With many Cavaliers' fans already having their eyes on the draft, I've been scouting college basketball pretty intensely over the past month or so. Until the draft, I will hopefully be able to bring you a set of profiles every week.
This set of profiles is dedicated to some players in the news this week due to draft declarations. Instead of looking at two high-profile prospects and one under-the-radar one, I've looked at three possible first round picks here. I looked UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, Pittsburgh center Steven Adams, and North Carolina State forward C.J. Leslie.
Anthony Bennett, Fr. F, UNLV
Anthony Bennett has been considered one of the top prospects in the draft since December. As the next in a recent line of Canadian prospects, Bennett had been pretty hyped coming into his freshman season. It's hard to say that he's disappointed, averaging about 16 points and 8 rebounds over his only season in Las Vegas. He's an inside-out power forward who shoots threes and rebounds effectively. I like a lot of what he brings, but he has some definite deficiencies that makes me surprised that his stock is as high as it is.
The first red flag I have about his stock is that he's only 6'7" in shoes according to Draft Express. He does have the 7'1" wingspan that should make him able to guard the post effectively, but it could rear its head as he tries to score in the post. For comparison, Tristan Thompson is 6'8" in shoes with the same length and got blocked at an extremely high rate early in his career. Now, Bennett seems to have a much higher basketball IQ around the rim and possesses more polished moves in the post, but these concerns aren't unfounded.
But really, Bennett's offensive game is extremely strong for a freshman. His touch around the rim is very strong (73% there), plus he's got range out to about 22 feet. From beyond the three-point line, Bennett shot 38% on about 100 attempts, so his range is very legitimate. Along with that, he gets a lot of put-back points on offensive rebounding, where his long arms and strong sense of positioning gives him a chance to get easy points around the basket. This will be an effective tool that he needs to carry over to the NBA. He's can throw down dunks with the best of them, showing off power that few prospects can match. Finally, he gets to the line at an excellent rate, taking the fifth-most free throws in the Mountain West.
Another plus skill that Bennett possesses is the ability to control and handle the ball. It's not uncommon to see him run the break, and he really keeps the ball low to the ground for a bigger forward. One of the most surprising stats I've seen in the NCAA this season is that a 6'7" freshman power forward is in the top ten of the Mountain West in turnover percentage. He can't really create for himself with his dribbling (about 72% of his field goals were assisted this year), but the ability to not turn the ball over is a definite plus for a big guy and shows room for improvement dribbling in the post.
His overall rebounding acumen is solid overall, too. He shows excellent box-out technique for a young player, and he uses his low center of gravity to push players out of the way. Also, he has excellent hands to snatch all of the balls that come his way. This is the skill that he should be able to hang his hat in the NBA and continue to be an effective player as his career progresses.
Now here comes red flag number 2: he's a wreck defensively. His defensive rotations are absolutely abysmal and/or nonexistent unless he's going for a weak-side block. But the biggest problem here is that he lacks lateral quickness, which means that he'll never be able to guard 3s and even struggle against quick or tall 4s.
I hate to keep comparing to Thompson (because Bennett is so obviously offensively superior as a prospect), but let's go with it because they're both slightly-undersized Canadian 4s. Thompson's lateral quickness for a 4 is excellent, and it allows him to stay in front of 4s in order to contest shots. Bennett simply doesn't have that. He does have more explosive straight-line running and leaping ability, along with better coordination, but he's not quick in short spaces. This is going to be a major problem for him as he learns to play in the NBA.
Okay, so where does that leave us? Bennett's a skilled but undersized power forward offensively that will struggle on D and probably become a good rebounder. That skill on offense and rebounding trumps the defense, but he's still a certainly flawed player. I don't really think the Zach Randolph comparison is apt because of Bennett's athleticism and already-developed range. I actually believe the best comparison is Paul Millsap. They're both undersized with large wingspans that make them solid rebounders. I do think Bennett's offensive game is a bit more polished than Millsap's was, but both struggled with defensively with their lateral quickness. If Bennett can drop about 10 pounds and get down to 230-235 (or simply just get into better shape), I think that would be very beneficial for him, as he looks a little out-of-shape on the floor. Also, keep in mind that despite being a freshman, Bennett is 20 years old, therefore is really the age of a sophomore. I'd take him in the middle of the lottery, but I definitely would take at least both Noel and Porter ahead of him among the prospects I've looked at so far, pretty much regardless of situation.
