We have seen a whole lot of changes since the pre-Tournament issue of the Lottery Lowdown. March Madness gave us a few players to watch both this year and for 2014 while the Nike Hoop Summit and Combine helped clarify the picture in terms of athletic ability and positional versatility.
The Teams: Who has What (pre-lottery selection order)
- Orlando Magic
- Charlotte Bobcats
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Phoenix Suns
- New Orleans Pelicans
- Sacramento Kings
- Detroit Pistons
- Washington Wizards
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Oklahoma City Thunder (Toronto's pick via Houston)- Pick goes back to Raptors if it ends up in the top three
- Dallas Mavericks
- Utah Jazz
The Player Pool: Winners and Losers of Early May
Even though the NBA Combine gets most of the attention when it comes to May, one of the other big events that continues to have a major impact is the Nike Hoop Summit. Beyond giving us a glimpse of the following year’s rookies who will play in college, the practices and game give draftniks an excellent chance to look at international players on the court with other high-level talent. This year’s stand out among draft-eligible players was Dennis Schroeder. He looked to have the combination of physical and mental abilities necessary to run an NBA team down the line which sent his stock sky-high and potentially got him a promise in the late lottery.
At the combine, Steven Adams showed a depth and refinement to his game not present during his single season at Pitt. While it is always worrisome when a player who has been underwhelming for a full year looks substantially better in a less realistic and small sample size like the combine, it helps Adams more than most because it shows his dedication to maximizing his ability.
Two of my bloodline favorites, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Shane Larkin, had huge Combine performances. Both player surprised with better than expected athleticism as well as an understanding of the game and attitude that reflects their understanding of what being a professional athlete is all about. Even though neither of them makes my Top 20 below, they are right on the cusp and should be able to contribute early on to their new teams while becoming more complete players with more coaching and experience.
The biggest losers were a pair of shooting guards that needed to justify their pre-season hype. Both Archie Goodwin and BJ Young have athletic ability and enough interesting components in their games to be impact players in the pros but completely underwhelmed during the 2012-13 collegiate season. I am someone who loves players with physical potential and need coaching, yet it gets harder to really risk anything on players when their flashes are deeper in the rear view mirror.
I continue to worry about the possibility of Trey Burke as a starting point guard in the NBA. While we already knew that his size will be below average for the position (especially with the new breed of hyperathletic guys entering the league), his agility was underwhelming and will make it even harder to create for himself and others. Only otherworldly shooters like Stephen Curry have made it work as a starting point guard without either of those tools and that is a big ask of Burke.
Finally, we saw both Cody Zeller and Kelly Olynyk show that they might have to play more PF since they do not have the size to play center full-time. Each of them has enough skill to be fine at power forward for times but true centers are a much rarer commodity and can have much longer careers. Without a much stronger outside shot than either player has shown thus far, they will really need to work to become an important player on a great team.
Preliminary Player Rankings of Draft-Eligible Players
Here is where the players stand as of now.
[NOTE: I include all draft-eligible players regardless of their likelihood to declare for the 2013 Draft. This provides a better measuring stick for everyone and also explains why the list runs to 20 rather than 14.]
- Nerlens Noel, C/PF, Kentucky- The physical tools to be a special defender on the interior (and one who rebounds well for his activity as a shot-blocker) and has the potential to be solid but not spectacular on the offensive end. His weight is a concern and absolutely must be improved in order for him to reach that elite level as an interior defender but he appears to have the frame and work ethic to make it happen. Due to positional scarcity and a weak draft class, he sits at No. 1 despite the injury.
Good Fits: Charlotte, Cleveland, and Phoenix
Bad Fits: Detroit
- Victor Oladipo, SG/SF, Indiana- Oladipo might be the best complementary perimeter prospect to enter the league since Andre Iguodala. His ability to defend the 1, 2 and 3 at the next level comes with an understanding that he cannot and will not be the offensive focal point. Victor’s time at Indiana has done a great job of preparing him for his role at the next level and just about every team could use a player like him even if you need other talent around him in order to thrive.
Good Fits: New Orleans and Minnesota
Bad Fits: Orlando and Sacramento
- Rudy Gobert, C, France- Could a team really stash a player taken this high in the draft? Probably not even though Jonas Valanciunas serves as at least a partial precedent, so he likely will fall farther than his potential would suggest. I shudder to think at what Gobert can be with the right coaching and talent around him, particularly a PG that can maximize him on the offensive end. It would be legitimately hard to draft him this high since it will take some time for him to hit his stride in the NBA (potentially even the end of his rookie deal) but the juice should be worth the squeeze.
