Who to watch in March Madness – Part 2 – Small Forwards

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

Last time we took a look at the shooting guards that the Hornets will have to consider when they are on the clock at the 2010 NBA Draft. Today, we shift our attention to the small forward position. On paper, this is the deepest and costliest position for New Orleans, as they have three small forwards under contract for next year at a whopping price tag of twenty four million dollars. To put that in prospective, if LeBron does go to New York for the max, the Knicks will be paying less to their small forward duo of LeBron and Gallinari. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

The good news is that two of those contracts will be expiring at the end of next year and 2009-2010 might be the last full year we have to endure Peja’s streakiness and Wright’s clumsiness. With Posey overweight and seemingly disinterested, there is a lot of room for playing time at the small forward position if the Hornets draft the right (not Wright) player. Here’s a look at some players the Hornets could consider at the end of the lottery.

1. Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest

Al-Farouq AminuChances he will be available: 20 percent

Why the Hornets would be interested:

If you think Chris Paul is taking to Collison as his pet project, watch what happens if Aminu is drafted to the Hornets. Not only does he attend Wake Forest, but he was the recipient of the Nataniel Jones scholarship that Chris Paul set up to honor his grandfather. Aminu and Paul are already friends and putting him on the team would only increase the odds of CP3 resigning.

In addition to that, Aminu is also a fine basketball player that would fill a huge need for the Hornets. He is a prototypical small forward with a limitless ceiling. He has size, length, elite athletic ability, great form on his jump shot, and even quality post moves. He is a non stop energy guy who can get to the rim and provide the Hornets with the athleticism and intensity it has not had at the three position for quite some time.

He could even slide over to the four eventually once he puts on some weight, much like Shawn Marion did with the Suns. He long wingspan and freakish athleticism would allow him to make up for his lack of pure height when covering other fours, and on the offensive end he would be a matchup nightmare for nearly every power forward in the league.

Why the Hornets would pass:

Basically because John Wall, Evan Turner, Wesley Johnson, or Derrick Favors were on the board. That’s it. Aminu will likely be fifth on the Hornets big board and if he isn’t CP3 will make sure he is when all is said and done.

It is doubtful that he would fall down to the end of the lottery, but stranger things have happened. The year CP3 was drafted, both Danny Granger and Gerald Green were thought to be top seven picks but fell to the mid teens.

2010- 2011 Outlook:

As soon as the Hornets find a new home for Peja and his massive expiring contract, Aminu will be inserted into the starting lineup. He lacks the bulk needed to compete with the elite forwards night in and night out, but he would simply be too talented to keep on the bench. He would likely become our number two rebounder behind Okafor and would give Paul the alley-oop partner he has missed since Tyson got hurt and was later traded.

Aminu could give us a new Crescent City connection and more importantly provide the key to locking up CP3 for another three to four years at the very least.

2. Devin Ebanks, West Virginia

Devin Ebanks, West VirginiaChances he would be available: 90 percent

Why the Hornets would be interested:

All the Hornets have to do is look to a team within their own division to see why a 6’8” super-athletic small forward would be beneficial to this team. Devin Ebanks draws a lot of comparisons to Rudy Gay, and perhaps rightfully so. He is very long for his position and when he has it going, the game seems effortless to him. He runs the floor extremely well, finishes above the rim in transition, and can even take his defender into the post if the opposing team sacrifices size for quickness to try and cover him. He has the quickness to cover guys out on the perimeter and the length to contest shooters, something the Hornets have been missing all season from their wing players. At his best, Ebanks could be exactly what the Hornets need, but at his worst he could be….

Why the Hornets would pass:

Julian Wright was drafted to be the future at small forward. A long, athletic player who didn’t quite live up to his potential in college, but was destined to reach it in the pros- especially with the best point guard in the game getting him easy buckets in transition. Three years later, we are still waiting. And it wouldn’t be a total surprise if history repeated itself with Ebanks.

One only has to look at the end of regulation in the West Virginia/Villanova game on March 6th to see why Ebanks could drive a coach and an organization crazy. With 7.4 seconds left Villanova tied the game up and the ball was inbounded to Ebanks who took his time getting to half court and then dribbled the ball around aimlessly for a few more seconds before hoisting up a forty footer that hit nothing. Imagine him doing that in a playoff game. Chris Paul would eat him alive before he even got back to the bench.

