The 2011 NBA Draft is upon us, and it's finally time to discuss (and inevitably, overanalyze) the merits of each team's prized first-round pick.
Though many experts consider the 2011 NBA Draft to be comparatively weak as situated next to previous drafts, it isn't short on intriguing prospects. Players like BYU guard Jimmer Fredette, Duke guard Kyrie Irving and Connecticut guard Kemba Walker have inspired as much commentary as the Derrick Roses and John Walls before them.
As with any draft, we'll be monitoring the likelihood that each prospect successfully translates to the NBA. Some of the 2011 NBA Draft prospects, admittedly, are riskier than others, particularly some of the overseas NBA hopefuls.
Follow us live tonight as we grade the riskiness of every NBA team's first-round pick, offering our thoughts on the security of each draft selection.
Duke guard Kyrie Irving may not draw favorable comparisons to No. 1 picks past, notably guards like Memphis’ Derrick Rose and Kentucky’s John Wall, but he is still an excellent pro prospect with the ability to score and pace an NBA offense.
Irving is one of the least risky picks in the 2011 NBA draft. He drives well, has great body control going to the basket, has great court awareness and generally possesses all the intangibles NBA teams seek out in a floor general. True, he may not be as talented as point guards like Rose and Wall coming out of college, but he is still a day-one starter and has as much potential as anyone in the 2011 NBA draft class.
The only real knock on Irving is that he is almost too well-rounded and does not specialize in any one area of his game. If that can be considered a knock.
There may be some risky prospects in the 2011 NBA draft, but Irving is not one of them. He is an absolute slam dunk, and is assured a starting spot once NBA play resumes.
Verdict: Safer than a locked briefcase inside a vault inside Air Force One.
Few players in the 2011 NBA draft are considered as safe as Duke guard Kyrie Irving, but Arizona forward Derrick Williams is absolutely in that category.
Williams can do almost everything from the 4-spot. He is smart, versatile, quick, has a jumper and an inside game, goes to the rim strong and can pull up for three. On the defensive end, he’s tenacious, tough in the paint and has great footwork to stick with frontcourt and backcourt players alike.
The lone criticism of Williams seems to be his size, as he is a 6'9" power forward. But it is also worth noting that Williams measured in with a 7'1" wingspan at the NBA pre-draft camp and his a 9-foot standing reach.
His athleticism more than makes up for his perceived height disadvantage, and anyone who suggests that an undersized power forward cannot be effective in the NBA has never seen Indiana Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough play. Now just imagine that same tenacity with far more athleticism and natural ability.
Minnesota had a Greg Oden/Kevin Durant situation here. Either way, with the second pick, they were going to get a good player. Williams will be a mainstay on the T-Wolves' frontcourt for years to come.
Verdict: Safer than a Faberge egg under 24-hour surveillance at Langley.
Kentucky big man Enes Kanter may have missed the 2010 collegiate basketball season due to ineligibility, but remains one of the more NBA-ready players in the 2011 NBA draft.
Kanter, who stands at 6'11" with a 7'2" wingspan, is exceptionally skilled and fluid for a player of his size. Is he an athlete in the mold of Dwight Howard? No. But he has a formidable arsenal of post moves, great range and is an excellent rebounder. Perhaps most impressive are his handles, rare for a center prospect.
Look for Kanter to jump into heavy rotation play right away and possibly earn a starting spot early in his career. Like most bigs, he will still need some coaching at the NBA level, but there is no reason to believe he cannot be an instant contributor.
Verdict: Safe. Just plain old safe.
One word comes to mind when discussing Texans forward Tristan Thompson: raw.
Thompson has all kinds of talent, but still lacks significant strength or muscle for his strength and is only 20 years old. At 6'9" with a 7'2" wingspan, he’s long and possesses the athleticism to really grow into a versatile scoring forward, but still needs to develop quite a bit to live up to his promise.
Like fellow 2011 NBA draft prospect Jan Vesely, Thompson will benefit from a good coaching staff and risks seeing his development curbed by a less-capable coaching crew. Still, you can see flashes in his game that lead you to think he could be one of the better picks of this draft class if developed properly.