Steven Adams, Fr. C, Pittsburgh
I've seen more of Steven Adams this year than probably any other first-round-rated prospect in the draft this season while living in Pittsburgh. I have to admit; I was a little bit caught off-guard by Adams' departure. I totally understand it; the youngest of 18 children in his New Zealand-based family, Adams feels he has to provide for his family. But with his announcement that he was returning post-NCAA tournament game and his girlfriend most likely coming to a Pittsburgh-based school to play basketball next season, it caught a lot of people by surprise.
The first thing anyone sees with Adams is his size. He's a legitimate seven-footer who has an NBA-ready body. He'll be able to take the abuse and punishment from legitimate centers from Day One. Adams is very athletic and strong for his size, which is already about 250 pounds. One of his greatest talents is that he runs the floor extremely well for a big guy. With a wingspan reported to be in the 7'4" range, Adams' length will also be a great asset for him in the NBA.
All of his biggest strengths are related to his athleticism and defensive ability right now. Blessed with great lateral agility, a long wingspan, good leaping ability, and most importantly a high motor, Adams is a menace all over the floor defensively. He defends the pick and roll exceedingly well for a 19 year-old big man, using his agility and length to hedge out on guards and make it extremely difficult to pass him. His instincts are spectacular; his arms are seemingly permanently outstretched to be a terror in the passing lanes so as to make the life of opposing passers difficult. He was the most important part of the Big East's leading defense this season.
Steven Adams Defense (via Sam Vecenie)
Unsurprisingly, Adams is also a fantastic post defender who doubles as an excellent shot blocker, averaging 2 per game in only 23 minutes. Using his length and lower body strength to make life difficult for opponents, it's extremely difficult to get low post position on him. Furthermore, Adams is really solid when rotating to contest shots, most of the time doing so without fouling. While he doesn't have a propensity to foul, there can be times where he'll pick up cheap, weak fouls that he really shouldn't.
Given his size and lower body strength, it's not surprising that he's a good rebounder. He shows solid box out technique for an inexperienced basketball player, and he's not afraid to be physical in the post. Even though he doesn't possess the best coordination, his hands are great and he doesn't fumble many rebounds away at the point of contact (however, he's asking for trouble if he brings the ball below his chin). Adding these factors into his length means that he should be a solid rebounder in the NBA.
While he has shown significant improvement as the season progressed offensively, he's still a long way away from being a contributor at this end of the floor. His touch around the rim is spotty at best when he's not dunking, and he doesn't have much range at all yet. He's a pretty tentative shooter too, and knows what he can't do. I'm not sure that this will ever improve either because he's not a particularly coordinated athlete. Also unsurprisingly given his lack of touch, Adams is a disaster at the free throw line, shooting 44%. His free throw shooting is so bad that it actually withholds Adams from playing near the end of games sometimes.
Steven Adams Offense (via Sam Vecenie)
Adams is pretty good for a 19 year-old at establishing post-position. Unfortunately, Pitt guards struggled to get him the ball in that good position all season. Also, he has no post moves that I've seen this year outside of the basic turn over your shoulder and put the ball in. He's also an excellent pick setter, establishing a wide base that gives his guards space to get around the defender. I don't think he particularly has great instincts about rolling to the rim yet, but that's not a big surprise given his relative inexperience. However, one surprising aspect of his game is his passing ability, which is pretty solid out of either the high or low post. Another thing to mention is that with his excellent ability to run the floor, he's a good transition center offensively when asked to simply go to the rim.
At the moment, Adams is an all-defense, no offense prospect. His offensive upside is limited due to his lack of touch around the rim and coordination, but there is some because of his athleticism. In a heavy pick-and-roll driven league, Adams can absolutely become an effective, efficient offensive player in the mold of Tyson Chandler. Now, he's obviously not going to be as good as Chandler because Chandler is a freak athletically. But I do think he can become a borderline starting NBA center if he can continue to improve his instincts offensively. He legitimately improved as the season went on, showing that he's probably just scratching the surface of his potential. Adams will probably be an end of the first round pick, anywhere from 18-30. He'll do some time in the D-League next year to work on his offensive skills as well. But with some coaching and hard work, I have high hopes for Adams.
C.J. Leslie, Jr. F, NC State
C.J. Leslie is one of the more interesting prospects in this draft in that I don't think there's an NBA comparable for him in the league right now. And full disclosure, I really have loved Leslie as a prospect for a long time. He was my prediction for the Wooden Award in the preseason because I felt he'd take a step forward with his perimeter skills. That didn't happen, which is why his stock is what it is now.
