One of the things that stands out in watching NBA TV's replays of old drafts is the blatantly hyperbolic optimism that almost every prospect is lavished with.
After watching a few of these drafts in succession, all the effusive praise of every player drafted starts to blend together to the point where you'd think that every team drafting in the lottery is on the cusp of being a championship contender.
If you lacked any form of hindsight while watching these things, none of that would mean much other than a somewhat entertaining and joyful spectacle of college kids realizing their dreams. But as a Golden State Warriors fan, Billy Owens - and his ability to play four positions, thus instantly changing the fortunes of whatever franchise was lucky enough to have him (even if it meant giving up Mitch Richmond) - stands out as a cautionary tale: sometimes what we might want to imagine a player to be isn't quite what he's destined to become.
More often than not, the rosy-eyed prognostications of the experts are vastly overstated, sometimes to the point of looking absurd by the time a player gets to training camp.
However, the 2011 draft should have a built in mechanism to (thankfully) temper all the hyperbole - as Evanz laid out previously, most reasonable people agree that there is no top tier talent available in this draft and really only a two-man second tier. Although most people have taken that as reason to dismiss this a "weak draft" - and by not having a top tier talent, it could be considered that by definition - there are also plenty of late-lottery and mid- to late-round prospects that could very well end up being solid prospects down the line.
So when the Warriors get set to pick with the 11th pick in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft, the first thing to acknowledge is that they will be likely to a) not find the franchise's savior and b) draft a player that will have some glaring flaws that means the adjustment to becoming a consistent NBA rotation player will take time. That's not at all a bad thing, but imperative to acknowledge: the Warriors' task will be to select the best of a set of imperfect options, not look for star potential.
With that, a look at some of the expected options the Warriors will be confronted with, based upon what they were hypothetically confronted with when holding the 11th pick in SB Nation's collaborative 2011 NBA mock draft.
That leaves the following players that available:
- Jimmer Fredette (Tier 4)
- Marcus Morris (Tier 4)
- Chris Singleton (Tier 4)
- Klay Thompson (Tier 4)
- Tristan Thompson (Tier 4)
- Jan Vesely (Tier 3)
Discussing Fredette at length - given that we already have Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis in our backcourt - is about the most divisive thing you can do among NBA fans these days. And I'm under no pretense that Vesely will actually be around for the Warriors to choose from and if he was, yes, it would be very difficult to pass on him, despite question about his defense.
So instead, I'm going to look at those other four prospects using the following:
- Watching full games of each, preferably an average, bad, and best game.
- Comparing that with DraftExpress' strengths and weaknesses video.
- Comparing my impressions with that of both Ed Weiland's breakdown on Hoops Analyst with that of DraftExpress (which provide some productive contrasts).
- Determining how the player might fit with the Warriors.
The likely candidates for the 11th pick:
Marcus Morris, 6'9", F, Kansas Jayhawks
I'm going to cut to the chase on Morris: there are a lot of things he does well, particularly handling and shooting the ball as a college power forward. But as his DraftExpress profile describes, he's not an overwhelmingly strong rebounder. And that's only compounded by the fact that he's listed as 6'9" with a wingspan comparable to a guard (6'10", which is incidentally the same as Burks). I normally would focus exclusively on this, but the chances of a player with those measurements being successful on either end of the court is slim, particularly as someone who didn't rebound well. Weiland suggests that Morris could be successful at the small forward, but then the question is who he'd defend. Morris might be a solid NBA player, but the other options are arguably better fits with comparable talent and possibly better "upside".
Tristan Thompson, 6'9", F, Texas Longhorns
If Morris is generally considered a "finished product", Thompson is far from it as a player entering the draft as a freshman, which is part of what makes him an intriguing choice for the Warriors. What immediately stands out about Thompson when watching him during Big XII play this past year is that he's active and, as Weiland described, he improved his scoring efficiency monthly over the three months of conference play during 2011. The most noticeable difference over that period of time was his ability to establish and hold position in the post; if nothing else, he showed significantly improved comfort, decisiveness, and patience in the post. In terms of rebounding ability, he's extremely quick off the ground and gets a number of rebounds simply by outjumping his opponents. That athletic ability made him the best shot blocker in his conference
However, the root of most of the concerns about Thompson probably stem from something coaching legend and ESPN analyst Bobby Knight once observed while he was at the free throw line, where he shot 48.7% this past season: in keeping his feet even with a narrow base, he didn't have quite the balance necessary to free throws consistently. And as you watch him play, it becomes apparent that it's a lot of little (hopefully) correctable things that stand out as problems. Given his poor free throw shooting, it should come as no surprise that he offers little in the way of a mid-range game, as the worst jump shooter of any similar prospect, according to Draftexpress. As DraftExpress noted, he scored the second-least points per possession with his back to the basket of any prospect because stronger defenders held their ground on his first move and he didn't have a strong go-to second move. Similarly, when he couldn't out-muscle opponents, he struggled to finish at the rim. On the defensive boards, he often fixates on getting to the rim quickly instead of boxing out. With a wingspan better than Morris', he offers a bit more potential for growth.
