Who to watch in March Madness – Part 3 – Power Forwards

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Published: March 13, 2010

The following is a guest post by Michael McNamara (a.k.a. loveforthehornets).

In Part Three of our series, we will look at the power forward class for the upcoming NBA Draft. If you missed the earlier installments, check these links for the lowdown on shooting guards and small forwards.

The 2010 crop of power forwards might be the strongest since 1995- a draft that saw Joe Smith, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace, and Kevin Garnett all go in the first five picks. Kurt Thomas also went tenth that year and Theo Ratliff was taken eighteenth. This class has the potential to be as strong.

Power Forward both is and isn’t a position of need for the Hornets. They have two players under contract for the 2010-2011 season in David West and Darius Songalia. West is a two time All Star and a top 12 power forward in the league and Songalia is a better than average backup. However both are on the backside of their careers and both only have one year remaining on their contract. Furthermore, both are finesse power forwards who rebound poorly for their position and don’t make much of an impact on the defensive end.

Ideally, the Hornets would love either a power forward who could step in and replace West if he opted to leave (or was traded) and/or they could use a backup to West that can offer a different set of skills, namely shot-blocking, rebounding, and toughness. If the Hornets see power forward as a pressing need, they are in luck because this draft will be loaded with impact players.

Here’s a look at some power forwards to keep an eye on that could be available when it is the Hornets turn to pick:

1. Ed Davis, North Carolina

Ed Davis, North CarolinaChances he will be available: 15 percent

Why the Hornets would be interested:

Davis would be far and away the most athletic front court player the Hornets have had since a healthy Tyson Chandler. And like Chandler he is extremely long and does a great job finishing at the rim. His length and athleticism could allow him to someday be both an elite defender and an elite rebounder in the league. The Hornets do not currently get that from their four position.

Davis also could one day offer the perfect compliment for Emeka Okafor, in that he could guard both forwards and centers when he eventually bulks up. Right now, Okafor is often forced to guard centers who are two to three inches bigger than he is, leading to his relatively poor defensive PER rating. Because of his length, Davis could do a much better job on big men like Andrew Bogut who Okafor seems to have a problem with. Okafor can then concentrate on what he does best- playing weak side defense and helping out off of inferior offensive players. Not relying on Okafor to be the defensive anchor would be a HUGE benefit for the Hornets.

Why the Hornets would pass:

Seeing that it is very unlikely that Davis would be available in the late lottery, either because he will already be gobbled up or because he will return to UNC, it is hard to imagine that the Hornets would pass on such a talented player. But they might surprise us all and do just that.

Davis is still a good two years away from being a heavy contributor in the NBA and Brenden Wright might have scared some teams off from long, skinny UNC power forwards who have shown very little on the court for the Tar Heels. Compounding the problem of inexperience, Davis was also injured this year and there just might not be enough tape on the kid to determine how good he can be in the pros.

Remember, big men are harder to evaluate and often take a longer time to develop. The top two bigs taken in the 2009 draft, Thabeet and Jordan Hill have totaled zero starts, a whopping 800 minutes played combined, and average 2.5 and 4 PPG respectively. And both of those players were more polished coming out than Davis will be this year.

2010-11 Outlook (if drafted):

For the reasons cited above, it would be hard to expect anything from Davis next season. He is as raw offensively as you can get and he would get bullied around on the defensive end at only 215 pounds. Most likely he would be a candidate for the D-League or a 12th man for the Hornets at best. If Songalia was traded at or around the deadline to get under the lux tax, perhaps Davis could get some playing time, but if the team was fighting for playoff seeding, he probably would stay on the bench.

Davis would be drafted with the future in mind, and could be a five time All Star if he puts it all together. Like many big men, though, there is always that chance that it takes him three or four years to become a consistent contributor (David West), or he never gets it at all (Hilton Armstrong). It just seems unclear if this would be a worthwhile gamble for the Hornets.

2. Patrick Patterson, Kentucky

Patrick Patterson, KentuckyChances he will be available: 50 percent

Why the Hornets would be interested:

Experienced. Productive. Efficient. Comes from a good program. Winner. Mature. High basketball IQ. Coachable. Extraordinary intangibles.

These have been the ingredients shared by all of the Hornets successful picks in the past six years, and Patrick Patterson has each of these ingredients, so it seems like a match. Patterson, though undersized, has a prototypical NBA build and excellent athleticism His 7’2” wingspan also helps make up for him being an inch or two shorter than what is considered ideal for a power forward these days.

Patterson, unlike Davis, could come into the NBA and be a quality rotation player. He is versatile enough offensively to score in almost any system, as he is a quality post player and an extremely capable pick and roll power forward who can finish with either hand at the basket or pop out and hit the 15 footer.

David West would appear to be the ideal tutor for Patterson (at least offensively), much in the same way that CP3 is an ideal tutor for Collison. West has figured out how to score efficiently in the NBA despite being undersized and Patterson would benefit from adding moves from West’s repertoire to his own game. Patterson could fill both the needs of a short term backup for West and a long term successor.

