2014 NBA Draft Scouting Report — Noah Vonleh

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Noah Vonleh checks in at number five overall on my 2014 NBA Draft big board and it’s for good reason. Of all the true big man prospects in this draft, he projects as the second best two-way big behind Joel Embiid, my number one guy. The difference is that Vonleh will be a power forward at the next level rather than a center like Embiid will. That doesn’t mean that Vonleh can’t play center, because he can, but he shouldn’t be asked to do it for long stretches of time. I have him slightly behind Aaron Gordon on my big board but the two of them could almost certainly be interchangeable.

Vonleh is a 6’10” and 245 pound power forward with a 7’4” wingspan. That height, weight, and wingspan combo makes him an extremely intriguing prospect. When you add in the fact that he’s still just 18 years old and won’t turn 19 until two months after the NBA Draft, you can sort of start to see why scouts love him so much and tab him as a guy with incredible upside. He has the size, the age, and the game to translate into a force of nature in the NBA.

Offensively, Noah Vonleh’s game is developing but he features quite a few good things on that end of the floor. He’s able to use both hands effectively around the rim and even uses both on jump hooks which showcase his solid to good touch. On non-transition attempts around the rim, Vonleh was 66 of 114 (57.9%) this season. He was assisted only 21 of those 66 makes, which comes out to 31.8%. This is primarily because he scores 25% of his field goals at the rim on putbacks and shoots 71.4% on those shots. This is actually a higher mark that Julius Randle, a player I have way lower on my draft board. Randle, for the record, has had 20.9% of made field goals at the rim come on putbacks and he shot 70.6% on those attempts.

So, this shows that Noah Vonleh can be adept offensive rebounder and garbage man. But Vonleh is already a whole lot more than just that. He only took 81 total jumpers this season but he made 33 of them. While 40.7% isn’t a staggering number by any means, he actually showcased good form and range on his jumper. He was able to step out and knock down threes at a very high rate (16 of 33) and was a solid free throw shooter (71.6%) for a big man with a long wingspan. On non-transition jumpers, Vonleh shot 31 of 76 (40.8%) so he was just as good in the half-court as he was in transition as far as jumpers are concerned.

His length allows him to finish around the rim – to the tune of 57.9% on non-transition attempts – but he does have some problems finishing through contact around the rim. He could be a really good pick-and-roll big man in the NBA but a lot of that relies on his ability to knock down jumpers at a consistent rate, which he’s shown he has the skill to do, and his understanding of spacing and capacity to actually catch the ball when he rolls to the rim. His hands have been a little bit of a problem here and there but they should come along with time.

Vonleh averages 1.09 points per possession, 0.21 turnovers per possession, 0.99 points per play, but only got 10.4 possessions per game at Indiana. A lot of that was due to guard play. Indiana had guards who, at times, refused to dump it down low and looked for their own shots. By comparison, Julius Randle also averaged 1.09 points per possession but put up just 0.96 points per play despite having 13.8 possessions per game at Kentucky. They were also close on turnovers per possession. Randle averaged 0.19.

As far as offensive downsides are truly concerned, Vonleh’s footwork could use some work. He’s not comfortable operating exclusively out of the post and his footwork tends to get sloppy at times which really hampers what he wants to do against defenders on low post possessions. You can saw his rawness when he works in the post. He struggles to get his shot off against overly physical defenders, which is a problem for a lot of big men in college simply because referees let a lot of hard contact go down low, and it affects what he wants to do as the game goes along. Vonleh also tends to get a tad out of control when he tries to beat his man off the dribble. He carelessly leaves the ball out too far from his body and leaves him open to getting stripped on drives.

I mentioned earlier that he has problems catching the ball sometimes but it’s not because of an issue with his hands entirely. He’s just not ready to catch the ball sometimes and that might be because Vonleh didn’t actually think he was going to get the ball in certain situations since he was so used to the guard in the pick-and-roll taking the shot for himself. Still, though, you’d like to see more awareness out of Vonleh on the offensive end as a pick-and-roll big man despite being a good catch-and-shoot and pick-and-pop player.

As far as defense goes, Noah Vonleh has his good and his bad moments. He has the size and wingspan to be a dynamic defensive player and rim protector but he gets lazy and zones out from time to time. He can’t do that in the NBA or else he’ll be destroyed off of backdoor cuts, backdoor lobs, and drive-and-drops all game. He’ll become a liability there if he doesn’t pick up his intensity and intelligence. Vonleh also can lack poor situational awareness and body control which leads to him fouling more than you’d like. He averaged 3.9 fouls per 40 pace adjusted minutes, which is entirely way too high. But his rate statistics are good when you combine them. 3.3 blocks and steals per 40 pace adjusted minutes is pretty solid and a good indicator that he can be a disruptive defender going forward.

Vonleh’s a pretty solid post defender already and deterrent around the rim but when defending off the ball, as mentioned, he lacks the wherewithal to be locked in at all times. It’s hard to take a guy in the top five when he’s prone to bouts of complacency but you really do have to wonder how much of that was because of the guys around him. When you’re on a bad team, you can tend to get lazy and not try as much as you should simply because you feel like there’s no reward even if you do. But he has to battle through that and work the opposite mentality into his game.

Vonleh also has a problem of not playing up to his height and he tends to lack the raw explosiveness of a guy like Aaron Gordon. I mean, that’s not a fully bad thing since there’s so few Aaron Gordon’s out there but Vonleh plays below the rim a lot for a guy who has really good length and size. He relies on skill to score more than size so he’ll have to be taught to play bigger than he does now. He’s also going to have to get more leaping ability, which can be done, in order to finish a little more above the rim. And, despite being 6’10” with a 7’4” wingspan, Vonleh only played 41 shots this year with 28 coming at the rim. By comparison, Joel Embiid blocked 72 shots this year and had 47 come at the rim. You’d like to see Vonleh be more of a shot blocker but that should be able to come with more reps and time since he is so young.

