Tag Archives: Jimmer Fredette

NBA Draft 2011 Preview: The Lottery

A less search-friendly but perhaps more appropriate title for this article is “Nobody Knows Anything about Anyone.” This year’s likely lottery picks feature more unknowns than any draft since the new eligibility rules were put in place (banning high school players) in 2006.

In the past five drafts, there have been six foreigners chosen in the lottery, as well as Brandon Jennings, who never attended college. In the last four years, there have been just three. This year’s lottery (Thursday, 7:30 EST, ESPN) is projected by many to exceed that total—both ESPN’s Chad Ford and DraftExpress.com predict four foreigners will be taken in the first 14 picks.

And those figures don’t include Kyrie Irving, the consensus No. 1 pick, who played just 11 collegiate games due to injury. You would spend more time watching the first two Harry Potter movies (313 minutes) than you would watching every minute Irving played against college competition (303).

The media chatter is that this year’s draft class is one of the weakest in recent memory, especially in the lottery. With a lockout looming, many college stars opted to stay in school, meaning this year’s lottery will look more like the mid- to late-first round picks of past years. But is this draft class, overall, weak? The truth is, we just don’t know. If even half of these mysterious prospects pan out it could prove to be a very impressive class.

But how much do we really know about 19-year-old Enes Kanter? We know this: He is a Turkish citizen, he was born in Switzerland, and he bounced around American high schools two years ago and didn’t even play this past year because the NCAA ruled him ineligible.

Bismack Biyombo is just 18-years-old, incredibly raw offensively—when you watch tomorrow night’s draft, keep in mind that “raw” is a euphemism for “not good”—but could go as high as No. 8. If this was a draft based on “thinking on the fly” abilities instead of basketball skills, Biyombo would certainly go undrafted.* From his interview with Grantland.com contributor Davy Rothbart:

Grantland:A lot of teams are giving you serious consideration in the draft. There’s easily 10 or 12 cities where you could wind up. Let’s play a game: I’ll say the name of a city and you say the first word that comes to mind. Any word you want—just the first word that pops into your head. Cool?

Biyombo: Cool.

Grantland: OK, here we go. Washington, D.C.

Biyombo: No.

Grantland: OK. Detroit.

Biyombo: Detroit? Yes.

Grantland: Toronto.

Biyombo: Yes.

Grantland: Houston

Biyombo: Yes.

*I don’t mean to pick on Biyombo, who is from the Congo. He speaks five languages, which is cool, and he’s about to become very wealthy, but he clearly doesn’t know how word association works.

I haven’t even mentioned Jan Vesely, from the Czech Republic, or Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas, both of whom will receive rave reviews from the analysts on tomorrow’s telecast. And on what are the experts basing their analysis? My theory is that most of them simply watch YouTube highlight reels, just like the rest of us, and then deliver the phrases we’ve become all too familiar with: upside potential, tremendous length, second jumpability

What can we learn from these 30 second clips? Absolutely nothing. I played against a guy last night who would project as a lottery pick based on his highlight video. He could jump high, he was quick, and he had a smooth jumper. He’d look like a stud in his video as long as you cut out the long stretches where he didn’t try on defense, deferred to his teammates despite being the best player on the court, and missed several point-blank layups.

I don’t know what I’d do if I were the GM of a team in this year’s lottery. Maybe it is a good year to take a chance on one of these unknowns. It’s not like the college kids, aside from possibly Irving and consensus No. 2 Derrick Williams, are especially strong.

Or, I could take The Jimmer and know I made a good pick.

See also:
NBA Draft 2011 Preview: Interview with NBA Scouting Director Ryan Blake

NBA Draft 2011 Preview: Interview with NBA Scouting Director Ryan Blake

I recently spoke with NBA Scouting Director Ryan Blake about the upcoming draft (June 23). He wouldn’t comment on the potential lockout that looms over the league, but he did share his thoughts on the abundance of point guards, questionable decisions by early entries, and sleeper players, among other things.

