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The Missing Piece: Draft Tiers
In the last few pieces we have focused on veterans who could step in right away, take the Hornets to another level, and save Monty the frustration of having to introduce teenagers to the fundamental parts of the game and the NBA lifestyle. Monty has stated in the past that he would prefer to coach rather than teach, and that with young guys you are going to do a lot more teaching than coaching. There are benefits of bringing in players fresh out of college, however, as they are more likely to be devoid of the bad habits that NBA players tend to form if not coached properly once they get into the league. In addition, the draft is probably the only place that the Hornets could get an ‘A or B level’ player, seeing that those guys rarely hit free agency, and even more rarely flock to a small market.
In this edition, we take an early look at the 2013 NBA draft and what might be available to the Hornets if they look to add their Missing Piece by going in that direction. As of today, the Hornets have the fourth worst record in the NBA, meaning they would have a 11.9% chance at the top pick, a 38% chance at a top three pick, and a 83% chance at a top five pick if the lottery were to be held today. Of course, with the return of Eric Gordon, the Hornets figure to lose some ping pong balls should he stay healthy. They are currently 4th now, but are only 3.5 games behind Philadelphia, who has the 11th worst record in the NBA. One decent winning streak puts the Hornets at the end of the lottery. With that in mind, we check out the different tiers in the upcoming draft to get an idea of where the Hornets would need to pick in order to have the best chance at a true difference maker; a ‘Missing Piece.’
Tier Definition: Superstar, franchise changer, #1 guy on a serious championship contender, First Ballot Hall of Famer if healthy
Examples (in prime): Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Shaq, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Dwayne Wade, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose
2013 class: Nobody
In this class, nobody has the potential to reach this elite status. In past drafts, Anthony Davis was in this category, as was Greg Oden and Kevin Durant but most drafts lack this kind of difference maker. These guys normally are easy to identify coming out nowadays, so they usually go #1 unless there are multiple Tier One guys in a draft (Oden and Durant). In the past, some of these guys slid because of a new circumstance (coming out of high school or International) but now NBA scouting is more advanced and these kids are identified in their sophomore or junior year of high school. For example, there are two potential Tier One guys in the 2014 draft- Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, but it doesn’t look like there is one in this class.
Tier Definition: Perennial All-Stars, Stars/Superstars, #1 guy on a fringe playoff team/solid playoff team, #2 guy on a title contender, likely Hall of Famer
Tier Examples: Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony, Tracy McGrady, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Marc Gasol, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Tony Parker
2013 class: Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Ben McLemore, Nerlens Noel
Of this group, Shabazz Muhammad will likely make the most immediate impact in the NBA and he might even be the best long term prospect in this class. His outside game is already NBA ready, with a smooth stroke from deep and a solid mid-range game. His is terrific in transition as well, as he can get to the basket and finish at an elite level. He also has tremendous upside as a defender, but his game is kind of limited to scoring and on-ball defense. His defensive rebounding is terrible and the word assist is not in his vocabulary (0.8 per game). Don’t expect steals or blocks either. He projects as an Eric Gordon of small forwards- terrific scorer and defender who is a bit undersized and doesn’t give you much else. Still, those two things he does give you are exceptional.
Anthony Bennett is an undersized power forward in the mold of Larry Johnson. He range extends out to the three point line and he is a load in the post, but because he is only 6’7″, that skill might not transition to the pros. He should still be a terrific rebounder because he actually has a great wingspan for his size (7’1″) and he has off the charts athleticism. He is at his best in transition, where he converts at a 74% clip as he is able to both finish with touch and power at the basket.
Nerlens Noel is not Anthony Davis, but he is special in his own right. Defensively, he shows many of the same attributes that Davis showed at Kentucky as he is able to make high impact defensive players without getting into foul trouble very often. His measureables are almost identical to Davis as well, and like Davis he seems to really understand the game on that end of the court. The difference between the two is on the offensive end where Noel is much more raw and does not possess the jump shot, free throw shooting, passing ability, or ball handling that Davis showcased in college. He is a long ways away on that end, but still ahead of a guy like Larry Sanders coming out of school. He could have a Sanders or Marcus Camby type of defensive impact in this league, with the potential to have a much better offensive game than either of those two.
Ben McLemore probably has the highest offensive ceiling in this draft, as he possesses the ability to attack the rim and hit from deep at an elite level. His stroke is as pure as Bradley Beal’s, last year’s #3 overall pick, but with better results as he is shooting 40% from deep and 88% from the line. His speed and explosiveness is reminiscent of Derrick Rose in college. That is his ceiling- Derrick Rose’s open court and penetration game, mixed with Ray Allen’s jump shot. His lack of elite ballhandling skills might keep him from ever reaching that ceiling, but if he does- look out.
Tier Three Definition: Quasi All-Star, #3 option on a title contender, #1 guy on a fringe playoff team, on the scouting report but not at the top of it
Tier Examples: David West, Luol Deng, Al Horford, Brook Lopez, Steohen Curry, Jrue Holiday, David Lee, Rip Hamilton, Danny Granger
2013 class: Cody Zeller, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, Otto Porter, Marcus Smart
Most people would be surprised that Cody Zeller isn’t in the 2nd tier, but my tiers are ordered by potential ceiling and Zeller just does not have quasi-superstar potential. Zeller runs the floor great for his size, has soft hands, and has fantastic IQ on both ends of the court, but his short wingspan and overall poor frame prevents him from realistically being able to get to that elite level. I have seen LaMarcus Aldridge thrown around as his ceiling, and while I still think that is a little high, something in that range is attainable because Zeller is incredibly productive on the offensive end of the court. He has a post-up game, good passing instincts, a face up game, and he rarely turns the ball over. Defensively, he makes high impact plays without fouling and is incredibly active. When you look at some of the bigs in the tier examples above, he fits perfectly in this group, and while he doesn’t have an incredibly high ceiling, he does have a very high floor.
