Playing 20 questions with this season’s batch of professional basketball prospects
By Gregory Clay • McClatchy-Tribune News Service
The NBA draft is an annual rite of passage when young college stars take that first giant step into dream world. Many of them grew up dreaming of playing under the shadow of the red-white-and blue NBA logo. When teams call their names, many of them realize all that hard work and sweat equity finally may have paid off.
Then the next step is to sign the contracts. However, that is only the next step.
They still must deliver on the hardwood.
Len Elmore is a basketball analyst for ESPN during the regular season and CBS during the NCAA Tournament. A New York attorney, Elmore is the only former NBA player to graduate from Harvard Law School. He also serves on the highly acclaimed Knight Commission, which is a panel of academic, athletic and media experts working to improve the dynamic between collegiate sports and academic achievement.
Elmore played in the ABA and NBA for 10 years and was an All-America center at the University of Maryland.
Here, Elmore answers 20 questions on which NBA draft prospects will deliver and which won’t. Who is at the top of this draft class. And who is at the bottom. He evaluates the familiar names, as well as the unknowns.
So let the prognostications begin for the June 27 NBA draft.
1. Who is the best overall player in the NBA draft?
The best player title is a tie between Victor Oladipo (swingman from Indiana) and C.J. McCollum (guard from Lehigh). Oladipo is an outstanding athlete who can score and defend. McCollum is an outstanding scorer with athleticism.
2. Who is the most overrated player in the NBA draft?
Right now — and through no fault of his own — it’s (center-forward from New Zealand) Steven Adams of Pitt, projected a possible lottery pick due to the proverbial “upside.” Adams does not possess enough experience to help right away, doesn’t have very good hands to catch passes off penetration and is not necessarily explosive with the ball after a catch.
3. Who is the most underrated player in the NBA draft?
Richard Howell of North Carolina State averaged a double-double in the ACC (12.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 57 field-goal percentage as a 6-7 forward) and improved his numbers every year at N.C. State. He is an outstanding rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. You cannot teach his toughness, wide body and competitiveness. Projected as a second-round pick, Howell would be a steal there.
4. Can Kentucky’s 6-11 center Nerlens Noel return from his devastating knee injury?
Yes. With modern medical technology and conscientious rehabilitation, he could be a stronger player. The only question mark would be the fear factor (Derrick Rose?).
5. Who is the best international player available in the draft?
From folks whom I have consulted, it’s a toss-up between 7-2 Rudy Gobert of France and Dennis Schroeder, a 6-2 point guard from Germany. Gobert is unpolished but is long and athletic while Schroeder is lightning quick and long, with a 6-8 wingspan, enabling him to penetrate with few obstacles.
6. Can Michigan’s Trey Burke, the consensus national College Player of the Year, really play point guard in the NBA?
He has a strong upper body that will allow him to take the bumps inside on penetration, where he consistently finds people. Burke can score enough to keep defenses honest and in turn is a sneaky good defender (just ask Aaron Craft of Ohio State).
7. What is your assessment on the controversial one-and-done situation in college basketball?
For the few prodigies, the rule works. But for the overwhelming number of underdeveloped draftees with unsound fundamentals upon which they can build to reach their full potential, as well as those who believe that they are prodigies but ultimately don’t get drafted and have no college to return to for remediation in basketball and life skills, it’s a disaster. For those kids, we have built exit signs on the path to personal and academic development when we should be erecting superhighways to higher education. The pros lament that they would be better served by a more mature and better educated draft class. Therefore, for the greater good, prodigies and non-prodigies alike should be required to attend college two to three years before entering the NBA. I’m not a hater, I just worry for our young athletes, especially those of color who remain on the short end of the academic achievement gap when compared with their white counterparts.
8. Is it wise for unrefined or underdeveloped players, such as Maryland’s Alex Len and Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng (from Senegal), to turn pro?
Usually, it isn’t wise to enter before one’s time, but there are exceptions. Dieng is an outstanding defender-shot blocker and a surprisingly good passer. As he has grown bigger and stronger, Len has become a dominant low-post offensive player who is only a year or so away from consistent contribution. I would not characterize either of these guys as unrefined or underdeveloped.
9. Is Indiana’s Cody Zeller too soft for the NBA?
If the expectation is that the 7-footer will command the low block … yes, he is too soft right now. Zeller needs to improve his explosiveness with the ball and develop a “take-no-prisoners” attitude. Right now, his strengths are his perimeter shot and his ability to outrun opposing bigs down the floor for layups.
10. Who is the most cerebral player available in the draft?
Otto Porter of Georgetown. He picks his spots and allows the game to come to him. He also exploits opponents’ weaknesses on both sides of the ball and is always in a position to succeed.
11. Who should the Cleveland Cavaliers select with the No. 1 overall pick after winning the draft lottery?
Otto Porter, because the Cavs need a game-ready player. With Kyrie Irving at the point, the Cavs need finishers and defenders who can contribute right away on the NBA level. They would have to wait for Noel to do the same.
12. What is the biggest issue facing NBA draftees?
Young players have to adjust to the speed and length of the pro game as well as to the length of the pro season — and avoid “the wall.” Most importantly, they must adjust to the new-found independence on a daily basis where three to four hours of practice, no classes, etc., create an idleness that could result in trouble for some.
13. Can point guard Dennis Schroeder from Germany be a factor in the NBA?
Yes because he is quick, confident and mature.
14. Who is the best point guard among this trio: Michigan’s Trey Burke, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams or Miami’s Shane Larkin?
Despite his comparative size disadvantage, I pick Larkin. He is the complete package with the speed to push the ball up the floor, the quickness and strength to penetrate, the high basketball IQ and the ability to keep defenses honest with scoring ability. Burke and Carter-Williams are super at some of those traits but lack the complete package.
15. Is C.J. McCollum of Lehigh really the best pure shooter in the NBA draft?
McCollum is the best scorer in the draft, but Seth Curry of Duke, Rotnei Clarke of Butler and James Southerland of Syracuse are the best pure shooters.
16. Rudy Gobert of France is said to be 7-foot-2 in shoes with a 7-foot, 8-inch wingspan and an amazing 9-foot, 7-inch standing reach. All of this means he essentially can dunk without jumping. Is Gobert for real?
We’ll see. The one missing measurement is the size of Gobert’s heart when he is matched day after day versus an NBA center.
17. Which top NBA draft prospect needs the most work — physically and mentally?
To live up to the hype? Nerlens Noel.
18. Who could be the next Michael Beasley in the NBA, as in afflicted with the Enigma Syndrome?
Shabazz Muhammad. Projected as a top-five small forward, he has had considerable success without the traditional, extreme athleticism required at his position. The question remains, can his high school and college success translate?
19. Kelly Olynyk of Gonzaga, by way of Canada, was a guard early in high school, then grew seven inches as a junior. Now, can the 7-footer play center in the NBA?
He can score from anywhere, and he is mobile. However, Olynyk must shed that perceived “laid-back” West Coast demeanor and get tougher. He cannot allow himself to be intimidated by rough and ready opponents.
20. How does this NBA draft rate overall (in terms of a letter grade)?
B-minus. Many athletes will be present. The NBA covets skilled guys, but this draft lacks immediate-help guys.