Sunday, October 7, 2007
It's never too early to preview the 2008 draft
I love the NBA draft. It might be my favorite day of the year. On draft night, the game exists entirely in imagination-we get to see Greg Oden as an evolutionary center with Russell's defense, Shaq's domination of the paint, and Wilt's ridiculous athleticism for a big man, Kevin Durant as a 6-10 uber-star who can dominate anywhere from the 3-point line to the low block, Adam Morrison calmly draining contested jumper after contested jumper, JJ Redick grabbing kick-outs from Dwight Howard and filling up the net from long range. On draft night, we don't have to deal with the reality of microfracture surgery, back problems, or Adam Morrison going 3-16. There are no busts on draft night. Because of that spirit, I like to think about the draft as early and often as I can. Here are my thoughts on the big draft prospects so far, with the ones I don't know much about, like Michael Beasley, left out for no real pertinent reason:
The best-known name in the 2008 class, as well as the one I'll be watching the most closely because he's my classmate at USC. I have had one encounter with O.J. Mayo, on my second night here at about 1:00 in the morning during pre-rush parties, and it went like this:
(The author is inebriated as all hell, and attached to an equally inebriated girl whose build could best be described as Barkley-like. The author and said girl are about to do something that both parties would have regretted immensely, when the author sobers up slightly and decides the best course of action is to make a Larry Brown-esque exit. A few stumbles away, notices that several USC basketball players, including Taj Gibson and O.J., are sitting on a wall, calmly observing the proceedings and hearing praise from various travelers.)
Person in front of me: Hey, O.J., you're going to kick ass this year. You're so much better than Love it's ridiculous, man. (leaves, I step in)
Me(in a charming slur): The real question is whether or not he's better than Rose. And the answer is yes, man. (High-fives O.J.-also note that the author is still capable of providing pertinent draft analysis in any state) Man, I was like, thinking about going to USC, and then like, I saw you were going here, and I was like, now I'm definitely going to USC, because, like O.J.'s here.
Other basketball player, leaning over: Damn, (unprintable and inaccurate racial slur), how loaded is you?
O.J.(cold sober): Where you going, man?
Me: Away from that chick in the blue I just hooked up with. (points to girl)
(The entire basketball team starts cracking up)
O.J.: Have a good night, man.
(The author runs at full-speed towards the nearest frat house)
So me and O.J. are pretty much best friends now, even though I didn't remember to ask him for an interview or reveal my plan to get an apartment with him and Lil' Romeo next year and sell it as a reality show. My friend Marianne, who never watches basketball, has a writing 140 and Black Social Movements class with O.J., who calls her "Mar," and from her I know that O.J. is extremely nice, goes to every one of his classes, including lectures, which is more than you can say about the author, really works hard and wants to learn in every class, and gets tons of autograph requests, which he obliges wearily. That's my inside info on O.J. Now for the pure basketball:
Strengths: Incredibly pure jump shot, amazing handle, good court vision and capable of making great passes, extremely quick first step, amazingly polished shooting ability.
Weaknesses: Tends to be a shoot-first player who falls in love with his jumper from time to time, and hence will have nights when he's off and shoots a low percentage (like in the McDonald's game), has the skills to be a lead guard, but plays more like a shooting guard, and at 6-4 he doesn't have the ideal height to be a shooting guard, nor does he have the shocking athleticism of a Dwayne Wade to deal with it immediately.
Outlook: O.J. almost definitely won't fall out of the top 3 or 4 slots in the draft, but without dominating in college, he could easily slip behind Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley in the draft of their more seductive freak athleticism. Being a good 'SC fan, I don't think taking the college game by storm will be a big problem for O.J. Nobody will have a brighter spotlight on them this season, and nobody will come up bigger.
Movie Comparison: Dreamgirls (Huge early hype about him, beautifully polished, doesn't have the ceiling of a Babel, will at some point encounter an inevitable backlash, but is still a pretty damn good movie.)
Strengths: Holy Christ, is this guy athletic. His YouTube makes me feel happy when I've bombed a mid-term. (Yes, YouTube is a major scouting resource for me. ESPN has showcases, scouts who watch his high school games, statistical breakdowns, and reports from private workouts and interviews-I have YouTube and nicotine. I could make a fancy argument, aided by Malcolm Gladwell, about how a too much information can be just as damaging too little in making major decisions, but basically I'm writing about this because I can. Also, has Chad Ford ever gotten smashed and told a top-3 prospect that he was the man? I think not.) But getting back on point, this guy has the type of hops that just don't seem to make sense-it looks like he's in Like Mike 3 sometimes. (There has already been one sequel to Like Mike. You needed to know that.) And he doesn't just have dunk-contest hops-he finishes with authority, and doesn't need a big running start to get fancy. He can also get to the rim at will, because of his speed and ridiculous crossover. And by the way, he's a full 6-4, with a scary-solid build. Most excitingly, all the reports on him say that he's actually a pure point guard with great court vision and a pass-first mentality, which is extremely rare for a kid athletically gifted enough to score at will at every level he's played at. If he is indeed ready to play the point right away, he's far and away the most athletic pure point guard in the league, maybe ever.
