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2012 NBA Draft: Undervalued Studs and Overvalued Duds

UNC's Tyler Zeller (left) and Kendall Marshall will do far more to positively impact their NBA teams than most of the players drafted before them.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).

Make no mistake about it, 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

Tyler Zeller
C, North Carolina
Likely Draft Position
: 11-15
Why He’ll Be Better: For starters, his floor (downside) is way higher than those of other big men like Drummond, Leonard, Sullinger, Henson, TJones, PJones, Moultrie, Melo – basically everyone not named Anthony Davis or Thomas Robinson. He’s a very good rebounder with the size, strength, and motor to keep it up in the NBA, and he’s a determined and hard-working offensive player who takes good shots he can make (over the past two seasons, Zeller has averaged 16.0 ppg on 10.4 shots/gm, teammate Harrison Barnes averaged 16.4 ppg on 13.6 shots/gm). Zeller is also the smartest defensive big man in the draft; his rotations and awareness of what’s developing on the weak side allow him to move into optimal positions that force opposing cutters and drivers to take jumpers instead of lay-ups and to make extra passes they don’t want to attempt in a crowded, closed-off lane. The result is a positive effect on his team’s defense that goes way beyond his 1.5 blocks/gm indicate.

Jae Crowder
SF/PF, Marquette
Likely Draft Position
: 35-45
Why He’ll Be Better: The least heralded Big East Player of the Year ever (already forgot he won that, didn’t you?), Crowder is poised to become the hyper-energized, hyper-intelligent love child of Kenneth Faried and Kawhi Leonard. Both were phenomenally efficient and effective rookies this past year after getting drafted way lower than their eventual value, and Crowder is next. He’s an extremely disruptive and versatile defender who’s drawn comparisons to Ron Artest and Shane Battier, plus he knows his role and how to minimize his limitations as well as anyone in this draft. He’s very smart on the offensive end of the floor, spotting up well, posting up well, passing well, moving without the ball well, etc. and he’s a fighter for rebounds. As long as your team isn’t expecting a ball-dominant #1 scorer with him, every club can benefit by finding a roster spot for Crowder.

Kendall Marshall
PG, North Carolina
Likely Draft Position
: 11-17
Why He’ll Be Better: There are very few PG’s in the NBA who are true game managers, players smart and crafty enough to orchestrate things in a way that maximizes their clubs' abilities and recognize/create mismatches that emphasize this (think Jason Kidd, not Derrick Rose). Marshall is one of these rare players. Despite not being a great athlete and an afterthought as a scorer, he took over a struggling UNC team mid-season as a true freshman in 2010-11 and their only losses the rest of the way were to Duke and Kentucky. Marshall picked up his scoring in a subtle and timely manner as a sophomore (became their end-of-game clutch scorer the last few weeks of the season), but more importantly he ran the Tarheels’ offense beautifully, posting a ridiculous 9.8-to-2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. They were playing like a Final Four squad before he got hurt early in the tournament, and the rest of his high-profile teammates couldn’t get buckets over the final five minutes of a season-ending loss to Kansas. It took Marshall’s genius to keep them all in order, and some NBA team will be very happy to pick up that type of PG outside of the top-5 of the draft.  


Players Who Will Be Worse Than Expected

Andre Drummond
C, Connecticut
Likely Draft Position
: 2-8
Why He’ll Be Worse: College big men who are pitifully weak in the basketball skills department almost never work out in the NBA. Another group that never makes a positive impact at the next level is unmotivated, unfocussed players who weren’t productive in college, especially if they were a 30-minutes-per-game starter on a squad that far underperformed expectations. Drummond is the convergence of all these terrible signs and should be avoided at all costs, unless the Washington Generals are in need of a center.

