Lance Stephenson, SF, Cincinnati: First things first: Lance Stephenson is garbage. Mr. ‘Born Ready’ might be ready for something, but it’s not a starting spot in the NBA. Not that I’ve ever been a huge fan, but this combine is just reinforcing what I saw this year at Cincinnati. He’s great at running free and dunking without defense, but put a body in front of him and he’s stunned. Each time he changes directions, his head’s about two feet in front of his knees and he’s on the verge of stumbling. For a supposedly ‘athletic’ player, he really can’t spring upward off of a change of direction. As a basketball player, that’s always been my problem too, but only one of us is being evaluated by NBA scouts today. He’s also the owner of today’s dumbest quote: “I hate school.” Somebody should let him know he’s not going to school; he’s going to Cincinnati where graduation is a foreign concept.
James Anderson, SG, Oklahoma State: Watching him take his vertical jump tests, one thing sticks out: he’s ready to play right now. He’s got the body of work: 22.3 points per game in his junior year at Oklahoma State, after getting 13.3 and 18.2 in his freshman and sophomore years, respectively. And he’s got the body: 6’6″ and 210 lbs. Whereas some of the guys taken are drafted based on wingspan or the length of the fourth metacarpal in their shooting hand, Anderson can point to an All-American type year in one of the nation’s top two conferences (the Big XII; the Big East being the other), and a body capable of guarding the full range of NBA 2-guards. He’s strong enough to fight through screens and keep a hand in Mo Williams’ face and at the same time not let Joe Johnson push him around inside of ten feet. There are 30 NBA teams that shouldn’t mind giving James Anderson a jersey.
John Wall, PG, Kentucky: If I were the virtually unquestioned #1 pick, I might take it easy in the workouts. Johnny did every drill willingly and with fire, seemingly as hard or harder than anybody. Shuttle run, standing vertical, two-foot vertical, he was gassing it. Right when he was through he ran over to check his time, conscientious of what the scouts would be seeing on their workout summaries. I was left with only one wish: that he had told his agent to shove it and actually played basketball today. Not to show anybody up or improve his draft stock—he can’t—but to gauge his own talent against his peers. Of course he’ll go higher than Jordan Crawford, but maybe a head-to-head match up might leave him with a better idea of his own relative athleticism. Perhaps if had to go through shooting drills with Andy Rautins, whose draft ceiling is mid-second round, he could learn a little something about catch-and-shoot basketball. I know his agents are telling him not to risk anything, but maybe they should believe their own client’s hype and have a little more faith in his abilities. And right as I finish this section, Len Elmore is agreeing with me fervently. Kindred spirits, Len and me. Down with the agents.
Evan Turner, G/F, Ohio State: There’s a 5% chance he’ll go first, and there’s no way in basketball Hell that he’ll fall past Minnesota at number four. In all likelihood, he’ll be a 76er next year, as Philly has the second overall selection. Everyone knows the strengths: a 6’7″ guy who can run the point (6 assists per game), the rebounding (9 boards), and the scoring ability (20.4). I think most are familiar with the weaknesses: not a ‘pure’ shooter, whatever the hell that means, highly turnover prone, and below average athleticism. Well, he shot over 50% from the field, 36% from distance, and of course he turned it over a lot; he was one of 2-3 players on the entire team who could handle the ball on the team. Jon Diebler wasn’t exactly taking people off the bounce. And about that last one—athleticism—the ‘below average’ Turner just out jumped John Wall in the standing vertical by 4 inches, 34 vs. 30. So maybe everyone should just chill out on the weaknesses. It is possible to draft a guy based on what he can do versus scrambling for something he cannot.
Strengths: Excellent shooter/3-point range
Weaknesses: Lacks lateral quickness
Now, 6’8″ Luke Babbitt out of Nevada:
Strengths: Excellent perimeter shooter
Weaknesses: Not a great athlete
Wait, so you’re telling me that two of the three white Americans—Cole Aldrich being the third—are good shooters with something to be desired athletically? How uncommon. How about we all ditch our racial perceptions and just watch these guys play basketball. The fact is, Stanley Robinson followed them in the workouts and was described as “Explosive leaper/inconsistent.” Well, he shot 34% from three this season, 5% higher than Gordon Hayward’s 29%. Al-Farouq Aminu was described as “lacks 3-point shot,” which I agree with, but he still shot 27% this season, only 2% lower than Gordon. Besides, do we really need Al-Farouq or Stanley to pull threes? Absolutely not. Luol Deng doesn’t need to shoot threes to be successful, and Josh Smith is much worse when he shoots from deep. Versatility is great, but not necessary if you possess one or two elite qualities.
Ryan Richards, F, England: Honestly, one of my first looks at this big Brit. For starters, he passes the eye test. He’s one of those guys who at first glance seems to be 6’8″. His fluidity and musculature become all the more impressive when you see that he’s doing what he’s doing at 6’11″. The buzz he’s created proves one thing: simply that it is very possible to create your own buzz. NBA brass, especially GM’s and higher-up scouting types, don’t like to feel outsmarted by anybody, ever. So when this seemingly random name pops up, they just have to satisfy their curiosity before somebody poses a tough question. When the local paper asks “What about this Ryan Richards kid?” they sure as hell better have an informed-ish answer. Every jumper he makes, he’ll slide up a spot. With the next brick he lays, down he’ll tumble. Considering he’s a 19-year-old with an unpolished international résumé with Gran Canaria and BBC Monthey, it’s looking like a good move on his part. All it takes is one second-round GM to fall in love and he’s officially NBA property who can come over in three years without the restriction of the NBA’s rookie pay scale.
Luke Harangody, PF, Notre Dame: There might not be a player in the draft who has a more impressive collegiate résumé than Gody. Averaging over 20 and 9 in each of his final three seasons with the Irish—one of those earning him a Big East Player of the Year award—we know he can play. The fact is, he’s a 6’8″ unathletic white guy (heard that before) whose greatest strength is just that: his strength. He’s a load in the paint whose footwork is as good as anyone’s in the country. On top of that, he extended his range out to the three-point line in his junior and senior years. Yep, now we’re on the same page: Europe. See you shortly, Luke.