Why the Hornets would pass:

Unless you include the immortal Aaron Gray, the Hornets do not have a legit seven footer on the team and can justifiably be called undersized at both the 4 and 5 position. The last thing you would think they would want is another undersized big man, even if he could make up for it with athleticism and wingspan.

The fact is that size wins in the NBA. The Lakers have three legit seven footers and the Mavs (adding Haywood) and the Cavaliers (adding Shaq) made moves this year because they know it will take size to win it all.

At some point the Hornets will have to add some size to that front court, and if there is a legit seven footer on the board when the Hornets draft who is rated similarly to Patterson, the Hornets might just pass on the Kentucky product.

2010-11 Outlook:

Patterson would likely help the Hornets make the decision on whether or not to bring back Diogu, as they would have three power forwards under contract without him. Furthermore, Patterson would allow the Hornets to explore the trade market for Songalia, and if he is moved, Patterson could slide right in behind West and get 12-15 minutes a night.

Until Songalia moves, however, Patterson will likely be an 11th or 12th man and would just get garbage minutes until he became acclimated. By the time the playoffs rolled around, however, it would not be surprising to see Patterson as a regular part of the rotation.

3. Greg Monroe, Georgetown

Greg Monroe, GeorgetownChances he will be available: 75 percent

Why the Hornets would be interested:

This is not the NBA player comparison that is usually associated with Greg Monroe, but I am going to make it anyway because I feel strongly about it. Monroe would be most beneficial to a team as an evolutionary version of Horace Grant. He is not destined to be the alpha dog or even the second banana on a championship contender, but what he can be is a starter who will prove to be invaluable if he isn’t asked to do too much.

Like Grant, Monroe does his best work in the high post on the offensive end. His size, length, and extraordinary passing skills allow a team to get him the ball outside of the paint and run a multitude of different offensive options through him. He can play the high-low game, the pick and roll/pop, and find slashing wing players on back door cuts. And if his defender chooses to back off of him, he can easily knock down the shot from the top of the key.

Defensively, Monroe is long enough to bother both power forwards and centers and is an above average rebounder and shot blocker. The fact that he is left handed is a plus, as it is such a rarity in the NBA that players don’t seem to adjust to a defender coming to block with his left hand. Josh Smith and Tayshaun Prince have made defensive careers off of using this to their advantage. Bottom line, is that on both ends of the court, Monroe is a great fit for the Hornets. Oh and did I mention he grew up right outside of The Big Easy?

Why the Hornets would pass:

Again, it has to be pointed out that big men take longer to develop and Monroe will have just turned twenty three weeks before he is drafted. Monroe is also extremely turnover prone, and the Hornets are at their best when they keep turnovers to a minimum. In both 07-08 and 08-09, the Hornets were in the top three in the league in fewest turnovers per game. As a power forward, Monroe turned the ball over 3.4 times per game in college, so we could just imagine what those numbers would look like at the pro level.

In addition, Monroe is just a slightly above average athlete, at best. He doesn’t have much explosion and he does not get up the court with much speed, which is okay if the Hornets stay a half court team, but would be a negative if they transition to a faster paced team over the next couple of years.

2010-11 Outlook:

Monroe would likely start the season as the Hornets 5th big man behind West, Songalia, Okafor, and whatever big they add in the off season for the veterans minimum. His age, inexperience, and habit of turning the ball over would all play a role in him racking up DNP- Coaches Decision for the first half of the year.

The best case scenario is that Songalia gets moved to get under the tax and Monroe could give the Hornets eight to ten minutes a game as an energy player who isn’t asked to do much more than be active. Grab some rebounds, protect the paint, catch an ally or two, and then go sit back down and cheer the team on.

Long term, he could form a deadly duo with CP3, as they could each be the best facilitators at their respective positions in the entire league. Monroe’s passing skills are that good, as is his court vision. Some team might draft Monroe and try to force him to be their low post threat and their second scoring option, and if that happens Monroe could be listed as a bust by the end of his rookie contract. But on a team like New Orleans, where he won’t be asked to do nearly as much, he could prove to be an ideal fit.

4. Ekpe Udoh, Baylor

Ekpe Udoh, BaylorChances he will be available: 90 percent

Why the Hornets would be interested:

During the regular season, Udoh averaged ten rebounds and over four blocks per game, and has almost single handedly turned Baylor into one of those teams nobody will want to face in the NCAA tournament. He has exceptional size and length, and more importantly, seems to have the timing needed to be an excellent shot blocker. Imagine Ronny Turiaf with more size and a diverse offensive repertoire

While Udoh does not do one thing exceptionally well on the offensive end, he is capable of doing a little bit of everything. He has a post game, can handle the ball, has range out to 17 feet and has even shown he can knock down the occasional three. His passing skills are also well above average and his basketball IQ is well above average as well.

