How NBA Draft Lottery Prospects Match Up Against Superstars at Their Positions
Adjusting to the rigors of the pro game is just one of a litany of challenges facing this year's crop of college basketball stars slated for big paydays at Thursday's NBA Draft.
As is the case with all high-profile rookies, the cream of the crop in the class of 2012 will spend their inaugural seasons fighting through growing pains (especially those, like Anthony Davis, who might actually still be growing), figuring out how to survive the grind of playing 82 games against fully-formed men and, from time to time, measuring themselves against the best in the sport.
In all likelihood, the top newcomers would have as rough a go as any opposite MVPs, All-NBA performers and future Hall-of-Famers. But who knows? Maybe the latest superstars-in-the-making will hold their own against the league's elite.
In any case, here are my predictions of how the best prospects at each position would match up against their preeminent pro counterparts.
Anthony Davis vs. Kevin Love
Draft gurus have taken to comparing Anthony Davis to a young Tim Duncan, but the San Antonio Spurs stalwart can no longer call himself the best power forward on the planet.
Though, for a 36-year-old with a "DNP—Old" on his resume, he's still remarkably close to the top spot at his position.
Still, if Davis wants to send a message to his fellow power forwards, he'd do well to start with Kevin Love, whenever it is the New Orleans Hornets get around to playing the Minnesota Timberwolves. Love is well on his way to establishing himself as a bona fide superstar after appearing in the All-Star Game and averaging better than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in each of the last two seasons.
Blake Griffin may hog the highlight reels with his high-flying dunks and acrobatic finishes, but it's Love who stands out as the better basketball player, thanks to his wide array of superb skills (passing, shooting, posting up, rebounding, etc.) and his impressive understanding of how to throw around his 6'10'', 260-pound frame to the greatest effect.
Davis, at a rail-thin 6'11'' and 220 pounds, would likely run into a heap of trouble against the stout T-Wolves standout. The presumptive No. 1 pick found life difficult enough against Thomas Robinson in the national championship game this past April, when the bruising big man out of Kansas bowled his way to 18 points and 17 rebounds.
Love, mind you, has at least 15 pounds on T-Rob and is light years ahead of the former Jayhawk as far as offensive skills are concerned.
In Davis' defense, he wasn't the only one charged with checking Robinson that night, and he might just be able to pick his spots against Love. Davis may be flimsy, but he could still bother a fair share of Love's shots with his own length and athleticism.
Those same attributes would serve Davis well on the other end of the floor, where K-Love is still somewhat lackluster, despite having been schooled in defensive principles while playing for Ben Howland at UCLA. Not that Davis would necessarily take Love to task, but rather that, with a solid point guard as his guide, he'd have at least a handful of opportunities to go up for alley-oops against his more earthbound opponent and show off the mid-range game that remained in hiding during his UK days.
At the end of the game, though, Love figures to come away with his usual 25 and 13 to best Davis' effort of, say, 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. LeBron James
At least Anthony Davis would stand some chance against his NBA superstar counterpart.
The same can't exactly be said for Davis' Kentucky teammate, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who, by virtue of being a small forward, would have to measure up against LeBron James.
Just the best basketball player on Earth right now. Just the guy who carried the Miami Heat to the NBA title with one of the most impressive postseason performances the league has seen in quite some time.
No big deal.
Not that MKG is destined to be some schlub. He may not be much of a shooter, but his length, athleticism and "motor" should allow him to be a solid man-to-man defender and hustling contributor on offense from the get-go. ESPN draft guru Chad Ford compares him favorably to Gerald Wallace and Metta World Peace, with Scottie Pippen as a possible doppelganger if he reaches his ceiling. Grantland's Sebastian Pruiti took a somewhat safer route, pegging MKG as a potential Andre Iguodala clone.
Unfortunately for MKG, nobody—between Wallace, MWP and Iggy—has fared particularly well against King James head-to-head. In 70 career games against those three, including regular season and playoff meetings, James has averaged 26.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists.
Their combined numbers against him? 14.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
And those are from grizzled NBA veterans and former All-Stars.
As for a skinnier, "greener" MKG, a line of 12 points, four rebounds and two assists would be a reasonable start, all things considered.
Bradley Beal vs. Kobe Bryant
The current list of star-caliber shooting guards in the NBA is short, so if Bradley Beal proves to be as talented as everyone says he is, he won't have to climb too far to reach the proverbial summit.
To be the best, though, he'll have to beat the best, which means going head-to-head with the Black Mamba himself.
That's a tall task for anyone, even more so for a kid who turns all of 19 on draft night.
