Checklist for Each Top-10 NBA Draft Pick to Thrive
Making the jump from one level to the next requires recognition from the prospect. Understanding what adjustments need to be made is half the battle.
Each player should have a checklist of items they'll need to focus on throughout training camp and the early portion of their rookie seasons. I've listed the top few items on everyone's checklist, and what adjustments will be needed in order for them to thrive as NBA players.
Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers
1. Find your Sweet Spots
Because Anthony Bennett lacks a natural NBA position, he's got to find the spots on the floor where he's most comfortable operating from. Whether that's the wing, the elbow, the low post—Bennett has to gain some familiarity with the spacing of the pro game and figure out where he fits in as an offensive mismatch.
2. Spot-Up Shooting
If Bennett establishes himself as a legitimate spot-up shooting threat, defenses are going to be in for a world of trouble. Not only would a three-ball increase his half-court scoring opportunities, but it would set up the rest of his game by keeping defenders honest when defending him on the perimeter.
3. Recognize Mismatches and Exploit Versatility
Bennett has the open-floor agility of a 3 and the strength of a 4. So when the opportunity to exploit his versatility presents itself, Bennett has to seize it. He has to take slower-footed big men off the dribble away from the rim and overpower weaker big men inside.
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
1. Let the Game Come to You
After being selected No. 2 overall, Victor Oladipo might feel some pressure to produce. But he has to understand that his game is predicated on making plays driven by his effort, energy, motor and athleticism—not by the dribble.
Scoring and creating his own offense will come with time and reps. Oladipo should be focusing on making plays off the ball as a defender, slasher and spot-up shooter.
2. Spot-up Shooting
If Oladipo wants to maximize his scoring opportunities, becoming a reliable spot-up threat is the first step. He really improved in this department as a junior, raising his three-point mark from 20 to 44 percent.
Oladipo is also lightning quick. If defenders are forced to close out hard when he's catching behind the arc, they will be extremely vulnerable to getting beat by Oladipo's quick first step to the rack.
Without a threatening enough jumper, defenders will sit back, play off and eliminate potential driving lanes.
3. Continue to Improve Handle/Shot-Creating
Oladipo scores most of his points on line drives to the hoop, backdoor cuts, slashes and transition opportunities. But to really max out his offensive potential, improving his handle will allow him to create, separate and score. Oladipo isn't much of an isolation threat, and therefore lacks the upside of a go-to scoring option.
Expanding his dribble creativity would raise his ceiling an extra two stories.
Otto Porter, Washington Wizards
1. Hit the Weight Room
Otto Porter weighed in at just 197 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine. He could struggle finishing inside at that weight, as well as holding his ground against some of the stronger, more athletic forwards. The good news is that there's room on Porter's frame for some added muscle. The sooner he puts it on, the easier the transition will be.
2. Improve Shot-Creativity
Porter converts the opportunities he's given, but he doesn't often create them. We've seen Porter disappear at times as a Hoya without the ability to score one-on-one when the game is slowed down.
Improving as a shot creator, particularly on the perimeter, would make him a more dangerous scorer with the ball in his hands.
3. Maintain Long-Range Accuracy
One of the biggest reasons Otto Porter was able to raise his scoring average from 9.7 to 16.2 was because he improved his three-point percentage from 22 to 42 percent.
This increases his threat as a scorer when he doesn't have the ball. If Porter can maintain his accuracy as a long-range shooter, he'll get some extra scoring opportunities as a floor spacer.
Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats
One of the reasons I think Cody Zeller will end up thriving in the NBA is because of his jumper. You didn't see it often at Indiana, but trust me—it's there.
He shot 75 percent from the line in back-to-back seasons. Zeller demonstrates a soft touch and feel for the rim on all jumpers within 20 feet. He projects as a deadly mid-range jump shooter, and once he establishes that reputation, defenses will have to start game-planning around it.
2. Build Strength, Embrace Contact
Too often at Indiana we saw Zeller get pushed around inside by more physical front lines. It's not going to get any easier in the NBA. Zeller will have to get used to taking a beating inside. Obviously building strength will help, but learning to turn that contact into free throws is something some players master.
3. Play with Confidence
Zeller is a treat to watch when he's amped. He should be looking to prove something every time he takes the floor. Playing with passion and energy will help quiet those who've already labeled him soft before his first NBA game.
It should also improve his rebounding and shot-blocking rate, both of which were low at the college level.
Alex Len, Phoenix Suns
1. Face-Up Game
One of the aspects of Alex Len's game that makes him unique is his ability to attack facing up. At 7'1'', Len has the footwork to beat his man off the dribble and finish on the move.
He's also a threat facing up in the mid-range. Whether it's out of the triple-threat position or as a pick-and-pop recipient, Len needs to master the mid-range jumper in order to maximize his offensive potential.
We've seen him as a face-up threat in doses, but not in a steady stream. Implementing this into his daily offensive repertoire should be the game plan for Len.
