The NBA Draft is so fun, isn't it? I would imagine that scouting the draft as a general manager or scout is in one of the most stressful and exhausting aspects of their job. But I am willing to bet that despite all the long, sleepless hours they spend examining these players, they would agree with folks like you and I that the draft is flat out fun; that's what truly motivates them to work so hard. It's also what makes fans spend so much time learning about these players with the hopes that our favorite team selects them on draft night each and every year.
When I rank and assess players, I try to focus on five broad categories. Click on the 'buttons' to reveal my reasoning for each one.
1. Anthony Bennett | UNLV
HT: 6'7" | WT: 239 | AGE: 20
Projection: Top 7
For all the good things Bennett does, he needs to play a lot smarter. On offense he tends to get a bit selfish and often takes more shots than he should. Even though he's a power forward, he had the ball in his hands a lot and averaged less than one assist per game. Bennett reminded me of Antoine Walker when he pull up at the three-point arc and take a shot with 30 seconds left on the shot clock. This happened far too often, though a better system could prevent this from happening too frequently. On the defensive end, Bennett just doesn't bring the same relentless mindset to the game. For all his aggressiveness on the offensive end, Bennett seems to meander around when playing defense. He's lazy and doesn't use his impressive physical tools to his advantage. I wonder if conditioning could be an issue since he may need to conserve energy to play offensively. Yet, time and time again, young players just don't know how to play defense at a high level. Bennett has a long way to go defensively, but the easy thing to do is to start playing aggressively. If he had done that in college, he probably would be the clear cut number one pick in the draft.
2. Cody Zeller | Indiana
HT: 7'0" | WT: 230 | AGE: 20
Projection: Mid Lottery
Analysis: Cody Zeller had an incredible sophomore season with the Indiana Hoosiers, averaging 16.5 points on a 56.2 shooting percentage, 8.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game. Zeller looks like a gazelle running the floor, making him an immediate threat in any up-tempo offense. He is very athletic and finishes strong at the rim. In the half court, Zeller is quite impressive as well. When Zeller posts up, he has a myriad of different moves, including a beautiful spin move into his left or right shoulder. Zeller's ability to dribble and finish with both hands is extremely impressive for his age. Cody wasn't able to show off his jump shot very much at Indiana, but reports say that he had a lot of success at the NBA Draft Combine and even had three-point range. In any case, Zeller has very good mechanics and should eventually be a consistent threat from the outside.
My primary concern with Zeller is his lack of strength. His toughness didn't help him in the NCAA Tournament and he looked flat out ordinary when the going got tough. Zeller's rebounding numbers dropped significantly whenever he faced off against a big with an NBA-body. Even though Zeller is a smart defender, I'm not so sure he'll ever be strong enough to handle some of the bigs at the next level. He gets out-muscled far too often, so he must get bigger and stronger to take his game to the next level. Unfortunately for Zeller, he won't be able to stretch out his arms. Even though he is a 7-footer, he only has a 6'11" wingspan, which could potentially be the reason why he struggles against a higher level of competition. In short, Zeller has a lot of the skills needed to be successful in the NBA, but his short arms and lack of strength could prevent him from ever reaching the expectations that will be placed on him.
3. Mason Plumlee | Duke
HT: 7'0" | WT: 238 | AGE: 23
Projection: Late Lottery to Late First Round
Analysis: Mason Plumlee is an exciting player in transition, often finishing fast breaks with huge alley-oop dunks. He's also very efficient in catch and finish situations near the rim, which is the main reason he shot 59.9 percent as a senior. However, Plumlee struggles with his mid-range shot due to a noticeable hitch in his shot release. Plumlee has improved his free-throw percentage each season at Duke, giving him the hopes of improving his jumper. If Mason can manage to fix it, he could become an extreme threat in the pick-and-pop. Plumlee is a terrific screener, which makes him deadly on the roll, but he can't pop yet due to his lack of a jumper. Plumlee has the tools to get better on the offensive end and has improved on the post, but still needs to take his game to another level to proven he can play in the half court.
Defensively, Plumlee's athleticism doesn't exactly translate to the floor. He's not a shot blocker and is a very bad pick-and-roll defender. Mason doesn't "slide" his feet when defending a player driving towards the basket, and instead "crosses" his feet, which slows him down and takes him out of good positioning. Mason Plumlee does a great job of boxing out and establishing positioning for rebounds, so that should translate well to the NBA. My main concern with Plumlee is his potential ceiling. He had a lot of success at Duke but I don't think the aspects of his game that worked in college will be nearly as successful at the next level.