No. 4 overall might be a bit high for Thompson, but the Cleveland Cavaliers are so bereft of talent, it's worth taking a player with the upside.
Verdict: A bit risky, but probably worth the risk.
Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas has certainly faced his challenges making it to draft night in the 2011 NBA Draft, notably due to a potential buyout with his Lithuanian club, but should prove to be a useful NBA big from the onset of his career.
Valanciunas, 19, still has time to grow into a stronger prospect and could benefit from some solid big man coaching but provides enough talent off the bat to warrant minutes right away.
At 7'0" with a 7'4" wingspan, Valanciunas is dangerous around the rim on both ends of the court. He’s a good rebounder and shot-blocker, has a soft touch in the paint and possesses an impressive array of moves. For his position, his footwork is unmatched in the 2011 NBA draft class.
Valanciunas could still stand to pack on some weight and muscle to improve his back-to-the-basket game, but is one of the most NBA-ready bigs in the 2011 NBA draft.
He should contribute immediately, and only figures to improve.
At 6'11", Czech Republic forward Jan Vesely does not strike the average fan as a small forward prospect, but the KK Partizan Belgrade prospect stands out as the tallest aspiring NBA three-spot candidate in the 2011 NBA draft.
Will Vesely actually play small forward in the NBA? It seems possible. He could play power forward in small-ball scenarios, but without a back-to-the-basket game and any notable strength, he projects to struggle in the paint at the NBA level.
Still, there are plenty of aspects to like about Vesely’s game. He runs the court, can handle well, gets to the rim and, like many European prospects, has a formidable outside jumper, with legitimate three-point range.
Vesely will still need some serious coaching at the NBA level, but it helps that professional ball will not be a foreign concept to the international prospect (although the talent level will.)
Verdict: Risk, but less risky with good coaching staff in place.
Congolese forward Bismack Biyombo is one of the more intriguing players in the 2011 NBA draft class.
Biyombo is only 18, but is bursting with impressive measurements. He stands at 6-9, has an incredible 7'7" wingspan and an astonishing 9'3" reach and may not even be done growing yet.
Considered one of the better shot-blockers in the 2011 NBA draft, Biyombo has the ability to sky and the reach to alter the trajectory of any shots in his vicinity. He is a tough rebounder and is getting solid minutes overseas.
Still, Biyombo is incredibly raw and will need to develop quite a bit to hold up in the NBA. His offensive game is still lacking, his footwork is subpar and he needs to spend some time in the weight room to stand any kind of a chance matching up with NBA-level bigs.
He might be a solid shot-blocking presence off the bat, but those are a dime a dozen. Until Biyombo proves he has some semblance of an offensive game and can pack on some muscle, he’s merely a wait-and-see prospect.
Verdict: Very risky.
If you want a combo guard in the 2011 NBA draft, Kentucky guard Brandon Knight is your man.
Knight can handle shooting or point guard duties, has great finishing ability is the rim, defends opposing guards extremely well and sees the court well. Like most shooters, he tends to find himself in hot-and-cold streaks, and his passing could be better at times, but overall he is a versatile prospect able to contribute in a number of ways.
While Knight might not make an ideal starting NBA point guard, his versatility should entice several pro teams. He will contribute, it’s just a question of where.
Knight should excel with the point-starved Pistons.
Verdict: Safe, safer if he gets the majority of his minutes at shooting guard.
Though Connecticut guard Kemba Walker was considered one of college basketball’s better players in 2010—and a verifiable hardwood hero at times—NBA scouts haven’t been quite as quick to shower praise upon the former Husky.
Walker is quick, and that’s the core of his game. He has great speed, can get to the rim easily, wants the ball when the game is on the line and finds a way to make plays. As a draft prospect, he reminds me a lot of former UCLA guard Darren Collison.
Still, there are some flaws with Walker’s game, flaws that have been magnified as the 2011 NBA draft approaches. He is undersized for an NBA point guard, which could spell trouble when he drives the lane against towering big men and is a bit trigger-happy for a player of his caliber.
