Most analysts expect the 2011 NBA Draft to have all the strength of a cotton swab, all the punch of a 95-year old woman, all the impact of a baseball bat that misses its target. Danny Ainge doesn’t expect the Celtics to find a contributor with either of their two picks (25 and 55). Not that that will keep him from looking.
“I don’t think there are a lot of franchise-changing players,’’ Ainge told the Boston Globe. “But there are a lot of players, players that can help. That’s harder to do when you have a team that’s trying to win right now, like ours. A lot of players can go to non-playoff teams and contribute right away, or faster than they could on our team.’’
When asked how many impact players would be drafted in June, Ainge did not mince words.
Since Kyrie Irving or Derrick Williams are unlikely to remain available late in the first round (read: they will almost definitely go 1-2), Ainge will need to unearth another diamond in the rough (think Glen Davis, Ryan Gomes and Leon Powe) to help the Celtics. The diamond mining begins June 1, when the Celtics will host their first workout.
The Celtics have already invited four players to the workout: Jamie Skeen (VCU), Jon Leuer (Wisconsin), Justin Harper (Richmond), and Matt Howard (Butler). Ainge expects to add more prospects to the list as June 1 grows closer.
Now, an introduction to the first four players.
Jamie Skeen (6’8, 240 lbs.)
2011 Stats: 15.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 51.8% FG
An inside-outside player who was largely unknown before VCU’s unexpected run to the Final Four, Skeen impressed scouts in March. He jumped onto the scene by leading VCU to the Final Four, and by doing so with a polished, solid game. Skeen won’t ever get invited to the NBA Dunk Contest, but he could potentially find a place in the NBA because of his versatile offensive game.
Skeen’s biggest questions are his athleticism (a 30.5 inch vertical leap) and knee issues that limited production early in his career and likely kept him from blossoming before his breakout senior campaign. Nonetheless, he’s the type of player Ainge has had success drafting in the second round—a successful collegiate player whose athleticism causes skepticism among NBA scouts. DraftExpress compared him to Dante Cunningham; Cunningham became a valuable asset this season off the bench, first in Portland and then in Charlotte.
Projected: Second round to undrafted
Jon Leuer (6’11, 223 lbs.)
2011 Stats: 18.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 37.0% 3pt
One of the most effective scorers in college basketball last season, Jon Leuer has a meat and potatoes type of game. There’s little flashy about him, and he’s definitely not one to assault the SportsCenter Top Ten. But he can score, he can shoot, and at 6’11, those are nice qualities to have.
Leuer showed the ability to put the ball on the floor at times in college, but his skill most likely to translate to the NBA is his shooting. Let me allow DraftExpress to take over:
The key to Leuer’s ability to translate his game to the next level has been the continued development of his perimeter game. Leuer, who entered high school as a point guard before experiencing a dramatic growth spurt, has good ball handling ability for a big man. While he doesn’t possess the first step or leaping ability to consistently create separation on drives, he’s more than capable of using one or two dribbles to setup a pull-up jumper, and shows the ability to hit shots off the dribble, doing a good job of gathering himself and going straight up for the shot, showing good body control. He’s also fairly fluid for someone of his size, moving well both with and without the ball.
More importantly, Leuer continues to extend his range out beyond the college three point line. After improving from 29.6% as a sophomore to 39.1% from three point range last season, Leuer has continued to build upon that part of his game. Now taking 4.6 three point attempts per game, he is converting at an extremely efficient 44.8% this season. Leuer wastes little motion on catch and shoots, and does a good job making a quick decision before the defense has time to recover. His ability to translate this part of his game is an absolute key in becoming a contributor at the next level.
Think Pat Garrity or Michael Doleac, and yes, I’m probably making those comparisons in part because they’re both white. If you’re looking for a cross-racial comparison, think Brian Cook.
Projected: Second round
Matt Howard (6’8, 225)
2011 Stats: 16.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 39.8% 3pt
Because I fell in love with Howard and his Butler Bulldogs the past two NCAA Tournaments, it pains me to say that I see a very limited NBA career in Mr. Howard’s future. Though he was a key part of NCAA basketball’s Jim Kelly-era Buffalo Bills the past two seasons, precious few parts of Howard’s game look ready to translate to the NBA.
At Butler, Howard played mostly in the post. Against most college competition, Howard could get away with being undersized. His scrappy play and crafty moves allowed him to score even against the long arms of better athletes. But when matched against the NCAA’s premier defensive talent, Howard struggled. His 1-13 performance against UConn in the NCAA championship game was a prime example. Howard just wasn’t explosive enough nor tall enough nor strong enough to get his shot off with any success.
Though he does possess a nice three-point shot, Howard lacks both the size to play power forward in the NBA (imagine him guarding Amare Stoudemire or Kevin Garnett, or even Glen Davis) and the quickness to play the perimeter (good luck guarding Lebron, Mr. Howard! Or even Ronnie Brewer.) He would almost definitely be a defensive liability at the next level, and with offensive skills that seem unlikely to translate, seems more destined for a European career than an NBA one.
Even if his old (err, extremely young) coach thinks otherwise. (ESPN)
“Matt Howard will be an NBA player,” says Butler’s bespectacled coach, Brad Stevens. “His team would be winning wherever he went. That’s who he is. He makes teams better. He’s a winner. Whenever I have to answer questions about what’s his real height, how long is he, [I just say], ‘He wins. He just wins.’”
Justin Harper (6’9, 230)
2011 Stats: 17.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg
Since I have never watched Harper play basketball (not even when he played against my beloved UMass Minutemen, who, by the way, suck), I’ll leave it to Draft Express:
Harper’s dramatic improvement goes far beyond standard production. The senior has developed into one of the most efficient scorers in the country, ranking in the 98th percentile in the NCAA in scoring efficiency according to Synergy Sports Technology. With over 46% of his field goal attempts being categorized as jumpers, the Richmond star has posted marks of 59% shooting from 2-point range and 47% from beyond the arc, percentages that rank him among the likes of Jon Diebler and Derrick Williamsas one of the most efficient players in college basketball.
Those closest to the program – including head coach Chris Mooney – certainly consider the Richmond senior to be among the countries top marksmen, but he has managed to separate himself from the pack due to his physical advantages.
“The biggest difference with Justin is he’s doing all of this at 6-10,” Mooney says. “It’s incredible that he has the kind of range and touch that he does at that size, in addition to all the other things he can do. He’s clearly one of the best shooters in the country, and again, it’s so unique given his size.”
And that’s where the tremendous intrigue of Harper’s game comes into focus. While the practice of evaluating international prospects with size and skill is an annual practice among NBA scouts, rare is the American college player that presents this kind of package at the high level that the Richmond senior does. While he certainly isn’t on the same level as Kevin Durant, it’s easy to make the argument that no college player has so closely resembled the current NBA star since he left the University of Texas four years ago.
Harper has shown off an advanced skill set throughout the season, but may have only scratched the surface of what he is capable of from a skills perspective, meaning he could further impress when it comes time for individual workouts.
“When I get to those individual workouts people are going to see that I’m not just a spot-up shooter, but I can score pretty effectively with my back to the basket as well,” Harper says.
Projected: Second Round
(All stats taken from Draft Express.)