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2013 NBA Draft Talent Grades: The Power Forwards

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2013 NBA Draft Rankings: The Small Forwards

2013 NBA Draft Rankings: The Shooting Guards

2013 NBA Draft Rankings: The Point Guards

Here are my grades for the Power Forwards in the 2013 NBA Draft. The PFs I felt worth it or comfortable ranking were Anthony Bennett, Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, Tony Mitchell, C.J. Leslie, Jackie Carmichael, Erik Murphy, James Southerland, Deshaun Thomas, Grant Jerrett, Kenny Kadji, Brandon Davies, D.J. Stephens, Dario Saric, Livio Jean-Charles, Richard Howell. (Nerlens Noel, Jeff Withey, Mason Plumlee, Gorgui Dieng, Lucas Nogueira, Mike Muscala, Ryan Kelly are among the debatable position players included as Cs)

My grades are from 1 to 11 in 3 categories: Physical impact talent, skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent and feel for the game talent. The grades go by this rubric:

11: Transcendent, 10: Incredible 9: Elite, 8: Great, 7: Very good, 6: Decent, 5: Average, 4: Lacking, 3: Weak, 2: Very poor, 1: Awful

What the overall grades mean:

25+: Perennial all-star talent, 23-24: Blue Chip starter to Perennial all-star talent, 19-22: Blue Chip starter talent, 17-18: Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent, 14-16: Rotation player talent, 12-13: Deep bench to rotation player talent, 11 or lower: Deep bench player talent

Here are my grades in the 3 categories first, before getting to individual breakdowns:

Physical impact talent grades:

Anthony Bennett: 9 / Elite

Jackie Carmichael: 7 / Very good

C.J. Leslie: 7 / Very good

D.J. Stephens: 7 / Very good

Kenny Kadji: 7 / Very good

Kelly Olynyk: 6 / Decent

Tony Mitchell: 6 / Decent

Cody Zeller: 5 / Average

Livio Jean-Charles: 3 / Weak

Richard Howell: 3 / Weak

James Southerland: 3 / Weak

Dario Saric: 2 / Very poor

Grant Jerrett: 2 / Very poor

Brandon Davies: 2 / Very poor

Erik Murphy: 1 / Awful

Deshaun Thomas: 1 / Awful

Bennett leads the way for physical impact with his elite explosiveness, strength and the ballhandling to attack the basket off the dribble. Leslie and Stephens are arguably the two most explosive athletes of the group, but their skinny frames hurt their finishing talent. Carmichael has an impressive all around combination of explosiveness and strength. Kadji, Olynyk can get to the rim. Zeller slightly trails them due to ballhandling problems. Mitchell has a vertical, strength and length. The rest of the PFs are below the rim or stretch bigs.

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grades:

Anthony Bennett: 8 / Great

Deshaun Thomas: 8 / Great

Erik Murphy: 8 / Great

Grant Jerrett: 8 / Great

James Southerland: 8 / Great

Kelly Olynyk: 7 / Very good

Jackie Carmichael: 7 / Very good

Cody Zeller: 7 / Very good

Kenny Kadji: 7 / Very good

Tony Mitchell: 5 / Average

Dario Saric: 5 / Average

Livio Jean-Charles: 5 / Average

Brandon Davies: 5 / Average

Richard Howell: 4 / Lacking

C.J. Leslie: 4 / Lacking

D.J. Stephens: 3 / Weak

There are a slew of PFs with NCAA 3pt range such as Bennett, Thomas, Murphy, Jerrett, Southerland, Bennett is the least trustworthy shooter of the group but having the most post potential. Olynyk has solid midrange shooting and touch around the basket. Zeller likewise appears to have midrange potential, along with post touch. Carmichael has an excellent post game and signs of a solid shooting game. Kadji hit NCAA 3s and post touch, though his FT shooting put some doubt into whether he can hit NBA 3s. While I hesitate to give any players too low a grade in skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent due to development, the rest of the PFs are a work in progress. Saric, Jean-Charles, Davies, Howell, Leslie appear to have touch but not range. Stephens is the most raw skill player of the group, only finishing around the rim.

Feel for the Game talent grades:

Dario Saric: 10 / Incredible

Kelly Olynyk: 9 / Elite

Brandon Davies: 9 / Elite

Anthony Bennett: 8 / Great

Deshaun Thomas: 8 / Great

Erik Murphy: 8 / Great

Kenny Kadji: 7 / Very good

Cody Zeller: 7 / Very good

Jackie Carmichael: 7 / Very good

Grant Jerrett: 7 / Very good

James Southerland: 7 / Very good

Richard Howell: 7 / Very good

Livio Jean-Charles: 7 / Very good

C.J. Leslie – 7 / Very good

Tony Mitchell: 2 / Very poor

D.J. Stephens: 2/ Very poor

Saric leads the way in feel for the game, along with Porter the only player in the class I’ve given a feel for the game grade of 10 or higher to, as a rare, rare brand of special talent in the category. Olynyk and Davies are the next most impressive with their endlessly smooth, crafty games. Bennett, Thomas, Murphy, Kadji, Zeller, Carmichael, Jerrett, Southerland, Howell, Jean-Charles, Leslie all impress me in the category, showing fluidity and natural offensive feel. Mitchell and Stephens are the weak links, as largely stiff and raw athletes.

