Basketball

NBA Draft Prospects Part 1

Okay, first, let’s give a standing ovation to the grand finale of this year’s March Madness. After two lackluster semifinal games, we finally got a barnburner of a championship game. Shout out to the young homie Kris Jenkins (DMV STAND UP!) for knocking down the ultimate dagger to win the ‘ship for the Wildcats of Villanova. Allen Iverson gets into the NBA Hall of Fame and an NCAA Championship for Villanova, pretty good day for Philly…somebody pass me a cheesesteak.

Every year, we hear about how early entry candidates for the NBA Draft are robbing the college ranks of its most elite talent, however year after year we see insanely exciting NCAA Tournament games that show that the game is alive and thriving. “The Experts” say that this year’s draft lacks the depth of other years, but there are still quite a few intriguing prospects. As a full-blown hoops nut, I’m going to give you MY THOUGHTS about a few guys I’ve seen this season and/or in the tournament and how they could translate to the NBA game.

Now, BE CLEAR…this is my opinion fan boys (and girls), but I’d be happy to discuss. I’ll mention where other publications may rank a kid, but I’ll focus on what I’ve seen from them with my own two eyes. Let’s go…

Ben Simmons
Forward
LSU
6’10” 240lbs

ben-simmons-ncaa-basketball-texas-a-m-louisiana-state

The Good: Ben has “the passing gene”. At his size, he sees the floor well and puts guys position to score. His build will allow him to attack the paint in the pro’s and should enable him to play in the post down the line. He seems to grasp the game well and with the shift to “position-less basketball” with bigger guys as playmakers (Bron, Giannis, Draymond…even Boris…and going back, Lamar Odom at his best), I can see clearly his path to success in the league. Ben will rebound his position, get deflections and strips, but isn’t quite a rim protector…but he’s another guy who will stuff the box score nightly.

The Not-So-Good: We haven’t seen that Ben can shoot…in his defense, we haven’t seen that he CAN’T shoot either. His motion is a bit hitchy, but he seems to have good touch around the rim so I can see him employing an array of floaters and flip shots in the paint (Hey kids…THAT counts as being a “great shooter” as well). I don’t see him ever being a big time perimeter shooter, but he can definitely become a guy you’ve got to get a hand on with work. He’s not CRAZY athletic, and could struggle against guys of similar size and athleticism, but my gut says he’ll figure it out.

The “Huh?” (Wild-card stuff and things I’m not sure about): I won’t talk about his academic issues, because IMO, he should never have been forced to go through LSU to get to the NBA to begin with (that’s a whole other conversation though). I’ll also resist the silly temptation to make the academic issues a referendum on his character because some of the best players and citizens in the NBA weren’t Academic All-Americans, if they went to college at all. I WILL say that whether he has that “dog” in him, hoops fans know what that is, is slightly in question, but doesn’t mean he won’t succeed at the NBA level. He was on a college team that IMO, didn’t deploy his gifts the best way or surround him with guys that played well off of what he does well, so I’ll give him a slight pass there.

Overall, I think Ben is still the odds-on favorite to go #1. Every year there’s a consensus top guy, “The Experts” try to talk themselves out of him and into someone else. I DO think there are scenarios where a team with a dominant facilitator would pass on him to take Brandon Ingram (who projects as more of a scorer), but I’d say take the best guy and figure it out. Ben has multiple All-Star appearance potential and could be the most important player, but probably not the leading scorer, on a championship-level squad.

Buddy Hield
Guard
Oklahoma
6’4” 215

Buddy2

The Good: Full disclosure: Buddy was my favorite player to watch this season. He plays with reckless abandon and has the “big shot” gene. Whenever he heated up, the homies and I always said “Uh oh! Buddy Hield alert!” We KNEW he had the Hibatchi warming. Buddy can make shots, period. He doesn’t display Steph Curry range, but he’s a guy you’ve got to stay attached to. His knockdown ability opens the floor for him and allows him to get in the lane for floaters. No player in college hoops this year had to do more for his team to win, so he’s mentally tough and plays with the “dog”. He displayed a cool knack for getting separation for shots as well. One of the oldest tricks in the book is to use your defender’s momentum against them to create space, and Buddy didn’t need a lot of it. I’ve tried to think of a comparison for him and while nobody lines up completely for me right now, I see some Gilbert Arenas and the potential to be a Vinnie Johnson-type off the bench.

The Not-So-Good: Buddy doesn’t have ideal size for an NBA shooting guard and definitely won’t play the point. I won’t kill him as a passer because Coach Kruger’s directive for him seemed to be “let it fly!” However, as a ballhandler, he’ll need to improve to continue to find ways to get buckets in the league. He’s not stellar as an athlete, despite being sneaky-quick off the ball. Buddy competes on defense, and while we won’t call him a lockdown guy, he’s not a turnstile and displays the kind of effort to not get ROASTED nightly.