I really do like Noah Vonleh as a prospect. I’m sure we’ve all heard the Chris Bosh comparisons thrown around and we’re probably all sick of them by now but that is who he could turn out to be. Bosh was a 6’11” power forward with a 7’4” wingspan when he came out. Sounds eerily similar to Vonleh. They had a similar body type, game, and everything else. In per 40 pace adjusted minutes during his only season at Georgia Tech, Chris Bosh averaged 19.6 points and 11.2 rebounds with 2.7 blocks and 1.2 steals on 56/47/73 shooting. Noah Vonleh averaged 16.5 points and 13.1 rebounds with 2.0 blocks and 1.3 steals on 52/49/72 shooting. Their numbers are similar and so too are their games in a way but Bosh was by far the more polished prospect coming out. Vonleh is gonna take some time and that’s just fine. The payoff could be huge.

I have Noah Vonleh fifth on my big board, which is why he’s the fifth draft profile I’ve done, and I really think he’d benefit from certain fits. For instance, I think that going to Boston and working with Brad Stevens would be fantastic for him. I hope for his sake that he doesn’t end up in Sacramento, Detroit, or Cleveland. Another good fit for him could possibly be in Philadelphia next to Nerlens Noel where they could be a potential twin towers for years to come. Also, Denver with Brian Shaw and the triangle offense could be good for him. Either way, Vonleh’s future is insanely high. But his floor, like Aaron Gordon’s, could also be insanely low if he doesn’t pan out. I have faith in the kid, though.

Draft Projection: Top 10
Upside Comparison: 2006-2007 Chris Bosh
Downside Comparison: 2011-2012 Anthony Randolph

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2014 NBA Mock Draft – Version 4.0

01.)  Milwaukee Bucks: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
02.)  Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Wiggins, SF, Kentucky
03.)  Orlando Magic: Dante Exum, CG, Australia
04.)  Boston Celtics: Jabari Parker, CF, Duke
05.)  Los Angeles Lakers: Noah Vonleh, FC, Indiana
06.)  Utah Jazz: Marcus Smart, CG, Oklahoma State
07.)  Denver Nuggets (from New York): Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
08.)  Sacramento Kings: Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse
09.)  Cleveland Cavaliers: Rodney Hood, SF, Duke
10.)  Charlotte Bobcats (from Detroit): Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
11.)  Philadelphia 76ers (from New Orleans): Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona
12.)  Orlando Magic (from Denver): Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
13.)  Minnesota Timberwolves: Doug McDermott, CF, Creighton
14.)  Memphis Grizzlies: James Young, SF, Kentucky
15.)  Atlanta Hawks: Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse
16.)  Chicago Bulls (from Charlotte): Zach LaVine, CG, UCLA
17.)  Boston Celtics (from Brooklyn): Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
18.)  Phoenix Suns (from Washington): Nik Stauskas, SG, Michigan
19.)  Chicago Bulls: Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville
20.)  Toronto Raptors: Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin
21.)  Oklahoma City Thunder (from Dallas): Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
22.)  Phoenix Suns: Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland
23.)  Utah Jazz (from Golden State): K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
24.)  Los Angeles Clippers: Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State
25.)  Houston Rockets: DeAndre Burton, PG, Nevada
26.)  Charlotte Bobcats (from Portland): T.J. Warren, CF, North Carolina State
27.)  Miami Heat: Chris Walker, PF, Florida
28.)  San Antonio Spurs: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, Arizona
29.)  Oklahoma City Thunder: P.J. Hairston, SG, D-League
30.)  Phoenix Suns (from Indiana): Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA

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2014 NBA Draft Scouting Report — Aaron Gordon

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Let me preface this entire report by saying I have Aaron Gordon fourth overall on my big board. I’ve had people ask me why and I’ve always been very candid about Aaron Gordon so I will continue to be that way. I like him for a lot of reasons but I also understand why a lot of people don’t like him. It’s a real “preference” type of situation when it comes to Aaron Gordon.

We all know what he can do. He can get up, and up, and up, and up, and up. Without question, Aaron Gordon is one of the most thunderous dunkers we’ve seen in college basketball in quite some time. His ability to turn any play, any pass, and any defender into his own personal highlight reel is out of this world. There are very few people in basketball that possess that kind of natural leaping ability. It’s ungodly to see it out of a 6’9″ power forward who also weighs 225 pounds and has a 7’0″ wingspan.

The main problem, offensively, with Aaron Gordon is that he’s not a good shooter. When I say that, I truly mean he’s bad. He’s only 50 of 169 (29.6%) on all jumpers this season, both from two-point and three-point land. When you narrow that down to all non-transition jumpers, Gordon is 40 of 136 (29.4%). His form looks okay but not great. His mechanics look solid but not great. He lacks the consistency and the confidence. He’ll take them if he’s wide open and he can hit them but it’s a massive work in progress. Also, after starting the year 5 of 9 from three, he’s just 5 of 22 since then.

The other problem is free throws. He’s terrible there. Like, really really bad. He’s only shooting 43.4% from the line this year and that’s in 140 attempts. He’s missed on 79 of those 140 attempts. By himself, Aaron Gordon has missed 32% of the free throws Arizona, as a team, has missed this season. That’s quite unreal. He’s just really unreliable at the line. His form is bad, his release is bad, and he looks shaky up there. Free throws are going to be something Gordon must correct. He doesn’t need to be a 70%+ free throw shooter but something in the 60-65% range would be nice.

There are great things to his game, though. As mentioned, his athleticism is off the charts. His ability to out-jump all of the players around him allows him to get to rebounds he shouldn’t be able to get to. Especially offensive rebounds. Even after a missed shot around the rim, he has the wherewithal to go back up and keep at it. He does lose some explosiveness with each jump but his length and motor keeps him in the moment.

