Seeking Out This Draft’s Franchise Players
Here’s what’s going to happen in the years that follow this Thursday’s draft: Of the 60 players selected, a handful will turn into All-Stars, another slightly larger handful will find ways to contribute and remain employed by the NBA for several seasons and the last batch will make no lasting mark on the league whatsoever, if they ever even don an NBA team’s jersey.
To start an article like this, I need to start by saying that I think everybody listed below will be in the first two groups. The players here are among the top-tier talent available in this draft, and it would be surprising if they didn’t all end up getting selected in the top twenty picks. But they aren’t all created equal. Some will be stars, and others will fall short. Here are some predictions as to where some of the big-name guys might end up several years down the road:
The Franchise Players:
Anthony Davis – If we’re talking about future stars, the list obviously has to start with Davis, the kid who will be the #1 overall pick in the upcoming draft. But his ability to shine, not only long-term but early in his career, too, will come because he’ll be provided the opportunity to do so. There really is no alpha dog on that Hornets’ roster, and that will be truer than ever if Eric Gordon splits via free agency. Davis is long, athletic, dominant defensively and has a whole lot of great guard skills packed into a power forward’s body. You just don’t see that combination of size and skill very often, but Davis has it. That’s why so many people think he’s a slam dunk (so to speak) as a future star in New Orleans.
Damian Lillard – Today’s NBA is a point guard’s game, and Lillard is exactly the kind of point guard that has big-time success on this level. He’s quick, relatively big and about as offensively gifted as any player in the entire draft. Teams like Portland, Toronto and New Orleans have major needs for a player exactly like him, and if he ends up with one of those franchises he’ll take off very quickly. If he ends up somewhere as a backup, don’t expect him to be a backup for long.
Austin Rivers – What we know about Rivers, other than the fact that he’s one of the most charismatic players to enter the league in a really, really long time, is that he’s one heck of a scorer and knows it. Confidence is not this kid’s issue, nor is the isolation game, which should make him an even more deadly offensive weapon at the NBA level. He also measured about an inch taller at the combine than teams expected, which means he’s not as undersized a two guard as originally considered. Rivers already carries himself like a star, which isn’t surprising considering he grew up around NBA basketball, thrived at one of the top college hoops programs in the country and now looks like lottery pick just waiting to happen. He’s got it in him, but there are some consistency issues he’ll need to overcome to be great on the NBA level. Quite a few teams are ready to bet big money that he’ll be just fine.
Thomas Robinson – Any team who doesn’t see Robinson as the only “can’t-miss” prospect in this draft outside of Davis hasn’t scouted him well enough. He’s built like an NBA power forward already, and that’s going to allow his outstanding rebounding and defensive abilities to translate well on the next level. He’s one of the most athletic big men in this draft and really developed a better all-around offensive game as a junior at Kansas. That’s the thing about Robinson—he’s not only NBA ready, he also still has tons of potential for growth. He’s hyper-competitive, too, which combined with understandable Paul Millsap comparisons make it easy to believe he’ll be a perennial All-Star someday.
Jared Sullinger – As we get more and more information about Sullinger’s medical red-flag, it’s starting to look like long-term concerns for the kid aren’t that serious. He’ll still slip in the draft because there’s a good chance he misses a good chunk of his rookie season after getting back surgery, but that doesn’t mean long-term he won’t be looked at as one of the better all-around players in this class. Despite the fact that he’s not very athletic, Sullinger is one of the smarter, craftier players in the draft, and his overwhelming array of post moves has always helped him make up for what he lacks physically. He’s quicker than you think and he’s got great range for a guy his size. On top of all that, he talks about the NBA like everybody is rooting for him to fail, and he seems determined to prove them all wrong. Comparing him to Elton Brand isn’t outlandish at all.
