Since the NBA Draft is coming up, I thought it would be good to start looking seriously at specific draft prospects. I am going to be writing a five-part series of posts, one focusing on each position. Each post will be divided into three parts: lottery prospects, first round prospects, and second round prospects. I'm not going to look at every prospect in the draft, just a select number at each position. Also, since the deadline for underclassmen to enter the draft is April 29, I will note if I think a player is going to return to school if he is undecided.
The organization of the prospects is going to be fairly subjective, in that I won't be organizing them strictly according to what position they played in college, or what position they will play in the pros. For instance, while Austin Rivers is too small to play shooting guard (what he played at Duke) in the NBA, I'm still going to look at him in the shooting guard section because he isn't enough of a point guard skill-wise to play it in the pros. Anthony Davis on the other hand, while he has all the talents you could ever want in a center, is far too undersized and weak to ever play center in the NBA so he will be grouped in with the power forwards. In the tiers the prospects will be organized alphabetically, as opposed to who I think is the better prospect.
Finally, since it is my post, I will add my two cents on which of the prospects I think the Blazers could/should target in the draft.
Without further ado, here is the first part: the point guards.The Lottery Picks:
- Damian Lillard (Webber State): Unlike Stephen Curry, Lillard is not just a shooting guard in a point guard's body. He's a lightning-quick scoring guard with one elite skill: penetrating and breaking down a defense. He can get to the line, and makes the freebies once he's there. He can also drill it from beyond the three, making over 40% of his treys this year with a good perimeter game. His assist-to-turnover ratio improved this year, despite an increased usage rate. Lillard's biggest drawback is he is not a true point guard. Rather, he is a shoot-first point guard capable of playing both guard positions - basically a better version of Monta Ellis or Jamal Crawford. He won't necessarily make other players better, but he will make plays in the NBA.
- Kendall Marshall (UNC): Marshall actually improved his draft stock by breaking his right (non-shooting) wrist, letting every NBA scout and front-office member see exactly how much better he makes his teammates. The Tar Heels looked completely lost against Ohio, needing OT to beat a much less talented team. Think about it, even though UNC had four likely lottery picks other than Marshall (Harison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and James Michael McAdoo), they needed overtime to beat a Mid-American Conference opponent. Marshall's closest comp is probably Steve Nash - neither are great athletes and neither play stellar defense. However, they are the purest of point guards, the ultimate facilitators who make everyone around them better. He is actually a better defender than you might think, his only real drawback on D is that he does not posses great lateral quickness. One common knock against Marshall is that he isn't a scorer, and those who say that could not be more wrong about Marshall's skill set. First, he was never asked to carry the scoring load, what with four future first-round picks playing around him. Second, he shouln't be scoring a ton because it's not what he's best at. Though he can shoot the ball - 35% from three on the year - and score, as he proved in the ACC and NCAA tournaments. He scored 22 against NC St., and starting with the Duke game March 3 scored 20 he averaged 14.8 for the rest of the season. Marshall makes everyone around him better, and that's what you want out of a point guard.
The First Rounders:
- Marquis Teague (Kentucky): The book on Teague (yes, brother of Hawks PG Jeff Teague) is simple: lightening-quick, great first step, pushes the tempo, great court vision and can dish it, but is turnover prone when he plays too fast and doesn't have a great perimeter shot. He improved considerably as the season progressed, but as Kentucky advanced deeper into SEC play Calipari slowed down the tempo to cut down Teague's turnovers. I think he should stay in school for another year (and if he does he could easily be a lottery pick next year), but in a draft devoid of PG prospects a team could reach for him in the first round. But he's definitely a project, and I think he'll ultimately stay in school.
- Tony Wroten Jr. (Washington): I could have just as easily titled this section "The Enigma", as Wroten is easily the most talented point guard in this draft, and is a top-5 talent...when he's playing his game. He has almost every tool you look for in a player: he's huge, is a great penetrator, has great court vision, can pass the ball beautifully, can finish at the rim, and just makes plays. Players make plans, and the downside to Wroten is that he is rarely completely on top of his game. He has virtually no shooting ability, doesn't always play under control, is very turnover prone, and has poor shot selection. He and Andre Drummond (I'll get to him in the last post) have the biggest upside/downside disparity in the draft. Bottom line is he could make every team in the NBA regret passing on him, or he could spend his entire career in the D-League. Whoever drafts him will have to spend considerable time developing him and figure out how to get him to play consistently, but it could pay off.
The Second Rounders:
- J'Covan Brown (Texas): Brown is another scoring guard trapped in a point guard's body. He's got great range on his shot, can penetrate and break down a defense, and absolutely take over a game. However, he's turnover prone, has poor shot selection, and is really undersized. Ultimately, his ceiling as a pro is an instant-offense player off the bench.
- Aaron Craft (Ohio St.): A solid point guard, distributer and lock-down defender, I believe Craft is returning to Ohio State.