This year, 69 underclassmen and 20 international players declared for the NBA Draft. Remember, there are only two rounds—a total of 60 selections—so when you factor in the seniors expected to be chosen you’re left with a lot of kids who should have stayed in school. “It’s been the case for quite some time,” Blake said. “The numbers don’t work out. I try to get the information out to the media because people forget all those guys who came out who didn’t make it. I sort of feel like the grand papa who wants to protect the players who may be making mistakes, but sometimes you can’t do it. These guys are going to do what they want. The guys that are pulled into the draft by advisors who want a piece of them and they get burned and don’t get to live out their dreams, that’s when it hits the heart.

“I’m a percentage guy. You want to create the most opportunities to get that guaranteed money by getting drafted in the first round. On the other hand, it only takes one team to like you.”

And teams often seem to fall in love with players at pre-draft workouts. Instead of taking into account a college career—even if it was just one season—scouts and GMs place too much weight on individual workouts. Blake, though, said that is just part of the evaluation process. “Everything is a circle graph and there are little pieces of the pie that go into any decision. When you get into a team’s war room you’re going to have several scouts and everyone is going to have their own opinion.”

Some scouts/teams are better at evaluating international players, of which there are several that could go in this year’s lottery. “San Antonio has done a good job drafting international players,” Blake said, and guys like Tony Parker (28th pick in 2001) and Manu Ginobli (57th, 1999) come to mind. “Many of these players are under contract, but NBA teams don’t have to offer a buyout. They can store the players and let the foreign teams develop them. If you’re drafting late or have multiple picks, that’s a perfect opportunity to take an international player that is already under contract. It’s an investment that doesn’t cost you anything.”

Many of the international players in this draft are big men, while an unusually large number of the college hopefuls are point guards. Blake thinks some of the underclassmen point guards may have been wise to return to school, as they are not just competing against other early entries but also talented senior point guards like Norris Cole and Nolan Smith. “I think some teams are going to say, ‘I need someone in there who has the proven experience that can come off the bench,’” Blake said.

One of those underclassman point guards is Michigan’s Darius Morris (6’4, 190 pounds), who had an incredible sophomore season (15 ppg, 6.7 apg, 2.28 assist-to-turnover ratio) in leading the Wolverines to a surprise appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Morris does have a glaring weakness, however. “He can’t even find the rim outside of 20 feet,” says Blake, a fact corroborated by Morris’ 25 percent mark on three-pointers. Blake did say Morris does a lot of things well, calling him a “lock-down defender” and a “proven floor general.” But he questions if, without a reliable jumper, Morris has the quickness to get by NBA defenders. Think of Rajon Rondo without his quickness: Is that someone you’d want on the court?

Can Darius Morris drive past NBA defenders, too? (Credit: joshuak8)

Texas freshman Cory Joseph (6’3, 185) is another player in the same realm as Morris, according to Blake. “He can penetrate, he can finish, and he’s a pretty good shooter, but he’s more of a combo guard than a point. If a team is playing small ball at times and using two point guards on the floor, he could fit.” Still, given his unimpressive college numbers (10 points, 3 assists), he’s certainly a risk.

Josh Selby (6’2, 183) will likely get taken before either of these players. A top-ranked player coming of out high school, Selby never blossomed during his one year at Kansas, making him an intriguing prospect. In fact, Selby would have been much better off without the NBA age requirement, as he likely would have been a lottery pick in last year’s draft. Now, he could go anywhere from the middle of the first round to the second round.

Blake had a lot of positive things to say about Selby—athletic, attacks the rim, good body, good range on his jumper—but did say he is more of a combo than a true point and that he can get selfish. “You do have those concerns. His assist-to-turnover ratio wasn’t good and he played for a very good team, so he should have done better in that regard. He’s out because he’s got to get out [Selby left school to prepare for the draft shortly after the season ended and didn’t attend classes this past semester], so we hope for the best for him.”

Like Selby, it’s hard to predict exactly where Boston College junior Reggie Jackson (6’3, 208) will be selected. There aren’t too many points guards with a 7’ wingspan, and Jackson’s jumper did improve quite a bit this past season (50 percent from the field; 42 percent from deep), but Blake said he “needs improvement on his shot selection and while he can play both guard spots he still needs work to become point at the NBA level. His breakout year yields confidence—can he continue to supply this evidence in workouts?”

