A lot of talk about the 2014 NBA Draft understandably centers around the players at the top of the draft. While the debate continues about how many stars will actually come from the lottery, Hawks fans should be encouraged that plenty of talent should still be on the board at the 15-16 slot due to the real strength of this draft: depth. Expectations for the first round pick should be tempered somewhat as the most talented players still have to be developed. It is possible that the Hawks could see another year where a second round senior impacts the roster sooner than a younger first-round player in need of development.
Mike Scott and Mike Muscala have physical limitations to how good they can be in the NBA, yet both second-round college seniors have a maturity to their games which has allowed them to contribute quickly at the professional level. Given that success, the Hawks could take another senior player in the second round of this draft. With the NCAA tournament underway, here are 5 college seniors who could best fit in Atlanta:
Devyn Marble, SG, Iowa (6'6", 194 lbs.) versus Tennessee, Wednesday, 9:10 p.m. on truTV
The leading scorer for an Iowa Hawkeyes team once considered a sleeper Final Four contender before a February swoon, Marble's 17.3 points per game have often had to offensively carry a team that only has one other player scoring more than 8 points a game. Marble is most known for being a good shooter, but he is also a very good passer for a wing player. He plays with a lot of intelligence and savvy making timely off-ball cuts both around the perimeter and toward the basket. While he has not been used much in pick-and-roll plays at the college level, he has skills that would project succeeding in those plays at the next level. He does not have the ability to play the handles to play point guard, but is a good ball-handler for his position and could be a valuable secondary ball-handler on the wing.
Marble's thin, long frame hurts his on-ball defense. Stronger opponents can easily use their body against him to create space and he is not agile enough to stay in front of quicker players. He does have good hands (1.8 steals this season) which leaves room to believe his defense can improve at the next level--especially as he is released from the burden of carrying his team's offensive weight. He is a young senior who brings a lot of experience for a player who will still be only 21-years-old at the time of the draft. If Marble can show an ability to be an average defender in the NBA and transfer his outside shot to the next level, he could bring a lot of experience to help a team as soon as next season. The Spurs and Pacers were both exposed by the Heat last season for having an inability to put wing players on the floor who could handle the basketball under pressure. That skill combined with his other abilities could be what allows Marble to find his way to the NBA. A player not assured to be taken in the second round, leading his team on a tournament run could further secure his prospects to be an immediate role player in the NBA.
Markel Brown, SG, Oklahoma State (6'3", 190 lbs.) versus Gonzaga, Friday, 4:40 p.m. on TNT
Lost in the shadow of Marcus Smart, Brown is a great athlete whose shooting percentages, passing, and care of the basketball have measurably improved in each season he has played. He has put together a really solid shooting line this season (52% FG/38% 3PT/77% FT) while distributing just under 3 assists per game. With all of his shooting numbers improving year-to-year, his shot could become a real weapon to complement his physical gifts. He rebounds the ball (5.3 per game) very well for a shooting guard and that should translate to the next level. He is a good defender at the college level, but relies heavily on his athleticism and his steals and blocks are not often achieved from his primary defensive position.
Brown looks awesome on film if you just watch the highlights, but they mask that he lacks intuition on the basketball court. He does not impact the game much in closed space other than being a strong finisher in traffic. In games heavy in half-court sets, he often disappears. His shooting and passing are far less apparent when he is not in the open floor. While he rebounds and blocks shots well for his position, a team would prefer if he played more consistent on-ball defense and showed a better ability to use his hands. He does not show a natural or developed instinct for making the right decision with the basketball--this is what holds him back most as a prospect since it is a difficult trait to teach. If Markel continues to develop his shot and better translates his physical gifts to the defensive end, he has a higher ceiling than any other second-roun college senior. If he is able to receive coaching and develop his gifts, Markel could become a Jimmy Butler-type surprise in the NBA. At the very least, we could watch him do this in the summer league:
Markel Brown Goes 360 on the Fastbreak #SCtop10 (via ESPN)
Lamar Patterson, SG, Pittsburgh (6'5", 220 lbs.) versus Colorado, Thursday, 1:40 p.m. on TBS
He shoots like Superman and plays defense like Clark Kent. The beauty of Patterson's shot goes beyond metrical comparisons. On an offensive-challenged team he shoots from 30-feet while still maintaining efficient percentages (45/40/76). He is a player that can get hot at any time and shoot his team to victory (17.6 points per game). His extension and release are flawless which makes his shot difficult to block. He does not possess great vision, but he is a willing passer who is decisive when finding someone open. He has averaged 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists this season--both a reflection of his best secondary skills.
