Though not nearly as overlong or tedious as the NFL version—which will mercifully end next week, five months after teams closed their regular seasons—the NBA draft is, indeed, a process. The hallmarks are fewer and more tensely compact, but no less noteworthy.
One of those came and went Sunday, with the NBA's drop-dead date on early draft entrants. The overwhelming majority of notable names had long since made draft decisions, which combined with the 24/7 Donald Sterling coverage to allow for the deadline to pass without so much as an obligatory mention.
Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, et al. have entered their names as expected. The 2014 class has established itself as arguably the greatest set of one-and-done talent in league history—and certainly since the rule was instituted in 2006. Beyond the Big Three are Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Dante Exum, each of whom would have been the favorite to go No. 1 overall last year.
We've known this for some time now. The lack of complications has been, frankly, surprising. Down the line, one by one, these prep stars hopped on the payday train. And I can't say I blame them. So while there are a few players who may beat feet back to the collegiate ranks—players can withdraw their names anytime between now and June 16, provided they have not signed with an agent—what we've seen all season is basically what we got.
The mood around the league is largely static. For some idiosyncratic reason, the NBA insists on holding out on the lottery until May 20. Luckily, all this waiting and thumb twiddling essentially renders the mock process moot for a little while, allowing for a more complex and in-depth discussion about the class' hierarchy.
At the top, you're unlikely to see much change between now and June. There are a rough seven or eight guys who will be in the same relative order, save for the punditry varying (at most) one or two spots in most cases. Beyond those potential All-Stars, though, rests a murky middle filled with potentially very good role players—about which few can agree.
Given Sunday's passing, I figured it'd be a good time to check back in on the big board and throw in some stray observations about why some of the more significant changes were made.
|8||Marcus Smart||Oklahoma State||Sophomore||PG||8|
|9||Gary Harris||Michigan State||Sophomore||SG||9|
|14||Adreian Payne||Michigan State||Senior||PF||13|
|23||T.J. Warren||North Carolina State||Sophomore||SF||24|
|24||P.J. Hairston||North Carolina||Junior||SG||28|
|25||Cleanthony Early||Wichita State||Senior||SF||24|
|27||Glenn Robinson III||Michigan||Sophomore||SF||27|
The More I Watch....
The More I Like Everything About Elfrid Payton
An admission: I watched Louisiana-Lafayette play parts of three games during its regular season. The Cajuns' loss to Creighton in the NCAA tournament won out over more interesting games due to professional curiosity, and then there were early-season games against Louisville and Baylor, which I caught up with on Synergy (subscription).
While not totally unfamiliar with his game, Payton was tops on the list of guys I wanted to get a more nuanced view on once he announced his decision to enter the draft. The verdict far exceeded expectations.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Payton will be mentioned alongside the likes of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum—two small-school stars who parlayed their scoring genius to a lottery selection. Payton is decidedly not on the level of either player. Lillard and McCollum exited college with a jumper ready-made for the NBA and an ability to knock down almost any shot off the dribble. Both had (and still have) their deficiencies on the defensive side. It was merely easier to envision who they would become in a worst-case scenario.
Payton's basement is much lower.
His jumper is nowhere near NBA-ready. He attempted only 54 three-pointers all last season and made barely more than a quarter of those attempts. Overall, Payton was a 25.7 percent jump shooter and ranked in the 14th percentile nationally when attempting that shot type, per Synergy. NBA defenders will give him extra steps to prevent penetration or outright ignore him when he's not touching the basketball.
In a league that emphasizes long-range shooting more than ever, Payton is going to need almost a complete shot reconstruction. That's the bad.
The good is almost everything else. Payton is long (6'3" height, 6'7" wingspan) and rangy with the lightning-quick first step of a much smaller guard. He's able to hound opposing point guards on the perimeter and will be able to handle a majority of NBA 2s once he packs on 15 or so pounds of muscle.
Louisiana-Lafayette was a poor defensive team overall, which leads to some noise in his numbers, but Payton has the skill set and lateral quickness to develop as an elite defender. Opposing players shot 26.1 percent against him in isolation last season, per Synergy.
Payton has to be more careful with the basketball (he averaged 3.7 turnovers per game) but profiles as a good passer and should get better with more talent around him. He's also a solid rebounder for his position. Questions of the level of competition Payton faced in college are valid. There are some dribble-drive plays Payton made at Lafayette that aren't going to fly at the next level, and it may take a full year for him to adjust.
If teams think they can fix his jumper, Payton could be a solid starting point guard in a few years.
The More I Don't Understand Evaluating Zach LaVine as a PG
Opinion fractures with the mention of his name alone. UCLA's Zach LaVine doesn't engender much apathy.
There are some scouts who see him as the potential diamond in the back half of the lottery. The kid with enough God-given physical tools to vault into the top 10 with one astounding workout. Then there are the others. The ones who see LaVine's nondescript 9.4 points and 2.5 rebounds on 44.1 percent shooting and wonder what in the hell others within their profession see. At times last season, LaVine looked like a dude who had no earthly idea how to play basketball.
