As everyone in this community is well aware, the NBA Draft is a pretty big deal as it pertains to the Orlando Magic's future. In order to prepare for it, we at Orlando Pinstriped Post are providing you with some insight throughout the season on the crop of prospects. In this e-mail chain, Fear the Sword's Sam Vecenie and I talk about the point guard class, the position which we feel is the weakest of an otherwise very good Draft.
With that said, let's begin:
Tyler Lashbrook: Sam, how goes it?
We've run several of these e-mail chains, but we haven't yet touched on a Draft topic that is tearing Magic fans apart at the seams: point guards.
It's no secret that Orlando needs a young point guard and all signs seem to indicate that Victor Oladipo, while a special prospect, is not a full-time point guard. In our lottery boards we released last week, we both had Marcus Smart at no. 5 overall and Dante Exum at no. 7. I had Arizona State's Jahii Carson at no. 13 and he's my third-best point guard in the Draft, but there are plenty of other guys we haven't talked about yet.
Who are a couple of guys you've got your eye on after Smart?
Sam Vecenie: Marcus Smart is clearly the class of the NCAA point guard class this year. No one else comes particularly close to combining his athleticism and killer mentality. If he had a slightly better shot, we'd probably be talking about him in the class of the top four.
After him is a bit more murky. Jahii Carson has been considered the "best of the rest," but I have some serious questions. I was at the UCLA-Arizona State game Sunday night, and I came away with more questions than answers regarding his play. The quickness and ballhandling ability is evident, but UCLA's length really bothered him. Norman Powell and Zach LaVine (6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5, respectively) were the main players tasked to guard him, and he really struggled to get into the paint. Then he missed a couple of open outside jumpers and looked frustrated. He picked up his fourth foul with about 15 minutes left in the second half and had to sit for a while.
Now, that's just one game. He's shooting 46 percent from three, and won't always go 0-of-5 from three and get frustrated. But for a guy who is 5-foot-10, the ability to play against size and length is an essential skill. It's a worry that's going to persist with him. I'd rank Tyler Ennis over him right now if he were to enter the draft, and I wouldn't think twice.
Tyler: Other than a game earlier in the year against Miami, that game was Carson's worst. The Bruins have long guards and it visually bothered him all night. I don't think it's enough for me to knock him down. If anything, it's his turnover problems that worry me. A lot of that has to do with he's asked to do on that team and the players around him, but it's definitely a problem.
I'm with you on Ennis, especially if he's considering leaving. He's not the greatest athlete and he's struggled a bit in the paint, but he's always in control in a way that is rare for a 19-year-old freshman. His turnover rate is extremely low, especially for a guy tasked with most of the ballhandling, and he's averaging nearly seven assists per 40 minutes, an absurd number for a freshman. Obviously, who he plays with helps some of that, but he's definitely a top point guard prospect, especially if his three-point percentage stays around 38.
One guy we haven't talked about much is Dante Exum. Obviously, he's a top prospect and if we're considering him a point guard, he makes a strong case as the no. 1 guy, even ahead of Smart. One of his strengths--the one that scares me most--is his anonymity. We don't really know a whole lot about him other than the limited tape we get to see. From what I've seen, he has an incredible first step, the ability to create his own offense, and a jumper that doesn't look too bad fundamentally. I don't know if he's a point guard because, well, I've only seen him play two full games, and highlight tapes aren't really the best way to fully scout someone. But he's intrigued a lot of Magic fans because there's seemingly so much potential there and Magic fans are starving for a point. What say you?
Sam: Yeah, Ennis' poise, pace, and distribution are probably the best in the NCAA right now. He's only a freshman, but that's honestly where he is right now. Might be the most impactful freshman in the country. Speaking of freshmen, we should probably mention Andrew Harrison, but my guess is the Harrison twins don't declare. Andrew isn't particularly ready yet to run a team, and would be better served to wait until next season when he can be a lottery pick.
Yeah, with Exum, it's just hard for me to say much of anything with authority. I've watched him in the U19 games a couple of times, and at the Nike Hoop Summit, and I came away remarkably impressed with his athleticism and length. He got to the rim at will, looked to have solid mechanics on his jumper, and seemed to have really good poise with the ball, never forcing the action. I really liked him; I just need to see more of him.
Do you like any of those guys at all?
Tyler: You know, I was way higher on Christon last year than I am this year and I'm a little disappointed that he hasn't developed in the way I thought he would. His True Shooting is up to an acceptable number and his turnover rate has dropped significantly, but a lot of that is because he's playing off the ball. I still think he's a solid pickup if you can grab him late in the first round, but he isn't the dark-horse lottery pick that I once imagined he'd be.