4. Livio Jean-Charles | France
HT: 6'9" | WT: 217 | AGE: 19
Projection: Late First to Mid Second Round
Analysis: After a terrific performance at the Nike Hoop Summit, with 27 points, 13 rebounds, and some stellar defense, Livio Jean-Charles' name popped up on a lot of radars. The 6'9" Jean-Charles can defend both forward positions, so his "tweener" status works more to his advantage than some others in this draft. Jean-Charles shows outstanding fundamentals and footwork when defending on the perimeter, and also has the speed to stay with players on the drive. Livio Jean-Charles' defensive game seems to be very fine-tuned for a player at his age. On the post, Jean-Charles doesn't have the strength to defend some of the larger power forwards, but his 7'3" wingspan is long enough to make things difficult for them. Furthermore, Livio's high motor and work ethic means he will continue to add strength his body, giving him the potential to be a defensive stopper off the bench.
On the offensive end of the floor, Jean-Charles doesn't have very high potential, but he can do enough things to put him into that "good role player" category. Livio only averaged 13.8 minutes per game with his French team, ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne, but that's because he was on a team full of veteran players. On the season, Jean-Charles shot 6-of-14 on three-point attempts and 28-of-46 on two-pointers. These numbers aren't enough to indicate whether he would do just as well with heavy playing time, but he does show solid fundamentals and consistency from the perimeter with limited playing time. If he reaches the NBA, it's likely that the majority of his baskets will come off of offensive rebounds, baskets in transition, or from spot-up jump shot attempts. Livio Jean-Charles would benefit from staying overseas for another year or two, but the potential is there for him to be a quality role player in the NBA.
5. Tony Mitchell | North Texas
HT: 6'9" | WT: 236 | AGE: 21
Projection: Late First to Early Second Round
Analysis: Tony Mitchell is one of the most intriguing players at the power forward position because his strengths and weaknesses directly clash with each other. For example, Mitchell is one of the most athletic players in the draft, yet he is also one of the laziest. Standing at 6'9", with an impressive 7'3" wingspan, he has all the tools that you look for on paper. On the court, Mitchell continues to impress, showing the ability to explode at the rim for ferocious dunks. Defensively, Mitchell is able to block shots at a high rate due to his length and kangaroo-like leaping ability.
Beyond that, I am not that impressed with Mitchell. On the offensive end, Tony is just an average ball handler, so I have my concerns if he will be able to get to the basket at the next level. In college, the majority of his baskets came near the rim, since he only has an average outside jumper that lacks consistency and fluidity. He is extremely raw on the post, lacking any advanced post moves, or understanding of how to utilize his strength. On the defensive end of the floor he could easily be a lockdown defender, yet he ends up looking lost out there. When playing off-ball, Mitchell loses his man far too often and his man-to-man defense lacks basic fundamentals. Not to mention his biggest problem: laziness. I believe that a lot of Mitchell's problems stem from his lack of work ethic off the court. He probably takes his physical tools for granted and believes that those are enough for him to make it in the NBA. But you know what? He's right. Mitchell is projected to be drafted in the first round based on his athleticism alone.
Tony Mitchell has all the physical tools you want in an NBA power forward, but at 21 years old he has yet to show the slightest inkling of a well developed offensive skillset. Considering Tony's absence of basketball intelligence, I can't help but think Tony Mitchell will be stuck playing overseas in just a couple of seasons. In my eyes, his physical tools aren't enough to overcome his lack of pure basketball skill. Any team that drafts Mitchell are doing so with the hopes that they can hone these physical tools, and make him something special.
6. Jackie Carmichael | Illinois St.
HT: 6'9" | WT: 241 | AGE: 23
Projection: Second Round or Undrafted
Analysis: Averaging 17.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game, Jackie Carmichael made a name for himself as a senior with the Illinois State Redbirds. At 23 years old, it should come as no surprise that Jackie has an NBA-ready body. Weighing in at 241 pounds, with a 7'2" wingspan, Carmichael's calling card is his defense. Jackie is a very strong post-defender and never allows himself to get into bad positioning on the floor. He knows how to use his body and steer the ball handler to where he wants them to be on the floor. Even though he didn't face very talented big men often, it's likely that his skills on defense will translate to the next level.
Jackie Carmichael was also one of the better rebounders in college, averaging 9.3 per game as a senior, and 9.7 per game as a junior. Once again, he knows how to use his body, getting into proper positioning for rebound, and then boxing out the opponent. Offensively, Carmichael should improve on his mid-range jump shot so he can reach his full potential in the pick-and-roll game. At the moment, he is primarily limited to scoring baskets inside, either off the catch or on the roll. Jackie Carmichael doesn't have the upside as many of the other bigs in this class, but he could make it in the NBA based on his defensive potential alone.