I fall somewhere in the middle. LaVine's talent is undeniable. He's a ridiculous athlete with an excellent shot who could develop into a two-way force in the right situation. He's also barely touched a significant percentage of that potential, making the franchise with which he is linked a huge, CAPITAL LETTERS, factor in his NBA success.
One notion worth dispelling: LaVine should not be graded first and foremost as a point guard. There are some evaluators who have subscribed to this notion that LaVine's ultimate NBA position is at the 1—a stance that is, frankly, befuddling.
LaVine's most instantly translatable skills are his ability to finish in transition and to knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers. While he has the potential to develop into a plus ball-handler and above-average passer, those aren't traits he displayed consistently at UCLA. In the limited time he got to play a primary point guard role, LaVine was often tentative and prone to seeing open men a beat or two too late.
He's also a below-average scorer working as a primary ball-handler at this point. Synergy measured Lavine in the 18th percentile in isolation points per possession and the 32nd percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. He shot a combined 30 percent in those play types. There were glimpses of solid vision as a pick-and-roll passer at times, but these glimpses do not automatically make him a better a point guard-first prospect. Too often he'll transfix himself on beating his defender off the dribble and just flat-out miss better basketball plays.
LaVine's best long-term fit is at the 2. Point blank. Period. That's his easiest road to instant NBA success because of the skills he already possesses, and his ability to create off the bounce is only going to be an asset that helps him more long term. The passing and court vision just aren't there for me to trust he'll be a top ball-handling option. Plus, the shots have to start going in more consistently.
Still, there's All-Star 2-guard potential here if the right team can tap it.
The More 'Shipping of Adreian Payne and the Bulls I Do
Doing this, one gets into a habit of occasionally looking at a player, having an epiphany about his perfect fit and finding ways to sensibly make that happen. The Bulls and Michigan State forward Adreian Payne are that pair this year.
Speculation about whether Chicago will amnesty Carlos Boozer has run rampant for years now. With Taj Gibson so obviously eclipsing Boozer as Tom Thibodeau's best option at the 4 and the Bulls being a potential landing spot for Carmelo Anthony, it's never made more sense than now. Boozer's contract expires after next season—meaning Jerry Reinsdorf won't have to pay him for years not to play for his franchise. Any potential Anthony or Lance Stephenson deal would have to be predated by a Boozer amnesty.
Payne is as close to a perfect instant replacement as exists in this draft. The former Spartan is a tough two-way player who can bang in the paint, understands team defense concepts and can stretch out to the collegiate three-point line with ease. The addition of a consistent outside shot has been the biggest development in Payne's game, transforming him from undersized center to a true stretch 4.
We'll keep this short and sweet because hypothetical matches are mostly dumb at this point. Let's just say I'm higher on Payne than most, and the Bulls could get a real steal at No. 16 if he's still available—especially if Boozer is finally sent packing.
The More Nik Stauskas Feels Like a Lottery Pick
Stauskas and Creighton's Doug McDermott are the two best pure shooters in this class, something few would have disputed even months ago. What's been surprising is how much Stauskas becomes more and more convincing as an NBA prospect as you continue seeing him play.
McDermott has been ahead on the big board from jump street and the significantly superior college player. He could score from literally anywhere on the floor—and often did so—and was the best player in the country last season. The post moves and off-the-dribble tricks he used to score at Creighton aren't going to be nearly as effective in the NBA, though.
McDermott does not have the athleticism to get his shot over extended arms or strength to back down opponents the way he could in school. He's going to have to retool his game around shooting beyond the arc as his first, second and third skill, in the same way former Creighton star Kyle Korver did. There is a place for McDermott in the league and the lottery without a doubt—he's way too good to fail—but it may surprisingly wind up requiring more adjustments for him than Stauskas.
The ex-Wolverine mostly is who he is. He has a pure, quick release on his jumper and managed to stay efficient despite a big uptick in defensive attention and responsibility from his freshman year. Stauskas deservedly won the Big Ten Player of the Year award, leading Michigan to a regular-season conference title while finding creative and new ways to attack the basket when teams closed out hard.
No team is ever going to confuse him with Derrick Rose off the dribble, but Stauskas has a good head fake he uses judiciously and knows how to operate in space. Given his largely stationary role as a freshman, it was encouraging to see his improvement as a passer and ball-handler. It's a wrinkle that not many people thought he had coming into the season, and his array of fakes and understanding of space helps him finish at the rim.
Stauskas will have to improve as a defender. His lack of lateral quickness and athleticism gives him an average ceiling here, and he really made some inexplicable effort mistakes as part of a poor Michigan team defense overall. As an offense-first role player, Stauskas shouldn't have much trouble stepping right in and playing 20 minutes a night off the bench.
McDermott and Stauskas will probably battle for that No. 10/No. 11 spot from now until June. Right now, it's Stauskas' translatable versatility that wins out.
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