Individual rankings

Perennial all-star talent grades (Grades 25 or higher)

Anthony Bennett

Physical impact talent grade: 9 / Elite

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 8 / Great

Feel for the Game talent grade: 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 25 (Perennial all-star talent grade)

My highest grading player in the draft, Bennett performs strongly in all three categories. His physical impact talent is significant with a combination of explosiveness, ballhandling, strength and length. This gives him a dynamic upside attacking the basket off the dribble and finishing.

Bennett is a smooth, fluid offensive player with a degree of craftiness off the dribble. His feel for the game is clear cut above average.

Finally, Bennett has shooting range out to the NCAA 3pt. With good FT%, he should at least be a midrange shooter in the NBA with developing 3pt range in play. In addition to this he has all the tools to add a post game later in his career with a huge strength level, low center of gravity and excellent touch. If he adds a 3pt shot, post game or both, my prsent skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent grade would be too low. It’d be too high if he only ended up an inconsistent midrange shooter.

With the upside to attack the basket, hit the perimeter shot and play in the post, Bennett has a huge offensive upside. In my opinion he’s the biggest star material in this draft. In addition I see him as the most surefire starter. Even if his shooting and post game ends up underhwelming, his athleticism, strength, feel and ballhandling make him a near surefire starting PF.

Blue Chip starter talent grades (Grades between 19-22)

Kelly Olynyk

Physical impact talent grade: 6 / Decent

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 7 / Very good

Feel for the Game talent grade: 9 / Elite

Total talent grade: 22 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Olynyk’s strength is his elite feel for the game. A tremendously smooth, fluid and crafty player, he makes everything look easy and natural.

Kelly’s skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent is also impressive. He has a perimeter jumpshot, can create jumpshots off the dribble and excellent touch around the rim. It’s unclear whether he has NBA 3pt shooting potential, but he should have some semblance of a perimeter jumpshot, enough for an above average skill impact (shoot, post, past) talent grade for a PF.

Olynyk also has the ability to attack the basket off the dribble with a strong first step and ballhandling ability. His speed in transition and ability to finish vertically also shows his athleticism.

If the ability to attack the basket off the dribble and his shooting game translates, with his feel it should make him a starting PF in the NBA. With an NBA 3 which would push my skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent grade higher it’d push him near star status, while his status as a starter may get dicey if he doesn’t have a perimeter jumpshot in the NBA. I see Olynyk as one of the best prospects in the draft.

Jackie Carmichael

Physical impact talent grade: 7 / Very good

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 7 / Very good

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 21 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Jackie Carmichael has an impressive combination of explosiveness and strength, allowing him to attack the basket with force. Better ballhandling could help him physically impact the game more. With respectable size for a PF, Carmichael’s physical impact talent to me is at least decent.

Carmichael’s strength and touch gives him an effective back the basket and mid-post skill game. He has a semblance of a perimeter shot, but needs to improve his range. Carmichael has the touch, signs of a shot and post game to get an above average skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent grade. If his post and shooting game doesn’t translate, his skill impact may be closer to average than this grade. However it could also be more impressive if he established a legitimate 15-20 foot game.

Carmichael also has an above average feel for the game, showing real craftiness around the basket and adjusting his plays, along with defensive instincts.

Jackie Carmichael has an excellent chance at starting at PF. He has strength, athleticism, a post game, signs of a shot and a good feel. In addition, his toughness and intangibles seems a strength.

Kenny Kadji

Physical impact talent grade: 7 / Very good

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 7 / Very good

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 21 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Kadji is a nice all around talent. He had the 3 point shot as a weapon in the NCAA, albeit a 66.1% FT gives some worry to his mechanics. Still, it makes midrange shooting likely. Kadji also has the size to make some plays in the post and develop in that area in the NBA. Overall, it’s worthy of a decent skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent grade.

Kenny also has a solid ability to attack the basket thanks to his first step. Solid strength also helps him finish at the basket. I see this as worth as solid physical talent impact grade.

Finally, Kadji is also a relatively smooth, feel for the game friendly player.

