NEW YORK -- The 2006 NBA Draft is nearly upon us and the mock drafts are coming out of the wood works. Does this mean yours truly will follow the crowd and try his hand at predicting the pattern of this year's draft? Not a chance.
"The only thing you can be sure of in these mock drafts is that you'll be mistaken."
-- Jay Bilas, on ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike in the Morning
Word, Jay. You see, J, like Jay, doesn't believe in mock drafts. I tend to think I have a fairly solid handle on how good players are, on what they're capable of. But year after year NBA GMs prove they have no clue. Don't get me wrong, they're the best at what they do and I wouldn't want to have their job for a second, but every year there are picks, or lack thereof, that make me tap into a message board post or chat room log, "WTF?"
I knew Amaré Stoudemire would be a superstar, no really, I did. I told people he'd be a top five pick in the 2002 draft. Nope. He slipped to number nine. It seems eight GMs listened to HBO specials and whispers about Stoudemire's work ethic and coachability factor. They couldn't hear his all-world game screaming. I said Josh Howard should go top 15 in the 2003 draft; he dropped to 29. Another '02 favorite debacle of mine, I told people how good Carlos Boozer was, how he would be a lottery pick. Then he dropped into the second round as I shouted obscenities at teams for not drafting him, and the TV guys for not even mentioning him. Despite some injury problems, Boozer has a 16 point, eight rebound average for his career so far. I'd like to think I was right. Unless you think Nikoloz Tskitishvili (5th pick in '02) has had the better career. These are just a few examples, I could on for hours -- wrong about the pick, right about the player.
What follows is my top fifteen players in the draft (not necessarily in order), plain and simple. No guesstimations on where they'll be selected or what teams picks them. If you think you can predict what league general managers will do based on facts, think again, they don't go by facts, even if the rest of the world does. So no, I can't tell you where
these players will be drafted, I can just tell you how good they'll be.
[Conneticut | SF | 6-9 | 220 lbs. | Sophomore | Projected: Top 5]
Back in March Rudy Gay made my list of players I most want to see in the NBA and with good reason. In a draft filled with good-but-not-great players, Gay has the potential to be a superstar in the league, more so than any other player in this draft. He's a straight pogo stick, an elite athlete even in NBA standards. More than just a leaper also, he has a 7-3 freakish long wingspan, runs the floor well, has quick lateral movement, and despite weighing about 220 pounds, he has a wiry strength to him that prevents him from getting pushed around too easily. I don't put too much concern on the questions about his heart and intensity. At just 19 years of age he's a talented young player with a quiet demeanor to him who is still learning how to assert himself on the court. Think in the mold of Tracy McGrady, who faced a lot of the same criticisms early in his career. As Gay grows and matures his consistency and focus will improve. He's a lock for a top five pick and I can't wait to see him suit up in an NBA game.
[LSU | PF | 6-9 | 220 lbs. | Freshmen | Projected: Top 3]
Many people are considering Tyrus Thomas the top prospect in this draft. Because the Raptors already have Chris Bosh, that won't necessarily translate to a number one pick, unless the Raptors decide to trade their picks. Nevertheless, whoever takes Thomas will be getting one hell of a basketball player. Despite only playing one year at LSU, Thomas is NBA ready right now and will contribute immediately to any team he goes to. Athletically he's superb, a great leaper, he gets off the ground and to the peak of his jump very quickly. He has great agility for someone 6-9. His long arms and aggressive instincts made him a phenomenal shot blocker in college and that success should translate well to the league, with the exception of him going for a few too many pump fakes. Offensively his game is still a little raw, he's shown flashes of a nice mid-range jumpshot and even some impressive ball handling, but nothing consistent in terms of go to moves. He primarily scores off put backs, alley-oops, and transition plays right now, and truthfully there's nothing wrong with that. He can play a Stromile Swift type role for a team right away, and his tremendous upside means he could end up as much more than that. Bottom line is there is almost no chance of Thomas being a bust and a great chance of him being a premier player in this league.
