Five less productive players scouts love

June, 26, 2012
6/26/12
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In case you missed it -- or, as we say on Twitter, "ICYMI" -- Monday brought the third annual edition of the College Basketball Production-Only Mock Draft, which has an entirely silly name but is nonetheless a yearly treat to write. It tries to gauge the most productive college players in the NBA draft, and order them based on how they would be selected if their college careers -- individual production, contributions to wins, and so on -- were the only qualities scouts care about.

Of course, these are not the only qualities NBA scouts care about. They care about much more: body type, athletic ability, measurables, and most of all that unquantifiable gut feeling of potential, that vague notion that a player has only scratched his surface, that hope that one day he may make his general manager look like a genius. This is not an easy job.

So, in contrast to Monday's piece, here's a quick look at five of the most potential-driven players in the current NBA draft. These players are the antithesis of Monday's production-only mock draft; they're the players who didn't produce much in college, but whom nonetheless are responsible for mass quantities of NBA saliva in advance of Thursday night's 2012 NBA draft. (For reference's sake, I consulted Chad Ford's latest mock draft update, which is available here.)

[+] EnlargeAndre Drummond
AP Photo/Jessica HillUConn big man Andre Drummond has the athletic ability that NBA scouts adore.
Andre Drummond, center, Connecticut: Drummond is this year's king of potential. Like all of the players on this list, it's not hard to see why NBA types are freaked out -- in a good way -- by his size and sheer athleticism. Athletes that can get up and down the floor typically don't come at this size, and it's not like he was all bad in his lone season with Connecticut. He did average 10 points and 7.6 rebounds in 28.6 minutes per game, with a good offensive rebounding rate (14.2 percent) and block percentage (9.9 percent), both of which ranked among the top 30 players in the country.

But Drummond just as often looked lost, even out of shape, in the Huskies frontcourt. Meanwhile Connecticut, despite having two potential lottery picks in this year's draft, barely made the NCAA tournament, was bounced in the second round and submitted some of the least inspiring play we saw from any team last season, let alone one this talented.

It's not hard to see why Drummond is a potential top-10 pick. (Chad currently lists him being selected at No. 7 by the Warriors.) He's incredibly athletic for his size; he has all the physical gifts; he has the potential to be a true center in a league bereft of them. Those factors make him difficult to pass up for any general manager. But until he proves otherwise, Drummond will be a huge question mark for anyone who watched him play at UConn.

Meyers Leonard, center, Illinois: At the risk of categorizing everyone in typical draft cliches, Leonard is this year's late draft bloomer. His sudden rise up the NBA draft boards came in large part thanks to a stellar performance at the Chicago pre-draft camp, and it's been fascinating to see how quickly he has apparently become a surefire lottery pick. Some of that has to do with size -- Leonard is a legitimate 7-footer who also happens to be built like one of those aggressive alien dudes from "Prometheus" -- as well as a unique batch of ball skills more advanced than the typical 7-footer. Unlike Drummond, Leonard was an efficient offensive player in 2012 (that is when Brandon Paul, Illinois's undisputed usage champion, allowed him to touch the basketball).

Leonard was also a key part of a team that essentially quit on its coach. Illinois lost 10 of its last 12 games in 2012, resulting in Bruce Weber's eventual dismissal at Illinois. Leonard doesn't deserve all (or even most) of the blame for that breakdown, probably, but it is disconcerting nonetheless. And when you compare the way Jared Sullinger treated the Big Ten for two years to what Leonard did in his time in Champaign, it's kind of hard to fathom, even with Sullinger's supposed back problems in the mix, why Leonard would be so much more highly regarded by NBA scouts.

Actually, come to think of it, no it isn't. He's taller, and he has more untapped potential. And there you have it.

Moe Harkless, forward, St. John's: Harkless was without question the highlight of his freshman-filled team at St. John's last season. He scored 15.3 points and grabbed 8.6 rebounds, and showed much promise. Those counting stats look impressive, and they are, but Harkless failed to crack the 100.0 offensive rating barrier thanks in large part to the 79 3s he launched, of which he made just 17.

Meanwhile his team finished 13-19 overall, truly limping through a challenging year that began with coach Steve Lavin's battle with prostate cancer and ended without even a trip to the NIT. You wouldn't dare blame Harkless for any of that, and I do think he's a promising player. But a potential lottery pick? From a 13-19 team? It feels like a bit of a stretch.

[+] EnlargeHarrison Barnes
AP Photo/Nick WassCan North Carolina's Harrison Barnes drive to the rim regularly in the NBA?
Harrison Barnes, small forward, North Carolina: Don't get me wrong: Harrison Barnes was not an unproductive college player. He has an NBA body and a more developed mid-range game than most players his age. But he has remained in the top five of the projected draft -- Ford has him at No. 4 to the Cavaliers, ahead of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist -- and I can't help but think that has to do with how well he tested in the pre-draft combine this summer.

My question is this: If Barnes is so athletic, why did he so frequently struggle to create his own shot in two years at North Carolina? And if he will struggle to create his own shot, and is not an NBA-range 3-point shooter (yet), is he really worthy of a top-five pick? Or is the Promise of Harrison Barnes -- the long-held idea that the next great mid-range wing was waiting to arrive from Ames, Iowa, ready to take the world by storm -- still swaying over NBA GMs? You wouldn't think Barnes would belong in a list like this, because again, he was a solid college player. He could be a solid NBA small forward for 15 years. But a ceiling much higher than that seems foolhardy, doesn't it?

Tony Wroten, Jr., guard, Washington: I have to forgive the scouts for this one. My first experience with Tony Wroten, Jr. came at last summer's Nike Skills Camps, and with the possible exception of Thomas Robinson and the obvious exception of Anthony Davis, Wroten may have been the most impressive player I saw that summer. When he's out on the break, finding teammates as talented as him, you're wowed by the smooth passing touch and athleticism in a big point guard frame. I saw Wroten for an afternoon or two, and I was.

So yeah, I get it. Wroten can really dish the ball. Only two problems: He turns the ball over, and he can't shoot. Wroten posted a sub-100 offensive rating as a freshman at Washington last season, thanks in large part to a 45.3 percent effective field goal percentage and a 9-of-56 mark from 3. He also posted a 21.7 percent turnover rate, which nearly equalized his solid assist tallies. These were among the reasons Washington never got it together in a historically bad Pac-12 last season, despite the presence of Wroten and fellow projected first-round pick Terrence Ross.

If some NBA team can fix Wroten's shot, then he can be an effective pro. But that's a pretty big if, isn't it? And if it doesn't happen, will Wroten really be able to beat NBA defenders off the dribble? The potential is most definitely there. Like the rest of this list, the tangible results -- at least relative to draft position -- are not. At least not yet.

(One extra production note: I assumed Perry Jones III would belong on this list; for two years, he's been the fulcrum of the potential vs. production debate. He just oozes talent, the type of talent -- long, lanky, ball skills, "Kevin Garnett type", all the buzzwords apply -- that burns scouts more frequently than any other. But then I saw that Jones was ranked at the edge of Chad's lottery, where the Houston Rockets are projected to take him at No. 14. Say what you want about Jones' two years in college, but he wasn't that bad. If you want to take him in the top five, I'd urge caution. If you can get him at No. 14 -- the same spot the Rockets got Marcus Morris last year, hello -- you definitely roll the dice.)

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