I detailed the players that I believe the Grizzlies should target if they wind up with a pick outside the Top 2 on the message board (quick recap -- Hibbert, Brewer, Horford, Conley). But now I want to take a more detailed look at who is out there in the draft, since many people have claimed that this is the deepest draft since 2003, 1999 or 1998, depending on perspective. These same people have also been clamoring for the Grizzlies to find a way to acquire a few more picks in the draft, often through whatever means necessary, no matter how short-sighted they might be. So let's find out who could be the next difference maker or role player. These are not in the order I see them being drafted necessarily either and I'm only going to discuss players I have seen in game action, so no Yi Jianlian, Nicolas Batum or Marco Belinelli here. Go check out one of the dozens of reputable draft sites for info on them.
Greg Oden (Ohio State) -- If you read my earlier post, then you already know what I think about him. The "next Bill Russell" is already a great shot-blocker and a solid rebounder who has shown that he can score in a variety of ways as well. He's #1 on the board with a bullet. The one thing he will definitely have to work on is his conditioning, which was absolutely abysmal during the NCAA tournament. Some time in the weight room, a personal trainer, a nutritionist and a personal chef wouldn't hurt either. You can afford those things in the NBA though.
Kevin Durant (Texas) -- While everyone wants to compare him to Kevin Garnett (something I don't understand now), in reality he is a more athletic version of Dirk Nowitzki.....with better range. Capable of leading his team in scoring, rebounding and dropped jaws, he will need to hit the weight room in order to survive in the NBA. His defense also needs a lot of honing, both one-on-one and help defensive tactics. There is some concern about how much he will need the ball to be effective, as well.
Corey Brewer (Florida) -- The prototype for an all-around swingman. He can shoot from anywhere on the floor, find open teammates and play suffocating defense. Perhaps the most NBA ready player in the draft, he is receiving favorable comparisons from nearly all the experts, with my favorite being referred to as a "young Eddie Jones". He's a good rebounder who is reputed to have an outstanding work ethic, which should make him very attractive for a lot of teams. His ballhandling is somewhat suspect (reminiscent of Rudy Gay in this respect) and he will need to learn how to create his own shot more effectively.
Brandan Wright (North Carolina) -- The first word from everyone's lips when discussing him is "potential". He could be the next Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge or Channing Frye. Or he could be a guy who never quite lives up to that "potential". That's why the draft is an inexact science. With his great athleticism, massive wingspan, ever-growing offensive arsenal and seemingly natural ability to do anything on the court, he is a tantalizing prospect who will almost certainly go in the Top 5 of the draft. Like many of the prospects, he is going to have to spend a lot of time in the weight room so that he doesn't get broken in half by midseason.
Julian Wright (Kansas) -- Surprised many by declaring for the draft, but I don't think another year in college (particularly under Bill Self) would help him develop into a better NBA player, so what does he have to lose? Another great athlete, Wright is an adept ballhandler, which has been somewhat detrimental to the development of his jumpshot, which is merely adequate at this point. He's a very unselfish player (perhaps to a fault) who rarely forces things. He has developed a nice post game, which will help him as he continues to increase his range on his jumper.
Al Horford (Florida) -- I've seen the comparison to Carlos Boozer repeated often and I think it fits with one caveat.....Boozer doesn't have the nasty streak that Horford does. His attitude reminds me of Charles Oakley or Anthony Mason -- a true regulator of the paint. An impressive rebounder with good athleticism and one of the few prospects who won't need as much time in the weight room to adjust, Horford is also an above-average defender and shot blocker. He needs to work on his mid-range game and improve his free-throw shooting, but will definitely be a solid PF for whatever team drafts him.
Roy Hibbert (Georgetown) -- A solid scorer and decent rebounder, Hibbert isn't much of an athlete. He reminds me a lot of Eddy Curry, but with a better work ethic (or maybe just Curry if he'd gone to college?). He has the one thing that you cannot teach or develop in the NBA: SIZE. At 7'2", 280 lbs., he is a beast to deal with for anyone in the league. He has great touch around the basket and is a very good free throw shooter, so any team looking for a center would be wise to give him a second (or third....or tenth) look. His conditioning will have to improve for him to excel at the next level.
Mike Conley, Jr. (Ohio State) -- He displayed his amazing level of skill and talent throughout the season and the tournament, impressing nearly all of the experts along the way. He has great athletic ability, as well as the poise that you demand from your point guard during crunch time situations. With a variety of ways to score, Conley is the threat that opposing coaches fear, since he isn't guaranteed to pass first, second and always with the game on the line. He will need to increase the range on his perimeter shooting to become an even more dangerous player.
Joakim Noah (Florida) -- The very definition of a high motor, hustle player, I think of Noah as a 7-foot version of Brian Cardinal. Ok, ok, Shane Battier. Needless to say, I'm not a huge fan of what he brings to the table in terms of all-around basketball ability. I mean, let's face it, would you spend a high lottery pick on a guy who looks like this:
I didn't think so. I appreciate the fact that he has great leadership skills and a high basketball IQ, as well as a good understanding of defensive principles. But he can't shoot and has a very limited post game, which presents problems for him in the NBA. Much like the case was with Mark Madsen (very good college player, very average NBA player), I see him as a valuable role player, a "glue guy" moreso than a guy you can run plays for with any consistency.
Jeff Green (Georgetown) -- Went from "Who???" to "that guy who just takes over games" to "The Magician (aka "The Disappearing Act") over the course of the season and tournaments. Green is a guy who isn't particularly great at any one thing, but is above average at practically everything. The consumate jack-of-all-trades, master of none, if you will. He does possess remarkable vision for a SF. The biggest areas he'll need to work on in the NBA are his perimeter shooting and his defense, which is only passable at this point due to poor fundamentals.
