Individual success in basketball is predicated on two things: talent and fit.
This is the second installment of the KPI & Team-Fit Analysis. This section will focus on both the position specific KPIs and team-fits of the top three small forwards, power forwards, and centers selected in 2014.
1. Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
Jason Kidd hijacked the Milwaukee Bucks coaching job from Larry Drew the same way he hijacked Pitbull’s style. This un-kosher power move was finalized one week after the draft, and while there were many contributing factors that led to the move, one of the most enticing factors for Kidd and Bucks fans was the opportunity to build the franchise around two talented 19 year olds. Jabari Parker and Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo have played in a combined 77 NBA games between them but already have many people, including Kidd, drooling over the prospect of the pairing going forward. Kidd has already compared Parker to the man he shared the 1994 Rookie of the Year Award with, Grant Hill, and even said Parker can eventually be like Lebron James.
I wouldn’t say Parker is going to be Lebron just yet, but there is certainly no doubting the skills that he possesses. Parker is clearly the most polished prospect from this draft class and I have him rated as the top prospect based on my KPIs. Parker was the number two overall pick largely because of Andrew Wiggins’ freakish athleticism and upside, but no one will be surprised if Parker emerges as the best player from this class. As I have chronicled before, if nothing else, Parker is special because of his unquenchable desire to learn at every possible moment. Putting Parker’s skills in Jason Kidd’s system should lead to great things for Parker and the Bucks.
I expect Kidd to employ the same small-ball tactics that got the Nets out of their slump last season. Their best lineup will most likely be Brandon Knight, OJ Mayo, Antetokounmpo, Parker at the four, and Larry Sanders. While Parker is a natural small forward, he has shown the ability to be a highly effective scorer at power forward. Parker is able to carve out space on both ends with his sturdy lower body, while still possessing the athleticism to race up the floor, and the offensive versatility to score in a variety of ways in the half court. Much like Carmelo Anthony, Parker’s unique blend of shooting, strength, and smarts creates consistent mismatches when utilized at the power forward spot. With Sanders protecting the rim and Antetokounmpo’s length on the perimeter, Parker shouldn’t have to carry a monster defensive burden the way Wiggins and some other rookies will, which should help him avoid some of the foul trouble problems he encountered at Duke. If Kidd relies on his small-ball, wide open style, Parker will flourish as the leading candidate to win the Rookie of the Year, Antetokounmpo will be this year’s highlight-waiting-to-happen, and the Bucks will sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs. Okay the very last part probably isn’t true because the Bucks have minimal depth and even less experience winning meaningful games late in the season; but they should double their 15 win total from last season.
Parker Grade: 81.3/100
Team-Fit Analysis: 8/10
2. Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls
What a soft landing spot for Dougie McBuckets! If McBuckets plays significant minutes this is what he has to look forward to: an explosive Derrick Rose who will presumably be wearing jerseys and not suits this season, wing defending teammates like Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell, the potential Vlade Divac/Chris Webber-esque passing duo of Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol, and wide open corner threes.
The important thing, however, is the “if”. I watched McDermott have a great run in the Las Vegas Summer League, but this Bulls team has talent and depth already. Not to mention, one of the Summer League’s other top performers was fellow Bulls small forward, Tony Snell. Snell’s possible emergence can eat into some of McDermott’s potential minutes, especially when you consider the large defensive edge that Snell holds over McDermott and Coach Tom Thibodeau’s emphasis on that side of the ball.
With no true shooting guard on the roster, however, I expect Coach Thibs to use lineups with some combination of McDermott, Snell, and Jimmy Butler. Butler’s athletic versatility should allow him to play shooting guard while McDermott plays the small forward role on offense. Butler would then play against the other team’s better scorer (whether the shooting guard or small forward) to hide McDermott a bit on the defensive end. If McDermott becomes a McDetriment on defense, he will be spending a lot of time sitting next to Coach Thibs rather than taking on-court instruction from him.
Overall, though, McDermott should become a bigger and bigger piece of this Bulls offense as the season goes on. Over the past couple years, Coach Thibodeau has shown a great ability to adapt his offensive personality to his personnel. With the re-addition of Derrick Rose, Thibodeau should be more than happy to have another legitimate shooter in Doug McDermott on the roster to space the floor. In addition to some of the three point looks Mike Dunleavy Jr. was able to get at the top of the wing last season, I expect McDermott to spend a sizable amount of time in the corner lurking for open treys. If McDermott can carve out that niche, he might be playing meaningful minutes in June.
McDermott Grade: 76.0/100
Team-Fit Analysis: 8/10
3. TJ Warren, Phoenix Suns
This is my guy! TJ Warren has exactly what I look for in a pro prospect: production and polish. In his last year at NC State, Warren averaged 25 points and 7 rebounds while having a player efficiency rating over 31 (which is better than everyone in this draft class with the exception of Dougie McBuckets), all en route to becoming the ACC Player of the Year. Then after being selected 14th in the draft, Warren took his talents out to Las Vegas to tear up the Summer League with his atypical, throwback offensive game and array of shots. In his four complete Summer League games, Warren averaged 21.3 points and 5.8 rebounds with just one turnover per game. Production and polish.
