David Thorpe of ESPN wrote:
I'm happy to be joining the draft blog team. Each week I'll be examining players the NBA is evaluating, and I hope to share with you just what makes these players special, or not-so-special, relating to their NBA futures. I'll work to ignore the obvious as much as I can, and try to delineate the little things that separate each guy from the others. This week, in a role I'm familiar with thanks to my NBA Rookie Report, I studied the three top freshmen on most of the NBA draft boards: John Wall, Derrick Favors and Xavier Henry.
Recent rookie point guards have proved that they can come into the league right away and score. Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings and Jonny Flynn were all lottery picks who arrived with the ability to beat their defenders off the dribble and get to the rim, where they were able to finish.
What none of them was able to do, at least compared with veteran point guards, was run a team using a pass-first mentality. With the ball always in their hands, point guards have the responsibility to ease (and sometimes force) their teammates into the flow of the game, while always having the option of "getting theirs" when the situation calls for it. It almost always requires a veteran mindset to do that successfully, while rookies struggle. I believe John Wall can change that trend.
The most striking thing about his game is both his awareness of where his teammates are (and where they are going) and his interest in getting the ball to them. Many guards, including the four I previously mentioned, are excellent passers, but we often see those passes only when their own scoring options are cut off. Jennings is the exception, as he most closely resembles Wall in this category.
Wall whips the ball around in every way possible: post entries from the top (requiring patience while his post player fights for position), dribble penetration kickouts to either side of the floor, easy pinch post feeds to help the offensive flow, and terrific finds off the push dribble to racing teammates.
NBA GMs who have bigs that can run and post and/or athletic wing players dream of a point guard like Wall. He will make all those guys happy to work for a good shot because they know they will get the ball when they need it, and not when the guard can't get his own shot first. He's the No. 1 prospect because he combines this rare ability with the raw physical talents that are obvious, and a shot that is fundamentally better than most young players his age who can move like he can.
Many of the young post players who enter the NBA do so because of their combination of size and shooting ability, and teams hope they can teach those players to play down low. But it's not so easy.
First and foremost, the big man must have a love for contact and a passion for running to and staying in the paint. This is where most players don't make the cut, and it is exactly this talent that propels Derrick Favors into top-five contention for the draft. He's not much of a perimeter shooter (yet), and has a long way to go to learn how to deal with the potential double-teams he's going to face. But watch him play and you will see a guy who consistently runs to the front of the rim, hits somebody, and then posts or seals. Brook Lopez did exactly the same thing to challenge Derrick Rose for ROY honors last season.
Favors forces opponents to deal with his excellent size and length in the paint all game long, hanging around the rim the way a great center in hockey loiters in front of the goal. He punishes weaker or smaller players, and better defensive bigs are less able to help on drives because of his presence. It's a very valuable talent, bettered by his ability to score once he gets the ball. Players who do this don't have to rely on post feeds to score, as they can get garbage buckets too.
Favors projects to do similar things in the NBA, as he has the hands required to make those kinds of plays, and the power jumping to finish them. I don't see him as a special bucket getter just yet, like Amare Stoudemire or Al Jefferson, but we'll be watching for that all season.
As NBA defenses have evolved over the past few years, learning to better exploit the new defensive rules governing zones, teams need to counter those defenses with shooters who can space the floor. Similarly, the ability to zone up on the weak side -- allowing teams to help quicker -- aids players who are not great at defending the ball. In both cases, Xavier Henry benefits from these developments.
He's a classic catch-and-shoot guy, one of the best in college today, and his prototypical size helps project him to be a natural shooting guard in the NBA. It looks as though he has NBA range right now and he may also have the ability to be featured in "Detroit action" (made famous for the way the Pistons feature Rip Hamilton coming off pin downs and staggered screens).
Most 2s coming into the NBA are better than Henry at creating off the dribble, a weak point for him since he's big and not so quick for his position. One concern I have for his future is that it's easier to learn how to shoot than it is to be craftier off the dribble, so his upside is not as high as you would initially think since he's just a freshman.
Similarly, he projects to have difficulty guarding the quicker and more dynamic 2s that most NBA teams put on the floor, but this is not as much of a problem as it used to be, thanks to the new defenses we see each night in the league. He will get more help than he would have five years ago. His power and size, though, offer potential as a back-down guy on offense when defended by smaller players, which will happen often as the league has gotten a bit smaller. Right now, he's mostly a scoring threat in transition or in spot-ups only.