2. Back-to-the-Basket Game
You won't find too many starting centers who match up evenly with Len's vertical and horizontal measurements. With his back to the rim, Len will need to continue polishing up his post game in order to become a top-two scoring option. The better he is with his back to the rim, the more double-teams he'll draw. And the more double-teams he draws, the better the offensive spacing.
3. Foul Shooting
Len shot 58 percent from the line as a freshman and 68 percent as a sophomore. Given his size and the mismatch he presents, Len should spend a good portion of his career at the stripe. Taking advantage of those free trips will go a long way in the end.
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers
1. Get 110-Percent Healthy
There is absolutely zero need to rush back from February's ACL tear. The Sixers aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Pull a Derrick Rose if you have to. Philadelphia's decision to deal Jrue Holiday for rookies and draft picks means this is going to be a long rebuilding process. Staying healthy throughout will be the ultimate goal moving forward.
2. Hit the Weight Room
Noel weighed in at just 206 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine, which is essentially a guard's weight. The lightest starting centers in the NBA are Chris Bosh and Larry Sanders at 235 pounds. Noel has 29 pounds to go before he's tied with the lightest starting centers in the league.
Considering he can't play more than six feet from the rim, Noel will need to set up a tent in the weight room.
3. Low-Post Scoring
Noel would benefit from expanding and improving his low-post scoring repertoire. Right now, he's a threat to score points on pick-and-rolls, catch-and-finishes and tip-ins off misses. Noel should look to get more comfortable with his over-the-shoulder jump hook, and try and develop some counter-moves to become a bigger threat with the ball in his hands.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
1. Adopt Fearless Mentality
Ben McLemore's confidence tends to fade when his jumper isn't falling. That needs to change. McLemore has to understand that he's going to miss a whole lot of shots in his career. He can't let a miss affect his game and thought process.
Maintaining confidence through off days should be his initial focus as a rookie.
2. Improve Handle/Shot-Creativity
McLemore excels as a spot-up shooter, slasher and finisher in transition, but creating his own shot is not a strength.
He'll first need to improve his handle in order to become more elusive off the dribble. Improving his shot creativity will allow him to control his own offensive destiny, as opposed to having to rely on his teammates to set him up for open looks.
3. Establish Defensive Credibility
McLemore should be looking to come in and immediately defend. He's got all the physical tools required to be an excellent on-ball defender. Establishing defensive credibility will allow him to play minutes early on, which should aid in his development as an NBA rookie.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
1. Three-point Consistency
One of the reasons Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was drafted so high was because of the threat he poses on the perimeter. He's got the ability to heat up and score points in bunches, but he's also vulnerable to streaky shooting.
He only shot 30 percent from downtown as a freshman, though he bumped it up to 37 percent as a sophomore. Remaining a consistent three-point threat should give him long-term starter potential.
2. Attacking the Rim
Caldwell-Pope attempted seven three-point shots per game to only 5.4 free throws. He doesn't project as an isolation scorer, but Caldwell-Pope should look to expand his off-the-dribble game in order to get to the rim more frequently.
If he ends up stranded on the perimeter for too long, chances are his field-goal percentage will suffer.
3. Establish Defensive Credibility
Caldwell-Pope has to take advantage of the physical tools he's been given. Becoming a reliable lock-down defender would really increase his value to a rotation.
He was a strong defender in college, and given his size, length and athleticism, there's no reason it can't translate to the pros.
Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
1. Get Comfortable With Offensive Sets
Offenses at the college and pro level differ dramatically. Before worrying about anything else, Trey Burke must get comfortable running a pro-style offensive set. Facilitating in the half court is usually the toughest challenge for point guards during the transition process.
Given Burke's impressive assist-to-turnover ratio and instincts for the position, something tells me Burke will learn quicker than most.
2. Adjust to Speed of the Game
As the point guard, Burke is going to have the ball in his hands an awful lot. Adjusting to the new speed of the game means knowing when to push it and when to pull it back.
Burke will have a lore more offensive freedom in Utah. Picking and choosing his spots will determine just how efficient he is as a quarterback.
3. Master the Pick-and-Roll
Burke is already an excellent pick-and-roll facilitator, but mastering it quickly at the pro level will aid in his transition.
The pick-and-roll could be his safety net as a rookie if he's struggling to generate offense.
Burke is a triple threat off a high-ball screen. He's got the passing skills to hit the roller, the ability to hesitate and attack the rim or he can pull up in space and knock down the jumper off the dribble.
The NBA loves pick-and-rolling, and Burke has the fundamentals and instincts to be one of the better operators in the game.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
1. Find a Niche
C.J. McCollum isn't a point guard or a 2-guard. He's a combo guard. But players who enter the league without a natural position typically struggle to make the initial transition.
Finding a niche as a scoring sixth man and backup point guard should be his goal as a rookie with Portland. Chances are he'll be used to provide an offensive spark off the bench, which is something he shouldn't be used to given his role as Lehigh's go-to guy.
2. Get a Feel for the Point
Though this is Damian Lillard's offense, McCollum should get reps as the team's backup point guard. If there was anything McCollum could have done better at Lehigh, it was creating easy buckets for teammates. When he's running the point, McCollum will have to adjust to being a third or fourth option instead of a first or second.