An Introduction: Dennis Smith Jr.

By Jack Drapkin

For all the hype that Dennis Smith Jr., had coming out of high school, it sure seems lost after recovering from a torn ACL and playing for a downtrodden NC State program.

And while this is understandable, it is lost on me. He lead his team in scoring and assists (18 and 6 respectively) and regained much of the explosiveness that he showed pre-injury.

Now two weeks ago, I made the case the case the Knicks should go with De’Aaron Fox, and with more information now Frank Ntilikina would also be a great fit.

However, and I’m going to admit my bias here, Dennis Smith Jr., is the third best Point Guard prospect. In a year where the guys rated ahead of him, Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz have Hall of Fame potential, that means something. In fact, I think Dennis has as high a ceiling as anyone else in the draft class.

What makes Smith so special?

Scoring and Playmaking. Simple.

There are many players who can do one of these at the NBA level, in fact, everyone who’s played in the NBA has been a great scorer at some point in their career. However, the ability to do both at an elite level is rare, though less rare than in year’s prior. (See Westbrook, Russell, and Harden, James.)

But the guy who Smith has reminded me of the most since I saw him play in high school has been Derrick Rose. Yes that Derrick Rose, youngest league MVP ever before the knee injuries Rose.

There are certain things that simply cannot be taught. The uncanny ability to explode to the rim, hang and finish, was the stalwart of Rose’s young career and should be for Smith as well.

Areas of Concern?

How about defense and the ACL injury he spent the year and a half recovering from.

For all of his straight-line explosiveness to the basket and ability to use dribble moves to get by defenders, he struggles at times staying in front of opposing guards. He also needs work as a team defender, understanding how and when to help off his man. At the least, he needs to improve at the latter to contribute to better teams.

Injury wise he tore the ACL/PCL of his left knee, his plant leg, his senior year of high school. That will be a concern for some talent evaluators moving forward as he does have such a similar playing style to Rose.

Look Dennis Smith Jr. is one of my favorite players in this draft class, he is exciting, competitive and tough. (See 32 points in Cameron Indoor over Duke in the win).

Bottom Line, if your team drafts Smith come June feel happy, you got yourself a playmaker.

What To Do At Number Two?

By John Camera

The San Francisco 49ers have a franchise-changing decision to make at pick number two in the 2017 NFL Draft. Presuming the Cleveland Browns make the right choice and go with All-World Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, the 9ers will have a litany of players worth taking at two but no one is the clear second-best player in the class after Garrett. They could continue to bolster their defense, making it their 5th straight year of adding a first round talent to their defense, with potential stalwarts like Solomon Thomas, Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker, and Jamal Adams. Unfortunately their defensive selections haven’t fixed a defense that lost so much, so quickly with a slew of sudden retirements a couple years ago.

Their 2013 1st rounder, Eric Reid, never lived up to his potential at LSU and is still an over-aggressive, poor tackler who isn’t great in coverage. In 2014, they selected Jimmie Ward, who’s been a solid nickel back, a hybrid between slot corner and free safety, but hasn’t been a difference maker. 2015 pick Arik Armstead has been hampered by injuries and may make a move to SAM Linebacker. 2016 pick DeForest Buckner is easily the best of the bunch and looks to be a defensive pillar for years to come. The 9ers could add another one next to him in the young and still-developing DL terror that is Stanford’s Solomon Thomas. Thomas can play the DE spot in the 9ers revamped 4-3 defense and shift inside on passing downs to work next to Buckner.

San Francisco can also look to add reinforcements to a secondary that badly needs it. Starting Corner Traimane Brock is out and the aforementioned underwhelming draft picks the 49ers took in 2013 and 2014 still leave a lot to be desired. San Francisco could look to add Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore who could team with last year’s reclamation project Rashard Robinson, who had a very promising rookie year in his first action since 2014 (he was formerly kicked off the LSU football squad). Lattimore would give San Fran a huge upgrade at CB and create a young Cornerback corp that could be very good in a short time along with Robinson and Ward. They could look to add a play-making ball hawk at Free Safety, adding Malik Hooker to their defense and letting him patrol the middle of the field. Finally, the 49ers could select LSU’s Jamal Adams and bring on a high-character Safety who could ideally play FS, SS, and even a little CB. Most draft pundits seem to pigeonhole him as a SS but I believe he has enough speed to stick at Free.