Good Fits: Washington, Phoenix, Minnesota, and New Orleans
Bad Fits: Detroit, Utah, and Portland
- Alex Len, C, Maryland- Len stands out as a prospect that will benefit greatly from the increase in talent at the next level. Gaining teammates who can both get him the ball and take pressure off him offensively should reduce some of his faults and allow him to use his athletic gifts in a more productive way. Even though it was early in the season, dropping 23 points, 12 boards and four blocks on Kentucky while Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein combined for 12, 15 and seven shows what he can do against high-level talent.
Good Fits: Cleveland, Washington, New Orleans, and Minnesota
Bad Fits: Sacramento
- Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown- As has become quite the theme for this draft class, I am not sure if Porter’s game will translate perfectly to the NBA, but he has the ability to be a meaningful contributor even if he cannot transcend at the next level. Georgetown guys often underwhelm in terms of draft hype thanks to their system so that could work in Porter’s favor as well though I would have liked to see more defensive impact out of him.
Good Fits: Washington, New Orleans, Cleveland, and Minnesota
Bad Fits: Portland
- Anthony Bennett, PF/SF, UNLV- The least valuable position in the NBA is a non-elite power forward that cannot defend centers because of how many people already in the league can play the part and how frequently new ones come into the fold. Bennett has shown substantially more depth in his game than most freshmen but also had the benefit of being older than most of them as well (he turned 20 on March 14). He makes up for a lack of height with a legit 7’1” wingspan and the unpolished tools to score in a variety of different ways, which has become a necessity for PF’s in the big leagues. What makes Bennett so fascinating is that he could end up being a new era stretch four in the NBA because of his handle and shot with a little potential to even get some minutes at SF in a pinch. Bennett will contribute early but will need to improve both his strengths and weaknesses in order to stand out at the next level.
Good Fits: Phoenix, Detroit, and Washington
Bad Fits: New Orleans and Portland
- Dennis Schroeder, PG, Germany- Seeing Schroeder this high may be a surprise but his performance warrants it in this draft class. While the other draft-eligible PG’s have limitations that could move them to a different position or make a bench role the best fit, Dennis should be able to stick as a point guard in the NBA and eventually become a solid starter at a key position. He showed at the Nike Hoop Summit that he can run a team and create offense against elite competition (Andrew Harrison, the PG for the US team, will be a lottery pick in the much stronger 2014 class). Schroeder has the size and court vision to distribute along with the ballhandling and passing to create for others with a jump shot good enough to keep opponents honest. Schroeder still has plenty of work to do on cutting down turnovers, finishing and shooting the NBA three, but those are fixable issues with proper coaching and time.
Good Fits: Utah, Orlando (not #1, obviously), Sacramento, Detroit, and OKC
Bad Fits: Portland and Philadelphia
- Glenn Robinson, SF, Michigan- It feels a good deal better to make a mistake on an elite athlete and that could end up being the case with Glen III. The son of the Big Dog is not just a physical specimen though, since he also has a pretty good basketball IQ and some intriguing potential as a scorer. That said, he needs to up his effort both mentally and physically to make the most of his ability.
- Giannis Adetokunbo, SF, Greece- Some may call him this year’s “International Man of Mystery” since we have seen so little of his game thus far and that criticism is wholly justified. Giannis is special because of his phenomenal athletic profile (7’3” wingspan, respectable speed, and gigantic hands) and instincts for such a young age- he turns 19 in December of this year. He can handle the ball reasonably well and has remarkable defensive potential. There is an additional risk since we have never seen Adetokunbo play against high-level competition, though it’s not like the other draft-eligible SF/PF’s (Poythress and Tony Mitchell’s freshman years come to mind) impressed when they had the chance. I would not even call Adetokunbo a boom/bust guy because he should be able to contribute even if the flaws in his game never get corrected. He just has insanely high upside while also being incredibly unproven.
Good Fits: New Orleans, Detroit, and OKC
Bad Fits: Washington and Minnesota
- Steven Adams, C, Pitt- A legitimate surprise at the Combine because he showed depth to his game that we simply have not seen before. Building a jump shot that gets results takes time and effort, which also helps answer one of the biggest criticisms about Adams. He has an NBA body and plays a position where effort and size can allow a player to provide value to the team that drafts him during the rookie deal even as he develops.
Good Fits: Minnesota, Washington, and Dallas
Bad Fits: Utah and Detroit
- Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas- McLemore is getting a ton of pub right now as a potential top-3 pick, but has the problem of being a dependent talent on offense while not having a major impact on the defensive end. His handle just does not reach the level necessary to make me believe he can generate shots for himself and others at the next level. People have compared him to former AAU teammate Bradley Beal who has come into his own at the end of his rookie year, yet Bradley did a better job creating his own offense than McLemore has at this point. Plenty of potential to be sure, but the holes in his game will make him a very limited player unless and until they can be closed.
