Hooray for basketball content. The NBA draft takes place tonight, and the Philadelphia 76ers have the 16th overall selection in what has been labeled a weak draft class without any clear-cut "Tier 1" players. How weak? Well, the Clippers traded their first round pick -- which ended up winning the lottery, if you remember -- to the Cavaliers just so the Cavs would take Baron Davis's contract off their hands. Then again, this is the Clippers we're talking about, so perhaps it's best not to trust their opinion on, well, anything. Don't even try to reference drafting Blake Griffin first overall in 2009 as evidence of some kind of competence. A nutless monkey could've done that.
Areas of need for the Sixers: A legit big (center or power forward), pure shooting guard
Enes Kanter and Jonas Valanciunas are legitimate center prospects and should both go in the lottery. The only other true center projected to possibly go in the first round is the ever-ascending Nikola Vucevic of Southern California. Unless the Sixers' brass is absolutely convinced Vucevic can be a big-time NBA center, I think the team would be better off focusing on drafting a power forward to eventually succeed Elton Brand or shooting guard with the potential to be a 20+ point-per-game scorer.
Prospects possibly available at #16:
Alec Burks - SG - Colorado - 6'6" / 195
An awe-inspiring athlete with prototypical size and freakish length (6'6" frame to go along with 6'10" wingspan) for the shooting guard position. A terror in the open court due to his speed and explosiveness, Burks is also a tremendous ball-handler who can get to the rim and finish with either hand. An underrated passer and superb rebounder for a guard, but he needs to get stronger and develop a consistent mid-range game (he's said to be shooting well in workouts). A three-point shot would be nice, too. Length, athleticism, and scoring ability make his potential upside enticing, but he needs to learn how to be more effective when the ball's not in his hands.
Jimmer Fredette - PG - Brigham Young - 6'2" /195
I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you've watched him play before. The overwhelming Jimmer mania aside, he's a gifted, tenacious scorer who can put the ball in the basketball from anywhere on the court. Literally. He's not a traditional point guard at all and is suited to be a scorer, rather than a facilitator. The bad assist-to-turnover ratio doesn't help matters, either. Jimmer's not the most physically gifted, but he's one tough son of a bitch and won't back down from anyone. On the downside, he's not an NBA athlete and can't defend for his life. For those two reasons alone Jimmer won't duplicate his prolific college success in the pros, but he could carve out his niche as a dangerous bench scorer (see: "microwavable offense").
Chris Singleton - SF - Florida State - 6'9" / 230
The best defender in all of college basketball, he can guard multiple positions and plays with a Lebron-esque flare on that end of the floor. Singleton has elite defensive instincts, and you can tell he really takes pride in the fact that he's responsible for shutting down the opposing team's best scorer. He's long, athletic, runs the floor well, and has a good jumper. On the downside, Singleton can't handle the rock, doesn't really play big on offense, and is a streaky shooter. He will never be anything close to a star player, but he's one of those "glue guys" that every team needs.
Marcus Morris - SF - Kansas - 6'9" / 220
One half of Philadelphia's own Morris twins, Marcus is the more offensively gifted brother with a higher ceiling. I really like his all-around game on offense; he can post up and play with his back to the basket or step out and knock down a jumper (good shooter). Marcus is a strong athlete who can also capably handle the rock and has shown the ability to beat his man off the dribble and get to the rim. He has the body of a small forward but an offensive game more reminiscent of a power forward, although I'd like to see him attack the glass more. I don't know if Marcus is athletic enough to hang with small forwards or strong enough to match up against legitimate power forwards and wonder if he is going to be able to find a consistent position in the NBA. I think he has the chance to be a nice pro, but I'm not envisioning anything special.