Kadji isn’t dominant in any category, but with athleticism and strength, a perimeter shot, some post potential and a feel for the game, I see his chance at starting at PF as solid. He’d fall short of that if I overestimated his shooting skill or ability to attack the basket off the dribble.

Cody Zeller

Physical impact talent grade: 5 / Average

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 7 / Very good

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 19 (Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Zeller has quick feet, though a skinny frame and average ballhandling diminishes his ability to attack the basket off the dribble and physically impact the game. Nevertheless, average to decent physical impact talent seems fair.

Cody has excellent touch around the rim and the length to have a post game at PF. While his jumpshot is unproven, solid FT mechanics shows he has the potential to add a midrange shot.

Finally Zeller also has an above average feel for the game with instincts and ability to recognize space well.

Zeller has the skill, feel and athleticism to be a starter in the NBA. To lock up that status, he needs either his post game, shooting or both to translate well. If just a finisher at the rim he may struggle to hold his starting spot.

Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grades (Grades between 17-18)

C.J. Leslie

Physical impact talent grade: 7 / Very good

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 4 / Lacking

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 18 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Leslie is one of the best athletes in the draft. He has an incredible first step and excellent agility for a power forward. However while this helps him get to the rim, he’s also skinny for a PF which may hurt his finishing.

C.J. also has an above average feel for the game. He is a fluid and natural offensive player who recognizes space well when attacking.

Leslie has problems as a skill player. Aside from a lack of a post game because of his frame, he also has a lack of a perimeter shooting game. His touch around the rim however is solid.

Leslie is an impressive talent because of his rare combination of explosiveness and feel. If his perimeter skill develops he can establish himself as a long term starting PF in the NBA. There are concerns about whether Leslie sees himself as more of a SF and may shy away from attacking the basket and he is known as having an enigmatic motor. However I see his talent as legitimate.

James Southerland

Physical impact talent grade: 3 / Weak

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 8 / Great

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 18 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Deshaun Thomas

Physical impact talent grade: 1 / Awful

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 8 / Great

Feel for the Game talent grade: 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 17 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Erik Murphy

Physical impact: 1 / Awful

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 8 / Great

Feel for the Game talent grade: 8 / Great

Total talent grade: 17 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Grant Jerrett

Physical impact talent grade: 2 / Very poor

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 8 / Great

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 17 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Southerland, Thomas, Murphy, Jerrett are similar prospects. All are stretch 4s, with range out to the NCAA 3pt in college and impressive FT% near 80% for bigs, a good sign for their range translating. All also have a smooth, fluid feel for the game. However, in classic stretch 4 fashion, their weakness is lacking the ability to create offense attacking the basket off the dribble. If their perimeter shooting translates, I expect very solid rotation players in the NBA. Elite 3 point shooting may even make them starters. However if their shooting falls off, their minutes and consistent place on a team could be in more jeopardy.

Dario Saric

Physical impact talent grade: 2 / Very poor

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade: 10 / Incredible

Total talent grade: 17 (Rotation player to Blue Chip starter talent grade)

Saric is an absolutely amazing feel for the game. He has a fluidity, instincts, anticipation and recognition of other players borderline on “basketball genius” territory.

However he is to an extent a one trick pony. His athleticism and strength level is poor and he’s used to playing on the perimeter, making it unlikely he physically impacts the game well at PF. Furthermore he also has a poor jumpshot even for a big man, albeit is a good passer. Giving his development the benefit of the doubt I don’t give him a rock bottom skill impact (shoot, post, pass) talent grade, instead settling on average.

If Saric can get his perimeter shooting game in order to become more of a stretch big, he can approach starting status in the NBA because of the feel to compliment it. However if his skill game ends up near broken and lower than I graded him, he may be a stricter bench player. He is an intriguing player but I’m hesitant to say more than that, despite his amazing feel for the game.

Rotation player talent grades (Grades between 14-16)

Brandon Davies

Physical impact talent grade: 2 / Very poor

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade: 9 / Elite

Total: 16 (Rotation player talent grade)

Davies has an elite feel for the game only surpassed by Saric and matching Olynyk’s. One of those players who’s smoothness and easy, watery nature to his game jumps off the screen.

The rest of his talent is not great. He does have strong touch around the rim, though a lack of strength may prevent a consistent post game and he’s yet to prove he can be a perimeter shooter. His touch is enough for an average skill impact (shoot, post, pass) grade.

His weakness is physical impact talent with unimpressive athleticism and strength making him a likely below the rim PF.

Davies feel makes him a likely rotation player in the NBA. If he can develop a perimeter shooting game, he has a chance to make a run at a starting spot at the NBA.

