June 22, 2009
By: Zachariah Blott
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 puzzle. The NBA draft gives teams a chance to find greatness in the late picks (like Tony Parker, the 28th pick in 2001 by the San Antonio Spurs), a chance to trade for an undervalued commodity (Tayshaun Prince, the 23rd pick in 2002 by the Detroit Pistons), and a chance to not screw up a tough decision (Dwight Howard, 1st pick in 2004 over Emeka Okafor).
Though no accurate post-draft critiques can or should be taken seriously for a few years, I’ve seen a ton of college basketball over the past 20 years and feel that I have a good eye for spotting a few undervalued studs and overvalued duds every season. As such, 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
Eric Maynor, PG, VCU
Likely Draft Position: 17-25
Why He’ll Be Better: He’s an extremely smart point guard who does virtually everything better than average. He can shoot, drive, dish, and defend well enough to be a starter in this league for years to come. The big knock against him is that he doesn’t have elite-level athleticism, but his hoops IQ more than makes up for it.
Although he has some bad turnover totals in some big-time games, VCU opponents focused all their attention on him. Maynor had been forced to carry the Rams singlehandedly, and it’s resulted in some spectacular team over-achievements over the years (a win over Duke in the 2007 tournament, a win at Maryland in 07-08 season, a 1-point loss to UCLA in 2009 tournament). It’s easy to imagine Maynor as a Derek Fisher/Mark Jackson type of baller who plays within himself and can often be found running the show for a successful club.
Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina
Likely Draft Position: 17-25
Why He’ll Be Better: He’s extremely fast, makes great decisions (6.5-2.0 Assists-TO), and is a solid pull-up shooter (47% from 3-point land). Lawson will not be one of the top-five point guards selected, however, because he’s only 6-0 tall. Here are some common comments made about Lawson: “good floor general,” “savvy distributor,” “quick,” “lacks size.” These are actually some exact quotes from HoopsHype about DJ Augustin, who made the NBA’s All-Rookie 2nd Team this past season. I’d say Augustin’s first year went alright, averaging 12 points, 3.5 assists, 1.7 turnovers, and 44% from behind the arc in a role off the bench. Lawson is a stronger version of Augustin, which doesn’t sound bad at all.
Sam Young, SF, Pittsburgh
Likely Draft Position: 20-30
Why He’ll Be Better: Young gained notoriety at Pitt for his offensive exploits, notably his explosive dunks and best-in-the-world shot fake. His size, athleticism, and workmanlike dedication to improvement will likely result in his becoming a defensive specialist in the mold of Ron Artest or Trevor Ariza, however. He’ll be the guy asked to stop shooting guards through power forwards, and as an added bonus, Young’s jump shot and rebounding are better than expected. He has the smarts and attitude to be the ultimate glue guy for any club.
Three players who won’t live up to the pre-draft hype after the break…
Players Who’ll Be Worse Than Expected
Hasheem Thabeet, C, Connecticut
Likely Draft Position: 2-4
Why He’ll Be Worse: For someone who is so big (7-3, 265) and has such good numbers, he sure didn’t seem to show up very often versus good teams. Against Pitt, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Villanova, Thabeet averaged 9.8 points and 5.8 rebounds. Huh? Bring on Buffalo, Seton Hall, Western Carolina, or Chattanooga, though, and it’s back to domination.
There’s no doubt he’ll get his blocks at the next level, but Thabeet gets tired too quickly when challenged, disappears for huge chunks of games, and his offensive repertoire makes Dwight Howard look like Hakeem Olajuwon.
Brandon Jennings, PG, Italy/HS
Likely Draft Position: 7-13
Why He’ll Be Worse: Let’s first talk about the undeniable skills he possesses: Jennings has an extra gear up the court, highlight-reel handles, a very quick release on his pull-up jumper, and the confidence to lead an NBA team. Here are a few other players who pretty much fit that description: Sebastian Telfair, Baron Davis, Stephon Marbury, Monta Ellis.
You know what else these four have in common? Questionable decision-making abilities, a jump shot that would make your middle-school coach cry, and an affinity for the Play 1-Me. Oh yeah, and they’re head cases. Jennings can’t shoot (38% FG, 23% 3-pt), has lousy passing numbers (2.0-1.4), and has done a few things to make people wonder what goes on in that head of his. At least he’ll be a fun video-game player.
B.J. Mullens, C, Ohio State
Likely Draft Position: 14-20
Why He’ll Be Worse: If you read the book Moneyball about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, you’ll recognize Mullens as the type of player the A’s avoided at all costs and other teams tripped over themselves to sign. What he brings to the table physically is to die for: 7-0, 260 pounds, the mobility and quickness of a small forward, and he flies up the court. If you’re sitting in the stands watching him warm up for the other team, you’d crap your pants.
But, then, there’s the production issue. He can finish off a catch in transition or for an alley-oop every once in a while, but his back-to-the-basket abilities are labored at best. Mullens has trouble backing his man down or hitting shots he has to create. It only gets worse on defense where his nickname could be “The Wilting Sieve”.