After a fairly anticlimactic Finals that has resulted in everyone tripping over themselves to apologize for having ever said anything negative about LeBron James or any of the Heat, we’re left with the NBA draft to hold us over until the Olympics. The Draft is the biggest night of the year of the league’s repressed class, and this is a good thing. Raptors fans need the illusion of hope. If it feels like the Draft is being rushed this year, it’s because it completely is. If the Finals had gone the distance it would have taken place two days after the seventh game. That means the Thunder and Heat would have fewer than 48 hours to transition from celebrating a title/mourning a defeat to preparing for their 2012 draft. Neither franchise is part of the NBA’s repressed class (though Oklahoma City will almost eventually be), but even as unsympathetic as we seem to the Heat’s “plight”, that seems a tad ridiculous.
And this year is a little trickier. I don’t know how often NBA teams actually use a draftees collegiate performance as a barometer for how he’ll perform as a pro – based on recent history, it seems the answer is, “very seldom” – but given how deep this draft is, it’s safe to say the pending lockout which threatened to cancel the entire season, kept a lot of players in college that would have otherwise turned pro last season. As a result, not only do we have a deeper draft, but we had a lot of players whose primary objective for the 2011-12 season was, “stay healthy”. That is to say, there were a number of guys who appeared to be mailing it in, letting their talent carry their team as far as it could, but being ultimately indifferent to the season’s outcome. I could be wrong, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any UConn fan who was content with Andre Drummond’s effort this past season.
All that said, this draft is easily one of the more anticipated of the past fifteen years and definitely the most since 2006. And forgive me, but I’m not going to spend my time lamenting over the increased job difficulty for NBA scouts and GM’s. Well, maybe we’ll feel a bit of empathy for the Bobcats. I mean, how could you not? Anyhow, we previewed some of the following players before the NCAA Tournament, let’s recalibrate our impression of those players in addition to some others and evaluate what’s available for the league’s truly awful, unlucky or savvy NBA franchises alike. It’s important to note that anyone we left off, it was done so for completely random and innocuous reasons.
There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said. But Anthony Davis might have been mailing in his freshman year as much as anyone else was their sophomore season, but you could never tell because he’s just significantly better than all his peers. I’m sure the uni-brow will be successfully marketed to legions of teenagers the world over. It will be a new low point in American culture, but a testament to just how talented Davis is on a basketball court.
I watched him play a number of games this season, and if I’m being honest he never really stood out on his own team. He was just another perimeter player chucking up three’s in a losing effort. Maybe my timing was off and I just happened to catch him on his worst days, but I’d tread lightly with Beal, who I didn’t even realize was a highly-touted NBA prospect until I saw him in the top-five of everyone’s mock draft today.
As alluded to before, Drummond didn’t impress many with his disinterest in the 2012 season. It’s difficult to argue in his defense because any team sporting him and Jeremy Lamb on the same roster should have been higher than a losing ninth seed in the NCAA Tournament. As a result, he seems to have scared off some potential employers and it could be hurting his draft status. In all likelihood he’ll still be a top-8 pick, but just on talent and potential alone someone like Drummond usually makes top five and is usually in the top-three. I don’t blame him for being disinterested in an extra college basketball season peppered with bad luck that he shouldn’t have ever had to play. But, ultimately, if Hasheem Thabeet is going second overall, Andre Drummond probably should as well.
Robinson’s case is unique, because his stock seems to be rising because he’s a hard worker if not necessarily as talented as everyone else in his company. That virtually never happens. Work ethic isn’t exactly first on the checklist for most NBA scouts, yet Robinson seems to be bucking the trend. It helps that he’s a versatile 6’9 power forward with a solid jump shot, it goes without saying. But I can’t tell if Robinson’s reputation or his own self-promotion is improving his standing.
You know why you should be skeptical of Harrison Barnes? Because when Kendall Marshall went out of the tournament in UNC’s second round game, the Tarheels were considerably incapable of recouping his value. Barnes, UNC’s prized recruit from a couple seasons ago, could have seized the moment, put the team on his back and carried them to a Final Four over a Kansas team that they were still more talented than. Yet he wilted noticeably, actually getting worse in Marshall’s absence. If he was that reliant on a point guard in college then, well, maybe it’s a good thing everyone has him landing in Cleveland, where he can lean heavily on Kyrie Irving.