Livio Jean-Charles

Physical impact talent grade: 3 / Weak

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 15 (Rotation player talent grade)

Richard Howell

Physical impact talent grade: 3 / Weak

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 4 / Lacking

Feel for the Game talent grade: 7 / Very good

Total talent grade: 14 (Rotation player talent grade)

These two prospects look to be similar to Davies, highlighted by a smooth feel to their games but struggling to showcase talent after that. Both are below the rim athletes and have untested skill games outside of finishing around the rim. The instincts and touch should keep them in the NBA.

Deep bench to rotation player talent grades (Grades between 12-13)

Tony Mitchell

Physical impact talent grade: 6 / Decent

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 5 / Average

Feel for the Game talent grade: 2 / Very poor

Total talent grade: 13 (Deep bench to rotation player talent grades)

Tony Mitchell’s reputation is that of an elite athlete, but he’s one of those players who looks exceptionally athletic in out of game dunks, but his in-game athleticism disappointed me. His first step, agility and quickness off his feet look mediocre. With that said especially when his strength and length is considered, a grade below decent in physical impact talent seems unfounded.

Mitchell appears to love taking perimeter shots, but it’s yet to be seen whether he has the mechanics to translate that game at the next level. His post game and touch appears raw.

His weakness is a poor feel for the game. He is not a natural, smooth player and plays a low IQ game.

I still see Mitchell as having upside to be better than this, if he develops a strong perimeter shooting game or if my low physical impact grade for his reputation, ends up inaccurate. However reported poor intangibles are another reason to be cool on Mitchell. Overall Mitchell has enough flaws that I wouldn’t be interested in him.

D.J. Stephens

Physical impact talent grade: 7 / Very good

Skill impact (Shoot, post, pass) talent grade: 3 / Weak

Feel for the Game talent grade: 2 / Very poor

Total talent grade: 12 (Deep bench to rotation player talent grade)

Stephens may the best athlete in the draft, his explosiveness is otherworldly. That’s where his strengths end. Physically he is undersized in height and weight. He doesn’t appear to have a natural feel for the game. Finally his skill game is untested outside of finishing garbage buckets at the rim, which may be difficult at his height and weight.

Stephens is so athletic that such as a player like Jeremy Evans, it may be enough for him to land a roster spot for a number of years. However I expect his inevitable dunk contest appearance will be a bigger highlight than any of his on-court minutes.

Total talent grade: 12

Factors outside of talent grades: Bennett has been banged up in high school and college. Leslie and Mitchell are known as having an enigmatic motor and possibly preferring to play PF. Jean-Charles and Saric may have buyout issues bringing them to the NBA. I have seen little of Jean-Charles and Jerrett and don’t have great confidence in my grades of them. Of these players Davies seems the only one unlikely to have a shot at playing another position, everyone else potentially getting minutes at SF or C.

If ranking these PFs by upside, I would order it: 1. Anthony Bennett 2. Kelly Olynyk 3. C.J. Leslie 4. Kenny Kadji 5. Cody Zeller 6. Jackie Carmichael 7. Dario Saric 8. James Southerland 9. Grant Jerrett 10. Tony Mitchell 11. Livio Jean-Charles 12. Brandon Davies 13. Deshaun Thomas 14. Erik Murphy 15. D.J. Stephens 16. Richard Howell. Leslie and Mitchell’s raw brand of athleticism does well here, while Saric, Jean-Charles, Jarrett are relative winners here due to unpredictability as I don’t have the greatest grasp on them. If ranking by downside (A high ranking is better), I’d order it: 1. Anthony Bennett 2. Kelly Olynyk 3. Jackie Carmichael 4. Kenny Kadji 5. Cody Zeller 6. Erik Murphy 7. Deshaun Thomas 8. Brandon Davies 9. James Southerland 10. Dario Saric 11. Grant Jerrett 12. C.J. Leslie 13. Richard Howell 14. Livio Jean-Charles 15. D.J. Stephens 16. Tony Mitchell. I feel relatively confident in what Murphy, Thomas, Davis, Southerland will do in the NBA, so they rate well in my downside rankings.

My final rankings of the PFs and where I’d consider taking them:

1. Anthony Bennett (top 3)
2. Kelly Olynyk (top 3)
3. Kenny Kadji (top 10)
4. Jackie Carmichael (top 10)
5. Cody Zeller (top 14)
6. C.J. Leslie (top 20)
7. James Southerland (top 30)
8. Grant Jerrett (top 30)
9. Deshaun Thomas (top 30)
10. Erik Murphy (top 30)
11. Dario Saric (top 30)
12. Brandon Davies (top 30)
13. Livio Jean-Charles (top 40)
14. Richard Howell (top 40)
15. Tony Mitchell (top 50)
16. D.J. Stephens (top 60)

My cumulative rankings (I’ve ranked PGs, SGs, SF and PFs so far) and where I’d consider taking them:

