It's true, the draft is still 4 1/2 months away and the pending status of the collective bargaining agreement may make this the most irrelevant post ever. However, I don't see any harm in posting a little primer for those who are starting to wonder who we may be seeing in Thunder blue next season. Therefore, below I'll be addressing 4 scorching hot, scalding, burning, melting, blazing, habanero-flavored NBA Draft questions:
1) Right now, who look to be the elite players in this year's crop of talent?
In terms of the talent sitting near the top of most big boards, it appears to be a good year for the multi-faceted power forward. Jared Sullinger, a freshman power forward who has played a large role in Ohio State's currently undefeated season, just may be the best of them all. NBADraft.net compares him to Kevin Love, which I can see, but he reminds me more of a slightly more athletic Zach Randolph. He's a hoss, even by NBA standards, at 6'9" 286 lbs, and will only add more muscle in the professional ranks. In addition to his old school post presence, his jump shot is decent enough to keep defenses honest.
My personal favorite in the upcoming draft class has to be Baylor freshman string bean Perry Jones. Jones, standing at 6'11" and a wing-span over 7 feet, is built in the Tracy McGrady, Kevin Durant mold. He projects to be an NBA small forward, but could serve as a power forward if that is the need of the team that drafts him. Of all the potential prospects in the coming draft, his potential eclipses all of them. It isn't often scouts see a scorer like this in such a long body, but when they do, they usually take notice. These kinds of guys don't stay on the board long.
There are a few knocks on Jones, however. His college team, the Baylor Bears, have disappointed this season. He's been averaging slightly over 14 points and 7 rebounds a game. Not bad for college, though not the god-like numbers that make you go, "yeah, this guy should go number one." (He is, however, shooting 57.1% from the field). Some people feel he'd be well served to stay another year in college. This doesn't appear likely, given he'll likely be selected in the top three and his Bears, who were highly ranked in the preseason, have fallen even below the (resurgent) Oklahoma Sooners in the current Big XII standings.
Other likely top picks include Kyle Irving (a shifty freshman point guard and floor general playing for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke), Terrence Jones (an offensively polished Kentucky forward with a great handle), and Derrick Willams (yet another athletic, scoring power forward).
2) Internationally speaking, who are the top incoming prospects?
I'll admit it, I have neither the time nor the means to keep a constant pulse on the international game. However, I can read draft boards and watch Youtube highlights as well as anyone.
Most regard Enes Kanter as the top international player. Though technically he's going to college at Kentucky, Kanter was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for receiving more than $33,000 in impermissible benefits while playing for his club team in Turkey.
Though he isn't the most exciting player in the world, he gets results, big results. He scored a record 34 points at the Nike Hoops Summit. The Hoops Summit, which pits the best young talent of the United States and the rest of the world against each other, featured some top-notch talent, including Jared Sullinger, Kyle Irving, Terrence Jones, and Harrison Barnes from North Carolina. None of them had a better stat line than Kanter. Oh, by the way, the record he broke belonged to some guy named Dirk Nowitzki. I think he may still be in the league.
Other notable international players fall in two stereotypical categories: Big white guys that can shoot and lanky athletic players with loads of "potential" but may have to be stashed away overseas while they develop. The former includes the likes of Lithuanians Jonas Valanciunas and Dontas Motiejunas. The project players include the Czech Jan Vesely and Brazillian Lucas Nogueira.
3) Jimmer Fredette is setting the college hoops world on fire. Is he the next great white hope or the second coming of Adam Morrison?
In the spectrum of white college players who lead the nation in scoring, I'd say Fredette leans more toward Reddick than he does Morrison.
Adam Morrison could score in an NBA game. He averaged 11.8 PPG and shot a decent 37.6% from 3 his rookie year. Scoring wasn't a problem. His problem was that he couldn't do anything else on a basketball court. Rebound? Not physical or athletic enough. Defend? You must be joking. If you're not going to be an elite scorer, if you're not going to find your niche on defense, in the post, taking charges, and you're anything less than automatic from beyond the arch, what good are you in the NBA?