Derrick Byars (Vanderbilt) -- I'll admit that I only saw him play a handful of games this year (Vandy not being high on my basketball radar, after all), but what I saw from him did convince me that he'll be a solid pro. He's a good defender with no glaring weaknesses in his skillset. He has the versatility to play either wing position, plus he even ran the point some this season, which is always helpful. He's not active enough without the ball in his hands, but that is something that he can learn at the next level.
Thaddeus Young (Georgia Tech) -- Phenomenal athlete with unreal potential. He does have a few gaping holes in his game, though. His perimeter shooting needs a lot of work, as he only seems confident when he has his feet set under him. He's not that comfortable coming off screens or pulling up off the dribble. His ballhandling is very suspect as well, which is a problem if he intends to stay at SF at the next level. I see the same problems with Young that I witnessed with Shawne WIlliams at Memphis last season -- he does 2 or 3 things really well, but seems intent on proving that he can do 7 or 8 things really well. He doesn't go to his strengths nearly often enough, which has exposed his glaring weaknesses in his first collegiate season. He would be better served returning for another season at Tech, in my estimation.
Al Thornton (Florida State) -- To me, perhaps the biggest question mark in the draft. He's older than most (he'll be 24 in December), but is also far more athletic than most, too. He's been tagged with the dreaded "tweener" label, but I think his great mid-range game and unreal physical ability will be enough to allow him to squeeze into the top part of the draft. He needs to expand the range on his jumper and hone his ballhandling skills, as well as spend some time getting acquainted with the concept of "passing" -- one of the few weaknesses he has, but is it ever an obvious one. I see him becoming a poor man's Shawn Marion, who is also the best tweener forward in the NBA, so that's not a comparison to take lightly.
Acie Law IV (Texas A&M) -- A PG with good size (6'3") and a reputation for being clutch, Law has developed light years from what he was in his freshman season with the Aggies. He has the ability to play at any tempo and remains in control throughout the game. A solid playmaker, Law has also shown that he can be creative in shaking himself free for a shot, too. His defense will need a lot of work at the next level, but his mastery of the offensive side of the ball more than compensates for that. The Sam Cassell comparisons are very accurate, IMO.
Spencer Hawes (Washington) -- He has a great array of post moves in his arsenal and the ability to finish with either hand, which has left more than one defender with a sheepish look on his face. Hawes is also a skilled passer, drawing comparisons to Brad Miller and Vlade Divac. He can also step out and hit mid-range jumpers, even with defensive pressure. Something that has concerned many scouts is his low rebounding numbers, but according to a person who watches a lot of Pac-10 games, this is mostly due to the fact that one of Hawes' teammates is a rebounding machine. Judging by the numbers on their team page, I can only assume that player is sophmore Jon Brockman. Hawes is not a great athlete and is somewhat thin for a 7 footer (although not Shawn Bradley "stick man" thin), but he has managed to hold his own against several heralded big men so far. In any other year, he'd probably be the #1 center prospect in the draft.
Hasheem Thabeet (Conneticut) -- We go from "polished product" in Spencer Hawes to "raw block of wood" in Thabeet. If anyone wastes a first round pick on him, then they deserve what they get. I understand that he's doing it for financial reasons more than anything (his family is still overseas in Tanzania), but that should affect any GM's evaluation of him. He's a great shotblocker......and that's it. He can't score and doesn't rebound well. Much like other "projects" before him (Mutombo and Okafor come to mind), he needs 4 years of school to develop into an actual basketball player. Even one more season in college would help him tremendously.
Aaron Gray (Pittsburgh) -- BUST! Next! Ok, ok, I'll talk about him, even though he doesn't deserve the time or effort. Gray has a variety of post moves at his disposal, but shies away from physicality so much that he neglects to take advantage of them. He has also displayed a level of inconsistency that isn't going to be viewed favorably by many scouts. His games against players that he'd face in the NBA typically produced very poor results for him. He was completely shut down in matchups against Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes this year. I honestly believe that he lacks the heart and the toughness to last in the NBA.
Arron Affalo (UCLA) -- A very good all-around shooter, Affalo has also shown the ability to finish in traffic due to his body control and strength. He's also an underrated rebounder at 6'5" and a decent defender. His lack of great athleticism prevents him from being a great player at the next level, but he should be a solid player in the NBA for the next 10 years based on his solid fundamentals and understanding of the game.
Josh McRoberts (Duke) -- A poor man's Christian Laettner. Any questions?
Morris Almond (Rice) -- His picture should be next to the definition of "scorer" in the collegiate edition of the dictionary. He'll probably make his living in the NBA as a dynamite 6th man/occasional starter, as he is a bigger version of what Ben Gordon was coming out of UConn a few years ago. A lightning quick release from anywhere on the floor and the ability to create his own shot despite average athletic ability has given NBA scouts reason to pause and take notice. He should spend some time on his defensive fundamentals, which to this point have only received token interest, as well as his overall ballhandling skills. Teams in need of instant offense should definitely consider him.
Nick Young (USC) -- Only saw him three times outside of the tournament (twice against Arizona, once against Washington), but he reminded me a lot of both Antawn Jamison and Josh Howard in the way that he scored from unconventional angles and approaches. He is sneaky athletic, almost lulling defenders to sleep with his consistency from mid-range before surprising them with a quick move to the basket for an uncontested layup or dunk. I've seen him play great defense....and I've seen him play below-average defense, so he needs to work on consistency in that area. Another guy who should be a solid pro for the next decade.
I'll be working on a list of Sleepers next, so look for it sometime next week.