1. PF Anthony Bennett (top 3)
2. SG Victor Oladipo (top 3)
3. PF Kelly Olynyk (top 3)
4. PF Kenny Kadji (top 10)
5. PG C.J. McCollum (top 10)
6. PF Jackie Carmichael (top 10)
7. SG Ben McLemore (top 10)
8. SF Tony Snell (top 10)
9. SF Otto Porter (top 10)
10. SF Sergey Karasev (top 10)
11. PG Trey Burke (top 10)
12. PG Lorenzo Brown (top 14)
13. PF Cody Zeller (top 14)
14. PG Matthew Dellavedova (top 14)
15. SF Solomon Hill (top 14)
16. PG Myck Kabongo (top 20)
17. SG B.J. Young (top 20)
18. PF C.J. Leslie (top 20)
19. SG Jamaal Franklin (top 20)
20. SF Giannis Antetokoumpo (top 20)
21. SG Seth Curry (top 20)
22. PG Erick Green (top 20)
23. PG Shane Larkin (top 20)
24. PG Nate Wolters (top 20)
25. PG Isaiah Canaan (top 20)
26. PG Pierre Jackson (top 20)
27. PF James Southerland (top 30)
28. SG Glen Rice, Jr. (top 30)
29. SG Tim Hardaway, Jr. (top 30)
30. SF Shabazz Muhammad (top 30)
31. PF Grant Jerrett (top 30)
32. PF Deshaun Thomas (top 30)
33. PF Erik Murphy (top 30)
34. PF Dario Saric (top 30)
35. PF Brandon Davies (top 30)
36. SF Adonis Thomas (top 30)
37. SG Ricardo Ledo (top 30)
38. PG Michael Carter-Williams (top 40)
39. PG Dennis Schroeder (top 40)
40. SF Reggie Bullock (top 40)
41. SG Archie Goodwin (top 40)
42. SG Allen Crabbe (top 40)
43. SG Alex Abrines (top 40)
44. PF Livio Jean-Charles (top 40)
45. PF Richard Howell (top 40)
46. PF Tony Mitchell (top 50)
47. PG Phil Pressey (top 50)
48. PG Ray McCallum (top 50)
49. SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (top 50)
50. PF D.J. Stephens (top 60)
51. SG Brandon Paul (undrafted)

Nerlens Noel, Cody Zeller and the “adjustment” theory in the NBA Draft

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Nerlens Noel

Nerlens Noel (Photo credit: SportsAngle.com)

Nerlens Noel is currently ranked as the #1 overall pick on ESPN.com. Cody Zeller is ranked 10th and his buzz appears to be fading fast.

Noel’s higher ranking has little to do with production. Cody was more productive as a freshman than Noel this year, then slightly improved his production as a sophomore.

Why Noel is ranked ahead is what I’ll call the “adjustment theory”. The criticism is Zeller won’t be able to get his game off in the NBA, because of middling athleticism and moreso, because he is a skinny big with a poor wingspan. Because his game lives in the post in college, Zeller’s critics argue he won’t get his game off against defenders bigger, longer and more athletic than him.

Noel in contrast, is an athletic freak with elite length, the full physical package resembling Kevin Garnett’s. As a result there is less concern over his game translating to the NBA, because he will be more athletic and longer than his peers instead of the opposite. His game is made to translate physically to an NBA level.

Is this adjustment theory reliable? I’d argue it’s not.

The first flaw of this argument, is that the move from NCAA to NBA physically, does not necessarily affect elite physical talents less than middling ones despite what initial instincts may suggest. Noel’s athleticism and length is miles and miles above his peers at the NCAA level, but at the more physically gifted NBA that advantage will shrink. Thus Noel is still facing a plausibly significant fall physically going from NCAA to NBA, it’d just be from transcendent in the NCAA to a lesser elite in the NBA, perhaps as big a difference in value as the transition Cody will face.

Furthermore, the jump from the NCAA to NBA is just as massive in skill and intelligence as it is physically. Which means the skill and instincts in college Noel showed this year in college, if compared to the superior NBA peers would have looked levels worse. Noel’s skill game may not “get off” in the NBA like it did in college, just as Cody’s may not. Like comparing their physical drop-offs, it comes down to judging where they start and where they fall to. Cody’s skill and IQ may fall from elite for his position in the NCAA to merely decent against NBA bigs. But Noel’s could fall just as far if from average for bigs in the NCAA, to poor in the NBA.

Compare this to Thomas Robinson last year. Robinson passes the adjustment theory with flying colors, as an elite athlete with great strength for a PF. Thus according to conventional wisdom getting his game off against opponents in the NBA should not have been as big a struggle as for say, Jared Sullinger – a post player who was expected to struggle getting his game off against the bigger, longer and more athletic opponents in the NBA. But in reality, Robinson took as big a hit from the physical upgrade from the NCAA to NBA as anyone. It’s just he went from dominant physically in the NCAA, to an elite athlete but not separating himself as much in the NBA – a significant fall-off. In addition to this his skill and IQ, enough to get by in college, now look like a weaknesses killing his productivity and making it hard to play him.