Walker has a place in the NBA, but he will have to adapt and become more comfortable giving the ball up in order to enjoy any longevity to his pro career. Similarly, he will have to learn to curb his bravado at times and not be so eager to challenge 7-footers in the lane.
Verdict: Fairly safe.
Though not considered a top-10 talent by some analysts in the 2011 NBA draft, Brigham Young guard Jimmer Fredette is generating perhaps the most interesting out of any of this year’s draft prospects.
Fredette’s collegiate heroics at BYU are well-documented. Even when double-teamed, Fredette managed to score at will, averaging a nation-high 28.9 points per game last year. Fredette is one of the more intelligent players in this draft class, with great vision and awareness and seems to have no limit to his shooting range.
He is the rare prospect that is solid from any spot on the floor, and though viewed as a pure shooter, has lethal handles that can create space between himself and defenders and generate shooting opportunities.
The drawbacks on Fredette at the pro level are obvious: he will struggle to play defense and he is not a natural point guard. If he is slotted at shooting guard, he will undoubtedly struggle—and struggle mightily—to defend the opposing 2-guard, and if he plays point, he lacks the quickness to keep up with most NBA-level 1-guards.
There is always a place for shooters in the NBA, though, and Fredette is instant offense off the bench. With hard work, his defensive game might become passable, but realistically he is a scoring option off the bench and a clutch-time sub.
Fredette should pair well with Tyreke Evans to bring some more offensive firepower to a stagnant Kings squad.
Verdict: Safe, every NBA team has room for a marksman.
Washington State guard Klay Thompson is easily one of the best shooters in the 2011 NBA draft and should immediately fill a scoring role off the bench.
Thompson has drawn favorable comparisons to former Indiana Pacers great Reggie Miller and boasts great range. He is easily one of the best distance shooters in the 2011 NBA draft. As these attributes would indicate, he is also an excellent free throw shooter and has great court awareness, able to come off screens and receive the ball in the best possible shooting position.
Though fluid, Thompson is not explosive, nor does he handle the ball particularly well. Without improving these areas of his game, Thompson will simply be the type of player who curls off screens and receives the ball; he does not look to be the sort of player to actively create his own shot.
Whether he can creative off the dribble or not, Thompson’s shooting ability is still immensely valuable and it’s hard to imagine someone as fluid and consistent as him proving useless in the NBA.
Verdict: Very safe.
Colorado guard Alec Burks is one of the better 2-guards in the 2011 NBA draft.
Burks has a healthy combination of quickness and shot consistency. He can pull up and bury it from mid-range or slash his way into the paint and finish strong at the basket. His offensive instincts are tremendous, and he continually invents new ways to score and make his presence felt.
Chances are Burks would've been a top-five pick in the draft if he had a better perimeter game, but his range is disappointingly limited for a player of his caliber and beyond mid-range, nothing is guaranteed for Burks.
He is still effective enough to prove a useful offensive option in the NBA and if nothing else, would be a great throw-himself-at-the-rim selection.
Verdict: Not particularly safe or risky, but much safer if he improves his range.
Kansas forward Markieff Morris is the kind of gritty, physical, tough post presence that could have a long career as an enforcer in the paint.
Morris is solid on offense, deceptively efficient in his short-range game and finishing at the rim, but hangs his hard hat on his rebounding and shot-blocking. He is the type of consistent, hard-nosed defender willing to go to battle every night and leave opposing players battered and bruised. Perhaps most impressive is that Morris has a decent jumper as well.
At the NBA level, Morris will likely struggle against similar players, as he isn’t particularly deft and lacks any variety of big man moves, and plays a bit sloppier than you would like to see. He projects well as an enforcer, though, and every NBA team can use an enforcer.
Verdict: Very safe.
Though not quite as intimidating as his brother Markieff, Kansas forward Marcus Morris still projects to be an effective four at the NBA level.
The Morris twins would actually work well as teammates, given the way their strengths and weaknesses match up. Whereas Markieff is more of a rough, enforcer type, Marcus Morris is more of a versatile scoring type with impressive range and reliable finishing ability. He won’t intimidate anyone in the paint, but he does play hard and show remarkable consistency.
