In what I believe to be the deepest position in this draft, with as many as 10 players having the potential to be first round picks, the PF’s also present some of the more interesting story lines to Thursday’s draft. With the Latvian Porzingis reportedly getting serious consideration from every team in the top five not from The Land of 10,000 Lakes, along with the uncertainty surrounding where guys like Portis, Lyles and Harrell will be drafted, this group of guys could very well change the landscape of the entire draft if one of the proverbial "dominoes" were to fall early. But aside from draft night intrigue, this class also has a plethora of talent and some star potential as well. I could see every single player on this list making an NBA roster as soon as next season with a few of them being impact players in the near future.
1. Kristaps Porzingis – International
I dare you to find another NBA Draft writer that is more skeptical and harder on European players than I am. You won’t find one, trust me. Maybe it is because I don’t have the opportunity to see them play live or the fact that I feel like in my time there have been way more Nikoloz Tskitishvili’s than there have been Dirk Nowitzki’s. Whatever the reason, I’ve never been high on Euro players. But the more tape I watch in Porzingis, the more I like his game. There was a rumor that during one of his workouts he didn’t miss a single shot. And while some may argue that guys with this type of talent shouldn’t miss open shots, those who have played the game of basketball realize how hard that actually is whether you have a hand in your face or not.
Porzingis, like many Euro bigs, is a great shooter. He’s effective from almost anywhere on the court and looks to be a player that would thrive as a pick and pop big man with his size and ability to knock down jumpers from any distance. He’s a gifted athlete that can finish at the rim. He has great length and at 7’1 can get his shot up on anyone. Offensively he is the real deal and can contribute on that side of the floor from day one. Where he lacks is strength and NBA readiness is on the defensive side of the ball. And most of that has to do with the fact that he gets bullied down on the block. He isn’t very strong at this point and is extremely lanky. Too often we seem to think that an NBA workout room can fix anyone’s lanky frame and lack of strength but that isn’t always the case. Whatever team drafts him will have to work hard at making sure he fills out as much as possible. He was brought in for a "secret" workout with the Lakers last week. While I think that was more smoke and mirrors than anything else, they wouldn’t have brought him in if they weren’t at least considering him at #2. That alone tells you all you need to know regarding his NBA potential and upside.
2. Trey Lyles – Kentucky
For a non-International player widely considered to be a guaranteed lotto pick, no one has more mystery than Lyles who was often the forgotten Freshman at Kentucky last year. He came off the bench to start the season as part of the "second platoon" that Calipari was using but with the injury to Alex Poythress in mid-December Lyles got a chance to start for the rest of the season at the SF spot. His averages of roughly 9 points, 5 rebounds and an assist won’t "wow" anyone but he only played 23 minutes per game last season and was virtually always the fourth or fifth option on the court offensively. He is more suited for the stretch four position at the next level but having to play on the wing at times last season only helped develop his versatility.
He’s a big forward that can play both inside and out. He can step out and hit the 12-15 foot jumpers with ease and was really comfortable spotting up on both the left and right baselines for that 15 footer when Tyler Ulis and the Harrison twins collapsed the defense with their dribble penetration. His post game needs some work but he does have great footwork on both sides of the ball. He’s doesn’t have the elite athleticism of some other guys on this list but he has a more well-rounded and well polished game than the rest do. Defensively he’ll have to work on banging in the post as he’s not great at absorbing contact down low. He’s not a shot blocker but what he lacks with blocking shots he makes up for with his above average rebounding. He’s gotten looks from teams as high as 5 but will likely fall somewhere in the 8-12 range.
3. Bobby Portis – Arkansas
Even at #3 on this list and getting late lottery looks, Portis might be one of the more underrated players in this class. He’s currently projected to go somewhere in the 13-20 range but he has the talent and skill set to be a lottery pick. He’s got prototypical size for the PF position at the next level and at 6’11 will even be asked to play some center in smaller more up tempo lineups. Portis really elevated his game from year one to year two with the Razorbacks and his decision to come back to school for his sophomore season has really paid off especially on the glass as he has developed into one of the better rebounders in the SEC.
