The NBA’s Sophmore Class

While the 2011 NBA draft may not have produced many stars (one really), there is still reason to be excited about these young players and their futures in the league:

The Elite:

Kyrie Irving (PG, Cleveland. 1st overall): As mentioned above, the list here is dominated by one man.  A quick first step and exceptional footwork separate Kyrie from other NBA players.  He can score effortlessly or create open shots for his teammates.  He had his critics, after only playing 11 collegiate games, however he showed enough in those games and in pre-draft workouts to be the top pick. The 2011 Rookie of the Year averaged 18 and a half points to go along with 5.4 assists, all while shooting an efficient 47% from the floor, including a great 40% from downtown.  At only 20 years old, the sky is the limit for Kyrie and following Lebron’s infamous “Decision”, the Cavs and their fans once again have high hopes for their future.

Key Rotational Players:

Derek Williams (F, Minnesota. 2nd overall): Where to Begin with Williams?  He is between positions and would be best suited for SF if he was a little quicker, but due to the speed of NBA 3’s, I think his eventual home will be a 4.  I could easily put Williams on my Bust section below, but I’ll give this former Arizona Wildcat one more season to turn me into a believer.  A terrific shooter with great length, he needs to become more assertive on offense. He shot poorly his rookie season, but I see him turning that around this year as the game slows down for him.  He is a poor defender who reaches on drives and jumps on pump fakes, but, quite frankly (do I have to pay Stephen A Smith for saying that?), he’s out there for his offensive skills and not his defense.  He will be given a larger role with Kevin Love out after breaking his hand, so I look for him to gain the confidence he was missing his rookie season.

Tristan Thompson: (PF, Cleveland. 5th Overall): I think I’m about as high as anyone on Tristan.  He has the size, Strength and Athleticism to be a great power forward in this league.  He combines a high motor with great instinctive rebounding skills.  He effortlessly side steps to the weak side to get in position for offensive rebounds and boxes out on the defensive end, a rare trait for young players these days. His footwork is shaky, both in the post and facing up and he doesn’t do himself many favors with his midrange shooting, however he has the raw power to average 15 and 12.  He is another reason why Cavs fans can be hopeful (although Dion Waiters may have them cringing as he fires up contested 20 footers).

Jonas Valanciunas (C, Toronto. 4th overall): Playing his rookie year this year as he stayed overseas last year.  I will cover more on Jonas when I highlight the rooks, but this is a skilled big men with great potential. More to come…

Brandon Knight (PG, Detroit. 8th Overall): The explosive PG for the pistons has a great first step and is an impressive scorer. While he doesn’t have the prettiest of jumpers, it should be enough to keep defenders honest and give him the opportunity to penetrate the lane.  He’s a long rangy defender that will improve with time.  Along with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, he is one of the centerpieces of the pistons future.

Klay Thompson (SG, Golden State 11th Overall): An incredible shooter with a knockdown three point shot.  Klay needs to add bulk to his frame and continue to work on his handle, but between him, Steph Curry, and Harrison Barnes I expect the warriors to hit a lot of trifectas.  Klay has a good midrange shot and can take it to the cup, but he will need to add strength to finish in traffic consistently. While he won’t be a star, Thompson can be a key weapon for the warriors for years to come.
Iman Shumpert (SG, New York. 17th Overall): Iman is an elite athlete and wreaks havoc on the court with his defensive tenacity.  He tore his ACL and won’t be back till around the all-star break, but if he still has his speed and agility, Iman will be a great player for the Knicks rotation in the coming years.
Kenneth Faried (PF, Denver. 22nd Overall): The “Manimal” is a freak athlete with an incredible motor and excellent strength.  He showed no signs of the asthma that worried teams leading up to the draft and was an absolute steal for the Nuggets. He rebounds well on both ends of the floor, using great positional rebounding combined with an excellent vertical to go meet the ball at its peak.  Again, this player will never be a star, but he is exactly the type of player you want to put around stars.  I expect near double-double averages yearly for his foreseeable future.



The NBA should be prepared for more thunderous dunks from Faried

 Bismack Biyombo (PF/C Charlotte. 7th Overall): Great rebounder and shot blocker.  Has limited offensive skills, but I expect him to be a reliable NBA player for many years.  A poor mans Dikembe, who will disrupt shots around the basket allowing his team to get out on the fast break.  Bismack (which may be the most fun name in the NBA) has a bright future, but a steep learning curve as he adjusts to both the physicality and speed of the NBA.

Kawhi Leonard (SF, San Antonio 15th Overall): A great defensive player, with incredible length, Leonard provides the spurs with the athlete they needed from the wing.  He won’t ever average 20 points, but on any night he can catch fire from downtown.  Playing off of Tony parker and Manu on the perimeter should allow him, and fellow wing player Danny Green, to have the opportunity at open threes on a regular basis.  One of my favorite Glue guys from last year’s draft, he will have an excellent career.

