NBA Draft 2011 Rankings: The Top 5 Players at Every Position
NBA draft news is generally more haphazard than a typical day at the New York Stock Exchange during a recession, and this information is generally symbolic of the rising and falling stock of the players who will heat their names called Thursday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Take Monday, for example. League sources told ESPN's Ric Bucher that the Cleveland Cavaliers were going to select Duke point guard Kyre Irving first overall, but later that day, a source close to the situation told ESPN's Andy Katz that the Cavs were still undecided.
Seven-foot Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas, who was being projected to the Cleveland Cavaliers at fourth overall in recent mock drafts, may not be headed to the NBA at all next season. ESPN's Chad Ford tweeted that Valanciunas is close to a buyout agreement with his Lithuanian club team, Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius, but such an agreement would still not let him play in the NBA next season.
Those are just two of the stories playing out this weekend, as Bismack Biyombo's fall and Marshon Brooks' meteoric rise also made headlines.
However, let's take a step back and focus on the players one day before draft night. Who are the top five players at each position—postseason, post-interviews, post-workouts? Let's take a look.
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The point guard class of 2011 easily ranks as the best position group this season.
Just look at the resumes without the names attached: Two of the five best here are national champions. A third is a near-consensus No. 1 pick, while a fourth won the Naismith Player of the Year. The fifth player to round out the fifth may have earned these accolades had he stayed in school for more than a year, but he'll have to settle for a Final Four berth and a possible top-three selection in the NBA draft.
5. Duke PG/SG Nolan Smith (6'3", 188)
Despite an injured Kyrie Irving and a slumping Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith led Duke to the ACC regular season title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament en route to being named the ACC player of the year. He gets the nod over an impressive list of candidates, such as the physically-gifted Iman Shumpert, the intriguing Reggie Jackson and offensively efficient Charles Jenkins.
4. BYU PG Jimmer Fredette (6'2", 195)
As Mike Francesa noted on WFAN Radio yesterday afternoon (audio/print unavailable), if Jimmer Fredette is ever on a team where's he's not the No. 1 option, he's going to knock down shots and be a very potent threat. Bust? Please. He'll be good at the least with the pressure of being the Sun in BYU's Solar System Offense off his back.
3. Kentucky PG Brandon Knight (6'3", 180)
Knight's maturity at 19 years old is fantastic, especially considering he played for the ultimate college team in limbo. Given a year or two in the league, he can evolve into a very special player, but...
2. UConn PG Kemba Walker (6'1", 184)
The edge goes to Walker right now because he has the best intangibles of any player in the draft. It can't be said enough: Walker led a team of nearly all underclassmen to the national championship. And as Ken Jeong and Dwight Howard once said, "Fast don't lie."
1. Duke PG Kyrie Irving (6'2", 190)
It says a lot about a Irving when he's the near-consensus No. 1 pick despite having played only 11 games this season. His poise and maturity in interviews is astounding for a 19-year-old; it's almost as if he's been in the NBA for 10 years. On the court, don't be surprised if he becomes the next great NBA point guard alongside Chris Paul and Derrick Rose.
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Marshon Brooks and Klay Thompson have seen their names rise up the draft boards, but overall, the shooting guard class is the weakest of the five. No more than four from this position will be selected in the first round, and no more than two will be picked in the lottery.
Still, talent abounds at the two, starting with a classic glue guy.
5. Ohio State SG David Lighty (6'7", 216)
Every coach's favorite player. He'll be in an NBA rotation for 10 seasons playing great defense and doing all the little things right.
4. Georgia SG/SF Travis Leslie (6'4.25", 205)
The most athletic wing in the draft, Leslie's max vertical measured at 40.5 inches while his wingspan is 6'10.5". He'll find a home in the NBA as a wing defender and energy guy off the bench somewhere.
3. Colorado SG Alec Burks (6'6", 193)
By virtue of losing to Marshon Brooks in the Charlotte Bobcats workout, according to The Hoops Report, Burks slides here. Burks, however, may have been the victim more so of poor NCAA selection committee decisions: A national audience for Colorado in the NCAA tournament could have done the volume scorer wonders if the Buffaloes made a run.
2. Providence SG Marshon Brooks (6'5.25", 195)
Hard to see him slipping past the New York Knicks at No. 17 at this point. Like Fredette, if Brooks is on a team where he's the third scoring option in the NBA instead of the first scoring option in college, he'll have more energy for defense (great for Brooks with his 7'1" wingspan) and more open looks. Deadly.
1. Washington State SG Klay Thompson (6'7", 200)
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Thompson's workout for Golden State went well, and that may solidify his floor at No. 11. The 6'7" guard would form a more copacetic backcourt with Stephen Curry than Monta Ellis does, at the very least.
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What three in the NBA wants that ferocious beast tearing down the lane against him? I'd step aside. Also, it's probably no fund to try and block a 6'11" small forward's three-pointers, or to try and swat the ball away from his gangly reach.
The prospects at the three are an uber-athletic bunch, primed to step in and contribute on day one.