Damian Lillard
PG, Weber State
Likely Draft Position
: 5-10
Why He’ll Be Worse: I understand that small-school players with big scoring numbers are hard to evaluate, but there are plenty of indications that Lillard will not be the next Stephen Curry. 1) His team never made it into the tournament because they couldn’t get past Montana, Northern Colorado, and Portland State. 2) He usually had horrendous shooting and passing numbers against the big-name schools he faced (2-for-17 vs ASU, 4-for-17 vs Cal, 2-for-13 vs UNLV, etc., none of whom are heavyweights). 3) He never lead his team to a win over a major-conference school. 4) In the two games he did score well against half-decent big-name teams, he had terrible passing numbers and Weber State was blown out. You can research it all you want, but there has never been a productive pro from a small-conference school who improved his NBA team and hit a majority of those points I listed, let alone all of them. If Lillard couldn’t get his team to dominate the Big Sky Conference and occasionally do damage against a big boy, how is he going to lead a lottery team into the playoffs?

Austin Rivers
SG, Duke
Likely Draft Position
: 8-12
Why He’ll Be Worse: Rivers has the aggression and scoring skills to make you think he could be a good pro, but there are too many red flags with the coach’s son. He’s a terrible decision maker who can single-handedly sink a team’s offense due to his questionable-at-best shot selection and horrendous passing chops highlighted by regularly taking on double-teams instead of hitting wide-open teammates. Rivers’ defense is sloppy and unfocused, and his prima dona attitude is atrocious for team chemistry and success (see also: massive upset loss in the tournament to Lehigh in which Rivers chucked up tons of crap and finished with 1 assist, all with a disgusted look on his face like he was trying to figure out why his teammates weren't bailing him out).


Complete breakdown of college players in the draft
Comparing 2 small-school draftees

5 best NBA drafts ever

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Reader Comments (13)


Zeller was on the most talented team the last 2 years and hasn't woin a thing. In the NBA, he wont be on the most talenetd team. He wont have Henson covering his back on defense. HIs rebopundng numbers are skewed because he is usually the largest player on the floor. The Kansas and Kentucky games, against future pros, 8 rebs and 6 rebs, both losses. DOn't those performances shed light on how he'd do in the NBA?

He does have a high IQ but it seems awfully unfair to discuss Rivers lack of assists and "mood" in the loss to Lehigh or not note the absolute chaotic situation Drummond had to play in, but not discuss Zellers failed production against NBA level big men nor the fact he had the ideal playing situation.

June 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamesD

Greetings and thanks for the comment. You're talking about two teams in UK and KU that are stacked with multiple bigs all headed to the NBA by way of the first round, many of whom are very strong. Considering it was Zeller alone who had to battle these groups of future pros down low while Henson usually floated around wherever on O and on the weak-side on D, he did quite well. All that attention, and he still consistently scored more than Henson, got to the free throw line much more than Henson, and grabbed WAY more offensive rebounds (the much tougher ones that require more battling) than Henson in big games. His numbers in these games actually stack up quite well with those of Davis, Robinson, Plumlee, TJones, etc. and again that was with far more attention in the paint than Henson was receiving. It's actually quite amazing that none of those guys posted noticeably better stats in their match-ups with Zeller.

June 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

Here are stats from UNC's 4 games against elite opponents who each contained 2 future NBA bigs (UK, KU, 2 vs Duke):

Zeller's avg, 17 ppg, 6.8-for-11.5 (59% FG), 3.5-for-4.5 (78% FT), 8.9 rpg (3.5 off), 1.8 blocks, 3.0 fouls, 31 mins
Henson's avg, 11 ppg, 4.8-for-10.8 (44% FG), 1.75-for-2 (88% FT), 9.8 rpg (2.5 off), 1.5 blocks, 1.8 fouls, 31 mins
UK's Davis, 7 pts, 3-for-6 (50% FG), 1-for-1 (100% FT), 9 reb (2 off), 2 blocks, 2 fouls, 34 mins
UK's TJones, 14 pts, 5-for-14 (36% FG), 3-for-3 (100% FT), 7 reb (4 off), 3 blocks, 2 fouls, 35 mins
KU's Robinson, 18 pts, 6-for-16 (38% FG), 5-for-5 (100% FT), 9 reb (1 off), 0 blocks, 3 fouls, 32 mins
KU's Withey, 15 pts, 5-for-5 (100% FG), 5-for-6 (83% FT), 8 reb (2 off), 3 blocks, 4 fouls, 28 mins
UK's Plumlees, 11 pts, 4.5-for-7.8 (58% FG), 2.0-for-3.8 (53% FT), 8.0 rpg (3.3 off), 1.0 blocks, 4.0 fouls, 26 mins

*17 of Henson's 39 rebounds came in one game vs. Duke, 5.5 rpg in the other three contests
**Plumlee average is both brothers' (Miles and Mason) two games against UNC added together and that sum divided by 4; I combined all their stats since their roles were identical and their numbers often switched off from game to game

I would say Zeller did just fine in his match-ups.