Morris will perhaps struggle with size and strength at the NBA level and may only ever project to be a marginally effective defender but could easily be a solid rotation player called into action in scoring-minded sets.
He is currently a man without a position, a 3-4 tweener, but should add some solid post offense for the Houston Rockets.
Verdict: Neither safe nor risky.
San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard is one of the 2011 NBA draft’s youngest prospects, entering tonight’s draft with only 19 years of age but a double-double 2010 collegiate average (15.5 point per game, 10.6 rebounds per game) to go along with them.
Leonard is an intriguing athlete. Explosive, with great leaping ability and a nose for the rim, Leonard has as much natural ability as any prospect in the 2011 NBA draft class. As his 2010 statistics indicate, he is also an efficient rebounder.
Still, Leonard is a bit on the raw side. He needs to become a more consistent player, especially in terms of outside shooting and could still stand to develop his defensive game.
As a “potential” pick, Leonard is amongst the best in his draft class. But picks based on potential are risky by nature, and as easily as Leonard could end up being an effective three in the NBA, he could also end up on the long list of draft prospects who boasted athleticism in abundance but little pro game to go along with it.
Verdict: Risky, with equal amounts of upside and downside.
UCLA center Nikola Vucevic is one of the highest-rated big men in the 2011 NBA draft.
Vucevic is a particularly intriguing center prospect because he has a great deal of mobility to go along with his size. At 7'0", 265 pounds, Vucevic has a legitimate NBA body at the position and is viewed at one of the tougher big man prospects in this class, but in addition to his strength, Vucevic also demonstates a soft touch around the rim and impressive footwork.
Like most prospects of his size, Vucevic lacks any significant athleticism or quickness and is not the type to jump out of the gym—though he does dunk with authority—but he is a solid rebounder and showcases solid range on his jumpshot.
Verdict: Safe enough.
Like Providence guard Marshon Brooks, George Teach guard Iman Shumpert has absolutely rocketed up 2011 NBA draft boards.
Shumpert is arguably one of the best point guard prospects in the 2011 NBA draft class. He gets to the rim with ease, finishes with consistency and boasts impressive size (at 6-6) for his position. He’s not incredible on the offensive end of the court but is more than solid and stronger than most rookie one-guards tend to be.
A few weaknesses anchor Shumpert’s ability to be drafted higher, though. While effective on the drive, his jumper lacks consistency and he does not have great range. Additionally, his handles can be weak at times and open him up to turnovers, certainly not a quality NBA teams like to see in prospective point guards.
Shumpert’s sloppy handles make him a bit of a liability, even though his build is impressive for the position.
Florida State forward Chris Singleton is not an overwhelmingly impressive offensive prospect in the 2011 NBA draft but more than makes up for his scoring shortcomings with a lockdown defensive game.
Singleton is regarded as one of the better defenders in the 2011 NBA draft class, able to stick with any player on the court and alter shots well for his position. Additionally, he has a solid but not quite impressive offensive game, able to showcase his talents best in transition.
Perimeter defenders are always valued in the NBA, and Singleton more than fits the bill on that end of the court. He'll add some toughness and versatility to the Washington Wizards backcourt.
Verdict: A little risky given offensive deficincies, but too unspectacular to be considered a major risk.
Tennesee forward Tobias Harris is one of the more versatile players in the 2011 NBA draft.
Harris has an amazingly high basketball IQ, is a gym rat, works hard and has an intriguing frame at 6'8" with a 6'11" wingspan. He is also the youngest player in the 2011 NBA draft, something to factor in in terms of his development.
Harris is unselfish and a decent shooter. He needs to pack some more weight on his frame, like most of the bigs in this draft, and needs to continue working on his footwork and post moves.
He's young, so he has time to improve, but the Milwaukee Bucks sure seem to be banking on a lot in terms of Harris growing from raw prospect to realized talent.
Verdict: Big risk, but decent upside.
Lithuanian forward Donatas Motiejunas is one of several international prospects in the 2011 NBA draft, and perhaps demonstrates the best touch around the basket of any of the big men in his draft class.