Every player is going to by definition, fall-off in physical talents, skill and intelligence compared to peers, when moving from the NCAA to NBA. The NBA’s improvements in those areas guarantees it. The question is which players take the biggest hits in those areas. I believe if one looks at it rationally, there isn’t a reason to believe Noel’s status as a physical tools-first prospect, makes him less likely to get gunned down by the NCAA to NBA transition than a player like Cody Zeller.

Written by jr.

April 13, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Paths of Glory: How 2013 NBA draftees can become stars

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Andy Katz interview Cody Zeller post-game

Andy Katz interview Cody Zeller post-game (Photo credit: Indiana Public Media)

The label for this NBA Draft is “Unlikely to find a superstar”. While normally I take labels before the draft like this with a grain of salt, in this case I agree that no player in this draft is a surefire star player. But a number are close to it. So much that it’s conceivable they get there, even if it’s likely they don’t.

Here’s my take on the prospects right now. I generally consider a talent grade of around 24-25 as when a player crosses into true stardom, which no player ranks as high as right now:

PF Anthony Bennett

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 7, Skill impact – 7, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 22 (Blue Chip)

Bennett has the strength and explosiveness to attack the basket and stand out physically and a very strong feel for the game. But what makes him intriguing his skill level for a young PF. Aside from a great outside jumpshot, his combination of touch around the basket and a wide body/low center of gravity, give him considerable post potential. His skill game needs polishing, but Bennett’s path to stardom is if he became not just an impressive skill player for a power forward, but one of the best in the game – doing this by either becoming a demon in the low post in addition to his shooting game, or developing strong 3pt shooting range for a 4. If so I would bump up his skill grade to the point of making him a star.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR BENNETT: Physical impact – 8, Skill impact – 9, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 25 (Star)

PF/C Cody Zeller

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 6, Skill impact – 7, Feel for the Game – 9, Total: 22 (Blue Chip)

At power forward which is I expect his long term position, Cody has an impressive combination of length and footspeed to attack the basket, if his strength still isn’t great. He reportedly has a better shooting game than he’s shown at Indiana and is a skilled post player, though it remains to be seen whether he’ll hold position well in the pros. But his strength is his tremendous feel for the game and IQ. He is a basketball surgeon in the NCAA on the block, feeling the space and air to pick players apart. His path to stardom is most likely in the skill category, where I’ve ranked him as good, but hypothetically he could become dominant if he bulks up enough to be a great post player and/or becomes a lockdown shooter. He could also be a more impactful player physically than I’ve given him credit for.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR ZELLER: Physical impact – 7, Skill impact – 9, Feel for the Game – 9, Total: 25 (Star)

SG Ben McLemore

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 6, Skill impact – 8, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 22 (Blue Chip)

McLemore’s perimeter skill game and feel for the game looks to be top notch in the NBA. He’s a sure bet to be a top notch shooter and tremendously smooth. What he needs is slashing, to help him attack the basket off the dribble and physically impose himself, instead of settling for jumpshots. The reason this makes him intriguing is how great of an athlete he is. The speed and size is there to be a high end slashing, but the handling isn’t yet. If he tapped into his physical tools to attack the basket to make his physical impact high instead of decent, the shooting and feel he’d add to that, would grade him as a star.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR MCLEMORE: Physical impact: 8, Skill impact – 9, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 25 (Star)

C Alex Len

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 7, Skill impact – 8, Feel for the Game – 7, Total: 22 (Blue Chip)

Len has a very promising skill game for a center, with shooting range and the ability to score in the post. True skilled offensive centers are so rare that this is enough for a high grade. He has the athleticism to attack the basket and the length to block shots, giving him physical impact potential and he has decent smoothness and feel. His pathway to stardom would entail either becoming a dominant skill player, perhaps by gaining weight enough to make him stronger in the post – or by becoming a deadlier physical impact player, say by being one of the league’s best shotblockers or attacking the basket more than he has in college.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR LEN: Physical impact – 8, Skill impact – 10, Feel for the Game – 7, Total: 25 (Star)

SF Le’Bryan Nash

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 8, Skill impact – 6, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 22 (Blue Chip)

Nash has the speed, strength and ballhandling to slash and finish and a very impressive smoothness and feel for the game. What his game depends on in his skill level. His outside shooting has been inconsistent in college, but he has a promising post game thanks to his strength and touch and his shooting form is fine. If he breaks out as a shooter and skill player, the physical talents and feel is there to have serious star ability.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR NASH: Physical impact – 8, Skill impact – 8, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 24 (Star)

