Fraschilla: Going against the grain

Fraschilla: Going against the grain

Postby JSM on Wed Jan 27, 2010 11:54 pm

Fran Fraschilla wrote:The NBA is a league in where teams try hard to get a superstar -- or two -- to anchor a roster. The reality is that some teams are lucky to have even one. What that means is that most of the guys in the league are role players; imperfect performers who can help in specific areas.

This is a key point to consider when it comes to identifying NBA draft talent. In particular, in sorting through the massive number of players who don't rise to the level of a superstar, scouts are looking at two key factors. First, a player needs to have a discernable NBA skill that will allow him to be an effective role player, whether that's a picture-perfect jump shot or relentless energy on the boards. Second, a player should be able to guard his position or he will expose his team's defense.

Not everybody finds those players at the top of every draft. Guys do fall through the cracks and become quality NBA players who help teams win -- there is a long list of guys who fit that description. And while it's still early in the college season, scouts are in the process of forming a general consensus of where a player will be drafted come June. As I'm watching games, I'm looking at the same stuff, and in some cases I have a different take on a player's value -- too low or too high -- based on what I've seen. Note that I'm not attempting to project where a player will be drafted (Chad Ford has that covered with his tireless work chatting up scouts and GMs), but where he should be drafted. For reference, I've included their current ranking on the Big Board.

Too Low
No. 37 Klay Thompson, Washington State

I really like Thompson's NBA chances. Coming off a solid freshman season at Washington State and an impressive performance for Team USA in the Under-19 World Championships last summer in New Zealand, Thompson has impressed me with the start of his sophomore season.

In addition to excellent size and skills, Thompson has a number of other factors in his favor. He's the son of former NBA No.1 pick Mychal Thompson. He played for a terrific coach as a freshman at Washington State, Tony Bennett. He shined under Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon in the World Championships. Now, he's been made the focal point of an up-tempo offense by new Couger coach Ken Bone, and has developed into one of the best players in college basketball.

At 6-foot-6, Thompson has the requisite size of an NBA shooting guard. More importantly, he has an NBA shooting stroke with a quick release and range to the NBA 3-point line. That will be his calling card. However, he handles the ball well enough to make plays for his teammates and doesn't mind getting into the lane, helping him post a 50 percent shooting mark inside arc. Plus, he gets to the line eight times a game.

While it's not a given that he'll enter the draft after this season, Thompson's ability to put the ball in the basket and space out an NBA defense make him more valuable, in my opinion, than he is currently regarded. In other words, he's first-round material if he does come out.

No. 45 Damion James, Texas

I feel James should be, at worst, a late first-round pick. I have gone back and forth on James' NBA potential over the past four years, but have become a believer.

The criticism of the 6-7 James has been his lack of perimeter ability as a potential NBA small forward. Last season, he tried too hard to show NBA teams that he could handle the ball and shoot from the perimeter. While he has the ability to become a good open mid-range shooter at the NBA level, his calling card is the fact that he is an elite college rebounder and a strong, athletic prospect who should be able to defend his position in the league.

Remember that the NBA is dotted with rosters full of players who were not as athletic or as productive as James has been at Texas. In his career, he has always brought it against top competition. This season, he posted 23 points and 13 rebounds on a physical Michigan State team. He was equally dominant against a North Carolina frontline full of current and future lottery picks.

James is 34 boards away from becoming the Big 12's all-time leading rebounder and has averaged 9.2 rebounds a game over a 121-game career. Ultimately, that skill will find James a place on an NBA team roster and, very possibly, in a rotation.

No. 66 Luke Harangody, Notre Dame

Think outside the box for a moment. You are an NBA general manager who has a very late first-round or early second-round pick and you are studying Harangody, a 6-8 (at best), 246-pound power forward. You see a guy who should not be able to score over longer, more athletic players, and yet he has dominated against lottery picks in a league where a martial arts degree is a prerequisite to playing in the paint.

