The NBA is a difficult one to project because teams draft players based more on potential than the NFL Draft. A player’s age and “ceiling” are considered more important than actual on the court production. I will “unveil” my top half of the lottery today with the rest coming later this week, please feel free to tell me just how wrong you think I am.
With the Wizards pulling the upset and getting the first pick in next months NBA Draft Washington should be able to get its hands on the next great phenomenon to follow in the footsteps of Alex Ovechkin and Steven Strasburg.
1. Wizards – John Wall, Point Guard, 6-4, 195, Kentucky, Freshman
John Wall is about as can’t miss a prospect as there has been since a certain “King” James made the leap to the NBA. Wall is the most athletic point guard I have seen in a very long time and has an amazing combination of speed, quickness, leaping ability, and power. Wall has very long arms for a point guard and will be able to create havoc in the passing lanes and has the ability to be a very good defender especially on weak-side help. Wall takes a lot of pride in getting his teammates involved in the game and has above average vision for a player at this stage of his development.
Wall will need to improve his midrange and outside shot to become a dominant player but if he can at minimum make teams respect his jumper he should be almost unstoppable in the NBA.
With the Wizards trading Caron Butler, Antwan Jamison, and Brendan Haywood this past season and potentially preparing to attempt to get out of “Agent Zero’s” mega-contract this off season the Wizards are going to need Wall to become the face of the franchise. Andray Blacthe looked like he was developing into a star after the Wizards made him the focal point of the offense and along with the development of Nick Young the Wizards could have a very solid young nucleus going forward.
2. 76ers – Evan Turner, Guard/Forward, 6-7, 217, Ohio State, Junior
Evan Turner became my favorite player this past season as I watched him mature into an absolute beast for the Buckeyes. Turner is a freakishly versatile player that can play four positions on the floor including capably running the point at 6’ 7”. Turner is a gifted ball handler and is an exceptional scorer, especially with his ability to get to the rack at will. While Turner has excelled at getting to the cup he is also a rare prospect that has a very mature midrange game as well. Turner is a good rebounder and a guy that isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty and fight in the post with the trees.
Much like 90% of prospects coming out of college Turner will need to improve his outside shot to become a superstar. I have heard the comparison to Scottie Pippen and I must say I couldn’t agree more.
The 76ers are a team that made a huge splash two seasons ago by signing Elton Brand; unfortunately for Sixers fans Brand has been ridded by injuries and his production has fallen off to the point his basically a 13-8 role player that will be making $35 million dollars over the next two seasons. Aside from Brand the 76ers do have some quality young players in the organization starting with Andre Iguodala and Samuel Dalembert add to those two players the developing Louis Williams and Jrue Holiday and the Sixers could make a run at a playoff spot quicker than most people believe. I would also implore you to keep an eye on Marreese Speights, a second year player out of Florida that could develop into a solid successor to Brand and a big contributor to this team.
3. Nets – Derrick Favors, Power Forward, 6-9, 246, Georgia Tech, Freshman
If you were building the perfect power forward I am pretty sure he would come out looking exactly like Favors. The Wake Forest freshman is freak with a 9’ 1” wingspan and combines that with insane hops to make him a potentially unstoppable force in the post. Favors is a tremendous finisher with soft hands and ever improving footwork; combining him with a quality point guard could make the ally-oop a major piece to his game. Favors also has great speed up the floor and routinely out runs slower players up the court for easy finishes. Unlike a lot of big men that play above the rim (I’m looking at you Dwight Howard) Favors seems to be comfortable at the free throw line and this skill could add 7-9 points to his nightly totals.
Favors will need to continue to get stronger at the next level if he wants to bag down low with the Dwight Howards of the world. On the court his vision and passing ability must improve if he wants to be an elite post player and he will need to show that he is going to bring it every night on every play.
It is no secret the Nets were hoping to get the first pick in the draft so they could bring in John Wall and then bring in “King” James to create an instant contender. With that plan up in smoke the Nets and their new Russian Billionaire owner will still make a strong play for James but they will not have the same allure without Wall. I do believe that Favors fits the Nets needs a lot more than Wall and could at least help to make them competitive this season. Devin Harris is an underrated point guard that when healthy is an All Star. I feel like Brook Lopez is going to flourish this season and become one of the top-5 big men in the league in his third season. Now you combine those two players with Favors, Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Terrance Williams and you could potentially have something special when the Nets make the jump to Brooklyn. Now if you add LeBron to that mix and they may have something special even before they make the jump to the big city.
4. Timberwolves – Wesley Johnson, Small Forward, 6-7, 205, Syracuse, Junior
Johnson is about as good of a small forward prospect as you could ask for; he has prototypical size at 6’ 7” and combines that with long arms and tremendous leaping ability. While Johnson has no problem getting to the rack he can merge his driving ability with a complete mid-range game and the ability to shoot consistently from distance. Johnson is a smooth wing that has an above average basketball IQ and is an efficient scorer that doesn’t need 30 shots to get his 20 points.
