Remember those experts who proclaim that “The 2009 Draft is one of the worst since 2001 and Kwame Brown,” and/or “There are no players worth mentioning.” No, we are not in the same situation of 2003 (the year of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh), neither 2004 (with Dwight Howard, Ben Gordon, Devin Harris, Loul Deng, Andre Iguodala, Al Jefferson, Jameer Nelson), but we cannot say a Blake Griffin as first overall pick is far from Andrea Bargnani at number one.
At the moment, the 2009 class boasts few stars but many good players, with some left undrafted; a standing of “average” in this draft class, though, might not be as bad as the experts would have us believe. There is a plethora of unselected seniors, as well as quite a few second-round picks sure not to make their prospective squads and soon to be directed to Europe, which they will understand may be the best solution for their development, albeit not necessarily for their wallets. So let’s take a look at a list of the American unwanted whom European clubs might consider useful.
THE FIRST FIVE
On the top, there’re five names we should remember for their NCAA careers and unquestionable skills that make them more “Europe suitable” than some NBA players.
Jeff Adrien (6’6”, Connecticut) has been part of the recent Huskies’ success story as the proud captain, chosen by Jim Calhoun, of a major college program. To achieve this distinction, one can’t be a soft player, nor a silent member in the locker room. A lion in the paint, a leader among more talented players, Adrien is the living example of a good power forward for Europe. Aggressive, a strong rebounder, an intense athlete: Adrien has the physicality to face experienced European big men, thanks to his rock-solid structure and his reinforced maturity at a high level. He’s got a good mid-range game and loves the scraps; in a best-case scenario, Adrien compares to Will McDonald.
One who seems born to play in Europe is A.J. Abrams (5’11”, Texas), a tremendous sharp-shooter from beyond – way beyond! – the arc. Abrams isn’t a point guard, he isn’t the traditional shooting guard we’re usual thinking about, but his instinct for the basket is undeniable. If he doesn’t try for a specialist role with an NBA club, he’s ready to become the heir to Gianluca Basile.
As Levance Fields (5’11”, Pittsburgh; signed by St.Petersburg) teaches us, European clubs sometimes prefer to put the team in the hands of a young US playmaker, instead of launching local products. So, what better occasion for A.J. Price (6’2”, Connecticut) and Tyrese Rice (5’11”, Boston College) to cross the ocean and deny those American general managers who didn’t give them a chance to be called “first-round pick.”
Price essentially is a combo guard endowed with wonderful talent (though also with an unfortunate disinterest in defense) allowing him to score 20 or more points whenever he wants. As the first option on a team full of finishers (Thabeet, Robinson, Dyson, Adrien), Price must solve the big question about his capacity to create plays for the teammates; a team needing a scoring guard in a league (Russia, maybe?) where he could take care of the ball 13-15 seconds each time down the court should give him a look.
Similarly to Rice, a two guard trapped in a point guard’s body who is speedy going to the basket and creating off the dribble is Dionte Christmas (6’5”, Temple); Christmas could well succeed in this part of Earth. He tends to turn the ball over, but he knows how to put the defenders out of shot-blocking position, relying on hesitation moves and a mobility not to be underestimated. Christmas maintains a good balance between his inside and outside games, and can shoot reliably from the 6.25-meter line.
If the names above are probably the best on the scene, there are some boys who could have nice affairs (economically at first, but also on the court) for those European teams brave enough to choose them.
We’re talking guys like Leo Lyons (6’9”, Missouri): Take a look at his shoulders before saying anything. This former baller for the Tigers is a tough forward who plays well with back to the basket. Lyons runs the floor and, while able to score from 3-4 meters out, he’s also clever at getting position in the paint.
Paul Harris (6’4”, Syracuse), followed his teammates Flynn and Devendorf (the latter another interesting and talented guard, though so disciplined and with legal problems behind him) in the draft; in hindsight, entering the draft may have been the wrong choice for Harris, with the prospect of a senior year still ahead. Now, Harris is a European property, no doubt: He’s undersized for exporting his physical game to the NBA, and the process he needs to re-create himself as a small forward would be long. On the other hand, his first step going to the basket, with that body, is simply unstoppable.
Lee Cummard (6’7”, Brigham Young) is a long-limbed guard whose long arms allow him to shoot over the heads of the opposition. Cummard is unselfish and has a high basketball IQ, but has a weakness in defending smaller guards one-on-one, an area he needs to develop if he wants to become a true small forward and not merely a dangerous, tall, perimeter shooter.
Josh Shipp (6’5”, UCLA) is 24 years old and comes from an elite basketball school coached by Ben Howland: This alone should be enough to assure him a place in a good European club. Though his scoring skills aren’t worthy of mention, Shipp knows how to be useful for a team, defending, penetrating the middle, spacing the floor for himself and his teammates, poaching the passing lanes. Shipp has great size for a guard who can help playmakers in handling the backcourt, and could be remarkable addition even to a winning team.