With the right coaching in the right situation, Thompson could turn into a very solid NBA player. But at present, as Weiland wrote somewhat generously, "For all the talk about work ethic and attitude, there aren’t many signs of the dominance in his numbers that project him as anything other than a solid contributor." Moreover, it's somewhat difficult to figure out how he might overcome his limitations. He could develop into another help defender that the Warriors could use, but it's difficult to project what he'll offer in the way of rebounding or post scoring against NBA defense.
Klay Thompson, 6'7", G, Washington State
Please see the storystream at SB Nation Seattle for plenty of information about Thompson.
If you haven't heard by now, Klay Thompson has great size for a NBA shooting guard, a sweet shot, and is currently the guy the Warriors are expected to pick. But rather than re-emphasizing his shooting ability, his aggressiveness in driving to the basket and improved ball handling and passing are probably most worth highlighting. And really, his overall year-to-year improvement - and particularly his ascent to a Pac-10 Player of the Year prospect - is probably the most encouraging thing about his game. With already solid fundamentals as a shooter, there's no reason not to believe that he couldn't become an even more efficient role player in the NBA. Moreso than many other prospects, he has a very clearly defined NBA role.
The one noticeable area of improvement for his offensive game is his strength in traffic, both in terms of ball handling and finishing but that will likely continue to improve. So although it should be noted that Thompson's basketball IQ should allow him to be a solid team defender in the NBA, the biggest concern about him is his on-ball defense in college and he would have to work to become an even average pro defender.
A SBN Seattle feature from this past weekend describes plenty more about Thompson's fit with the Warriors, but the key thing to note is that his biggest weakness - on-ball defense - happens to be a glaring weakness for the Warriors as well. His shooting ability and potential to be an outstanding complementary player in the Warriors rotation would be a nice addition to an already potent offensive team, but there would remain such a defensive void on this team that it's unclear how well his addition would translate into wins.
Chris Singleton, 6'9", F, Florida State
Whereas Thompson is an elite college shooter, Chris Singleton is an elite college defender and some would even argue the best in the nation, at least in the perimeter. It's not impossible to imagine him guarding 2-3 positions in the NBA. He's long, extremely active, has outstanding defensive instincts, and is as much a defensive impact player as you could imagine against college competition. Yet the most impressive thing about his game was that his presence is often felt in the most subtle ways, that cannot necessarily be tracked statistically. In addition to blanketing his man on the ball all over the court, he's extremely dangerous playing the passing lines in strong-side help situations, plays angles extremely well in chasing opponents around screens. and also picked up his share of weakside blocks.
Singleton is an absolute terror defensively.
Offensively, his improved three point percentage (36.8%) is definitely encouraging and continued shooting improvement - particularly in a lesser offensive role on a NBA team - could allow him to become a solid spot-up shooter, particularly as he works on his footwork. But otherwise, he's raw offensively, to say the least.
The thing that stands out most about Singleton is not that he can't shoot, but that he struggles to create high percentage scoring opportunities for himself around the perimeter. Part of that is patience - as Sebastian Pruiti's scouting video for DraftExpress shows, he rushes shots well before he has to in many situations in addition to having a lot of lower body motion on his jumper. Yet it should also be noted that shot selection isn't exactly a strength of Florida State's, for whatever reason - they put up a lot of questionable, off-balance shots as a team, which obviously wouldn't be deliberate, but isn't exactly something that is being stopped. But another part of what influences Singleton's shot selection is ball handling - he definitely has the athleticism to get by defenders and finish in a number of ways, but has a somewhat loose handle that makes it difficult for him to create off the dribble.
The SB Nation mock draft describes the reasoning to select Singleton, but most of all, it comes down to the team's glaring need for perimeter defense and Singleton's potential to settle down in a lesser offensive role in the pros as a three point shooter. Although not particularly high on Singleton for all of the above reasons, Weiland makes the point that, "...one could imagine him in something of a Robert Horry-type of role. That’s a player who is on the court for his defense, but is enough of a threat from the outside that he commands some attention on offense." That's obviously a very optimistic comparison given his shooting numbers coming out of college. Nevertheless, his problems as a shooter - balance, patience, selection - are things that could be corrected with work, just as the other prospects will need.
Ultimately - again assuming Vesely isn't there - the Warriors will be choosing from options that each present challenges. Where you stand on each probably depends on which areas of improvement you see as most correctable. But it's probably safe to say that it's best to think "role player" instead of searching for star potential.