Aaron Gordon is excellent without the ball. He understands spacing concepts and his movements in off-ball situations are fluid, smart, and pretty. Gordon, despite not being a good shooter, won’t bog down an offensive set entirely simply because he knows how to get open around the rim. Arizona does a good job of using guard screens for him along the baseline that free him up but he’s also adept at getting open by himself. That’s a high quality thing.

Even though his length and leaping ability allow him to crash the offensive glass, his other glaring weakness on offense is that he gets really small when going into the paint. This is a problem. You don’t like seeing a 6’9″ guy shrivel up and lack the explosion when going up in traffic off the dribble. Even on some putbacks, you can see he lacks the spring to separate sometimes.

He does look awkward attacking off the dribble from the perimeter sometimes but I’m not really worried about that since he’ll probably operate more in the post or off of cuts in the NBA. I doubt a team will require him to be a ball-handler, even though he can do it and has shown some nifty passes, that much. I just hope a team doesn’t try to screw with him and make him handle the ball more than he should. That’s not to say he can’t make dribble-drive moves and get to the rim. He can. You just don’t want to see that be his primary ability.

In the post, he can flash some nice things. He’s not great in the post by any stretch but he can throw up a fadeaway that has some hints of LaMarcus Aldridge or Blake Griffin to it. Doesn’t always go in but there is hope there. He also can go up over either shoulder with either hand but, as mentioned before, can lack the explosiveness to get the shot up over defenders if he doesn’t gather himself first. He’s a two-foot leaper instead of a one-foot leaper.

On defense, he’s sensational. That’s where I love him the most. Gordon has the footwork, agility, lateral motion, length, athleticism, and intelligence to be a force. His best asset is diagnosing and disrupting the pick-and-roll. He has the ability to attack a ball-handler without fouling and also get back and recover into passing lanes. He’s pretty unreal as far as defensive talent goes. He also shows a deep understanding of help defense. You love that.

Even when isolated in one-on-one situations, Aaron Gordon can still force opponents into tough shots because of his length and timing. It also doesn’t hurt that he does an excellent job of maintaining verticality and meeting opposing players at the apex of their jump. It’s great to see a young guy such as Aaron Gordon look so at home on defense even when he’s put into some non-ideal situations. Dare I say, it’s beautiful.

Aaron Gordon always hustles, always competes, and always does the little things. He’s almost like a coach’s dream simply because you don’t have to call plays for him to be effective. He can get his own offense off of garbage plays, intelligent off-ball movement, and pressure defense that leads to fastbreak opportunities. He’s a total team guy, as well. Someone you want on your side. I think that’s what I love him the most about him as a prospect.

The main thing with him is you’d love to see him improve his jumper, get more of a true post game, and get stronger. He’s not rail thin and he’s already pretty bulky with muscle but you’d love more core strength out of him so he can back guys down and also box out a little better. He’s a good rebounder but not great. He has trouble boxing out and there’s where added core strength would come in handy. Either way, he has the tools and work ethic to do it.

The upside with Aaron Gordon is that he’s going to turn 19 years old only about a month before the start of the new season. He’s actually the youngest prospect in this NBA draft class. Noah Vonleh, who I have fifth on my big board, is the second youngest prospect and Dante Exum, who I have second, is the third youngest. There’s a ton of growth left in him. And whatever team takes him will need to nurture that growth and let it flourish the right way. He might not be great right off the bat but down the line he could be something truly special. His upside is through the roof while his floor can be pretty low.

I’m a believer in Aaron Gordon. I believe in what he can do, what he can be, and what he can improve on. It’s very rare to find athletic freaks of nature at the power forward spot and it does worry me that a team will take him and try to fit him in at small forward. If they do that, they should be fired on the spot. He’s a special player who needs the right system. Orlando, Boston, and Philadelphia could be good for him. I just really hope he doesn’t end up in Sacramento or Cleveland.

Draft Projection: Top 10
Upside Comparison: 1992-1993 Shawn Kemp
Downside Comparison: 2000-2001 Darius Miles

2014 NBA Draft Scouting Report — Andrew Wiggins

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Out of all the draft prospects this year, Andrew Wiggins is the most explosive. Bar none. The word that’d probably describe him best is “relentless.” His size — 6’7″ and 200 pounds with a 7’0″ wingspan — is very ideal for a small forward in today’s NBA. While his weight might seem like an issue, he plays stronger than his weight might suggest. He’s chiseled, carries a lot of core strength, and is a force whenever he’s exploding into or around contact. His frame will not deter him one bit.

In transition, he’s the most effective and dominant player in college basketball. He’s able to stride with ease and can finish with grace or with power. It doesn’t matter whether he’s leading the break or running with the ball-handler. He’s always there. It’s nice to see a player as young as Wiggins be so physically and athletically dominant against guys who are older than him. Does a lot for his draft stock, which was already sky high even before the season began.

His jumper is his biggest question mark. However, he has shown the ability to use his quick first step in order to create the necessary space that’ll allow him to sink a pull-up mid-range jumper. And while he isn’t a great three-point shooter — only 34% on the year — he’s still able to look good with good form and good mechanics when he’s allowed to set his feet and receive in a catch-and-shoot situation.

Speaking of his explosive first step, Wiggins is able to use it as a major weapon that throws defenders off of his scent. He can either create the space for a pull-up jumper as mentioned before, get you off-balance and create space for a stepback jumper, get you leaning baseline and spin back to the basket when you over-commit, or even beat you baseline when you overplay the drive to the lane and hit a floater. He has all the necessary offensive tools to be a dynamic player in the NBA.

There are problems with Wiggins offensively, however. He can get too careless with his dribble and keep it too far away from his body which allows defenders to get a hand in and poke it loose. Wiggins also tends to take some tough shots that he has no business taking and it can bog down the Kansas offense at times when he gets that way.