Harangody has averaged 22.3 points and 11 rebounds a game in the last two and a half seasons. Still, GMs feel his size and lack of athleticism doom his chances of playing in the league. He scores in an unorthodox fashion and he would seem to be a defensive liability, as well.

Here's why I am going out on a limb to defend Harangody's NBA potential. Sometimes, past performance is an indicator of future success. I don't think that Harangody will be an NBA star but when a team is looking at its board in the middle of the draft, his accomplishments at Notre Dame should stand out and will transfer well enough to the next level.

Too High

No. 11 John Henson, North Carolina

Henson is a "high pick" talent based purely, at the moment, on his long reach and athleticism. That's not enough to justify selecting him in the lottery this year. As he is proving at North Carolina, you can't develop if you can't get on the floor. The transition to the NBA, even if someone wastes an early pick, will be even more dramatic if he can't get experience on an NBA court.

I like Henson's athleticism and condor-like 7-foot-4 wingspan. (By the way, stop criticizing announcers who say "long." "Long" is good for a basketball player.) He has been compared to former Tar Heel Brandan Wright, who left after making one season in college, but whose impact was much greater. In addition, I've always felt that Henson has a skill level and basketball intelligence that was very good for a young big man. He handles the ball well and really sees plays developing when he does pass it.

What I don't like about Henson, at the moment, is that he can't make his athleticism and skills pay off for him on the court, college or NBA, until he gets stronger. That will take some time. Nothing he currently does will help an NBA team win anytime soon, and the development process could take longer than a team with a high pick should be willing to wait.

No. 13 Solomon Alabi, Florida State

I have seen the 7-1 Alabi four times already this season and there is room for growth in his game. He is a great kid with a terrific attitude and a hunger to get better. His NBA size is obviously rare in this year's college crop, but there are questions that make me think that he's held in too high a regard.

Having come to the United States five years ago, he is still new to the game. This is not necessarily a bad thing because Alabi has much room for improvement. In fact, he attended Montverde Academy and was well coached there by Kevin Sutton, a fundamentals guru. But, sometimes a late-developing player never acquires the basketball instincts that come with playing your whole life.

Second, Alabi has the type of lower-body base that doesn't allow him to hold his ground in the low post. This is an area that must be improved. When it does, it will allow him to develop a low-post move that becomes a scoring weapon. He does not have that in his arsenal yet.

Obviously, Alabi has some major positives because of his size. His block percentage is 12.8 percent, meaning he's blocking a 2-point field goal attempt every eight times down the floor. And a broken foot as a freshman allowed him to concentrate on his shooting form; he is currently shooting free throws at an 80 percent rate.

Game experience and NBA-level strength would greatly enhance his development as an NBA player. Some kids can develop just fine on an NBA bench, but Alabi is not the type of player who can afford to take a step back in his progress by going through a season with limited or no playing time.

No. 16 Elias Harris, Gonzaga

In September, Harris was a role player for Germany in the European Championships in Poland and was engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the likes of Pau Gasol and Boris Diaw. By the end of December, he was a big reason why the Zags are right back in top-10 discussion. However, I think his stock is too high.

Harris, who may be smaller than his listed height of 6-8, is an excellent and naturally strong athlete who has scored most of his points in the paint this season. He is an excellent offensive rebounder at the college level, who gets a lot of putbacks and, consequently, is shooting 60 percent inside the 3-point arc. While he has made 9 of 20 shots from deep, outside shooting has never been a strength of his. He has a good stroke that can improve, in time, though.

While I do like Harris' long-term NBA prospects, I believe taking him in the top half of the first round is putting the cart before the horse because there are other parts of his game that need to be addressed. His perimeter defense is average, at best, and his intensity level comes and goes. Neither is uncommon for a 20-year-old, no matter where they grow up, so it will not be a major concern for NBA teams. His international experience is a plus, as well.

Right now, considering the fact that he's not a natural small foward and that his skills are very much a work in progress, it's a reach to take him so high. If he can improve some of these weaknesses over the course of the college season or against international competition, though, I'm likely to change my tune.
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JSM
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