Kobe Bryant may be old (he'll be 34 in August) and worn down by the wear-and-tear of 16 pro seasons on his body, but he's still as crafty (and ball-hoggy) as ever. Heck, the Los Angeles Lakers star spent much of the 2011-12 season as the league's scoring leader, ahead of Kevin Durant, the now-three-time champ in that regard who's 10 years Kobe's junior.
Which, once again, led me to Basketball Reference's handy-dandy Head2Head Finder and the subsequent conclusion that Beal wouldn't be completely screwed. True, Kobe's advantages in scoring (26.3 points to 15.9 for EJ), rebounding (5.2 to 2.5) and assists (5.2 to 3.2) may seem stark.
But, considering that Kobe almost always dominates the ball in the Lakers' offense, while EJ only did so from time to time during his days with the Clippers (and now with the Hornets), there's actually some hope for Beal. To no one's surprise, Kobe has taken significantly more shots (19.2 to 13.2) in his 10 previous matchups with Gordon, but, more importantly, has shot worse from the field (.427 to .432) and from three (.304 to .362) than has EJ.
In other words, Kobe has outproduced Gordon in absolute terms, but actually finds himself on more level footing as far as efficiency is concerned. To be fair, though, that likely has less to do with Gordon being particularly slick and more with Bryant's proclivity for inefficiency.
All told, Beal would ostensibly be vulnerable to a torching at the hands of the crafty Master Mamba, though his own youthful qualities would grant him the advantage against the elder statesman often enough to make 14 points, four rebounds and three assists a reasonable statistical target.
Andre Drummond vs. Dwight Howard
In a back-and-forth with Bill Simmons, Chad Ford says that Andre Drummond "has the best NBA body/athleticism in a big man we've seen since Dwight Howard."
A fair comparison, though Drummond, at seven feet and 279 pounds, is actually a bit bigger than the 6'11'', 265-pound Howard. Still, it's tough to imagine anyone in that size range matching Superman's awe-inspiring athleticism and chiseled physique.
Much less an 18-year-old kid who's often been described as a project. Then again, Andrew Bynum fit much the same profile when he first came into the league in 2005—raw, new to the game, somewhat unfocused—and he's turned out pretty well, for the most part.
Granted, Bynum has never fared all that well against Howard head-to-head. Between 11 regular-season tilts and five face-offs in the 2009 NBA Finals, Howard has averaged 18.9 points, 13.9 rebounds and 2.8 blocks, far outpacing Bynum's "hauls" of 8.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.
One might expect similar numbers against Howard from Drummond, though not because the UConn kid is at all the second coming of Bynum (or because Bynum was slated to play for Jim Calhoun before opting to go the preps-to-pros route). If anything, Drummond's resume as an explosive athlete who makes hay as a defender, shot-blocker and rebounder puts him much more in Howard's category, assuming concerns about his inconsistent effort prove largely unfounded.
In that event, look for Drummond to give the offensively stunted Howard a difficult time on that end of the floor, albeit while racking up "only" eight points, six rebounds and two blocks of his own as a rookie.
Damian Lillard vs. Chris Paul
This year's draft is noticeably short on point guards, but that shouldn't necessarily diminish what Damian Lillard brings to the table as the best incoming rookie at his position. He's a scoring point guard, first and foremost, with deep range on his shot and the quickness and dribbling ability to penetrate. Effusive, too, has been the praise for Lillard's "basketball IQ", understanding of how to operate in the pick-and-roll, tireless work ethic and inherent leadership, though his lack of discipline on defense and suspect vision as a floor general are both cause for some concern.
All of which has led Sebastian Pruiti to describe Lillard as a "Better Version of Isaiah Thomas"—the Sacramento Kings rookie, not the Detroit Pistons Hall-of-Famer.
Not exactly the most flattering comparison, considering the 5'9'' Thomas stands nearly a full head shorter than the 6'3'' Lillard.
That being said, for an undersized first-year player who was the last player selected in the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas performed admirably against the league's best point guard, Chris Paul. In three meetings between the Clippers and Kings this past season, CP3 smoked Thomas for 18 points, 10.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 5.0 steals, to which Thomas retorted with 12.0 points, 2.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals.
To his credit, Thomas shot much better did Paul from the field (.458 to .396) and from beyond the arc (.455 to .333), though he fouled (3.3 to 1.7) and turned the ball over (3.7 to 3.3) more often than his All-World opponent.
Lillard would likely have similar trouble checking CP3, given his own defensive shortcomings, but with an extra six inches in height and a longer wingspan, should present Paul with a more challenging evening than would the more diminutive Thomas. A line for Lillard of, say, 13 points, four assists, four rebounds and a steal would be reasonable, even if Paul stuffs his own stat sheet to an even more impressive extent.