Potential sleepers, more draft buzz
Austin Daye and Derrick Brown could pay off as mid-to-late first-round picks
Hasheem Thabeet is the greatest wild card in a draft that is full of them
One NBA executive: "I'll just tell you this is the worst draft in decades."
One week and a day until the draft, and Austin Daye of Gonzaga and Derrick Brown of Xavier are good bets for sleeper picks, possibly -- and in Brown's case likely -- destined for the second half of the first round but intriguing enough prospects who could have productive careers. Daye may not qualify as truly under the radar because he could touch the end of the 14-pick lottery, so this gets into semantics, but it wouldn't be a surprise for him to go in the late teens, either, and create the possibility of a big return on the investment for some team.
"He's extremely talented," one general manager said of the son of Darren Daye, who spent five seasons in the NBA. "A gifted athlete. I think if he matures correctly, he's going to be a good player. I saw him one game when he was terrific. But I saw him [in] another game where you could barely tell he played."
That inconsistency and his physique are the pressing issues for Daye, who averaged 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds as a sophomore last season. Daye is 6-9¾ in socks and 6-10¾ in shoes, and able to handle the ball and shoot well enough to play small forward, but he's also an exclamation point at 192 pounds. (By comparison, Ty Lawson is 197 pounds at 5-11¼ in socks, Jonny Flynn is 196 pounds at the same 5-11¼.) Daye's offensive skills are a great offset for the lack of bulk, though.
Brown (13.7 points, 6.1 rebounds last season) is 6-8½ in shoes, great size for a small forward, has long arms to help with defense and rebounding, great leaping ability and a first step to be feared. In a sign of a player expanding his game rather than strictly relying on athleticism, he jumped from taking only 40 three-pointers the previous two seasons and making 15 (37.5 percent) to going 39-of-90 (43.3 percent) in 2008-09. NBA teams love to see a guy trending up like that.
Hasheem Thabeet remains the greatest wild card in a draft filled with wild cards. The Connecticut center is projected to go anywhere from second to sixth. "I'd be scared to death" to take him that high, one personnel boss said. Thabeet will benefit from being the only lock for the lottery at the position and, along with B.J. Mullens of Ohio State, one of two centers expected to go anywhere in the first round. Concerns remain about an inconsistent college career, a limited offensive game and his struggles against Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair in a regular-season showdown despite an 8-inch height advantage. On the other hand, Thabeet did measure 7-2½ in shoes, can reach within 7 inches of the rim standing flat-footed, and is mobile. "Well," the executive said, "the Clippers took [Michael] Olowokandi first. People at times overvalue that size. And he is a big dude."
Power agent Dan Fegan may influence the draft in ways other than trying to steer Ricky Rubio away from Memphis. Fegan and his distaste for the Warriors -- he didn't like how client Al Harrington was treated there, doesn't like the way Don Nelson handles young players, didn't like the way Chris Mullin was fired as personnel boss, and definitely didn't like the sense that being dumped by Stephen Jackson was a condition of Jackson getting an extension -- has reached to Jrue Holiday refusing a workout. The snub is particularly obvious because mid-lottery (the Warriors pick seventh) is a realistic range for Holiday and he is a logical Golden State candidate as a big point guard to play alongside small shooting guard Monta Ellis. But Phoenix at No. 14 got a predraft visit and, barring a change of plans, the Warriors will not. "My agent isn't setting anything up there," Holiday said.
One general manager said of Holiday: "[UCLA's] Ben Howland is an excellent college coach, but he had his thumb down so hard on that kid that he was afraid to take a shot at 15 feet. ... I think the coach had him scared to take most shots." The counter, of course, is that Howland's primary job is to win at UCLA, not run a farm club for the pros.
James Johnson of Wake Forest has the athleticism and ball-handling ability to play small forward and the strength to play power forward at 6-7¾, but he also has conditioning issues. "He needs to lose some weight," a GM said. "His body fat needs to come down. But he knows how to play." Johnson is still projected to go somewhere around the end of the lottery.
Brandon Jennings' criticism of fellow point guard Rubio last week -- "I think the dude is just all hype" -- was more than a surprising moment of trash talk at a predraft workout. It was an affirmation of Jennings' personality. Friends say he embraces attention and prefers to create his own path rather than blend in, and welcome to not blending in. There are a lot worse things to say about a point guard than he is over-reaching for competition. Remember the words of an NBA executive: "If he gets it from the neck up, he will be as special as a lot of players in this league."
One NBA executive: "I'll just tell you this is the worst draft in decades. People are going to get excited about guys. But this is a terrible draft. Guys are going to screw up big time." He meant his peers. "A number of my colleagues are warming up to it," Mr. Sunshine continued. "I think they're making a big mistake."
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