While defense is likely the pick, San Francisco could also look to add an offensive player to kickstart the struggling unit. Runningback Leonard Fournette would be an upgrade over the injury prone Carlos Hyde and could give the 49ers a formidable tandem that could run over opposing defenses. However, the last pick that is possible but I would highly recommend they don’t make, is selecting UNC Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Trubisky is a fine Quarterback, and after some time could very well become a solid NFL starter in the right situation. And while new HC Kyle Shanahan figures to be in the market for a new QB with Colin Kaepernick gone, he shouldn’t take a boom or bust prospect when he can grab a true difference maker from day one with this pick.

Which Point Guard should the Knicks Take?

By Jack Drapkin

So You’re Telling ME…The Knicks Need a Point Guard?

It looks like Derrick Rose is on his way out of the Big Apple and it is time for Knicks to get a running mate for the Unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis. (I know Carmelo is still there, but really c’mon how, how much longer will he be around for after this.)

For purposes of this article let’s assume the lottery plays out true to form and the Knicks select 7th in the draft come June. That means the likely top-two picks, Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, will be off the board and the Knicks will possibly, be left with a choice of Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and De’Aaron Fox.

Look if you were to ask me who’s the most exciting to watch its Smith hands down. With his array of dribble moves, at the rim athleticism and passing ability, he’ll have no problem finding offensive success at the next level.

Ntilikina probably has the best toolset, although he needs the most work. With a giant 6’9″ wingspan, professional European experience, and a solid 3pt shot, you could make a great argument for Frank as the Knicks Point Guard of the future. Not to mention the European connection to Porzingis, not that matters anymore, Pozingod is a true New Yorker now.

That brings us to Fox. I’ll be the first to admit I was not a fan of Fox at the beginning of the year. Sure he was a blur on the court, but he lacked offensive punch and his defense was inconsistent at best. Fast forward to the end of the year and he was not only a speed demon but an offensive dynamo who aggressively took the fight to Lonzo Ball and UCLA to the tune of 39 points.

So what changed?

Well, for one the aggressive play particularly when looking to create his own shot, yes everyone saw it in the UCLA game, but Fox was the key cog for Kentucky during SEC play, not Malik Monk. Fox’s quickness and ability to score in transition will be huge for a Knicks team that again ranked in the bottom-10 in transition points per game.

I also think that Fox’s length plus quickness give him the highest defensive upside of any Point Guard of this group. Yes, Ntilikina is bigger, but Fox is faster and has already shown glimpses of being a defensive pest.

Now the obvious concern with Fox is his jumper. Having connected on less than 30% of his three pointers and with the move to the NBA, three point line don’t expect this to change anytime soon. However, he did show a feel for a pull-up jumper so the spacing that is provided in the NBA game combined with his speed could help become an effective mid-range shooter early on.

The bottom line is the Knicks need to win, winning starts with defense. Yes, he can’t shoot threes, yet, but Porzingis will help cover that up. Fox gives the Garden the best shot at hanging a banner or heck, making the playoffs anytime soon.

Give me a follow on Twitter if this was even quasi-interesting @NBADraftWhiz.

Don’t Believe the Hype: Davis Webb Is Not A First Rounder

By John Camera

The NFL Draft hype machine is whirring and churning with the most ridiculous takes you’ve heard this off-season as General Managers continue to throw smokescreens. Chief among them is the idea that California QB prospect Davis Webb is a first round caliber player and will ultimately go in the first 32 selections come April 27th. Just like Tom Savage in 2014 and Matt Barkley in 2013, Webb is getting extreme, unwarranted hype merely for looking like the prototypical pocket passer that has been the standard for NFL teams since the advent of the forward pass. Tall? Check. Big arm? Check. Can he throw? Eh. Maybe.

Davis Webb is by no means a horrible prospect, he just isn’t a first round caliber talent and is, frankly, far from it. He does some things very well. He does have great size and arm strength and has really good accuracy in the short and deep areas of the field. Webb also does a lot more field-reading than most spread QBs, especially those in an “Air Raid” scheme like the one he runs. He generally gets rid of the ball quickly and doesn’t allow himself to take drive-killing sacks. Those are some of the positives to his game and they shape up to equal a Quarterback who is likely a very good back-up or, down the line, a serviceable spot starter. He is by no means the “savior” or franchise QB that so many teams covet.

