Tonight’s NBA Draft: A Hunt for Hidden Gems

Tonight’s NBA draft looks to be a story of two bankable picks and a huge drop-off for the rest of the top ten. Kyrie Irvin and Derrick Williams are projected to go Nos. 1 and 2 respectively to the Cavs and Timberwolves. After that, prepare for obviously limited college players and unproven Euros.

Not that this means the draft will be completely devoid of talent. The 2007 draft was widely seen to be devoid of top-flight talent after Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were off the board, but Al Horford, Mike Conley, and Joakim Noah have turned into solid starters for contending teams.

Will some of the other lottery picks turn into decent ballers in the NBA? Or will this draft be like the cursed 2000 draft, which produced a bunch of lackluster misfits?

the questionable foreigners

Enes Kanter, Jan Vesely, Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, and Donatas Motiejunas are all guys who exist on low-quality local film and haven’t seen a minute of American action — yet are all projected to go in the top 20. Of these, Kanter is the most-heralded, a solid-body 6′11″ teenage center rumored to have a decent post-up game and a mid-range jumpshot. Valanciunas is similar — but burdened with a Euroleague contract buyout that will hurt his value. As for the others: Vesely is an unpolished dunking machine; Biyombo a whirlwind of athleticism without a basketball IQ; and Montiejunas, with the longest track record, a solid but unspectacular Euroleague player.

The College Combo Guards

Ah, the combo guard. Too small and/or ineffective without the ball to play shooting guard. Not good enough at ball-handling and/or lacking court vision to play the point. The highly touted guys in this draft are Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, and Jimmer Fredette. All of these guys will be tried at point guard. We have recently seen players of this caliber find certain success in the NBA in Tyreke Evans, Russell Westbrook, Monta Ellis, and Stephen Curry. (Jason Terry, another maligned combo guard, just played an integral part in the Mavs’ NBA championship.) NBA teams are always enamored with these kinds of talents, but remember, the combo guard came of age in the NBA with Stephon Marbury, Gilbert Arenas, and Steve Francis.

But this collection of combo guards doesn’t have the kind of pure talent of those forerunners. Brandon Knight will be drafted highest of this group due to his size and success at Kentucky, and Jimmer Fredette looks to translate as a new-age Ben Gordon. Kemba Walker is an interesting case — he had great success in college, but he’ll be going up against bigger, quicker defenders in the NBA. He’ll be one of the five shortest point guards ever drafted in the lottery. So you might consider as his comparables guys like D. J. Augustin, Jonny Flynn, and Raymond Felton.

The Not-Quite-Power-Forwards

While Derrick Williams could lead this category, he’s far too polished to be lumped in with also-rans. like Tristan Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Jordan Hamilton, and Chris Singleton — all guys who made a living in college on being more athletic than other guys their size. They won’t find that to be the case in the NBA. Universally, they need to develop more polished post games to be effective against defenders that will be bigger and quicker than their college competition. But with the NBA always seeming to move smaller, they might find a home.

This doesn’t entirely cover the guys who will be top-20 draft picks, but it’s telling that many of them can be broken down into flawed prospect archetypes. This isn’t 2003. There probably aren’t any franchise-changers in this draft. But a little luck and a little skill development could turn any of the above players into solid NBA starters. The question remains: Who will it be?

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