There may not be another player who benefitted more from coming back for his senior season than Payne, who played himself into a first-round pick. I tend to see Payne’s range being between the late lottery and top 20. While Payne did many things for a Spartans team that fell short of its goals, his signature for NBA teams is being a stretch 4. Payne is a solid shooter with nice range who knows how to play defense. Combined with Jared Sullinger, the Celtics would have a nice 1-2 combo at power forward. The Celtics could be in play for perimeter help here as well with a shooter or a PG as they continue to look to move Rajon Rondo. I’ve heard there are some in the front office intrigued by P.J. Hairston, and Elfrid Payton is a name also under serious consideration as the Celtics look for a potential replacement to Rajon Rondo.
18. Zach LaVine, SG, UCLA, 6’5″, 185 lbs.
LaVine had a nice freshman campaign and looked like a reliable 3-point shooter with good athleticism for the Bruins despite being a reserve most of the season. Any team selecting LaVine is taking a chance on his upside as he must improve his strength to handle the wear and tear of the NBA. In Chicago, LaVine showed the type of length that teams need on the wing with a great shooting touch. Still LaVine is going to need time to develop, and the D-League might be a great option for him. This could turn into a nice selection for the Suns at this point in the draft. Armed with three first-round picks the Suns will be aggressive in exploring deals but there is already a lot of talk about the Suns and LaVine.
More than one NBA scout has told me how much they love Hood and his game. It’s hard not to agree when watching tape of Hood, because you see a smooth scoring wing with excellent length and a great stroke. While Hood will probably not become an All-Star, plenty of teams need a player with his skills on the offensive end who can simply catch and shoot. Buzz has been growing since Duke’s season ended that Hood is moving up boards and could be a late lottery pick. According to sources, Hood is a top target of Chicago, which has two first-round picks. Hood can step right and contribute for a team like the Bulls, or the Suns, who with three first-round picks will be very active.
20. Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse, 6’2″, 180 lbs
Ennis is one of the more under-the-radar prospects, having broken though as a freshman because of Syracuse’s impressive start. Ennis is not a Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook type of point guard; rather, he is a more conventional crafty lead guard. While Ennis does nothing flashy, he proved as a freshman he is a leader on the court and will put his teammates in position to succeed. With a draft as deep at power forward and small forward, teams might opt to go bigger in the lottery. But Ennis warrants lottery consideration. If Ennis is gone, watch Elfrid Payton as he continues to shoot up draft boards with strong workouts.
A lot of the scouts I’ve spoken to have a high regard for James Young and believe that while not a great shooter yet, he will be one in time as he has a great stroke. During Kentucky’s impressive NCAA Tournament run, a lot of players stepped up, but Young might have been the player to shoulder most of the load. Young is a smooth athlete that can score by attacking the rim or stepping out beyond the arc. The Thunder are always looking for value and could use a scorer off the bench as they really struggled there last season. Young was a creative scorer at Kentucky and as he improves his shooting could be a great value.
Grant is a prospect to watch as there will be teams in the late lottery that will give serious consideration to him on draft night. Explosive and long wings who play with Grant’s motor are hard to come by, and can be plugged into a rotation right away. While Grant is improving as a shooter, his defense, rebounding and ability to run in transition are what interests teams. Memphis could go big here but more likely selects a based on the depth and value they would be getting. Grant is the type of wing that could really flourish playing alongside Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and company.
There are teams that believe Anderson might be a lottery pick, but I tend to think he’ll go later in the first round. No doubt Anderson’s size creates a unique matchup opportunity for teams, but his lack of elite athleticism is what holds him back from being a top-10 pick. Anderson improved as a shooter this season but still hangs his hat as being a facilitator, and it’s hard to see some team in the teens passing on him come draft night. The Jazz could use Anderson as a SF or as a Shaun Livingston type of PG and a great compliment to Trey Burke. The Jazz may lose RFA Gordon Hayward this summer so drafting a SF would be wise. This could be a pick available on draft night for team wanting another late first-round pick.
Hairston had a disappointing finish to his collegiate career, but as a prospect has teams salivating over his physical brand of play, ability to finish and deep range. A key with Hairston will be his conditioning and his off-court makeup, but certainly there will be teams willing to roll the dice on him. As someone who has already played in the D-League, Hairston might be more ready to contribute as a rookie next season. With that said, the Hornets are looking to capitalize on last season’s success and getting a player of Hairston’s caliber would be a great pickup. Also, don’t discount the Tar Heel connection between Hairston and owner Michael Jordan.