J.J. Reddick, on the other hand, who was always the much better shooter of the two, has found his niche in the NBA and should be in the league for as long as his shot keeps falling. Likewise, I think Fredette can be at least a similar type of player. Though he'll be routinely outmatched in athleticism, he at least has decent enough speed to not completely embarrass himself on defense. He isn't quite as gifted a shooter as Reddick either, but he's not far off, and his offensive skill set is more versatile than that of Reddick. Fredette seems to me to be a player who compensated for a lack of innate ability by mastering more unorthodox scoring methods, hence the floaters and the absurdly long-range bombs he throws up on occasion. Will he ever be an all-star? I doubt he'll even be a routine starter. But, can he be a leading bench player in the NBA? He definitely has the ability.
4) OK, I need my Thunder fix. Who are some players who could be playing in Oklahoma City next season?
Sam Presti has shown he has a pension for drafting project big men (Serge Ibaka, B.J. Mullens, Cole Aldrich). There's certainly need for a natural post presence on this roster. If Presit wants to keep up the tradition, judging from where the Thunder look to be in the upcoming draft, Lucas Noguiera is his man. The Thunder could use all 84 inches of his 7 foot frame. He's exactly the kind of Joakim Noah/Tyson Chandler-type center the Thunder have been begging for. However, rumor has it that Noguiera has exhibited some maturity issues, which definitely wouldn't fly under the current regime. He also still must grow into that long frame of his, and is not NBA ready.
Kenneth Faried is another pick that intrigues me. He doesn't grab as much attention as he should, as a 6'8" senior forward playing for Morehead State. What he does grab, however, are rebounds. He averages 14.5 rebounds this season and has averaged at least 13 rebounds since his sophomore season. He probably won't be much of a scoring threat in the NBA, but if he were to play on a team with, say, the top scoring duo in the league, that probably wouldn't be much of an issue. Many will say that his rebound numbers may be slightly inflated by the fact that he doesn't play against high caliber competition. That may be the case, but when Charles Barkley was arguing for Kevin Love's status as an all-star a few nights ago, he said, "you can't fake rebounding." I think Chuck may know a thing or two about grabbing boards. However, it always comes back to character. I can't testify either way for Faried, I've never met him. His idol, allegedly, is Dennis Rodman. Let's hope that's an on-court idol only...
Kyle Singler seems to be a player that Oklahoma City fans would appreciate. The 6'9" senior forward from Duke has a versatile offensive game (though he may become more of a shooter in the pro ranks). He also has a competitive engine that doesn't die and really shows that he cares about each possession. With 20 years of experience living in Oklahoma City, I think these are the players the fans value the most. He stayed all four years in college, which is a modern rarity for draft prospects. I think this shows he was dedicated foremost to winning, something he is accustomed to at Duke. The downside is that he seems to fit the small forward / power forward slot the Thunder currently have a logjam at. Offensively, he could play shooting guard, but he'd definitely struggle to defend the 2. In terms of character, he played 4 years for Coach K and is one of his favorite players, which is typically a reliable filter for a quality person.
LaceDarius Dunn, the 6'4" senior shooting guard from Baylor, is typically described as one of the best shooters in college basketball, which he is. The Thunder would welcome a chance to improve upon their three point shooting (though it doesn't appear to be Presti's top concern), and he'll likely still be available whenever the Thunder end up picking. However, there are a few things that may keep the Thunder away from him. 1) The already documented struggles of the much hyped Baylor Bears and 2) a regrettable run in with the law.
It's impossible to predict anything at this point. The Thunder's draft position is unknown. Prospects will rise and fall on the boards. The season may be canceled. But, at this point in time, it looks as if the Thunder will be at least tempted to stray from the path of the straight and narrow.