Bismack Biyombo - PF - Baloncesto Fuenlabrada (Spain) - 6'9" / 245
I've seen Biyombo's name as high as #8 and as low as #25. The Congo native is all over the board right now, which makes sense because he's easily the biggest wildcard in the first round. With raw skills that are unmistakably reminiscent of Serge Ibaka, Biyombo is an athletic freak with a long body -- his most attractive asset being a ridiculous 7'6" (!) wingspan -- and explosive jumping ability. He's a defensive dynamo who excels as a shot blocker and rebounder but is woefully underdeveloped offensively, can't shoot for shit, and is still learning the nuances of the game. There's certainly a lot of potential in Biyombo's game and it's fun watching him defend the rim, but he's a major boom-or-bust project that will need a lot of time to develop.
Kenneth Faried - PF - Morehead State - 6'8" / 225
I mentioned Faried as the "NBA prospect you've never heard of" in my NCAA Tournament preview, and he made me look a lot smarter than I actually am by putting up 12 points and 17 rebounds in the Eagles' first round upset of Louisville. We'll just gloss over the fact that those 12 points came on 4-for-17 shooting, as Faried was a monster on the boards and in the paint as a defensive presence. Here's what I wrote about him back in March:
Dude's legit. He's very Paul Millsap-like (henceforth referred to as Millsapien), in that he has been the nation's best rebounder -- from a non-power school, too -- over the last three seasons (he has finished third, second, and first, in that order). Faried is also very Millsapien-like in that nobody knows his name or who he is because his highlights are never on Sports Center (and Morehead State is never on TV). You can be sure NBA teams are well aware of him, though, and that he will be drafted in June. I don't think Faried is going to be as good a pro as Millsap (because he's not as strong and is a lesser scorer), but he has the skills to be a valuable contributor for a team as an energy player and tenacious rebounder.
Faried doesn't have much of an NBA-caliber offensive game to speak of, but he more than makes up for it with his defense and work on the glass (skills which both translate well to the next level). Probably has the best motor in the draft, too. I do have concerns about Faried's thin frame (only 225 pounds), and he's going to need to add some bulk/strength in order to hold up against NBA players. He also doesn't have a defined position in the pros and falls into the tweener category. Even so, I don't see any way that Faried doesn't develop into an effective, key role player off the bench who is beloved by coaches, teammates, and fans. He will definitely find his niche in the NBA, but it might not be as anything more than a bench/energy player. So, is Faried worth the #16 pick? Let me put it to you this way: I wouldn't be angry if the Sixers took him.
Nikola Vucevic - C - Southern California - 7'0" / 260
I've been warming to the thought of taking Nikola Vucevic, even if some might consider him a reach at #16. He's a legitimate center, both in terms of size (7'0" and 260 pounds) and skill. Having those favorable bloodlines as the son of a former European pro also never hurts. The first time I ever saw Vucevic play was by accident back in late December. I was flipping through the sports channels at my house -- you know, the region-specific ones that you find in the 800's (I understand that I'm a nerd) -- and came across USC's Pac-10 opener against Washington. Normally I wouldn't give the game so much as a second thought before flipping to another channel, but Vucevic caught my eye immediately. With the dearth of traditional centers in the college and pro game today, it was his body and stature that really stuck out. You size him up and think, Now THAT is what a center should look like. Vucevic is not the most athletic guy, but he moves very well for a big man and plays a polished, cerebral game that relies on hard work, savvy, and superior fundamentals (on that note, he's a willing and impressive passer for a big man). The most encouraging thing is how he progressed in each of his three college seasons. By his junior season, Vucevic was a double-double machine who more than held his own -- and then some -- in three games against the draft's presumed second overall pick, Derrick Williams.
Vucevic displays smooth moves around the basket, but his post game needs some work and he's still developing in that area (though he's perfected an efficient hook shot). He's a good rebounder, already has tremendous range for a center (thus enabling him to pull his defender away from the basket to open up the lane), and displays a soft touch both inside and out. At 260 pounds, Vucevic doesn't actively shy away from contact and played close enough to the basket to average double-digits in boards. Still, he's neither a "banger" nor the type that will ever physically dominate players at the next level. That can pose problems on defense when he has to go one-on-one and stronger players are able to muscle past him to get to the basket; wondering how he'll handle the quicker, supremely athletic players is also a valid concern. That said, Vucevic is actually an underrated isolation defender (in my opinion) and a solid help defender with a 7'4.5" wingspan; he averaged over a blocked shot per game for his college career and altered many more. He's a center more in the Mehmet Okur/Nenad Krstic mold, and I think he has the skill set to be a valuable contributor.