June 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott


To put up the numbers against Duke is bogus. The Plumlee Brothers and the DUke squad can not be called elite. Niether Plumlee is seen as a quality NBA player. Against the talent he'll face at the next level he had 8 and 6 rebs and his team lost. He scored more than Henson because he is a better offensive player and played a more prominent role in UNC's offense in the games I saw.

To quantify or give Zeller credit for a poor performance and his team losing while giving other potential draftees a hit for the same things is biased an unequal. You called zeller a "ver good rebounder", yet fail to point out how he rebounded against equally talented and sized players. Is 8 and 6 rebs good? I would disagree. His rebounding numbers are skewed by getting 22 vs Fla ST or 17 vs Ohio.

I think any reasonable person would agree Zeller's numbers against NBA level talent are more indicative of how he will do at the next level. Yet you completely disregard them. Can he be a quality backup for 10 years because of his size and skill level, definitely.

June 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamesD

vs UK: 14 pts, 4/9 FG, 6/6 FT, 8 reb (5 off), 1 blk, 1 foul, 28 min
Davis: 7 pts, 3/6 FG, 1/1 FT, 9 reb (2 off), 2 blk, 2 foul, 34

Who had the better game? Last I checked UNC lost that game to the National Champs by 1, essentially at the buzzer, so hardly "Zeller can't get it done against NBA players" territory.

vs. KU: 12 pts, 6/11 FG, 0/0 FT, 6 reb (2 off), 4 blk, 2 foul, 34 min
Robinson: 18 pt, 6/16 FG, 5/5 FT, 9 reb (1 off), 0 blk, 3 foul, 32 min

Who had the better game? It's certainly not as clear-cut as you'd like to make me think, especially with Zeller shooting much better, having more offensive boards, and 4 blocks to none (including stuffing Robinson on a help-side rotation on KU's first possession of the game - the exact opposite of Henson having Zeller's back). UNC was within 1 with 3:10 left to the national runners-up, despite playing their first real game of the year without the best PG in the land, so hardly an unacceptable loss to pin on Zeller.

And again, Zeller had the attention down low of multiple strong NBA-quality bigs in both of these contests.

June 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott


Its not a comparison between the players. The point is, respectfully, that Tyler Zeller, who you labeled a "very good rebounder" got 8 and 6 against NBA level talent Now, at the NBA level, Zeller will be battling stronger, taller, more athletic MEN for rebounds. That doesn't project well at the next level IMO.

Look at the NCAA tourney. 15 rebs vs Vermont. 22 rebs vs Ohio (ot) 6 rebs vs Greg Echinrique (sp) of Creighton. 6 rebs against Robinson. Notice his dropoff in rebs against the players with NBA size? Performance against quality teams is one of the knocks on Damian Lillard. WHy isn't it for Zeller?

You talk about drummond being on a squad that underperformed, which is very fair. UNC didn't under perform as bad as UConn, but its hard to understand how a team with 4 1st rd NBA draft picks the past 2 years hasn't won an NCAA title.

Again, all I am questioning is why certain things apply to your busts but not to Tyler Zeller.

June 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamesD

I'm focusing on Zeller's overall impact and value, which is evident in the fact he's played the top two players in the draft on the top two teams in the country very evenly, arguably outplaying them, but you're staying focused on his rebound totals in those two games. Never mind the fact that he killed them on offensive boards (7 to 3), which are the much harder ones to fight for (less likely to grab them without working for them like many defensive boards) and mathematically more valuable to a club. Trees, meet forest.