Positives signs are there with his jumper, though, as mentioned. And he still possesses the ability to blow past his guy at the drop of a hat and finish around the rim. Even without the ball in a half-court setting, he moves well and can either get open off of a flare screen, baseline cut, or when his defender just falls asleep. Anytime the defender turns his head, Wiggins usually cuts to the rim and makes them pay. He’s also constantly in the right place at the right time and that’s the sign of a guy who is aware of his surroundings and does the little things. The ball finds those players who work hardest.

Defensively, Andrew Wiggins has the potential to be great. He has the athleticism, lateral agility, footwork, and intelligence to be a lockdown wing defender at the next level. He’s also not scrawny. He can get low against a bigger offensive player and make life tough on them because of his natural explosion and lower body strength. The length that Wiggins has, and the athleticism he combines with it, makes him a candidate for an All-Defensive Team right off the bat. That’s how special he can be.

The downsides with Wiggins are that his shot selection is poor, he can struggle finishing around the rim in half-court settings, he can fall asleep sometimes on defense, and his handle is definitely not the best it can be. These are all fixable traits but flaws that are presented right now. They’ll have to be cleaned up for him to truly take that next step.

On non-transition jumpers this season, both of the two and three-point variety, Andrew Wiggins is only 59 of 184 (32.1%). While this isn’t great or even good, it is something he’s working on. His jumper has improved since high school and it shows that he’s a tireless worker. However, even if his jumper never pans out and he’s never able to make defenses pay, Wiggins has the ability to be a Top 10 player down the line. That’s how special he is. Plus, I do think he has potential as a catch-and-shoot player. He just gets into trouble with his shot selection, as mentioned, and pulls up into some bad shots.

Around the rim in non-transition settings, Wiggins is just 44 of 79 (55.7%). A few notes about this, though. First off, that’s not a terrible percentage. Secondly, he’s playing with Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis quite a bit which means at least one big man is standing around the rim at all times waiting for Wiggins to come there. Kansas doesn’t feature great spacing which can hurt a player like Wiggins in half-court settings. So this is somewhat understandable. In transition, he’s 34 of 49 (69.4%). You’d like to see that percentage become the norm for him in all phases.

As mentioned, he can fall asleep on defense at times and lose sight of his man. Part of this is due to having a guy like Embiid behind him who can clean up his mess and part of it is just because, well, let’s face it, it happens to guys on defense. There hasn’t been a defender in NBA history who hasn’t fallen asleep and lost track of a guy. But it can be a problem with Wiggins from time to time. He just has to stay engaged more. Not a big problem but still one nonetheless.

His dribble is also somewhat of a weakness. It can get sloppy, away from his body, and unrecognizable at times. This is something he must fix. Wiggins can’t be a great player with a bad dribble. It’s just not something that’s possible. He needs to tighten it up and let it get smoother. More reps will definitely help this but it’s something he must work on tirelessly. Kevin Durant and LeBron James aren’t great dribblers all the time but they’re great at what they do a lot of the time. Andrew Wiggins needs to learn from them when it comes to that.

Lastly, a final positive note about Andrew Wiggins. The guy knows how to grab rebounds. And not just defensive rebounds, either. He competes on the offensive glass thanks in large part to his athleticism but he also understands where to be. Wiggins also has an explosive second jump so that any time an initial shot around the rim misses, he’s able to clean it up by himself. It almost reminds me of Shabazz Muhammad in a way.

When we came into the year, Andrew Wiggins was the top pick. Hell, even last year he would have been picked first overall. That’s how great he was and is. Now? It looks like his teammate Joel Embiid might go before him. I currently have Andrew Wiggins third on my big board. Either way, Wiggins is a great two-way player who has the potential to be a truly transcendent player in the NBA. Every team in the NBA could use him in some capacity. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes but I can assure people that there’s no way he falls out of the Top 3 barring some major news breaking about him. He’s special.

The ideal fits for him, based on team, would probably be either Milwaukee, Philadelphia, or Boston. I’m not so sure he’d work well in Orlando, despite the Magic being in the talent acquisition business, or in Los Angeles. I feel like the Lakers want someone who’s either going to run the show (Exum) or anchor down low (Embiid) more than they’d want a wing player. Nevertheless, whoever gets Andrew Wiggins is getting a two-way star who has super low bust potential.

Draft Projection: Top 3
Upside Comparison: 1990-1991 Dominique Wilkins
Downside Comparison: 2010-2011 Andre Iguodala

2014 NBA Draft Scouting Report — Dante Exum

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The mystery man of the 2014 NBA Draft. At 6’6″ and 190 pounds, Dante Exum is an intriguing point guard due to both his size and length (6’9″ wingspan) as well as his prowess as a distributor and playmaker. Exum is a natural point guard that can explode as well as any player in this class. Combined with his ability to score, rebound, and defend, Exum is one of the best all-around players in the class.

As an offensive player, Dante Exum displays a super quick first step that allows him to get into the paint seemingly at will. He can do it off the dribble or as the cut man when his defender plays him too aggressively. It gives Exum the added benefit of not only being dangerous with the ball in his hands as a scorer and facilitator, but it also allows him to be a menace without the ball due to his movement. Exum is truly a player the defense must make note of at all times. You cannot lose sight of him.

In transition, Exum is a dynamo. It doesn’t matter whether he’s going to the basket with authority or simply dazzling everyone with his playmaking ability. He’s like a magician out there at times. With true playmakers in short supply in this upcoming draft, Exum’s jaw-dropping intuitiveness with the ball in his hands is pretty unfair. He’s garnered comparisons to Penny Hardaway due to all of this. While that’s a pretty easy comparison to make based on the peripherals, it’s not that unreal to think he could be even better.