I have watched him repeatedly looking for some sign of him developing into any sort of an NBA defender, but I just do not see it. He found a way to get 1.4 steals this season, but those include a lot of poking away balls as a secondary defender. When tired, he stands up and watches the ball on defense while still giving full effort on the offensive end. He plays flat-footed and does not move with much agility on either end of the floor. He is tall for his position, yet rarely blocks a shot. If there is hope for him as a defender, it is completely connected to him committing himself to improving a "thick" frame. Some of these flaws are only a problem if you are playing heavy minutes, so Patterson could be a 15-20 minute rotation player who comes in to stretch the floor while hidden defensively on offensive-challenged wing players. I would not be surprised to see him hang a 30+ point game in the tournament this week and he will have to do so to get Pittsburgh by Florida in the second round.
Cory Jefferson, PF, Baylor (6'9", 210 lbs.) versus Nebraska, Friday, 12:40 p.m. on truTV
Jefferson lacks polish at age 23, but the Baylor big man still possesses a lot of ability and has improved his skill if not always his production. Scoring 13.4 points per game in each of the past 2 seasons, Jefferson has struggled during stretches of his senior season much like his team. His rebound numbers have slightly increased to 8.4 per game, yet he still does not produce at a rate you would expect for a player of his size and ability. The challenge in evaluating Jefferson is that he plays for a team loaded with big men (including center Isaiah Austin) and it makes his production difficult to evaluate. Every time I feel ready to give up on him progressing, he puts together a string of games like last week where he had 3 straight nights of double-doubles in the Big 12 tournament. With the talent at power forward in the NBA, you would like to see more from him with his level of college experience.
Jefferson offers more as an NBA prospect than what is revealed in his statistics or highlight reels. It is not very impressive that he averaged only one assist per game, but he has more assists this season than for the rest of his entire career. Even at a later age, he keeps adding skills to his game. Jefferson only took one three-point shot per game, so there is no reason to champion him as the next great "Stretch 4," yet he shot 43.8% on those shots. He looks and plays like a "young" 23-year-old who is still learning both the game and his body. I mostly believe you are what your numbers show you to be. In the case of Jefferson, I think the numbers show what he is as a college player but may reveal someone who could be more productive at the NBA level. As a big man with the size and agility to develop into a productive two-way rotation player at both power forward and center, Jefferson could produce at the NBA-level beyond his college numbers in a crowded front court. Baylor has a chance to make a long tourney run which could give Cory a chance to put on a show:
Cory Jefferson Monster Jam (via Shane Ryan)
Cory Jefferson DUNKFACE - Night Cheers - ESPnSports Nation (via ESPNSportsNation)
Dwight Powell, PF/C, Stanford (6'10", 212 lbs.) versus New Mexico, Friday, 1:40 p.m. on TBS
Powell was a borderline first-round selection at the end of last season after averaging nearly 15 points and 9 rebounds a game. His defense showed improvement and he put up a shooting slash of 47/46/80. With a 7-foot wingspan and relatively fluid movement, Powell was trending toward being a high-floor power forward with some potential. Unfortunately, he has taken a step backward this season with his rebounding, defensive numbers, and shooting percentages all taking a slight dip. Instead of looking like a player who could possibly play 3 positions off an NBA bench, he has games where it is difficult to assess what position his game will fit at the next level.
The principal issue for Powell is that he lacks the strength to consistently be effective in the post. As a result, he has never posted a field goal percentage over 47% and only averaged 1.1 blocks per game in his best season. Those numbers reflect a player more prepared for professional posters than professional post play. Viewed as a PF/C for most of his time as a prospect, his decline this season has revealed him to be difficult to project as such a player. However, as a second-round prospect where the depth of the draft begins to decline, his improved passing (3.2 assists per game) and on-ball perimeter defense (1.3 steals per game) may permit him to be a role player who can stretch the floor in the right match-ups. He is a good, not great athlete who brings an intelligence to the court but not a lot of natural instincts. With some increased toughness displayed In the right development situation, he could become a rotation-level power forward capable of being a presence when an opponent uses a smaller lineup.
[DRAFT PROFILE UPDATE: We interrupt this Draft Profile to bring an update on the KJIT (formerly known as the NIT). Clemson's K.J. McDaniels scored 30 points and 14 rebounds on 9/11 shooting in Clemson's win last night over Georgia State. McDaniels (future Hawks STAR?) added 5 assists and 5 blocks while not committing a turnover. Plagued with a bad shoulder sending shooting pain on his shot in the ACC tournament, last night's performance showed that the injury looks to be behind him. Clemson's next game will be against the winner of Illinois and Boston U (Wed, 7:00 p.m. ESPN2). Details of the next game's time and location are still to be determined.]
It is uncommon for a team to land a NBA player in the second-round in back-to-back drafts. Can the Hawks get it right three years in a row? With Devyn Marble or Markel Brown, in particular, I think Atlanta could find a player whose talents fit very well with the Hawks needs. While keeping an eye on the big-time prospects in the tournament, check out each of these five seniors playing their final college games while trying to move up or even stay on the draft board.