7. Grant Jerrett | Arizona
HT: 6'10" | WT: 232 | AGE: 19
Projection: Mid to Late Second Round
Analysis: After an unimpressive freshman season at Arizona, Grant Jerrett surprised everyone when he declared for the NBA Draft. Grant Jerrett was a McDonald's All-American and came in as the ninth ranked player out of high school in 2012, but he did not meet anyone's expectations, averaging only 5.2 points per game, shooting 40.9 percent. Grant shows very good fundamentals on his outside shot, which he proved with a good showing at the NBA Draft Combine, but the rest of his game is very much undeveloped. Jerrett is basically restricted to perimeter jump shots, as he is not yet strong enough to play inside, and lacks any advanced post moves to create space for himself. However, some clips of him playing in high school do suggest that he has pretty soft touch around the rim. Grant will need to spend extended time in the weight room while he plays in the D-League, so he can add the strength needed to be an efficient rebounder and defender in the NBA.
8. Trevor Mbakwe | Minnesota
HT: 6'8" | WT: 245 | AGE: 24
Projection: Second Round
Analysis: During Trevor Mbakwe's media interview at the NBA Draft Combine, he was asked what he does well on the basketball court and he answered appropriately, "Play with energy, rebound the ball pretty well, pretty good defender, block shots. I'm one of those guys that doesn't have to have the ball in their hands to have an impact on the game." Quite frankly, that almost says it all. Even though Trevor is only 6'8", he has a lengthy 7'4" wingspan and impressive vertical. Unfortunately for Mbakwe, he has been hindered by chronic knee injuries and hasn't shown the same explosiveness since he tore his ACL at the beginning of the 2011 season. Despite that, he still is tenacious on both the defensive and offensive boards, making good use of his strength. He also seems to have very good instincts and awareness of where the ball is going to go off the rim. He gets himself into positioning, boxes out, and more often than not, gets the rebound. On the offensive end, he is a threat for put back baskets, but is very limited otherwise. His outside game is non-existent and is never expected to develop, but his game doesn't call for that versatility. If Mbakwe can stay healthy, he will no doubt be able to get time on a contending team's rotation, bringing high energy to the court.
9. Kenny Kadji | Miami
HT: 6'10" | WT: 242 | AGE: 25
Projection: Second Round or Undrafted
Analysis: Even though he is 5-to-6 years older than the majority of the players in the draft, Kenny Kadji deserves to be selected somewhere in the second round because of the versatility he brings on the offensive end of the floor. Kadji is a very good three-point shooter, bringing a high, quick release to the court. While his shooting percentage dropped during his senior season, he still managed to shoot a very respectable 35.1 percent. Even though Kadji isn't the automatic shooter like a Steve Novak type of stretch forward, he does bring a few more things that those specialists don't. For one, Kadji is a very good ball handler and can get to the basket when he needs to. On the post, he has some well developed post moves, though this part of his game won't be utilized much in the NBA. Kadji is a very good help defender, blocking 1.3 shots per game, as a part of one of the NCAA's top defenses at Miami. Kenny Kadji could go undrafted due to his age, but his skills and experience alone warrant a selection.
10. Ryan Kelly | Duke
HT: 7'0" | WT: 228 | Age: 22
Projection: Late Second Round or Undrafted
Analysis: After shooting 42.2 percent from three-point range as a senior at Duke, Ryan Kelly did enough for me to prove that he deserves a chance at the next level. The NBA is heading down a path that values big men that can space the floor and that's what Kelly specializes at. Ryan Kelly has a very high release point on his jumper and shows consistency on his shot from all parts of the floor, including the wings, elbows, corners, and the top of the key. Ryan Kelly was a solid defender in college but will not be able to replicate that success in the NBA. He simply lacks the athleticism, strength, and speed to defend on the perimeter or on the post. He is not a good rebounder, struggles with even a little bit of contact, and only averaged 5.3 boards as a senior. Despite all of the flaws in Ryan Kelly's game, his efficiency as a deadly three-point and mid-range jump-shooting specialist could be enough for him to carve out time in the NBA. However, if his flaws prove to be too much of a problem, he will find himself playing basketball in Europe sooner rather than later.
Overall Power Forward Class Analysis
Outside of Anthony Bennett, this class could very well be limited to pure role players. Cody Zeller and Mason Plumlee obviously come to the NBA with the most success in college, but both of them could easily become bench players at the next level. Not that there is anything wrong with being a role player, but I wonder how much "top-end talent" there really is at this position, especially for those expected to be drafted in the lottery. Anthony Bennett, Cody Zeller, and Tony Mitchell are truly the only three players that I believe have a chance to become very good players in the NBA.
Out of all the potential role players, I like Trevor Mbakwe very much because of how much he reminds me of former power forward, Leon Powe. Leon had knee trouble throughout his youth and it eventually ended his career in the NBA, but in his time playing professionally, it was his hard-nosed attitude and non-stop motor that made me love him as a Boston Celtic. I see a lot of the same characteristics in Trevor Mbakwe and believe he could become a similar player.