While his jumper is inconsistent, he does flash some signs of progress both in the mid-range and from three-point range. He also does not lack the confidence in his jumper like some prospects do when they’re not proficient at it. He keeps working at it and it is improving gradually. It’s something to watch as his career takes off. You want to see some improvement from him since his jumper might be the key to his success going forward in the NBA.

Exum features the ability to drive his man off of him because of his speed, acceleration, and athleticism. It allows him to cut on a dime and create the separation necessary to get a clean look either off the dribble or off of a cut. That gives him a slight boost to his draft stock since he doesn’t have to just be a ball-dominant guard. He can play both the point and off-guard spots with ease and make a difference at both even if his shooting isn’t great at the moment.

Defensively, Exum flashes the potential to be really good. His length and footwork allow him to disrupt a lot of what opposing point guards want to do. He constantly hounds them and can create havoc because of that. His other upside defensively is that he can defend multiple positions. Exum can guard point guards, shooting guards, and even some small forwards because of his length and athleticism. That doesn’t mean I’d trust him to guard small forwards regularly but he can handle spot duty there.

I’ve raved about Dante Exum but he also has some areas to improve. His jumper, as mentioned before, is one of the key areas he can improve. His shot selection is another. He forces some bad shots at times and while this can be chalked up to him being really confident, it can also be chalked up to him not understanding situational basketball as much as you’d like. Then again, he is only 18 years old. You can also lump free throw shooting into here. He’s not a good free throw shooter but that should improve with more reps and more time.

Another area for him to improve is his handle. It can get too loose sometimes and it leads to turnovers. His ultra-aggressive style leads to turnovers both because of him being reckless and because of his handle. Getting out of control isn’t anything new to lanky point guards but it is an area for him to hone as he matures and gets more time under his belt. You don’t want a point guard averaging 4 turnovers per game.

Another problem is that, while he can be a great distributor, he can fall into a bad habit of missing open teammates due to being far too aggressive at inopportune moments. Sometimes when he barrels into the paint, he keeps his head down and doesn’t locate an open shooter in the weakside corner or the roll man on the pick-and-roll. He can get away with that right now but that’s not something you can succeed doing at the NBA level. Gotta clean that up.

Lastly, weight is an issue. 190 pounds is nice and all but when you’re 6’6″ and lanky, it’s not that good. Adding weight will be his first order of business as he makes the leap to the NBA. It’ll allow him to guard larger guards as well as finish better around the rim. Exum doesn’t shy away from contact but the added weight will help him take the beating he’ll receive. A weight room will be his best friend that first year.

All in all, Dante Exum is an intelligent player that defies his age. Combined with his size, speed, athleticism, playmaking and defensive upside, you can understand why teams are going nuts over this kid. It wouldn’t be a complete shock to me if Exum ends up going in the top three and even in the top two. Depending on who ends up with the first overall pick, Exum going first overall wouldn’t be the biggest surprise ever. He has that talent.

I currently have Dante Exum second overall on my big board. I’ve said time and time again that the top three on my big board are more of a 1A, 1B, and 1C situation so that doesn’t mean Exum is far behind Joel Embiid in my eyes. When the NBA season starts, he’ll be 19 years old. He wants control of his own team and one should give it to him. I’ve heard rumblings that he’s interested in the Los Angeles Lakers and I think that’d be a good fit. In a way, I feel like he might force his way there. Either way, the future is bright for the Australian wunderkind.

Draft Projection: Top 5
Upside Comparison: 1998-1999 Jason Kidd
Downside Comparison: 1983-1984 Micheal Ray Richardson

2014 NBA Draft Scouting Report — Joel Embiid

embiid

Joel Embiid is probably the best all-around big man I’ve seen in quite some time. As great of a prospect as Anthony Davis was, Joel Embiid is a little bit better because of the added things he can do and the physique that he possesses. And that’s not a slight against Anthony Davis in the least. It just speaks volumes as to how polished and great Joel Embiid already is despite having such limited experience on a basketball court. Part of me wants to say he’s the best true center prospect since Greg Oden but, then again, Embiid has natural offensive upside that Oden never really had in college despite being a dominant player at Ohio State. This is gonna sound bad but it’s not. Joel Embiid, in a way, reminds me of Andrew Bogut when Bogut came out. He has that two-way center ability. He can be dominant on the low block, out of the high post, and can be a rim protector.

Measuring in at 7’0″ and 250 pounds with a 7’5″ wingspan, it’s hard not to be fascinated by what Joel Embiid brings to the table from a measurables standpoint. You then see him put it to use and you understand why draft people and teams would fall in love with him. On top of that, he’s highly athletic and uses his raw athleticism to always make plays. He runs the floor extremely well for a big man, constantly hustles, and does a lot of the little things that head coaches fall in love with.

Due to his body size and athleticism, he’s a very adept finisher around the rim — converting 76.3% (87 of 114) of his chances. And it’s not like he’s getting a ton of putbacks, either, which would boost those numbers. Only 12.6% of his field goals made around the rim have come on putbacks. He’s working hard for his points down there. He does so by using an array of moves you wouldn’t think possible by a guy who started playing basketball when he was 16. He’s still learning and you can see it at times.

Offensively, Embiid is as gifted as they come for a center. He can hit you with the drop step, the up-and-under, the baseline spin, the hook over the right shoulder, the hook over the left shoulder, and even dropped in a Dream Shake for good measure. Embiid can finish with either hand, can get above the rim, and can use his phenomenal footwork — which is thanks in large part to a soccer and volleyball background — to get anywhere he wants down low.

Embiid does have some problems against guys who get up under him and force him to use more power. He generally tries to finesse those guys with his footwork and beat them baseline. That’s something that should translate to the NBA. You very rarely see a 7-footer with his agility, footwork, and offensive repertoire. You almost sit there watching in amazement as he does what he does. It’s a joy to see.