5. Texas SG/SF Jordan Hamilton (6'8", 230)
The silky, smooth scorer out of Texas should receive a little more credit than he's due here. Somehow, after playing at one of the most nationally-renown schools in the country, Hamilton is still overlooked. Why? He'll still score on the next level.
4. Florida State SF Chris Singleton (6'9", 230)
Does it matter whether Marcus Morris' comments that Singleton is "not very talented" on offense are accurate? The ex-Florida State star can stay a decade in the NBA by playing lockdown defense on threes and fours.
3. San Diego State SG/SF Kawhi Leonard (6'7", 230)
What a player Kawhi Leonard would be if he developed a jumper and moved to the two. Leonard would be a scary outside-inside dual threat capable of scoring at the rim and 15 feet away. He doesn't even need to develop a consistent three-point jumper: A consistent mid-to-long range shot will add a level to Leonard's game that may make him a star.
2. Partizan Belgrade SF/PF Jan Vesely (6'11", 230)
All I see is a slew of arms and legs whenever I watch tape of Vesely. He'll be a pain to guard in the NBA if he ever develops a consistent outside jumper, but right now, he can post up smaller threes with relative ease. Vesely gets the smallest of edges over Leonard thanks to a four-inch height differential.
1. Arizona SF/PF Derrick Williams (6'8", 250)
Explosive mammoth of a human being. Williams made it clear he's a small forward, but it's hard to give him a position designation. He'll be very difficult to guard wherever he plays, and incessant motors translate to the next level.
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Twins, college's rebounding king and two international players going in opposite directions make up the fab five power forwards.
5. Morehead State PF Kenneth Faried (6'7.5", 225)
Faried may drop out of the top 20, which is odd because he can probably perform one singular basketball skill better than anyone else can perform any other particular skill in the entire draft. Faried will have no issues rebounding and defending (please, transitioning from the 2-3 zone to man isn't rocket science), but developing an offensive skill set mat be another story.
4. Benetton Treviso PF Donatas Motiejunas (7'0", 225)
A skilled finesse four, Motiejunas performed very poorly in his one-on-none workout in Europe (scroll down a bit for the Draft Express video), which has dropped him out of the lottery. Motiejunas probably projects to something like Channing Frye with better passing skills and less range.
3. Washington Wizards PF Markieff Morris: (6'9.25", 241)
Markieff may turn out to be the better NBA pro than his twin. He projects well as an NBA four thanks to a great body type for the position, sensational rebounding acumen and three-point range. However, ESPN's John Hollinger disagrees, as he has Morris ranked 27th on his draft board. On the flip side...
2. Philadelphia 76ers: Texas PF Tristan Thompson (6'8.75", 227)
Thompson is ranked third. After averaging 13 and eight his freshman year at Texas, Thompson probably made the right decision to turn pro. His length projects well at the NBA level (7'1" wingspan) even though he is a bit short for a four. Still, Thompson's energy and enthusiasm for the game, seen in all seven of his blocked shots against Oakland in the NCAA tournament, can't be understated.
1. Kansas SF/PF Marcus Morris (6'8.75", 230)
Marcus Morris compared himself to Carmelo Anthony because of his love for the mid-range game. I will say this: One would be hard-pressed to find a more polished and versatile product in the draft. He'd probably fit best in an offense as a stretch four where he'd get numerous mid-range looks, and if Morris finds the right situation, he can put up 15 a game pretty easily.
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The international men of mystery reign supreme in the center section.
5. Tokyo Apache PF/C Jeremy Tyler (6'10.5", 262)
Ironically though, the ultimately international man of mystery is from San Diego. Tyler skipped his senior year of high school in a failed experiment to play overseas, and after two rough seasons, he's in the draft pool. Still, a championship-contending team at the end of the first round (hello, Chicago) should look to grab him.
4. USC C Nikola Vucevic (6'11.75", 260)
According to USC coach Kevin O'Neill, via Marc Berman of The New York Post, "I don't think he'll be an NBA shot-blocker. But he can guard fives well. He's a positional defender, not a great shot-blocker."
Name the number of teams that don't need a center who can guard fives. It's less than the number of fingers on your hand. Hard to see him falling past the Blazers.
3. Illescas PF/C Bismack Biyombo (6'9", 240)
Do yourself a favor, read this Grantland article and join me on the Bismack Biyombo bandwagon. Who can't root for this guy?
2. Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius PF/C Jonas Valanciunas (6'11", 240)
Slight edge over Biyombo even though he's probably not coming to the NBA next season. Valanciunas is a true post presence, and given a solid point guard, he could be a pick-and-roll nightmare (his bread and butter) for many teams. Kyrie Irving and Valanciunas would have made a great pairing in Cleveland, though will the Cavs take a chance on Jonas at No. 4?
1. *Kentucky PF/C Enes Kanter (6'11.25", 259)
Given Enes Kanter's shooting prowess, he may prefer to play power forward, but he would be an excellent option at the five for teams looking to stretch the floor. Plus, any big man who can shoot the three at 6'11" and force a center to run at him from 25 feet away is a weapon that must be used. If Kanter played for Kentucky this season, 2011 would be considered a three-star draft.