NBA Draft Insight From Ryan Blake
The NBA’s co-director of scouting dishes on the Draft’s biggest names.
SLAM: Is Derrick Williams better suited as a ’4′ or as a ’3′?
RB: I don’t think it matters. I think his versatility as a swing player in the way that the game is played, especially now where we don’t have prototypical 6’10 power forwards and 7’1 centers and we have small ball with two point guards playing. He has enough versatility, and I think he has the work ethic and the drive to meet those concerns and to work on those concerns at the small forward spot. He has so much to his game already, facing the basket on the perimeter, but when he gets there he’s going to have to do more things to perform against other guys who may be quicker or who may have a better handle. But when you can spread the defense if he’s playing power forward, if he can take a guy off the dribble or if he can back down a smaller defender, those things, with the coaches that we have, can be used positively. I think the good players continue to develop on their strengths but also on their concerns.
Williams wants to be a small forward, and I think people with athleticism and the ability to shoot the ball like he does would like to be that type. But if you’re also a guy that has versatility and variety, that’s also very unique. And the way that he’s improved since high school. You think about him as a high school guy, he was probably ranked Top 80. He’s just improved so much. He makes guys better and he’s such an efficient scorer and he lets the game come to him. He’s also able to throw the ball down and play with emotion. Those are things that are hard to come by.
SLAM: It seems like Williams is the surest bet who not only maximizes his potential but who has the most potential to maximize.
RB: Both these guys, with Irving and Williams, are great players. I look at Cleveland and go, my thing is I’m looking at Williams really, really hard. Now that [Ricky] Rubio is signed with Minnesota, depending on what Minnesota’s thinking, Cleveland is really in the driver’s seat. If they want Irving anyway, they can possibly work trades and get more out of it. That’s why this draft is going to be so unique. I’m really excited about it. I’ll be sitting right underneath the stage in New Jersey when it’s happening and you have two picks. Cleveland could even try to move up and get another pick, and they could get Irving, try to get Kanter…there are just so many scenarios here. There’s gong to be a lot of movement.
SLAM: Among Irving, Williams, Kanter and Knight, what is the ideal guard/forward combination that Cleveland could select?
RB: Well, at 1 and 4, I just don’t see Irving slipping down there. If Cleveland wants to move up and try to get Minnesota to switch places, then that would allow them to get Irving and Williams. If that doesn’t happen, it’ll be interesting to see if Minnesota is going to pick Irving. Again, Utah would love to have Irving. That could be a trade situation. Whether Knight or Walker could still be up there. There hasn’t been a lot of negativity put on Walker because it’s the beauty in the eye of the beholder. Knight may be a better shooter, he’s a freshman and they’re all complete, but it depends on the philosophy of the teams when they’re in that war room. It’s trying to figure out why one person fits your team better or why that person is better. With these guards, you’re going to find a lot of difficulty in finding who is the best guard. I’ve been asked to pick the best point guard, and I go Irving, Walker, [Jimmer] Fredette, Knight. It’s such a fine line.
SLAM: What could make Knight become a better point guard than Irving?
RB: That question comes with development and experience. What could they all do? When? That’s not going to give you the answer you want to hear, but it’s so hard. [Knight] is only a freshman. He was only a freshman. What he did his freshman year was pretty good. We like his maturity, we like his energy level, I liked him when he was playing with such a young team and Josh Harrellson was his first year really playing. He went through some adversity and some freshman mistakes, and I liked the way he bounced back from some of those games. The way that he was able to run the pick-and-roll, his shot selection, the efficiency that he ran the team with, those are good. Again, that’s only one year.
SLAM: What about Kanter? What do you think potentially separates him from the pack and what are your biggest concerns about him?
RB: The big concern is he lost a year of development. And development doesn’t mean a fundamental skill set that he could’ve been working on or getting in great shape, which is what he’s in, but game experience in any sport is so important. I’ll just use Fredette as an example. Two different positions, but the way Fredette is able to adapt at such a veteran level, at almost an NBA veteran level, to use what he can do to anticipate different traps, different offensive sets, everything thrown at him. Different types of players at different speeds and so forth. You come up against that, you gain experience and you develop new ways on both ends to succeed.
Kanter doesn’t get that. He can’t get that back. However, he has such a high skill set, a high basketball IQ, he’s got a drive and an intelligence that very few people have in this draft. You take all the things he has done and you look at the upside of it as well. You say, this guy really wants it. He hasn’t shied away from the individual workouts. He’s ready to battle and he’s doing it with success. That’s not the tipping point, but those are small pieces to the puzzle that could sway someone. I put him on our prospect list when he was 16 years old. We’ve seen him in the European Championships, where he was the MVP. We saw him in the Hoop Summit games. Again, that’s only one game but he was playing against [Harrison] Barnes and [Jared] Sullinger and he scored 33 points, which is a record. His high skill set, his big body, his determination, his will. He’s always wanted to improve his game. He turned down contract offers for a lot of money. He wanted the college experience to develop his game. He wanted to go against the odds, whether he was going to get into college or not. He taught himself English. All those things you have to throw into the scenario, but when you look at his skill set and what he hasn’t done and what he can do, it’s really at a high and extraordinary level.