5. Alex Len, Maryland – C – Suns
Len was one of the many players the Cavs said they were interested in at No. 1, so it was a relative disappointment for him to drop all the way to No. 5. On the other hand, the Suns have to be fairly happy that he fell this far to him, as it gives them the immediate ability to put Marcin Gortat on the trade block. It’s hard to say what exactly happened with Gortat last year, but neither side was happy with the other and eventually Len will have the center position all to himself.
Standing 7’1/255 with good athleticism, the only real complaints for Len are a lack of intensity at times on defense and a general lack of experience that exposes small flaws that one might expect to see in a 20-year old. He is otherwise capable of scoring from inside and also with a short-range jumper, and he has plenty of skill that will limit his downside as a center prospect.
Strength, quickness and footwork are all issues he needs to address, but beyond Gortat there is nobody remotely close to stealing his playing time. It’s conceivable that he starts with 25 mpg right away, and a full load could be right around the corner if the Suns can find a taker for Gortat. Len’s college numbers aren’t going to jump off the page at you, and they were somewhat deflated because of poor play by teammates. He is a reasonable bet to put up low-end numbers after the first-third or first-half of the year, with a nice dash of upside in the event Gortat leaves.
Recommendation: Worth a strong look in the late rounds of standard drafts while Gortat’s future is unknown, and he should be owned in all Dynasty leagues as the team’s center of the future.
6. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky – PF/C – Sixers (from Pelicans)
The drop of Nerlens Noel was one of the larger subplots of Thursday’s draft, and one that will likely be debated for some time amongst fans of any of the teams picking in the top-6 slots, as well as the Sixers who ended up trading for him. Andrew Bynum is all but kicked out of Philly after he rubbed the organization wrong with his antics, and that means when Noel gets back on the floor in November or December he’ll have all the room he needs to grow. And growing is what he needs to do, as anything other than defense and dunking is a major problem area he needs to develop.
That said, he runs like a guard in a 6’10/206 body and posted 2.1 steals and 4.4 blocks per game for Kentucky last year – which are simply insane numbers and any relative duplication of them will float at least late-round value. The problems for Noel in fantasy leagues will be pedestrian field goal percentage for a big man, awful 50 percent free throw shooting and a lack of scoring. Add it all up, though, and there’s enough upside to justify a roster slot despite his shortcomings.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all but the shallowest of leagues and owned in all Dynasty leagues, and targeted in the later rounds with an eye on his timetable for return.
7. Ben McLemore, Kansas – SG – Kings
It’s been quite a first-half of the calendar year for Kings fans, who endured an attempt by Seattle to steal their team and that finished up years of torture under the Maloof family. Instead of the ultimate loss they got the ultimate gain with a visionary front office motivated to contend, and all of a sudden Sacramento isn’t such a bad place to play anymore. Things got better on Thursday night when their target, a guy they were thinking about trading up for, fell to them at No. 7 at no additional cost.
McLemore, thought by many to be the best two-way player in the draft, could end up being the steal of the draft along with Trey Burke to the Jazz at No. 9. The freshman hears smaller complaints from scouts about his game, including less pick-and-roll production than NBA folks would like, a sporadic lack of intensity, and some were thrown off by some off-the-court issues, too. Some are whispering that he could use better representation.
Kings owner Vivek Ranadive loves him, however, as he embraces the egos of those that can back it up – and McLemore certainly looks like he can. Fantasy-wise, his defensive and rebounding numbers aren’t going to wow you, but everything else is right where owners want it. He’ll be stuck in a log-jam until the Kings figure out what to do with Marcus Thornton and more importantly, Tyreke Evans, who look less and less like they’re in the team’s future with each passing day – though it’s still too early to make a call on that.
In any event, McLemore will be on the floor for the Kings early in the year, with 20-25 minutes a solid bet early on and by the end of the year that will probably look like 28-32 mpg. That’s good enough for late round value with mid-round upside, though you may have to plan for some lean months early on in standard leagues.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all but the shallowest of leagues, and targeted in the early-late rounds while the log-jam is still in play.
8. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia – SG – Pistons
Detroit fans will constantly compare KCP to Trey Burke, who was selected one pick later by the Jazz and would have given the Pistons their point guard of the future. Instead, they’re going to roll with Brandon Knight and maybe even Jose Calderon, and given Knight’s slow pickup of the position I don’t know that I’ve gone the same way.
KCP has a solid shooting stroke and good size at 6’5/204, with the athleticism to project as at least an average defender in the NBA. The big area of concern for him is his ability to put the ball on the ground and finish, and he still needs seasoning on both ends of the floor. Not having elite athleticism, he can be covered effectively by larger players and how his game translates to the NBA level is a mild question mark.
Calderon and Rodney Stuckey are nowhere near locks to be with the team this year, but even if they are the Pistons lack depth in the backcourt and KCP is just versatile enough to be a relative lock for 20-30 mpg and the chance at much more if the aforementioned guys leave Detroit. With no real weaknesses in fantasy categories and above average rebounding for a guard, his fantasy ‘floor’ is relatively strong assuming one of either Calderon or Stuckey moves on, and Caldwell-Pope gets a nice boost from being a top-3 option in the offense from the moment he enters the gym.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all leagues barring a dreadful preseason combined with Detroit retaining or adding starter-quality shooting guards. He could range from a late-middle round target to a late-round target depending on who stays and who goes.
9. Trey Burke, Michigan – PG – Jazz (from Wolves)
Deep in the heart of this draft’s sweet spot, Burke saw his draft position drop due to concerns about his size at 6’1/187, his sometimes sub-standard effort on defense and his finishing ability, but it was hard to find anybody in draft land that thought he couldn’t overcome those issues. On the defensive end, the complaints were somewhat benign, as he got stuck to screens and sometimes let his guard down, but with the load he was carrying on offense those issues are forgivable to an extent.
Every other aspect of his game is primed to give him All-Star potential, and unless the Jazz decide they want to bring back Mo Williams or add another veteran point guard from a thin free agent group, Burke is going to have free reign to run wild in his first year on the job. Outside of advantages in scoring and free throw shooting, Damian Lillard’s numbers from his last year in Weber St. look a lot like Burke’s, and when one considers the differences in his teammates and schedule there’s no reason why Burke can’t have a Lillard-like campaign.
That, of course, was a Rookie of the Year campaign and he is my leader in the clubhouse for that award this year – if Ty Corbin gives him the ball and gets (free agent Al Jefferson) out of the way. Lillard’s top 40-50 value on a per-game basis last season is within Burke’s reach, but (decreasing) concerns about the Jazz retaining Jefferson and Corbin’s inability to maximize his team’s potential might have me rating the Michigan point guard in the 50-70 range just to be safe.
Recommendation: Burke is a must-own player unless the Jazz add a point guard, and at this early juncture owners can start looking at him toward the end of the early rounds, but preferably in the early-middle rounds.