As Warren makes the transition to the league, he’s got a few skills that will translate immediately: he’s an absolute terror in transition, he scores with every shot-type in the book, and he’s instincts on offense are silly good. If you are looking for a quick pro comparison, Warren is a less athletic, better version of Gerald Green. Uh-oh, Warren and Green are now teammates in the desert. Awkward. There should be enough minutes for Green and Warren to share at the small forward spot, but the question becomes will there be enough touches?
Currently the Suns have four prominent point guards on their roster. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, who played together effectively last season, are now joined by newcomers Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Ennis. In an effort to prevent these guards from dribbling the air out of the ball every night, Suns GM Sean McDonough is working feverishly to trade Eric Bledsoe. Nevertheless, despite the crowded backcourt, Warren should still be able to get touches and find ways to score.
One of the most unique aspects of Warren’s game is that he isn’t a three point shooter, at all. Warren doesn’t have a bad stroke, but he spends the entirety of the game attacking the rim and finishing with pull ups, floaters, step backs, and tough finishes in traffic. Warren is a real throwback-type player, a flat out scorer without being a knockdown shooter. People around the league have some reservations about Warren’s lack of three point shooting, especially in the current NBA environment, but the bottom line is Warren knows his strengths and he is consistently great at showcasing them. If the Suns are able to use some three guard lineups, Warren will have ample room to slash and find space in the lane. Gerald Green was able to have his best season as a pro in this Phoenix system and Warren can be similarly successful if given the opportunity.
Warren Grade: 78.0/100
Team-Fit Analysis: 6/10
1. Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
This is a trap! I swear, it’s a trap!
The modern era of the NBA draft has become all about “length”, “potential”, “upside”, and “athleticism”. Isn’t that right, Jay Bilas? The likes of Tyrus Thomas, Marvin Williams, Derrick Favors, Anthony Randolph, Brandan Wright, and others should make us weary of the “one and done” guys who get drafted because of potential rather than polish. I hate to lump Aaron Gordon in this class before he plays an NBA minute, but it looks like Orlando has fallen right into the trap.
Gordon is a great athlete with an enviable motor. The fact that Gordon is still only 18 years old leaves room for optimism and growth potential. Unfortunately, no one can say what time of offensive player Gordon will be, because he didn’t show any type of offensive game during his one year at the University of Arizona. With a back-to-the-basket game that is non-existent and a putrid shooting touch from the floor and the foul line, it is hard to believe that Gordon will ever be a refined or effective offensive player.
For a team that needs a glue and energy guy, Gordon can be a nice fit. If you need a guy to run the floor, crash the glass, and occasionally make some passes from the elbow, Gordon is your guy. If you are a team that needs a dynamic scorer, shooters, and floor spacers, Gordon will not fit that equation. Sorry, Orlando.
Gordon Grade: 72.0/100
Team-Fit Analysis: 4/10
2. Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
Julius Randle will finish in the top three of the Rookie of the Year voting.
I know Kobe is going to take a zillion shots. I know Steve Nash (back permitting) and Jeremy Lin will try their best to dribble the air out of the ball when Kobe isn’t hoisting jumpers. I know Carlos Boozer will probably start ahead of Randle in the early stretch of the season. I know the Lakers have been in disarray in recent years. So naturally, Randle is going to have a great rookie campaign and establish himself as a top three candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Randle’s left-handedness coupled with his low post repertoire will make him a problem for defenses from day one. Although Randle is not overly big or long, he knows how to use his body to create separation, get the ball over defenders, and finish in traffic. Despite what I mentioned previously, Randle should get enough touches to be effective both on the block and in pick and roll situations. In pick and roll situations, Randle will benefit from the creating styles of both Nash and Lin (I’m sure Amar’e Stoudemire’s guaranteed $99 million agrees). When Randle isn’t rolling to the basket and finishing, he will be attacking the glass gobbling up Kobe’s misses and I assume there will be some of those to go around. Randle is an efficient scorer and he will be able to thrive without being the focal point of the offense.
With his current skill set and fit, Randle has everything necessary to have an impact this year, especially on the offensive end. Going forward, Randle will need to develop a mid range game to become a consistently undeniable offensive weapon. Carlos Boozer should be able to help Randle develop this aspect of his game while also helping Randle learn what it means to be a professional that is always ready whenever his number called. As I chronicled in my draft diary, Randle can be Zach Randolph 2.0.
Don’t mess this up for me, Coach Byron Scott. Give Randle minutes!
Randle Grade: 78.7/100
Team-Fit Analysis: 8/10
3. Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets
Hornets Coach Steve Clifford says his offense will run from the inside out. Well do you know who happens to be on the inside?! Al Jefferson! Oh yeah, and Noah Vonleh too.
