Come Thursday evening, most NBA teams get an opportunity to be winners and at least pretend they've added an important piece to their developing roster puzzle. The NBA draft gives teams a chance to find greatness in the late picks (Tony Parker, the 28th pick in 2001) and a chance to not screw up a tough decision (Dwight Howard, 1st pick in 2004 over Emeka Okafor).
Overall, this is a pretty shallow draft as far as players that can become reliable NBA starters. The last time a mid-major NCAA team went really far in the tournament, like this year's Butler run, was George Mason's magical Final Four journey in 2006, and that year's draft produced Brandon Roy, Rajon Rondo, and, uh...I guess Paul Millsap rounds out that draft's top three. There are plenty of complimentary pieces in the class of 2010, but not many productive starters at the next level.
That being said, there are some undervalued studs and overvalued duds floating around the draft boards on the Internet. Here are the players I'm expecting some discussions about in five years, for better or for worse.
Players Who Will Be Better Than Expected
Derrick Favors, PF/C, Georgie Tech
Likely Draft Position: 3-5
Why He'll Be Better: For someone whose size, leaping, and interior presence continue to be compared to Dwight Howard, I'm a little confused why it's stated as a given that Favors can't go above third (unless Doug Collins gets his way in Philly, but GM Ed Stefanski isn't known for his smart moves). There are actually murmurs that the Timberwolves will have a problem on their hands if he falls to them at four since they already have two PF's.
At 6-10 and a chiseled 245 pounds, Favors' wingspan and reach were both measured just below the tallest centers in the draft, and his 12-feet-1.5 max vertical reach (jumping) was the tops of everyone. He's a great rebounder, is already committed to defense, and was stuck scoring 12 points per because GT had a bunch of me-first guards who didn't look inside for most of the season. When he did get the ball, he scored on an impressive 61% of his shots. Favors has already shown the tools to become a combination of Amar'e Stoudemire's offense and Howard's D and rebounding; where would you draft that player?
Mikhail Torrance, PG, Alabama
Likely Draft Position: 35-50 (second round)
Why He'll Be Better: He has the size of a shooting guard (6-5, 210) and the skills you want from a point guard. Torrance shoots well from everywhere (52% inside the arc, 36% behind it, 87% free throws) and improved to 5.1 assists per his senior year, when he still wasn't fully instilled as the full-time point guard because of his size.
In fact, Alabama's complete upheaval during his tenure there (coaches in-and-out, players in-and-out, individual expectations all over the place) shows he'll only improve with a more defined role and talent base around him at the NBA level; he won't be counted on for everything, which caused him to force some action in college. On top of all of that, Torrance's size and athleticism will serve him well as a defender at the next level.
Damion James, SF, Texas
Likely Draft Position: 16-28
Why He'll Be Better: James is an Energizer bunny who never stops running, diving, moving, hustling, whatever it takes to make a play happen. Teams like Boston and San Antonio have rosters full of these guys, and these players always make their teams better. James loves to mix it up inside for rebounds or close shots, so you know he won't back down from a challenge. Additionally, he combines great athleticism with his hustle to be a formidable and versatile defender.
Although James will never be a star, he's the most likely of everyone in this draft to become a fan-favorite, third/fourth option type of guy on a continual contender. Throw in his ability to hit long-distance shots (38% 3FG), and he has some serious Robert Horry potential.
Players Who Will Be Worse Than Expected
John Wall, PG, Kentucky
Likely Draft Position: 1
Why He'll Be Worse: His passing, dribbling, and shooting are not where they should be to be an elite NBA point guard. Defensively, Wall was smoked in the tournament by West Virginia's back-up PG over and over. He was on college's most loaded squad, and he still had an assist-turnover rate right around even against teams with real talent; that's unacceptable.
I understand that Wall is already the league's fastest player, but his decision-making has been suspect on and off the court, so why should it improve once he's given millions of dollars? It's clear he's more focussed on being a brand name than winning games (remember that his agent was happy that DC, Philly, and NJ were all big markets when they were announced as holders of the top three picks – no comments about their coaches, players, systems, or any of that), which could be a problem for teams that like wins.
Gordon Hayward, SF, Butler
Likely Draft Position: 8-18
Why He'll Be Worse: Tell me which good NBA baller this sounds like: weak, not fast, terrible man-to-man defender, is known as a shooter but only hit 29% from behind the arc his last year in college, hit only 2 shots in his biggest NCAA Tournament game. I can't think of one either. The more I watch and study Hayward, the less impressed I am.
Sure, he's an energetic rebounder and he could probably win a game of HORSE, but a lottery pick? Seriously? I had him pretty low on my draft board on Monday, but I'm downgrading him further right now. I'm just not sure what he's bringing to an NBA club that they can't live without.
Avery Bradley, PG, Texas
Likely Draft Position: 12-18
Why He'll Be Worse: I'm sticking my neck out a little bit with this one because Bradley has the top-end quickness and enough of a jumper to possibly make it work, but there are too many question marks for me to feel good about his draft position. For starters, his speed and style of game gets him compared to Monta Ellis a lot, which I don't see as a good thing when you realize Ellis has a bad shooting percentage (44%, which is only that good because of fast break lay-ups) and is basically an undersized shooting guard who wants to do it all no matter what his team is trying to accomplish. Bradley shot a similarly poor 43% for the year.
Bradley is clearly not a distributor, and he relies on his jump shot way too much. He played on a pretty loaded Texas squad, so he was more open on those jumpers than he'll be in the NBA, which isn't good considering he's only 6-2. He shot 55% from the free throw line—yeah, you read that correctly—so how good can his shot really be?