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Posted: Friday January 22, 2010 12:27PM; Updated: Friday January 22, 2010 3:21PM
Ian Thomsen
Ian Thomsen>INSIDE THE NBA

Weekly Countdown: 2010 Draft class looks weak beyond big three

Story Highlights

Scouts, GMs rank John Wall, Evan Turner, Wesley Johnson among top prospects

Cole Aldrich, Willie Warren round out the top five, but scouts remain skeptical

More topics: Shareef Abdur-Rahim's new role, Stephen Curry, inexperienced refs

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5 Top picks for the draft

John Wall
Most scouts believe freshman John Wall (above) will be better than reigning Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose.
Robert Seale/SI

I reached out this week to four NBA scouts for their opinions on the elite players in this year's draft (assuming those players declare for it). They agreed on two points: That this will be a weak draft, and that three players at the top have separated themselves from the pack. Based on their analysis, I am now viewing this as a three-player draft, with a big drop-off thereafter.

John Wall, 6-4 freshman point guard, Kentucky. Three of the scouts think the world of Wall. "The only true star I've seen," said the No. 2 executive of an NBA team. "I thought he was very special when I saw him in person and the way he took command of the game. I didn't expect anything like that. He's a better version of Derrick Rose because his hands are so quick."

Another second-in-command NBA executive agrees that Wall could be superior to Rose, the reigning Rookie of the Year. "He's a better shooter than Rose, a better defender than Rose. He doesn't quite have that strength and body that Rose had, but give him a couple of years and he might even be quicker and faster than Rose. He has such unbelievable speed and quickness and length and intensity at both ends of the floor. Let me say he's far from being a perfect player and he has a lot to learn, but he's one of those guys who will be better served to play in the NBA than in college, because the open floor space and the way the NBA is designed will suit him better.

"He has to improve his shot, but he has the makings of a floor general: tough, aggressive, willing to put his neck out and be a leader. He is far from being organized and establishing a rhythm on the court, but he looks like he will be able to do that eventually. At the very worst case, he should become a starting point guard on a top team."

The same scout adds that Wall may define himself most at the defensive end: "I've heard guys say he could be Gary Payton. That's a hell of a thing to say, but he has that type of body and quickness."

Here is more of the same from a third scout: "Wall is up there with Rose, Chris Paul and all of those guys. You get him and you'll have your point guard for the next 10-13 years based on his size, speed, length and basketball IQ. And he can defend. He's not a great shooter, but no one can stop him from getting where he wants to go on the court. And that, for me, is the greatest asset for a point guard, when you can collapse the defense and get into the paint, and then when they have to start helping, they're done. He reminds me of Micheal Ray Richardson -- that guy was the best; he was Magic Johnson when he played. That guy could get 15 rebounds and 15 assists, and he wasn't a great shooter, but he could get 20 every night. That's who Wall reminds me of."

But one scout isn't entirely sold on the presumptive No. 1 pick. Will he be able to execute plays at the slower pace of the NBA playoffs? "Wall is a broken-field runner," the scout said. "He's like a punt returner who zigs and zags and gets to daylight, but he's doing this against bad college teams. When he's forced to play half-court basketball, then we'll see."

Evan Turner, 6-7 junior swingman, Ohio State. The scout who is skeptical of Wall believes Turner should be ranked as his peer. "Wall and Turner are Nos. 1 and 1a. Turner is going to be an All-Star. I have great faith in that. His size, his approach, his style of game -- all are suited to the pros."

On Dec. 5, Turner fractured the second and third lumbar vertebra of his spine when he fell flat on his back following a failed dunk in transition. He returned a month later after missing only six games. "You can see he's a guy who enjoys playing," the scout continued. "His ability to improve his shooting will control his greatness. He's like Oscar Robertson. He can have that type of impact. Oscar wasn't a guy people worried about when he went behind the pick and launched the bomb -- you almost preferred him to do that -- and that's how it is with Turner."

I mentioned this high praise to another scout, who responded as the devil's advocate. "Evan Turner is the most interesting guy in the whole draft, because a lot of guys feel that way about him and really like him. And then there are a lot of guys who absolutely don't like him. I'm wrestling with it. The reason you wouldn't like him is because he can't play without the ball -- he's a turnover guy. He so dominates his team and I wonder what that's going to mean in the NBA. And then you see he's not a deep shooter. His game is based on strength and aggressiveness, he's a very skilled guy and he's in relentless attack mode from the opening tip. How is that going to work in the NBA if he's playing out of control? He's a guy who has had triple-doubles including turnovers.

"But the other side of it is that you could put him at the point and, if he refines his skills, you could wind up with a guy who is bigger and tougher than Brandon Roy -- like Brandon Roy on steroids, a beast. Now, part of Roy's beauty is that he never tries to do what he can't do, he plays within himself and he's a smart player. This kid is like Roy unleashed, so watch out because he plays on emotion and he can be his own worst enemy. No matter what, he's not going to slip far because of all that talent."

The other two scouts fully endorse Turner as a top pick. "He's a point guard in our league, or a point-forward. He has the ball in his hands for Ohio State 90 percent of the time. He's strong, he can really, really pass, he's a great rebounder and he's tough. He's not a great shooter, but he can score 20 a night on tip-ins and mid-range jump shots. Why shoot threes if no one is able to stop him from 15 feet and in? If he works at it -- and everything I'm told is that he has a great work ethic -- he can learn to make enough threes and become a great player. He's a monster."

Added the fourth scout: "He has personality, charisma, he's a big guard who has no fear driving to the basket. He has to improve his outside shot, but he can do anything on the floor."

