I’ve been promising a new installment of draft player profiles for a few weeks now and, after last night’s damaging loss to the Knicks’ playoff aspirations, here it is:
(Note: For Parts I and II, click here and here.)
(Second Note: As always, all player links are to draftexpress.com, in my estimation, the best draft site on the web.)
It’s not a deep draft for big men, especially big men worthy of a late lottery choice. Barring a Bulls-like lottery win, the Knicks probably won’t get a shot at Blake Griffin, Hasheem Thabeet or Jordan Hill. (And even if the Knicks did win the lottery, I’d argue they should take Ricky Rubio over all those guys.) As such, for now let’s focus on players that might be there in the 9-12 range and take a look at some bigs and guards that’d be good fits on the Knicks.
Cole Aldrich, Sophomore, Kansas, 6’11, 250 – Aldrich is the rare true center in the college game that’s actually a little underrated. It might be because he’s one of those guys, like Brook Lopez, who doesn’t look quite as athletic as he actually is. He’s not explosive and he looks a little awkward at times but Aldrich has a good frame, runs the floor surprisingly well and shows good footwork and coordination. And his skill level is constantly improving. Defensively, he’s very strong on the boards and an excellent shot-blocker with good instincts and timing. He really knows how to use his size to be disruptive in the middle. His offensive game has grown by leaps and bounds this season. He shows a consistent, albeit strange looking, jumper out to about 17-18 feet and he’s developed several post moves that he executes pretty effectively at the college level.
As for his downside, Draft Express has noted that Aldrich lacks toughness, but in the Kansas games I’ve watched this season from beginning to end (around 5 I think), I haven’t detected that. No question Aldrich is a finesse center on the offensive end (due mostly I think to his lack of explosiveness) but I haven’t seen any indication that he doesn’t like to mix it up. I think it’s more fair to say that he doesn’t always play as big as he is, which is a common problem for young big men, and one that often subsides with experience. It’s not clear whether or not Aldrich intends to put his name in the pool this year but, if he does, he’d be a good find in the late lottery and give the Knicks a strong defensive presence and solid shooting touch at the 5.
Craig Brackins, Sophomore, Iowa St., 6’10, 230 – Perhaps no player in college basketball has made a bigger leap, in terms of productivity, from their freshman to sophomore seasons than Brackins has. Playing only 5 more minutes a game than he did last season, Brackins has nearly doubled his scoring average to (up from 11.4 to 20 per game). More importantly, he’s become a much more active rebounder and he now grabs a very solid 12 boards/40 minutes. As such, he’s become an NBA prospect.
Brackins is a legit 6’10 and has some very well developed offensive skills. In the past, he got his points using a perimeter game that revolved almost entirely around his ability to face up and stick jumpers off the dribble. This season, he’s been spending much more time down on the block and he has learned to score on a few back to the basket moves. He has a pretty solid fadeaway and a decent hook but he doesn’t have much game going strong towards the rim. To say he’s a poor passer out of the post at this point is probably too generous. As an aside, another problem he has is his teammates. They don’t really know how to play with him and struggle to get him the ball sometimes.
Defensively Brackins has a long way to go. He’s not terribly quick laterally and he’s not explosive. He doesn’t block shots or control the paint. He has become a very aggressive rebounder, though. Brackins might someday become a capable man to man defender but it’s unlikely that he’s ever going to develop into the kind of big man that can anchor a team on defense.
All in all, Brackins is a solid offensive big man but his upside is somewhat limited by his only o.k. athleticism. He’s an old sophomore at 21 which could mean that, athletically, what you see is pretty much what you are going to get. Draft Express compares him to Channing Frye. I think that’s a little unfair as Brackins has already shown more versatility and toughness than Frye did as a collegian but the fact that Frye even popped into their heads when evaluating Brackins should tell you something.