Marshon Brooks - SG - Providence - 6'5" / 195
Brooks is a lethal scorer who last season put up two of the most dominant college performances I've ever seen when he annihilated Georgetown and Notre Dame within an 18-day span -- never mind that Providence came out on the losing end both times. He has no trouble creating his own shot and boasts an array of hesitation/dribble-drive moves to beat defenders one-on-one, displaying great body control and finishing ability once he gets to the rim (and he can get there at will). Already has NBA range and a smooth shot that extends out to the three-point line. The one thing that really makes Brooks intriguing, however, is his length. He has prototypical size for a shooting guard at 6'5", but it's his ridiculous 7'1" wingspan that really makes him dangerous. Brooks is able to release his shot at a higher point than most other players his size, making him very difficult to block, and his wingspan helped him be an excellent rebounder in college. It should also enable him to become a dependable -- if not formidable -- defender at the next level, provided he gets the necessary coaching. Brooks registered 1.2 blocks per game last season and forced opposing players to alter their shots countless other times. The main concern surrounding him is about how he's going to transition to the NBA, when he won't necessarily be the only focal point of the offense nor have the ball in his hands all the time like he did his senior season with Providence. Brooks's ball domination with the Friars also led to some questionable decision-making, as it was obvious he didn't trust his teammates and felt he had to do everything himself (not that he was wrong). However, those concerns should be assuaged as Brooks comes to understand that the talent surrounding him in the pros is a tad better than what he experienced in college. Overall, the skills, physical attributes, and swagger are all there for him to succeed in the NBA.
Tristan Thompson - PF - Texas - 6'9" / 230
Thompson had an excellent freshman season at Texas, where he transformed his body and immediately made his mark on the team. He has the frame to continue putting on muscle, as he did in his one year with the Longhorns, and will need to in order to play power forward in the NBA because he's sort of a tweener right now. Long, explosive athlete and jumper, energetic, plays hard, coachable... lots of room to grow as a player and is athletic enough to play multiple positions. Thompson is already a tough defender and was one of the nation's best shot blockers at 2.4 per game (a 7'2" wingspan allows him to contest and/or block shots from the weak side). He's also a skilled rebounder at both ends of the floor and was especially effective on the offensive glass (averaged four per game), something that typically translates well to the NBA. However, Thompson is mainly confined to playing close to the rim because his offensive game isn't developed. He needs to work to make himself a better post player, jump shooter, and free throw shooter (shot a ghastly 48% from the charity stripe). That said, Thompson can actually handle the ball pretty well for a guy his size and has shown the ability to take his man off the dribble. If he can continue to improve at the rate he did in just one year of college, he could end up being a real steal.
Markieff Morris - PF - Kansas - 6'9" / 245
He's bigger, stronger, and more athletic than Marcus, as well as a better defender and rebounder. Marcus's offensive game is more advanced and he gets all the pub, but Markieff can finish around the rim (has a nifty baby hook) and is an underrated shooter who can even step out and hit the three, going 42.4% (25 of 59) from beyond the arc as a senior. While he doesn't have his brother's face up or post up game and won't be taking his man off the dribble, Markieff is an athletic big who can get up up and down the court and hold his own underneath. I don't think he'll have much trouble physically matching up with NBA power forwards, but he has a limited ceiling as a player.