Moving into lottery-pick talents, Blake, like most everyone, is high on BYU senior point guard Jimmer Fredette (6’2, 195). Blake compared Fredette’s anticipatory skills to Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. “He was relied on to score so much and had the bull’s eye on his back and was still able to score—and it wasn’t running off screens, it was with the ball in his hands. The concern that a lot of people talk about is his defense. In going over tapes, his lateral quickness has to become better, but a lot of times he is just trying to stay out of foul trouble which I think he was instructed to do. So he came from behind screens and didn’t hedge.”

Fredette’s lateral quickness raises concerns, but Blake’s theory on his poor defense certainly has merit—Fredette was simply too valuable to his team to sit on the bench with foul trouble, even if it meant conceding a basket or two on the defensive end. As for whether The Jimmer can star at the next level, Blake reminds us that aside from a very special few, “it rarely happens that a player comes in and is the go-to guy. But he can be a contributor. If he is chosen by a veteran team with a veteran point guard, then he’s got a mentor. Do I think he can make an impact by the end of the year, which is what any team wants to have? Yes, and the sky is the limit after that.”

Another potential lottery pick from the Mountain West Conference is San Diego State sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard (6’7, 225), a high-energy guy who plays hard every possession and was the best player on a very strong San Diego State team. “The guy has a great work ethic. You can never look into a guy’s heart, but you can at least try to gauge it, and it seems Leonard has that going for him.”

Can Kawhi Leonard soar into the lottery? (Credit: SD Dirk)

Blake also highlighted some under-the-radar players who he feels will be chosen in the second round or go undrafted, but will likely make, and contribute to, an NBA team. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that all of the players he mentioned are seniors. Among them are:

Diante Garrett (6’4, 190), a point guard from Iowa State. “He played extremely well at the Portsmouth Invitational. He’s an elite athlete with a lot of quickness who can come off the bench and run a team.”

Marquette’s Jimmy Butler (6’7, 220), a small forward who Blake believes can be the Landry Fields or Wesley Matthews of this draft class.

Andrew Goudelock (6’2, 200), a point guard from Charleston, who has shown in workouts that he has a great shooting touch. “He’d be a perfect guy to come off the bench. He’s got great athleticism and was unbelievable at Portsmouth.”

Purdue power forward JaJuan Johnson (6’10, 221), who “nobody is talking about even though he was Big Ten player of the year. He has improved so much every year and although he is thin he can spread defenses.”

Blake also mentioned Leonard’s frontcourt teammate Malcolm Thomas (6’9, 220) and Florida power forward Vernon Macklin (6’10, 245).

As noted earlier, Blake would not comment on the lockout situation. However, with the NBA summer league already cancelled, it is certainly possible that some players returned to school fearing there may be no NBA season next year. Scanning the list of stars who returned—Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones, Perry Jones, John Henson, Harrison Barnes, to name five who may have been lottery picks—and you have to wonder if they caught wind of a lockout. On the flipside, this left vacant slots in the draft for other players previously considered questionable candidates.

Wisconsin vs Butler, Florida vs BYU: Sweet 16 Southeast Region Preview

3/25 Update, Postgame Reaction:

Butler 61, Wisconsin 54
When I first got off the escalator at McCarran airport and entered the luggage claim/ground transportation level, I saw a limo driver with a sign that read “Hayward.” No, Brad Stevens was not the driver, and Gordon Hayward certainly was not walking through that door at New Orleans Arena.

Butler didn’t need him. When you hold your opponent to 27 points through essentially three quarters, you can get by with just two superstars instead of three. And make no mistake about it, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard are superstars—hard to find a better inside-out scoring duo.

In my preview I wrote that Butler and Wisconsin were similar, but that the Badgers were more efficient in their execution. That sure wasn’t the case last night. I’d like to look into this more in the near future, but Wisconsin’s epically bad shooting performances are almost unfathomable. Last night was very similar to their 36-33 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament. Butler lost its focus in the final few minutes, perhaps thinking the outcome was a given at that point (it was), otherwise Wisconsin’s final output would have been even worse.

Some of the late-game breakdowns aside, can you say anything bad about Stevens and the Bulldogs? This was at least the ninth straight Tourney game in which they seemed so prepared, so poised, and so fun to watch if you’re a basketball purist. They were underdogs against Old Dominion, underdogs against Pittsburgh, and underdogs against Wisconsin. They’ll be underdogs against Florida, too. If the Bulldogs manage to win and you’re surprised, you haven’t been watching them the last couple of years.