He’s more of a face-up four man with the ability to take larger four’s off the dribble and take smaller fours down to the block. His bread and butter is his ability to get by his man with a fairly quick first step but also spot up and hit that mid-range jumper that he’s so effective at hitting. He projects to be an effective pick and roll player at the next level with his ability to attack the basket as well as spot up and hit open jumpers. He’s increased his range over the last year and is now a guy who you have to respect from beyond the arc as well. He isn’t a great defender in the post and gets bullied down low by bigger guys a little to easily for my taste but on the perimeter he has shown the ability to be extremely versatile defensively against smaller players. He has an NBA ready body who really only needs a little work on his overall post game to be an effective player in the league.
4. Montrezl Harrell – Louisville
Where Portis made the right decision to come back to school, Harrell probably should have come out after last season at least in terms of draft position. In what was a weaker draft last season, Harrell was by all accounts a sure fire lottery pick. Now, just a season later and with no additional knocks on his game, he finds himself on the outside looking in from a lottery perspective. Which is odd considering he has improved each and every year and was considered lottery talent after each of his first two seasons. Harrell is one of the better athletes at the PF position and has shown during his time with the Cardinals that he is a guy who likes to play above the rim. He’s an extremely gifted rebounder who has an unbelievable motor and knack for finding the ball.
He’s got great length (7’3 wingspan) but is only 6’8 which is a smallish PF in the NBA. He really isn’t a combo forward since he’s not a good jump shooter, especially not from outside of 12 feet or so. His aforementioned motor combined with his intensity level and ability to do all of the little things outside of scoring the ball make him a very intriguing player. He’s not an "elite" shot blocker but he is effective at protecting the rim. His post game is improving and while he’s still not a guy that commands the ball on the block, he is a least improving in that area. Same goes for his shooting and touch around the basket. You saw him make a more of an effort to try and increase his range as he shot 37 three’s during his junior year (34 more than his first two years combined). But he only hit them at a 24% clip. He’s a career 53% free throw shooter which is horrendous. While his limits offensively really hinder his upside, Harrell is going to be a great role player in the NBA and should make whatever team drafts him look good for the next 5-10 years.
5. Kevon Looney – UCLA
Looney had one of the better seasons for a freshman last year. He averaged close to a double-double for a UCLA team that really turned some heads during March. He has the game to be a combo forward as he’s at his most effective when operating outside of the paint. He’s a great ball handler for his size and position and loves to attack defenders off the dribble. He’s also a great rebounder and outside of Harrell, likely has the best motor in this draft. He plays 100 percent all the time and is a guy that coaches love in that regard. In High School Looney pretty much ran the point for his team which allowed him to develop that point-forward mentality. He looks for his shot a little too much for my taste and his shooting percentage suffers because he isn’t a great post player but he has shown the ability to take player in the post from time to time.
He, like Porzingis, will need to get in the weight room from day one to try and put some muscle on that frame so he can bang down in the post with the big boys. He has a funky release on his jump shot which probably leads to some of his inconsistency but that can be tweaked/fixed with the right coaching. He’s not a great defender due to his lack of strength and foot speed. He’ll need to try and focus on one position in the NBA instead of playing that combo forward role where he seemed out of place at times during his freshman season with the Bruins. While I’m not as high as some on Looney and don’t think he’ll end up being a first round pick, he’s projected to be in the mid to late 20’s currently.
6. Chris McCullough – Syracuse
McCullough is another guy that has some mystery and intrigue heading into Thursday’s draft. An ACL tear ended his season in early January and so we never got a chance to really see McCullough against some of the top teams and forwards in the ACC. He was stellar early in the season against sub-par competition and had one of his better games registering a double-double against my Alma mater in his first collegiate game. He started to struggle as the competition got better and after scoring in double figures in his first eight games, he failed to score more than 7 in his final eight. His decision to come out after just a half season was a bit of a head scratcher since his stock really had nowhere to go but up if he successfully came back from his injury.
He’s a long athletic forward that really has a high ceiling. He, like quite a few forwards on this list is more of a face up four man as opposed to a back to the basket player. He’s got great touch around the rim and is an extremely fluid player. He can score in a variety of ways and runs the floor with the best of them. Continuing with the theme of players needing to add weight and fill out their frame, McCullough is extremely skinny which doesn’t bode well for him defensively at the four spot nor does it help with he’s driving to the basket and getting bumped off of his line because he can’t absorb any contact. He had a tendency to force his shot and was a little careless with the ball, averaging over two turnovers per game against sub par competition. He’s a fringe first rounder that could be a steal if he completely recovers from his injury and develops to his abilities.
