With Memphis's Derrick Rose and Kansas State's Michael Beasley all but assured of being the top two selections in this year's NBA Draft, this rest of this year's installment of the annual two round process presents a classic dilemma for NBA franchises. Do you draft a player destined to reach their potential but with considerable less "upside" (Say, a Brook Lopez)? Or do you roll the dice with a younger, more project-able player that will ultimately be the epitome of a high-risk, high reward selection (For example, a DeAndre Jordan)? A lot of this decision has to do with the team's current outlook.
A rebuilding franchise may be more willing to take a chance on a big payout from a player with more potential but is a few years of hard work and development from being a contributor. These franchises are not expecting to win right away, and thus would be able to focus on a long-term improvement of their team. On the other hand, a team built to win now with a strong core of players may also want to draft a project-type player because they simply don't have the minutes available on a contending team that a more NBA-ready player would need to improve.
The champion Boston Celtics, for example, are more likely to make a riskier selection that could turn out very favorably in the long-term because no rookie is going to see many minutes on a team that talented and deep. Teams in the middle of the pack are the most likely to take players that can contribute on the court immediately as they are only a few pieces of the puzzle away from contention. Following are players that fit into the high-risk, high-reward category.
Risk Vs Reward: The Gambles
1. Anthony Randolph PF Louisiana State University Freshman
Randolph, who has drawn comparisons to Toronto Raptors All-Star Chris Bosh, is a lanky forward with a gazelle-like fluidity on the court. He is a tremendous wing player now and could develop into an unstoppable and highly versatile post presence like Bosh. A tremendous help defender who averages over two blocks per game, Randolph also has potential as a tall defensive stopper like Tayshaun Prince. His body definitely needs some work, however, and he will need to hit the weight room hard to develop the strength needed to rebound and handle the post in the NBA.
Without NBA three point range, Randolph, for now, is merely a runner and a leaper whose athleticism and explosiveness will not immediately stand out in the league. He could go as high as #5 to Memphis, though it looks like they are in love with UCLA's Kevin Love. A more likely destination is to the Bobcats at #9 or the Pacers at #11. It's extremely doubtful he would fall past Sacramento at #12.
2. DeAndre Jordan C Texas A&M Freshman
Jordan, a surefire first-rounder, epitomizes the high risk pick. At 6-11, his incredible explosiveness and leaping ability oozes Dwight Howard-like potential. However, he only managed to average 7.9 points and six rebounds in his only year of college. Certainly, he will require several years to not only work on his strength and conditioning (He only averaged 20 minutes per game) but on his basketball skills as well. He is very raw offensively and usually only scores at point-blank range.
With no mid-range shot to speak of, Jordan definitely will have his work cut out for him if he wants to contribute on the NBA level. For sheer size and upside, Jordan is a surefire first-rounder, although with another year of improvement on the college level he certainly would have been in the running to be a top five pick in the 2009 Draft. A team like the Knicks could fall in love with him in workouts and tap him as high as number six, though it’s much more probable he gets picked by a late lottery team such as the Blazers at number 13.
I don’t see him falling past number 18 or 19, as both the Wizards and Cavaliers are said to be looking for a center of the future and Jordan’s great potential would be too hard to pass up at that point in the first round.
3. JaVale McGee C Nevada Sophomore
Similar to DeAndre Jordan, McGee is another boom-or-bust prospect that causes scouts to foam at the mouth at his potential. McGee doesn’t have quite the explosiveness or freakish athleticism of Jordan, but makes up for it in other areas. McGee has shown the ability and willingness to develop a long range jump shot, even knocking down several three-pointers this season. McGee also has a great motor and plays with tenacity unrivaled by many of his fellow draft eligible big-men.
Like Jordan, he must add some bulk to his build and the development of a few low post moves would really increase his offensive game. A poor free throw shooter, McGee also gets very frustrated when he gets off to a slow start or is whistled for early fouls. A definite top 30 pick, he seems to be falling towards the end of the first round as a result of poor showings in several team workouts. If Jordan is unavailable at number ten, or if the Nets pass on him, don’t be surprised to see them take McGee with the second of their two first-round picks, the number 21 selection. Seattle at number 24 or San Antonio at 26 also seem like possible destinations for McGee, with Memphis at 28 probably being the farthest he could fall.
4. Serge Ibaka PF Congo 19 years old
Power forward Serge Ibaka, at 19 years of age, flashes extreme athleticism and raw ability. Playing in Spain, Ibaka connected on 55 percent of his shots from the field, even more impressive considering he won’t hesitate to knock down long-range jumpers if left open. Possessing a tremendous vertical leap, Ibaka thrives on crashing the boards and swatting opponents' shots. While he is extremely lean and will need an introduction to the weight-room, Ibaka possesses more offensive skills than former first round pick Saer Sene, making him an intriguing first round pick for many franchises.
The Sonics, the team who drafted Sene, are said to be in love Ibaka and many already have him penciled in as the number 24 selection. The Spurs were also targeting him with the 26th selection, and we all know their propensity to effectively stockpile foreign players across the globe. There was virtually zero chance Ibaka would fall past the Pistons and Celtics at the end of the first round, but his agent recently sent a letter to every team detailing his foreign contract and buyout options. The letter stated that Ibaka has a much better chance of eventually coming overseas to play in the NBA with a second round selection where the contract is not limited to the first round rookie pay-scale, giving him the ability to opt out of his foreign deal after only two seasons.
5. JJ Hickson PF North Carolina State Freshman
The theme of this year’s high risk picks seems to be freshmen centers and forwards, but Hickson’s prospect profile is quite different from the others on this list. While he lacks the great leaping ability of Ibaka or Jordan, Hickson has the most NBA ready body of that trio. With great strength, Hickson is able to clear the post and effectively rebound at a pro-level. While he has shown flashes of a low-post offensive game, he needs to continue the development of his moves and execute them on a more consistent basis.
Not much of a jump shooter or ball-handler, Hickson will be almost exclusively a close-to-the basket player for the time being. His overpowering strength will be less formidable when applied against NBA forwards. Defensively he will require a lot of work as he is prone to leaving his feet early against his opponent. He could be picked by Houston at 25, though they probably want someone who can contribute more immediately such as Rider’s Jason Thompson. Memphis at number 28 or Detroit at 29 seem like good fits for Hickson, though he could fall out of the first round altogether. If he does, he definitely won’t get past Minnesota at number 34.