I’ll be putting together one more mock before draft night, but for now I’m simply going to list my top 20 prospects and link y’all up with any of the buzz that’s floating around their names. Remember, this isn’t a mock, just my personal assessment of each prospect’s value. Basically it’s a rankings list with some news links. Enjoy.
1. Derrick Williams, F Arizona
The Skinny: Williams, to me, would be a top 3-5 talent in any draft, and in the right situation would get top 2 consideration. While the 2012 crop looks stronger, I don’t see anyone yet (I know it’s early) who I’d take ahead of him for sure. He’s got a high basketball IQ, is a tough competitor, and has a rare skill-set. Stretch 4s with his athleticism, court vision and aggressiveness are hard to come by. Personally, I think it’d be stupid not to draft him #1 overall this year, no matter the situation, but that’s just me.
The Buzz: Williams is almost certainly going #2 one way or the other. The T-Wolves are still shopping the pick, but have said they’re comfortable taking Williams if it comes down to it (per Chad Ford). Ford goes on to mention all the teams in the Williams conversation: Cleveland, Utah, Washington, Detroit, Golden State, Phoenix, Houston, New York and the Lakers. Between all those teams and the prospect of Minnesota actually keeping the pick and taking him, I’d say Williams will not slip past #2.
2. Kyrie Irving, PG Duke
The Skinny: Irving has built a “Next Chris Paul” buzz for himself since high school, but unfortunately doesn’t have the D-1 body of work to back it up and make himself a sure-bet for the #1 pick. He may be as quick as Paul, and in high school had that “Hot Sauce” appeal with his freakish ball handling and no-look passes, but when it all comes down to it, scouts need more than high school footage to label a guy “can’t miss,” and that’s one of the reasons this is considered a weak draft.
The Buzz: ESPN reported last week that the #1 pick was “Irving’s to lose.” Now Chad Ford’s Twitter confirms that most of the talk about Williams going #1 is coming from…um…Williams. So I think Irving’s still the guy for Cleveland, from everything we’re hearing, despite Byron Scott’s recent smokescreen.
3. Brandon Knight, PG Kentucky
The Skinny: Knight is tailor-made for the NBA. He’s got Rajon Rondo-like length and reaction time and a Tyreke Evans-esque scoring mentality. He’s not the distributor or defender Rondo is, and doesn’t have Evans’s dazzling strength and athleticism. But he’s got an IQ, work ethic and killer instinct that trump them both. If he doesn’t succeed in the pros in some capacity, I’d be utterly shocked.
The Buzz: Knight, maligned for his unwillingness to go head-to-head with other prospects, recently challenged Kyrie Irving to an individual battle. This is what I’m talking about when I say he’s got a killer instinct. The Jazz have loved him all along, and this sort of fire (even if it is just propaganda) will make up their minds for them. Knowing Jimmer likely won’t slip to them at #12 (and they’re probably not willing to reach on him as early as #3 with Knight available), I’d say Knight’s a lock for Utah with the third pick.
4. Enes Kanter, PF/C International
The Skinny: Kanter’s big, but he’s also unproven. He’s prototypically-sized for an NBA 4/5 hybrid, and has a nasty streak that scouts love, plus the range to work that classic Euro finesse game. Unlike many Euro bigs before him, Kanter will be comfortable banging down low, but can stretch it out if he wants; he’s multi-dimensional, and that’s why scouts would love him for #1 or #2 overall if it weren’t for his lack of body of work and injury history.
The Buzz: While Knight is working off of one college season, and Irving is working off of one handful of college games, Kanter is literally working off of one camp game against high school competition (where he absolutely dominated). The buzz couldn’t have been higher a few months ago, but he’s been pretty particular about who he’s worked out with since then, and some teams have kind of cooled on him. But now he’s scheduled a second workout with Cleveland, one of the few teams he’s agreed to travel to meet. He’s been more than impressive in most of his workouts. If Utah passes on him, he likely won’t slip past the Cavs at #4. If he does, he could fall all the way to Washington at #6. The Wizards are rumored to be interested (and the feeling is mutual), and could perhaps even trade up for him (they also own the #18 pick). The Cavs might not be able to pass up the #18 if all they have to do is move down two spots. But then again, recent trade buzz surrounding J.J. Hickson may indicate that they already have their hearts set on his replacement in Kanter. If the Cavs could flip Hickson for another pick, or a star wing like Danny Granger or Rudy Gay, and still keep Kanter and Anderson Varejao, they may be back in the playoffs sooner than we all thought possible.