Russ Smith is kind of an enigma. He's an electric ballhandler and nifty passer, but his shot selection is so off-the-wall that he really terrifies me. With the right coaching, he could be an excellent sparkplug off the bench, but it would take the right situation, which is sad because he is such a creative passer and crafty initiator in the pick and roll. I covered a Louisville game and Rick Pitino said afterward that he thinks Russ can translate as an NBA point guard, but what else is he supposed to say? I'm not sure I fully buy in.
Aaron Craft: no. Marble reminds me more of a wing than a point guard. DeAndre Kane is interesting, but I'm not fully sold.
I like Elfrid Payton out of Louisiana-Lafayette as a late first-round or early second-round project. He's athletic and an extremely good ball handler who can create offense for himself and others and get to the rim. He's a spotty shooter, though, and out of control a lot, which is something you brought up in a one-on-one conversation we had.
There's also a few other guys we haven't mentioned: Zach LaVine, though he looks much more suited to play shooting guard; Andrew Harrison, who needs a lot of work, but has potential; Ron Baker, I'm actually higher on him than most people, but I'm not reaching for him if I'm on the clock; Shabazz Napier, don't know how he'll translate.
Should we rank these guys? I get so lost after Smart, Exum, Carson, and Ennis.
Sam: I've never particularly been a big fan of Christon as it relates to the NBA. Normally, combo guards who can't shoot and turn the ball over are not going to translate well. That's just kind of the way it is. Maybe he can be a spark off of a bench, but again he struggles to shoot the ball. I'd probably be okay with him in the second round, but I'd take any number of wings and bigs over him.
As far as Payton is concerned, I don't particularly like him in the NBA either. He plays out of control and can't shoot. Yeah, he's a good creator, but compare him to a small college guy last year in Ray McCallum. I'm not sure there's anything that Payton does better than McCallum, and McCallum is kind of struggling to stay on the Sacramento Kings' roster. The shooting is really going to hold him back.
The sleeper I like is Olivier Hanlan out of Boston College. His shooting has taken a step back this season with increased usage, but he still displays a solid stroke. Hanlan gets to the line a ton--over 9 per 40 minutes--and has the size at 6-foot-4 to play a combo guard kind of spot. The reason I like him over Christon is that he combines the shooting with the ability to get to the free throw line. They're both playing more a little more off-ball right now than I'd like to see, but I see Hanlan as a better version of Christon.
Having seen LaVine on Sunday, I feel confident that he's a two-guard. He's much taller than I thought he was. He's at least 6-foot-4, maybe a legit 6-foot-5 in shoes. He was a full inch taller than Jordan Adams, it looked like, who is--albeit generously--listed at 6-foot-5. Plus he's all arms and legs, so his length should translate well. He needs to stay in college anyway, though. If he stays, he has a very real chance to be the first guard off of the board next season. If he leaves this season, he won't see an NBA court in 2014 because he has no idea how to play any sort of defense. He releases way too quickly on the break in order to get transition dunks right now, plus is slow on rotation even for a freshman. He has a TON of potential, but it's not quite there yet.
As of right now, I'd rank the point guards like this:
I'm not sure there is any other point guards worth drafting, honestly. Marble is draftable, but probably as a wing. Harrison would be pretty close to Carson if he were to leave.
Tyler: See, I view Hanlan more as a two-guard than Christon. Christon has a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio but Hanlan is sitting right at one. I love his ability to attack and get to the free throw line and knock down gimmes at a very good rate. Like you said, his shooting will improve when he's not leaned on as heavily, but he looks to me like an off-the-ball guy who can make plays off a ball swing. He is, however, a nifty little passer and really shows flashes of brilliance when he, you know, actually does it.
We're on the same page with LaVine, by the way. We'll probably have even more to say about him in the future; I know I do, at least.
- Ennis (not far behind Carson and has a chance of moving up in conference play)
Sam: You may be right about Hanlan. But yes, that's the biggest thing to take away from this Draft class of point guards: there are few real point guards. Even Smart and Carson have some combo guard tendencies. I'm not sure if that's a wave of the future or a simply a weird season, but it's worth mentioning.
Overall, though, this position feels like the weakest one in the Draft. Smart and Exum are the clear cream, then depending on if Ennis leaves college, this class could fall off of a cliff. I have Carson in the 20s right now, and I can't remember the last time there wasn't a mid-first round point guard in the Shane Larkin, Brandon Knight or Kendall Marshall molds. 2010, maybe? This Draft class needs an Ennis to enter.
We'll have to wait and see at this point it looks like.
Tyler: Yeah, this is the weakest position, especially if any combination of Carson, Ennis, and Harrison stays another year. We could be looking at Smart and Exum as top-eight picks, and then another 20 or 30 picks until Russ Smith gets picked. That's a real thing.
If everyone leaves--which is extremely unlikely--then we're looking at a solid crop. Otherwise? Yikes.