Mitnick: Potential NBA Draft Busts and Steals

The NBA draft can make or break the future of a franchise.

Using the third overall pick to select Adam Morrison ahead of Rudy Gay can set your franchise back for over a half a decade. Landing a gem such as Tony Parker with the 28th overall pick can put a team in position to be a title contender for years.

With the increased luxury tax penalties of the new CBA set to be implemented in the 2013-2014 season, it has become even more crucial for teams to make smart decisions on draft day.

With first-round picks receiving relatively modest four-year contracts, with team options on the third and fourth years, the draft is unquestionably the greatest avenue for teams to pick up immediate contributors at affordable prices. However, the draft is an inexact science, in which it is very difficult to gauge the true value of a player before he steps on an NBA floor.

As team executives struggle to decide whom they will select Thursday, here’s a look at which players may be selected too early, and which players will give excellent value for their selection.

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THE STEAL CANDIDATES:

  Austin Rivers, Freshman, 6-5, SG, Duke

Where he probably will be picked: 8-14

Where he should be picked: 5-7

Should Rivers be punished for Duke’s blunder against Lehigh? It is mysterious how some teams can put such an emphasis on the NCAA Tournament when the overall body of work of a player is fantastic. The reality of professional sports is that two bad days can give a pretty hard hit to your reputation.

With the pick-and-roll being a fundamental part of the majority of NBA offensive sets, Rivers will fit in seamlessly at the next level. His basketball IQ is off the charts, he has spent his entire life learning from a former champion as both a player and a son, and his natural knack for putting the ball in the basket is uncanny. Add to that the fact that his cojones are the size of grapefruits, and I don’t see how he isn’t a can’t-miss prospect.

Kendall Marshall, Sophomore, 6-4, PG, North Carolina

Where he probably will be picked: 17-23

Where he should be picked: 8-14

Had Marshall not suffered a right wrist injury in March, it is very likely he would be a lock for the lottery. His court vision is unparalleled in this draft, and his decision-making and leadership will make him an excellent quarterback at the next level. There are some concerns about his shooting and ability to defend the quickest point guards in the league, but his weaknesses can easily be covered up in most teams’ systems.

He likely will never be an All-Star, but having a point guard who can get your whole team involved and keep players’ confidence up all season long by getting them easy buckets is a commodity every team craves. It won’t take long for Marshall to become a player who is beloved by his teammates and the coaching staff.

Andrew Nicholson, Senior, 6-9, PF, St. Bonaventure

Where he probably will be picked: 20-25

Where he should be picked: 10-14

Had Nicholson come out of a major program, he would easily be a lottery pick in this draft. At 6-9, Nicholson can get points from anywhere on the floor with great efficiency. While mainly a power forward, he has the size and shot-blocking ability to play center for portions of games, especially with this year’s playoffs demonstrating that teams are much more willing to play small ball.

Right now, Nicholson is slotted to be picked in the early 20s, and the Boston Celtics would be foolish to let him fall past them if they keep both of their picks. How a high-character big man, capable rebounder and excellent shooter is viewed as likely to slip out of the lottery is a head-scratcher.

Jared Sullinger, Sophomore, 6-9, C, Ohio State

Where he probably will be picked: 20-35

Where he should be picked: 12-17

With Sullinger getting red-flagged due to questions about his back, it is very likely he will slip to the tail end of the first round, if not the second round. However, the draft is such an inexact science that the question must be asked: Is it more of a risk to take a healthy player who isn’t a lock to be a major contributor than it is to take a player with an excellent skill level with the possibility of future injury?

If you’re drafting in the top five, then obviously the red flag is a reason to pass on a guy. Once you get to the late lottery, it really is a crapshoot. The reality is that any professional athlete can get injured at any time, and if someone is healthy enough to play now, then you have to take him.

Brandon Roy had serious health issues coming out of the draft, and while Portland mistakenly gave him a massive extension after his third season, he provided excellent value for them during his rookie contract. If Sullinger is healthy over the next two or three seasons, he could provide excellent low-post scoring on an affordable contract, a rare commodity in the league today. With teams possessing options on the third and fourth years of the deal, it seems that the risk of selecting Sullinger is being greatly overstated.

John Jenkins, Junior, 6-4, SG, Vanderbilt

Where he probably will be picked: 26-35

Where he should be picked: 15-20

Jenkins currently is viewed as a bubble first-round pick who more than likely will slip into the second round. His stock took a big hit with Vanderbilt’s early flameout in the NCAA Tournament, but his shot-making ability is undeniable. Jenkins has unlimited range on his jumper and always seems to make big shots during the momentum-changing moments of games. He may be a bit small for his position, but his killer mentality will keep him on the floor in crunch time.

THE BUST CANDIDATES:

Andre Drummond, Freshman, 7-0, C, UConn

Where he probably will be picked: 5-10

Where he should be picked: 15-25

While most NBA players buy their mother a house or a car after getting their first paycheck, Drummond’s first order of business should be to buy a bouquet of flowers for DeAndre Jordan. Drummond has the build of a prototype NBA center but is severely lacking in his mechanics and has terrible hands. Executives see his size and salivate about what he could become if he learns to better understand the game and strengthens his fundamentals. The real question is whether he has the desire or capability to reach that level.

The real danger of using a high pick to select a guy like Drummond, given the history of “prototype” centers like Jordan, Kwame Brown and Darko Milicic, is not on their rookie contract. Drummond surely will be given a free pass to have his third and fourth years picked up due to his combination of size and youth. All he needs to do thereafter is look alive for half a season, and teams will be lining up to offer him a contract averaging eight figures, hoping that potential will start to show. This is a guy who has the potential to be not only a poor selection, but also a long-term cap killer.

