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).
Even though this is a pretty shallow draft as far as players that can become reliable NBA starters, 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
Kenneth Faried, PF, Morehead St.
Likely Draft Position: 18 to 24
Why He’ll Be Better: Faried is going to be one of those guys who everyone in three years will be saying they knew he’d be better than his draft position. Everyone is also predicting college basketball’s greatest rebounder in the last 30 years to fall to around 20 in a very weak draft because he’s only 6-feet-8 and played at a small school, but they’ll all turn around and be surprised he wasn’t drafted in the top 10 once he’s successful, just like with DeJuan Blair. (Here’s the only place I know of that has him listed as a top-10 pro from this draft.) For starters, his rebounding isn’t good or great, it’s unbelievable. Remember how much energy Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace put into rebounding? Well that’s what Faried does, except he’s bigger than Rodman. But he plays at a small school…yeah, so did Rodman and Wallace. But he’s raw on offense…you mean like Rodman and Wallace?
For a guy singularly committed to rebounding and defense (2.3 blocks, 1.9 steals), people sure are weird about Faried’s prospects as a pro in a draft that is almost nothing but role players. I understand the concerns about his having played at Morehead State against weak competition, but he scored 15 points, grabbed 12 boards, blocked 2 shots, and got 5 steals in November against #1 Ohio State and Jared Sullinger, the #1 big man. OSU had all the talent in the world and were only concerned about stopping Faried, and they couldn’t do it. Same with #4 seed Louisville in the Tournament, who Morehead State defeated behind Faried’s 17 rebounds and 2 blocks. The most talented club with the best center in the NCAA and a great Big East team couldn’t stop the only good player on a bad team. Yeah, I’ll go with Faried being a little bit undervalued right now.
Charles Jenkins, PG/SG, Hofstra
Likely Draft Position: 25 to 45
Why He’ll Be Better: Similarly to Faried, Jenkins was the only decent player on a small school team, yet he still put up great numbers with great efficiencies (the efficiency part of that equation is very important when predicting NBA success). With every type of defense imaginable thrown at him, Jenkins shot 56% inside the arc, 42% behind it, and 82% from the freethrow line on the way to averaging 23 ppg. With an emphasis on better learning the PG position as a senior, Jenkins’ assists jumped to 4.8 per while his turnovers plummeted to 2.2. Not only is that nearly the top assist-turnover rate of every player who might be drafted in the first round, but he did it with virtually no help from his teammates – only one of them averaged 8 ppg or more, and that guy shot 41% from the field.
The common question with a player like this at a small school has to be if they can sustain those numbers against good talent. Glad you asked. 24 points (on 18 shots), 4 assists, and 3 steals against North Carolina. 23 points (on 20 shots) and 4 steals against Kansas. 25 points (on 22 shots) plus 8 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks against UConn. Multiple big games against VCU, who were just in the Final Four. These contests are all from the last 2 seasons when those opponents with far more overall talent threw it all directly at Jenkins, but he still came up big. Imagine how he’d do with equal talent next to him. He has all the tools to be a successful pro point guard very much in the mold of Stephen Curry (another small school SG-turned-PG) – how many GM’s are going to kick themselves when he pans out and they’re left with undersized shooters pretending to be point guards?
Darius Morris, PG, Michigan
Likely Draft Position: 20 to 35
Why He’ll Be Better: Morris is a pure PG who knows how to set up a team’s offense by attacking and finding the open man, or by using his athleticism and aggression to get into the lane and score over his defender. At 6-feet-5, he’ll post up smaller guards and can be a handful to defend considering how good his handles are. Morris’ intelligence and hoops IQ resulted in an Assist-Turnover rate very close to Jenkins’ (6.7 to 2.9) even though almost all of his teammates had very low shooting percentages because they attempt so many 3’s (only one teammate who played at least 7 minutes per game shot over 43%). Morris does not have a good jumper (25% from distance), but he limits those attempts and was able to shoot 53% inside the arc. Smart, savy PG who limits his outside shots but can get it done going to the rim or posting up opposing PG’s – sounds like Andre Miller to me, except Morris is bigger and more athletic. On the other side of the ball, Morris is a good defender with the size to guard either guard position. He’s a future starting PG, plain and simple.
David Lighty, SG, Ohio St.
Likely Draft Position: 45-60
Why He’ll Be Better: Again, we’re talking about a weak draft full of role players, not franchise cornerstone starters. GM’s need to be thinking about most of these players in terms of how they can fit around or facilitate the talent that’s already there. Because GM’s tend to get fired regularly for not realizing basic concepts like this and instead trying to force role players into major positions on teams, guys like Lighty who can make everything run smoother but don’t look like they’ll ever be a star get lost in the shuffle. Lighty is the ultimate role playing SG: great defender who has the size (6-feet-6, 215 pounds) to match-up against multiple positions, great spot-up shooter (43% from 3), and always makes the right play because he’s aware and doesn’t force the action.