He also has a very solid face-up jumper. He’s made 19 of the 52 two-point jumpers he’s taken this season and while 36.5% isn’t a super high percentage, it’s not bad for a 7-footer who is still learning the game. It shows that he’s come a long way. He has a very nice shooting touch that can expand to three-point range at times. His touch is also good from the line where, despite his 68.5% free throw shooting, he shows good form and mechanics. He has upside there as a face-up big and solid free throw shooter at the next level.

Defensively, Joel Embiid is a load. He’s an agile shot-blocker who oozes intelligence of the highest order. His basketball IQ is otherworldly at times. He’s able to contain the pick-and-roll thanks in large part to his wingspan and footwork but also his mind. Embiid corrals ball-handlers and forces them into difficult decisions and shots. There are quite a few instances where you can see the defensive potential that Joel Embiid has. Very few big men, at any level, are able to diagnose and disrupt like he can and does. That’s not to say he’s not without his warts, though.

Embiid can get way too active at times and commits fouls at a high rate. He averages 3.4 fouls per game. And that’s in 23.1 minutes. If you pace adjust for 40 minutes, he averages 5.6 personal fouls. He also does tend to float around sometimes on defense and completely lose sight of his man which leads to some backdoor cuts or hand-offs from a ball-handler after penetration. He overhelps at times and it hurts Kansas a little bit. This should change as he gets more experience. He’s still learning.

The other weakness or downside to Embiid is that he is kinda weak in the core. He can get pushed around by more physical low-post players. Once he gets into an NBA conditioning program, I wouldn’t worry too much. Look at Anthony Davis. His first year in the NBA he was rail thin and would get pushed around more than you’d like to see. However, this season, he’s done a better job of holding his ground. Davis can still get pushed around but not to the degree that he was in his rookie season. I see the same level of progression for Embiid going forward.

I went all this time and didn’t talk about what is, in my opinion, Joel Embiid’s biggest strength and biggest deterrent. His biggest strength, in my eyes, is his passing ability out of the low block when he gets double-teamed. It’s really awesome to see him diagnose, step out, and find the open man. It shows a great deal of awareness and calmness that you don’t see out of most guys at that level, let alone guys who are only playing their fourth year of organized basketball. It’s great.

His biggest deterrent is his back trouble. Embiid’s back has been flaring up a lot recently and there’s some general concern that this could be a reoccurring issue going down the line. I understand the concern completely and it’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s one of the reasons that Jared Sullinger fell so far in the draft. Back problems on big men are no laughing matter. It’s something that could derail not only a career but also a franchise. Because of that, if Embiid’s back even checks out, it would not shock me to see Embiid fall a little bit due to teams being a tad wary of that situation.

Personally, I’d bite the bullet and take him first overall. I have him as my top prospect and think he’s a wonderful talent. There’s really nothing he can’t do as a big man and to get a guy, despite him being a year older than most of the other freshman, who’s as physically gifted and matured as he is would be a blessing in disguise. His upside is through the roof and teams might look back on him as the jewel of this class if all goes well.

Draft Projection: Top 3
Upside Comparison: 1997-1998 David Robinson
Downside Comparison: 2011-2012 Andrew Bogut

The NBA age limit — and why it stinks

Over the last several years, ever since the NBA, for some reason, banned the allowance of high school players into the NBA Draft, people have fired off about why the age limit that is currently in place in the NBA today, and even the proposed increased age, is both good and bad. There’s a fence for this issue. And people are either caught on one side of it or on the other side. There’s no middle ground whatsoever.

The age issue in the NBA is a rather big deal. 18-year olds were once allowed to roam into the NBA freely and teams were allowed to pick them. Now? That’s not possible. These 18-year olds are required to go to college now and participate for one season before coming over to the NBA. If they don’t want to opt for college, their other options are going overseas and playing internationally or going into the NBA Developmental League (D-League). The pay overseas is better but the D-League features an NBA type environment that is more valuable.

The reason age is such a big deal these days, and it’s relation to the NBA, is because there’s this growing sentiment that the younger the players that enter the NBA, the worse off they’ll be. Some people — not all, but quite a few — believe that maturity stems from overall age rather than actually responding to the environment in an appropriate manner. It’s a mindset. You can learn maturity at any age. Maturity doesn’t discriminate. All races, creeds, and genders are able to be mature at any age. So why, then, does the NBA deem that these 18-year olds aren’t “mature enough” to handle the rigors of the NBA? Well, it’s a complex answer.

The NBA feels that 18-year olds, and even 19-year olds to some extent, can’t handle the added pressure of being the new face in a major city. They’re under the impression that the city, people, and lifestyle would eat them alive. The NBA has a preconceived notion built up in their mind that the younger a player is, the less adept he is at handling himself off-the-court AND on-the-court. It’s an image issue for the NBA. They feel that the longer a player spends in college, the better off he’ll be mentally to cope with his surroundings and added pressures.

The other issue is that they believe the product on the court would be severely hampered if they allowed younger players back into the NBA. The NBA has invested too much time, effort, and money into building up the current crop of NBA superstars and they don’t want to see a young, fresh crowd come into the NBA — and even into some of those cities — and steal the limelight away from what a lot of those players have built. And I totally understand that. But it’s a ludicrous notion and one that should be put to bed.

I decided that I needed to go take a look at the Top 10 picks in the NBA Draft over the last ten years. However, I didn’t look at the last ten years from 2004-2013. Instead, I went and looked from 2003-2012 because I wanted all the players to have played at least one full season of NBA basketball. The current crop of rookies from the 2013 NBA Draft haven’t played a full season yet. When they do, I’ll be sure to update all the data and include that year. What I found was pretty interesting.

Of those 100 players selected in the Top 10 over the last ten years, 29 were freshmen, 22 were sophomores, 24 were juniors, 9 were seniors, 10 were international, and 6 were from high school. If I count the last ten years that high school players were eligible to be selected (1996-2005), there were 14 total high school players selected in the Top 10. But, let’s look at those 100 players over the last ten years as a group, shall we?