[Gonzaga | SF | 6-8 | 220 lbs. | Junior | Projected: Top 3]
Adam Morrison led the nation scoring his junior year at Gonzaga and comes into this draft as well known scorer. The list of offensive compliments for Morrison are almost too many to list. First and foremost his jumpshot is effortless and effective from anywhere on the floor, that coupled with his ability to move without the ball and work off screens make him a tough cover for anyone. He has a great understanding of the game and knows how to find ways to get his shot off. He isn't exactly a slasher, but he puts the ball on the floor well enough to gain space for his jumper. He's aggressive and a leader for his team. Morrison isn't a great athlete and possess only average speed and leaping ability, but he's tough and extremely competitive, if he suffers from any defensive shortcomings it won't be due to a lack of effort or desire. He may indeed have some trouble guarding the more athletic small fowards in the league, but they'll have to contend with him on the other end. Morrison may have some trouble adjusting to the athletes on the next level, but he's a natural scorer and a great competitor with good leadership qualities, those attributes will make him a good, if not great player in the NBA.
[Washington | SG | 6-6 | 215 lbs. | Senior | Projected: Top 5]
Although I didn't see too much of him in college, the performances I caught of him late in the year and in the NCAA tourney made him one of my favorite players. Jay Bilas ranks Roy as his top prospect and with good reason. Brandon Roy may be the most complete player, and certainly the most complete guard in this draft. Brandon Roy does nearly everything well. He's a smart basketball player who rarely makes mistakes. Offensively he's well rounded, a good shooter, not afraid to take big shots. Although he isn't touted as a great athlete he has a great first step and deceptive quickness. He can create shots for himself and his teammates. He's a good ball handler and has really improved on outside shot, shooting over 40 percent from deep last season. Roy has all the physical attributes and skills to be a prototypical two guard. The only knock people have been able to bring against Roy is the old "everything good, nothing great" line, a way of saying, "there are no real flaws in your game, so we'll make up something stupid." While it's true Roy has no spectacular aspects to his game, he also doesn't have any glaring weakness. Brandon Roy is going to be a big scorer in this league and moreover a good all around offensive weapon. I wouldn't expect to see Roy available past the fifth pick of this draft.
[Texas | PF/C | 6-11 | 230 lbs. | Sophomore | Projected: Top 5]
LeMarcus Aldridge is one of the best big man in this draft. In his two years at Texas he's developed a nice low post game for himself. His footwork is excellent and his length around the basket makes his jumpshooks and turn around jumpers all the more effective. His athleticism isn't mind blowing, but it is impressive and will likely give him an advantage over some bigs in the league in terms of quickness and agility. Defensively Aldridge is excellent, using his great length and athleticism to change and block shots regularly. He may have trouble guarding one-on-one in the post against some of the stronger big men in the league, which is why he'll have to add some muscle to his relatively thin frame. If you're unfamilier with Aldridge's game, think Marcus Camby, long, athletic, a little thin, might end up injury prone, but a good help defender and rebounder. Aldridge has faced some question about his toughness and hustle, but if he can overcome that and take his intensity up, he'll make a fine NBA big man.
[Italy, Benetto Traviso | PF | 7-0 | 230 lbs. | Projected: Top 3]
Bargnani has likely been the most talked about player in the weeks leading up to this draft. At 7-0 feet tall the Italian big man possesses a smooth outside shot that is drawing him comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki. He does have an impressive shot for a seven footer and decent quickness, but he is not a great athlete, has shown no defense prowess, or a back to the basket game. Lets not forget, all the talk about Bargnani was the same talk that went the way of Nikoloz Tskitishvili a few years ago. He has the potential to be a good player, and makes my list primarily on potential, but he is not by any stretch of the imagination Dirk Nowitzki.
