KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Almost all of the NBA executives who assembled at the pre-draft camp last week agree that Memphis’ Derrick Rose is the best guard in the Class of 2008.
“The bigger challenge,” one scout said, “is identifying the second best.”
And the third – and the fourth and fifth.
However you rank O.J. Mayo, Jerryd Bayless, Eric Gordon and others, it’s clear that “Life After Rose” in the NBA draft won’t be all that bad for the NBA teams hoping to use a lottery pick on a guard.
“There are so many,” Rose said. “I wouldn’t know who to take.”
Rose and Kansas State forward Michael Beasley are expected to be the top overall selections in the June 26 draft – although not necessarily in that order.
How things will unfold after that, though, is anyone’s guess. The one thing that’s certain is that guards should be well-represented in the top 14 picks of the draft.
Along with Mayo (USC), Bayless (Arizona) and Gordon (Indiana), Texas’ D.J. Augustin and UCLA’s Russell Westbrook are also expected to be chosen during the early portions of the draft. Still, determining the order in which they’ll be taken is almost like playing Eenie Meenie Minie Moe.
Even Kansas coach Bill Self – whose team has faced each of the guards except Gordon – said he’d have to “think about it for awhile” before he could fulfill a request to rank them.
“They’re all so good,” Self said. “In a lot of ways, they’re interchangeable. I guess you could say it’s a matter of taste.”
NBA scouts and coaches love the options, too, although some said they wished there were more true point guards from which to choose.
“In this class, the only true point guards that will go in the first round are Rose, Augustin and (North Carolina’s) Ty Lawson,” another scout said. “It’s too bad there aren’t more of them, because there’s already a disparity in the league at that position.”
Here’s a quick breakdown of the guards – other than Rose – who are expected to be among the top selections in the 2008 NBA draft.
Height/Weight: 6-3, 182
The skinny: Along with Russell Westbrook, Bayless might be the most athletic player in this bunch. His speed makes him difficult to keep up with in transition, and his quickness and burst give him a deadly first step that leads to a lot of open looks. Bayless is going to get his looks, and his mid-range game is incredible – mainly because of the elevation he gets on his jump shot. He still needs to get better at finishing around the basket.
Biggest question: Like most of the guards in the draft not named Rose or Augustin, scouts aren’t convinced that Bayless is a pure point guard. He played off the ball at Arizona so Nic Wise could play the point. Bayless said he considers himself a “scoring point guard” with a style comparable to Utah’s Deron Williams.
“I don’t know if there are a lot of players in the world that want to win as bad as me,” Bayless said. “Hopefully that’s something teams will consider.”
Projection: Fourth overall pick by the Seattle SuperSonics
Height/Weight: 6-4, 210
The skinny: No guard in this group will provide more immediate help than Mayo, whose role will depend on the team that selects him. Mayo is a true combo guard, meaning he has the ability to excel at both point guard and shooting guard, the position he played during his one season at USC. As a scorer, Mayo takes most of his shots from the perimeter, although he’s also got an outrageous first step that allows him to get to the basket. But it’s also no secret that Mayo can distribute the ball effectively. Mayo is also extremely poised for someone who played just one college season. NBA-types have no doubt that he has the make-up to run a team.
Biggest question: Dating back to high school, Mayo’s off-court issues have overshadowed some of his on-court accomplishments. Last month a former confidant accused Mayo of accepting about $30,000 worth of cash and gifts from a friend who was being funneled money from the sports agency with which Mayo eventually signed. On the court, Mayo has yet to show much of a midrange game. He is also a player who often seems to be playing selfish, AAU-style of ball, so his ability to involve his teammates is sometimes questioned.
Projection: Sixth overall pick by the New York Knicks
Height/Weight: 6-4, 220
The skinny: Physically, Gordon is one of the strongest guards in the draft, which makes him tough to defend when going to the basket. “Every move is a power move,” Bayless said. “(Gordon) is no fun to play against.” Gordon shows no fear when it comes to attacking the basket and has also demonstrated his three-point prowess from NBA range. His lanky arms give him the length that makes him a pest on defense. He also demonstrated a lot of poise and maturity during a tumultuous time at Indiana last season.
Biggest question: Like Bayless, Gordon is considered a shooting guard in the NBA and not a point guard. That’s certainly not a knock on him. It’s just reality. NBA teams are hoping the second half of his season at Indiana was just a fluke – especially the last 10 games, when Gordon shot just 36 percent from the field and 16 percent from three-point range. A wrist injury and Indiana’s coaching situation might have played a factor in Gordon’s slide, but he also seemed to settle for his jump shot during that span instead of attacking the basket.
Projection: Eighth overall selection by the Milwaukee Bucks
Height/Weight: 5-11, 180
The skinny: The best pure point guard in the draft other than Rose and one of the quicker, more crafty players in all of college basketball last season. Tremendous at creating space between him and his defender. Despite the absence of Kevin Durant, Texas actually got better last season thanks to Augustin, who averaged 19.2 points and 5.8 assists. “D.J. is the hardest to guard out of all of those guys (in the draft) because he has the ball in his hands 95 percent of the time,” Kansas counterpart Russell Robinson said. “He comes off of all those screens from everywhere. He’s tough.”
Biggest question: Obviously, Augustin’s height is a concern – at least to some people. “I don’t think it’s ever held me back,” Augustin said. “I’ve always been the smallest one on the floor. I have no problem going in against the big men and doing what I do best.” Augustin is also not nearly as athletic as players such as Rose, Bayless and Westbrook. One scout said Augustin’s future in the NBA will likely be as a backup.
Projection: 11th overall selection by the Indiana Pacers
Height/Weight: 6-3, 187
The skinny: Westbrook is the best athlete in this class of guards. He anticipates extremely well, which led to lots of nice steals on the perimeter and some easy points in transition. That he played for one of college basketball’s top coaches in Ben Howland also makes Westbrook’s resume sparkle a bit more. Westbrook played well in the NCAA tournament, when he helped UCLA reach its third straight Final Four. His stock has been rising ever since. Scouts said Westbrook, a combo guard, has as much “upside” as any player in the draft.
Biggest question: Westbrook’s shooting is suspect, which will need to change if he has any hope of a long, lucrative career at the professional level. He shot 33.8 percent from three-point range last year. The season before, as a freshman, Westbrook averaged just nine minutes per game.
Projection: 12th overall by the Sacramento Kings