There are also a great deal of weaknesses that will hold Webb back from being a legit first round talent like the hype train is trying to sell. His accuracy in the middle area of the field from about 10-20 yards past the line of scrimmage, isn’t very good. He doesn’t consistently drive the ball to where his receiver can make the catch and keep running, instead often putting it on the back shoulder or too far wide. Even more concerning is Webb’s pocket presence, especially since he isn’t a great athlete. Webb looks uncomfortable even in a clean pocket, failing to step up and often trying to escape. If there’s an inside rush, he breaks down altogether. His footwork is also a big work in progress, as Webb often doesn’t bring his hip all the way around to complete his throw.

As Public Enemy reminds us, “don’t believe the hype,” especially when it comes to late draft-season proclamations that seem out of the blue considering what we had been hearing all along. Davis Webb is not a first round QB. He is a fourth round talent who could one day start but likely will have a lengthy career as a dependable backup. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Here are Eight NBA Prospects to Watch at the Final Four!

By Jack Drapkin

We made it. It’s a bittersweet time of year for many college basketball fans as the Final Four is here but so is the end of the college basketball season. For us at Talking Ball, this is going to mark the beginning of a ramp up in NBA Draft content. We’re going to begin with a pair of prospects from each remaining Final Four team.

North Carolina vs Oregon

I spent the time before the Tournament began on the underrated Theo Pinson. Now I’m going to talk about the two star players for UNC;  Joel Berry and Justin Jackson.
Berry has been battling an ankle injury throughout the tournament and may be limited in the Final Four. If so, that would be a major issue for North Carolina against a strong Oregon squad. He’s been the engine for this team all season long and the starter of its offense. Even if his defense is so-so, his ability to create his own shot and create for others (3.6 apg) is a must for Carolina.

Justin Jackson is the best pro prospect on Carolina for my money due to a combination of size (6’8”, 210lbs) and shooting ability (38% from deep this season). Recently named to the AP All-American First-Team, Jackson has delivered on much of his promise his junior season. However, it was his defensive intensity on Malik Monk that has me very excited about his pro potential.

Speaking of DEFENSE, WOW Jordan Bell has been putting on a show throughout the tournament huh?! Bell led Oregon to the Final Four with a monster eight block performance. He is a classic rim-to-rim center who makes his mark as a finisher on offense and as a guy who can not only protect the rim but also switch onto smaller players on defense.

Dillon Brooks put himself on the national map with his performance and postgame interaction against Duke in last year’s Sweet 16 but cemented himself as an NBA prospect this season. As a tweener forward, he can thank guys like Draymond Green for paving a path for NBA success. Brooks who had a slow start to the season coming off an injury improved his 3pt shot from 34% to 41% his junior season. Brooks is unquestionably the leader of this Oregon team and for them to move on expect a big performance out of him.

Gonzaga vs. South Carolina

Two surprises in the Final Four, one from a seeding perspective in South Carolina and another in the expectation realm with Gonzaga. The Gamecocks have two clear cut NBA prospects in Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier, with a third Rakym Felder, who may turn out to be the best prospect on this team in a few years. However, the focus here is on Thornwell and Dozier.

Thornwell has been the star of the team all season en route to being named SEC Player of the Year. Able to score his points all over the court, he is a gritty player who makes plays on both ends of the court.

Dozier came into South Carolina a high-profile recruit who struggled a bit with the defensive expectations of Frank Martin his freshman campaign. Well, his numbers are up across the board and as a 6’6” ball-handler he could become a real problem at the net level if he figures out his three point shot (30%).

The Zags play a solid nine-man rotation and there are a handful of prospects one could discuss here but I am going to focus on Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins here.

Williams-Goss a transfer from Washington, indicating the power of the Gonzaga program, has emerged as the primary playmaker for this team with averages of 17 ppg and 4.5 assists. With good height for the point guard position at 6’3” and a 6’6” wingspan he has the intriguing combination of size and playmaking that NBA teams covet.

