New Nets owner Mikhail Porkhorov promised to do something about cutbacks to the team’s scouting department that occurred over the past few years, and he’s stuck to his word. New Jersey, fresh off an embarrassing 12-70 season, added three new scouts on Tuesday. On paper this makes sense; hire veteran, basketball minds to bolster the franchise’s ability to locate and assess more talent than they could before. But if the past 50 drafts have taught us anything, it’s that trained professionals often overthink what they’re looking at, ignore known limitations and attitude problems that spell doom down the road, and start seeing what they want to see after watching a player for a while.
So this gave me an idea: can I use nothing but write-ups from some mock draft websites to peg the future impacts of 2011 draft picks? I’ve turned my attention to seven recently graduated high school seniors who are expected to be selected by NBA teams next June; I will attempt to out-scout the league by weighing what a few free websites have to say about them and making some predictions. The goal is to look back at my deductions next summer before they’re drafted, plus in a few years after we’ve had a chance to see what they’re able to do in the NBA. I chose soon-to-be college freshmen so that I won’t bring any personal biases from having watched them play already; unlike most of the college players, I’ve really only seen these seven in a few highlight tapes. These websites I’m using are run by professional scouts, but you’d hope NBA teams could do a better job; if not, they might as well simply read those websites instead of hiring more scouts.
To be clear: I’m trying to pinpoint the future impact these seven players will have on their clubs, not their scoring or All-Star Game participation. This means I have to consider more than simply skills because guys like Zach Randolph and Gilbert Arenas are plenty skilled, but they each have some red flags concerning their character and/or attitude that have resulted in their having done very little towards making their teams any good. The areas I’ll be looking to assess are a) each player’s physical components including size, strength, and athleticism, b) basketball instincts and skills including footwork, shooting, passing, defensive fundamentals, dribbling, etc. and c) each player’s attitude, effort, and mental makeup. For the record, I’d prefer a player who is strong in the latter two areas and weaker in the physical aspects than a top-notch athlete or super tall center whose skills and headiness are lagging behind (think Larry Bird and Magic Johnson over Joe Alexander and Hasheem Thabeet).
I will try to use nothing but direct quotes from these sites that stick out to me before breaking down the players. How important is scouting in the NBA? Is it possible for me to out-scout the league by simply focusing on some key phrases and descriptions of players before they even get to college and accrue any meaningful stats? Only time will tell.
Here are the seven freshmen-to-be, listed in the order of their future NBA impact, as predicted by me:
Harrison Barnes (North Carolina)
SF/SG, 6-feet-8, 210 lbs
Physical (A-): “excellent frame that will fill out nicely in time,” “good muscle tone,” “has all kinds of natural tools,” “excellent fluidity and overall mobility,” “not as freakish an athlete as some former #1 overall recruits,” “good foot speed, both side to side and first step off the dribble”
Skills (A-): “excellent form on his shot and developing range,” “should look to be a more consistent shooter from the perimeter,” “good job of attacking the basket and creating contact,” “can pull up off the dribble and hit shots,” “weaving in and out of traffic,” “improving ball-handler,” “needs to work on improving his left hand,” “makes good decisions with the ball,” “getting low (on the defensive end) and using a proper defensive stance,” “incredibly active on the offensive glass,” “utilizing his size inside the paint by posting up”
Mental (A+): “kid with a great attitude, work ethic, and willingness to improve,” “unselfish,” “good body language,” “doesn’t feel compelled to show off his explosiveness at all times,” “playing very unselfishly,” “always looked calm and under control,” “demeanor on the floor is excellent,” “nice mix between being aggressive in looking for his own shot and not forcing the issue,” “first player going after loose balls”
My Comparison: more-skilled Grant Hill, or the SF-version of Tim Duncan (but more offensively and less defensively inclined)
My Overall Take: It looks like his skills are top-notch, and an attacker who welcomes contact will usually do well scoring in the league, but he could use a little more work on his 3-point shot and maybe his left hand driving ability. To be fair, most of the negative comments stated on these sites sounded like they were just trying to say something he could work on. They couldn’t stop talking about his willingness to learn and improve and do everything the right way, so probably any deficiency he has now will be gone within a couple years. He has his head on as straight as it gets, so a franchise should feel comfortable building their identity around this guy. I’m curious what type of passer he is (not too many words dedicated to this) since it’s clear he’ll have his hands on the ball a lot. He’s described as unselfish and willing to learn, so I’d imagine it won’t be a weakness, but his value to a club’s offense is just about perfect if he becomes a skilled distributor while attacking a defense.