Freshmen: 34 All-Star appearances (10 players)
Sophomores: 23 All-Star appearances (8 players)
Juniors: 20 All-Star appearances (7 players)
Seniors: 4 All-Star appearances (2 players)
International: 0 All-Star appearances (0 players)
High School: 25 All-Star appearances (4 players)

So, let’s completely exclude the international guys from the discussion here since they didn’t put any of their ten players into the All-Star Game at any point over the last decade. Of the six high school players taken in the NBA Draft since 2003, and keep in mind that they weren’t eligible to be selected after the 2005 NBA Draft, four of them have gone on to reach the All-Star Game (66.7%). The only ones who didn’t were Martell Webster (#6 overall in 2005) and Shaun Livingston (#4 overall in 2004). However, it is interesting to look at those two players. Martell Webster hasn’t quite turned out like everyone thought he might but he has turned into a quality roleplayer in the NBA. He sports a career 9.1 points per game average and has a career 38.6% mark from three-point range. Has he lived up to being drafted sixth overall? No he has not. But, in his defense, he has been a decent player. Not a washout. As for Shawn Livingston, I’m sure we all know his story. Had a solid start to his career and saw him cut down due to a horrific knee injury during his third season right as he was starting to turn the corner and showcase his talent. Still, that didn’t stop him. He’s in the NBA as we speak and has even started 34 games this season for the Brooklyn Nets. They’ve gone 20-14 in those starts. So, been a solid player considering what happened. Not a washout.

Now, onto the seniors. Of the nine seniors selected in the Top 10 from 2003-2012, only two have made the All-Star Game (22.2%). Oddly enough, both were members of the Portland Trail Blazers. They’re Damian Lillard (#6 in 2012) and Brandon Roy (#6 in 2006). The other seven players — Jimmer Fredette, Shelden Williams, Randy Foye, Channing Frye, Rafael Araujo, Luke Jackson, and Kirk Hinrich — are pretty interesting. Randy Foye, Channing Frye, and Kirk Hinrich haven’t been great players but they’ve been contributing roleplayers on good teams during their NBA time. So, they’ve had solid and productive careers. Jimmer Fredette hasn’t been good at all but is still in the league. He was just waived by the Sacramento Kings and has latched onto the Chicago Bulls. As for the final three — Shelden Williams, Rafael Araujo, and Luke Jackson — well, in the interest of fairness, let’s just say they sucked. Shelden Williams lasted six total seasons in the NBA but hasn’t been seen since 2012. Rafael Araujo lasted only three seasons and hasn’t been seen since 2007. Luke Jackson lasted four seasons but only played 73 games and hasn’t been seen since 2008. So, from those three guys, you have a combined 13 NBA seasons and no production. Washouts.

Among the juniors, seven of them reached the All-Star Game (29.2%). The only players to have reached the All-Star Game were Stephen Curry, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Kaman. As a footnote here, Dwyane Wade has 10 of the 20 All-Star appearances by the juniors. And while it might be a tad shocking to see Devin Harris here, you have to remember he was actually a good player for a little while. The juniors who didn’t were Thomas Robinson, Kemba Walker, Evan Turner, Wesley Johnson, Ekpe Udoh, Hasheem Thabeet, Jordan Hill, Joe Alexander, Jeff Green, Corey Brewer, Adam Morrison, Ike Diogu, Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Josh Childress, Michael Sweetney, and Jarvis Hayes. The jury is still out on Thomas Robinson but he seems like he might be finding his way. Kemba Walker is actually good and looks like he might have a future. Evan Turner is mediocre, Wesley Johnson is bad, Ekpe Udoh is bad, Hasheem Thabeet sucks, Jordan Hill is a really good rotational big man, Joe Alexander bombed hard, Jeff Green is decent, Corey Brewer is decent, Adam Morrison bombed hard, Ike Diogu was terrible, Emeka Okafor won a Rookie of the Year and has been good, Ben Gordon was good, Josh Childress sucked, Michael Sweetney ballooned up and was terrible, and Jarvis Hayes was bad. All in all, the juniors have been meh. Wade really saves them and Curry might continue to.

As for the sophomores, eight of them reached the All-Star Game so far during their careers (36.4%). The 14 who haven’t are Dion Waiters, Harrison Barnes, Terrence Ross, Derrick Williams, Greg Monroe, Al-Farouq Aminu, Gordon Hayward, Jonny Flynn, D.J. Augustin, Rudy Gay, Patrick O’Bryant, Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva, and T.J. Ford. In regards to their NBA careers, Dion Waiters has been okay, Harrison Barnes has been underwhelming beyond belief, Terrence Ross has been solid, Derrick Williams has kinda bombed, Greg Monroe has been good, Al-Farouq Aminu has been below-average, Gordon Hayward has been solid, Jonny Flynn was horrific, D.J. Augustin has been meh, Rudy Gay has been a conundrum, Patrick O’Bryant was terrible, Andrew Bogut has been good, Charlie Villanueva has had his moments, and T.J. Ford was an interesting case that had a good peak but not longevity. The All-Stars were Paul George, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Brook Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Paul, and Andre Iguodala. All in all, you have a really nice team you could put together out of those guys. Sophomores haven’t done too bad for themselves.

And, lastly, the freshmen. Of the 29 eligible freshmen, ten have gone on to reach the All-Star Game (34.5%). Those ten were Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, DeMar DeRozan, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, Luol Deng, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh. The 19 that didn’t were Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond, Austin Rivers, Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Brandon Knight, Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Eric Gordon, Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Brandan Wright, Spencer Hawes, Tyrus Thomas, and Marvin Williams. As for them, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been a great defender but not much else, Bradley Beal is an emerging force at the two-guard spot for the future, Andre Drummond is a monster in the middle, Austin Rivers has been bad, Enes Kanter has shown flashes at times, Tristan Thompson has been good, Brandon Knight has been solid, Derrick Favors has been good, DeMarcus Cousins has been great but a headcase, Tyreke Evans is hilarious, Michael Beasley has been an enigma, O.J. Mayo has been decent, Eric Gordon was on his way to being great before chronic injuries happened, Greg Oden was the next big thing but had his knees give out, Mike Conley has been really good, Brandan Wright is a rotational big man, Spencer Hawes is okay, Tyrus Thomas is trash, and Marvin Williams has been decent.