Zach Collins, a rare McDonald’s All-American at Gonzaga, has been rising draft boards throughout the entire season. Coming off the bench behind the massive Przemek Karnowski, Collins has stymied the opposition with 10 points and six boards a game in only 17 minutes of court time. Buoyed by a strong basketball IQ and knack for putting the ball on the floor at 7′ tall, he is an intriguing NBA prospect to keep an eye at this year’s Final Four.

UNC’s Small Receiver with a Big Skill-Set

By John Camera

Ryan Switzer doesn’t look like the next great slot prospect entering the NFL in 2017. He measured in at 5’8″, 158 pounds, and only ran a 4.51 40 at the Combine. And while all of that matters, it takes a back seat when analyzing Switzer. The UNC Wideout doesn’t use size or speed to beat college, and soon to be NFL, CBs. He uses his fantastic quickness.

Switzer was one of the Combine’s top performers at his position in the 20 yard shuttle, illustrating he has some of the best quickness of any receiver in this draft class. It’s evident how he uses that shake in his route running, he’s able to get excellent separation because he can change direction with such ease that it often leaves his Corner in a trail position. To boot, Switzer is also a superb route-runner, consistently showing hip explosion in his breaks and overall crispness throughout his routes. That quickness and attention to detail makes Switzer a deadly option coming out of the slot for NFL Nickel Corners to try and defend against.

As mentioned earlier, Switzer won’t win many footraces against NFL CBs. However, he is more than fast enough to gain separation and be a great YAC (yards after catch) option. He probably won’t be able to finish plays and DBs should be able to track him down on plays where he gets into the open field, but don’t underestimate how his quickness, route-running, and reliable hands will quickly gain the favor of what Quarterback is lucky enough to have him.

 

4 ACC NBA Prospects to Watch in March Madness

By Jack Drapkin

North Carolina

Justin Jackson, Joel Berry and the Carolina Bigs get all the attention but I want you to pay attention to Theo Pinson.

Pinson is a bit unconventional as he is only about 6’4-6’5, but plays a lot at the 3 and 4 positions. He’s able to get away with it because of two things, extreme athleticism and a high basketball iq. Specificially I would bookmark Pinson for two things this tournament. One a highlight real dunk and two average four assists a game.

Pinson is  a ridiculously smart player who is one of those guys who always ends up near the ball. Not to mention he is also the teams best perimeter defender. He is often tasked with trailing the opposing team’s best player around. Not only is he usually successful but it is definitely something he prides himself in.

Theo Pinson should stay in school for his senior year but is a good candidate to be drafted in the 2018 NBA Draft. He has the potential the to be Andre Iguodala-like.

Duke

Well if you talk about North Carolina you better discuss Duke, and so in a similar vein as Pinson here’s a guy who to watch for in the 2018 NBA Draft, Frank Jackson.

Jackson, a freshman, has emerged at the at the end of the season as he was given the opportunity to start when Grayson Allen was out with an injury against Miami. Since then he has averaged 15 points a game and broke the 20 point barrier twice.

Frank gets his buckets two ways, agressive drives to the basket and a streaky three point jumper. Watch out when he hits one early, he’s usually in for a good game so long as…he stays out of foul trouble. When he has been able to stay on the court, he has scored the ball. Simple.

Notre Dame

The sweet-shooting V.J. Beachem is the first guy to mention that will be in contention for the 2017 NBA Draft as he is a senior this year. Beachem really struggled in the first game of the tourney against Providence going 1-9 from the field. If Notre Dame is to beat West Virginia, Beachem will have to shoot the ball much better. I suspect he will. Of the six times this season Beachem failed to score double figure points, five of them he responded with a double digit output the next game.

The thing that could make Beachem stick at the next level is his sneaky athleticism. Known as a shooter Beachem, has shown the ability to dunk all over someone when given an opportunity.

Virgina

Lots of the buzz at the end of the season has been on Kyle Guy and for good reason. He is not a typical Virginia player in the sense that he can create his own offense. I think Guy is going to be a really good player maybe even as soon as next year, but the guy to watch this tournament is Isaiah Wilkins.

Yes Wilkins, is related to that Wilkins, but he is a totally different player, except they share one thing, elite athleticism. Wilkins a post player, is constantly in the right places with his defensive rotations and is one of the few players in the country to average a steal and a block per game.

I expect Wilkins, a junior, to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft and is a guy who could make a difference at the next level as an athletic, defensive playmaker.