Weaknesses: Where O.J.'s scoring is smooth-flowing and meticulously refined, Rose's offensive game is often a bit clunky-his outside shot is a weakness right now, and often times his shots from the 5-10 foot range are bizarre off-balance things that look like the shots guys playing "21" take when they can't get to the hole instead of a clean-looking pull-up or fadeaway. And while his modesty and shot selection have been points of praise among league executives, because there's no reason at all for the best player on the court his entire life should be extremely self-confident, that could, along with his pass-first mentality, mean that he won't be able to take over a game the way Mayo can.
Outlook: Because of his hops and crossover, the most common comparison for Rose has been a young Steve Francis without all those bad tendencies, which would be pretty cool. His pass-first mentality and size has led to Jason Kidd comparisons, although Kidd couldn't take the air out of a gym the way Rose can. Those are really the only two comparisons draft experts have been able to come up with, which makes sense, because it's not like a 6-3 point guard with a great crossover, dunk-contest hops, a running-back body, great passing ability, and a shaky outside shot was one of the playoffs' biggest stars last year, and it's not like he's the namesake of this website.
Oh, wait. Rose's game reminds me very strongly of Baron's, and given what we just saw what an injury/attitude-free Baron can do to the best team in the league, people should be very excited about Rose, especially since he's even more athletic than Baron, especially at this stage in his career. Like Baron, it may take Rose a while to balance out the demands of being a scorer and a passer, but when he blossoms(no pun intended), he could well be the best player in this deep draft. His team-first mentality and combine-ready gifts will allow him to survive a non-dominant college campaign, because players like him are often shackled by the coaching and surrounding talent in college situations (look at Rajon Rondo), and barring injury, he'll be in the discussion for the first overall pick.
Movie Comparison: Babel (well-known but not a household name, ridiculously high ceiling, some obvious but ultimately insignificant flaws, slightly disappointing box-office run/college season, late Oscar/No.1 pick push upon review)
Strengths: A banger down low who can scrap for rebounds and tough baskets, extremely refined post moves, a good stroke with range out to (allegedly) the NBA 3-point line, the best outlet passer since Bill Walton, team player with high basketball IQ. Other than that, his game needs a lot of work.
Weaknesses: Not particularly tall or athletic, goes to UCLA, has a dad who's borderline insane.
Outlook: First of all, let's address the character issues of Love/Mayo. Mayo has been billed as another Iverson-like young punk who cares only about himself and even smokes the demon weed, while Love is the white model citizen who wants the team to succeed first and saves babies. First of all, it should be obvious is nothing like the picture that has been painted of him, although it would probably take a whole other column to reach the extent of my anger about this. Second, the most popular comparison for Love is Bill Walton, because of their position, passing ability, college, and skin color, which is good because Walton is now a beloved personality who teaches us all about Canada during the middle of a game. (Quote from the FIBAs: So while Canada is losing this game right now, we must stop to remember that this is the country that gave us the light bulb.") O.J. has been accused of Marijuana possession one time, and those charges were dropped when it was revealed that it belonged to a friend. This has naturally been blown out of proportion by people who want to paint O.J. as just another punk kid. But without even touching how prevalent casual marijuana use is among people my age (smell my hall sometime), has everyone forgotten that Bill Walton loved weed? He got special permission from John Wooden to blaze after every game, for the love of god. Just thought that was interesting.
Love is this year's "crap, I have no idea how good this guy will be in the pros" guy because of his limited athleticism; he's a top-10 pick on DraftExpress, but he's all the way at 17 on NBAdraft.net, which has Hasheem Thabeet, who may or may not be able to make a layup with both hands, at 12. His rebounding is a question-for every Paul Milsap, there's an Ike Diogu. His scoring is a question. Whether his Unseld act will work in the pros is a question mark.
Ultimately, like most skilled but not crazy-athletic prospects, I think he'd be a great complimentary piece, but will break hearts if he's put as the face of a franchise. Not only would a subpar college season mean that UCLA will be bad, but it'll make him fall to a team that will use his talents well instead of throw him straight to the dogs, so that's what I'm rooting for. And if he could have a bad season, do bad at the combine, and end up with a hooker in his room, subsequently causing him all the way to the Cavs and clean up boards, score garbage buckets and pick-and-pops with LeBron, and toss LeBron outlets in the full-court, I would be a happy man. David Stern, here's your next secret project.
Movie Comparison: Little Miss Sunshine (ceiling limited because of genre/athleticism concerns, about as well-done as can be, unique-seeming, loved by casual fans, backlash will come from the biggest film geeks/draft experts)
Strengths: He's seven feet tall, athletic, and alive, which means he's a top-15 pick automatically.
Weaknesses: He can't score. I'm really only doing this one because I like the movie comparison. Also, I hate Stanford. A lot.
Movie Comparison: The Heartbreak Kid. Everyone knows that movies with Ben Stiller screaming all the time and prominently feature jokes about sunburns, deviated septums, fat people, emasculating sex, and Carlos Mencia are going to suck. But for some reason, studios put their full weight into these movies time after time, only to be shocked when they turn into a fiasco. It's the same way with 7-footers who show athleticism, can't score, and fall out of the top 7 picks-good centers don't fall out of the top 5. It's that simple. So if a center is available at 9 or 12, he's not going to be good. But look at that, Patrick O'Bryant was the #9 pick two years ago, and Hilton Armstrong was a top-15 pick last year. And they've both sucked. Big surprise.
Well, there you have it. I was going to try and make this more comprehensive, but I'm already pushing 2,300 words, it's almost 1:00 in the morning, and I haven't had drunken encounters with most of the other top-10 prospects. Enjoy your Wednesday.