NBA Draft Insight From Ryan Blake
The NBA’s co-director of scouting dishes on the Draft’s biggest names.
SLAM: You mentioned Jimmer. Has he done anything at team workouts to alter the perception about his defensive ability?
RB: There’s not a whole lot you can change. You look at Jimmer and when you describe an athlete, someone like LeBron James, who is a great athlete, physically as well as cerebrally. But physically, he can jump out of the building, he’s strong, he’s fast. The things we also evaluate as a good athlete is anticipation. We throw out [Jason] Kidd and [Steve] Nash. Those are great athletes, too, they’re just different. When you evaluate and go over tape and film, the way Jimmer anticipates and reacts is at such a high level and it goes along with his basketball IQ. He had a bull’s-eye on his back for so long and when Davies went out with that injury, scouts were emailing me saying BYU was done. And obviously you saw they weren’t done. How [Jimmer] was able to stay on the court, perform, score and be what that team wants.
As a defender, when you have to stay on the court, also from a directive from their coach, and not get into foul trouble by coming under screens and not contesting certain shots to stay on the court, there’s a reason for that. Him choosing when to do that and when not is also a positive. When he tested at the Combine, he tested as a very good athlete in a lot of the testing parts. I think when he comes in, he’s going to be a good defender. But again, that’s still left to be seen. When you throw everything else in the puzzle, he’s not someone you want to overlook and say he’s not someone who can defend. It’s not true.
SLAM: In regards to Kemba, do you think he can make a full transition to a point guard or is he like a Ben Gordon or JJ Barea type, a scorer who’s not a natural distributor?
RB: I think he can be a distributor by all means but look at [the League's] point guards. How many traditional point guards do we have? Very few. You got to throw [Rajon] Rondo, Kidd and Nash in there. Derrick Rose is our MVP – he’s not a traditional point guard. It goes on the makeup of a team. [Kemba] can get his shot off well, he can create, he can shake a defender but what he does really well is when he turns the corner, he’s going to be able to pass the ball. He’ll be able to score it well. He’ll have to improve his outside shooting, but he’s a clutch guy and he has a chip on his shoulder.
I think he has proven in every scenario. I love what he did bringing his team through the Big East Championship and all the way through the NCAAs. That is unbelievable to do. You throw in his conditioning, his stamina, the travel and all that, and he did it. He did it as an MVP. As a combo guard, I don’t have a problem being a combo guard. Yes, we would love to have that. But if you already have that traditional point guard on your team, you want that upbeat guy. Or, better yet, at 6’1, and he’s not small, he plays bigger than 6’1, you see what we have in the NBA. We have small ball; we have two point guards playing out there and it’s working. It’s working on a lot of teams.
SLAM: Kemba seems like the best example in this draft of teams valuing winning and leadership versus that prototypical idea of how big a guy should be and what he should look like at his position.
RB: You have to have an NBA skill set. You have to be able to play a position. It doesn’t have to be your prototypical position. We’ve had guys in the past in the ’80s and ’90s with the prototypical size for that position and there was a lot of half-court and some running. But there are different philosophies for each team. You don’t have to have that certain size; you just have to play that position. When you evaluate, you’re always looking at concerns. It’s like this disclaimer that you have to have. If you throw Darko [Milicic] in there, why is Darko still in the League? He has a skill set. It goes back to can he play that spot and the game is played below the rim.
SLAM: Who are some of the players rising up the draft board, or those whose stock is rising?
RB: If stock is rising, you’re not going to hear about it. I think Nikola Vucevic from USC, who’s just under 7-feet or just at 7-feet, a guy who averaged a double-double, he’s got soft touch from inside and out, pretty good athlete, can shoot the three, spread the defense and can play two spots. I think when you look at that or a Jon Leuer from Wisconsin, who measures at 7-feet and can shoot the daylights out [of the ball]. He needs to become a better rebounder, but he’s a good athlete. He was one of the best at the lateral box drills. Of all big men, he was one of the best of anyone. That might not sway you, but if this guy was in Europe he might be looked at as a top-five guy. You got a guy this big who can shoot and run and has the ability to become a better rebounder, he’s a cerebral player…I’m going to be looking at him as a first-rounder.
What’s the difference between [Leuer] and Trey Thompkins, who’s 6’10? So, those guys. I got under-the-radar guys. We have Diante Garrett from Iowa State, who’s about a 6’5, 6’6 point guard who’s sort of a Rajon Rondo type. He’s got big hands, he can really turn the corner, good defender, really passes the ball well. When you got a big guy like that who can play both ends of the floor, that’s a great guy to have as a backup and possibly be that type of guy who can run a team.
Jimmy Butler from Marquette, who was our MVP at the Portsmouth Invitational, is a Wes Matthews, Landry Fields type. He does everything well. Not great. He can shoot the ball, he passes, he defends unbelievably, he’s so unselfish and he does everything well. Well, what’s wrong with him? I look at him and think that this would be a guy I would covet.
Vernon Macklin from Florida. At 6’9, 6’10, enormous wingspan, so he plays bigger than that. He’s really, really worked hard and improved his low-post game. He has that unblockable hook shot and his footwork has developed so well that he really gets great position. He accepts contact, he passes well out of the double team, he’s going to have more of a sense of urgency rebounding, but the guy has a future. You have to remember, these guys who are very athletic, who have big hands and who are big and can play a role and can score, these big men don’t stop developing. And he has continued to do so since he transferred from Georgetown to Florida.
Probably the last one is Andrew Goudelock from the College of Charleston. He played primarily a combo role down there. He’s definitely the best shooter in this draft. He can shoot it well beyond the NBA three-point line. We brought him into Portsmouth because I really felt he could play the point. And he did so like a veteran. He passed the ball well on the fly, held his dribble, pick-and-rolls and then in clutch situations he just shot the heck out of it. He’s an athlete, and he’s strong. He’s only 6’1, 6’0 but that’s still good size. He gets into the lane; he’s not just one-dimensional.
Those are your under-the-radar, sleeper guys who I think are going to really surprise people.