More promise than star power in NBA draft | Basketball | CBC Sports

NBAMore promise than star power in NBA draft

Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 | 12:55 PM

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Anthony Bennett of Brampton, Ont., is the first high schooler to enter the UNLV program and opt to turn pro after one season. (Jeff Bottari/Getty Images) Anthony Bennett of Brampton, Ont., is the first high schooler to enter the UNLV program and opt to turn pro after one season. (Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

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This year's crop of eligible players may seem underwhelming, but what the NBA draft lacks in star power it more than makes up for in promise and potential.  

If you believe the experts, one of the more underwhelming NBA drafts in recent memory will take place Thursday night in Brooklyn, N.Y.

There is no question it doesn't have a ton of star power or even a clear-cut No. 1 pick, but some pundits believe there is value to be had.

ESPN's Jay Bilas, for one, suggested as much outside of the Top 10.

If that's the case and you're a Toronto Raptors fan, keep an eye on who Oklahoma City selects at No. 12, a pick originally owned by Toronto (and later acquired by the Thunder from the Houston Rockets in the James Harden trade).

As always, whether any of that will be true or not remains to be seen.

Here is a breakdown of 10 players to watch for:

Nerlens Noel

Height: 6-10
NCAA school: Kentucky
NBA position: Centre

For most of the past year, the shot blocker extraordinaire with the Kid 'n Play Hi-top fade was generally considered the consensus No. 1 in this draft. That didn't instantly change when Noel tore the ACL in his left knee in February. But that, among other issues, has toyed with his stock recently. For starters, he likely won't be ready to play for the NBA team that drafts him until at least a month into the regular season. Then, there are general concerns about his game. While Noel has been called a "once-in-a-generation shot blocker," which he certainly is -- he swatted 4.4 per game in 24 contests for Kentucky, including 12 in one game against Mississippi -- his offensive skill set leaves a lot of room for work. It's worth noting that in the 12-block game versus Ole Miss, he scored only two points, both from the free-throw line. That said, former Wildcat Anthony Davis had a similar stat line in the 2012 NCAA championship game yet still completely dominated play. The NBA is a totally different level, however. Still, Noel has elite athleticism -- and a broad-shouldered frame that will allow some weight gain -- to help try and develop some NBA post moves. With the draft imminent, some teams don't appear to be wary of his rehab from the ACL surgery. ESPN's Chad Ford reported Monday that sources with Orlando Magic, who hold the No. 2 pick, have said they're ready to snap him up if the Cleveland Cavaliers pass on him at No. 1.

Alex Len

Height: 7-1
NCAA school: Maryland
NBA position: Centre

The second-guessing of Noel has allowed Len's name to move up everybody's draft board, in some cases to the projected top pick. The Ukrainian, by way of Maryland, has suddenly drawn comparisons to the Raptors' Jonas Valanciunas and former NBA star Zydrunas Ilgauskas and you have to wonder why. Actually, don't bother wondering, I'll tell you why. Like the aforementioned duo, he is a white, European seven-footer. While most agree Len is an athletic specimen at 7-foot-1 and more than 250 pounds, he demonstrated next to nothing in a season-and-a-half at Maryland that indicated he should be considered worthy of being the No. 1 pick. Valanciunas, playing in Lithuania in 2011, had more buzz and projected upside than Len. The people you should listen to further on this topic are the everyday observers of Maryland basketball. ESPN's Scott Van Pelt, a Terp alum, noted this week how Len disappeared in a must-win game against guard-heavy Boston College. The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Cowherd used the term "mind-boggling" when writing Monday about how a player who had been a non-factor in so many games (and without a go-to offensive move) could be considered so highly valued. Oh, one other thing. Like Noel, Len is still recovering from an injury -- a stress fracture of his ankle -- making him unable to work out for teams and play basketball until early fall. He even suggested to Grantland's Bill Simmons that he played hurt this whole past season.

Anthony Bennett

Height: 6-8
NCAA school: Nevada-Las Vegas
NBA position: Power forward

There is a chance that Bennett will eclipse Tristan Thompson, also from Brampton, Ont., in becoming the highest-drafted Canadian ever in the NBA. But it's hard to say. Thompson went fourth overall in 2011 and, while one mock draft has Bennett going No. 3 to the Washington Wizards, others have him as low as No. 8. Either way, the forward is the Canadian stud of this year's draft in what's becoming a pattern every June. The easy knock on Bennett is his size. At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, he sounds like a classic tweener -- too short to play the four, too bulky to play the three. Make no mistake, however. Bennett is a power forward. His wingspan measures over seven feet, he has huge hands and scores most of his points in the paint yet possesses a decent outside shot. If it all comes together for him, Bennett could be one of the best Canadian players in the NBA. He may be a good fit in Charlotte.

