We've reached the zero sum game of the 2014 NBA draft process. No more film can be watched, no more workouts raved about, no more leaks from agents hoping to goose their client's stock should affect this process.
Between now and next Thursday night, when Adam Silver will step to the podium for his first draft as commissioner, all that's left is to tinker. To second-guess oneself. Actually, check that; I've been second-guessing myself for months. This would be something of my infinity-to-the-fifth-power mental go-around at trying to do the impossible and accurately project the NBA success of these young men.
Draft history alone tells us that all prognosticators are going to be laughably incorrect regarding a handful of these prospects. Patrick O'Bryant was the ninth overall pick in 2006, and people actually thought that was a good idea. Joe Alexander happened. So did Acie Law. Everyone is in one big rat race simply to be less wrong than everyone else.
How you end up with egg on your face is having one too many Pabst Blue Ribbons and pressing the eject button on your feelings. Going with your gut is part of this process, but we would all best served to go with the raw data. Projection is the most difficult part of this gig, and at this point it becomes a dangerous rabbit hole. I have, at times, convinced myself Zach LaVine deserves to be in that second-tier conversation behind the Big Four before taking the chill pill also known as his freshman year tape.
And, so, I'm done. On public record, these are my latest and last rankings for the 2014 draft class. I look forward to them being mocked three years down the line when Dante Exum is back to hanging out with the dingoes in Australia while we're all bowing to NBA MVP Aaron Craft.
|Tyler Conway Top 60 Prospects - 2014 NBA Draft|
|6||Marcus Smart||Oklahoma State||Sophomore||PG||8|
|10||Gary Harris||Michigan State||Sophomore||SG||10|
|13||Adreian Payne||Michigan State||Senior||PF||14|
|20||P.J. Hairston||North Carolina||Junior||SG||22|
|25||T.J. Warren||North Carolina State||Sophomore||SF||24|
|28||Cleanthony Early||Wichita State||Senior||SF||25|
|29||Glenn Robinson III||Michigan||Sophomore||SF||26|
|36||Jahii Carson||Arizona State||Sophomore||PG||35|
|51||Roy Devyn Marble||Iowa||Senior||SF||53|
|52||DeAndre Kane||Iowa State||Senior||PG||54|
|56||Walter Tavares||Cape Verde||N/A||C||56|
|57||Alec Brown||Wisconsin-Green Bay||Senior||C||55|
|58||James Michael McAdoo||North Carolina||Junior||PF||57|
|59||LaQuinton Ross||Ohio State||Junior||SF||58|
The Case Against Doug McDermott as a Lottery Pick
The case for McDermott has already been written. He was the best player in college basketball last season and one of the better scorers in the sport's modern history. In an era that emphasizes floor spacing and three-point shooting more than ever, McDermott provides both better than anyone in this class outside Nik Stauskas. Concerns about McDermott's athleticism were even somewhat assuaged when he tested better than expected at the combine.
I believe in McDermott. He's a safe, right-up-the-middle base hit for a team in need of an instant contributor. Should he develop the excellent team defense skills of fellow former Creighton star Kyle Korver, McDermott will be a starter at the 3 for a long time.
All that said, he's dropped to No. 15 on the final board without his evaluation changing one iota.
The concerns with McDermott are the same as they've always been: Can he defend and can he adjust his game enough to still be an effective NBA scorer? At Creighton, McDermott was at his most effective working in the post. Nearly a quarter of his possessions ending in a shot attempt, foul or turnover were out of the post, per Synergy Sports. McDermott was in the 88th percentile nationally on a per-possession basis, so it's something he was very good at.
The low block is also a place where McDermott has no chance at the next level. He's not strong enough to back down NBA forwards. His 6'9" wingspan isn't good for a player who measured just under 6'8" at the combine. Strength and length are prerequisites for heavy-usage post players in the NBA, and McDermott has neither. Outside of the occasional mismatch opportunity, that eliminates a quarter of his production.
And that's to say nothing of the off-ball cut work he did to get easy looks near the basket. The windows shrink. McDermott will be more reliant on his three-point shot than at any point in his collegiate career, and he's going to have to develop some nifty in-between stuff off the dribble to make up for his lack of a low-post game.
Defense is an issue, but, strangely, it's the one I'm worried less about. Every team this side of San Antonio has hiders. Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and plenty of other successful players play matador defense. McDermott is a smart kid and a hard worker. He'll pick up on things quickly enough to top out around average if he's given enough opportunities.
The question is whether he'll still be good enough offensively for the trade-off to be worth it. Jimmer Fredette is a career 40 percent three-point shooter who is barely hanging onto his NBA life, in large part because he never got a fair shake. When tasked between banking on James Young and Adreian Payne as two-way talents going forward, McDermott falls a little short.
Full disclosure: My grade means nothing. McDermott is going in the lottery, possibly as high as No. 9 to Charlotte.
The Concern About Aaron Gordon
The praise about Aaron Gordon has already been written. He's one of the best athletes at his position group in the history of the combine. His 39-inch vertical leap dwarfed the competition, he bested fellow freak athlete Zach LaVine and all comers in the shuttle run, and he's almost 6'9" in shoes. There is no "tweener" here; Gordon is a freak athlete of a power forward whose athleticism allows him to switch onto 3s.