- Tu Holloway (Xavier): Holloway is yet another super quick, undersized guard who can penetrate, has good court vision, is a decent-but-not-great outside shooter, has good court vision, and is a good defender. His negatives are that he has an inconsistent jump shot, dribbles himself into trouble at times, and, again, is undersized. After a disastrous NCAA tournament performance, I think he'll be staying at Xavier for another year for a shot to be a lottery pick next year. Just as a side note, Xavier was absolutely on fire until the ugly brawl with Cincinnati, after which they fell apart while Cincinnati went on a run to the Big East Championship game and the Sweet 16. It would have been interesting to see how Holloway's season turned out had it not been for the brawl.
- Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas): I don't know if I have mentioned this before, but I'm a life-long Jayhawks fan (my father used to work there so I inherited it from him). I've watched Taylor for four years, and here is all you ever need to know about Taylor: "He makes plays you can't coach, and then he makes plays that makes you think he's never been coached." Bill Self said that often about this oft-maligned point guard, and it's true. Taylor can be maddeningly inconsistent (fast forward to the 2:22 mark), but has all the tools you want from a PG. He is a lock-down defender, can shoot from range (40% on threes for the season before the NCAA tournament), is an elite athlete with elite speed and quickness and has a high basketball IQ. Yes, he had some off-court issues his first few years (breaking his thumb in a fight with some KU football players and the Facebook incident), but you know what? He did what a 19-year-old kid should do - he stayed in school and grew up. He grew into a mature leader on the Jayhawks, and if we've learned anything it's that college seniors usually have the smoothest transition into the pros. If he can cut down on his turnovers, he can be quality starting point guard in the league.
The Scott Machado (Iona): Many of you expressed disbelief that I did not even mention Machado in this breakdown. I assure you there was no conspiracy behind it, nor was it an intentional slight. He most certainly deserves to be included here; it was a simple oversight.
Machado is an interesting prospect. He led the nation in assists this year (9.9/gm), while only scoring just over 13 per contest. He's undersized at 6'1", but then again he's an inch taller than CP3. He's athletic, quick, can penetrate and break down a defense, and can dish it. He's great in transition and the half court, and is very physical. He's a good rebounder for a guard (especially for a guard his size), and averaged over a steal a game all four years in college. That said, Machado has some MAJOR red flags. First, he has had some conditioning issues, which is something to keep an eye on as he matures (along the lines of Raymond Felton). Second, he played in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, with such powers as Sienna, Marist, Rider, and Niagara. Though in his defense, he did give St. Johns, Purdue, Maryland and BYU all they could handle and more. But what's most concerning about Machado is that he is such a late bloomer. Before this year, he was never a particularly good shooter. He improved his FG% by 85 points and his 3P% by 84 points this year, which is seriously concerning. His previous averages were .406/.720/.313 (field goal, free throw, three point) and this year he shot .495/.811/.404. That's an absurd level of improvement in one year. He also posted a ridiculous 4.9 RBD and 9.9 AST per game, and a 3.03 AST/TO ratio after previous averages of 3.5 RBD, 5.1 AST, and a 1.61 AST/TO. To be fair, he did show consistent improvement in those numbers for three years. What's telling about his shooting is that he doesn't shoot very often. He only took about 10 field goals and 3 threes a game this year, so he was hitting what shots he took. But he also rarely got to the line for being such a good penetrator, about 4 times per game. The biggest question on Machado is whether or not his senior year was him maturing into an true PG, or just an aberration against inferior competition. Given the lack of PG prospects in this draft, I could see a team taking him in the late first round. However, given the number of question marks surrounding him and lack of a proven track record, I feel his value lies as a second rounder. He would certainly be worth taking a flyer on with a second round pick.
What I think the Blazers should do. Ultimately this draft is nearly completely bereft of point guards. Wroten Jr., Teague, Holloway and Brown are all high-risk prospects with very low floors, while the other three - Lillard, Marshall and Taylor - all have obvious flaws. Lillard is an undersized scoring guard, Marshall plays just average defense, and Taylor is inconsistent with the ball. While Lillard will make plays in the NBA, his size and lack of true PG skills worry me too much to be comfortable drafting him in the lottery. I feel the absolute right choice for the Blazers is to use one of their likely two lottery picks on Marshall. Marshall makes everyone around him better. Period. That's exactly what you want out of your point guard - some one to initiate the offense, create shots for his teammates, control the tempo and be a facilitator. Honestly, I am not concerned at all by his defense; Steve Nash and Jason Kidd were never great defenders either. Nor am I concerned about his supposed lack of scoring. He is at his best setting up his teammates not carrying the scoring load. For all the constant pontificating on BlazersEdge about the "point guard of the future", the Blazers have a chance to draft him in Marshall. If the Blazers do draft him, they will want to draft/sign a Brandon Roy-type player to put next to him to handle the scoring with LMA.
In the event the Blazers don't draft Marshall, I think Taylor would be a really interesting second-round pick (and yes, I'll be the first to admit that I love the kid and would love to see him on the Blazers). With his turnovers, I think his floor is as a backup point guard/third guard to bring off the bench to provide defense, scoring and energy for 15-20 minutes a night. His ceiling is a quality leader and starting PG if he can cut down on his turnovers and just make consistently better decisions. That's a fairly decent return on a second-round pick.