Victor Oladipo

Height: 6-4
NCAA school: Indiana
NBA position: Shooting guard

Despite the fact that elements of his offensive game are still raw, Oladipo is an aggressive defender who ranks as one of the top pure prospects in the draft. There are rumblings of teams wanting to trade up to get him and that's impressive, considering he wasn't on any lottery radars a year ago. Small sample size aside, logic dictates Oladipo could be a good pick. Lockdown perimeter defenders aren't tremendously common coming out of college and his athletic ability leaves lots of room for potential offensively. Draft analyst Fran Fraschilla described him as "high motor, low maintenance," which is music to the ears of potential NBA employers.

Ben McLemore

Height: 6-5
NCAA school: Kansas
NBA position: Shooting guard

McLemore's stock seems to have been up and down like a toilet seat over the past few months, although that's probably more the nature of this draft in particular than anything. At times, some mocks had him as high as No. 1. His athletic ability and shot are certain, but the knock comes on his handle. Still, he could easily be the best player in the draft. Or not. That's how this draft is. The No. 2 spot to the Magic is plausible, but No. 3 is unlikely given the Wizards already have Bradley Beal at off-guard.

Trey Burke

Height: 6-0
NCAA school: Michigan
NBA position: Point guard

Most call him the best point guard in this draft; some think he will go as high as No. 2. There are legitimate questions beyond that, however. While Burke is a fierce competitor and leader, scouts question his size and athleticism. He may have demonstrated enough heart last year at Michigan to allay some of the concerns about whether he can overcome being on the short side. But the fact is he also seemed to be a better scorer than a distributor. He also had about a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in his sophomore year.

Otto Porter

Height: 6-9
NCAA school: Georgetown
NBA position: Small forward

Porter's an intriguing player based on his length, shooting proficiency and skills off the ball. The questions come from his skinniness (he barely weighs 200 pounds). He may be a good fit with Washington at No. 3 and he'd still be playing in the same gym (Verizon Center) he did in college.

Cody Zeller

Height: 7-0
NCAA school: Indiana
NBA position: Power forward/centre

Zeller was ranked very high by some, while others see him dropping out of the Top 10. He has NBA size and moves very well for a big man. The knock is that, for a seven-footer, he's not a shot-blocker or a particularly tough defender. "High basketball IQ" is one of the accolades attached to him and that should help when it comes to learning on the job, in terms of rotations, etc. His brother, Tyler, plays for the Cavaliers, while his other brother, Luke, played part of last year with the Phoenix Suns.

Kelly Olynyk

Height: 7-0
NCAA school: Gonzaga
NBA position: Centre

Born in Toronto and raised in Kamloops, B.C., the seven-footer is expected to go in the middle of the first round. In scouting terminology, being called a "finesse" guy often denotes a lack of dominant athleticism and that would be the case here. Olynyk is still learning, but his post game has come a long way. The question is whether can he continue to do that at the NBA level, where everything is that much faster. He can consistently knock down mid-range shots and his passing skills are good for a big man.

Myck Kabongo

Height: 6-2
NCAA school: Texas
NBA position: Point guard

Okay, Kabongo is not a Top 10 pick. But this being a Canadian website, it behooves us to write about the third Canadian who could go Thursday. This draft probably won't match last year, when three Canucks went in the first round, because Kabongo is projected to go somewhere in the second. The knock on the Toronto native isn't the brutally harsh, 23-game suspension the holier-than-thou NCAA handed him for the sin of working out with a professional trainer. It's the small sample size that resulted from it. Kabongo played only 45 up-and-down games in two years at Texas. He has great speed, excellent floor vision and phenomenal passing skills. He could be a steal in the second round -- and the Raptors don't have a pick, thanks to the Rudy Gay trade.

Other to watch for:

  • CJ McCollum, PG (Lehigh)
  • Michael Carter-Williams, PG (Syracuse)
  • Lucas Nogueira, C (Brazil)
  • Shabazz Muhammad, SF (UCLA)
  • Allen Crabbe, SG (California)

Future Canadian NBA draftees will be on display, representing their country at the FIBA U19 World Championship tip off in Prague, Czech Republic. Canada, led by Trey Lyles and Tyler Ennis, opens Thursday against Spain.

Follow John Chick on Twitter @roofthatpeach

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