The Dallas Mavericks have the No. 17 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and for the last few weeks they've been linked to a variety of names in recent mock drafts from the likes of ESPN's Chad Ford, CBS' Jeff Goodman, and the folks at DraftExpress and nbadraft.net.
Some of the names I've seen are Kendall Marshall, Arnett Moultrie, Terrence Ross, Dion Waiters, Jared Sullinger, Damian Lillard, and Terrence Jones. It's hard to predict which of these players will be available, though, because they are all considered lottery-level talents. A few, like Waiters and Lillard, have seen their stock rise significantly and will definitely not be around at 17.
So I'm going to take a look at some draft sleepers that are more likely to be on the table at 17 and probably even later should we choose to move down in the draft.
There could be some debate over whether Harkless is truly a "sleeper." Chad Ford has him going to the Houston Rockets with the 16th pick and several analysts have mentioned that he could be in play even in the lottery, but the majority of mock drafts have him going after 17, so I'll include him.
He's a one-and-done freshman out of St. John's and the 3rd-best small forward in the draft behind Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Harrison Barnes. Harkless has excellent measurables for an NBA small forward -- 6'9 in shoes with a 7'0 wingspan, 207 lbs, with room to add more muscle. He has good quickness and lateral agility on defense and anticipates passes well, which helped him force a lot of steals this year. He also was a very good rebounder in college, pulling down 8.6 a game. That number probably won't translate exactly to the NBA because, at 6'9, he played more as a big man in college. But, in general, Harkless seems like a solid energy/high-motor/do-it-all kind of player that the Mavs could sorely use.
On top of that, the Mavs are very thin at small forward. Shawn Marion is getting older and less effective offensively, even though his individual defense this year was worthy of the All-Defense team. Vince Carter occasionally gave us good minutes at the 3, but he's also quite ancient and incapable of doing the things Marion does. Kelenna Azubuike is a total question mark, and even if he manages to be a decent rotation player, he's still a bit undersized (6'5) and more of a shooting guard.
Harkless' offensive game is still a little raw and isn't a great shooter, but he's only 19 and shows a lot of potential to be a prototypical NBA small forward. DraftExpress' NBA player comparison for him is Trevor Ariza, who isn't a superstar by any means, but also is a pretty solid player that I would gladly take on the Mavs. Harkless reminds me a lot of Kawhi Leonard, who the Spurs stole in last year's draft at a similar spot (with the 15th pick). Leonard shows stellar defensive skills and rebounding ability and the Spurs even taught him to make corner threes (after he shot an unimpressive sub-30% from three in college) like Bruce Bowen. By the end of the year, he was really contributing significantly and certainly proved himself to be one of the better picks in last year's draft, with a lot of room to get even better. If Harkless can do some of the same things, this would be an excellent pick at a position of real need for Dallas.
By the way, I'm aware that John Hollinger's draft rater isn't very high on Harkless. Being a big stats guy, that unnerves me a little bit -- but Hollinger himself says that the rater has been sketchier in predicting the success of one-and-done players, who haven't accumulated as much predictive data as players who stay in college longer.
White is probably the most unique player in the draft. He's a 6'8, 260-lb power forward who was often utilized as a primary ball-handler and point-forward by his coach at Iowa State...and it wasn't a disaster. No, in fact, White posted very good statistics, with 13.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg, and 5.0 apg in college last season and led his team to the NCAA tournament.
He moves very fluidly, dribbles very well, and shows outstanding court vision -- all point-guard-ish qualities -- but he can also do big-man things well, like rebounding the basketball and playing in the post. In that way, he's elicited lots of comparisons to Boris Diaw, a similarly versatile NBA big man.
Several talent evaluators have said that White is easily a top-10 prospect in terms of talent. That may or may not be true, but he does have several weaknesses. His jump shot is pretty poor; he only attempted around 1 per game and connected on just 24% of those attempts, according to DraftExpress. He shoots barely 50% from the free-throw line. And, just like many other big men with his size and level of athleticism, he faces serious questions about how he will be able to guard NBA 4's. White is pretty hefty and doesn't have good lateral quickness or above-the-rim shotblocking and, even worse, his effort just isn't there on the defensive end.