On Thursday night, the Sweet 16 games get underway in the West region and Southeast region. In the latter, played in New Orleans, the BYU Cougars play the Florida Gators (7:27 EST, TBS) while the Wisconsin Badgers take on the Butler Bulldogs (9:57, TBS). The winners meet for the right to go to the Final Four in Houston.

Below is a preview of the four teams (with the seed noted), outlining how each school advanced through the bracket as well as their strengths and weaknesses. There are also anecdotes from my trip to Las Vegas last weekend for the first two rounds of the Tournament.

No. 4 Wisconsin
How they got here: By being the incredibly efficient team they’ve been all season, aiming for substance over style on nearly every possession. Wisconsin’s first opponent, 13 seed Belmont, was a popular upset pick. The Bruins had won 30 games and played a frenetic style that couldn’t be more different from Wisconsin’s. Something had to give, and it was Belmont, which fell to the Badgers 72-58. The Bruins couldn’t get out in transition, and while the Badgers milked the shot clock on nearly every possession, they still shot 50 percent from the floor and 12-of-22 from deep.

Jordan Taylor was badly outplayed by Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen in Round Two, but Wisconsin turned it over just five times and hung on for a 70-65 win. Wisconsin’s other star, Jon Leuer, has scored 22 and 19 points thus far.

Why you should have seen it coming: Wisconsin had two ugly, ugly losses entering the Tournament, but it showed its potential to be an elite team when it beat No. 1 Ohio State in mid-February. Casual fans label Bo Ryan’s style of play as B-O-R-I-N-G, but scoring on a higher percentage of possessions than most every team in the country is what makes Wisconsin so good. This is an easy team to overlook, but not an easy one to overmatch, as two very good teams found out last weekend.

Bo Ryan pretty much always looks like this. (Credit: Lukas Keapproth)

Why they may not go much further: Remember those ugly, ugly losses I mentioned? Yeah, they were ugly. Hard to criticize a team for losing to Ohio State, but a 28-point loss usually doesn’t show up on the resume of an elite team. The Badgers followed that up with a memorable (for all the wrong reasons) performance against Penn State in the Big Ten tournament, losing 36-33. Wisconsin shot 2-of-21 from three in that game. Butler won’t be discouraged by Wisconsin’s slow pace, and Florida or BYU could simply outscore them.

Vegas anecdote: The Wisconsin fans sitting in the row behind us were very friendly. They put up with our criticisms of their star player (Taylor was 2-for-16 from the field while his point guard counterpart scored 38 points!) and even seemed entertained by our fickle support. This wasn’t much of an anecdote, but you had teams from Wisconsin and Kansas, so what did you expect?

No. 8 Butler
How they got here: By adhering to The Butler Way, which lately means winning extremely close games, often in improbable fashion, to put yourself two wins away from a second straight Final Four.

Given an 8 seed, the likelihood of surviving the first weekend seemed dismal, especially since opening round opponent Old Dominion was projected as another very dangerous team. But Matt Howard’s put-back at the buzzer lifted the Bulldogs to a 60-58 win over ODU, and in one of the strangest finishes you’ll ever see in a basketball game, Butler defeated top-seeded Pittsburgh 71-70. Shelvin Mack dropped 30 points in the game, a Butler Tournament record, hitting 7-of-12 three-pointers.

Why you should have seen it coming: Do you believe in Butler magic? I’ll admit, just before this year’s Tournament started I read Underdawgs, a book on Butler’s inspiring run to last year’s NCAA title game, and I still didn’t think the Bulldogs could knock off Pitt. Without Gordon Hayward, last season’s leading scorer and rebounder, it seemed this team just didn’t have enough firepower.

In early February, after a three-game losing streak in the Horizon and with no signature nonconference wins (though the win over Florida State looks pretty good now), Butler was 14-9 and in danger of missing the Tournament. That’s when the Bulldogs rattled off nine straight victories, entering the Dance as one of the hottest teams in the country.

Why they may not go much further: It’s silly to bet against the magic at this point, but Wisconsin is a team that will do a lot of the things Butler does, except better. The Badgers have big men that aren’t simply space eaters in the paint—they won’t be afraid to venture outside the lane with Howard. This one could go either way, as could Butler’s next game against BYU or Florida. Including these two Tourney wins, the Bulldogs have won six straight as an underdog, so either their magical roll will continue or their luck will finally run out.