Quality Role Players:

Enes Kanter (PF/C, Utah. 3rd Overall): A very good rebounder and post defender, this turkish born behemoth will be a rotation front court player for years.  He needs considerable work on his footwork, but he has shown an ability to score near the rim, and unlike most European players, he is willing to mix it up inside.  The Jazz frontcourt is crowded with Big Al jefferson, Paul Milsap, and Derek favors, but he should be able to carve out some solid minutes to help this team make a push for a playoff spot.

Nikola Vucevic (C, Magic. 16th Overall): A very skilled big man with an excellent mid range jump shot, Nikola has the chance to be very good NBA center. He will be playing on the Magic this season, so expect him to get plenty of looks on that depleted Howard-less roster.  He needs to continue the rebounding prowess he showed in his rookie season and needs to show a willingness to go down low.  His reliance on his jump shot is a bit of a problem, but being a young player, I think he will continue to mature and develop a back-to-the-basket game.  He will find himself in an NBA rotation for the next decade, but can become a go-to option on a team if he shows the progress many expect.

MarShon Brooks (SG, New Jersey. 25th Overall): An explosive scorer, MarShon can light it up in a hurry.  He doeshave a tendency to force some shots which hurts his overall efficiency. He is a player who could make the leap to a go-to guy for his team, but that won;t happen on the Nets as he’s surrounded by stars at the guard positions.  I can see Marshon average 8-10 points, but I dont see him doing it with high efficiency.  Solid player, but in his current situation, I don’t see him becoming anything more.
Norris Cole: (G, Miami. 28th Overall): Norris is a pure scorer and is in the perfect situation for his talents.  he will never see a double team and will get plenty of open looks off of kickouts from the big 3. 
Chandler Parsons (F, Houston. 38th Overall): Chandler is a great athlete, which allows for him to be a good rebounder and to get out on the break and finish.  He is an excellent glue guy as he does a little of everything on the court.  He’s the type of player you want out there, but probably not the guy you want to be dominating the touches offensively.  He makes his team better when he’s on the floor.
Isaiah Thomas (G, Sacramento. 60th overall):  I’ve dubbed him the “pint-sized pitbull”.  This guard is among the NBA’s smallest players at just 5’9”, but makes up for his lack of height with great quickness and a fearless scoring drive.  While he is limited in his ability to score in the half court sets, as the middle of the floor is a tough place for him to navigate, he manages to knock down open jumpers and feed off of his teammates on the fast break.  His lack of size makes him a defensive liability but he still should help give the kings some quality minutes this year.

Look to be Busts:

Kemba Walker (G, Charlotte. 9th Overall): A volume shooter with low efficiency who likes to create off the dribble.  While I love Kemba’s heart and work ethic, he is on a terrible team, on which, he will be forced to create for himself more often than not.  On another team I might have higher hopes, but for this team, I see Kemba shooting below 43%.  He’s an NBA player, but at pick number 11, I would have gone elsewhere.

Jimmer Fredette (G, Sacramento. 11th Overall): JIMMER! As much as it pains me to say this, Jimmer is nothing more than a lights out shooter.  The hopes of him turning into a PG are disillusioned and the 60th overall pick, Isaiah Thomas is better suited for that (even though he’s a scorer too).  Jimmer struggles defensively against both faster and taller players, making him a huge defensive liability.  Jimmer won’t be awful, because he has that skill that only few people can match, but for all the hype surrounding him, he falls woefully short of those lofty expectations.

 



Jan Vesely (PF, Washington D.C. 6th Overall): Jan’s best asset is his smoking hot girlfriend, Eva Kodouskova, whom gained spotlight for her draft night kiss with him.  Jan has speed, quickness, and explosiveness for a big man, but not many pure basketball skills.  He can’t shoot, dribble, or set screens well.  He doesn’t even feign boxing out on defense, preferring to rely on the skills he used to dominate the Czech league.  Maybe a few years from now after enough coaches have worked with him I’ll be regretting this, but, wow, can it get any worse for the wizards?


So While Jan may not show any game on the court, he clearly has some game off it



 



They’ll be Out of the League Soon:


Ja’juan Johnson (F, Houston. 28th Overall): He doesn’t have the Size to play 4 or the skill to play 3.  A great college player but just doesn’t have the NBA skill level.  He looks scared on the court and as much as Celtic and now Houston fans are enticed by his athletic ability, I don’t see him playing past one more contract.  ADVICE TO Ja’Jaun: Eat as much as possible; it’s the only way you’ll be able to play PF in this league, gain some weight young man!



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