When looking at the classes like this, you get a greater understanding that it doesn’t matter how long someone went to college. After all, the freshmen class from 2003-2012 has seen 34.5% of their players make the All-Star Game while the sophomores have seen 36.4% do so. That’s 18 out of 51 players (35.3%). If you lumped in the high school players, it’d be 22 of 57 players (38.6%). Then you look at the upperclassmen — juniors and seniors — and see that only 9 of the 33 players (27.3%) made the All-Star Game. So you have these players who came in between 18-20 years old making the All-Star Game in their careers at a higher frequency than the 21-23 year old players have over that same period of time.

Speaking of the high school guys, let’s look at the last two drafts that high school players were eligible for — 2004 and 2005. There were 17 high school players selected during those two years. That’s 17 out of 120 players (14.2%). Of those 17, only three — Robert Swift, Sebastian Telfair, and Ricky Sanchez — are currently not in the NBA (17.7%). And, in fact, the 14 remaining players all have good roles on their teams.

In those same two drafts, 41 seniors were selected. 41 out of 120 total players (34.2%). Do you know how many of those 41 seniors have played a game in the NBA this season? Only eight. That’s right. Eight. That’s a staggering 19.5%. There are 14 high school guys from the 2004 and 2005 NBA drafts still playing today but only eight seniors.

During those same 2004 and 2005 NBA drafts, 19 juniors were drafted (15.8%). You want to know how many of those 19 juniors have played a game in the NBA this season? Nine of them. However, I’ll round it up to ten since Emeka Okafor would play in a game if he were able to come back from his injury. So, I’ll give them ten. That’s 52.6%. Sounds big, but you’ll see why it’s a little interesting.

In the 2004 and 2005 drafts, there were 60 upperclassmen selected and only 17 high school players. 14 of those 17 high school players (82.4%) are still in the NBA and playing. Only 18 of those 60 upperclassmen (30.0%) are still playing. These are ridiculous numbers when you take a step back and consider them.

The NBA has a big problem with high school players and even one-and-done players. The NBA originally argued that 18-year olds skipping college was hurting college because the product was getting hampered by all the talent they were missing out on. Now, the NBA (and NCAA) is trying to argue that the product is being hurt because the influx of talent into college is only staying for one year rather than longer. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

I understand that it’s a slippery slope. But, at the same time, this is an issue of freedom in a way. You can’t just look an 18-year old in the eye and tell him that he has no business earning a living. Especially with the way that they WANT to make the rules. Take Andrew Wiggins for instance. Had Andrew Wiggins been allowed to come out for the NBA Draft last year, he probably would have been the first overall pick. Instead, he had to go to college for a year, because of the rule, and is having a good season. He’s still likely to go in the top three. Now, imagine for a minute that Andrew Wiggins had to go back to Kansas for ANOTHER season, which is what the NBA is looking at doing in the future. He’d have been the likely first overall pick in one year, a top three pick in another year, and you’re FORCING him to go back for yet another year. Another year where he has to risk injury and the loss of future earnings.

That means that Andrew Wiggins would have gone from being financially set at 18-years old to having to hope he doesn’t get injured for two full seasons before actually seeing any monetary gain. Shouldn’t it be up to the players whether or not they want to forgo any remaining eligibility and pursue a professional career? They shouldn’t be forced to stay any longer than they feel they need to.

As I said way back in the beginning, I understand that the NBA needs to protect their brand and all that jazz. I get it. But that doesn’t mean I agree with it. Part of what made the NBA so great was that they stopped waiting on 4-year players from college and had an influx of younger talent come into the league and take it by storm. Imagine Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O’Neal, and Kevin Garnett being forced to go to college. We have no idea what would have happened to them. Would they have panned out the same? It’s possible but that extra year away from the NBA could have also stunted their growth or led to injuries.

And I know what skeptics will say. For every Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and LeBron James, there’s ten rejects who couldn’t hack it in the NBA. That’s wrong beyond belief but I understand their point regardless. However, I could just as easily say that for every Dwyane Wade, Stephen Curry, and Joakim Noah, there’s ten rejects who couldn’t hack it in the NBA themselves. And I wouldn’t be wrong.

But that’s the beauty of the NBA draft, folks. There’s no “right” way to draft. There’s no “right” pool of players to pick from. You can’t just magically pick a junior or senior and say he’s more mature and ready for the NBA than a high school player, freshman, or sophomore would be. That’s not how it works. True talent transcends age and college class. It’s as simple as that.

The NBA is trying to protect themselves and also protect front offices from themselves, as well. NBA front offices are stupid and constantly make stupid decisions all the time. That’s why the best front offices are the ones who are around at the end. It goes without fail. The NBA just figures that the less front offices can screw up, the better it is for the league. Not always the case. Front offices will always screw up. Why? Because they’re human. And we all make mistakes no matter how hard we try to minimize the risk.

So, the NBA needs to get this silly idea out of their head and let the players go straight out of high school again. Or, at the very least, not adjust the age limit and force players to stay in college longer. Leave it as is or remove it all together. Those are the only two viable options that should be on their table. It’s what is best for business. If they don’t, then do not be surprised one bit when in 5-7 years you see a mass exodus of high school players going to the D-League rather than heading to college. They could learn more in those one or two years in the D-League than they could in college. And that’s just the harsh reality of the situation.