Previously I listed some young point guards already in the NBA that might be targets for the Jazz as their point guard of the future. The possibilities were in many ways underwhelming. Here, I examine another approach: getting our future point guard in this year’s draft. While the college season is young and there is a lot left to play out, the prospects here are unlikely to produce much more enthusiasm in many Jazz fans than the players in the league I already wrote about. (Amar being an exception given his Myck Kabongo crush.)
The consensus is that this year’s draft class is weak. No true franchise player or really anything close. At this point, there seems to be respectable depth, primarily in the form of "project big men," with little differentiation between players. A few people are already saying this is not the year to have a top 3 pick because the potency at the top is so weak. When people are hypothesizing teams with top three picks eager to trade them, you know it’s a down year. That being said, this is what’s available, so the Jazz have to play the hand they’re dealt.
I chose to focus on point guards and combo guards both due to the lack of talent in the draft. (Another post on SGs and SFs will follow, as that’s another option the Jazz might take.) For each player, I’ve included statistics for the last two seasons in college (there are no elite freshmen point guards on the radar at this point) as well as a paragraph of analysis. The draft projection is an average between the latest DraftExpress, NBADraft, and CBS mock drafts. A few of these players are not even projected as being drafted at all in some mock drafts I’ve used, but because they are all projected as possible first round selections in at least one mock draft, I’ve included them. (When averaging draft position, I’ve counted mocks that list a player as undrafted as a hypothetical 61st pick when calculating.) The projections are very preliminary at this point, as the majority of the NCAA season is left to be played out, not to mention the tournament and all the pre-draft exercises, camps, and workouts.
Here are the prospects:
|2012-13||10.3||PG/SG||6'5"||167 LBS||21 YRS||SOPHOMORE|
|2012-13||13||PG/SG||6'3"||165 LBS||21 YRS||SENIOR|
|2012-13||24||PG||6'0"||180 LBS||20 YRS||SOPHOMORE|
|2012-13||28||PG/SG||6'4"||180 LBS||22 YRS||JUNIOR|
|2012-13||38.7||PG||6'0"||178 LBS||21 YRS||JUNIOR|
|2012-13||42.3||PG||6'2"||168 LBS||19 YRS||SOPHOMORE|
|2012-13||50.7||PG||6'0"||160 LBS||21 YRS||JUNIOR|
Michael Carter-Williams, Sophomore PG/SG, Syracuse: With increased playing time from his freshman to sophomore seasons, Carter-Williams has jumped up draft boards early this college season. The reason is uncommon, especially for a combo guard—basically, he’s doing everything EXCEPT score at a high rate. 12 games into this season, Carter-Williams is recording an insane combination of 4.6 rebounds a game, better than 3 steals, and, craziest of all, nearly 10 assists! His shooting poses some red flags, however. While he’s scoring a respectable 11.8 points a game, he’s shooting well below 40% from the field and barely above 20% from three. He does get to the line nearly 5 times a game, but even there he is shooting only 73%. But at 6’5", if he can continue to dish out assists at anything near this rate while stealing the ball so frequently, not to mention crashing the boards, he will be a very interesting prospect come the draft—dare one say, perhaps even Rajon Rondo-esque.
CJ McCollum, Senior PG/SG, Lehigh: McCollum is something of a Stephen Curry-lite, though how much of that parallel is due to their both attending smaller schools is debatable. What is not debatable is McCollum’s ability to score. As a junior he put up nearly 22 points a game, and has increased that to nearly 26 so far this season—and he’s doing it with fantastic shooting across the board, with better than 50% from the field and three and better than 80% at the line. He also shows an elite ability to rebound the ball from the guard spot, having averaged more than 5 boards a game the last two years. Add in 3 assists or better two years running and a better than average steal rate, and you have the type of complete package that Stephen Curry is showing off this year in Golden State—at least, you have that at the college level. He is the only senior on this list, adding experience to his advantages. On the downside, his rebounds, assists, and steals have all decreased this year, though all these numbers are still at a worthy level. Plus, as with every player from outside the NCAA power programs and conferences, questions about McCollum’s level of competition throughout his career make projecting him into the NBA more difficult. Will he be the next Curry or Damian Lillard, or the next Adam Morrison?