Many teams have also been concerned with some off-the-court issues regarding White. He pleaded guilty to theft at a mall in 2009, and then was involved in a laptop theft incident later on that caused him to leave the University of Minnesota and transfer to Iowa State. Legal problems aside, he's also suffered from anxiety disorder and fear of flying, both of which can be pretty serious issues. Fortunately, he seems to have moved on from his previous incidents and sought medical help and treatment. He had a particularly impressive interview at the Draft Combine that definitely reassured a lot of general managers and teams that he's a good character guy (and unique -- he claimed he grew his beard to honor John Lennon).
In sum, White seems like a highly intriguing prospect for a contending team to take a chance on late in the first round. He doesn't, however, seem like a good fit for Dallas, purely because we need taller big guys that can play defense, be athletic, and do the dirty work.
He played all four years in college under Kevin Stallings and was a very productive player last year, posting averages of 16.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 49.3% FG, 42.3% three-point. These are obviously very good statistics, particularly in the shooting categories, which Taylor really improved upon in his senior year. He was pretty clearly Vanderbilt's best all-around player (even though John Jenkins was their best scorer).
Taylor's NBA role would seem to be that of a defensive stopper and complementary wing player, kind of like Thabo Sefolosha, Raja Bell, or Shane Battier. He's got good height at 6'7 and elite athleticism, with a muscular 215-lb frame. The one knock on him, physically, is his mediocre 6'6 wingspan, but his lateral quickness and strength are both very good. Offensively, he's a capable shooter and average ball-handler, but he should really earn his money on the defensive end.
Many contending teams have recently drafted instant defensive stoppers like Iman Shumpert and Avery Bradley, so it's possible Taylor could bring some of the same things to the table for Dallas. More than most players in the draft, Taylor's NBA-ready body and solid fundamentals and defense suggest that he can contribute immediately. He doesn't have huge upside and 17 might be a little high to take him, but if the Mavs really want a guy who can step in and D up, Taylor's the man.
Wroten is an uber-talented combo guard out of Washington (where he was teammates with Terrence Ross) who's seen his stock fluctuate from mid-first round to early second round and everywhere in between.
Physically, he's a freakishly impressive specimen at 6'5, 203 lbs with a 6'9 wingspan. He played point guard for the Huskies under Lorenzo Romar and averaged 16.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.7 apg last year. These seem like pretty good statistics, but he had more turnovers than assists (3.8 per game) and was a horrific shooter, hitting 16.1% from three and 58.3% from the free-throw line.
Wroten's biggest strength is getting to the basket. He uses his strength and quickness very well to get past his defender and create shots, but often has trouble finishing with his right hand, something that will be exposed by NBA defenses. He also has displayed excellent court vision, with many of the analysts at the Draft Combine stating that he showed a flair for the highlight-reel passes in transition. Ultimately, though, he's a pretty ball-dominant offensive player who still needs to learn a lot about offensive flow and how to run an offense as a point guard.
His jump-shooting, certainly, has to improve for him to get any playing time. His shooting mechanics are downright awful and need to be altered, but other players at his position have shown improvement in this area -- like Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook.
Defensively, he has shown all the tools to be a successful defender of both point guards and shooting guards in the NBA. He has excellent lateral movement, the ability to intercept balls in passing lanes, and great length, so he's not lacking from a physical standpoint. His production will likely depend on his own commitment to team defense.
The Mavs could really use an athletic, young stud in the backcourt, which is the main reason why there's such a desire to land Deron Williams. Point guards like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose are really dominating the position these days, and, physically, Wroten has a similar profile. Ultimately, though, I think Dallas should steer clear of Wroten. He has some truly impressive upside, but there are some big question marks -- poor shooting, questionable attitude, ability to be a team player. It's entirely possible that he could be the next Rajon Rondo in five years, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Miller is a 6'7, 233-lb small forward who played as a sixth man for John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats. He is the rare UK player to have stayed for all four years of his college career under Coach Cal and while he was often overlooked due to the ridiculous talent they've hauled in the last few years, he was a highly efficient and useful player during his time there.
He averaged 9.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg, and 2.1 apg on 47.4% shooting from the field and 37.6% from three -- all in around 26 minutes a game, which is extremely respectable for a complementary college player on a team with talent like Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Lamb, Teague, and Jones. Miller's role was primarily to space the floor with his shooting and fill in capably for the wing starters, and he executed it quite well, hitting 46% of his threes over Kentucky's last 15 games of the season according to Synergy Sports Technology.