7. Jordan Mickey – LSU
Mickey and teammate Jarell Martin (see below) formed one of the better big man duo’s in the NCAA last season. While Martin played the five, Mickey spent most of his time at the four. He led the NCAA in blocks this last season and has been one of the more prolific shot blockers in the country over the last two seasons. He didn’t come into college with much of an offensive game but has really improved in that area over the last two seasons. He has a great motor and is tenacious when defending the paint. He’s got great length and combined with his elite level athleticism and motor he is would normally be a guy you would look for in the late lottery. The reason he isn’t? Look no further than his height.
At 6’8, Mickey reminds me of a poor man’s Josh Smith at times. He has made tremendous strides over the last couple of years and has really tried to become that combo forward. The problem is that he is more of a "tweener" than a "combo" player. He turns the ball over at too high of a rate to play on the wing, doesn’t have the range for the three and struggles with his consistency. But there is no doubting his ability to defend and rebound. A high character guy, Mickey may fall to the early second round to to his lack of position fit, but he has got the potential and upside to become a good role player at the next level if he can become a better mid range shooter, polish his post game and continue to get stronger.
8. Richaun Holmes – Bowling Green
Holmes is one of those rare seniors who still appears to have a good deal of upside left to develop. He was the breakout star of the Portsmouth Invitational, an event generally reserved for fringe 2nd rounders and mostly D-League and European League level guys. After shining there he got an invite to the NBA Combine, where he once again impressed scouts with his great length, athleticism and energy. His season stats at Bowling Green would not indicate first round talent, but statistics do not tell the entire story for some players.
He was forced to play the center position and was playing a little out of position, and also was likely the victim of a system that focused more on the team, and made it more difficult for a player such as Holmes to stand out. Another misleading thing was that he was listed at 6-8 and 222 lbs by the school, when in fact he is a big 6’9, 242 lbs with a 7’1.25 wingspan. Not only is he not undersized, he’s got excellent size. His strength and post skill are raw but could develop over time and he’s very active and athletic around the basket. Holmes has moved up into the first round bubble and could possibly hear his name called in the late 20s on draft night.
9. Jarell Martin – LSU
A combination of Martin and his former LSU teammate Jordan Mickey would be a guaranteed lottery pick. That would be a scary player on both ends of the court. But as it stands, they are two different players and their deficiencies have them both a little lower on this list than their college success and numbers would think. Martin is the more skilled of the two, particularly on the offensive end. He has the body type, size and length for the PF position at the next level. He’s got a good post game and ability to score on the block. He’s not the athlete that Mickey is but he is every bit the player.
As where most players on this list could stand to gain a few pounds, Martin could benefit from dropping down to around 230 instead of his playing weight north of 240. He elevated his game when playing against superior competition. He was the best big on the floor when LSU matched up with Kentucky finishing with a double double and he almost single handedly beat an NC State team with a solid rotation of bigs in the NCAA Tournament. He uses his size to move players around in the post, he is a gifted rebounder and he has sneaky hops and athleticism. He’ll need to continue to develop his jump shot as he’s extremely inconsistent when stepping out beyond 15 feet but he has shown he can hit the three ball occasionally. He’s not a great defender in the post but that seems to be more because of his own effort and intensity on that side rather than an inability or lack of skill set to be an effective post defender. He’s another guy that I love early in the second round as he brings a lot to the table.
10. Jonathan Holmes Texas
Holmes really struggled in his senior year. He saw his shooting numbers and productivity dip considerably from his junior year. Which was a real surprise to many scouts as he was expected to have a breakout senior season. But scouts remained high on him due to his versatility. He shows the ability to defend both in the post and some on the perimeter. He also really worked hard on his outside shot, and while his shooting numbers may not reflect it, he’s always been a very solid free throw shooter, and he has impressed scouts with his outside shooting in workouts.
Like Rashaun Holmes, Jonathan also got a nice draft bump from his surprising combine numbers. His measurements were almost identical with a 6’8.25 barefoot measurement (solid for power forward), plus a 6’11 wingspan and an 8’11 standing reach. Jonathan Holmes was always listed as being 6’8 on Texas’ official website, and the thought was he was undersized, however the combine measurements proved differently. He has been recently mentioned as a bubble first rounder as well.
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