Assessing the draft's underrated/overrated prospects
Posted: Wednesday June 27, 2007 5:05PM; Updated: Thursday June 28, 2007 10:24AM
We're close to go-time at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, the stage where Akeem Olajuwon's red bow tie and David Stern's Sabotage-style mustache once met for a classic photograph, and on Thursday night, the setting for one of the most loaded NBA Drafts in history. The suspense this year is not over who will be the Nos. 1 or 2 picks -- it's Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, in that order -- but rather which teams other than Portland and Seattle will make the shrewdest moves. Will they heed the advice of our annual Overrated/Underrated list? Probably not. But here it is, just in case:
(Note: The closest thing to a NASDAQ table on the NBA Draft is NBA.com's consensus mock draft, an average of 16 Web mocks. Its latest version serves as the basis for establishing each player's stock.)
UNDERRATED: Al Thornton, F, Florida State
Thornton is the Great Afterthought of the lottery talent pool, with most of the attention being heaped on the two future Hall of Famers at 1-2 and the trio of Gators in the 3-10 range. The consensus is that he'll be taken at No. 11 or lower, which means he's greatly undervalued. After Durant, Thornton is the most skilled offensive forward available in the entire draft.
He's long been an underexposed talent: In a four-year career at Florida State, Thornton never appeared in the NCAA tournament, and didn't get significant attention as a potential lottery pick until his senior year, when he averaged 19.7 points, scored in double figures in all 35 games and was named a third-team All-American. At 6-8 and 220 pounds, he has the strength to play inside, the first step to blow by most forwards and a good stroke from both the free-throw line (79 percent) and long range (44.4 percent).
Thornton is old for a prospect, at 23, and one NBA scout I spoke with this week said he had concerns that the Seminoles' star "didn't know how to play the game" -- meaning that he believed Thornton had a limited basketball IQ in terms of passing and playing within an offense. The passing criticism is valid, seeing that Thornton averaged just 0.7 assists as a senior, but he also had the disadvantage of playing for one of the worst-coached teams in the country, as part of a roster of blue-chip recruits who consistently failed to live up to their potential. In that regard, Thornton was the Kevin Garnett of college hoops -- an incredible talent who was stuck in a bad situation. Put him in the right environment, on a decent NBA roster, and he could thrive.
OVERRATED: Brandan Wright, PF, North Carolina
It's easy -- too easy, almost -- to become infatuated with Wright. He is rich in that classic draft attribute of "upside," and at North Carolina was liable to wow you with alley-oops from improbable heights in transition, or out-of-nowhere blocks using his 7-4 wingspan on defense. For most of the '06-07 season, he was listed as the third-best player in the draft behind Oden and Durant, but in recent weeks has slipped to somewhere in the 4-8 range. That still may be too high. Why? Wright is realistically three seasons away from making a significant contribution on the NBA level. He shot such a high percentage (64.6) in college because he could outrun and outjump nearly every big man he faced, but that advantage won't exist in the NBA.
Wright relies heavily on one offensive move -- a lefty jump hook -- and has such limited range on his jump shot that most college teams left him unguarded even at free-throw-line distance. As a lightweight (just 200 pounds) 6-10 guy who had trouble defending Georgetown's bigs in the NCAA tournament, Wright also has a positional dilemma: Will he ever be physical or aggressive enough to body up with NBA power forwards? And can lottery teams looking for immediate help afford to take him ahead of more seasoned forwards like the Hoyas' Jeff Green, or Florida's Joakim Noah or Corey Brewer, or even Florida State's Al Thornton? I wouldn't recommend it.
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