NBA scouts have always been interested in Miller due to his good size and weight, which mirror those of the average NBA small forward. His ceiling doesn't appear to be very high because he's mostly just a jump shooter with limited defensive skills and offensive variety, although he does possess decent athleticism. His main problem defensively seems to be getting beat off the dribble, which isn't a good sign coming out of college.
On the other hand, his willingness to accept his limited role, improve his skills, and play well with better players at Kentucky suggests that he could work very well as an NBA role player. If Miller can maintain his good three-point shooting and at least become a serviceable defensive player, there's no reason he shouldn't be able to contribute as a backup wing player like a James Jones, Dorell Wright, etc.
As any Jayhawks fan can tell you, Taylor is truly an enigma. Scouts have always recognized his great physical attributes -- 6'4 height, 6'6.25 wingspan, great speed and quickness. But they are even more concerned with Taylor's struggle to play mistake-free, efficient basketball on a consistent basis.
There were times this past year when he looked like a lottery talent, pulling off incredibly athletic drives and finishes in the paint and racing the floor in transition. And other times when he made every poor decision you could make...shooting, passing, and dribbling wildly out of control. There were plenty of times when Taylor registered near double-digit turnovers against good college teams and even though he has good statistics (16.6 ppg, 4.8 apg, 2.3 rpg) and really improved his outside shooting this year, he also had one of the highest usage rates in the nation.
It's this dichotomy that has caused a lot of debate about Taylor's worth to an NBA team, and which explains his late-first-round-at-best status.
I don't see Taylor as an NBA starter at point guard or two-guard, but I think he's plenty talented enough to provide scoring punch, dribble penetration, toughness, and defense off the bench, maybe as a Delonte-West-type player. Granted, one of Delonte's best qualities is his reliable, controlled style of play, something which Taylor will no doubt have to work hard to grasp, if he ever does.
John Hollinger's draft rater gives Taylor a pretty favorable rating relative to some of the other highly-touted perimeter players -- his score of 10.19 is better than that of Austin Rivers, Damian Lillard, and Terrence Ross, all of whom are very likely lottery selections. I don't know that I would predict he will be a better pro than all three, but to have advanced metrics on your side isn't a bad thing -- all in all, it seems like Taylor is slightly underrated given his talent level.
For the Mavericks, taking him at 17 would be a bit of a stretch -- there will probably be a better player available that early. But if Dallas can trade up to the late first round or early second (or even if they stick at 55) and if Taylor's available, I think he could prove to be a good pick down the road.
Buford is a shooting guard who, over four seasons, had a highly successful college career for the Ohio State University. This year he was an important part of the Buckeyes' Final Four run and core group, along with Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft, and Deshaun Thomas -- as you can see, not a slouch in the bunch.
It's not uncommon for very good college players to be less highly regarded as NBA prospects, but I was a little surprised when researching to discover that Buford is, according to pretty much everyone, a second-rounder.
At Ohio State, Buford was a physical, versatile offensive scorer who managed to play with great aggression and moxie, but also unselfishness. He averaged 14.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, and 2.7 apg on .520/.748/.345 shooting splits (and his shooting from the free throw line and from three were down from his junior year).
Scouts' concerns about Buford seem to center around his lack of explosiveness and athleticism typical of starting guards in the NBA. He has good height and weight (6'5, 215) and has a big wingspan (around 6'10), but seemed to have a bit more difficulty scoring against better college perimeter defenders, something which projects to get worse at the NBA level.
That said, though, most analysts have noted that Buford is likely to, at minimum, become a quality NBA role player. Like most players who play for Thad Matta, he has good toughness and intangible qualities and has shown the ability to hold his own on the defensive end despite limited lateral quickness. DraftExpress' conservative "best case" scenario of Buford is Gary Neal, who's a similarly aggressive-yet-unselfish, good-sized shooting guard for the Spurs.
Maybe it's just a gut feeling, but I think Buford would be a good second-round pick for Dallas, assuming they choose someone other than a shooting guard at 17. The Mavericks really need bigger perimeter players, as they've relied entirely too much on undersized guards in recent years (even though some have been quite good) -- Terry, Barea, Beaubois, Jones, West, etc. Buford would fill that void, provide some spot-up shooting, and maybe even develop some more as a player over time.
Once again, thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed it.