doesn’t have a reliable perimeter shot, but he has a nice little turnaround out of the post that leads me to believe he can develop some mid-range ability. He is really athletic with the dribble and can create his own jumper at will and also get into the lane, so it is easy to project the potential of him being a fourth option on offense to supplement the way he fills up a box sheet.
13. Houston Rockets: Kemba Walker, PG, Connecticut
Walker is probably the most closely scrutinized prospect in the draft since he has so prominently been on radars for three seasons and plays near Bristol. The question for me in projecting his NBA future is determining his role. He’s not good enough to warrant his high usage in college, so do you try to make him a starting point guard while limiting the things he does so well, or do you think of him as a super-sub scorer? His draft position will largely determine that question, but I’d favor him in that Jason Terry kind of role off the bench that finishes games.
14. Utah Jazz: Alec Burks, SG, Colorado
Burks has been the toughest player for me to get a real grasp on because he’s such a shotmaker, but I don’t immediately see it translating to the NBA. He can play either guard position and has legitimate shooting guard size, but what kind of system fits him best? Burks is in that same limbo as Brandon Roy where it is difficult to foresee his NBA niche. I always like players of his model for the Triangle offense (though Utah’s offense also would be a good fit), otherwise he looks like a rather average rotation wing.
15. Philadelphia 76ers: Jimmer Fredette, PG, BYU
Fredette has enough talent to go higher than this, but his NBA career is largely dependent on expectations and role. Even more so than Walker, I see Fredette as a super-sub scorer and there would be no better home for him than Philadelphia where he can guard opposing point guards with Jrue Holiday defending bigger guards. The 76ers have excellent perimeter defensive players in Holiday and Andre Iguodala, which would help mask his shortcoming on that end of the floor. Meanwhile, I have no doubt he will be an impact offensive player against NBA defenses. Teams will get him shots from the perimeter and he has enough ability off the dribble to offset those with mid-range jumpers and floaters.
16. Phoenix Suns: Marcus Morris, SF, Kansas
I like Morris a little higher than this personally, but I think this area is a more realistic expectation of where he will eventually go. I always excessively like physical players at the small forward position on offense like Morris, whether it be Pacers-era Ron Artest or Big 12 guys that have come before him like Damion James. Morris is a more natural scorer than James and I think he’ll have a far greater NBA impact. He has excellent balance with his dribble and imposes his physicality on his opponent that lets him score in the paint. He sometimes falls too in love with his jumper, but he clearly will need to work on that aspect of his game in order to be a more well-rounded offensive player.
17. New York Knicks: Kenneth Faried, PF, Morehead State
Few players approach the game with the kind of tenacity we see of Faried. There are questions of how much he will improve and the caliber of his competition, but he was born to rebound, defend and bring energy. The workouts will be really interesting because I expect him to outwork everyone and really dominate. I have no doubt that he will ultimately prove worthy of a draft slot this high.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Memphis): Terrence Jones, SF, Kentucky
Jones is very skilled for his size, but I’m not sure how he will have a chance to develop if he declares because he’s the type of player that needs the ball in his hands as a playmaker to be effective and better for those reps to happen at Kentucky than in garbage time. While it is impossible not to want to compare him to Lamar Odom, I suspect his NBA future will be more closely associated with Anthony Randolph, who was a much better prospect at this point in 2008.
19. Portland Trail Blazers: Jonas Valanciunas, C, Lietuvos Rytas
Valanciunas has good potential at the center position, but he doesn’t offer a whole lot on offense other than in the pick and roll. He can hit a little 15-foot jumper, but I don’t like his post potential right now and doesn’t finish especially well. His style is not very pleasing to the eyes with the way his arms flail excessively on both ends of the floor, so I’m perhaps prejudiced on that front. Valanciunas is a project center without a ton of upside.
20. New Orleans Hornets: Chris Singleton, PF, Florida State
With another year of continued upward trajectory in his improvement, Singleton would become a rare Stretch-4 with plus athleticism. If he is put in pick and pop situations and also able to finish in transition and on cuts, Singleton will be a highly efficient scorer. He doesn’t have very good hands, however, and is limited in his ability off the dribble. Defensively, Singleton gives good effort and is a general nuisance. He should be an impact player on this side of the floor and is capable of helping a playoff team immediately.