5. Kawhi Leonard, SF San Diego State
The Skinny: I just love Leonard’s energy. While he’s not a star like the player to whom he’s often compared (Gerald Wallace) I’m certain he’ll positively affect the fortunes of the team that drafts him, as long as he earns minutes. But all that said, the fact that he’s my 5th-rated prospect is telling about the problem with this draft. The talent picks back up again near #10, but there are very few drafts in recent memory where a player like Leonard would even compete for a high lottery spot. The dropoff between Irving/Williams and guys like Leonard is tremendous, and everyone knows it.
The Buzz: As sure as I was that Jimmer wouldn’t last past Sac-to, Hoopsworld’s Alex Kennedy insists he’s behind both Leonard and Jan Vesely on the Kings’ big board. Detroit has also shown interest in Leonard, and as I’ve often speculated, Charlotte could use a seamless Gerald Wallace replacement.
6. Alec Burks, SG Colorado
The Skinny: I love Burks’s potential as a one-on-one scorer with some positional versatility. I’m shocked at recent mocks that have him slipping into the teens. If there ever was a guy with a great combination of potential and NBA-readiness, Burks is he. If there ever was a year to take a slight gamble anyway, this is it.
The Buzz: Several mock sites, including plugged-in, well-researched and pretty respectable ones like DraftExpress and NBADraft.net, had Burks slipping past Indiana, and into the NYK (#17) range. That doesn’t seem likely to me. And now that he (and Tristan Thompson) has declined to work out for Indiana, and has been invited to the NBA Draft Green Room, it seems pretty solid that he’ll be selected somewhere in the top-14. To whom? Too early to tell. I bet he goes somewhere between Detroit (#8) and Golden State (#11).
7. Jonas Valanciunas, C International
The Skinny: From what I’ve gathered on Valanciunas, he’s a legit 7-footer with NBA measureables and a desire to bang down low. Troubling, however, is his buyout situation, which seems murky at best at this point. He’s also very raw. Just a quick note, his per-48s (I know they don’t go 48 in Europe) against other elite under 18 year-olds, back when he was 15, in 2008: 28/22/5 (blocks). Wow. If Bismack Biyombo gets lottery love, Valanciunas should get top-5 consideration.
The Buzz: Being raw and having an uncertain buyout has never been a problem for Euro prospects. In fact, there’s still Valanciunas-to-#4 buzz floating around out there. The Cavs have supposedly “heavily scouted” him. Toronto is the wildcard. If Cleveland goes with Kanter or Knight at 4, Toronto could pass on the big Euro for a shot at Kemba Walker. If that’s the case, look for Houston to make their move and try to trade up with Washington or Sacramento for a shot at Valanciunas.
8. Jan Vesely, F International
The Skinny: I love Vesely’s game. He’s like Andrei Kirilenko without the injuries (yet). He’s got Gerald Wallace/Tyler Hansbrough energy, with a young, raw, Dirk skill-set. He’ll probably never be the perimeter player Dirk is, but he’s got a lot of room for improvement on the offensive end, and there’s no telling how good he could be with work. One thing that’s not lacking: athleticism. He’s the most exciting dunker in all of Europe.
The Buzz: The same source that placed Leonard on the Kings’ list ahead of Jimmer (Hoopsworld) also included Vesley as a name the Kings could be interested in. If not them, Washington has been linked to him, and he’s been officially invited to the Green Room, so I doubt he slips past #9 or #10.
9. Kemba Walker, PG Connecticut
The Skinny: Walker is a dominant scorer, though not the ideal NBA point guard. Questions about his height and inability to create for teammates have limited his value in the past. This year he shot up draft boards with an other-worldly end to his college career that started with the brutal Big East tourney, and ended with a national championship.
The Buzz: Walker’s been mentioned near the top of the Raptors’ list, though they’d prefer Brandon Knight. Weeks ago the Trailblazers were trying to work out a deal to trade up for him, but then a Portland media staffer claimed that Geoff Petrie was making up those rumors! There’s plenty of drama and plenty of interest. Walker at #5 or #7 wouldn’t surprise me. What would is him slipping out of the top 10.
10. Marcus Morris, F Kansas
The Skinny: Morris is your typical NBA-ready tweener forward. Teams are impressed with his jumper and his versatility, but he won’t overwhelm anyone with his size or athleticism. Morris represents, to me, about where the talent dropoff problem is negated. Around Morris’s range this draft starts to look like any other draft.
The Buzz: Charlotte and Milwaukee have been the teams most interested in Morris. SI reports that Phoenix could very well go big with either Morris twin or Tristan Thompson. Add that to the fact that both Morrises were invited to the Green Room, and it seems certain Marcus’s range is somewhere in the 9-13 area.