Alex Poythress is an absolute beast and is the closest thing I have seen to Karl Malone in transition since the Mailman retired. Despite being just 19, he already has an NBA body and when you combine his strength with his speed, you have a locomotive that nobody wants to get in front of when he gets the ball on the break. Poythress plays with a lot of the same energy that his predecessor Michael Kidd-Gilchrist played with, but he is not as good of an all-around player at this point. His outside shot is slightly better than MKG’s, but he doesn’t attack the defensive glass as much and his on-ball defense is not as good. What he does possess, however, is the ability to slide over to power forward and hold his own, much in the same way that LeBron and Melo can move to that position because of their bulky frames. In all likelihood, he is a guy who is two years away from making a real impact on this stage, but he could be worth the wait.
Otto Porter is the other small forward in this tier, and while he might have a slightly lower ceiling than Poythress, he has a greater likelihood of making an impact as early as next year. Porter has a fantastic mid-range game and sees the court really well as a facilitator on the offensive end. He also has tremendous length and plays with a lot of energy on the defensive end, much like a young Andrei Kirilenko. Like AK47, however, he has a thin frame and this might get him pushed around early in his career. He also doesn’t finish at the rim as well as some of the guys on this list, due in part to his size. But if you are looking for a stat sheet stuffer that can be in that Kirilenko or Josh Smith mold, this is your guy.
Marcus Smart and Archie Goodwin are both super talented freshman who play a style somewhat similar to how Russell Westbrook plays with the Thunder. They are not quite point guards, not quite shooting guards; Instead, they are part of this new breed called “attacking guards.” Like Westbrook, both have the ability to get their own shots at will or set up for others, due in large part to their tremendous athleticism and overall size. Of the two, Goodwin is slightly more polished but Smart might have the higher ceiling due to his powerful frame. Smart is a potential triple-double waiting to happen anytime he steps on the court. Actually, a quadruple-double possibility when you see his tendency to rack up steals as well. Meanwhile, Goodwin is a more advanced perimeter scorer at this stage and plays much more under control. Either way, there are tons of things to like about both of these young men.
Best of the Rest
Alex Len, Isaiah Austin, CJ McCollum, Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams
None of the point guards (Burke, McCollum, MCW) are elite prospects. They all have some exceptional attributes along with some major red flags. CJ McCollum is a tremendous scorer who just recently suffered a terrible foot injury that might keep him out until the tournament. While he can score at will, he hasn’t shown that he can be a quality distributor on the next level, and his small frame makes him a potential defensive liability. Michael Carter-Williams, on the other hand, is perhaps the best pure point guard in college basketball and his length and quickness makes him a nightmare for opposing teams when he jumps passing lanes. He is rail-thin as well, however, and his half court offense leaves a lot to be desired. He is not Kendall Marshall bad, as far as getting his own points in that setting, but he is close. Finally, Trey Burke is perhaps the most talented and productive of all the point guards in this years’ class, but his measureables (6’0″, 180) limit his ceiling to a degree. If you are a special player like CP3, you can still thrive in this league of 6’4″ point guards, but scouts see guys like CP3 as the exception, not the rule. Burke really is fantastic at pretty much every aspect of the game, but his size could hurt him at this level.
Alex Len and Isaiah Austin are two guys who might get drafted higher than they deserve to be based on their potential. Alex Len is the more polished of the two and is a real 7-footer with a solid frame. He has a solid face-up game and he changes a lot of shots on the defensive end. Because of his high motor, he is an above average offensive rebounder, but his lack of elite atleticism hurt his on the defensive glass. He is a slightly better prospect than Meyers Leonard was coming into last year’s draft and has a similar ceiling/floor. Isaiah Austin, meanwhile, is a rail-thin 7-footer who plays more like a guard than a big man. His range extends all the way out to the college three and he can handle the ball extremely well for his size, but there isn’t much of a post game to speak of and defensively he rarely makes high impact plays despite all his size and length.
Honestly, Who Knows?
Rudy Gobert, Dario Saric, Willie Cauley-Stein
There are some guys that are just impossible to project no matter how much you look into them. Rudy Gobert and Dario Saric are both international bigs and the track record with those guys are so spotty. They are playing such a different game that you really don’t know how they are going to respond when they get to the NBA. All you can really go on is measureables and skill set, but you never know how they will translate specifically. Darko over Melo, Bosh, and Wade – need I say more? As for Willie Cauley-Stein, he might become a better NBA player than his teammate Nerlens Noel or he might be out of the league in three years. He was the nation’s #1 wide receiver recruit before a growth spurt shot him up to 7-feet tall and switched his focus to basketball. He is incredibly raw, but he is tremendously athletic and has exceptional hands for a big man. His ceiling is limitless, but in some ways, so is his floor.
The Missing Piece is a weekly feature that you can find every Saturday only on Hornets247.com. For past issues in this series, click here