Johnson had a tendency to disappear for long stretches of games for the ‘Cuse last year but that can be commonplace with a player as supremely talented as Johnson. Johnson will also need to create more contact on his drives and get easy points from the charity stripe, something he didn’t do during his junior season. Johnson is also 3-4 years older than all of the other top prospects in this draft at 23 and teams may be fearful he is closer to his ceiling than other lottery picks.
The T-Wolves are going to live and die by the health and play of Al Jefferson. Before a knee injury two years ago Jefferson looked like one of the top-10 players in the league; last season he struggled out of the gate but started to ramp it up towards the end of the season finishing the season averaging 17-9. After taking two point guards in the top-5 last year (one of which still has no intention of leaving Spain for Minnesota) a lot of people were left scratching their heads but Jonny Flynn looks like he could be the real deal. If Kevin Love can stay healthy and be a physical force on the inside with Jefferson the T-Wolves only real hole in their Starting 5 would be a scoring wing, cue Wesley Johnson. I think the T-Wolves could be better than some people think if all of their players remain healthy but a lack of depth and very little quality on the bench will be too much for them to overcome to make a playoff run.
5. Kings – DeMarcus Cousins, Power Forward/Center, 6-11, 280 Freshman
In pure production per minute nobody can even come close to Cousins season in Lexington and that rapid fire production could make him the most impactful rookie in 2011. Cousins is an absolute beast that dominates the post on both end of the floor. Cousins is an outstanding rebounder and uses his big body and exceptional power to gain position under the glass. Offensively he is an above average finisher that loves contact and has no problem getting to the line for an old fashion three point play.
For all of the talent Cousins possesses on the court he has some major maturity issues that could derail a potentially great career. He was considered a wild card from day one in Lexington and may have some major questions to answer in pre draft interviews. I also saw a lack of conditioning that will need to be addressed and could be a sign of bigger issue in terms of work ethic. If Cousins can answer all of the questions surrounding him we could be looking at the NBA’s next great post player.
Tyreke Evans is a superstar waiting to bust out onto the scene and that may come this year. Combine him with Jason Thompson, a player that just a pure athletic specimen and the Kings have two very good players. That is the problem though, after trading Kevin Martin and his 20 points a night to Houston Sacramento has only 2 good players on their roster. The Kings have a lot of rebuilding to do and may have a longer road to respectability than teams picking ahead of them in this draft but Cousins is an excellent piece to add.
6. Warriors – Al-Farouq Aminu, Forward, 6-8, 215, Wake Forest, Sophomore
A long, quick, freakish athlete Aminu may become a better defender than scorer at the NBA level; at 6’ 8” he has the ability to defend the 2, 3, or the 4 with great success. Aminu’s offensive game is still developing; he is an explosive leaper and has good footwork in the post making him a very competent scorer with his back to the basket.
To become a starting small forward in the NBA Aminu will need to do a lot of work on his range and shooting ability. While defensively he may be pro ready his offensive game may be a few years away.
The Warriors are what they are and that is a run and gun, high octane offense that puts up shot after shot without a conscious. Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis combine to make a great backcourt with the pair averaging 43 points and 11.2 assists per game. The bigger issue is down low where the Warriors are thin; Anthony Randolph and Andris Biedrins could be productive in Don Nelson’s system but neither could stay on the court last season combining to play in only 66 games last season. As usual the Warriors scored at an amazing clip but the front office needs to begin to see they can not win playing the style of basketball they currently do. Aminu will bring an immediate presence on the defensive end and will dive for loose balls and out hustle opponents. I personally see the Warriors spinning their wheels with this current roster and I don’t see them making much improvement from the 26 wins they had last season.
7. Pistons – Cole Aldrich, Center, 6-11, 245, Kansas, Junior
Cole Aldrich is the best pure center in the draft; he comes in with a ton of big game experience and his basketball IQ is through the roof. Aldrich is never going to blow you away with his athleticism and he isn’t going to jump out of the building but he will work hard every day and give you everything he has for every second he is on the floor. He has developed a nice hook shot going into his junior season which was a major development in his offensive game. Aldrich also has outstanding footwork in the post and his free throw shooting hovers around 80% which is outstanding for an NBA center. Aldrich is also extremely fast in transition for his size and does an excellent job of filling the lane and finishing on the break.
Aldrich is not the athletic freak that other big men in this draft are and he will probably be a fundamentally sound post player but never the superstar, focal point of a championship team. He is also not overly emotional and is very even keeled on the court showing very little emotion ala Tim Duncan.
The Pistons gave Ben Gordon $58 million over five years last offseason and he averaged 13.8 points coming off the bench in 73% of his games played last season. “Rip” Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are still doing their thing on the wings and Rodney Stuckey has All Star potential. The Pistons are not a great team and they are actually very old, I think they could pretty much use the best player available but I think Cole Aldrich is a Detroit kind of player and fills a huge hole for the Pistons in the middle.