[Duke | SG | 6-4 | 200 lbs. | Senior | Projected: late lottery - mid-first round]
Reddick is coming off one of the most prolific seasons in college basketball. Drawing the praise of the national media and the scorn of opposing team's fans. He's easily one of the better shooters I've ever seen, holding a command over his jumpshot, seemingly ordering it to go in the basket whenever he wants, even against tight defense. He moves extremely well without the ball, he knows how to use screens, V-cuts, and fakes better than anyone on the college level, and better than most on the NBA level. The negatives on Reddick, however, will cost in terms of draft position. At 6-4 he's small for an NBA two guard and he doesn't possess the speed or playmaking abilities to play the point. Reddick also is not a great, or even good athlete. His lack of lateral quickness and upper body strength will make him a liability defensively. Even offensively, because he isn't accustomed to playing against greater athletes and doesn't have great size, he may struggle at times on the next level. He will be a good player and eventually even a Rip Hamilton type scorer, but not on the level he was in college. Reddick can contribute on a team where spot up shooting is needed, but I doubt he'll ever recreate the dominant play he had at Duke.
[Conneticut | PG | 6-3 | 215 lbs. | Junior | Projected: mid - late lottery]
Marcus Williams is a pure point guard, and one of the best in this draft. Williams is a playmaker first, and a capable scorer second, which is what you want from your point guard. Williams led the nation in assists with 8.6 a game and has made his name as one of the best playmakers and floor generals in college basketball. Williams seems to always make the correct decision, whether on the break or in the half court. He's a clutch player with a nice jump shot and a killer crossover. I'm convinced had he been more selfish he could have averaged 20 points a game last season, but that's just not his game, instead he did the right thing and kept everyone on a loaded UConn squad happy by distributing the rock. Playing in the Big East and on a star studded team like UConn makes Williams even more ready for the league, he understands winning, played against some of the toughest competition in college basketball, and knows how to keep a team stacked with talent and egos happy. There have been questions about his character stemming from a few incidents that went down at his time in Conneticut, but I'm not even going to get into that, the man can play, period. True point guards with good size and great instincts don't come along too often, he'll be a great pick for whoever takes him.
[Duke | PF/C | 6-9 | 250 lbs. | Senior | Projected: mid lottery]
Sheldon Williams may well be the best big man in this draft. Sheldon is tough mentally and physically, a disciplined player who plays hard every play. He measures about 6-9, but with a lengthy wingpan he plays closer to a seven footer. His interior defense and shot blocking were second to none in college. Nicknamed the Landlord because he owns the paint, his presence inside is nothing short of intimidating. He averaged nearly four blocks a game in his Senior year at Duke to go along with 18 and 10 in points and rebounds, respectively. His offensive game has developed and grown into a decent repertoire of moves that, coupled with Williams's size and strength, made him an effective scorer in college and should do the same on the pro level. Sheldon will likely end up as a role player in the pros, but a damn good one. He'll give his team great defense, rebounding, and the occasional low post threat offensively.
[Michigan State | PG | 6-3 | 200 lbs. | Junior | Projected: mid - late first round]
Shannon Brown has been a highly touted pro prospect since he was in high school. His time at Michigan has only made him even more NBA ready. Brown is an explosive player with 42 inch vertical leap and great quickness. His physical abilities also make him a good defender when he digs down and put forth the effort to stop his man. His jumpshot has improved over the last three seasons and has given Brown some much need consistency. The knocks against Brown are primarily his size as a two guard, or his vision and playmaking as a point guard, take your pick. Either way, Brown is still a great prospect with phenomenal upside. He's not being projected higher than 15-20 range in many mock drafts, but then most mock drafts are wrong. I've seen enough of Shannon Brown to stake my claim here and now, he will be a good player and defeat the skeptics.
[Memphis | SF | 6-7 | 205 lbs. | Senior | Projected: mid - late lottery]
Rodney Carney is absolutely a joy to watch, straight silly athletic, quick in the open court, and extremely long. Carney's athleticism and leaping ability touches almost every area of his game, from his high rising jump shot, to the shots he blocks, to his rebounding, the kid just bounces around the whole game. Great energy, always looking to make a play, active rebounder and defender. His length and lateral quickness especially makes him a good defender, both on the ball and when he's stepping into passing lanes to create steals. Offensively his game can be considered a little raw thanks to his dependence on his physical abilities, but his jumpshot has improved significantly over his four years at Memphis, maybe too much as he tends to settle for the outside shot when he should take it to the rim. His decision making and shot selection have come into question, but honestly that's to be expected for a player like Carney; he has no much talent and athleticism that he can get anything he wants and like most young players tends to go for the first scoring opportunity he sees, even if it isn't always the best one. A good coach and couple of years in the league can fix that. Trust me, unless some brave team surprises me and take Carney in the top five, he isn't going high enough. Depending on how far he drops, we'll look back on this draft a few years from now and say Rodney Carney was one of the steals.
