Blog Entry

NBA Draft: The joy and agony of combo forwards

Posted on: June 21, 2011 7:58 pm
Edited on: June 21, 2011 10:09 pm

Posted by Matt Moore

In every draft there's a gluttony at a position. It never seems to be point guards, though 2009 came close. This year, it's combo forwards.

First there's Derrick Williams, who projects himself as a small forward. But most of the kids project themselves as a small forward, thinking their jumper is good enough and they'll always have that lithe frame. As Williams puts on muscle (or fat) he's likely to morph into more of a stretch four model. His athleticism and explosiveness is good enough to keep him playing on the perimeter, but defensively he's likely to wind up defending bigger players. Which is problematic since he's not as tall as most power forwards. You can see why the movement to get Williams to the top selection (likely) fell short. On the other hand, if he manages to keep his weight down and play the 3 smoothly, his combination of range and athleticism combined with a nasty set of shoulders could put him in great position.

Jan Vesely is the underrated small forward with the height to play power forward. That's right. Derrick Williams will likely wind up playing power forward even though he's too short and Jan Vesely will probably play small forward even though he's 6-11. It's a weird NBA, really. Vesely has incredible explosiveness but needs to be on a team where he can be a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none. He doesn't have a reliable jumper and can be turnover heavy. He actually translates well to a poor man's Josh Smith. Vesely will be a steal at his position while everyone flocks to Enes Kanter who has earned a living in the last three months scoring on chairs.

The Morris twins are both tweeneres that will spend more time at PF than SF mostly due to their more limited athleticism. They do have range (Marcus' obviously being higher), but lack the athleticism to get up and down the floor as a small forward. Still, without dominant size, they're looking at a struggle regardless of position, unless they hit another gear in the NBA.

Chris Singleton is yet another player that's going to drift from position to position. Unlike the Morris twins, he's got the athleticism, but not the range. His rebounding abilities are particularly alluring as a prospect, but he lacks a post game.

Are you sensing a patttern? There is a plethora of combo forwards available and the reason they're combo forwards is that they're incomplete. This is just inside the top 15, before we get to players like Tristan Thompson and Tobias Harris. It's a draft that's rife with holes in talent, and even the talent that is there is more fraught with concerns than the usual.

And still that talent is alluring. That's the thing with combo forwards. No type of player sucks in fans so easily as those with the ability to leap, muscle, hook, run the floor, swat, and still have range. For a long time the myth was based on a fictional player, some sort of hybrid between Magic Johnson and Moses Malone. Then LeBron James came along and made the prototype a reality. Then we all decided we hated him because he's a jerk. But the myth goes on. The idea is for a player with size, length, and athleticism to develop range, handle, and savvy. It's like asking Voltron to strap a transformer to his back. 

The bar has to be much lower for these players. It's often a struggle just to find a place for them, and for them to mold to that spot. This year's class is no exception with a collection of rare strengths and witnesses that make you think the forwards in this class grabbed their attributes blindly from a top hat. 

That's why in this draft, even moreso than in the usual crasphoot that is the yearly selection process, teams need to be cognizant not only of whether the player is a good fit for what they want, but if they are capable of defending that talent. Have an overstock of mid-range shooters but struggle with post scoring? Don't target a player who can't play back to the basket and hope he turns into it. Have issues with developing defensive personnel? Don't bring in the player who lacks awareness. It will only compound your problem.

Sounds obvious, right? Except that traditionally teams are resistant to these ideals instead opting to do what's best for them or aim for talent by default. But this draft allows for some creativity precisely because it isn't stocked, or even partially filled, with All-Stars. Having so many role players and tweeners can be a good thing because it makes every pick that much more crucial. There's no defense for not knowing this is a weak draft class. So teams which are gambling on these forwards need to have a set development plan in place. This is not a "stick them in and see what happens" kind of draft. The convenient part is knowing that ahead of time and planning accordingly.

The myth of the athletic big man is as old as the league itself. Tyrus Thomas, Stromile Swift, Anthony Randolph, even the league's recent history is filled with players of the prototype who can't put the tools together with any skill. They key in the 2011 NBA Draft isn't staying away from any and all combo fowards. It's merely recognizing that best talent available doesn't mean best talent available for your team. Maybe if they can learn that this year, it will become a trend they can use in all situations.