Vonleh certainly isn’t the primary option in the post, but he does have the skill set to complement Big Al. Vonleh’s feet and ability to play in the mid range area make him the perfect option for Clifford’s big-to-big high-lows. Vonleh will be stepping into the role vacated by Josh McRoberts, who was hoodwinked into taking his talents to South Beach in the hopes of teaming with Lebron. Sorry, McBob. McBob’s shoes (and headband, most importantly) will be hard to fill considering his underrated playmaking ability; but Vonleh will be an adequate replacement that can fill in the eight points and five rebounds per game that McBob has vacated. In fact, Vonleh should have an even bigger impact on the glass if he inherits the full 30 minutes left on the table with McBob’s absence. This would then free up Jefferson to conserve a little energy so he can be even more effective as the focal point of the Hornets offense.
For an extremely young guy (18) who is still growing into his game like Vonleh, not being the focal point of this team on either end of the floor can be highly beneficial. Especially in a small market with little expectations, Vonleh should be able to grow as he learns from Jefferson, is turned loose on the boards, and receives dishes from Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson. Vonleh is not close to being the most NBA ready prospect in this class, but he should be able to ease in and find his stride in Charlotte.
Vonleh Grade: 72.0/100
Team-Fit Analysis: 9/10
1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
With the possibility of Joel Embiid missing the entirety of this season it will be better to project one year forward to see how Embiid will fit on the 2015-2016 76ers. The nucleus of this future 76ers team will be Michael Carter Williams, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and presumably a wing player from next year’s lottery. (Leading candidates so far: Wayne Selden, Kansas; Caris Levert, Michigan; Terran Petteway, Nebraska [if Nebraska can make noise in the Big 12]; Andrew Harrison, Kentucky [because what's the lottery without some of Coach Calipari’s Wildcats?]). If Coach Brett Brown gets through the season without being fired or gouging his eyes out, he will build the future Sixers around the one-two punch of Embiid and MCW, with Noel as the defensive anchor, and lottery pick “X” as a perimeter shooter.
Coach Brown is another fruit born from the Gregg Popovich coaching tree. This pedigree should translate into a dream fit for Embiid. As I detailed in “Big Brothers”, the blueprint for this group has to be the Duncan-Robinson Spurs of the late 90’s and early 00’s. In order for the Sixers to follow this model, obviously Noel and Embiid will have to turn every drop of their potential into big-time, dominate performances. But, moreover, the Sixers brass is going to need to add shooting to this roster to mimic the consistent and timely shooting of Spurs veterans Sean Elliot, Mario Elie, and Steve Kerr.
Paired with the playmaking of Michael Carter Williams, Embiid should flourish in the pick and roll game as well as the post. Even if Philadelphia cannot duplicate the template that San Antonio has left, Embiid will still show his potential to be one of the best big men in this league for years to come. The W’s will come far more frequently, however, if the Sixers can use the Spurs blueprint to construct a team with savvy shooters, defenders, and role players that complement MCW and the ‘Twin Towers’.
Embiid Grade: 76.0/100
Team-Fit Analysis: 8/10
2. Jusuf Nurkic, Denver Nuggets
With Jusuf Nurkic, the Denver Nuggets hope they’ve found the next Nikola Pekovic. The good news is Nurkic has a bruising body with a surprisingly well developed low post game. In limited action in the Adriatic League, Nurkic constantly turned heads with his post moves and production in short spurts. The bad news is Nurkic is wildly immature. In fact, Nurkic is the first round prospect selected with the most attitude concerns. Nurkic became as known for his whining towards officials and coaches as he did for his post production.
So what do you do when you have a petulant 19 year old Bosnian that might have an NBA skill set? Step one: Bring him to America immediately. He’ll adjust swimmingly. Step two: Plop him on a team where he will struggle to see the floor for at least the first year. He’ll be happy to not play in unfamiliar territory. Step three: Set him up with a good mentor. He’ll appreciate a good ‘stache. Step four: Wait for disaster to ensue. Get Air Bosnia on the line.
With all sincerity, Nurkic would be great on an NBA roster four years from now. If he proves that he can survive his rookie deal, the size is undeniable and the talent is there waiting to be developed. Especially as the league’s talent across the front line dwindles by the minute, Nurkic could carve out a home for himself if he can keep it together. Will he keep it together? Doubtful.
Nurkic Grade: 71.3/100
Team-Fit Analysis: 2/10
3. Alec Brown, Phoenix Suns
I cheated with this evaluation. Alec Brown is listed as a center but I have used Power Forward KPIs to grade the seven footer from Green Bay. I chose the Power Forward KPIs because Brown is a stretch five-man and not a conventional back-to-the-basket center.
In theory, Coach Jeff Hornacek’s offense is perfect for a stretch five type like Alec Brown. Hornacek’s offense will feature a great deal of on ball screens with “pop” action that allows the screener to step out behind the arc for open shots rather than rolling to the basket. For Brown, unfortunately, there will be little to no opportunities for him to show his shooting touch. With all the guards on this roster, the perimeter will already be crowded. The Suns are probably best served by a big man that can suck some defenders to the basket to create the best spacing for this offense. The versatile inside-outside game of the Morris twins will be a much more potent option for Hornacek’s offense than Brown’s one dimensional game. And that doesn’t even mention the other guys fighting for minutes in the front court: Miles Plumlee and Alex Len. Brown’s ability to shoot is a solid NBA skill but there is no way he is getting consistent minutes in Phoenix to showcase that talent.