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.