Since: Sep 22, 2006
Posted on: June 23, 2011 3:27 am

NBA Draft: The joy and agony of combo forwards

One slight correction:  Williams shot 20 percent from 3PT land as a freshman, and 56 percent as a sophomore.  If you think the 56 percent is the more realistic, you're kidding yourself.  He improved, I grant you, but no one -- no one -- consistently shoots 60 percent from behind the three-point line.  If he settles in around 35-40 percent, teams will be jumping for joy. 

Since: Jan 23, 2009
Posted on: June 22, 2011 5:32 pm

NBA Draft: The joy and agony of combo forwards

Did this guy see Derrick Williams play?  Range from three, decent handle, can finish in traffic (how many times did he dunk on Duke's entire frontline, a good positional defense team?).  Those skills translate well to either the 3 or the 4.  Cleveland is going to be hamstrung taking a fragile guard with average quickness and questionable toughness if they pick Irving. 

Take Williams and whomever falls to them at PG with the #4.  Or buy some snazzier furniture for the basement because you'll be there awhile.

Since: Dec 10, 2006
Posted on: June 22, 2011 12:07 pm

NBA Draft: The joy and agony of combo forwards

As Williams puts on muscle (or fat) he's likely to morph into more of a stretch four model

Wait, so you're telling me if williams gets fat he might not be as good?  What kind of arguement is that?  Williams is fine at the 3 and doesn't need to add much weight.  Please this is a grasping at straws argument if I have ever seen one.

And what's this about defense?  In the NBA you don't need to play great individual defense, LA and Dallas proved that.  Its about team defense, rotations, and knowing where you want to make the offensive player on the floor go.  If you're team doesn't rotate then you can forget it, no matter how good you are defensively it won't show.  Good offenses will make enough passes to where it won't matter.  Defense is about committment.  

I understand if you are a combo forward who can't shoot.  But williams shot 60% from three point land in college, he has the range to be a reliable perimeter player.  Like any other prospect he'll need to fine tune his skills, maybe expand his range to NBA 3, work on his post play.  But if you're banking on him putting on so much muscle (or fat) that he'll have to move to the 4 then thats a pretty weak argument. 

Since: Sep 30, 2007
Posted on: June 22, 2011 11:56 am

NBA Draft: The joy and agony of combo forwards

i agree with one of earlier assessment that the traditional PF/C are of dying breed (at least the likes of Hakeem, Dunkin and others that was awesome on both ends), but i do think that in another decade or so, the game itself will adjust (or maybe all those athletic 6'10 guys will starting training for inside game at early age, just so they can reap the rewards of being in high demand-low supply)

but...   not so much rebutting one person, but just all those who STILL DON'T GET IT!!!

NOBODY of any intelligence/practicality blames LeBron for going to the best opportunity, but ONLY THE WAY HE DID IT!!   if people keep bringing up 'oh, can't blame him for going to Miami'...   well , YEAH WE ALL KNOW THAT (and those that do not are probably too dumb to ever become anyone of significance anyway

as Dan Patrick put it best...  what LeBron did is like...

taking your girlfriend of 7 years to a ball game.  the girl sees that she's on the jumbo tron on NATIONAL TV with the guy kneeling and taking out a ring.  she (and THE WHOLE WORLD) are all expecting him to propose to her, BUT WAIT!!  Another girl comes and and the guy dumbs the GF of 7 years ON NATIONAL TV and then proposes to the new girl in front of the world...    there's nothing wrong with breaking up with your GF and moving onto a new better girl...   but don't do that on National TV

if you honest don't think that guy will be known as the biggest D-bag of all time...   well, then you're either the biggest Dooshe or hopelessly unaware and your opinion probably won't weigh much for the rest of your life

as for me, as soon as i heard about the 'Decision', i (and ALL MY FRIENDS) just ASSSUMED he's going back to Cleveland because we all thought  'There's NO WAY LeBron is dumb enough to have a TV special if he's not going back to Cleveland.  I know he's an athlete and his judment are probably not the most sound, but NO ONE CAN BE THAT DUMD AND UNAWARE'...

i was wrong...