Collegiate point guards mature in a hurry, well before guards and forwards – We used to hear this story again and again, epecially this year when, in addition to a draft full of “directors of operations” (12 of these types taken in the first round alone), there are many others who long for a character role in Europe. Four traditional playmakers come to mind.
Dominic James (6’0”, Marquette) is a solid distributor and leader who started out as the “next Dwyane Wade” but got unlucky at the end of his career with the Golden Eagles, suffering a broken foot before the NCAA Tournament. Byron Eaton (5’11”, Oklahoma State) is pure concrete, a real playmaker careful to the team first, a starter since he arrived in Oklahoma and accustomed to playing alongside great scorers.
On the contrary, Jeremy Pargo (6’2”, Gonzaga) and Ron Steele (6’2”, Alabama) have the offensive numbers James and Eaton lack. Jannero’s brother is often out of control and must work on his playmaking, but can beat anybody counting on his quickness, even from a static one-on-one. With essentially no perimete game, the talent is still there with Pargo. No NBA club was willing to gamble on the unhealthy Steele, plagued as he was by injures over the last four years. If he accepted an offer from a mid-level European club, the path marked by Chris Lofton in Turkey could be a launching pad for Steele, an incredible shoot-first point guard.
General managers interested in a skilled point guard to also serve as an attraction to increase attendance, media attentions and (maybe) victories should call to Curtis Jerrells (6’1”, Baylor), Ben Woodside (5’11”, North Dakota State), and Kyle McAlarney (6’0”, Notre Dame): some good guys with which to have fun, even if you’re a Belgian newcomer and your target is staying in the first league.
SHOOTING GUARDS SEARCHING
Prototype: Jaycee Carroll, devastating in his first out-of-US experience at Teramo. Requirements: impudence, 3-pointer flurries, and an understanding for the game.
Top prospects: Alex Ruoff (6’6”, West Virginia), a bit scared of contact in the paint but with a very quick release from beyond the arc; B.J. Raymond (6’6”, Xavier), with 41% three-point shooting is to all appearances invisible but always ready to punish defenders’ inattention with a match-winning shot; K.C. Rivers (6’5”, Clemson), an athletic left-hander with a soft shooting touch; and Robert Vaden (6’5”, UAB), able to move off the ball, read screens and find open shots for himself. Just don’t ask these guys about one thing: defense.
THEY SEEM EUROPEAN, THEY ARE AMERICAN
Thanks to an intelligence much more developed in comparison to some lads of the same age, and thanks to a style of playing we can call “European,” some seniors unseen by the NBA could find their Eldorado in our lands.
Lawrence Hill (6’8”, Stanford) is a versatile power forward, with a good jumper from four meters out, and at the same time tough enough to bang in the paint – especially after years of in-practice battle against his former teammates the Lopez twins.
Gonzaga offers two example of “still not men, but ready to get some action.” Josh Heytvelt (6’11”) hasn’t the ability to be a center in the NBA, because he isn’t a low-post scorer like Griffin, nor a shot-blocker around the basket. Instead, Heytvelt’s capacity to face the basket, together with his size, makes him a player many European clubs would pray to have. His companion Micah Downs (6’7”) was a role player in the NCAA, and would be in the NBA or in Europe. Downs doesn’t love to get to the basket, he’s unselfish, he’s a great court vision and a nice feel for the game. Intangibles: that’s what a coach knows Downs can gives him, even if he’s too a good-natured guy.
Antonio Anderson (6’6”, Memphis) does a lot of things; it’s a shame he doesn’t stand out at any one thing. All-around gifted with a body sculpted for basketball, Anderson is a tireless man-to-man defender who offensively plays on kick-out passes and goes in for strong rebounding. Though he has limited shooting range, Anderson does possess unlimited decision making and mental toughness.
OLD SCHOOL CENTERS
They’re white men who can’t jump, who get lost when they move out of the paint; they’re halfcourt players who aren’t so attractive but are terribly effective as scorers (none mentioned below shot under 58% from the floor) and rebounders (a minimum of 7.5 per game). They’re the best present a European team in search of a young and inexpensive US center could get. Two suggestions: John Bryant (6’11”, Santa Clara), and Aron Baynes (6’10”, Washington State).
MAKE IT OR BREAK IT
Obsessed by the amount of money US players can bring in? Try one of the following spectacular seniors: Alonzo Gee (6’6”, Alabama), Lorrenzo Wade (6’6”, San Diego State), Alfred Aboya (6’9”, UCLA), or Robert Dozier (6’10”, Memphis). You’ll be sure to sell a lot of tickets!
— written by Francesco Cappelletti