Sunday, 14 June 2009

NBA Draft 2009 Preview: Small Forwards

There is no way to sugar coat it - the small forward position looks to be the weakest position in a weak draft. There might not be anyone at that position drafted in the lottery, and there does not appear to be a whole lot of depth at the position either. There are some guys with the potential to be very good players, but there is nobody within the group that has been able to combine great athletic skills with consistently excellent basketball at the collegiate level. Which leaves basically two groups at the position - first, the guys with tools that have not consistently performed, and the guys that were great performers at the collegiate level but don't have the tools to be great NBA players.

The first small forward off the board could be Austin Daye from Gonzaga. He was a very highly touted prospect coming out of high school, but has never really been able to consistently put his game at the level that Mark Few hoped he would. Though he needs to bulk up, he has the height to cause all type of mismatch problems at SF, or the quickness to cause a lot of matchup problems at PF. He has shown at times that he can be both and efficient and explosive scorer. He only averaged 12.7 PPG, but he shot great percentages, showing the ability to both get to the rim, hit the midrange jumper, or hit from the outside. However, he had the tendency to explode one game, and then disappear the next, meaning you are not sure what you are going to get from him on a night to night basis. But his game is not all scoring. He is a solid rebounder (though again he needs to add bulk), ballhandler (for a man his size), and passer. If he had been able to put his game together on a consistent basis for the Zags, he could have been a top 5 pick. As it is, he will likely go sometime in the late lottery.

Next is Earl Clark, another guy with loads of potential but lots of questions about his game and about his consistency. If you would look only at his NCAA Tournament performances the past couple of years, you would think he was a top 10 pick, no questions asked. But when you look at his whole body of work, you start to question whether or not he will be able to bring it on an every night basis in the NBA. He can score both on the block or on the outside, and has a good enough handle to take his man off the dribble. He can get down and rebound, he is a great passer for a man his size, and he has the physical tools to be a solid defender. His great run in the NCAA Tournament should boost his stock, but scouts will still wonder why he could not do that game after game throughout the season. Again, like Daye, he has the potential to be a very solid NBA player, but he also may never live up to his potential.

After that are a couple of tweeners... guys that played the 3 in college but might be better suited for the 2 in the NBA. Gerald Henderson from Duke is one of the most athletic players in the Draft, but he will likely fall out of the lottery. There are questions about his jumpshot and handle, and so it's hard to project his role in the NBA. He can defend, and he can use his athleticism on the break (which makes him ideal for a running team), but he might be a little limited other than that. Terrence Williams from Louisville is a guy that got better and better as his career went on. He doesn't do anything exceptionally well, but he solid all across the board. He is a solid shooter, great rebounder, and great passer. He can be a really good role player on a solid team.

The only other small forward that looks like he will be drafted in the first round for sure is Derrick Brown out of Xavier. He does not have the all-around game that some of the other small forward prospects have, but he is probably the most athletic of the bunch. He can fly up and down the court and jump out of the gym. This allows him to be a very good defender, as well as a solid slasher offensively. He can be very solid for an up-tempo team, as his athleticism allows him to be a menace on the break.

So there is not much star power or depth at the small forward spot in the 2009 NBA Draft. There might not be any taken in the lottery, and there is not a lot of depth throughout the rest of the first round to compensate for that. If a team is looking for a sure solution at this spot, they probably will not find it in the 2009 Draft.