Who you got in the game with KU if Marshall plays? UNC was down 1 with around 3 minutes left with a 3* true freshman PG who had barely played during the season. KU had a #2 drafted PF, a likely lottery-bound C in next year's draft, and a 1st-round PG, while UNC was without the guy who made the whole offense run and was the reason Barnes looked good -- notice Barnes was terrible in the 2 games without Marshall, including that KU contest.

I guess if I totally disregard the context of UNC's tourney run and totally disregard Zeller's overall impact against the 2 best players in the draft and instead focus on his total rebounds in two games, I see where you're coming from.

June 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott


You keep bringing up things that you didn't discuss in the initial post nor that I questioned. I focus on his rebounding totals because you called him a "very-good rebounder". I disagree with this analysis based on his performance against quality opposition, given that he is taller, bigger, stronger, more eperienced, had better teammates and better coaching. He wont have those advantages should he be picked in the range you listed, which I think limits his ability to outplay the draft slot you project.

When I discuss Zeller's tourney performance, you ask me to consider context.. But when you evaluated Drummond you hardly mentioned the context thet he had to play in, which was far more dysfunctional than any other college men's team the past year. Drummond most likely wont be playing in that type of environment.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamesD

When facing who every single scout would agree are two of the very best rebounders/players in all of college basketball during a season most people would agree had more talent than most of the past 5 seasons, Zeller's rebounding was essentially even with those two depending on how heavily one wants to weigh offensive rebounds, undeniably the more telling number of a player's rebounding ability. You can't keep focusing on his low totals in two games without mentioning how he impacted great opposing rebounders (held them below their averages) and his much higher presence on the offensive boards. If a player faces Kevin Love and only has 7 boards, but 3 of them are offensive and he limits Love to 9 with only 1 on the offensive glass, that's a very positive sign of his rebounding ability.

I can only imagine how quickly you must have fallen off the Davis bandwagon when he only grabbed 6 against Florida's Patric Young or 9 against Western Kentucky in 36 minutes, or the Robinson wagon after only managing 7 and 8 against Ohio State's below-the-rim Sullinger or 7 with 0 offensive against Iowa State's Royce White.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

It just occurred to me that we may not have the same answer to the following question:
How strongly do you consider a big man's ability to neutralize opposing teams'/big men's rebounding when deciding how good of a rebounder someone is?

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

Oh, it turns out Duke's Plumlee was indeed a 1st round pick. That's another future NBA big Zeller neutralized, and in this case, completely outplayed.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott


Its your analysis that I am questioning, not Zeller 's ability. My concern is the way you reach conclusions about players. In Zeller's case you give him the benefirt of the doubt, in Drummond's case, you don't. You keep trying to change the discussion. UNC's total frontcourt talent and not Zeller individually nuetralized Davis/Robinson.

I said niether Plumlee is seen as a quality NBA player, not that he wouldn't be drafted. He's projected as a backup.

Our differences stem from your unwillingness to directly answer the questions posed to you. My initial post asked why the performances against NBA frontlines are not indicative of his play in the NBA. You told me that Zeller did fine. Then you decided to post who had the better game, which is not something I asked.

Then I asked about why you would measure Lillard as an NBA player against "better teams but not Zeller. You didn't answer. I asked about underachieving, since both Zeller and Drummonds teams underachieved. You didn't answer that. When I asked about labeling Zeller a "very good rebounder", you didn't answer and then pivoted and said you were talking about his impact and value.

Then you make it a compaarison of players which didn't address my question and provide a theory of what makes a quality rebounder. Again doesn't address the questions.

All I am doing is looking at Zeller with the same microscope you use on the players you think will be busts.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamesD

I'm not even sure what your question is anymore since I've already addressed Zeller's rebounding against elite players (both straight-up numbers and impact on opponents), offensive rebounding, value, and the super-obvious reason UNC barely lost in the tournament to the national runners-up (which was WAY different than UConn's exit).

The answer to the only question you asked in your first post is "not really," but if it's another question you're trying to ask, ask it.

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

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