Leslie is a phenomenal athlete at 6'9" with tremendous agility. When he wants to play, his work rate is off the charts when off the ball, causing issues with his tremendous leaping ability in the lane. Sometimes his level of play can drop off due to motivation issues, but this has improved a lot since his freshman year. In that regard, it's also worth mentioning that Leslie is a very emotional and oftentimes demonstrative player on the floor that isn't above yelling at officials and teammates. As he has matured, Leslie's begun to channel his emotions better; however it still rears its head from time to time.
Offensively is where Leslie shows his eccentric game. He's a power forward right now, who does a majority of his damage with a face-up post game off the dribble. He handles the ball extremely well for a man of his height, and his move of choice is a very quick spin move that he can execute turning over either shoulder. Leslie's excellent at getting into the middle of the lane and finding space to throw up floaters and lay-ins. Sometimes he struggles with finishing due to taking too many high-difficulty shots; however, I think this game is a lot more suited to the NBA where the midrange and lane is a lot more spaced out as far as players. He's an efficient player though, as he's shot about 52% over the past two seasons, including nearly 70% at the rim.
CJ Leslie Offense (via Sam Vecenie)
Where the issues with Leslie start are with his lack of range. Only 2% of his shots this year came from three-point range, a sharp decline from his freshman season where 12% were. When matched with a larger opponent, sometimes Leslie will float out on the perimeter and jack up 17 footers, but he's not particularly adept at these (only shot 35% on 2 pt. jump shots). For Leslie to succeed, he's going to need to extend his range out to the NBA 3 point line.
Most of the reason that I think he'll need to extend his range out to the three-point line is because he isn't going to be able to rebound or defend against power forwards in the NBA. He has solid height and length (7'1.5" wingspan) for the position, but at only ~210 pounds he's going to struggle to defend the post against men. Leslie has barely put on any weight since entering college, and his body type suggests that it might be difficult for him to do so at all at this point. He'll be at his best while defending the ever-popular "stretch 4" position, but big power forwards will eat him alive. I do think he'll be able to guard small forwards with his length and quickness, though.
Also, his rebounding is pretty questionable for someone who has averaged at least 7 rebounds in each of his seasons at NC State. Not only does he not have the beef to bang down low with big guys, but also he doesn't have the requisite box-out technique. His high work rate and leaping ability end up garnering him a lot of rebounds, but his defensive rebounding percentage was a very pedestrian 14th in the ACC. Part of this number is eaten into by Richard Howell being the best rebounder in the ACC, but one also has to keep in mind that Mark Gottfried felt the need to move T.J. Warren into the starting lineup to try to get more rebounding midway through the season.
Overall, Leslie's NBA fate is going to be really interesting to follow. He's probably going to need to figure out how to step out to the three-point line, but his midrange game is a really effective tool for the NBA right now. There is absolutely no comparable to him in the league right now because of his blend of leaping ability, agility, height, and post game without the ability to step out. As far as what his stock looks like now, I'd say he can expect to hear his name called anywhere from 20-35 on draft day. His athleticism's too attractive and his skillset's too unique for him to not have a place in the NBA.
At the end of each post, I'll try to rank each of the prospects that I've looked at so far. This will obviously begin to fill in more as the season progresses (therefore meaning more), but now isn't a bad time to start. This isn't meant to be a Cavaliers' draft board (yet), but simply just a ranking of players in a vacuum based on their current tools, potential, and how close they are to making an impact.
1. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
2. Otto Porter, Georgetown
3. Anthony Bennett, UNLV
4. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
5. Steven Adams, Pittsburgh
6. Isaiah Austin, Baylor
7. Reggie Bullock, North Carolina
8. C.J. Leslie, North Carolina
9. Tony Mitchell, North Texas
10. Zeke Marshall, Akron
11. Khalif Wyatt, Temple
Notes: -I've removed Alex Poythress from the rankings as he has decided to return
-Austin, Leslie, and Bullock are my three closest-rated prospects right now. I'd really like for Austin to come back so that I wouldn't have to pick between an unproven freshmen and two more polished juniors. But right now it's a really tough pick.
-Bullock over Leslie is a particularly difficult choice, but I do think that Bullock has a more certain position and role, giving him the advantage.