PG Marcus Smart:

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 8, Skill impact – 5, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 21 (Blue Chip)

SG Victor Oladipo:

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 8, Skill impact – 5, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 21 (Blue Chip)

I grade Smart and Oladipo together because their outlook is similar. With a dynamic ability to slash and attack the basket, impact the game physically on the defensive end and very strong instincts/feel for the game on both ends, the only thing missing from making them the complete package, is a reliable skill and perimeter scoring game. Both can hit the outside shot, the question is whether they have the potential to be great in that area instead of passable. In the scenario where they became high end shooters for their position, when added to their slashing and feel, they’d be star prospects. Furthermore the grades I gave them in physical impact could end up undercutting them, depending on whether their ballhandling devleops to the point where they’re not just great but elite attacking the basket.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR SMART: Physical impact – 9, Skill impact – 8, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 25 (Star)

HYPOTHETICAL STAR OLADIPO: Physical impact – 9, Skill impact – 8, Feel for the Game – 8, Total: 25 (Star)

PF CJ Leslie

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 7, Skill impact – 4, Feel for the Game – 9, Total: 21 (Blue Chip)

Leslie is another prospect with a tremendous combination of physical talents thanks to his first step, agility and explosiveness allowing him to attack the basket, plus an elite feel for the game as he picks apart defenses. His outside shooting numbers are weak and he lacks a post game. If he can add the perimeter shooting game to his athleticism and feel, his upside is to be the next Chris Bosh.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR LESLIE: Physical impact – 8, Skill impact – 7, Feel for the Game – 9, Total: 24 (Star)

PG/SG CJ McCollum

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 2, Skill impact – 10, Feel for the Game – 9, Total: 21 (Blue Chip)

Truthfully I nearly left McCollum off this list, because he’s the player I see having the least likely pathway to stardom. His skill and feel for the game is incredible, but he’s not explosive enough to be a dynamic slasher. But if he can become a respectable slasher to mix up his game, his Stephen Curry like mix of amazing and feel, could push him over the edge at PG. Perhaps if he takes his ballhandling to another level.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR MCCOLLUM: Physical impact: 5, Skill impact – 10, Feel for the Game – 9, Total: 24 (Star)

C Rudy Gobert

Current talent grades: Physical impact – 9, Skill impact – 5, Feel for the Game – 6, Total: 20 (Blue Chip)

Gobert has a fantastic combination of physical tools, with great shotblocking length and athleticism attacking the basket. He also has superb touch around the basket and a seemingly decent feel for the game. What he likely needs to be a true star, is his skill game to take a leap up from hyper efficient low volume player, to a guy who can either create in the post or has a perimeter shot.

HYPOTHETICAL STAR GOBERT: Physical impact – 10, Skill impact – 8, Feel for the Game – 6, Total: 24 (Star)

Analysis:

In the case of all these players, the key is development. For McLemore and McCollum that development is in regards to the ballhandling to increase their physical impact, while for Bennett, Zeller, Len, Nash, Smart, Oladipo, Leslie, Gobert, it’s in their skill games and impact, in areas such as shooting and post play, depending on their style.

So gun to my head, if I was asked to “draft” players based strictly on their liklehood of say, making 6 or more all-star teams, how would my order go? I’ll say this:

1. PF/C Cody Zeller
2. PF Anthony Bennett
3. SG Victor Oladipo
4. PG Marcus Smart
5. C Alex Len
6. SF Le’Bryan Nash
7. PF CJ Leslie
8. SG Ben McLemore
9. C Rudy Gobert
10. PG/SG CJ McCollum

That’s right. Cody MF’ing Zeller.

Written by jr.

March 3, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

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Draft Prospect Friday: Very early 2013 NBA Draft Big Board

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I’m going to be updating this list a handful of times this year, but here are my rankings with what I’ve seen so far, of the 2013 draft prospects. I have included my 33pt grades for each prospect though they are flexible to be changed as I learn more about the prospects:

Superstar talent grades

1. C Alex Len (Maryland) –  Physical impact grade: 9, Skill grade: 9, Feel for the Game grade: 9. Total: 27

Len has a shocking lead over the rest of the gap in my grades. I’m planning on a longer article on him later, but right now Len appears to be the full package. Physically he’s a legit 7-7’1 footer with a wide frame, plus athleticism to run the floor and play over the rim has been a dominant shot-blocker in college so far. But it’s his skill and feel for the game for a big guy that makes him special. He looks extremely comfortable in the post and has outside range that looks great, in both cases his height will help him release shots at a difficult to guard range. He is a tremendously smooth player offensively and has a high defensive IQ. Len’s combination of athleticism, skill and feel for the game for a wide bodied 7 footer reminds me of Pau Gasol and even a bit of Tim Duncan.