Motiejunas is smooth and quick, able to pull of an impressive array of moves under the basket and knock down jumpers from short and mid-range as well. He is the rare big who can beat a defender off the dribble and get to the rim first, and also passes the ball surprisingly well for a 7-footer.
He’s more of a stretch-4 than anything else, but he can still execute from the low post in the mold of a Pau Gasol type. Don’t look for him to muscle anyone out, and he might be physically intimidated, but don’t be surprised when his soft touch allows for efficient low post scoring either.
At the NBA level, Motiejunas will definitely need to add some bulk, but his biggest enemy might actually be his inexperience. Though he plays for Benetton Treviso in the Italian League, Motiejunas is severely undercoached for his position and will be in strong need of an effective big man coach at the NBA level.
That he has a formidable spread of moves is more attributable to his own natural talent than any of his coaches.
Motiejunas should continue to improve and already boasts an impressive offensive game. Of all the internationals in the 2011 NBA draft, he might have the highest ceiling.
Verdict: Safe with proper coaching and development, risky without.
Nolan Smith wasn't the most-heralded Duke prospect in the 2011 NBA draft (that honor belonged to former teammate Kyrie Irving), but he was certainly the most experienced one.
Smith brings a winning mentality and resume to the Portland Trailblazers. He's a solid player that will not amaze in any one area of his game. He's a combo guard that's lethal from mid-range and can get to the rim, but will likely not impress in any other area of his offensive game. Defensively, he's incredibly solid and can guard a wide variety of backcourt players.
There isn't much of a "wow" factor to Smith's name, but the Portland Trailblazers could have done much worse with the 21st pick in the 2011 NBA draft.
The 2011 NBA draft seems to be lacking in effective paint defender, but don’t tell that to Morehead State forward Kenneth Faried.
Faried averaged 17.3 points per game, 14.5 rebounds per game and 2.3 blocks per game last year, an impressive combination of statistics. He is arguably the best rebounding prospect in the 2011 NBA draft, is a fearsome shot-blocker and has great vertical leaping ability.
Undoubtedly, Faried is a bit raw on the offensive end, lacking NBA big man moves, but he likely won’t hang his hat on the offensive end of the court anyway. It is also worth noting that Faried suffers from asthma, so if not properly managed, conditioning could become a concern as his NBA career gets going.
Verdict: Moderately safe.
Tougher and more versatile than your typical European big man, Mirotic plays with an aggressiveness that bodes well for his future. He runs the court with purpose and is not ashamed to call for the ball forcefully and take a big shot.
While, offensively, it's not difficult to see why Mirotic has earned minutes, it's actually on the defensive end where he's surprisingly emerged as Real Madrid's most consistent big man.
Mirotic is very fundamentally sound, never off-balance, always staying solid in his stance and rarely gambling for the sake of making a spectacular play. Nevertheless, he's been fairly productive statistically, showing excellent timing as a shot-blocker and even getting in the passing lanes on occasion, likely aided greatly by his excellent length.
He still needs to add strength (as most 20-year-olds do), but Mirotic has a good frame and should be able to see minutes at either big man position in the NBA, depending on who he's playing next to.
Verdict: Very risky considering Mirotic's contract situation overseas.
Reggie Jackson might be one of the most unknown prospects in the 2011 NBA draft, for the simple fact that he worked out for no NBA teams prior to the draft.
He's a scoring guard and has a knack for getting to rim, but has some major attitude questions and is somewhat of an enigma given his lack of team workouts prior to the 2011 NBA draft. For that reason alone, you have to think he's a major risk. Or you have to really love his game tape.
Verdict: Major risk.
Few players have shot up the 2011 NBA draft board as quickly as Providence guard Marshon Brooks.
Brooks is an athletic freak. Though he only stands at 6'5", Brooks has a 7'1" wingspan and an 8'5" reach. He is a proven volume scorer, having accounted for 24.6 points per game last year, is aggressive going to the rim and has very good handles. Additionally, he rebounds very well from his position.
At the NBA level, Brooks will need to find more consistency from three and learn to better share the ball, but there are not many areas of Brooks game that show significant weakness.
Look for Brooks to contribute immediately and quickly capitalize on his massive potential.