Jordan Hamilton - SF - Texas - 6'8" / 230
Classic wing who runs the floor like a gazelle and finishes in transition. Actually rebounds better than one would expect from a wing player and is a pure, deadly shooter with NBA range. Not overly quick or athletic and would rather spot up than drive to the hoop. Lack of length hurts him defensively. Sometimes Hamilton thinks he's better than he is, so the next level might be a bit of a rude awakening.
Tobias Harris - SF - Tennessee - 6'7" / 225
A freshman who really came on at the end of this past season, Harris started harnessing his talents and showed glimpses of his future potential. He is a smart, cerebral, unselfish player who plays a solid, well-rounded game and likes to get his teammates involved. A versatile, crafty combo forward with a good shot and NBA range. Harris can also put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim, but I'm not sure he's going to consistently blow by defenders. He relies more on guile and basketball IQ because he is not the most athletic player; by all accounts a personable kid and tireless worker, which bodes well for his continued development. Harris doesn't exactly wow you with any one skill but has plenty of tools in the toolbox, so to speak. Could have trouble guarding NBA small forwards and needs to get stronger/leaner.
Donatas Motiejunas - PF - Benetton Treviso (Italy) - 7'0" / 225
I've seen his name on NBA draft websites for years, as it was originally thought he'd enter the 2009 draft as an 18-year old and be a lottery pick. He has since seen his stock take a serious dip, despite playing a lot of minutes for Benetton Treviso this past season as a 20-year old and averaging 12 points per game on 53% shooting. Motiejunas is a stereotypical European "stretch" big who makes his living away from the rim. He is a smooth, highly skilled offensive player who's athleticism and quickness make him a difficult matchup for other players his size. A gifted passer and shooter who prefers to play a face up game and can take his man off the dribble, Motiejunas still needs to learn how to play more effectively with his back to the basket. Must get stronger and has been labeled as lazy and moody. Couple that with the fact that he's soft as butter, doesn't rebound, and eschews playing defense... uh, I'll pass.
My favorite player in the draft:
Norris Cole - PG - Cleveland State - 6'2" / 174
Reason: Retro hi-top fade haircut
But seriously, I like Cole a lot. The first time he really introduced himself on a national scale was against Wake Forest in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament. But Cole's real coming out party was that cartoonish 41-point, 20-rebound, 9-assist near-triple-double-but-awesome-enough-that-I'm-just-going-to-consider-it-a-triple-double performance against Youngstown State on February 12, which earned him his own highlight and shout-out on SportsCenter.All of a sudden, Cole was on the radar, and his name started popping up on NBA draft websites everywhere. A little undersized at 6'1" and 174 pounds (although with a wiry frame), but he's quick, fearless, tough, tenacious, and possesses exceptional basketball IQ. Cole gets to the rim whenever he wants and is equally adept at finishing or dishing to an open teammate.
I just absolutely love his all-around game as a scorer, passer, rebounder, and overall floor general/team leader -- he's the complete package at point guard. Cole's better at patrolling the passing lanes (2.2 SPG) but also happens to be an underrated on-ball/man-to-man defender. One thing he has going against him, though, is his 6'2" wingspan, which is more regular human than it is basketball player. Some may say Cole is a jack-of-all-trades, master of none type of player, but that doesn't really bother me because he can beat you in so many ways. If we're being honest, he's my third-ranked point guard in the draft, behind Kyrie Irving and Brandon Knight but ahead of Kemba Walker (yes, really), Darius Morris, and Jimmer Fredette. That's how much I think of Norris Cole. I'll just throw something crazy out there and say maybe he is the point guard the Cavaliers should take in the draft -- perhaps with the second pick of the second round -- if they aren't sold on Kyrie Irving or Brandon Knight and would rather go in other directions with both top picks.
Other late-first/second-round prospects to remember:
Charles Jenkins - PG/SG - Hofstra - 6'3" / 220
Dominant scorer at the college level. Then again, if you're playing at Hofstra and are any good, you should dominate that level of competition. Jenkins has an impressive build for the guard position -- he looks like he's carved from granite -- and uses his body and strength to his advantage when driving the lane. He can shoot the rock, has NBA range, and gets to both the bucket and free throw line. There are questions surrounding his athleticism and explosiveness, and it looks like he might be more suited as a scoring point/combo guard at the next level.