All-star talent grades

2. C Cody Zeller (Indiana) – Physical impact grade: 5, Skill grade: 7, Feel for the Game grade: 10. Total: 22

Cody has much of the same strengths as Len. He has a tremendous feel for the game/basketball IQ and has an inside/outside skill level. The big difference is Cody’s physical tools are lesser. Cody is skinnier and has a brutally short 6’8 wingspan for a 6’11+ player, which hurts his defensive potential at C and will make it more difficult for him to find space to release his shots.  Nevertheless, Cody is still a skilled post player with great touch and a developing outside game. He’s also a notably more explosive athlete than his brother Tyler, which should help him create a speed mismatch against opponents. I’d say there’s a good chance Zeller falls in mock drafts over the year and ends up a steal in the 6-10 range of the draft, similar to Greg Monroe and Brook Lopez, two other skilled Cs who weren’t physically imposing.

3. SF Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State) – Physical impact grade: 8, Skill grade: 5, Feel for the Game grade: 8. Total: 21 – Le’Bryan Nash reminds me a lot of Rudy Gay. He’s both explosive and strong for a SF, has a smooth feel for the game and has a promising looking perimeter shooting game. This combination should make him a good bet to score 20 points a game in the NBA. With his improved production this year I expect him to shoot up draft boards. Nash may have top 2 upside in the draft if his skill/shooting game takes a leap forward to match his physical tools and feel for the game. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

November 23, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Draft Prospect Friday: An early Cody Zeller breakdown

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Cody Zeller looks like he could be the frontrunner for the #1 pick. Why? Because there’s strong whispers right now that SG Shabazz Muhammad will be ruled ineligible to play at UCLA this season. He’s still talented enough to be picked top 3 without proving himself in a college season, but I’m guessing #1 would be off the table. I’ve already expressed why I believe Nerlens Noel won’t cut it as #1 pick material. So that leaves Cody Zeller likely filling the vacuum. Zeller will likely be one of the most productive in college as he was a freshman and will only improve, the Hoosiers have a chance to be the best team in the country, he’s a C which is always a sought after position to fill and he has A+ intangibles. This all sets him up well for a top 3 pick, if not #1.

Here’s an early 33pt breakdown on Zeller’s talent level:

Physical impact: Cody is an excellent athlete, at a clear level above his brother Tyler. His footspeed and first step is very strong for a big, giving him blow-by potential against NBA Cs trying to guard him. He has enough vertical explosiveness to play above the rim. Zeller’s two major concerns physically are his strength and length. While he is young enough to add strength to his body, right now he is undeveloped for a center and may be pushed around early. A bigger problem is likely his short wingspan for a near 7 footer. This will greatly hurt his defensive potential; I wouldn’t expect him to block shots regularly in the NBA. Because of strength and length concerns, Zeller is a question mark in regards to finishing around the basket through contact. My score for Zeller physically is a 5 for a C as I believe his speed and athleticism will be difficult to guard offensively, to make up for some of his weaknesses.

Skill: Zeller has outstanding finishing ability around the basket, making him one of the NCAA’s most efficient players last year. His shooting game is still developing, but he shows sign of a good turnaround jumpshot and can hit his FTs. It’s probably a good bet he develops his shooting game to a respectable level to match his finishing. Zeller’s skill game should be above average for a center. My score for him in the category is a 7 with the potential to go higher.

Feel for the Game: This is his strength. Cody shows fantastic feel offensively, seeing angles around the rim to finish, as well as strong defensive instincts. He is always in control and seems aware of the basket and players around him. My score for Cody in feel for game is a 10.

To recap:

Physical impact: 5

Skill: 7

Feel for the Game: 10

Total score: 22 (All-star talent score)

This is a great score for Zeller. At a position as talent starved as C, it would make him a true star to build around for a team. A combination of elite feel for the game and good skill for a position should always make an impact, especially with respectable physical tools. Impressively, it’s not out of the question to me that I could undervaluing him with these skills. As a recently turned 20 year old, he could develop his skill game to a truly elite level for a C and it’s possible he bulks up to improve his physical ability. Both those things are made more likely by Cody’s supreme work ethic. Since my threshold for superstar talent is about 24-25, that is within reach for Cody. On the low end, it’s possible his physical tools translate a bigger weakness than I had scored them and his feel for the game and skill is slightly less impressive. It’s thus possible he ends up a player in 17-19 range in score, which is still respectable for a C.

Resembles: Brook Lopez, Luis Scola, Pau Gasol

By Julien Rodger

Twitter: @ASFW_jrodger (Send me a question, if I get enough I’ll do a mailbag or answer them in an article)

Written by jr.

October 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm