March Madness is over, and April Madness is in full swing.
Which college players are leaving and staying? Who SHOULD leave? Where will each player be drafted?
The most important question, however, as always, is which players are going to succeed at the next level?
This is one of my favorite things to debate in all of sports, and when it comes to the draft it’s easy to speak in absolutes:
- Jimmer Fredette will be one of the five best shooters in the league immediately.
- Kemba Walker is the next Allen Iverson.
- Jared Sullinger is too small and slow to succeed in the NBA.
I just presented three opinions as fact. That’s what makes this debate so fun.
But no matter how much we think we know about the game, we don’t REALLY know.
There have been plenty of “can’t miss” guys that were busts. There have been just as many no-names that went on to greatness. Oftentimes, it comes down to something boring that really matters more than everything else:
What situation is Player X going to?
This can affect a player both ways, good or bad.
Sometimes a good player gets drafted by a team with almost no talent, they give him the keys to the hotrod right away, and we are fooled into thinking he is a superstar.
Look at Tyreke Evans. He was able to put up some insane stats because he was given a “LeBron in Cleveland” type green light with the ball. Because of his numbers and flashy highlights, people pegged him as the next Derrick Rose. In reality, he’s not a true point guard, he has no jumper, and he may already have maxed out his potential as a player. Is he a good player? Of course. Will he be a ten-time all star that you can build your team around? I doubt it.
Other times, a more limited player is drafted by the perfect team that enables him to excel. Big Baby is the perfect example. He is an undersized PF that plays below the rim and is a below average defender. But on the Celtics, he is able to be the 3rd or 4th big man on the team, come in off the bench and be a legitimate energy guy, and stretch the defense with his pure shooting.
This summer, some team will pay him top dollar, hoping he can be their answer at Power Forward for the next five years. I hope this team isn’t the Pacers…because whoever makes that decision will have made a costly mistake for their franchise. Can Glen Davis give you quality minutes off the bench every night? Yes. Should he EVER be a starter in the NBA? No.
The situation is also about more than things we can see on the floor. Coaching, teammates, management, city atmosphere, and so much more can affect a player more than we know.
There are a few guys who would succeed in any city with any teammates, but when you think about where those guys were when they entered the draft, the list is smaller than you think. LeBron, Durant, Carmelo, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and a few other guys had success pretty quickly. But even a guy like Deron Williams could be questioned. What if he didn’t go play for Jerry Sloan and learn from John Stockton and Mark Jackson? Would he be as good as he is now? It’s unlikely.
All that to say, we can talk like we know, but until we know WHO Player X is playing for, most of the time we don’t really know.
One way to predict a player’s success is to compare him to somebody that is already playing in the League. While this definitely has flaws – some players like Durant just have no good comps, work ethic is a huge factor, etc. – it’s one of my favorite ways to talk about the draft.
However, two things about this system have always bothered me.
First of all, we always have to compare white guys to white guys and black guys to black guys…even when we are ignoring the most obvious comparison on the table.
For instance, when Tyler Hansbrough came into the league, I heard some RIDICULOUS comparisons. Adam Morrison, Troy Murphy, Kevin McHale, and even Larry Bird were thrown out there. Apparently, because Hansbrough is about their size and white, he HAS to play like one of them.
To me, the best comparison for Psycho T was a guy like Paul Milsap. Milsap plays below the rim, but is very skilled. He can shoot the 20-footer, and he is much better on the boards than his size and athleticism indicate. Those were all qualities that Hansbrough had coming out of college. For me, his coming out party after the All Star Break this year was not only unsurprising, it was expected.
The other thing that bothers me is that we only compare guys that play the same position. Sometimes, the most accurate comparison is with a guy that plays a different spot on the floor. I will give a great example of this later on.
So let’s break some ground. Let’s stop comparing Rashard Lewis to Reggie Lewis when he’s really just a taller Kyle Korver.
Here are some new ways to think about eight players that could be entering the draft this year.
Before you laugh, let’s put their numbers and measurables side by side:
- Hayward is listed at 6’8”, 207 pounds. Barnes is 6’8”, 210.
- Hayward as a college sophomore averaged 15.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.7 assists. Barnes put up 15.7, 5.8, and 1.4.
- Hayward shot 37% from three in college, Barnes shot 34%.
- Both guys are pure shooters, but can also create off the dribble.
- Barnes was not quite as athletic as people thought, and Hayward was more athletic than most gave him credit for (he finished second only to John Wall at the combine last year in the full-court sprint).
Really, Barnes and Hayward match up in nearly every way. Hayward would most definitely be a top 3 pick if he was in this year’s draft, just like Barnes.
Now before you think this is bad news for Barnes, look up what Hayward has been doing since he entered the starting lineup in April. He has averaged 16.4 pts a game while shooting 57% from three. He scored 22 points against the Lakers, and outplayed Kobe down the stretch including the go-ahead free throws and a defensive stop on the Mamba as time expired. Just Wednesday, he poured in 34 points against the Nuggets on 12-17 shooting.
Hayward was the classic “situation” guy. He joined a team coached by Jerry Sloan…an old-school guy who doesn’t typically play rookies. The star of the team, Deron Williams, was dissatisfied by his team’s effort at getting better, and played selfishly before he was traded. Almost no rookie would have succeeded in that situation.
Look for Barnes to excel in a good situation, and struggle otherwise.
Matt Howard, meet Big Baby Davis
This comp, more than any other, will completely depend upon the team Howard goes to. It’s very likely that Howard won’t even be drafted. But think about this: Is there a team that could use a backup PF that can shoot the three, grab tough rebounds, give them six hard fouls, and instant energy off the bench?
Howard is a little bit lighter than Big Baby, but other than that, they are remarkably similar. They both play below the rim (nobody gets his shot blocked at the rim more than Davis), are above average passers, and stretch the defense with their great shooting. Celtics fans LOVE it when Big Baby dives on the floor and makes energy plays; don’t you also see that in Matt Howard’s future?
I don’t think Matt Howard will be an exceptional pro. I don’t even believe he will ever be a starter. But don’t be surprised when the Spurs, or Thunder, or some other smart team picks him up in the second round and he gets big time minutes next May in the playoffs. Just like Big Baby.
Josh Selby, meet Luke Jackson
Because they are both awful.
Shelvin Mack, meet Chauncey Billups
I know I know…another Butler guy, but just go with me on this.
This violates the “we can’t compare point guards with shooting guards!” rule. In my opinion, that’s idiotic.
The PG position has changed in the NBA over the last several years. It’s no longer a necessity to have a PG that “runs the show” in the old school manner. In fact, by my count, there are only three “old-school” PGs that are still playing. Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, and Chris Paul.
Now, you need your PG to put pressure on the defense in one of three ways. He can either be a scorer like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Deron Williams, a shooter like Stephen Curry, Chauncey Billups, and Aaron Brooks, or someone who constantly keeps the opposition on their heels like Rajon Rondo, Ty Lawson, and John Wall.
Do those players still need to be intelligent? Of course. But it’s no longer necessary for the PG to be able to recognize the defense, be a facilitator, etc.
Shelvin Mack is 6’3” and built like a tank. He has DEEP range, and was one of the most clutch guys in college basketball for the past two years. He has been a leader on every team he has ever played on.
I don’t care if he’s not a “natural point guard.” Chauncey Billups wasn’t either! Until he landed on a team that needed him to do one thing – hit big shots and put pressure on the opposing PG.
Mack can do that. Maybe he wouldn’t have had a position in 1992. He has one today.
Expect him to keep “Macking the Knife” for the next ten years at the next level.
Ben Hansbrough, meet Eddie House
They are both cocky guys that can’t dribble or do anything else but will randomly hit a ton of threes in huge games.
Mason Plumlee, meet Serge Ibaka
Just because I wanted to compare a white kid from Duke with the most athletic beast in the NBA not named LeBron or Blake.
But really, Mason almost dunked THREE balls in a dunk contest once. He is bouncy, and lanky, a lot like Ibaka as a rookie.
Hey, it could happen.
Jared Sullinger, meet Kevin Love
I know that Sullinger is out of the draft now, but he will be in the league soon enough and I’ve heard a WIDE variety of scouts talk about him.
I have heard comparisons to Elton Brand, Paul Milsap, Carlos Boozer, Big Baby Davis, and others.
The one that makes the most sense to me, though, is Kevin Love.
Love is big, but incredibly skilled. He has legitimate three-point range, is a clever passer, and uses his lower body better than anyone.
Sullinger has the same body type. They both carry a lot of weight in their legs and butt, and use it to establish fantastic rebounding position on every play.
The big man from Ohio State will never be as good of an outlet passer as K-Love, but in every other part of his game, the similarities are striking.
Don’t be surprised if Sullinger turns out to be a rebounding machine in the NBA, even though he is playing below the rim and his opponents.
Opinions haven’t been this diverse about a player’s game since JJ Redick came out.
I have heard countless thoughts concerning the Jimmer.
- “He will be one of the top five shooters in the NBA as soon as he gets drafted.”
- “If there is one thing that translates to the NBA, it’s shooting.”
- “He plays a lot like Stephen Curry.”
- “He’s Mormon, he can’t be good.”
- “If you hated on Allen Iverson in 2000 for being a ball-hog, you aren’t allowed to like Jimmer Fredette.”
Ok, so I made one of those up.
I am torn on him a little bit, but I am worried about the Jimmer for the following reason: He takes some of the worst shots I have ever seen.
Don’t start with the “his team needed him to score that much” argument because it’s not valid. I understand Jimmer was his team’s #1 option. That’s fine. But he might be the dumbest “good college player” in the past ten years. JJ Redick scored just as much, against better competition, with better players on his team to balance the scoring…and didn’t take nearly the volume of shots that Jimmer took this year.
Could Jimmer get hot and carry a team for a few minutes, a quarter, maybe even a game? Sure. So did Nate Robinson for the Knicks. But his idiocy wore on them, and he was traded to the Celtics, where his idiocy wore on them and…you get the drift.
Also, I’m not so sure I agree with the “if one thing translates” argument anymore. How many Steve Kerrs are playing today? Really, the phrase should be, “If you are either tall enough or quick enough to get your shot off, and you are a great shooter, that will translate to the NBA.”
If you are slow, you need to have size like Kyle Korver, Rashard Lewis, or Dirk to get that shot off. If you are short, you need to be quick like Steph Curry, Monta Ellis, and Jason Terry.
There simply aren’t a lot of short, slow shooters in the NBA anymore. Not in 2011.
Will Jimmer have some exciting moments? I am sure he will.
Will he win a three-point contest or two? Probably. Robinson had some All-Star Weekend fame too.
But will he be a starting guard in the league for ten years? No.
Just Fredette about that.