Trey Burke, Sophomore PG, Michigan: Burke comes from the Ty Lawson mold, a small, fast, attacking scorer with a good handle. Despite being the first exclusive point guard on the list, he is anything but a pure point guard. That being said, he is averaging 7.4 assists a game this season (a great improvement over his freshman campaign) to go along with his 17.8 points. Add in nearly one fewer turnover than a year ago, a great shooting percentage from the field with solid numbers from three and the line as well, and more than 3 rebounds a game, and you have an intriguing prospect. But at 6’0", he will need to keep his performance above reproach or questions about his height will plague him come the draft.
Lorenzo Brown, Junior PG/SG, NC State: Brown came into this season with fairly high expectations and more eyes on him than most players in the ACC. Thus far, he has not lived up to the expectations, with numbers almost exactly matching his sophomore season. The overall numbers of 12.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 2.3 steals are respectable, but the lack of growth shown thus far in his junior year is of significant concern. So too is Brown’s abysmal 23.8% shooting from three. At 6’4" and 186 lbs, Brown’s NBA body and athleticism will keep people interested in his potential, so improvement over the course of the NCAA season may vault him back into draft prominence. But right now, his stock is dropping steadily, despite the projected weakness of the draft.
Phil Pressey, Junior PG, Missouri: Pressey is a rarity in this class: a pure point guard. He has guided a high powered Missouri offense for two years in a row, displaying uncommon passing ability as he’s done so, particularly once in the lane. This season he has upped both his rebounding and assist numbers, now 3.7 boards and 7.3 assists. His vulnerability when projecting him to the pros has always been his body, however. At 6’0" and 178 lbs, Pressey lacks the explosiveness and strength to finish at a high rate near the rim or to jump over defenders for his shot. The result is a lot of interested scouts coming into this season to see how his shooting percentages would develop. Thus far, the returns aren’t good: a decrease in field goal percentage from 42.8% last year to 34.7% this, and from 36.5% to 34.5% from three. His free throw percentage has climbed to 81.4% which speaks of a good shooting form, but unless he shows the ability to hit perimeter shots and finish at the basket with greater frequency, it will be very hard for this 6’0" guard to earn minutes in the NBA.
Myck Kabongo, Sophmore PG, Texas: Kabongo was the most celebrated of these players as an incoming freshman, and is proving the most controversial and arguably uncertain as to his future now as a sophomore. Thanks to an NCAA investigation that found Kabongo guilty of receiving improper benefits (a plane ticket and private workout session) and lying to investigators, the Texas point guard is serving a 23 game suspension that will cost him most of his sophomore season. The penalty, seen as excessive in many quarters, will likely cost him both substantial credibility leading up to the draft as well as important development throughout the season. All that being said, so celebrated a prospect is Kabongo that with some strong play at the end of the year he will still likely work his way back into the first round of the 2013 draft. Kabongo has earned such interest through displaying a rare innate gift for facilitating the basketball. The suspension has cost everyone a chance to see any growth since his freshman season (which many found underwhelming). However, the tantalizing potential to which NBADraft awarded a 92 overall player rating still entices: top rate playmaking skills, a great handle, eagerness to make the right pass consistently, and innate leadership skills. He will need to improve his shooting and especially grow stronger to convince teams he is a top flight pro prospect, but there is no question that once his suspension is up, many, many people will be watching. Where he lands in the draft may be more variable this season than any other player in college basketball.
