This is the first of five articles this week analyzing the 2007 NBA Draft prospects. Today I'll focus on the weak set of point guards, followed by shooting guards and so on. Following the position analysis, I'll present the statistical projections for this year's players (along with a look at how I did projecting last year's NBA rookies).
One thing to note is that I'm not quite as kind as most Draft analysts out there. The reality of the NBA Draft is that only a few guys will be stars, a handful more will be starters, a dozen guys will be career reserves, and the rest will all fizzle out within a couple of seasons.
On with the fun. Players are ranked by their NBA potential:
1) Mike Conley - Ohio State - Okay, I need to be honest here. I was never a big believer of this guy in high school. I didn't even think he'd crack Ohio State's starting rotation. Then he proceeded to be Ohio State's most consistent player, a prime time performer throughout the NCAA Tournament, and the top point guard prospect in the 2007 NBA Draft. Despite all this, he might not even be a Top 10 pick. Teams will look at other guy's "ceilings" and take a chance on them. They'll regret it. I consider myself to have a pretty good track record projecting players out of high school and college. I like when guys prove me wrong. He'll never average 20 a game in the NBA.. but he can step in right now and run teams better than half the reserve point guards in the league.
2) Javaris Crittenton - Georgia Tech - Before the season, Crittenton would have been atop this list ahead of Mike Conley. And the reality is that five years from now, there's a good chance Crittenton is easily (and I mean BY FAR) the best point guard to come out of this Draft. Conley's still #1 because he's a lock, and he's better at being a floor general. But you don't need to be a great floor general to start in the NBA. Most teams just want a guy whose fast, strong, big (he's 6-5), and can score the ball. Crittenton can score, and if he develops, he has the chance to put up Chauncey Billups-type numbers. He also has a chance to be a bust. He's one of the bigger risk-reward guys in the Draft. One thing that worries me is that a lot of Crittenton's numbers (and he averaged 14 and 6 assists) came against lesser competition. All of his big scoring games in ACC play came against Clemson, Wake, or Florida State. Against UNC, Duke, and Maryland though he averaged only 9 a game on 12 of 30 shooting.
3) Acie Law - Texas A&M - Law was a great college player. He's one of those guys who just plays like a man amongst boys. He doesn't awe with numbers, but he awes with consistency, clutch play, and defense. Then again, 18 and 5 a game isn't bad either.. or the fact he averaged 27 and 10 assists in the games against Texas. The problem though for Law is that he's a senior and he doesn't project to get that much better over time. He's basically a career NBA reserve masked by a great college career.
4) Dominic James - Marquette - I've always liked James. The fact he seemed to regress last year was definitely a surprise. With the exception of perhaps doing a better job of getting to the line more consistently, there was really no aspect of his game that improved from his freshman to sophomore year. With that said, this guy needs to go back to school. The odds are that he will bounce back next year, and thus his stock will be higher 12 months from now. He might be the most dynamic guy on this list, but he's also a scoring-first guard that shot 37% from the floor and 28% from three. Those numbers won't cut it.
5) Sean Singletary - Virginia - Chad Ford has Singletary as the 76th best prospect.. while Acie Law is the 15th best. But Singletary is basically as talented, just a year younger and thus a year less developed. Look at Law after his junior year (16 ppg, 4 apg, 45% from the floor) compared to Singletary after his (19 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 40%). They're very similar. Law is obviously a bit more polished at this point, and a better on the ball defender. But Singletary is already a better scorer and shooter than Law and he's made strides every year. Instead of being 76th to Law's 15th.. Singletary is more like 50th best guy vs Law's 30th.
6) Petteri Koponen - Honka Espoo - I can BS you like most guys do about the European prospects, but there's no point. They key to projecting NBA players, besides self-evaluation, is knowing whose opinions to listen to. Chad Ford's.. not so much. However, I get the sense this guy is a legit prospect from the sources that matter, and thus he'll go here at 6th.
7) Gabe Pruitt - USC - Pruitt recently signed with an agent.. and I don't really get why. Not that he's a bad prospect. He could easily end up being the 3rd best point guard to come out this year (not that that's saying much). But the problem is that no one's really sure if he can even play the position at the NBA level. Granted, as I've discussed above, this isn't that huge of a deal since there's so few legit point guards in the league right now. Usually though, guys who can't play point make it because they're great scorers or great shooters. Pruitt though has somehow gone from shooting 45% from three his first year, to 38% in year two, and 35% last year. Some of that might be due to injury, so I won't dog him too much. Pruitt will definitely be on an NBA roster next year, and he'll be given a chance because of his size (6-4) and athletic physique. But ultimately, he's just a career 8th man.
8) Zabian Dowdell - Virginia Tech - There's a good chance Dowdell wont get drafted, but I think he deserves a shot in the 2nd round. He's basically a slightly worse version of Pruitt. A good athlete, with good size, that can score the ball, but who really can't be an NBA point guard. Pruitt can handle and distribute much better, but Dowdell might actually be a better asset to NBA teams. He's tough, a good team guy, and has an awkward lefty game that can throw defenders off. Lets be honest, Dowdell might be destined for the D-League, but I'd give him a chance over a lot of the other 2nd round hopefuls.
9) Jared Jordan - Marist - Like the last three guys on this list, Jordan is just hoping to be picked. (Although in today's NBA, there's no huge benefit to being picked as opposed to signing as an undrafted free agent.) Based on pure numbers (17 ppg, 6 rpg, and 9 apg), Jordan would be the #1 point guard out there. His lack of strength, consistent jumper, and speed/athleticism will hold him back. The NIT didn't help him either. In games against Oklahoma State and NC State, Jordan had 12 assists and 9 whopping turnovers and only shot 6 of 27 from the floor. Still, at least he has some conception of how to play point guard, good size, and good vision. You'll hear comparisons to every white NBA guard out there (Nash, Steve Blake, etc) but he's not really like those guys at all. He's a step slower than Nash and not half the shooter Blake ever was at Maryland.
10) Aaron Brooks - Oregon - Brooks had a special year. He lead Oregon back from the dead, and had some huge clutch shots and monster games. But lets be blunt here. He's 5-11 and not a good point guard. Guys like Pruitt and Dowdell have size and athleticism going for them. Brooks though will only make it if he shows he can do more than score. But I dont see this ever happening.
Summary: Ultimately, I see one potential (but risky) NBA star on this list (Javaris Crittenton), one lock NBA starter (Mike Conley), and a handful of bench players. Such is the NBA Draft..