Thursday’s NBA Draft can’t get here soon enough.
Because after witnessing some outstanding team basketball by the 2015 champion Golden State Warriors, who picked up right where the San Antonio Spurs left off in the 2014 Finals in terms of sublime and transcendent spacing, passing, movement, fluidity and a brand of basketball that was more beautiful and inviting than J Lo on the back of the Rebirth album, the conversation over the past few days has centered around Phil Jackson’s assertion that LeBron James often travels with the ball.
Really? That’s the big news of the day? Well thanks a lot Captain Obvious.
It must be an incredibly slow sports news cycle when that dominates the national discussion, or at least it was until Puffy went Mad Rapper on his son Justin’s UCLA assistant football coach.
If Phil thinks LeBron travels, I wonder what he thinks of the fancy footwork of Bron’s Cleveland teammate, Kendrick Perkins. But I digress. I wish we’d stop manufacturing stories and stick to the ones that are actually out there, like the upcoming NBA Draft at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center in a few days, which will prove to be one of the deepest in recent memory.
Everybody knows that the top big men, Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Latvia’s, by way of the tough ACB Spanish pro league, Kristaps Porzingis, will be among the top four selections on Thursday night. After that, all bets are off.
You might as well go ahead and burn every mock draft that you’ve been studying over the past few months because this year’s selections will be an orgy of unpredictability.
And just as the Spurs and Warriors thrilled us over the past two seasons with a roster of pliable weapons like Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green that can augment and expand an offense’s capabilities in support of the dynamic guard play provided by the likes of Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, you must be cognizant of the direction that the league is moving in.
Plenty of pundits, skeptics, General Managers and coaches once scoffed at Phil Jackson’s egalitarian offense in Chicago built around the gifts of a skinny 6-foot-6 swingman, they laughed at Don Nelson’s hoops theorem of inter-changeable parts and the concept of the Point-Forward, and mocked Mike D’Antoni’s groundbreaking philosophy of fast break basketball with the 3-point shot at its very foundation.
But they’re not laughing any longer, are they?
With that said, we present the New World Order of skilled players who are 6-foot-8 or shorter. If put in the right situation with the right team that runs the right system, with an organization and coaching staff that is smart enough to feature and take advantage of their unique skill sets, a la what the Spurs and Warriors staffs did with Boris Diaw and Draymond Green respectively, these guys have a shot to be impact players in the near future.
D’Angelo Russell, 6-Foot-5 Point Guard/Shooting Guard, Ohio State – My absolute favorite player in all of college hoops this year, the slick lefty reminds me of guys like Tiny Archibald, Manu Ginobili, Mike Conley and the Georgia Tech and New Jersey Nets version of Kenny Anderson. Russell can destroy opponents with his scoring and passing.
Watching him handle the ball while surveying the defense with the visual acuity of an Eagle before attacking with so many of the weapons in his arsenal: the deep ball, mid-range, layups in traffic and Magic Johnson-type assist game: is like watching Rosamund Pike as Amazing Amy in the movie Gone Girl. I guarantee, if you sit and watch, you’ll be talking to yourself and the television, on some, “Yo! That’s insane!!!” type stuff.
Jerian Grant, 6-Foot-5 Point Guard, Notre Dame – Harvey’s son can score while also being an electric floor general. Jerian excels in a fast-paced transition game, and he’s also outstanding in creating offense in the half-court.
Tyus Jones, 6-Foot-1 Point Guard, Duke – Ignore all that nonsense about him not being fast, strong or athletic. They said the same things about Steve Nash and John Stockton.
His instincts, ability to score off the jumper which opens up the floor for him to create for his teammates, his surprising ability to finish at the rim, basketball IQ and vision are what make him special. If you didn’t pay close attention to him in the NCAA Tournament, I’d suggest you go back and watch.
Justin Anderson, 6-Foot-6 Small Forward/Shooting Guard, Virginia – Justin is a threat to score the deep ball, can guard bigs and wings, and his flight/attack-the-rim game is sicker than Buffalo Bill in the Silence of the Lambs.