Kyrie Irving (Duke)
PG, 6-feet-2, 170 lbs
Physical (A-): “very good athlete who can get to the basket in a variety of ways,” “super quick,” “impressive change of speed ability,” “shows body control when going up in traffic,” “has some terrific gifts that clearly can’t be taught,” “good but not incredible athleticism”
Skills (A): “he’s as skilled and versatile as you can expect from a player his age,” “impressive instincts and a very complete game,” “is particularly effective in the pick-and-roll,” “pick and roll potential could be a big weapon,” “ability to slash to the basket or pull-up off the dribble,” “nice stroke from the perimeter,” “the ability to finish with both hands around the rim,” “solid point guard vision,” “very nice court vision,” “excels in the fast break,” “great fundamentals (on defense),”
Mental (A-): “takes great pride in his work on this end of the floor (defense),” “high effort level and terrific smarts,” “even attempted to take charges,” “very composed, mature young man both on and off the floor,” “at times over dribbling (causing) poor offensive team possessions,” “overall poise and control need improvement,” “at times overly aggressive looking for his own offense”
My Comparison: Chris Paul’s game, but just a tad behind him in some areas
My Overall Take: When scouting reports for a high school PG already mention his great pick-and-roll abilities, you know they’re talking about something special. I watched a single highlight reel of Irving’s, and it was clear he is a much more dangerous multi-dimensional threat than fellow soon-to-be-freshmen Josh Selby and Brandon Knight when he’s driving into the paint. Give Duke a year to pound out those small mistakes in the mental part of his game, and some NBA team will be getting one hell of a complete point guard next summer.
Jared Sullinger (Ohio State)
PF, 6-feet-8, 265 lbs
Physical (B): “very physical player that uses his body to wear down opposing big men,” “his body looks better and better every time we see him,” “does not possess elite athleticism,” “has some difficulty with longer athletic defenders,” “does not run the floor extremely well,” “is not particularly dominant defensive player due to lack of explosiveness and quickness,” “not a particularly solid 262 pounds,”
Skills (A): “very skilled with a repertoire of advanced post moves,” “comfortable finishing around the rim with either hand,” “excellent hands and footwork,” “natural scorer with his back to the basket,” “decent form and touch on the 12-18 footer,” “passes well out of post,” “showing off far better ball-handling skills than we’ve seen from him in the past,” “amazing hands in the low-post and some of the best rebounding skills,” “great timing going after loose balls,”
Mental (A): “bruising throwback post player,” “leading his AAU squad to three consecutive National Championships,” “impressive to see the strides he continues to make with his overall game,” “the fact that he continues to make strides with his skill level is a very encouraging sign,” “his intangibles appear to be phenomenal,” “was absolutely ferocious moving opponents around with his strong body,” “considering the effort level and basketball IQ he shows, (defense) shouldn’t be that much of an issue”
My Comparison: Paul Millsap
My Overall Take: He’s clearly not an athlete—even I could see that after watching a few highlight clips—but his strength and effort to improve make me think he’ll be OK. His lack of size and explosiveness lead me to believe he’ll never be a dominant scorer or defender, but he should be plenty capable at both, and the scouting sites couldn’t stop commenting on how much he’s improved in one area or another in each of their entries about him. Like Millsap, his hustle and fire will make him a valuable, but not elite, member of some team, especially with strong rebounding skills – likely a future crowd favorite.
Brandon Knight (Kentucky)
PG, 6-feet-3, 175 lbs
Physical (A-): “exceptional lateral burst,” “excellent size and speed,” “extremely fast player who excels pushing the ball up the court,” “good body control,” “solid athlete but not a huge leaper,”
Skills (B+): “making shots from the perimeter,” “excellent jumpshot with range out to 3 point,” “streaky,” “quality finisher on the move,” “finishing exceptionally well at the rim,” “will need to improve on his floater in the lane,” “needs to work on his left hand,” “outstanding court vision,” “outstanding sense for finding teammates cutting to the rim,” “very creative passer,” “tendency to gamble too much for steals rather than playing fundamental,” “showed some nice things defensively,” “excellent defender,”
Mental (B): “fierce competitor, really steps his level of play up in big situations,” “high level of intensity and passion,” “strong work ethic,” “being inconsistent from game to game and possession to possession,” “terrible off-balance 3-pointers early in possessions that we saw all summer,” “at times tries to force the issue offensively,”
My Comparison: taller but less consistent Aaron Brooks
My Overall Take: Knight sounds streaky in a lot of areas, particularly the 3-pointers he loves to hoist up. He also sounds skilled and athletic overall, just not at the highest level, so hopefully he keeps working hard because he probably has an NBA future as a decent starting PG, just not great.