11. Chris Singelton, F Florida State
The Skinny: A big SF or a small PF, Singelton has that Ron Artest combo of strength and defensive quickness (minus the crazy). He’s really impressed with his workouts, and if it weren’t for some durability concerns would likely be a top 5-7 lock in this draft. He’ll help some team out his rookie year, and could eventually be one of the league’s best defenders.
The Buzz: Chad Ford and the Charlotte Observer independently reported that the Bobcats like Singleton. Washington worked him out with Marcus Morris (doubtful either will be available with the Wizards’ second pick). Like the rest of the guys on this list mentioned so far, Singleton was invited to the Green Room. There haven’t been any recent physical red flags, and he’s even “impressing teams with his offense” in workouts, according to Scott Howard-Cooper. All that adds up to a pretty good chance for Singleton to be picked in the Marcus Morris, 9-13 range with an outside possibility that Washington reaches on him at #6.
12. Tristan Thompson, PF Texas
The Skinny: One of my favorite post prospects, Thompson is a smart, athletic pogo-stick of a PF with tons of potential. He’s the Ed Davis of his class, without quite the pedigree. But he’s got a nose for the basketball, at least on the offensive glass, like Davis did. Thompson probably won’t be a star, but he’s fun to watch and should be useful to someone within his first few years.
The Buzz: Hoopsworld reports the Pistons are high on Thompson for the #8 pick, and Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star confirmed that Thompson, and Alec Burks, canceled their workouts with the Pacers. For a while there it looked like Thompson would go somewhere in the late lottery, and maybe slip to #15 where Indiana picks, but he’s been rising of late, and now it looks like he’s a lock for a spot somewhere in the top 10, with an off-chance to end up in his dream scenario, playing for his homeland squad, the Toronto Raptors.
13. Jimmer Fredette, PG Brigham Young
The Skinny: An NBA scorer with the potential to be another Stephen Curry type…or another Dan Dickau. My guess is Jimmer fits somewhere in between. I likened him to an Acie Law IV-sort of player in college, but without the awesome “IV” after his name. Either way, I think he can provide a scoring punch to someone in the right system, and play some valuable PG minutes off of someone’s bench.
The Buzz: For a week Fredette’s stock couldn’t have been higher, as it looked like Sacramento was dead-set on taking him at #7. According to Hoopsworld, the coaches in Sac-to are not sold, but the Maloof brothers love him. Charlotte isn’t biting on him quite yet either, with so many other options available. It’s starting to look like Jimmer may fall to the 12-15 range that was originally predicted for him six weeks ago. I can’t imagine him getting past Utah at #12, and if he does, Phoenix (#13) and Indiana (#15) would both probably gladly draft him.
14. Marshon Brooks, SG Providence
The Skinny: Brooks is a natural, fluid scorer who can put up points in a variety of ways. He’s pretty one dimensional (in that he’s not known as a defensive stopper, and is kind of a ballhog), but has scouts and franchises alike drooling with his workouts, measureables and body of work at Providence, where he was literally his team’s only offensive weapon. Brooks can probably become a legit bench scorer in the pros, but he’ll have to hit the weight room. I like him for his potential to adapt to the pro game, but worry that moving without the ball and working in a unique offense where he’s not the focal point will throw him off.
The Buzz: DraftExpress’s Jon Givony reported that Brooks had Larry Bird “visually excited” during his Pacers workout. That bodes well for Brooks, who will probably still be available when the Pacers pick at #15. If he slips past them, Charlotte could bite with their second pick, according to the Charlotte Observer. The New York Knicks (#17) have also reportedly shown interest, as have the Milwaukee Bucks (#10) who’ve brought him in for two workouts. Right now it’s safe to say Brooks is a first rounder, but where he goes is anyone’s guess.
15. Jordan Hamilton, SF Texas
The Skinny: Jordan Hamilton has shot up draft boards because he’s got great size for a SG-capable wing player, and already possesses NBA scoring ability. For teams in need of a scoring infusion on the wing, he’d be a nice addition. Trouble is, he’s not very well-rounded, and there are plenty of other guys on this list who can score and have displayed more of a diverse skill set. Hamilton does have potential, and many scouts view him as a possible future 20 ppg scorer, so he does inspire some excitement.
The Buzz: Chad Ford reported that Hamilton interviewed particularly well at the draft combine. Furthermore, Draft Express has speculated that he could go as high as #9 to Charlotte, and the Bucks, at #10 (who could really use him) will have him coming in to work out head-to-head with fellow lottery hopeful Klay Thompson. I suspect Charlotte’s second pick is his basement.
