Aaron Gordon's appeal, sleeper point guards and more NBA draft thoughts
Ten final thoughts on the 2014 NBA draft, with the first pick just hours away.
1. Count me on Team Jabari for the No. 1 pick. And this is coming from someone who did SI's preseason cover story on Andrew Wiggins. Over the course of Wiggins' freshman season at Kansas, I became increasingly concerned about his lack of playmaking ability -- for himself or others -- in halfcourt offensive situations, and by the fact that Joel Embiid, who didn't start playing basketball until he was 16, sometimes exhibited more natural feel for halfcourt scoring than Wiggins did. Wiggins' athleticism can be breathtaking in transition, but so often in halfcourt settings, he lacked the ballhandling ability to shake quality defenders or the bulldoggish nature to attack the rim and dunk. He has a strange lack of star quality, both in on-court demeanor/mentality and interviews that, for lack of a better term, weirds me out -- and makes me inclined to side with Parker's smooth, albeit less-explosive, skill set. I'm fairly certain Parker will grow into a perennial NBA All-Star due to his scoring ability, while I don't have much certainty about Wiggins beyond his ability to be an elite defender.
2. Reasons Arizona's Aaron Gordon is so appealing if he's available in the late lottery: He was the main force that made the Wildcats the most efficient defensive team in the nation last season; he can guard the perimeter and affect shots around the rim; and he's already well aware of what he is -- that is, a guy whose value comes from pretty much everything other than scoring. Even back in November, when the 6-foot-9 Gordon was still bearing the weight of silly Blake Griffin comparisons, I asked him how he viewed his role at Arizona and he said, "I'm a glue guy that has talent." I loved that answer.
3. I'm curious to see how much Kentucky's two potential first-rounders, Julius Randle and James Young, slip due to defensive concerns. Randle's motor revs like mad when he hunts rebounds, but it seems to turn off when he's defending away from the ball and will be an issue in the pros. Young had the prettiest long-range shot that rarely seemed to go in, and has prototypical size for a wing, but his lack of effort on D was painful to watch at times. If you have the transcendent scoring ability of a Doug McDermott or Parker, people are willing to ignore that you barely guard. Everyone else faces more scrutiny.
4. One defense-only deep sleeper who hasn't been appearing on any draft boards, even in the second round: Cincinnati's Justin Jackson. The 6-8 forward anchored the country's No. 8-ranked defense as a senior this past season, ranking 15th nationally in block percentage (12.0) and 57th in steal percentage (3.7). His deflection rate, according to the Bearcats' internal charting, was also phenomenal, and he was one of the AAC's best rebounders too. Jackson's blemishes are pretty obvious -- he was an undersized 4/5, his offensive skill set is minimal, he didn't blossom until the end of his college career -- but he was an active and impactful defender all season. That has to count for something.
5. As deep as this draft is, it lacks a true star point guard. Marcus Smart has the makings of an elite defender in the NBA, but I don't buy into the "leader"/"winner" labels that pundits keep putting on him. In two years on a reasonably talented team, he failed to earn Oklahoma State a single early season tournament title, Big 12 regular season crown, Big 12 tournament championship, or even win a single NCAA tournament game. He didn't create all that well for teammates -- Tyler Ennis' pure point rating puts Smart's to shame -- and Smart complained and flopped more than anyone I watched. His attitude on film rarely ever matched up with his reputation as a mature leader.
6. Louisiana-Lafayette's Elfrid Payton, the other college point guard with a shot to go in the lottery, seems to be benefiting from a lack of statistical scrutiny. He excelled in workouts and has prototypical point guard size at 6-4 and 185 pounds, but his inability to be a high-efficiency scorer in the Sun Belt, even as a junior, is alarming. We're talking about a career 26.8 percent long-range shooter whose offensive ratings in Years 1-3 were 83.3, 103.0 and 107.4, respectively.
7. There do seem to be point-guard sleepers available in the second round, namely Louisville's Russ Smith (projected in the 40s). Smith is like the reverse Marcus Smart in that the Louisville star was labeled a clown early in his career and never was able to fully shake it, despite finishing as the nation's most valuable player for two straight seasons according to Ken Pomeroy's kPOY formula. Smith grew up as a senior and showed real point-guard skills: He has the quickness and ballhandling ability to shake NBA defenders, and he's always recorded a high steal rate. If you can get past his rep and focus on his stats and the athleticism, you'll see a real second-round value as a future backup point.
8. A deep-deep-deep point-guard sleeper whom I haven't seen in mock drafts but needs to be on summer-league radars: Kendrick Perry, a 6-foot senior from Youngstown State who posted advanced statistics in the Horizon League comparable to what Ray McCallum did at the University of Detroit before jumping to the Sacramento Kings. Perry was an advanced-stats monster this season: He was one of just five Division I players to post an efficiency rating of 120 or higher (120.1) with a usage rate of at least 27 percent (27.3), the others being Creighton's Doug McDermott, Canisius' Billy Baron, Davidson's DeMon Brooks and San Diego State's Xavier Thames. Perry consistently posted high steal rates (3.5 percent as a senior) and solid assist/turnover ratios (2.3-to-1 as a senior), too, but has been held back by his size and a subpar showing at the Portsmouth Invitational. Still, he's an excellent athlete and his college statistical profile suggests he has potential, even if he has to begin his career in the NBDL or Europe.
9. Smart move by whichever team made a promise to Michigan's Mitch McGary late in the first round or early in the second. In an SI.com piece earlier this week I made the case for McGary as a great buy-low candidate; his Kevin Love/Jared Sullinger-like production in the 2013 NCAA tournament sold me on him as a prospect. As long as his back injury is not a long-term concern, he has real NBA potential as a rebounder and pick-and-roll finisher.
10. If this draft had a normal, non-tank-worthy level of talent, and if his NBA arrival weren't delayed by a two-year Turkish contract, I think we'd be talking about Croatian Dario Saric as a top-three or -four pick. I've been in love in with the 6-10 point forward's game ever since seeing him as a 17-year-old in the U19 World Championships in 2011. Saric's competitiveness and offensive feel, both as a driver and a creator for teammates, is off the charts; he's like a rich man's Kyle Anderson. Saric has been playing at a high level in the Adriatic League and should add plenty of value when he arrives in the NBA … in 2016. Impatient teams are going to pass, but for a GM with long-term job security, grabbing Saric in the late teens is an incredible opportunity.