[Villanova | PG | 6-3 | 210 lbs. | Senior | Projected: early - mid lottery]
That I've taken this long to talk about Randy Foye is proof I'm not going in order of importance or talent, otherwise I may have started with Foye. Foye has a chance to be one of the best players, if not the best player, coming out of this draft. With respect to Marcus Williams, Randy Foye is the best point guard in this draft. He's a tremendous ballhandler, with incredible control and quickness, Foye can change pace and direction in the blink of an eye, leaving his defender (or defenders) off balance and out of position (or even on the ground). He has great size and strength for a point guard and he knows how to use his size to his advantage. A tough player, not afraid to take contact on his way to the basket. Foye has a nice shot with good form and has become a great scorer averaging over 20 a game in his senior year. The criticism against Foye is that he's more of a combo guard, and not a true point guard. While Foye has spent a lot of time playing the two in Villanova, his size will obviously make him a point guard, and he'll have to learn the position at the NBA level like every other rookie point guard. The difference between him and other guards isn't that he plays both positions, but that he has great natural instincts. Put him out there and he'll make plays for your basketball team. Bottom line, Randy Foye will not only be a good player down the road, but may be a good candidate for Rookie of the Year.
[Arkansas | SG | 6-7 | 215 lbs. | Junior | Projected: late lottery]
Considering his lineage, it should come as no surprise to see Ronnie Brewer headed for the NBA. Son of Ron Brewer, who was drafted 7th in the 1979 draft for the Portland Trailblazers, Ronnie has been around basketball all his life. He has a great feel for the game and at 6-7 can play both guard positions. He has a nice first step and good ball handling, coupled with his unselfishness and vision he makes a good playmaker. Whether he's leading the break or filling a lane, he's very effective in the open court. He's a good athlete with a strong, long, agile frame. He's aggressive defensively and his length and quickness obviously make even more effective. A childhood injury has caused him to have an odd shooting form, but he's worked hard on improving his shot. Brewer should make a good combo guard in the league.
[California | PF | 6-8 | 245 lbs. | Sophomore | Projected: late first round - early second round]
Powe isn't your highly touted prospect and you likely won't hear the guys on ESPN talking about him until the latter parts of the first round. The astute NBA observer, however, can tell you Leon Powe has some serious game. At 6-8 he has a strong wide body to take you down low, but also has a nice jumpshot out to 18 feet. Powe is surprisingly quick and explosive despite having suffered knee injuries that kept him off the floor in the 2004-2005 season. He has great length and big hands that serve him well for rebounding. Powe is a tough player and a great competitor, he averaged 20 and 10 last season and whether people recognize or not, Powe is going to be a good player in this league.
[Syracuse | PG | 6-1 | 185 lbs. | Senior | Projected: second round]
To the the analysts and experts who have McNamara slated for a second round selection, you can go swivel on it -- Gerry McNamara can straight ball. Whether NBA GMs are smart enough to overlook his lack of great athleticism and size, I can't be sure, but I've been paying close attention to this kid since he was a freshmen and I can say with confidence he's one of the better guards I've seen play college basketball. McNamara is a great shooter from anywhere on the court and as clutch a shooter as they come. He created a name for himself at Syracuse for making big shots. His decision making and playmaking has improved over his four years at Syracuse and he's more than capable of running an NBA offense. He's great one-on-one, creating space for his shot, and making plays for his teammates. Honestly I don't expect McNamara to be drafted high, or even in the first round, but that's only due to the fallacies of the NBA draft. If he's given a chance, Gerry McNamara can make a very good player in this league.