Russ Smith, Junior PG, Louisville: DraftExpress is projecting Smith as a first round pick, but neither of the other two mocks I used had him being drafted at all. This is a fairly accurate summary of how people feel about him. Smith is a burner, a fast, long, lean scorer with an ultra-aggressive offensive game. He has improved his shooting percentage substantially over last season, with lesser improvements from 3 and the free throw line as well. But aside from a nice number of steals, scoring is Smith’s lone ability. He doesn’t rebound the ball particularly well and is totaling less than 3 assists a game, a very mediocre number for a straight point guard. Between his size and limited skill set, he will need to develop a lot before the end of the season if someone is going to take a flier on him in this draft as DraftExpress projects.
Honestly, these prospects make me nervous for a variety of reasons.
Only two point guards are currently slated to be lottery picks: Carter-Williams at somewhere around pick 10 and McCollum around 13. To put that in perspective, Kendall Marshall—who is dishing out assists in the NBDL rather than filling a roster spot with the Suns—was the 13th pick in last year’s draft, a much stronger draft that is anticipated for 2013. It may well be that every guard drafted this year grades out lower than Marshall, to say nothing of Damian Lillard level awesomeness. This is certainly not the 2005 draft that saw Deron Williams followed up by Chris Paul.
Another concern is the continued prevalence of combo guards difficult to project as either dependable point or shooting guards in the NBA. Of the seven prospects here, four—including three of the four projected as going in the first round—are tweeners. With Tyreke Evans serving as the poster child of the limbo in which a combo guard can place a team, and even Russell Westbrook earning constant criticism even as a recent NBA finalist, I, like many others, am leery of investing in such a player as a hardwood quarterback. With Favors and Kanter looking capable of challenging for the crown of best big man duo in the league several years from now, I’d be highly reluctant to trust their offensive opportunities to a player whose best attribute is the ability to put points on the board himself. Even the straight point guards on the list are, as often as not, known for their scoring more than their passing. The Jazz are desperate for a young guard capable of orchestrating the offense, and most of these guys are more solo scorers than orchestral conductors.
Given the amount of time that remains before the draft, there is a real chance one of these players separates himself from the pack, becoming the Alpha Point Guard of the 2013 NBA Draft. If such does happen, that player will almost certainly shoot up draft boards into the top five picks. Even if his overall quality as a player is less than other top five talents in this draft, as the class of this year’s thin point guard crop, he will go early to the first team desperate for a floor general. Even if the Jazz do see one man rise above the rest, it will probably mean watching him pass well beyond where they are willing to buy the right to reach.
That being said, while it is not probable, it is certainly possible that there will end up being no point guard of the future in this draft, no matter the fit or opportunity given to the player. Given the overall weakness of the draft, and particularly at the point guard position, it is a possibility that cannot be dismissed. Consider arguably the worst draft in NBA history, the Y2K draft. The draft yielded only three players to make an All-Star game: Kenyon Martin (#1 pick), Jamaal Magloire (19th pick), and easily the best player in this draft, Michael Redd (43rd pick). But even more ghastly is the point guard crop from this millennial year. The best point guard this year was Speedy Claxton at the 20th pick. Mateen Cleaves was the first pure point guard off the board at pick #14. Four picks earlier a combo guard went, Keyon Dooling, at #10. The notable point guards that followed these players were Erick Barkley (who NBADraft parallels with Myck Kabongo, which terrifies me), AJ Guyton, Khalid El-Amin, Mark Karcher, and Jason Hart. The lack of talent is shocking.
It’s far too early to start calling the 2013 class anything like that 2000 crop of point guards, but the similarities are starting to creep up. Both were seen as weak classes with the depth being primarily "project big men." Both had weak point guard classes, where the top floor generals were slated to come off the board late in the lottery (picks 10 and 14 in 2000, projections for 2013 currently saying picks 10 and 13). The similarities are there, and that isn’t good.
There is certainly a lot left to play out, and any of these players might rise to unforeseen heights in the manner of Damien Lillard. But the simple truth is that, echoing one unnamed NBA scout I recall reading, "it’s not looking good."
The next post will look at wing scorers in the draft and what they might bring to the Jazz.