 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Freshman, 6-7, SF, Kentucky

Where he probably will be picked: 3-5

Where he should be picked: 8-14

If athleticism and attitude could produce points, Kidd-Gilchrist would probably be a top-15 NBA player as a rookie. Unfortunately for MKG, the NBA is a league where most players require a defined skill to make a big impact. Kidd-Gilchrist is a sure-fire NBA rotation player simply because of his combination of strength, speed, hustle and work ethic. But I don’t see him being a star unless he finds a niche offensively. He definitely will make an impact in the league, but he is at risk of being unfairly labeled a bust – a la Marvin Williams – if a team uses a top 5 pick on him in what many “experts” are calling an excellent draft class.

 Meyers Leonard, Sophomore, 7-1, C, Illinois

Where he probably will be picked: 10-15

Where he should be picked: 25-40

If a 7-footer is supposed to be an impact player right away, then how could Leonard’s college team lose 12 of their last 14 games? He has the size and athleticism that drive GMs crazy, but I just don’t see him possessing the capability to be more than an average reserve in the NBA. His rebounding was below average for what his body would suggest, he can’t shoot outside the paint, and his back-to-the-basket game is average. He will be picked high because he excelled at the combine and in draft workouts, but that has very little impact on how a player will pan out as a pro.

 Tyler Zeller, Senior, 7-0, C, UNC

Where he probably will be picked: 12-16

Where he should be picked: 22-26

Zeller is a known commodity to NBA scouts by now and, as has been written repeatedly, he will be able to contribute right away but does not have star potential. While Zeller definitely can be in a team’s rotation immediately, does he have a future as a starter? He has the size, the character and the skill, but he doesn’t have the athleticism that would suggest he will be more than a 15-20 minute reserve, and that doesn’t seem to justify using a late lottery pick. If drafted at the end of the first round, he could give a team great value. But if teams pass on Moe Harkless or Perry Jones, and they go on to be stars, it could come back to haunt those teams.

 Marquis Teague, Freshman, 6-2, PG, Kentucky

Where he probably will be picked: 20-25

Where he should be picked: 35-45

Teague has excellent speed and pretty good size for a point guard, but his decision-making could be a problem at the next level. Aside from major exceptions like Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and debatably  Stephon Marbury, point guards who have come out after their freshman year have had a historically poor record in the NBA. He was a major benefactor from Kentucky’s overwhelmingly talented roster, as he always had the option of the lob pass to Davis at the end of plays to bail him out. There are plenty of high-flyers in the NBA, but half-court decision-making is essential to the long term success of a point guard, and at this stage, it doesn’t look like Teague has it.

AJ Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a  basketball blog, http://mindlessdribble.net, and is pursuing a professional basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel. Follow him on Twitter.

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  1. Jim says

    I couldn’t agree more regarding Rivers, Jenkins, Drummond, and Zeller. But like some others, I have to disagree with MKG. I understand your point of athleticism right now being his best measurable, but I just see too much potential there and I think he will put the work in to get there.

  2. jktkt says

    gotta disagree. Kidd-Gilchrist, possible Marvin Williams fade out?? Harrison Barnes much more likely to be.
    Marquise Teague will be an all star.

  3. Kevin Matthews says

    The irony of mentioning Brandon Roy in the same paragraph as Jared Sullinger is not lost on me. So you give them a pass for drafting Brandon Roy, a guy with a red flag who is now retired because he has no cartilage in his knees, but fault them for signing him to an extension, even though at that point it looked like he could have a long career and was producing well. That is amazing logic and an incredibly poor reason to draft Sullinger.

  4. B says

    “..when the overall body of work is fantastic.” Please point out anything that Austin Rivers has in his body of work that is “fantastic.” After looking at any of his shooting percentages there is no way to conclude that he has any exceptional ability to put the ball in the basket, since by all measurement he does so below average vs basically everyone else. If he has all this hereditary basketball IQ and if the “fact” that his grapefruit cojones contributed anything to his production, then why isn’t he measurably better at any aspect of the game?

    • Kevin Matthews says

      Couldn’t agree more. I was shocked to not see him in the Bust part of this column. This guy is so amazingly overrated that people are calling him underrated, it is incredible. It’s also worth pointing out how being slated to go 8-14 doesn’t make it a steal if you get selected at 7 in any way shape or form. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised though considering how many years the media has devoted to force feeding me the ridiculous notion that Doc Rivers is a genius and to ignore the fact that he has 3 Hall of Famers in his starting lineup.

  5. RECAPP says

    Great article. I think you’re on point for the most part. I’d love for the Mavs to pick up a young athletic slasher like Rivers.

  6. Cory says

    Can’t say I disagree too much. I really like the analysis on Marshall. If I could have one PG in this class, it’d be him. His court vision is something you simply cannot teach. People knock his shot, which I agree could improve, but it’s not as though you can leave him open on the 3 point line.

    On the other side, I think people are just excited about how big Meyers Leonard is and it’s inflating his draft stock. I think he’s more of a project than an immediate impact kind of guy.

    I don’t think Zeller is overrated or underrated. I think he could be a solid role player from the start and develop into a starter over time. One thing that is odd to me about Zeller was that he fumbled the ball in the post on a lot of entry passes, but once he had possession, he had awesome touch for a big guy. You’d think someone with touch would be better at controlling an entry pass.

  7. Colin says

    AJ, nice article

    Agree on Sullinger and Rivers, both are being undervalued and overanalyzed. They will produce no matter where they are drafted.

    Disagree on Zeller and MKG. Zeller won’t be an all star but does everything well and.wont demand possession, a great hustle and glue guy. MKG has everything except a jumper, which can be corrected. Much harder to teach the intangibles and motor he has.

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