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Friday, June 17, 2011
SoCal locals await NBA draft fate

By Sean Ceglinsky
Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- With the first pick of the 2011 NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select ...

The anticipation has been building for months, weeks on end and now days. In all likelihood, owner Dan Gilbert, along with the Cavaliers' brass, are going to take a chance on Kyrie Irving from Duke at No. 1 when the festivities finally take place Thursday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

Beyond that, many questions remain unanswered, especially when it comes to things locally. Several players with local ties are expected to be first-round selections in the upcoming draft, namely USC's Nikola Vucevic and UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt. Malcolm Lee, another Bruin, could end up as a late first-round pick, although he seems destined to fall into the second round.

Tyler Honeycutt, Derrick Williams and Nikola Vucevic
UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt, Arizona's Derrick Williams and USC's Nikola Vucevic all figure to be first-round picks in the NBA draft, with Williams, a La Mirada High graduate, expected to go No. 2 to Minnesota.

Some other college prospects worth remembering are former Southland high school standouts such as Derrick Williams, Kawhi Leonard, Jordan Hamilton and Klay Thompson, among others. There is a distinct possibility NBA commissioner David Stern will have announced each of their names by the time the first round has finished.

So, without further adieu, let's go ahead and break things down:

Player: Nikola Vucevic
School: USC
Height: 7-0. Weight: 260
Position: Center

Why scouts like him: Versatility is his biggest asset. He has shown the uncanny ability to step out on the perimeter and knock down open jumpers. Doing the dirty work underneath the basket also suits his skill set well. His averages of 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game as a junior for the Trojans, and a shooting percentage of more than 50 percent from the field, support those facts.

The flip side: His athleticism, or lack thereof, has been the biggest knock on Vucevic. Chances are, he will never be confused with someone who necessarily plays above the rim. Defensively, he has some shortcomings as well. A little determination from him figures to go a long way.

Bottom line: When it comes to post players, especially at center, the talent pool is considered to be a bit thin this year. Both Enes Kanter and Jonas Valanciunas figure to be off the board relatively early, leaving Vucevic as one of the few remaining legitimate options at his position.

Draft prediction: If he is still available at No. 14, the Houston Rockets figure to find themselves in a quandary of sorts. Given the injury-riddled past of Yao Ming, all signs point to it being somewhat difficult to pass up a prospect who possesses as much upside as Vucevic.


Malcolm Lee
Lee
Player: Malcolm Lee
School: UCLA
Height: 6-6. Weight: 198
Position: Point guard

Why scouts like him: Many evaluators are under the impression the Riverside North High graduate is one of those quintessential combo guards, someone capable of running the show and doing quite well without the ball in his hands. Accordingly, as a junior for the Bruins, he ranked among the per-game leaders in minutes (33.1), scoring (13.1), rebounds (3.1) and assists (2.1).

The flip side: An inconsistent jumper, at this stage of the game, could be his downfall. If Lee is going to play off-guard in the NBA, he will have to make opponents respect his outside stroke. If not, finding a spot on the bench next to the coaching staff figures to be the result, unfortunately.

Bottom line: He might have picked the wrong year to forgo college for the professional ranks. The depth at both guard positions appears to be one of the strengths of this draft. Lee could end up on the proverbial outside looking in when all is said and done.

Draft prediction: It would be a big surprise if a team gambled and grabbed him with a first-round draft pick. Lee is on the bubble. That's not to say he does not have some value. He could end up in high demand at the beginning of the second round.


Player: Tyler Honeycutt
School: UCLA
Height: 6-8. Weight: 186
Position: Small forward

Why scouts like him: His redeeming qualities include size, length and athleticism, traits that certainly will help the Sylmar High product defend in the NBA. If the opportunity presents itself, Honeycutt appears capable of holding his own against smaller guards. He averaged 7.8 rebounds, mostly on the defensive end, along with a steal and two blocks per game as a sophomore for the Bruins. Offensively, he has a nose for the basket. Expect him to find creative ways to score.

The flip side: He is rail thin. Bulking up in a hurry needs to be a priority, or Honeycutt will run the risk of getting picked on, essentially pushed around in the physical setting that awaits him at the next level. Finding additional confidence also will be imperative to his long-term success.

Bottom line: His game continues to evolve. And that type of potential has teams intrigued. Landing in a place where he isn't expected to make a major impact right away would be the best possible scenario. Given some time, Honeycutt could carve out a nice little niche for himself.

Draft prediction: Here's where things get interesting. In a perfect world, the Minnesota Timberwolves draft him at No. 20. Once there, he plays alongside one of UCLA's own, Kevin Love, which will help out with the learning curve. European sensation Ricky Rubio will be making his NBA debut as well next season, taking some of the focus off Honeycutt's arrival. Worst-case scenario, he slips to the end of the first round and starts calling Chicago or San Antonio home.

OTHER LOCALS


Derrick Williams, Arizona (La Mirada HS): If Kyrie Irving is a lock to be the first player selected, Williams is a lock to be the second player picked. Chances are, the Minnesota Timberwolves are more than happy they do not have to decide between the two prospects at the top of the draft. Based on his all-around performance in this past spring's NCAA tournament, Williams' stock skyrocketed. When it comes to future earnings in the NBA, the 6-foot-9 power forward made himself plenty of money during March Madness. Many so-called experts, the mock draft gurus, apparently agree that if Irving were not around, Williams would be the No. 1 pick. Majority rules, after all.

Kawhi Leonard
Leonard
Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State (Riverside King HS): College coaches and scouts alike slipped up when they did not recruit him heavily during his prep days. The head honchos in the NBA will not make the same mistake, certainly not after being impressed by Leonard at the numerous pre-draft camps he attended. Prevailing wisdom is the 6-7 small forward is a top-10 pick, perhaps as high as No. 7 to the Sacramento Kings. Leonard does not figure to fall much further.

Klay Thompson, Washington State (Santa Margarita HS): Like father, like son. Thompson's dad, Mychal, was the top pick in the 1978 NBA draft and enjoyed a 12-year professional career, including a successful stint with the Los Angeles Lakers. The younger Thompson is heading down an eerily similar path. The 6-7 shooting guard brings plenty to the table, particularly on the offensive end. It is reasonable to expect he will be drafted early, No. 10 to the Milwaukee Bucks or No. 12 to the Utah Jazz. It is difficult to imagine his dropping beyond No. 17 to the New York Knicks.

Jordan Hamilton, Texas (Compton Dominguez HS): He has a great frame, and his game is tailor-made for the next level. Hamilton can score with the best of them; he is one of those prototypical NBA types. The 6-9 small forward can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket. Stepping back and hitting shots from out on the perimeter comes naturally. The Washington Wizards have had their eyes on him for a while now and would like to see him still sitting there at No. 18.

Darius Morris
Morris
Darius Morris, Michigan (L.A. Windward HS): The 6-5 point guard is as unselfish as they come. It's as if he was born with a pass-first mentality. Make no mistake, though, Morris is also creative and can get his shot off when called upon to do so. The back end of the first round appears to be his final destination, No. 20 to the Portland Trail Blazers or No. 23 to the Houston Rockets.

Justin Holiday, Washington (Campbell Hall HS): For a while now, the 6-5 small forward has lived in the shadow, so to speak, of his younger brother Jrue, currently with the Philadelphia 76ers. However, the time has come for the older sibling to make a name for himself. It is highly unlikely he will be drafted in the first round. Due in large part to his desire to get after things on defense, do not be terribly surprised if the Los Angeles Lakers take a chance on him in the second round.

Sean Ceglinsky is a frequent contributor to ESPNLosAngeles.com, mostly covering high schools.