21. Washington Wizards (from Atlanta): Nolan Smith, PG, Duke
Everything Smith does is off the dribble and that makes him an automatic backup point guard for me because I don’t see him going to a team that can allow him the opportunity to have the ball in his hands as much as he did during his senior season. He is a good shooter, but not a great shooter and he is a good passer, but not a great passer. Smith is a really good scorer though, which makes his second unit presence an absolute plus. Furthermore, he is a high character player that helps improve a team's culture.
22. Denver Nuggets: Markieff Morris, PF, Kansas
Morris enjoys physical play and we don’t see that enough from young bigs these days. He has good natural instincts and attacks the bucket with great strength. His jumper rate is better than you’d guess, which makes him an excellent candidate for both the pick and pop as well as the pick and roll. Morris projects to become a really good interior defender for his position and the kind of player that finds minutes on any team.
23. Phoenix Suns/Houston Rockets (from Orlando): Justin Harper, PF, Richmond
I really love Harper’s game and could see him move up significantly as the process unfolds. I liken his draft stock to Jason Thompson when he was at Rider, but I like Harper quite a bit more at this stage. Harper is an inside/outside scorer, who is a mismatch waiting to happen because of his scoring versatility and the way he plays like a guard with a smooth feel for the game. He will create his own offense off the dribble, but he also can hit open perimeter jumpers and also has a few go-to post moves.
Harper is the type of player with a skill-set that will require his coach to create a role for him because most players don’t have a guy like him on their roster.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder: Tristan Thompson, PF, Texas
Thompson is undoubtedly an undersized power forward and that is reflected in this draft position. I would have no qualms with him going seven or eight places higher, but this is a safe area for him to be selected. He has a great foundation to become an efficient low post scorer, but he is not currently capable of getting there right now. The foundation is there for him to become a top-10 talent from this draft and the onus is on him to work hard and refine his game.
There are two elements in Thompson’s game that I find particularly encouraging.
- He was never used in the pick and roll, so we have no idea what he is capable of in that set. Thompson’s athletic profile is of course conducive to success rolling to the bucket.
- Thompson has an excellent face-up game out of the post. But he doesn’t yet have the jumper needed to use it to greatest impact.
25. Chicago Bulls (from Miami via Toronto): Jordan Hamilton, SF, Texas
Hamilton doesn’t have the athleticism to be a lead wing scorer because he can’t get his own high percentage shots, but he has a good all-around game with good fluidity. The question for Hamilton’s future simply comes down to how good he becomes as a spot-up shooter.
26. New Jersey Nets (from Lakers): Travis Leslie, SG, Georgia
Leslie’s facility in the air is remarkable and he shows it off at every opportunity. He plays the game at an intense level athletically, which usually means he’s a boom or bust prospect. He is the kind of player that needs the right type of system and situation to succeed, but he can become a big contributor as a fourth or fifth starter if it is found.
27. Dallas Mavericks: JaJuan Johnson, PF, Purdue
When evaluating Johnson, I believe the assumption has to be made that he won’t get much stronger physically than where he is at now. But he has improved significantly where he is a well-rounded offensive player that can create off the dribble and also loves to hit stretch jumpers. You won’t see him finish much in the paint, but he’ll be able to score out of the mid-post and also on elbow jumpers.
Defensively, Johnson is significantly more effective on the weak side than on the ball because he is easily outmuscled.
28. Chicago Bulls: Nikola Vucevic, C, USC
Vucevic has a versatile offensive game, both in the post as well as pick and pop, where you can pencil him into scoring several buckets per run. He is peaking at the right time and has a lot of room to improve still.
29. Boston Celtics: Trey Thompkins, PF, Georgia
Thompkins has had a disappointing season for me, but he is a good producer in the post that can also score a little bit at the rim and as a face-up four. I don’t see him becoming anything more than a rotation power forward, but a Carl Landry type of role hold a lot of value for half the NBA.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Tobias Harris, SF, Tennessee
I’d like to see Harris stay one more season in order to improve his body and show what he can do with a higher usage. His positional dilemma is problematic, but I see him as shading over to a big small forward. Harris is a naturally smooth player with good athleticism and can see him making a huge jump from where his stock is currently by letting this slot go to a senior.