The Huh: He’s a four-year guy (Let me pause by saying I find it AMAZING that scouting has reached a point where we want to mark a kid down because he stayed in school TOO LONG, when we can clearly see a defined skill set. The team with more points on the scoreboard ALWAYS wins, and nobody in this draft is better than Buddy at that, no matter his age or how long he stayed in school. Rant over.) Fit is going to be key for him, a team with a big guy that can draw attention into the paint to allow Buddy to bomb away from long and mid-range would be ideal, IMO. I also think seeing him next to a larger facilitator could help and may help hide him a bit on defense.

First, Buddy is a LEADER…guys will roll with him even though he will occasionally take too many shots. Also, we know that NBA scouts love “POTENTIAL” (that love affair also gets them fired quite frequently). Buddy IMO was in the top 10 before the NCAA tournament and showed enough to get Top 5 consideration. Why? The only reason scouts like guys like Jaylen Brown and Jamal Murray better is age…but Buddy can get buckets TOMORROW. He’ll probably land somewhere between 5 and 10, but I’m looking forward to the “Buddy Hield Alert” in an NBA gym.

Domantas Sabonis
Forward
Gonzaga
6”10” 240

Sabonis

The Good: Post work! Domantas, like his Dad, the legendary Arvydas, is a TRUE back-to-the basket guy. All the tricks that would make Kevin McHale smile. He’s got a nice jump hook out to 10 feet, all of the floaters and up-and-under stuff along with the same nice touch his pops displayed. It’s rare in today’s game that a kid this size has given so much focus to playing effectively in the paint. Fundamentally he’s solid all the way here, keeps the ball high, rebounds willingly and positions himself well on defense.

The Not-So-Good: He’s not an athlete, and the NBA places a premium on lateral quickness , vertical and reaction time. He won’t blow scouts away in the combine physically. He’s also sort of a “finished product” where we can pretty much see what he is in final form, that scares scouts who will wonder if he’s as good as he’ll ever be.

The Huh: Pretty much the same as above. Further, the NBA game is shifting rapidly. Guys like Zach Randolph, Pau & Marc Gasol and Marcin Gortat are still effective NBA players, but the way coaches are wanting to use 6’10” guys is trending towards more playmaking and making 18-footers off pick and pop action. Domantas has the goods to put up numbers in the paint, provided he plays with willing guards in an offense that provides opportunities for him to work methodically in the post. He’s a guy who could end up having a LONG career, but if he lands in the wrong spot, could end up underutilized at the end of a bench.

I personally love Domantas’ game, he’s a classic power forward and probably a first round pick, but whether he can maximize his (now unique) gifts, largely depends on how the team that drafts him wants to play. I’d love to see him land somewhere like Houston or Portland, where there is lots of perimeter scoring, but needs someone like him to balance for 20 minutes a night OR a spot like Memphis who is already committed to playing a style that suits him and would be able to bring him along slowly behind the similar guys ahead of him.

Brice Johnson
Forward
UNC
6’9” 225

bricejohnson

The Good: Full disclosure…I hadn’t seen a lot of Brice before this season, but he’s impressed me the more I’ve seen him. He’s a pogo stick…he gets off the ground SUPER quick and plays with energy. He’s not (Fellow former Tarheel) Antwan Jamison, but he’s displayed a nice touch out to 12-15 feet and has developed a nice set of push shots and floaters. He attacks the rim and had a strong ACC and NCAA Tournament run which likely moved him up 10 or more spots on draft boards. He’s a guy I’d imagine is more of an acquired taste for an NBA scout. Not a “stretch four”, not a play initiator, but a guy who will go get the ball off the rim, run in transition and can get buckets off of backdoor cuts and dives to the rim off the screen-and-go action. He will rebound out of his space and can block shots while defending straight up because of his quick jump.

The Not-So-Good: No defined position. We don’t KNOW what he is in the league…he’s often going to depend on others to get him buckets and will need to crash the offensive boards and run hard in transition, but we need to see what he will do when he’s not the most athletic big guy on the floor, which wasn’t often the case in college. He also disappeared for stretches where he seemed to drift without a defined attack plan or when his guards started going for self.

The Huh: Will he need to evolve into something slightly different in the league? He’s slight of build and will be at a height where he will usually be playing against guys his height or taller. Can he develop his jumper to be reliable farther away? Will he find the knack to get buckets when his team isn’t running action for him to eat? I hope he ends up somewhere that will feature him as part of a second unit that plays fast.

Brice definitely made some money during the tournament, and while he’s not quite a “potential” guy, he’s someone who I think will find a niche in the league as an energy guy off the bench. He’s mature and seems like a solid kid and locker room presence. Brice doesn’t project as a “star” (only a FEW guys in this draft do, IMO), but he will help your team win. My guess is on draft day, he’s gone by the early 20’s.

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