Perry Jones (Baylor)
SF/PF, 6-feet-11, 230 lbs
Physical (B+): “his athleticism is off the charts,” “considered one of the best athletes in this class despite standing 6-11,” “great frame, long arms,” “being backed down by the super strong Jared Sullinger,” “needs to get stronger in the lower body and probably quite a bit tougher in the paint”
Skills (B-): “great job of showing his perimeter skills,” “shooting stroke, which looked outstanding even out to the 3-point line,” “has a very nice jumpshot,” “can shoot from the perimeter but isn’t yet consistent,” “ball handling (is) phenomenal,” “great at initiating contact and squaring up for one-handed runners and floaters to finish near the rim,” “defensively he was active and aggressive rotating from the weak-side, but struggled at times in man to man situations,” “displays just average fundamentals (on the defensive end and on the glass),” “complete lack of back to the basket game,” “doesn’t always box out for rebounds”
Mental (C): “very disappointing HS senior season,” “doesn’t always seem to be as focused or intense as you might hope,” “sometimes tries to do too much,” “isn’t all that helpful when (the ball is not in his hands),” “doesn’t give maximum effort on this side of the ball (defense),” “often coast on plays, waiting for the ball”
My Comparison: less capable and less focused Amar’e Stoudemire minus some inside moves, maybe Anthony Randolph right now
My Overall Take: Comparing him to Stoudemire might sound good, but Amar’e’s defense is lacking and his rebounding isn’t nearly as good as it’s made out to be. Jones sounds athletic and capable of driving with the ball, but he also sounds like a guy who doesn’t have the skills, strength, or head to do anything when he isn’t on offense getting the ball on the perimeter. I really question the impact he’ll make at the NBA level if his senior season in high school was a disappointment.
CJ Leslie (North Carolina State)
SF/PF, 6-feet-8, 205 lbs
Physical (A-): “long with tremendous athleticism and versatility,” “leaping ability allows him to get high above the rim and make plays on the ball at its highest point,” “amazing athlete who is an absolute terror in transition,” “freakish athlete with length,” “body control and overall fluidity is extremely impressive,” “(needs to) add more bulk to his frame”
Skills (C+): “many tip ins and putbacks with his terrific hands,” “can finish strong around the rim in a variety of different ways,” “still has a ways to go before (a jumpshot) becomes a weapon,” “needs to develop more of a consistent jump shot,” “lacks fundamental footwork in post,” “not displaying any incredible footwork (in the paint),” “all the tools to be a great shotblocker on and off the ball,” “can be turnover prone off the dribble,” “capable ball handling skills,” “needs to improve his ball-handling skills”
Mental (C): “high motor guy who brings energy that can liven up his team and the crowd,” “sometimes gets too carried away with his versatility,” “unfortunately isn’t always (dialed in on the defensive end),” “inconsistency he shows from game to game both on and off the court,” “concerns about whether he has what it takes to reach his full potential,” “reportedly not the smartest, serious or most focused guy in the world,”
My Comparison: less knucklehead-ish Darius Miles
My Overall Take: He sounds really athletic, but lacking key skills and the drive to learn them. Based on what I’m reading, Leslie may feel comfortable where he’s at and likes getting by on his quickness and explosiveness at this point, which was a real problem for Miles. Leslie has boom-or-bust written all over him, and if I had to guess which, consider who I compared him to.
Josh Selby (Kansas)
SG/PG, 6-feet-2, 185 lbs
Physical (B+): “tremendous athleticism,” “terrific speed in the open floor and excellent leaping ability,” “ability to change speeds and directions on the fly,” “somewhat short arms”
Skills (B): “scoring machine,” “excellent pull-up jumper,” “showing 3-point range on his shot,” “his shooting touch is solid,” “understands angles for getting by his defender,” “mid-range game is extremely advanced for his age,” “somewhat turnover prone,” “clearly far more comfortable looking for his own shot than running a team,” “can dig in on defense, although he does gamble a bit too much,”
Mental (D): “tends to play by himself more often than you’d like,” “playing the game with a chip on his shoulder,” “tends to run into brick walls fairly regularly,” “at times looking downright selfish,” “shows questionable body language and distinct immaturity at times,” “game management isn’t the best,”
My Comparison: Think Monta Ellis but even more of a head case
My Overall Take: He’s not really a PG and he’s too short to be a SG. His attitude is absolutely terrible, plus he was reportedly kicked out of his first two high schools, and now he’s having trouble getting cleared by the NCAA. It’s very odd his birthday is almost impossible to find, which might have something to do with the rumor he was 16 during his freshmen season in high school (word around town at the time). Having had lived in Baltimore for a while, I’d heard nothing but bad things about his behavior and attitude for years, and I once talked to an AAU coach who knew Selby but said he wouldn’t want him on his team. Don’t forget that he committed and de-committed from Tennessee before choosing Kansas.