Vegas anecdote: It seemed like I was the only person in the theater who backed Butler in the first round, which really shocked me. I understood Old Dominion was a very good team, but when Vegas made the Monarchs a two-point favorite I didn’t see the value. In Butler’s second game, I think everyone was too confused by the final seconds to worry about their particular bet.

No. 2 Florida
How they got here: By getting two huge games from 5’8” Erving Walker, the guard from Brooklyn with a knack for hitting big shots. Walker led Florida with 18 points, including four-of-six from deep, in an opening round rout. The Gators didn’t really need him against a woefully overmatched UC-Santa Barbara squad, winning 79-51. They sure relied on him against 7 seed UCLA though. He scored Florida’s last seven points—a three-pointer with 1:15 left to push the lead to four and four free throws to seal the deal. He finished with 21.

Why you should have seen it coming: The Gators were on the national radar in February, when they went on a six-game winning streak in the SEC, a run that included victories over four teams destined for the Big Dance. A blowout loss to Kentucky in the conference tournament final didn’t prevent Florida from getting a 2 seed, making it a safe bet to reach the Sweet 16.

Why they may not go much further: Are you going to bet against Jimmer? BYU is next up for the Gators and it certainly doesn’t help that Florida’s best perimeter defender, Kenny Boynton, sprained his ankle against UCLA, though he is expected to play. Keep in mind that it was BYU that eliminated Florida from last year’s Tournament (in double overtime). Wisconsin and Butler are experienced teams that would likely play Florida close to the final minute should the Gators advance.

Vegas anecdote: I was playing Pai Gow while watching the Florida-UCLA game, and the dealer continuously berated me for not playing the bonus. Whenever my hand failed to make three-of-a-kind or better, which was more often than not, she said nothing, but any time I made a good hand she would tap her finger inside the bonus betting circle and say, “Should’ve played bonus.” I’d like to thank Billy Donovan’s team for putting me in a good mood. Had Florida lost, I may not have been so patient with the critical dealer.

No. 3 BYU
How they got here: Jimmer. Jimmer. Jimmer. Jimmer. I could really write this for every section. It would be lazy, but accurate. Fredette (this is the last time I’ll use his last name, I promise) dropped 32 on Wofford (a 13 seed) and 34 on Gonzaga (an 11 seed). He wasn’t too efficient in the opener, an eight-point win, but converted 7-of-12 from downtown against the Zags in an 89-67 blowout.

Why you should have seen it coming: Coming off one of the biggest wins in program history against San Diego State, BYU lost Brandon Davies and then lost to New Mexico by 18. The Cougars regrouped, winning three in a row (including a win over New Mexico) and reaching the Mountain West tournament final. This didn’t quell all doubts, but it proved BYU was still a capable team. And when you have the nation’s leading scorer, you’re a threat to make a Tourney run.

It seems like Jimmer has just as easy a time doing this from 25 feet. (Credit: Lelavr)

Why they may not go much further: I really liked this team, so I was saddened by Davies’ suspension because I felt it ended BYU’s chances of a serious Tourney run. This team had a very legitimate shot at a Final Four, but without their lone inside presence I figured they could struggle to get through the opening weekend. The Cougs have done that, but you’ve got to assume Florida has learned from last year’s Tourney matchup, when Jimmer scored 37. There are teams in the MWC that play BYU multiple times a year and still have no clue how to slow Jimmer, but the Gators are a complete team that should be able to control the paint. Butler and Wisconsin have quality big men as well. No matter how it turns out for BYU, it will be fun to watch.

Vegas anecdote: BYU was an 8.5-point favorite in its opener against Wofford. The Cougars were up 11 with the ball and could just about run out the clock on the Terriers. BYU fans/bettors voiced their support, but then, for some reason, Jimmer hoisted a 30 footer, which missed everything. You could feel the tension rise in the theater as Wofford guard Cameron Rundles drove baseline but passed on a layup, opting to kick it out to teammate Terry Martin instead. Bettors screamed “Noooo!” as Martin released a three-pointer as time expired, and sure enough, buried it to make the margin eight and give Wofford the cover.