The Role Guys (Or Worse):
Harrison Barnes – It’s so, so easy to buy into the Barnes hype machine. It really is. He looks like an NBA player, talks like an NBA player and dresses like an NBA player, and while he most likely will be an NBA player for years, his game is way more hype than it is substance. While he’s NBA ready from a physical standpoint and he tested very well at the combine a couple of weeks ago, he simply doesn’t seem to have the gumption to be a superstar at the next level. Crunch-time success isn’t something he’s seen a lot of, and he’s not particularly athletic despite putting up a 38” vertical at the combine. His first step isn’t great, which is why he settles for jumpers so often, and since he hasn’t really shot a high clip from the field, that’s obviously a problem. The kid’s a black hole offensively, and you have to wonder, if he hadn’t been so highly-touted as a high-schooler and in his first year at UNC, would teams still be so excited about this potential we keep waiting for him to reach? Whichever team drafts him could be waiting for that potential to turn into something kinetic for way longer than they want to.
Bradley Beal – Let’s start by stating that Beal is the hottest name in the draft right now. Charlotte is starting to look as though they’re leaning towards selecting Robinson with the second pick in the draft, but it wouldn’t be a total shock if someone (Cleveland, perhaps) traded up to take Beal with that pick. He certainly won’t slip past Washington, so how can one project the #2 or #3 pick for mediocrity before he’s even played a single NBA game? He was terribly inconsistent at Florida, for one. Yes, the kid has range, and yes, when he gets hot he gets really hot, but is he the can’t-miss star some are projecting him to be? He’s only 6’4, isn’t great at creating his own shot, and still has a long way to go as a ball handler. He’ll be a decent scorer at worst, and at best he really could be similar to Ray Allen. There’s just a long way to go before he comes anywhere near that, and it’s just easier to see him as an average player in the league than as a perennial All-Star.
Andre Drummond – Physically, nobody is second-guessing Drummond as an NBA prospect. He’s huge, has a nose for shot-blocking and is definitely strong enough physically to play at a higher level. The problem with Drummond has always been his drive. He’s not a particularly assertive player, and that combined with his overall rawness as an offensive player and struggles as a defensive rebounder make him look like a big man bust like so many lottery picks before him. He’s probably not Hasheem Thabeet bad, despite cruel comparisons from some scouts, but he’s also nowhere near Dwight Howard.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – The problem with MKG is actually a pretty simple one: he’s not a #1 guy. You don’t build your franchise around this kid (no pun intended) because he really doesn’t seem to exhibit the sort of confidence or overall ability to do that. He has an NBA body, is a killer in transition and can defend a few different positions, so there’s no question he’ll be a good pro, but will he be a so-called “franchise player?” That’s a lot harder to call, and since the most likely teams to draft him—Washington, Cleveland and Sacramento—already have #1 stars in place, we might not get an opportunity to find out what he would’ve turned into had he been asked to lead a bad team into the first year of rebuilding.
Perry Jones – A couple of years ago, there was a real buzz around this young man that he could be a Kevin-Durant-like prospect. He’s one of those freakishly tall kids with the kind of skillset you usually associate with much shorter players, but in two years at Baylor he was relatively underwhelming. No doubt, he’s got great range for a kid pushing 7’0, but he was just too inconsistent in college to make NBA scouts think he’ll do much better at the NBA level. He’s not a terribly tough or aggressive player, either, which tends not to bode well for guys jumping to the pros. He’s a worthwhile gamble in the middle of the first round somewhere, but there are a lot of things Jones has to change in order for him to be taken seriously as a future star in the league. More often than not, kids with that many question marks have a hard time fixing all of them.
This, of course, isn’t a comprehensive list of the guys who will be drafted in the first round. There are others that I really like (Terrence Ross, Moe Harkless, Royce White) and others that I think will have their fair share of issues in the NBA (Dion Waiters, Quincy Miller, Meyers Leonard), but it’s impossible to squeeze all those guys into one article.
What you see here is just a sampling of the buzziest names heading into the draft. Some will make the leap seamlessly, and others will struggle mightily. Time is the only true judge of how right or wrong I actually am with these predictions, but that’s the beauty of the draft; you really don’t know.
Someday, though, we will, and when that happens readers can high-five me or berate me as is necessary. Either way, it’ll be fun to see which of these kids grow into stars. Some of them, at the very least, will do exactly that.