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On-The-Clock Mock: Cleanthony Early or DeAndre Daniels

As the 2014 NBA Draft gets closer, decisions have to be made between similar players. Wichita State's Cleanthony Early and Connecticut's DeAndre Daniels are two college small forwards who helped themselves in the NCAA postseason. If both are available, who is the better choice?

Andy Lyons

The Atlanta Hawks are in need of depth on the wing. Specifically, Atlanta struggled to a 1-9 record with DeMarre Carroll out of the lineup. The Hawks have a young player developing at every position except small forward. The absence of a developing player at the position increases the likelihood of Atlanta acquiring a small forward in the 2014 NBA Draft.

The Hawks do not have to bring in a player like Carroll to serve as his backup, but there are a couple of players in this draft class who share his skills and history. DeMarre played a lot of power forward in college yet is primarily a small forward in the NBA. Wichita State's Cleanthony Early and Connecticut's DeAndre Daniels have most succeeded as power forwards at the college level, but project to be most successful professionally as small forwards. The 15th selection is a little high to choose either player, but it is unlikely either will be available at 43. While the Hawks are not currently positioned to choose either prospect, a move up or down the draft could be made to acquire a potentially strong wing defender with a capable outside shot.

Min Pts Reb Ast Stl Blks FG% 3PT% FT%
DeMarre Carroll 28.0 16.6 7.2 2.2 1.6 0.7 55.8 36.4 63.4
DeAndre Daniels 29.0 13.1 6.0 0.4 0.7 1.4 46.9 41.7 78.7
Cleanthony Early 27.5 16.3 6.0 0.7 0.8 0.8 48.7 37.9 84.2

Two days after the 2009 NBA draft, DeMarre Carroll turned 23 years of age. In April, Daniels turned 22 and Early turned 23. Carroll, Daniels, and Early are similarly aged prospects with comparable body types. Carroll was selected with the 27th pick of the 2009 NBA Draft and both small forward prospects are projected similarly in several mock drafts. As a prospect, Carroll was viewed as a tweener due to questions about his shot--particularly his free throw shooting. His 63.4% in his senior season was his best year from the free-throw line, a major concern for a nearly 23-year-old prospect. DeMarre's work ethic can be seen in his improvement as a professional. Carroll has never been much of a shot blocker, but he entered the NBA as a better finisher around the rim and better hands on the defensive end than what Daniels or Early have shown.

DeMarre's offensive rebounding and passing skill most separates him from Daniels and Early as prospects. Despite averaging almost a full offensive rebound less than Carroll in college, all three players are equally proficient at rebounding on the defensive end. The NBA game has evolved to a point where offensive rebounding and passing are of lesser need for a small forward than the ability to knock down perimeter shots. Daniels and Early project as better perimeter shooters than Carroll which has helped keep them away from the dreaded tweener label. With all of these traits in common, what separates Daniels and Early as prospects?

DeAndre Daniels (6'8, 193)

Daniels was a big-time recruit entering Connecticut and it took him a while to live up to the hype. In fact, he may have not fully met expectations until his recent junior postseason. Many of the weaknesses DeAndre had upon entering college remain items of concern. He is extremely thin and often gets bodied out of games. However, he does have a 7-foot wingspan which he was able to use to record 8 blocks in helping UConn win the 2014 NCAA Championship. Recording only two double-doubles throughout the regular season, Daniels managed to record three in his final seven postseason games. His 3-point shooting improved from 24% to 32% to 42% in his three college seasons. His growth in his perimeter shot mixed with his improved defensive instincts has most increased his stock in the last couple of months. He has improved his ability to defend without fouling in his growth from his sophomore to junior season. Daniels finally showed the basketball skill to match the promise of recruitment. He has always been capable of putting together a nice highlight video, but now the flashes of ability have been shown more consistently as he approaches the draft.

2013 - DeAndre Daniels Highlights - First 9 games (via flipsharetcf)

The challenge with Daniels from a scouting perspective is how to assess the unevenness in his performances on a week-to-week and game-to-game basis. Is Daniels going to grow from the player he was in the last month of his junior season or regress to a player who too easily disappeared during his first 80 college games? If the latter is true then Daniels remains a project. However, if he can grow from what he displayed at the end of the season, he could become a special player. His greatest area of growth is his offensive ball skills on the perimeter beyond shooting. He is a mostly awful passer who creates a shot for a teammate at a rate of 1 every couple of games.

