So, this is a new thing we’re going to be doing on Every Month Should be March called “Pro or No” where we will analyze the professional potential of prospective draftees. Obviously, a lot of these guys are going to be surefire NBA players, so this is not just a commentary on whether these guys are going to be drafted or not. What we will explore is a) where the player could or should be taken, b) if they should come out in 2011 or stay for another season, and c) what the best and worst case scenarios are for their pro careers. We’ll address a variety of players, even ones who have declared already that they will return to college for the 2011-2012 season.
We’ll begin in the ACC for the first installment:
Kyrie Irving, Duke, Fr. – PG
Overview : Why not start with an easy one, right? We all know that Kyrie Irving is headed to the league next year, and we all know that he’ll be a lottery pick. Depending on how the lottery shakes out, he could very easily go first overall. Looking at the standings right now, the bottom six teams in the league are as follows: Cleveland, Minnesota, Toronto, Washington, Sacramento, and New Jersey. You’d assume that the Wizards, with John Wall, and the Nets, with Deron Williams, would probably pass on a point guard with their pick but the other four teams are all very much in play. Minnesota, who has illustrated their propensity for drafting point guards, and Sacramento–let’s face it, Tyreke Evans is no point guard– would both be interesting landing spots for Irving, as both squads have good young talent and are in need of a play-making floor general to distribute the ball. If I were Kyrie, I’d be keeping my fingers crossed for one of those teams call his name on draft night.
Best case scenario: I see Irving in the Chris Paul-mold for point guards because of his basketball IQ. Like Paul, Irving can do a little bit of everything, offensively. He can create off the dribble, get to the basket, and is a great passer. Irving’s jumper, while it still has much room for improvement, can become a real weapon for him as well. Where Paul was way ahead of Irving was on the defensive end, but there is time for him to improve there. If Irving gets on a team where he doesn’t have to do everything on his own offensively showcase his passing skills and ability to run an offense with competent other options to make baskets when Irving sets them up.
Worst case scenario: Irving goes to a team like Cleveland where there are veterans ahead of him and not a lot of scoring options. The problem is, if he goes to a team like that he probably will be the best point guard on the roster even as a rookie, but a guy like Baron Davis doesn’t seem like someone you want mentoring a young point guard, nor does he seem like a guy happy to give up minutes to a rookie. Cleveland is probably a worst-case scenario for every player entering the draft, granted, but for a promising point guard it would be all the worse.
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina, Fr. – SF
Overview: Barnes’ early-season struggles are well-documented, but down the stretch he showed glimpses of his enormous talent and why he was a pre-season All-American before ever playing a college game. Barnes actually has not declared for the draft as of yet, and there is some thought that he actually might return for his sophomore year. I think it’d be a great decision if he did come back and have another year of tutelage under Roy Williams. Yes, Barnes would be a top-five pick in this year’s draft, undoubtedly, but this is not all about where you get drafted. Barnes is very much an above-average jump shooter and is becoming a lock-down defender at 6’8″ 210 pounds. The one aspect of his game that I’d like to see him improve upon is creating his own shot off the dribble as well as getting to the basket.
Best case scenario: The more I watch him play, the more Kobe Bryant I see in Barnes’ game. Don’t get me wrong, he’s got a long way to go to get to Kobe’s level but in terms of size and style of play there are some significant comparisons. Barnes can become the defensive player that Kobe has been throughout his career if he adds more strength. Offensively, he already has an excellent mid-range game and is becoming very reliable from outside as well. If he follows Kobe’s road map, the next step of his game will be adding a post game. Barnes is clutch like Kobe–he enjoyed a great deal of success being UNC’s go-to guy with the game on the line, and the situation clearly doesn’t get too big for him. What has yet to be seen is how much Barnes wants to win and how much he lives and breathes the game. That is what separates Kobe from say…
Worst case Scenario: …Marvis Williams. Barnes shares quite a few parallels with Williams in terms of talent, build, and game. There was a reason that Williams was taken second overall in the ’05 draft. The problem with Williams is that he shows no interest in being “the guy” and taking over a game. I worry that Barnes falls into that mold at times throughout a game, although in crunch time he clearly rises to the occasion. It will be interesting to see the path he takes, and I think if he comes back for one more year, like Marvin Williams should have by the way, it may only make a slight difference in where he gets drafted, but it will make a huge difference in what he does once he gets to the league.
Jordan Williams, Maryland, So. – PF/C
Overview: Terp fans have been trembling ever since Jordan Williams declared for the draft without hiring an agent. Williams has all the tools to be a special player in the NBA, but he could really benefit from one more year as “the guy” for Maryland. At 6’10” 260 pounds, Williams might be slightly undersized at the 5-position in the pros. He’ll be able to play center in many lineups, but he’d do very well to diversify his game a bit on both ends of the floor so that he can play both the 4- and 5-spots for a contender. He took the next step as far as conditioning this past year, but he certainly could improve there and will have to. Offensively, he’s an excellent post player who has great touch and the strength to consistently get a pretty good shot if you give him the ball on the block, but so far he has yet to show much of a face-up game or the ability to consistently take and make a 12- to 14-foot jumper. Williams needs to work on his foul-line-extended offensive game to get into that elite prospect category, but he absolutely has the ability to get there.
Best case scenario: He is another year of getting in shape and sharpening his offensive game from being almost a carbon-copy of Al Horford, if you ask me. A lot of parallels here in terms of size, body-type, and progression. Horford dealt with a lot of the issues that Williams has had early in his career with conditioning and went through the same progression in terms of being a pure post player to be able to step out to 14 feet. Another year of work in college could be the difference between going from a second rounder to a lottery pick.
Worst case scenario: A real worst case for Williams would be following in a guy like Lonnie Baxter’s footsteps and washing out of the league in a couple years because of such a limited game. I don’t see that happening. For him, we’ll go with “mediocre case” here. Marreese Speights is a guy I think of that came out too early, even though technically he was a lottery-pick having been drafted 16th overall. Now, in his third year where you’d think he’d be at least starting to make a strong move in his career, he is a bench player playing about six or seven minutes a game down the stretch. This would be a scenario I’d worry about when it comes to Jordan Williams. Like Williams, Speights is kind of a tweener, between a 4 and a 5, who has not quite gotten to the point of being able to consistently make a mid-range jumper but is not quite big enough to just be able to sit in the post all game. Hopefully, Williams will learn from those who came before him.