Good Fits: Minnesota and Philadelphia
Bad Fits: Detroit, New Orleans, and Utah
- Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky- Stop me if you have heard this before: Athletic big man who can defend NBA Centers but needs to get stronger and develop a deeper game in order to make an impact. In a class full of raw center, Cauley-Stein may just be the most raw. One of those guys whose stock could benefit from staying in college, but would have been better off developing in the league and getting to his second contract that much faster.
- Shabazz Muhammad, SG/SF, UCLA- I have said for years that the only swingmen (shooting guards and small forwards) who should go high in the draft are those with a meaningful chance of being No. 1 scorers or elite defenders. The revelation about Muhammad's age raises real questions about his ability to get points on “fair” competition and his effort on the defensive end must become more consistent in order for him to become a starter in the league. He still has a great work ethic and the base to become a legitimate NBA player even though there are more questions than there were before.
Good Fits: Minnesota, Portland, and Philadelphia
Bad Fits: Utah, New Orleans, and Cleveland
- Tony Mitchell, PF/SF, North Texas- In a draft full of middling prospects, it seems worth it to go after one of the biggest boom/bust guys we have seen in years. Mitchell is one of the best athletes in this class and had an absolutely horrendous season. That said, Tony did a good job in the U-19 World Championships where he was the per-minute rebounding leader over guys like Valanciunas and Patric Young who have more established reputations on the boards. If he can put it together, Mitchell could be an NBA starter and/or an important contributor on a strong team and provide both rebounding and defense that is hard to obtain and retain for each and every NBA franchise.
Good Fits: OKC, San Antonio, and Indiana
Bad Fits: Utah
- Trey Burke, PG, Michigan- As was the case for me with Damian Lillard last season, I am not convinced that Burke will be a long-term starter in the pros. His physical profile will put him at a pretty great disadvantage on both sides of the ball against next level starting competition and all the heart in the world cannot make up some of those gaps. At the absolute worst he will be an awfully fun change of pace guy who gets spot starts and that has a meaningful value in today’s NBA.
Good Fits: Detroit, Dallas, and Utah
Bad Fits: New Orleans and Washington
- CJ McCollum, SG/PG, Lehigh- After last year’s stunning defeat of Duke in the NCAA Tournament, McCollum started getting the draft hype he had deserved for a little while before after finally developing his game enough to be a legit NBA player. The challenge for CJ is that he does not appear able to run an NBA offense and also does not possess the size to be a reliable off-guard. Fortunately, he can score in bunches sufficiently to make him worth taking, especially since he also generates turnovers on the defensive end.
Good Fits: Minnesota, Portland, and Dallas
Bad Fits: New Orleans, Detroit, and Sacramento
- Marcus Smart, PG/SG, Oklahoma State- As someone who loves analyzing point guards, there have been few that have given me more fits than Marcus Smart. He has a different physical presence than the freak PG’s that have come into the league recently because he is bigger (height and width) than most of them and also a little bit slower. His activity and desire to play defense is a big help and will provide value to teams even if he has more trouble getting to his desired spot on the court. In all honesty, we could see him more as a two guard defensively which may open up some different doors in terms of teams and fit with the bevy of guys who should be defending PG’s and playing off the ball currently in the Association.
- Cody Zeller, PF/C, Indiana- Over the past year, Cody has suffered a little bit from Matt Leinart Syndrome, meaning that draftniks have had another season to tear down his game as an elite prospect in the public eye. The problem is that some of those concerns are legitimate since his short wingspan and slight frame will allow him to be exploited defensively at the next level by Centers while those same limitations could curb some of his talent on the offensive end. Shockingly, his agent tried to spin Cody as a power forward at the Combine which further illustrates Zeller’s potential problems playing the most valuable NBA position. He will need to show a strong shooting stroke to generate anywhere close to the value he had when perceived as a true center. Regardless, Zeller will still be a useful contributor who will make teams sweat when he is on the court.
Good Fits: OKC, New Orleans, and Dallas
Bad Fits: Minnesota and Portland
- Alex Poythress, PF/SF, Kentucky- Since he was in high school, I have been rooting for Poythress to develop an offensive game that worked for a perimeter player since it would make him an absolute force in the NBA. Unfortunately, that has not happened thus far. However, his combination of size (6’8” or so with a 7’1” wingspan) and athleticism should allow him to be a disruptive force in the pros. His potential to guard both SF’s and PF’s makes him incredibly intriguing in a league looking for players with that type of ability.
- Michael Carter-Williams, SG/PG, Syracuse- Despite not being sure that he can run an NBA team as a primary ballhandler or defend NBA point guards, MCW showed in Chicago that he can help out the team that drafts him in other fascinating ways. He has sufficient quickness and size to make SG’s sweat and can provide teams with another level of flexibility given his ball-handling abilities.
Good Fits: Detroit, Portland, and OKC
Bad Fits: Philadelphia, Washington, and Minnesota