Everyone loves his defensive tenacity and competitive spirit. He was the heart of an Arizona defense that led the nation in efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy. Opposing players made only a third of their shots with Gordon as a primary defender, and Gordon devoured the pick-and-roll in limited opportunities, per Synergy. On almost every possession, it feels like Gordon is ostracizing opponents for even attempting a contested jumper in his area.
Like McDermott, I like Gordon and think he can be a good pro. But he's far from safe. Gordon has a ceiling of a perennial All-Star and a basement of never becoming more than a bit player due to his offensive limitations.
It's not fair to say Gordon is broken offensively. He's not. He is a fine ball-handler who at times led fast breaks on his own accord. Pro tip: If you are in Gordon's way in the open floor, do yourself a favor and kindly move yourself before being hit by a freight train. There have been plenty of mediocre offensive players who have subsisted early in their career on rim runs, cuts and offensive rebound put-backs.
That jumper, though...
It's a serious threat to Gordon's development—no matter where he goes next Thursday. As a freshman, Gordon hit just 29.3 percent of his jump shots, per Synergy. His mechanics need a pretty significant reworking; even consistency from a shot-to-shot basis would help. On this shot, coming off a pick-and-roll, both the shot selection and the form are wonky:
Given that Chip Engelland, the best shooting coach on the planet, is gainfully employed by a team (San Antonio) with no chance at landing Gordon, situation matters a ton in his case.
Boston would be a perfect match. The Celts have a patient front office, a bright young head coach and an analytically inclined staff who can help Gordon find comfort zones while working on a long-term plan. Throwing him in Sacramento or Charlotte or Los Angeles, organizations where patience is decidedly thin, might be a recipe for disaster.
Gordon's offensive issues aren't entirely related to his jumper, either. He's a fine ball-handler, but he struggles at actually finishing off the dribble and getting himself good looks. He shot a combined 12-of-47 on plays where he was isolated against his defender or worked as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, per Synergy.
Projects are not for every organization. Busts happen when teams with competing internal agendas put short-term satisfaction over long-term benefits. Any team looking for Gordon to be a contributor on a playoff-caliber team in his first or second year may wind up ruining his development.
Joel Embiid's Foot: Embiid's agent, Arn Tellem, told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski that Embiid suffered a right foot fracture and will undergo surgery on Friday. We're now talking about two pretty significant injuries for him within the span of four months. This is obviously a MASSIVE (caps needed) concern. Back, foot and knee injuries are the Big Three you don't want to hear about for any NBA player; Embiid has gone down with two of the three already. I've been on record saying Embiid is the most talented player in this draft and a no-brainer No. 1 pick if healthy. He's not healthy, however. Andrew Wiggins was at the top of my board for most of the season and has nearly an Embiid level of potential. Jabari Parker is the safest player in the entire draft. Given the history of big men and long-term injuries, both have to go above Embiid on the final board. I also gave some consideration to Dante Exum leap-frogging the Kansas big man as well, but I'm more confident in the known quantities.
Julius Randle's Foot: Last week, Wojnarowski reported that Randle would need surgery to remove a screw that was placed in his right foot during high school. Randle's team has come out and vehemently denied the story to reporters, including on Tuesday at his workout with the Los Angeles Lakers. It's hard to know what the reality is here. Wojnarowski's report indicated the surgery was precautionary—that Randle had no pain and would be ready for training camp. That jives with the fact that Randle has continued to look fine during workouts. Because I have no access to his medical records, Randle drops here for basketball reasons, not any injury-related concerns.
We Might Be Getting Too Excited About Elfrid Payton: Payton has been the small-school darling of this year's draft process. The Louisiana-Lafayette product is impressing scouts with his combination of size (6'4", 185 lbs) and lateral quickness, to the point where most teams have visions of him being an All-Defensive selection. Combine that with a willingness to pass and ability to finish near the rim, and you get some considerable lottery buzz. It's time to pull the reins a little here, though. Payton's film is impressive, but it has also come against a considerably lower competition level. His jumper is broken. And while Payton profiles as a potentially elite defender, he gambles way too much for steals, and his team defense isn't a strong suit. I'm much more comfortable with him going somewhere in the 15-20 range.
We Might Not Be Getting Excited Enough About Rodney Hood: Hood ranks among the best pure scorers in this class. He has a reputation as someone who can "only" shoot, but that's far from the case. At Duke, Mike Krzyzewski allowed Hood to use nearly a third of his possessions in isolation or as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, where he showed a particular aptitude at the latter. Synergy Sports tracking data says Hood averaged 1.256 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, ranking him in the 99th percentile nationally and as the best among players likely to be drafted in the first round. Oh, and Hood can really shoot the basketball. If he'd ever been a more willing team defender, we'd be talking about a lottery pick here.
Do Not Sleep on Second-Round Shooters: The NBA's second round is a crapshoot. Despite contracts being non-guaranteed, teams will punt picks on international prospects who never come over under the guise of "potential." There are five international prospects (six if you count Goran Suton) who were taken in the 2009 NBA draft and never played a single game in the States. This is madness—especially when usable players with translatable skills are available. Guys like Joe Harris, Lamar Patterson, Jabari Brown and a couple others are lights-out shooters who could hang on an NBA bench. Given the number of teams in need of spacing help and the ever-increasing interest in three-point efficiency, these players need to have a higher value around the league. Paying Harris less than $1 million per season is a far more efficient use of funds than praying you can resurrect a veteran who is in his mid-thirties and on his last legs.
All combine information courtesy of NBA.com.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: @tylerconway22.