Tyreke Evans, Freshman, Memphis, 6’5, 195 – Evans entered the season hyped as the most NBA-ready freshman in the country and that’s largely proven to be true as other highly-touted freshmen like Demar DeRozan, B.J. Mullens and Jrue Holiday have had their ups and downs and shown that they could probably use another year in school (though its pretty clear that DeRozan, and probably Mullens are going to come out). Evans has an NBA body and an NBA game (for better and worse) and could crack a rotation right away if he landed in the right situation.
Here’s the skinny: From a skill standpoint, there’s a lot to like. He has a very well-developed offensive game and he shows great mastery advanced offensive moves. Evans is a solid shooter inside the 3 point line and he uses his strength to finish plays at the rim, especially in transition. Evans also gets to the free throw line a lot at the college level. When he draws the attention of the defense, he has good court vision and he hits the open man for an assist. Defensively, he’s very good when he wants to be and he’s versatile. He’s proven he can guard PGs on the ball but he’s also big enough and strong enough to slide over effectively guard 2s.
However, Evans is a classic combo guard in the Jamal Crawford mold. He’s got great size for a PG but he isn’t really a 1 because he looks for his shot far too often and, while he sees the floor, he doesn’t really get his teammates involved or control the pace. And he’s not a pure 2 either because he needs the ball in his hands constantly to be effective. He’s been very successful for Memphis this season because, midway through the year, Coach John Calipari realized that the team’s path to greatest success would be to move Evans from the 2 to the 1 and let him create (mostly for himself). This has proved to be an especially effective strategy for Memphis because of the type of offense they run which, if you’ve never seen it before, is a clinic on how to exploit the talents of the modern day, AAU ballplayer. Coach Cal calls it the “dribble drive offense” but in reality it just appears to be a set that allows his players to take turns in Iso situations until one of them either creates a shot for himself or draws enough defensive attention to create an opportunity for someone else. This is the perfect style of offense for a player like Tyreke Evans but it really has nothing to do with what the Knicks are trying to do (and I’d be surprised if Evans learned anything this year running it). Evans may prove to be an effective NBA player, but I think he’d be a poor fit with the Knicks.
Willie Warren, Freshman, Oklahoma, 6’4, 200 – Warren is an example of a freshman who wasn’t quite as highly touted entering the season but has put together a freshman year that thrust him into the lottery conversation (Greg Monroe is another). He’d flown under the radar a little until recently largely because he plays on the same team as All-Everything, Consensus-Number-1-Pick-In-The-Draft, big-man Blake Griffin. But make no mistake, Warren is really, really good. As the year has progressed he’s really taken off and he got to show what he could do when Griffin recently sat out a few games with a concussion (especially in that Kansas game).
Warren is a combo guard with great size, long arms, and above average NBA athleticism. For the most part, he has played off the ball for the Sooners this season but when given the opportunity to run the offense, he’s shown a great handle and good court vision. Warren is also a natural leader and he projects that confident “I’ve got this” deameanor that the great ones tend to have (kinda like a certain Italian forward we know). Earlier this season Warren was a little bit inconsistent with his distance shooting but as the year has progressed and his confidence has grown he’s become downright dangerous out there. Bottom line, on offense there’s very little Warren can’t do.
On defense, Warren is improving, but more of a work in progress. He’s got a good basketball IQ and that enables him to make plays, especially in the passing lanes, but doesn’t really show strong defensive fundamentals. As is the case with everything Warren though, when he decides his team needs a stop, he can be dominant defensively and he uses his strength, length, and quickness to put on the clamps.
Warren is now emerging as one of the best guard prospects in the college game. He reminds me a little bit of the Pistons’ old starting PG, Chauncy Billups and their new one, Rodney Stuckey. While he’s being touted as a late lottery prospect right now, given that the Sooners are likely to perform well in the tournament and given how well he’s likely to show individually in his pre-draft workouts, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Warren enjoyed a Russell Westbrook type rise into the top 5 as the draft approaches.