NBA PM: Scouts’ Takes on Rookie Studs and Duds
Rookies are roughly a quarter of the way through their first NBA season, which isn’t enough time for the amateurish eyes of media and fans to make any broad observations about their abilities; but some NBA scouts have already begun forming opinions.
Obviously no player’s potential can be judged by his first month in the league. Kris Humphries—who entered the NBA as a high-scoring lottery pick out of Minnesota and has recently transformed into a defensive sparkplug—is a current example of how players can change over time. Meanwhile, Dajuan Wagner and Adam Morrison averaged 19.8 and 15.3 PPG respectively over their first month in the league and neither player matched that production again.
But those types of statistical anomalies are the precise reason to reach out for the trained eye of NBA scouts, and that’s exactly what HOOPSWORLD has done.
This list isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but here are the opinions of a few anonymous scouts that were nice enough to give us their time. Some asked not to be quoted directly, which is why you’ll see some paraphrasing.
(Writer’s note: If you don’t see a particular rookie listed below, that’s not a statement on that rookie’s skills. It simply means our scouts hadn’t seen enough of that player to feel comfortable speaking about him.)
Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving: One scout didn’t need a lot of explaining as to why Irving was the top pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. All it took was one game to make it clear.
The comparison he made for Irving was to a young Mike Bibby because of the way Irving has shown an ability to spot up and distribute the ball. It took Bibby over a year to find his shot from 3-point range, but Irving has made 19 of 47 attempts thus far.
The scout said Irving isn’t quite as athletic as a young Chris Paul or Deron Williams, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a star in this league.
Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson: As for Cleveland’s other lottery pick, our scout is still waiting for something to jump out.
The 6-8 Thompson is undersized to be a power forward, our scout said, and he’s going to be a “work in progress.”
Fortunately for Cavaliers fans, Thompson reportedly has good “makeup” which gives the coaching staff confidence that he’ll develop.
However, the Cavs may have missed out on an opportunity to draft center Jonas Valanciunas.
“I had multiple scouts say that Valanciunas was, other than Irving, probably the best talent in the draft,” the scout said.
Obviously Valanciunas is still playing in Lithuania, but when he does arrive in the NBA, we’ll know for sure if Cleveland made the right choice.
Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson: If Monta Ellis gets traded from Golden State at some point, the insurance that shooting guard Klay Thompson provides will be a major reason why.
“As a shooter, I really like the kid from Golden State,” one Western Conference scout said. “He looks to me like every time he shoots the ball, it looks like it’s going in the basket.”
Despite playing just 16.6 MPG, Klay has made 21 of 49 3-pointers. Unfortunately, his turnover rate (he’s coughing up the ball in 14.3% of his possessions) has limited him to just two free throw attempts as an NBA player (he averaged 5.4 free throw attempts per game as a sophomore and a junior at Washington State).
Defensively, one scout says he “isn’t bad” because he has the size (6-7) to suffocate opposing shooting guards. The scout admits he’s taking a leap with that statement because he hasn’t seen him with a major defensive challenge yet, but that could change if the Warriors ever decide to ship Ellis out of town.
“He’s going to be a good player,” the scout said. “He’s learning the NBA with a new coach and he’s done a lot in a short amount of time.”
There was some talk that Thompson could fill in at point guard, but one scout said that was a bad idea, preferring to see him play the 2 or the 3.
HEAT point guard Norris Cole: Cole is helping the HEAT in two ways, one scout told HOOPSWORLD.
First, he’s “pushing” the ball and in doing so, has already gained the trust of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And, as the scout points out, “That’s not an easy thing for any guy to do.”
Cole has also impressed coach Erik Spoelstra, who has given the former Cleveland State star over 21 MPG thus far. Cole has rewarded Spoelstra with 8.8 PPG and while he isn’t the best outside, shooter, he’s a tremendous ball handler who has been able to get to the hoop.