There was only one game this season in which Udoh did not register a block. Meanwhile he has had ten in one game, nine in two others, and twelve games this season with five blocks or more. Similarly, Udoh can also be counted on to control the boards, as he has pulled down ten or more in 16 games this season and has had five games of fifteen or more, including one 20 rebound performance. Seeing that West’s rebounds and blocks have decreased each of the past three season, Udoh could have our personnel department salivating.

Why the Hornets would pass:

Well actually, it might be Udoh who passes. Just this week he stated that he would return to Baylor for his senior season despite the fact that his stock is skyrocketing. Often players say this, but when they are guaranteed to be a lottery pick, they quickly change their minds. If Udoh and his family were to put out feelers, there is little doubt that he would get a first round guarantee and might even get a top ten guarantee. That would be hard to pass up.

But there is a chance that the Hornets could pass even if Udoh enters and he is there when they select. Again, like some of the other power forwards we have covered, Udoh has some turnover issues and he is not a player that could come to an NBA team and contribute heavily in his rookie year. His rise this season is much like Jordan Hill’s last year, and some would even argue that Hill was more polished and had a more impressive resume.

Also, there has to be some concern that Udoh disappeared in some pretty big games for Baylor this season. In his first game against Kansas, he only pulled down 4 boards and blocked 1 shot. Against Kansas State, he went 2 for 10 and four days later against Texas he was 3 for 15. He bounced back more recently, going for 25 and 8 against Texas in their third meeting, but some of those early games against pro level competition might be a red flag that the Hornets will have to look at.

2010-11 Outlook:

It is realistic to think that Udoh could give us exactly what we expected a healthy Diogu to give us this season- A physical, crafty scorer who has a good rebounding rate and can intimidate on defense. Udoh would likely start out the season as our 5th big, but could become West’s primary back up if and when Songalia is traded.

Long term, Udoh could be Turiaf or Theo Ratliff on defense with David West’s skills on offense. Very few bigs can put the ball on the deck and create their own shot, but Udoh can do that at the college level. If West can tutor Udoh the way that PJ tutored West, we could see Udoh translate his skills over to the pro game. If Okafor is our center for the next four years, it is imparitive to get a tough, shot blocking power forward to put next to him that can operate in the high post on offense, and Udoh could be just that guy.

5. Larry Sanders, VCU

Larry Sanders, VCUChances he will be available: 98 percent

Why the Hornets would be interested:

To borrow (okay steal) from Entourage, “If I told you that you could have a 21 year old version of The Birdman, with no drug problems and the potential to be an offensive threat as well, would that be something that would interest you?”

Larry Sanders is a long, lean, hyperactive shot blocker who averages 4.4 blocks per forty minutes, while changing countless other shots as well. His wingspan is a ridiculous 7 feet, 6 inches and when it comes time to measure verticals, many expect Sanders to be at the top of the class for big men.

His offensive game is also steadily improving, as he has added a face up game in the post that has helped him get to the line more often this year and given his opponents another dimension to prepare for. Obviously, the Hornets would not ask him to be a huge part of the offense, but there is no reason he can’t develop into what Tyson Chandler was in 07-08, with perhaps a few more weapons in his arsenal.

Why the Hornets would pass:

To beat a dead horse, the Hornets just might feel like they can’t afford to wait for two to three years for Sanders to become a significant contributor when there will most likely be guys available who could contribute from day one.

Sanders minutes have been somewhat limited at VCU by his tendency to get into foul trouble, as he bites on a lot on pump fakes and double moves. It would most likely take him a few seasons to adjust to the quality of low post players in the NBA, and during that period he will rack up fouls in bunches.

Sanders would also need to add 20-25 pounds in order to sustain the beating he will take night in and night out down low. He is fairly skinny now and relies on his length to compensate for his lack of strength. The good news is that is appears that his frame can handle the extra weight needed, it is just a question of how long will it take for him to acquire it.

2010-11 Outlook:

If drafted, Sanders would likely pick up garbage minutes at both the power forward and center spot in the Hornets rotation, but likely wouldn’t get more than that. He just does not have the strength or pure size to battle the heavyweights in the NBA, and would likely be overwhelmed by the quality of competition he would face.

Long term, he could blossom into CP3′s new lob mate and a defensive presence that other teams would always have to account for. He could be a tremendous weak side shot blocker and he displays the lateral quickness required to cover the stretch forwards that are becoming so popular in the NBA.

Other Power Forwards to watch for

De Marcus Cousins and Derrick Favors will both be top 5 picks, so they will be gone when the Hornets drat. However, if the Hornets do luck out and land a top 3 pick, both will be in consideration. Due to mental maturity, the Hornets would most likely favor (no pun intended) Derrick.

Jan Vesely and Donatas Motiejunas are two foreign prospects that are both considered as eventual power forwards in the Dirk or Troy Murphy mold that are possible lottery picks as well, but obviously will not be participating in March Madness.

And finally, Gani Lawai who nearly came out last year and has actually had a better season than his teammate Derrick Favors could become a lottery consideration with a strong showing this March. When it is all said and done, there could be as many as 10 power forwards taken in the first twenty picks.

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