He’s athletic, hustles like crazy, and stays active and focused on both ends of the floor. No one’s ever going to expect Lighty to be a 15-20 ppg scorer, but it won’t be a shock to see him drop an important 15-20 from time to time since he’s smart and smooth enough to take it when the defense presents the opportunity. Much like Rockets rookie Patrick Patterson who came into the league without much fanfare next to his flashier teammates and is now beloved in Houston for his hustle, intelligence, and versatility, Lighty will be the guy who can do anything that’s needed, making some coach’s job easier and fans happy.
Players Who Will Be Worse Than Expected
Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky
Kemba Walker, PG, UConn
Jimmer Fredette, PG, BYU
Likely Draft Position: 3 to 7
Why They’ll Be Worse: When looking at all three of these players, they’re SG’s simply forced to be listed as PG’s because of their short heights. Although Knight most resembles a PG in how he plays, he still attempted the most shots for Kentucky even though every Wildcat who averaged 1 ppg or more had a higher FG% than his paltry 42%. His overall shooting, 3-point shooting, and turnover totals were all terrible down the stretch, so don’t get all high and mighty about him hitting a couple buzzer beaters in the Tournament.
Walker is a 6-feet-1 shoot-first-shoot-second SG who takes a million shots, many of them bad ones, that ended up with unimpressive numbers like 43% FG, 33% 3FG, and 10 or more made baskets in only 2 of his last 11 games, including 5-for-19 shooting with 0 assists in the championship game. UConn did considerably better on the season when he took less than 20 shots (26-3) than when he shot 20 or more (6-6). Good luck turning your club over to a player with habits as bad as his. Oh yeah, he doesn’t exactly play defense.
If you were born yesterday and aren’t familiar with this Fredette character, he lead the nation in scoring at 28 ppg and hit some crazy long 3’s. He also consistently overdribbled longer than he could ever get away with in the NBA, took unnecessarily difficult shots that he could never get away with in the NBA (his 40% from 3 ranks much lower nationally than his 3.5 turnovers per game), and he played horrendous man-to-man defense the likes of which can only be hidden in a zone that usually isn’t played in the NBA. If he had displayed the PG-like game in college that Stephen Curry and Steve Nash had, two players Jimmer fans seem to think make good blueprints for Fredette’s future, I’d buy that he could replicate some version of their careers, but he didn’t and I’m not.
Jan Vesely, SF/PF, Czech Republic
Likely Draft Position: 6 to 9
Why He’ll Be Worse: Vesely’s calling card is his highlight dunking, so of course people want to compare him to Blake Griffin. Terrible comparison for many reasons, so try to forget you ever heard it. Basically he can dunk in transition and hit some open 3’s, and that’s about his whole offensive repertoire, and he only hit 3’s in the Euroleague in the 30% neighborhood (and free throws around 45-50%), so…yeah. He’s not a rebounder at all and he’s quite weak. He’s aggressive and active on defense, so the Andrei Kirilenko comparisons come out, which sound good. Until you read on DraftExpress (who have probably seen more of his games than any other scouting service) that “it's tough to ignore the fact that opposing coaches in Europe clearly game-plan against him, trying to create situations where they can isolate their best wing player against him with space to operate. In these situations, Vesely tends to struggle.” Cool – a weak big man who can’t shoot, has no low post moves, doesn’t create his own offense in the halfcourt, and whose defense is overvalued to the point Euro coaches try to get their players who are too slow for the NBA up against him when he’s playing defense…but he can dunk!
Iman Shumpert, PG/SG, Georgia Tech
Josh Selby, SG/PG, Kansas
Likely Draft Position: 20 to 40
Why They’ll Be Worse: I’m putting these two players together because they’re both physical freaks who possess high-level NBA athleticism but who also both make terrible decisions and have been extremely inefficient in college. Shumpert is 6-feet-5 and posted some insane numbers at the draft combine (42” vertical, 18 bench presses, 3.18 ¾ court sprint), but he also shot 41% FG and 28% 3FG as a shoot-first PG who had a terrible 3.5 to 2.3 assist-turnover rate. He’s a very good defender, but he’s the type of combo guard you basically have to hide on offense and hope the ball never ends up in his hands because he’ll make the wrong decisions with it (Remember the news last year about Derrick Favors not getting used properly at GT because of the poor guard play? Well that was Shumpert.)
Selby has elite speed and body control and won the dunk contest at last year’s McDonald’s All-American Game. He was also a string of one questionable act or incident after another throughout high school that ultimately culminated in a terribly inefficient campaign at Kansas (37% FG, 2.2 assists to 2.0 turnovers) that resulted in a severely diminished role by season’s end. He’ll be drafted on potential, but he doesn’t appear to have the head to do anything with it. Both Shumpert and Selby have "unfulfilled potential" and "frustrating system killer" written all over them.
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