Drafting a player who wasn’t even the best player on his team, but had the potential to be great has bitten the Hornets in the past, and it is hard to believe that they will go down that road again. Chris Paul, David West, Marcus Thornton were all far and away the best players on their team and they, along with Collison who was the team leader, have been the best picks the Hornets have made this past decade. Ebanks does not have near the profile those four had coming out of college.

2010-2011 Outlook:

If drafted, Ebanks would likely get a lot of oohs and ahhs in the summer league, but would likely start the season at the end of the bench or possibly even as an inactive. Assuming the Hornets roster could undergo a lot of changes next season as they move some expiring contracts, it is possible that Ebanks could see more time in the second half of the year, much like Julian Wright did in his rookie season. But to expect more than that from a twenty year old who still has not even found a way to be dominant in the college game would be asking too much.

3. Stanley Robinson, UCONN

Stanley Robinson, UConnChances he would be available: 95 percent

Why the Hornets would be interested:

David West, Marcus Thornton, Darren Collison. All four-year college players. All successful draft picks. Robinson will be twenty-two by the time the 2010-2011 season rolls around and it would be safe to assume that the learning curve for Robinson wouldn’t be as steep as it would be for someone like Ebanks. Including postseason, Robinson will have played nearly 140 college games in, what many argue, is the toughest conference in America. He has also been coached by one of the greatest coaches the men’s game has ever seen- a fact that will not be lost on the Hornets decision makers.

On the court, Robinson fills several areas of need. He has freakish athleticism and has the lateral quickness to keep his man out of the paint, along with the long arms to contest perimeter shots. He can also play some power forward for a few minutes at a time, and much like Aminu, he could prove to be a nightmare for most power forwards in the league. When he is at his natural position, small forward, he is an elite rebounder for the position and could help compensate for West’s dwindling rebounding numbers.

Why the Hornets would pass:

Ideally, you would like to surround Chris Paul with wing players who are at least a threat to hit the three, and it is unclear if Robinson will ever be that threat. In the open court, he would be a perfect running mate for CP3, nut the Hornets have been one of the slowest, most methodical half-court teams for years now, and it is very possible that Robinson could clog some of the lanes that CP3 is used to weaving in and out of.

With Okafor not being a threat beyond ten feet and Robinson more of a garbage man in the half court at this stage of his career, it would be hard to envision the two of them on the court together. Robinson’s free throw percentage is also a concern for a team that has had one of the best free throw shooting small forwards for the past four years. He has finished in the mid 60’s every single year he has been at UConn, showing no signs of improvement in that department whatsoever.

And finally, the Hornets have been down a similar road once before. If the Aflac question of the night was: Name the last player the Hornets drafted as a senior from UConn who disappointed his first three years before finally blossoming in his senior season. How long would it take you to answer Hilton Armstrong? .5 seconds?

2010-11 Outlook:

Robinson could easily slide into Wright’s current spot in the rotation and could even supplant Posey as the team’s primary backup forward with a good enough training camp. As we’ve stated numerous times already, there should be a lot of changes on the wings next season, and Robinson could see huge minutes if Peja is moved for another big or he could see no playing time at all if Peja is moved for a star small forward. It is that fickle.

Assuming that the Hornets go into the season with the players they have under contract, however, it is likely that he would start off the season as a 10th or 11th man, and would offer a change of pace off the bench. His minutes would likely be limited because the Hornets like to spread the court when CP3 is in the game, but it is very possible that he could mesh with Collison and Thornton on what could be an exciting second unit.

Other Small Forwards to watch:

Paul George, Quincy Pondexter, and Gordon Hayward are all likely first round picks, although it is highly unlikely any of them will be taken in the lottery. Perhaps with a Stephan Curry-like postseason, however, they could boost their stock and find themselves as an intriguing option when the Hornets select.

Wesley Johnson is at the top of the small forward class and will certainly not be available, but if the Hornets do luck out and land a top three pick, he will be under heavy consideration.

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