Emmanuel Mudiay, 6-Foot-5 Point Guard, China – Emmanuel chose to play pro ball in China while also cashing Under Armour’s checks last year, as opposed to earning Happy Meal voucher’s while pumping millions into the NCAA economy, so you might not have seen him.
I have, and trust me when I say that this kid has some Russell Westbrook-type of speed, athleticism and explosiveness to him, while also being a pure point guard. His ability to create space off the dribble is superb.
Delon Wright, 6-Foot-5 Point Guard, Utah – Dorrell’s baby brother does it all: score, pass, defend, rebound, you name it. He’s like that guy at the park that isn’t super fast, doesn’t soar above the rim, doesn’t have a wet jumper or an insane handle, but he just keeps getting buckets and hooking up his teammates while keeping the court all day. He’s fun to watch with the ball in his hands because if the defense offers some daylight, Delon will find enough open space to do what he does best, use his smarts and sneakiness to get his team points.
Olivier Hanlan, 6-Foot-4 Point Guard/Shooting Guard, Boston College – I’m assuming that you didn’t watch a whole lot of Boston College games over the past few years, unless you are an alum or have an unhealthy hoops obsession like I do.
Had you seen the Eagles, you would have marveled at Hanlan, whose range is simply considered, “In the gym,” because he can score from anywhere.
Cameron Payne, 6-Foot-2 Point Guard, Murray State – Cameron could be the third point guard selected after Emmanuel Mudiay and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell. He’s your classic example of a kid who got better and better every year, and why scouts who make definitive statements about kids coming off the bench on the AAU circuit are about as dim as Skip Bayless saying that Steve Kerr wouldn’t make a good NBA coach. Cameron’s work in the pick-and-roll is Stockton-esque, and his ability to score away from the basket makes him dangerous.
Justise Winslow, 6-Foot-7 Small Forward, Duke – Justice is a certifiable monster in transition and on the defensive end.
His athleticism is world class, and like the Warriors outstanding collection of long-limbed defenders, can guard any number of positions.
Devin Booker, 6-Foot-6 Shooting Guard, Kentucky – He might have gotten lost in the sauce with all of the talent on Kentucky’s roster, but NBA scouts know that Booker is a premiere shooter, not only curling off screens, but also while handling the ball and creating his own pull-up opportunities.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, 6-Foot-7 Small Forward, Arizona – The thing that most impresses me about Rondae is that he always plays with hunger. His wingspan is ridiculously long and he’ll rebound and defend at an elite level.
Stanley Johnson, 6-Foot-7 Small Forward, Arizona – Stanley loves to play defense, he can guard multiple positions and he has the type of power and speed that is perfectly suited for the pro game. His offensive game is still a work in progress, but the basics are there for him to build upon.
His confidence and smile are infectious and he was one of the nicest young men on the elite travel circuit off the court.
R.J. Hunter, 6-Foot-6 Shooting Guard, Georgia State – Need a long-range shooting threat with just enough wiggle to put the ball on the floor and create for others? Well, then R.J.’s your man.
Tyler Harvey, 6-Foot-4 Shooting Guard, Eastern Washington – Tyler simply gets buckets. He’s a superior 3-point shooter with a deft touch around the rim.
T.J. McConnell, 6-Foot-2 Point Guard, Arizona – He’s a better version of Matthew Dellavedova, a rugged, dependable point guard that can come off the bench and give you valuable contributions. If you want to gauge his importance, highlight reels and box scores will tell you nothing. His leadership, floor generalship, Velcro defense and will to win will tell you everything.
J.P. Tokoto, 6-Foot-6 Small Forward, North Carolina – J.P.’s athleticism and explosiveness is on par with Gyp Rosetti’s temper in Boardwalk Empire.
He has the potential to be an exceptional defender in the NBA whose ability to guard many positions will be an asset.
Honorable Mentions –
Dez Wells, Maryland
Quinn Cook, Duke
Ryan Boatright, UCONN
Joseph Young, Oregon
Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
Norman Powell, UCLA
Terry Rozier, Louisville
Michael Frazier, Florida
Rashad Vaughn, UNLV
Kelly Oubre, Kansas
Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame
Michael Qualls, Arkansas
Terran Petteway, Nebraska
Josh Richardson, Tennessee