Sort of lost in the shadows of all the Anthony Davis hullabaloo was Kidd-Gilchrist playing the Robin to Davis’ Batman. It’s no shame to be second to Batman, particularly when you’re projected as the second overall pick. Gilchrist is what everyone thought Harrison Barnes would be, only if Barnes played with the same tenacity and general concern for the result of each contest. Gilchrist is almost as sure a thing as Davis, only he’s a lock to be an occasional all-star, as opposed to annual MVP candidate.
How the mighty have fallen. I feel like Sullinger’s career trajectory is heading one of two ways: either everyone is dead right about his ongoing back issues and limited NBA ceiling, and he’ll be out of the league in three years; or he’ll go on to be a regular all-star in the same mold of Elton Brand before his knee injury. Either way, I don’t think any one player’s stock has plummeted so dramatically from one season to the next.
Yet another example of a player’s stock falling from one season to the next, though not quite as dramatically as Sullinger’s and for completely different reasons. If Lamb had entered the draft after winning a national title last season, he would have been a top 4-8 pick, now he’ll be on the outskirts of the lottery, playing for a better team for less money. But Lamb’s falling projection is almost exclusively the result of this being a deeper draft class, and appropriately so. He seemed really, really passive the year they won the national title, and he wasn’t any more assertive in his sophomore season. This could be either an alarming habit or the byproduct of a guy spending one more year in college basketball than he had planned, and there’s no way for any of us to tell.
Waiters was mostly an interchangeable piece on Syracuse, but he was the most recognizable of those interchangeable pieces. You know who wasn’t interchangeable? Fab Melo. That’s pretty much everything we have to say about Waiters.
Even if you didn’t know he was Doc Rivers’ kid, you could probably tell he grew up close to the NBA. This guy fit into the Duke offense like Ginsberg fits into the corporate atmosphere at Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce. I imagine Rivers will be a better pro than a college player, almost exclusively because you can’t play a true-zone in the NBA. Remember Rajon Rondo’s career at Kentucky? Yeah, no one else does either because it was immensely forgettable. Rivers will benefit very similarly to Rondo, yet with a shoot-first game.
Jones probably tops the list of players who didn’t give a shit about this last season. The only thing worse than Jones’ effort throughout the season was his acting like he was invested in his last season at Baylor. I still think he can salvage a pro career because he, much like Barnes, Drummond and Lamb, intended to leave in 2011; but I’m not going to pretend like I’m confident in him one way or the other.
If you’ve ever wondered what a four year-old would look like if you stretched him out to an adult male and put him in a baby blue basketball uniform, then wonder no more; John Henson has been playing basketball in Chapel Hill for two years now. He’s the taller Nick Van Exel for a new generation. I’m not sure what to make of his pro prospects as he’s woefully under-developed. He’s 6’10 and weights only twenty-five more pounds with eight extra inches than me. I don’t want to completely discount him, but I can’t help but see Brandan Wright when I look at Henson, and Henson has never been considered the potential pro that Wright was.
It seems like Marshall has been an underdog his entire basketball career, and that’s not going to change going into the pros. Maybe I’m biased because I like his name, maybe I’m just flat out delusional; but I think he’s going to develop into, at the worst, a solid back-up point guard. Considering he’s a projected second round pick, that’s some lofty praise.
Rounding out the UNC extras, Tyler Zeller was probably the Tarheels most consistent player after Marshall. He lacks the dynamism of many of his teammates, but he also has a UNC doppelganger in Tyler Hansbrough, who has developed into a perfectly legitimate rotation player in Indianapolis. If Zeller fills out a bit, Hansbrough’s career to this point is perfectly attainable.
For as successful as he’s been while at Kentucky, he’s barely registering as a footnote. We have high expectations for Jones as an NBA player, and if he improves his jump shot the career of Gerald Wallace on better teams is an optimal goal for Jones. That might seem like an insult to some, in fact to most (no one who’s best known for being the best player in Charlotte Bobcat history is turning many heads) but I can’t imagine Jones would turn his nose up at it.