NBA Combine Review: Nerlens unlikely No. 1

NBA Combine Review: Nerlens unlikely No. 1
May 19, 2013, 4:30 pm
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CHICAGO -- The Wizards’ lottery pick obviously depends on where they’ll draft, which will be determined Tuesday at the draft lottery in New York.

A lot will happen between then and the June 27 NBA draft as teams bring in players for individual workouts. These are my impressions after spending two days at the combine last week: 

Who's No. 1: It's anyone's guess -- and a lot depends on which team lands the top overall pick -- but it being Nerlens Noel seems more unlikely. It's not just measurements that are working against the center from Kentucky, who is turning pro after his freshman year and won’t be ready to start the season as he recovers from a knee ligament tear.  Noel is a project who isn't going to pay dividends right away. In today’s NBA, coaches/GMs don’t have time to risk their job security by waiting for a project -- particularly lottery teams. Noel is 6-10 and weighs just 206.4 pounds. He can’t play with his back to the basket, has no finishing moves around the rim and doesn't have a face-up game, either. He's also is a horrible foul shooter at 53% . Now he has a knee injury that will delay his development even further. There are plenty of other centers in this draft who are good defenders, physically more mature, better offensively and actually healthy -- Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga), Mike Muscala (Bucknell), Gorgui Dieng (Louisville).  Noel is being talked up quite a bit because of his athleticism and potential, but the sense here is there are a lot of smokescreens in play. 

Most engaging: Peyton Siva. The undersized point guard from Louisville was not only honest when critiquing himself, and he was everything but cliché. He admitted that when Trey Burke of Michigan was called for a foul for blocking his shot in the national title game that it was clean. After talking with Siva, everyone walked away with a smile as he embraced the process despite only having one scheduled interview with the Detroit Pistons. He’s noted for being a hard worker, particularly on defense, and likely will be a plus to any locker room. Plus, he tested better than expected and should be a second-round pick.  

Most polished: Victor Oladipo.  Depending on the team that selects him as a pro, he can log time at small forward because of his physical strength and leaping ability. The knock on this draft is there isn't much star potential, but in an understated way this D.C. area native has many of those qualities. He’s got an NBA body and mentality already, he excels on defense which is where most rookies struggle and is an amazing athlete who will be prone to being featured in highlight reels. Plus, he uses words such as “plethora” without even trying to sound intelligent. He just is.

Most puzzling: Hands down, Ben McLemore of Kansas. The comparisons to Ray Allen, the NBA’s all-time leader in three-pointers made, are endless. McLemore has the size at a shade under 6-5 in shoes, the shooting range and the ability to score at will. However, what was striking about him was his lack of presence. It was often difficult to hear him when he spoke because his voice is so low. His posture spoke volumes. By all accounts, McLemore is of high character and pleasant, but he doesn't have the personality of a vocal leader. If he’s selected by a young team such as the Charlotte Bobcats, who are looking for leadership as well, they might be disappointed. McLemore is nothing like Erick Green of Virginia Tech who is the polar opposite and declares himself a leader. Part of that is because Green spent four years in college while McLemore, 20, is turning pro after his freshman year.  McLemore would benefit from going to a team with not just veterans but an identity and a strong locker room to help ease his transition. Otto Porter of Georgetown is similar in a lot of ways to McLemore and that isn't hurting him in the draft. Some players lead by example, preparation and work ethic. That'll be McLemore. That path seems to have worked well for Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs.

Biggest surprise: Mason Plumlee. The power forward from Duke declined to do drills with the ball, on advice from his agent Mark Bartelstein, to protect his draft status. Oladipo and Otto Porter of Georgetown, for instance, didn't work out because both are going high and the only thing they can accomplish is hurting their draft stock. So Plumlee is among that class of players? Players who are on the fence of being drafted or being a lottery pick or trying to get a higher position, which translates into a bigger rookie scale contract, work out. Plumlee was expected to be one of those despite having spent four years in college. He's confident that he’s already a lottery pick in part because he's more polished than a lot of big men in this draft such as Noel and Steven Adams (Pittsburgh). And he's right. But the height of Plumlee's ceiling is the big question. 

Next biggest surprise: Maryland’s Alex Len proclaiming when all is said and done that he’ll not just be the best center to come out of this draft but the best overall.  The Ukrainian only spent two years in college and is incredibly raw. He had surgery on his left ankle to repair a stress fracture and couldn't work out at the combine.  But even he realizes that it will take time for him to develop. His impact won’t be immediate.  If he knows that, certainly the Wizards, who interviewed him at the combine, know that, too. They're under pressure to win now. So that means they’re less likely to draft Len. 

Biggest gamble: Steven Adams of Pittsburgh. He was a surprise inclusion on the Wizards' list of players to interview, first reported by CSN Washington. Adams says he's ready for the NBA, but the 7-footer (in shoes) is turning pro earlier than expected to help his family in New Zealand that includes 18 siblings. He's probably not a lottery pick but improved his position with combine workouts. While most players took a business-like approach to the combine, Adams was a bit more informal, referring to the GMs he met as "dudes." That had been a criticism of him at Pittsburgh, where he was considered to be too nonchalant and lacking fire, some of which is undoubtedly cultural. He runs extremely well for a player his size but doesn't have the basketball IQ. His potential, however, has elevated his draft stock. 

Most ridiculous: At best, Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas is a mid-to-late first round draft pick. But when he interviewed with the Spurs, he refused to write down his cell phone number for them to contact him later. What? Thomas could have a chance to go in the first round and to a team that competes for championships every year. He's basically telling GM R.C. Buford that he's interested in a job but won't put his number on the job application because he doesn't give his digits to anyone. Thomas is a scoring forward, something the Wizards could use. I'm not quite sure this non-lottery pick is worth the headache if he's available later. Maybe he was given bad advice.