The other way Cole is helping the HEAT is by pushing starter Mario Chalmers, who has been inconsistent to say the least prior to this season.
Now, if Chalmers becomes unfocused, the scout said, he knows he’ll lose his job.
Initially there were reports that the HEAT were sold on Boston College point guard Reggie Jackson, but our scout says Miami was wise to trade for Cole’s rights because “he’s a point guard and Jackson is a shooting guard playing point guard.”
Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard: When the Spurs moved George Hill—the team’s only backup to veteran point guard Tony Parker—to acquire the rights to Kawhi Leonard, that told one scout everything he needed to know.
“I thought, ‘he must be pretty good,’” the scout said. “If you lose Parker, that’s it. And that’s a team that doesn’t get guys unless they know how to play.”
Leonard hasn’t disappointed either. He’s used his freakishly long wingspan to defend small forwards, power forwards and shooting guards while grabbing 5.2 RPG and scoring 7.4 PPG.
“I think the Spurs knew something there,” the scout said.
Bobcats big man Bismack Biyombo: Our scout says it’s too early to make any definitive statement on the Bobcats’ Biyombo, but for those who thought they’d see a young Ben Wallace: don’t get your hopes up.
Biyombo, who has averaged a modest 3.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG and an impressive 1.6 BPG, might be “serviceable,” our scout says, but he probably will never create the havoc that Wallace did.
76ers center Nik Vucevic: It’s not just that the 21-year-old 76ers backup center has a Player Efficiency Rating of 18.24 (the league average is 15). It’s the fact that he’s doing this for Doug Collins, who, one scout says, is notoriously tough on young players.
So far Vucevic has given the 76ers 5.2 PPG and 4.9 RPG and considering he’s playing around 15 minutes per night, that’s pretty impressive.
Pistons point guard Brandon Knight: One scout says the Pistons were smart to take Knight instead of Kemba Walker or Jimmer Fredette because he’s the only one of the three that looks to be a starter on a winning team.
So far Knight is looking for his own shot a little too much (12.8 PPG as opposed to just 3.3 APG), but that can change over time, the scout said.
The scout went on to say that Knight “shouldn’t be starting now,” but he definitely has the “makings” of a solid NBA point guard.
Bobcats combo guard Kemba Walker: It would be one thing if the Bobcats had a bigger player than Walker, but since the first-year player out of UConn is built like a point guard, his score-first mentality won’t serve him well, one scout said.
Walker is also judged differently than Knight because he’s a three-year college player who had significant experience before arriving in Charlotte. Our scout said Walker could be an effective scorer off the bench, but he may never be the right guy to run an offense on a successful team.
Kings combo guard Jimmer Fredette: The same can be said of Kings guard Jimmer Fredette. One scout didn’t like him playing as a pure point guard in a starting role, but if he could backup a better player on a good team, his shooting could really become a weapon.
“He’s a hired gun,” one scout said, “a little like J.J. Redick.”
Defensively, Fredette is helped by the presence of Tyreke Evans (who can defend larger guards), but ultimately, our scout said, the pair will be hurt by Evans and Fredette’s instinct to get their own shots.
Gordon a Part of the Hornets’ Future?
Eric Gordon declined a four-year extension offer from the New Orleans Hornets, but general manager Del Demps insists he’s still a part of their future.
“It’s a situation where we talked, thought we came close to an agreement and it just didn’t work out, but we are still very optimistic we can get something done this summer,” Demps told the The Associated Press. “It’s not a big issue. It’s not a situation that is uncommon. … There are other measures that you can use to sign Eric to a long-term contract and that’s our goal.”
The Hornets will have the right to match any offer he signs as a restricted free agent.
Check Out: Larry Bird
Indianapolis Star NBA writer Mike Wells wrote an excellent piece on Larry Bird’s tenure and future with the Pacers. It’s worth a read because it illustrates how an executive can improve his team by not making a move.
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