Welcome back for the final installment of our 2014 NBA Draft podcast series with Dean Demakis of DeanOnDraft.com. In part one we focused on exploring the gap between Andrew Wiggins' tools and skills that casts at least a shadow of doubt on his upside potential in the association. Part two was dedicated to valuing Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart, and Joel Embiid -- the other prime prospects in this draft class that have GMs salivating for various reasons.
For part three the discussion turned to the next tier of players, a shakier bunch that includes tweeners and turnover machines like Julius Randle, Noah Vonleh, and Aaron Gordon. Beyond that trio, we also considered mid-to-late round alternative big men such as Jusuf Nurkic, Bobby Portis, Doug McDermott, and Frank Kaminsky. As we move down the draft board the questions get bigger and conditional statements latch on to nearly every possible answer. That's just the way it works.
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If you accept the premise that steal rates, block rates, and wingspan measurements are important indicators that signal a prospect's ability to compete with NBA-caliber athletes on both ends of the floor, you probably have serious questions about otherwise successful college players like Julius Randle and Doug McDermott at the next level. Would it be worth the risk to gamble on Randle emulating David Lee or McDermott capturing the magic of Wally Szczerbiak? We're not so sure. Maybe it makes more sense to bet on Vonleh and Kaminsky, respectively.
Let's just say we don't agree with the implication of the image posted below:
NCAA Tourney Cover (Pt. 1): Inspired by the 1977 cover with Larry Bird. Creighton's @dougmcd3 http://t.co/emwby28RDO pic.twitter.com/hbSZkwtyJb— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 13, 2014
But what about Randle? He is known as a hard worker, and he certainly could find a way to make his mark in the NBA, but it'll be an uphill battle for the Kentucky freshman. He has destroyed bad defenses at the college level and struggled against longer opponents. That's not a great sign, and when you factor in his cluelessness on defense the water get pretty murky. Dean had this to say in his article on Randle from late January:
[Randle] absolutely demolishes bad teams and his bulk stats, efficiency, and turnover rates all fall off a cliff against respectable opponents. It is natural that there should be some gap, but his discrepancy is massively troubling. It should shed some light on how he became rated so highly. He relies heavily on his strength to completely dominate smaller competition. So if he put that level of hurting on doormat college defenses, imagine what he did to even smaller and weaker high school defenses. Since no high school defense is in a position to expose his weaknesses, it is easy to see why he garnered so much acclaim as a recruit.
On the other hand, given the slope of respectable college defenses to bad ones, imagine what the output would be if there was another data point of NBA defenses that completely crush the good college defenses he has been facing. It would be ugly, and this alone causes serious concern for his NBA translation.
Randle takes a hit on Dean's draft board, but he fills the void with other interesting options. Vonleh is the obvious replacement, and there's a lot to like in his game. Even if he's a below-the-rim guy who struggles a bit to convert in the paint, Vonleh has excellent length, posts great rebounding stats, and may be able to stretch the floor to hit a jumper. There are warts in his game as well, however. As for Aaaron Gordon, let's just say that at one point Frank Madden compares him to Luc Mbah a Moute.
If the discussion of those three players gets you down, it's followed up by a very interesting breakdown of wild card prospects Jusuf Nurkic and Bobby Portis. Both guys have quietly risen up the Draft Express board in recent weeks to match up more with Dean's Big Board. Nurkic is posting stats comparable to a 19-year-old DeMarcus Cousins, and he's doing it against better competition. Dean had this to say in his eye-opening article on the young Bosnian big man:
Nurkic may have more translation concerns than Embiid since he's so reliant on his strength, and that's a topic that I will explore before anointing him as a future stud at a loud volume. But he's playing at an inordinately high level for such a young and inexperienced player, and it does seem that his tools will enable him to translate enough of his production to become a good NBA player. If he proves to excel at learning and developing, he might provide a monstrous return for whatever team gambles on him.
Bobby Portis is a five-star recruit who has flown under the radar at Arkansas, but Dean serves to put us all on notice regarding his potential value as a prospect:
It appears that Portis's malfunction is that he doesn't have a single trait that scouts can latch onto and drool over. He projects to score well in a complementary role, but is not a go to scorer who will average 20 points per game in the NBA. He also shows decent potential defensively, but isn't a stopper on this end. He is a good shooter for such a young big as he hits 77.6% of his free throws, but his 3 point range may not be developed as he is just 4 for 21 on 3′s thus far. But he also doesn't have any glaring weaknesses that will preclude him from success. He is skilled, plays hard, has good feel for the game, shows potential to be solid on both ends, and he has plenty of room to grow as he turns 19 in 2 days.
I am possibly the only person on the planet who believes Portis makes for an interesting comparison with Julius Randle. They are both skilled 5 star freshman PF's who play in the SEC. Their tools are not far apart, as Portis has more length (7'1.5″ vs 6'11″ wingspan), Randle has more strength, and their athleticism and mobility appear to be similar (although perhaps Randle's spryness would stand out if he trimmed down). Their offensive ratings adjusted for SOS and usage is close with Randle having a slim 1.8 point advantage. In a world that interprets draft related information with reasonable efficiency, a Portis vs. Randle debate would be raging right now.
Digest the part three podcast and let us know what you think in the comments section.