Since: Oct 1, 2006
Posted on: June 22, 2011 11:51 am

NBA Draft: The joy and agony of combo forwards

Let's see Derrick Williams dominated the Morris twins when he played Kansas; KU coach Bill Self said he was the best player on the floor.  His Arizona team dominated Duke yet Kyrie Irving who played in all of 10 games is  projected higher in the draft?  UConn won the NCAA title because Williams got into foul trouble.  Williams improved his play from freshman Pac 10 player of the year to his sophomore season when he became an All American first teamer.  His play on the court proved he can shoot the three with the best in the NCAA, he can rebound with the best in the NCAA, he can score with the best in the NCAA and he has the explosive shot blocking ability but for some reason he has no defense but blocks a lot of shots and in key moments (Memphis)?  What is not to like about this guy?  In my opinion he is the #1 overall pick and Cleveland should go after Brandon Knight with the #4 selection if they really feel they need the best point guard.  Seriously what did Kyrie Irving prove other than injury prone?

Since: Oct 12, 2006
Posted on: June 22, 2011 11:30 am

NBA Draft: The joy and agony of combo forwards

Combo Forwards ? Too funny ? Guys with holes in their game making them perfect for either forward position ? Doesn't that make them bad or bench/role players ? So when they miss a shot they are being a power forward and when they make them a shooting/scoring forward ?

Since: Jul 8, 2007
Posted on: June 22, 2011 10:48 am

NBA Draft: The joy and agony of combo forwards

I have issues with both sides of this argument, so I will state both sides of my case, and ya'll can be the judge of which argument is better.

On the first hand, I look at this draft and I laugh. There is CLEARLY no dominant player; the freakin first pick is still undecided! Irving can be great, but we have seen so little of him on a big stage that we can't be sure. Williams, Morris's and Jan are all nice players at this stage of thier careers. I personally think that Williamss' march raised his value a bit higher than it should be. Definately a lottery pick, but I don't think 1 or 2 overall. As stated, a clear "tweener". The Morris twins will hopefully be good role players on the next leval, but I doubt more than that. This draft class will struggle to make a statement next year (and consequently, for the entirerty of their careers); but I do hope I'm wrong. To compare these players however to Stormile Swift and Anthony Randolf is a low blow. And to even bring up the names Bird and Nowitzki is an even bigger embarrassment.

The only disputing myself comment that I have is that this class is SO not deep, that it might actually be great. Usually you have a ligit 1st pick, great-good 2-13's, and then very solid 14-end of 1st round, and a decent second round. In this draft, you may have 2 rounds of your 14-end of 1st round type players. There is a plethora of players who normally would get drafter in the late 2nd round, that will get taken late 1 early 2; as well as guys who normally would have gone late 1 that will go mid to late 2. I think the team that drafts NEED will come out on top in this specific draft. I do not usually believe in that strategy; I am a DBPA (draft best player available) type of guy. However, in this type of draft where there might be a tie for 10 guys that are "best", need will take over.
Lastly my comments on Lebron. EVERYONE LEAVE HIM ALONE!! Listen, I think the guy is a douche and a coward for disapearing in the biggest spot of his career, but I'm sick of people taking the Corperation side of these arguments. Aren't we all working employed men and woman? He did what was best for his family- period! Whether or not he did the whole production and the decision and pedicted 42 champiships is irrelevant. This guy has every right to make choices on his employment and where he wants to play. Imagine you are a Doctor and you were the best doctor in hospital x for 10 years. When your contract expired, the best hospital in the world (hospital y) said to you "come work for us. You won't get all the acclimation as you are getting at x b/c at y there are 5 other great doctors, but it will make our hospital stronger. Hospital x will be upset, but why should hospital's A-W? This has NOTHING to do with you unless you're a cavs fan. And even they blew it way out of proportion.

Since: Jul 17, 2008
Posted on: June 22, 2011 9:23 am

NBA Draft: The joy and agony of combo forwards

I seriously saw the cover picture of Jan Vesely and thought to myself "Man, that lady is ripped."  I'm not sure why.  I know who he is.  It's not because I think that Jan is a girly name.  I just actually thought that was a woman basketball player.

Since: Jan 15, 2007
Posted on: June 22, 2011 9:19 am

NBA Draft: The joy and agony of combo forwards

Please don't compare bring up Bird or Nowitzki when making comparisons. They are the exception rather than the rule. To expect someone in any draft to turn out like them is silly. What, you want a slow weird looking dude who can hit moonshots from anywhere? No problem, here are the Morris twins!

Since: Feb 3, 2007
Posted on: June 22, 2011 7:02 am

NBA Draft: The joy and agony of combo forwards

The Morris twins can shoot and defend, but biggest assets are passing and floor awareness. Not the fastess but neither was Larry Bird and he did OK.

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