16. Donatas Motiejunas, PF International
The Skinny: Funny that we’re talking about “skinny” and Motiejunas in the same breath, as he seems to define the term. The noodle-armed Euro “big” (and that’s using the term loosely) has been atop teams’ wishlists for a few years now. 2011 seems to be the year he finally will come over and take advantage of a draft class thin on elite prospects. Of all the “intriguing” upside guys this year, Motiejunas seems to be one who has the most potential to eventually become a star, at least offensively.
The Buzz: Motiejunas has had trouble coming over to the states for workouts thanks to his team schedule. He’ll visit the Sixers this week, and they’ve shown interest. I figure #16 could be about as low as he’ll go. But that’s a considerable drop from where he was being mocked a couple months ago, so if he slips that far, you can expect a few teams to consider trading up for him. There have also been some concerns about his NBA buyout clause, so a contender may be interested in adding/stashing him.
17. Nikola Mirotic, PF International
The Skinny: Like Motiejunas, Mirotic has established a lot of hype for himself recently. The difference is that Mirotic’s rise up draft boards has been more meteoric. He’s become a star very recently, and looks to be chock-full of potential. At one point, a week ago, it was widely assumed he would pull out of the 2011 draft (like fellow international prospect Lucas Noguiera did). But Mirotic stayed put, and that’s telling of just how much hype he’s generated in a short amount of time as a breakout star in Spain. His size, budding offensive potential and unexpectedly solid defense has scouts drooling, and rightly so.
The Buzz: Givony calls Mirotic a “lottery talent” and predicts the Spurs, never afraid of taking a gamble on a foreign prospect, will take him at #29. There’s not much other buzz surrounding his name as it directly pertains to specific teams, as his value’s been relatively hard to gauge, given the fact it may be two or more years before he even steps foot on an NBA court. Still, the fact that he kept his name in the draft, with all the red flags about his buyout, is telling. He’ll likely be picked somewhere in the 20-30 range, but in a few years teams could be kicking themselves that they didn’t take him higher.
18. Klay Thompson, SG Washington State
The Skinny: Thompson, a silky-smooth shooter in the Kevin Martin mold, has piqued some interest this pre-draft workout season. He’s got some physical limitations, and a minor character red flag (marijuana-related), but is widely considered one of the safer shooting guard prospects, and could represent a good value, depending on where he’s drafted.
The Buzz: The Knicks are looking hard at Thompson at #17, but he may not last that long. Other teams that have been linked to him sooner include Milwaukee (#10), Utah (#12) and Indiana (#15). Likewise, if he slips, a team with a need at SG like Chicago could trade up for him. Food for thought: He reminds Donnie Walsh of Reggie Miller…and Donnie Walsh would know.
19. Tobias Harris, F Tennessee
The Skinny: Speaking of “skinny,” Harris is not. But he’s trimmed down significantly over the past year and has really started turning scouts’ heads with his versatile transition game and ball handling, relative to his size. Harris is a tweener, yes, but for the right team (one that runs and lacks point guard leadership) he could be a very nice addition. He’s probably never going to be a dominant post scorer, but considering his youth he’s got a ton of remaining potential.
The Buzz: Hoopsworld reported last month that Michael Jordan is high on Tobias Harris, likely for the Bobcats’ second pick. Additionally, the Wizards have looked at him in a recent workout. Both teams can afford to take a flier, or even a reach on a guy, as they both have two first round picks. Even considering his youth, Harris is a relatively safe option, given some of the alternatives in range (Motiejunas and Josh Selby come to mind). From what we’re hearing he could go as high as #15 to Indiana, or a as low as the mid-20s to a team like Boston, if they decided to keep their pick.
20. Bismack Biyombo, PF/C International
The Skinny: Biyombo is a freak of nature, measurement-wise. His wingspan alone (7’6″) flirts with some of the longest ever recorded. But he’s as raw as they come. Aside from a minor blip on the international scene via the ACB league, he’s been a relative unknown, mystery man. Red flags abound, starting from his seemingly non-existent offensive skill-set to the fact that he may be one of the oldest prospects in this class (some have said 27 or 28 years old!).
The Buzz: Players like Biyombo are hard to ignore. It’s easy for scouts and GMs to fall in love with athletic monsters with his type of measureables and potential. At one point he was a viable top-5 pick. Then evaluators started mocking him in the 20s. Now, the Hoops Report has confirmed that Toronto is even considering him as high as #5 overall. But many scouts weren’t impressed with his workouts. Alan Hahn reported on Twitter (via Hoopshype) that one scout said, of Biyombo, that he “went 1-on-none and lost.” That’s troubling, but as Givony’s team at DraftExpress suggests, if you liked Biyombo before, his workouts weren’t going to scare you away…it’s really a blind faith type thing with him. Knowing that, it’s hard to predict his range, which could be anywhere from #5 to literally out of the first round entirely.