While being a good passer is not demanded at the small forward position, being awful is a problem. I think that will be his greatest challenge as a pro. He has a very average handle with no particular moves to get by defenders beyond using his length and athleticism. His first step is capable at the college level but not good enough to get by average NBA defenders. For a player who does not set-up teammates well or go by defenders easily, it impresses me that he only averaged 1.5 turnovers per game. It does show that he values the basketball even as his skills with it may be deficient. He is a good, not great finisher in the lane. His 49.1% on two-point shots is bothersome given his ability to dunk. He has a decent post game which could be developed further and permit him to play some power forward in smaller lineups. Beyond skill development, Daniels will have to get physically stronger to be an NBA player and that will most prevent him from contributing immediately. While he does have some potential to play in an NBA rotation next season, he will have to do so in specific situation that will not expose his thin frame.

Deandre Daniels 2014 Scouting Video (via DraftExpress)

Cleanthony Early (6'7, 216)

Early is a former Junior College Player of the Year who transferred to Wichita State prior to the 2012-2013 season. All he did at Wichita State was help them to a Final Four appearance in his junior season and followed it up with an undefeated senior season prior to a second round loss to Kentucky that may have been the game of the tournament. In his seven career NCAA Tournament games, he averaged 19.3 points per game and never played a game where he failed to get 7 rebounds or more. Despite the stereotype of small-school players, Cleanthony played his best against his most difficult opponents. Against Kentucky, Early did everything possible to win as he made clutch shots and monster dunks in the heart-breaking defeat. Kentucky made their tournament run behing the strength of rim protection. Cleanthony Early did not care:

Cleanthony Early's dunk from two views (via TheWichitaEagle)

With the ability to knock down 38% of his 3-point shots on 4.9 attempts, Early's perimeter shooting should translate to the next level despite some concerns about his form being repeatable. Unlike other perimeter shooters, Early is a good finisher around the rim and has a pretty good in-between jumper--both contributing to his 57.9% two-point shooting percentage. He is willing to go to the basket and can knock down free throws when fouled (4.9 attempts per game)--and has demonstrated the ability to do so under pressure. So how is a player with so much athletic ability and production not rated much higher?

Early is a 23-year-old player and was older than most of his competition. I think age gets overvalued at times, but it is a legitimate concern. Especially since Early does have some significant flaws for a player who was well-coached and is past a developmental age. Defensively, he may have benefited greatly from being on a team that played outstanding team defense. Individually, he does not stand out on the defensive end. He is fundamentally sound and athletic enough to stay in front of players, but his hands and instincts are poor. Most of his steals come off of pass deflections and he is a late jumper when defending. His 6'9 wingspan is not necessarily an issue for the small forward position, but it is less than other comparable players including DeAndre Daniels. It is a limitation that could keep him from developing as a shot blocker or being able to reach into passing lanes.

Offensively, Early is good when there is nothing between him and the basket or he can simply accelerate by his defender, but he is not skilled at putting the basketball on the floor. Many of his 1.9 turnovers per game were unforced errors while attempting to get into the lane. On a Wichita State team that only committed 10.4 turnovers, that is a high-percentage for a player who was not asked to handle the basketball very often. When he is not losing the basketball, he is not adept at setting-up teammates. Most of his assists come in open space on fast breaks. When Early holds the ball on the perimeter fundamentally crouched, it can be referred to as the "single-threat position." Are Early's clear deficiencies able to be corrected so that he can translate his production to the professional level? Teams drafting late in the lottery will be asking that question at the NBA Draft Combine.

Cleanthony Early 2014 Scouting Video (via DraftExpress)

The Pick

How do you choose between two players who are a little raw for their age, yet also have room to be developed? Given the athletic ability and production both have shown at the highest level of college basketball, I prefer the player whose skill most readily translates to the NBA. While both should succeed as perimeter shooters, Daniels' ability to block shots as a small forward is not as translatable to NBA success as Early's finishing ability and a longer resume for performing at a high level. Early has a slightly higher floor and Daniels has a slightly higher ceiling. The possibility that Early could contribute to the rotation the earliest is why he is 18th on the Peachtree Hoops Draft Board--one spot ahead of Daniels (Revised Draft Board-5/14). Should a contending team eager to move out of the contractual obligations of a first-round pick seek to move out of their spot, Danny Ferry would be wise to add future considerations to grab Daniels or Early off the board. If choosing between the two players, Early's ability to raise his level of performance against his strongest competition makes him the better pick.