Verdict: Safe as a tank in a fender-bender.
Small forward Jordan Hamilton displays range that can rival anyone in the 2011 NBA draft class.
Hamilton, who averaged 18.6 points per game last season at Texas, is an efficient scorer with deep range, good handles and great court vision. He is also viewed as one of the better rebounding prospects at his position, having averaged 7.7 rebounds per game last year.
The major criticism of Hamilton is shot selection. He tends to take some questionable shots and deny his teammates open looks. A little selfishness is good for a shooter but too much leaves a player on an island, with leaping perimeter defenders buzzing in over open waters.
Hamilton could also stand to improve as a defender but is hardly a liability.
Hamilton has a fair amount of potential and should prove a useful role player.
Verdict: Safe enough.
Purdue forward JaJuan Johnson is surely one of the most underrated players in the 2011 NBA draft.
All Johnson has done since enrolling in Purdue University is improve every year. From freshman year to senior year, he averaged (in that order) 5.4 points per game, 13.4 points per game, 15.5 points per game and 20.5 points per game.
Rebounds? 3.1 rebounds per game to 5.6 rebounds per game to 7.1 rebounds per game to 8.6 rebounds per game. All Johnson ever does is get better.
Johnson was one of the premier players in the Big Ten last year. He is an excellent defender, capable of sticking with even some of the quicker guards. Johnson can bury a mid-range jumper and has even worked on stepping back and draining shots from downtown (though not with any regularity.) He's incredibly slick around the rim and does everything you ask from the power forward position.
In the NBA, Johnson projects as either a stretch-4 or a defensive-minded 3. He will need to continue bulking up if it wants to ensure his upward trend remains constant. It might not be popular opinion, but the Boston Celtics landed one of the more effective players in the 2011 NBA draft.
Verdict: One of the safer 27th overall picks ever made.
Though mostly obscured by his time in the Horizon League at Cleveland State, guard Norris Cole is one of the better point guards in the 2011 NBA draft.
Cole is most known for terrorizing the Butler Bulldogs during a season in which Butler ended up in the National Championship Game. He operates extremely well in transition and is an absolute force going forward and bulldozing toward the rim.
His offensive game is well-rounded and he can attack from a variety of angles and positions. Cole has a nice jumper and a solid all-around offensive game.
Milwaukee gets a solid scoring option in Cole, but shouldn't expect him to have any immediate impact on defense. He'll start out his career as an end-of-the-bench option that can improve into a solid role player or bench presence when he upgrades his coaching from the Horizon League to the NBA.
Verdict: No risk involved here, but not a surefire pick by any means.
Texas guard Cory Joseph is likely one of the players who committed to the 2011 NBA draft a bit too early in his career.
Joseph is a decent scorer with terrific quickness and decent potential, but his game is still very raw and he would arguably have been better-served staying at Texas and working on his handles, shot selection and defense.
Verdict: Risky, there were better prospects on the board. I would argue that Butler guard Shelvin Mack would have made much more sense here, but then I don't have the San Antonio Spurs' draft history behind me.
From Draft Express:
The Texas native is not a freak athlete, or the type of player you'll see on an ESPN highlight reel any time soon. He does not have the pedigree of a future NBA All-Star. His physical tools are fairly average, and he still needs to develop certain parts of his skill set, namely his shooting consistency from the beyond the arc, to maximize his value.
However, when evaluating a player like Butler, who simply plays winning basketball, has terrific intangibles, and does all of the little things the help his team, it is important to look at what he can do before condemning him for he can't be.
Butler is a heady player who plays within a team concept. He defends, he makes the extra pass, he crashes the glass, he has a terrific basketball IQ, and his attitude is a coach's dream. A product of tireless reps in the gym and a detail oriented system, the senior has a very solid floor game, makes good decision with the ball, scraps on both ends, and maximizes the physical tools he does have.
Butler is a solid pick for the Chicago Bulls with the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA draft. I can see him having a spot on the bench right away. He's no Derrick Rose, but he's smart and makes good decisions in transition, which means he could pair well with Rose.
Verdict: A pretty safe 30th overall selection.