Wesley Johnson, 6-7 junior forward, Syracuse. "Wesley Johnson has been the surprise of the year," one scout said. "He has a lot going for him -- size, skills -- and he's the reason behind Syracuse's 18-1 season. He has the potential to be very special, and I'm told he has a good basketball mind. At the end of the day, he can be a 20-point scorer, a good rebounder and a passer."

All four scouts endorse Johnson. "He's probably the best athlete in the draft," a team executive said. "He can shoot it, but at the same time he's shown a willingness to play within the team's system and not be selfish. He's another guy who's probably better off in the style of the NBA than in college. He's so freakishly athletically, he can hit a college three and he can pass it."

But the same executive expressed concern with Johnson's defense, as is often the case with prospects from Syracuse. "He's way, way behind defensively. Syracuse is actually trying on defense this year; their zone is the reason they're doing well. For a college team it's a great way to guard, but for us it doesn't help. You watch some guys in college and you can see they help to make the zone better, and then you watch other guys like Johnson and it looks like they're trying to hide in the zone, and that if you pulled him out of the zone and asked him to play man-to-man against NBA players, it could be scary. But I hear he's a great kid and willing to work."

Two of the scouts rate Johnson as the No. 2 player in the draft. "He is Shawn Marion," another scout predicted of Johnson. "He's an insane athlete who can make some shots, a much better shooter at the same stage of his career than Marion ever was. He's a little small -- he's 6-7 and slight -- but he can run. Last month, he got 19 rebounds [at Seton Hall], which is a big number at any level, but in the college game it's off the charts. He doesn't have a great handle -- he's a one-bounce player who can get from the wing to the basket. But he's not good in the open court; he's more of a straight-line player who is not very creative."

"Wesley Johnson is definitely worth talking about," said the scout who is skeptical of Wall. "He is a scorer, a complete package -- jack-of-all-trades, master of none. He grades out well in everything except for breaking you down and getting his own shot. A pretty good player."

Cole Aldrich, 6-11 junior center, Kansas. The No. 4 spot is where the scouts started having trouble coming up with names. All agree that Wall, Turner and Johnson will share the top three picks, but Nos. 4 and 5 generate a variety of names with little conviction for any of them.

"I just don't think this is a very good draft," said one team exec who rates Aldrich as a potential No. 4 pick. "There is going to be a group of seven or eight guys who separate themselves, which means that teams will pick for need. The order of teams in the lottery is going to determine who goes where in this draft.

"Aldrich is a solid, safe pick as a guy who is going to show up every night," the executive continued. "He's big and long, he has good hands, he knows how to play. Is he a go-to guy? Is he going to have the upside to become an All-Star? I don't know. But everybody needs bigs who are long and play hard every night and run the floor, who can catch and finish, who hit their free throws. He's an energy player, and when you put all of that together, you can't help but rate him somewhere this high."

Affirmed another scout: "Aldrich is going to be in there. A lot of it depends on how far Kansas goes this year. But he's already an NBA player -- not flashy, but he's a big man who can do a lot of things."

Willie Warren, 6-4 sophomore shooting guard, Oklahoma. Take your pick here. "If a team needs a big, they'll take Aldrich; if they need a point guard, they'll take Willie Warren," an executive said. Though Warren is listed as a shooting guard for Oklahoma, he has the potential to shift to the point in the NBA. "He is talented, he's quick, he can shoot it, and I think he can be a '1.' If he was in last year's draft with all of those point guards, I don't think he would be rated this high. But this year, after John Wall [and potentially Evan Turner], there is no other point guard. So he is going to benefit from the timing of the draft.

"But I will say," continued this exec, "a lot of [NBA] guys are down on Warren because of questions about character. [Oklahoma coach Jeff] Capel benched him one game this year and, instead of saying he had a headache or he'd banged his knee in practice, he chose not to explain it. Obviously there's some friction there, and the team is not as good without Blake Griffin. But Warren is a talented guy and, at the very least, he's going to be a top-10 pick."

Another potential choice for the top five is 7-foot Donatas Motiejunas, a 19-year-old Lithuanian playing for Benetton Treviso of the Italian league. "He's got the talent, the body, the feet," an executive said. "Maybe he should wait one more year before declaring, because he's still too fragile in his upper body. He gets pushed around too easily. But if he can go in the top five in a weak draft, maybe he'll come out. He has good touch with both hands around the basket, he can shoot the three and he loves to play."

A couple of long-shot sophomores mentioned by the scouts are 6-8 Butler forward Gordon Hayward and Georgetown big man Greg Monroe. Here's one scout on Hayward: "He creates for others, which is a rare thing at that size out on the wing. There are comparisons to [Mike] Dunleavy, who is a better shooter, but this guy is better laterally on defense, which is Dunleavy's weakness. He is one hell of a complementary player, although when you say someone is a '3' man in the body of a '4' man, that's usually an NBA death sentence. But this guy may be the exception."

Here's another scout on the 6-11 Monroe: "He's not a jumping-jack, but he's a good athlete who rebounds the ones he should get, and he's an average shot-blocker. What he has going for him is that he's one of the best-passing bigs I've ever seen. That makes him a great complementary player if you're looking for someone to blend in."

Another highly rated prospect is 6-10 Georgia Tech freshman Derrick Favors, who is viewed as a high-risk power forward by all four of the scouts who spoke to me this week. One scout sums up their doubts: "He's a very enticing player with length and great hands, and I'm sure he'll go in the top 10. But I wouldn't push to take him. He's one of those guys that you hope the team in front of you takes so you don't have to make the hard decision to pass him up. He's talented, but I haven't seen him play very hard. He should be getting 12 rebounds every night and getting some of them above the square. His motor needs to improve."

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