NBA scouts project the 2011 draft to be lean on top talent, and the pool of prospects could be even more shallow if some college underclassmen and international prospects don’t enter the draft for fear of a potential lockout. One scout likened this year’s class to the 2006 draft, when the Toronto Raptors took Andrea Bargnani(notes) with the No. 1 pick. That draft has so far produced just two All-Stars: Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy(notes) (No. 6) and Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo(notes) (No. 21).
North Carolina freshman swingman Harrison Barnes could go as No. 1 pick in 2011 and has the potential to be a difference-maker for an NBA team. But scouts are projecting few others.
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“This is a bad draft,” one scout said. “There will be a lot of players there, but no one special.”
Here’s an early look at 10 of the top prospects rated by NBA scouts.
1. Harrison Barnes, SG-SF, North Carolina freshman, 6-8, 210 pounds – Scout’s take: “He can score the basketball in bunches, really score. But can he make people around him better? He’s also a good rebounder, but he needs to improve his passing and defense. There’s a lot of work to do. He’s not a readymade player.”
2. Perry Jones, PF, Baylor freshman, 6-11, 220 pounds – Scout’s take: “He’s very long and athletic. A lot of people say he is lazy and has a very low motor, but he does have a great skill set.”
3. Kyrie Irving, PG-SG, Duke freshman, 6-1, 172 pounds – Scout’s take: “He’s the next Rod Strickland. One-and-done players are kind of rare there, but he’s good enough to play in the NBA next year. He’s a real true point guard. He makes tough plays and is a good passer. He’s like Chris Paul(notes), limited size-wise.”
4. Jonas Valanciunas, PF-C, Lithuania Lietuvos Rytas, 6-11, 230 pounds – Scout’s take: “Very long and can go to the glass on both ends. Can score in transition; plays above the rim. Nice hands. Still needs to work on strength against bigger players in the post. Playing big minutes in Europe against men.”
5. Donatas Motiejunas, PF-C, Italy Benetton Treviso, 7-0, 215 pounds – Scout’s take: “Long left-hander who can go to the post and score. Inconsistent, but can play above the rim. Like his skill set. Needs to get stronger. Could be special in time. Game more suited for NBA than Europe with his quickness.”
6. Jan Vesely, SF, KK Partizan Belgrade, 6-11, 240 pounds – Scout’s take: “He’s having a slow start for Partizan. He’s an energy player, high-motor kid. He’s receding a little. He hasn’t produced the way a top-five pick should. He’s an above-the-rim, hustle guy.”
7. John Henson, PF, North Carolina sophomore, 6-10, 200 pounds – Scout’s take: “He’s long with freakish arms for a 7-foot-1 wingspan. Very good ball skills. Used to be a point guard. Needs to improve his shooting and get in the weight room. He’s very thin with narrow shoulders.”
8. Mason Plumlee, C, Duke sophomore, 6-11, 210 pounds – Scout’s take: “Good athlete who had a solid freshman year and will be better this year. He has athleticism, size, great motor, finishes around the basket and toughness. Skill set not great, but he can improve.”
9. Josh Selby, PG, Kansas freshman, 6-1, 180 pounds – Scout’s take: “He’s a Jonny Flynn(notes)-type of point guard. High energy. He will pick up the pace of a game. Definitely likes to go to basket. He can apply a lot of pressure on defense.”
10. Enes Kantner, PF-C, Turkey, 6-9, 250 pounds – Scout’s take: “He set a scoring record at the Hoop Summit breaking Dirk Nowitzki’s(notes) mark. Scouts saw him be a dominant player. He is a very gifted player inside, solid rebounder. He will be a good, not great player. It might help his stock that he doesn’t play at Kentucky.”
Other prospects: Alec Burks, Colorado, Soph., G; C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State, Fr., SF-PF; Marcus Morris, Kansas, Jr., PF; Jared Sullinger, Ohio State, Fr., PF; Kyle Singler, Duke, Sr. SF; Chris Singleton, Florida State, Jr., PF; Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State, So., PF; Jeff Taylor, Vanderbilt, Jr., SF; Trey Thompkins, Georgia, Jr., PF; Jeremy Tyler, Japan Toyko Apache, C; Kemba Walker, Connecticut, Jr., PG.
Bibby’s tough decision
Atlanta Hawks point guard Mike Bibby(notes) understands the difficult decision some college underclassmen and international NBA prospects will face in the spring. He had to make a similar choice in 1998 whether to leave Arizona early with the NBA on the brink of a lockout.
Bibby opted to declare for the draft. He was taken second overall by the Vancouver Grizzlies, after which the league entered a lockout. The season did not start until Feb. 5, 1999, and teams played a truncated 50-game schedule. Because he wasn’t getting paid during the lockout and didn’t want to risk injury before he signed a contract, Bibby worked out but didn’t scrimmage in pick-up games.
“It was tough,” Bibby said. “I didn’t spend money I didn’t have. I didn’t go do anything out of the ordinary.
“I never had any regrets about leaving early. The main reason I went to Arizona was because of what they did for guards there. I didn’t plan on staying long.”
Bibby is now in his 12th NBA season. He said none was tougher than his rookie campaign.
“We would play three straight games in three days,” Bibby said. “We’d play five games in seven nights. It went by fast, but it was tough.”
Because some league officials think a lockout this summer could erase the entire 2011-12 season, current underclassmen will have a tough decision to make. Regardless, Bibby thinks any player who is certain he’ll go in the first round should enter the draft.
“It’s everybody’s dream in college basketball to make it to the NBA,” Bibby said. “Very few people make it. You got to take that chance if you’re going to be a first-round pick. I wouldn’t have gone back to school even with the lockout if you have a place [in the first round] solidified.”
Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden(notes) continues to try to strengthen his left knee to combat the tendinitis and atrophy and reduce the pain he’s experienced since fracturing his kneecap 11 months ago, a league source said. Oden remains hopeful of playing before the end of 2010. …Despite their strong start, the New Orleans Hornets continue to explore ways to upgrade their roster, sources said. The Hornets wouldn’t mind moving Peja Stojakovic(notes) and his expiring $15 million contract. Second-year guard Marcus Thornton(notes) also could be available. The team hasn’t made any progress toward trying to acquire Philadelphia 76ers swingman Andre Iguodala(notes). …With the Houston Rockets no longer interested in signing Erick Dampier(notes), the Toronto Raptors have an “outside” chance of signing the veteran free-agent center. The Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns also could pursue him. …The Raptors, who thought they had a deal to trade Jose Calderon(notes) to the Charlotte Bobcats this summer, are still open to moving either him or fellow point guard Jarrett Jack(notes). The turnover-prone Bobcats could use help at point guard, but aren’t expected to get back in the mix for Calderon. If Charlotte acquires a point guard, it needs to be someone who is a clear upgrade over D.J. Augustin(notes). Gilbert Arenas(notes) is not among the candidates, but Baron Davis(notes) could emerge as a possibility. Davis still has three years and $41 million left on his contract, but has ties to Bobcats general manager Rod Higgins and swingman Stephen Jackson(notes) from his days with the Golden State Warriors. …A lot of teams like Kevin Love(notes), but so do the Minnesota Timberwolves, who don’t have interest in trading him. …Injured Warriors rookie forward Ekpe Udoh(notes) began traveling with the team. He was expected to miss six months after having left wrist surgery in July, but Warriors general manager Larry Riley said Udoh is ahead of schedule in his recovery.