Davis Bertans - SF - Union Olimpija Ljubljana (Slovenia) - 6'10" / 210
Scouts love his length, range, and jump shot (Dirk Nowitzki comparisons have been thrown around), but Bertans's body is far from NBA-ready -- saying he's rail thin would be actually be compliment to the amount of muscle on his frame. He's going to need to stay overseas for at least a few more years. Seems like an Oklahoma City, San Antonio, or Portland type of pick.
Justin Harper - SF/PF - Richmond - 6'9" / 230
Harper's not physical enough to be a traditional power forward, but he could fit the bill as a "Stretch 4." Overall, I think he'll find his niche as a small forward. Harper's a good, long athlete with a really pretty shot and legitimate NBA three-point range. He's somewhat soft and doesn't rebound enough for a player his size; he's basically strictly an outside shooter who can stretch the floor and is deadly when he gets hot.
Bojan Bogdanovic - SG/SF - Cibona Zagreb (Croatia) - 6'7" / 216
The second-leading scorer in the Euroleague this past season, Bogdanovic is a slasher and shooter who can play multiples roles on the floor. He is currently 22 and has a wealth of playing experience. Transformed himself from basically a three-point specialist into an all-around offensive threat who can also handle the ball and direct a fast break. Bogdanovic is not eligible for a buyout until he's 24, but once he comes over he could make an immediate impact in the NBA as a rotational wing player. Not a good defender, average athlete, and needs to add some more bulk.
Jon Leuer - PF - Wisconsin - 6'11" / 225
Leuer is not a traditional power forward and will struggle to guard his position in the pros, but he has incredible range and a high basketball IQ. Not all that athletic, but he can take his man off the dribble and create his own shot. Leuer was underrated his entire college career and seems like a perfect fit for a team's second unit.
Andrew Goudelock - SG - College of Charleston - 6'3" / 200
Watched him absolutely torch Maryland in last season's opening game -- the guy can play. Goudelock's got a smooth release, NBA range, and can fill up the basket in a hurry. He's a big-time scorer who shot better than 45% from the floor, 40% from three, and 80% from the line over the course of his college career. There should be a place for him somewhere in the league.
Cam Long - PG/SG - George Mason - 6'4" / 192
The best player on a George Mason team that made the NCAA Tournament this past season, Long steadily improved in each of his four years in college. I like his game a lot, from what I've been able to see. He is an excellent shooter, both in the mid-range game and from three, and has great rhythm in catch-and-shoot situations. Long has a 6'8.5" wingspan that enables him to shoot over defenders, be an effective rebounder, and get his hands in passing lanes. He's a team-first guy who does a little bit of everything and plays a lot like a point guard. Smart, steady, confident leader with underrated court vision and the ability to run an offense. Can also go one-on-one, beat his man, and attack the lane. Just a solid, well-rounded basketball player who can do it all.
Deep sleeper you've almost certainly never heard of and probably won't get drafted:
Xavier Silas - SG - Northern Illinois - 6'5" / 200
Transfered from Colorado after one season. Despite not being an elite athlete, Silas is a big-time scorer with a sweet shot and three-point range. He's strong, gets to the line (shoots over 80%), and is a tough defender, too. It's just unfortunate for him that he's been playing in relative obscurity at Northern Illinois. Now that Silas has had the chance to play with other NBA prospects at some pre-draft showcases, though, reports are that he impressed those in attendance and looked like he belonged.
Take this guy in the second round and let him continue to develop overseas:
Giorgi Shermadini - C - KK Union Olimpija (Slovenia) - 7'1" / 265
I like what I read, and the fact that he's a legitimate center both in build and skill set. I know what the italicized title above his name says, but Shermandini's already 22 and might actually be ready to come to the NBA sooner rather than later.