No need to spend too much time explaining what’s going on here - this is a ranking of the best player at each position in the upcoming NBA Draft: This list of 2011 NBA Draft contenders includes the player that we think should be the first picked for their position when the NBA Draft takes place tomorrow.
Point guard - This is obviously the most clear-cut race at any position. Unless Kyrie Irving’s injury issues linger he is far and away the best point guard in this draft -- it’s not even close. Brandon Knight is a nice player, Kemba Walker can make magic happen, and I have a soft spot for Jimmer Fredette, but none of them are on the same level as Irving. He’s not quite the athlete that Derrick Rose or John Wall are, but he’s not far behind. He is quick and explosive, and he has a way of finding the open space that you can’t teach. He matches those players in terms of basketball IQ, and he is more of a lockdown defender than either. What’s striking about Irving is how good he was at times last year despite the limited experience and the injury issues. It just shows how much potential he has, and how much better he can be if he s given the time to develop and the pieces to work with. He’s unquestionably the best player in this draft in my mind.
Shooting guard - The discussion here seems to center on Alec Burks of Colorado and Klay Thompson of Washington State. While both of those players are hard to argue with, I have to look elsewhere. Birks and Thompson are likely to be solid pros, but Marshon Brooks of Providence is the guy who has a chance to be special. The guy is a scoring machine, and he did it while playing on a terrible team on which he had little help. He has freakish length, he’s explosive, and he makes things happen. The big knock against him is that he takes some bad shots. I’m not worried about that for a few reasons. First, Kobe Bryant may be the best shooting guard of all time and he takes horrible shots. Second, he really had no choice but to take bad shots because he was pretty much the only one on his team capable of making things happen. He’s likely to go in the middle of the first round or lower, so he is going to land on a decent team with much more talent around him. That should help him develop and refine.
Small Forward - Kawhi Leonard is at the top of a lot of lists, but I have some concerns about his ability to step up to the next level. I think he should be fine eventually, but I expect some growing pains. Instead, I’ll take Jan Vesely. He has been playing pro ball in the Euroleague for two years, so he is seasoned. He’s big, he’s very athletic, he can shoot, and he can handle the ball and run the floor shockingly well for a guy his size. He is NBA-ready, and should be able to step into a valuable role right away for a team that needs the immediate help -- like any team that is high enough to pick him certainly does. He needs to add some bulk so he doesn’t get beat up in the NBA, but he seems to have the frame to do that reasonably easily.
Power Forward - Tristan Thompson is a fellow Canadian so I have a soft spot for him, and I am intrigued by Kenneth Faried. Neither guy can hold a candle to the obvious choice here, though Derrick Williams is in a class of his own, and is the only guy in the field close to the level of Irving in my eyes. You only had to watch him play for a couple of minutes last year to realize that he is an elite talent that could be something special in the NBA. The concerns about his size were unfounded, and he has carried himself well through the draft process. This guy is the real deal. With the emergence of guys like Kevin Love and Blake Griffin recently the power forward is again becoming a sexy position. Williams should only help that trend develop, and he won’t seem out of place mentioned in the same breath as those guys.
Center - Enes Kanter is the only possibility here in a very weak class for centers. I am nervous about the fact he hasn’t played for so long and that there is little real evidence of his capabilities. Still, you couldn’t help but be impressed by how fit he was when he showed up at the pre-draft events, and his size and physical tools are beyond question. I don’t know that he is going to be a superstar in the NBA, but there is such a lack of top-level centers that he could be in the top half of the league as a rookie if he is even close to as good as people think. I like Kanter, but even if I didn’t I’d have to put him on top here because there really isn’t another potentially elite guy to embrace with the possible exception of Jonas Valanciunas, but he requires even more of a leap of faith than Kanter does.