A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Three potential draft steals – Russ Smith, Alec Brown, Isaiah Austin

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For fun today I wanted to talk about 3 prospects expected to be drafted outside of the top 40, who I have in my personal top 20. I may follow this up in upcoming days with the opposite, prospects rated in the top 20 by conventional wisdom, who are rated out of my top 40.

Here are 3 prospects I believe could be steals and have the talent to be starters in the NBA:

PG Russ Smith

Russ Smith is a college star everyone is well familiar with, but largely forgotten about as an NBA prospect. Smith’s main knock against him is his size, measuring with a 6’3 wingspan, 7’11 standing reach and 160 pounds at the combine. The average measurement for a PG who’s a top 30 prospect in Draftexpress’s database, is a 6’5 wingspan, 8‘0.6 standing reach and 184 pounds. So Smith both lacks length and frame for a point.

However Smith is otherwise a physically gifted PG. He’s one of the fastest athletes at PG in this draft, which with strong ballhandling skills allows him to drive into the paint. He also has strong lateral mobility defensively. Note that his lateral mobility will allow him to be a pest to make up for defensive concerns, while his speed will allow him to get by defenders and be a slasher even if finishing in the trees is hit and miss.

Other than that Smith’s perimeter game also has potential. He hit 38.7% from 3 on 6.7 attempts per 40 minutes this year, a high percentage and volume. Hitting only 70.5% from the FT line is a concern, though he shot a better % from the line his sophomore and junior seasons. Smith averaged 6.3 assists per 40 minutes which is a sign he could be a point at the next level.

Smith is also a relatively fluid and crafty player.

At PG I want a player who drives, shoots, makes decisions and defends and Smith may be able to be decent enough in all those areas to be a starting PG. On the downside the PG position is very competitive and if he’s a 2nd round or undrafted prospect, he’ll have to prove himself to get developmental minutes. However, Smith has an established name from his college career and seems built to stud out in the D League, so the chances will be there.

PF/C Alec Brown

I caught onto Alec Brown relatively late in the draft, however I’m very impressed by what I see. Brown is a classic stretch big prospect, as a 7 footer (7‘1.25 in shoes) who hit 44.6% from 3 on 3.4 attempts per game and 75.7% from the FT line, strong for a big. He is not only a 3 point shooter but looks comfortable in the midrange area thanks to his height shooting over opponents and he has a fluid craftiness and feel to his offensive game.

Brown has some strengths and weaknesses physically. With a 7‘1.5 wingspan and 9’1 standing reach and 231 pounds, if he plays power forward he’ll be a few inches longer by reach than the average PF, which is 8’11 on DX’s measurements, along with 7’1.2 wingspan and 232 pounds. Furthermore Brown has mobility and agility, showing the ability to niftily roll to the rim and should help him play pick and roll defense in the NBA. However, he’s also very skinny for his height, which appears to have hurt him in the rebounding department where he averaged just 7.1 boards per 40 minutes. It also makes it unlikely he’ll be posting up in the NBA.

Brown fits the modern NBA because having a PF or C who hits 3s and spaces the floor provides value to a team on its own. Over time more and more teams will have 3 point shooters in their frontcourt. It’s important that unlike some stretch bigs like Matt Bonner and Steve Novak, Brown isn’t *just* a spot up shooter, by having a unique combination of mobility and length for a 4, he could also see himself driving to the rim on close-outs and making a play here and there defensively. He could also turn into a midrange scoring option. If teams in the NBA take a WWSAD (What Would San Antonio Do), taking a skilled, high feel for the game player like Alec Brown to groom into a 3rd big or more, seems like a good idea to me.

PF/C Isaiah Austin

Another stretch big, Austin is not as good of a shooter as Alec Brown, with only 28.1% from 3 and 68.3% from the FT line this year. However, his skill game from midrange/the post is more refined and he’s one of the most fluid players in the class.

Like Brown, he has a worryingly skinny frame and rebounding statistics for a big, which may push him to PF where his lateral mobility could be mediocre. He measured just 220 pounds at the combine, compared to a 232 pound average at PF. However, physically what Austin really has going for him is his length. With a 9‘4.5 standing reach (7‘0.5 in shoes, 7‘4.5 wingspan), Austin’s reach is 5 inches taller than the average PF and 7 inches taller than some bigs like Paul Millsap. Even if he’s not moving the fastest defensively and is skinny, Austin’s length alone could present a unique addition to his team defensively, since very few 4s outside of Serge Ibaka block shots regularly.

At best, Austin could both space the floor and present defensive problems for the opponent, which is a sought after, starting caliber combination in this league. Austin however has a concern outside of his talent level, which is that he’s legally blind in one eye. I have no idea if this will affect his game a lot or none whatsoever, but it may cost him his future in the NBA if teams already rating him as a 2nd rounder, decide “I have 20 other players I like as much as him but without the eye problem, so I’ll just choose them” enough to push him out of the top 60 entirely. On the brightside there is a short supply of 7 footers so even if he lands undrafted he’ll get plenty of workout opportunity to make his way in.

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Written by jr.

June 6, 2014 at 5:38 pm

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