The draft is Thursday. I do adore the NBA draft. It is the best draft of the four major sports, slightly ahead of the NFL draft, in terms of entertainment value. One, it’s completed over a single night, not stretched over three days like the NFL draft, which is fine, but who has time to watch TV for three days? Two, the average sports fan can identify the majority of the prospects in the NBA draft; by the third round of the NFL draft, or the first round of the NHL or MLB drafts, the average sports fan doesn’t recognize most of the names. And if your team has a late-round pick, you accept there won’t be a star available, but you hold onto that hope your team finds a Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili… OK, the hope is that your team drafts a player the Spurs would draft.
Here are four prospects I believe are undervalued (on mock drafts). I would take each of these players higher than they are projected to be drafted:
1. C.J. McCollum, Lehigh — I see similarities to Stephen Curry, a hoops junkie from a small school; If McCollum slips outside the top 10, one happy GM deserves a pay raise
2. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga — He’s NBA-ready with size (7-foot in shoes, 234 pounds) and best-in-class efficiency (64.7 percent FG vs. BCS-level schools); Here’s Tiago Splitter when Splitter was the next big thing
3. Ben McLemore, Kansas — This is a tricky one, only because McLemore can’t go much higher than he will; It’s only that I would take McLemore No. 1 overall; I expect the St. Louis-area product will be the first All-Star out of this draft class, a better Dion Waiters, and I loved Waiters coming out of Syracuse last year
4. Pierre Jackson, Baylor — Mainly because multiple college coaches tell me he was arguably the toughest defensive assignment in the Big 12, right next to McLemore and Marcus Smart. Jackson should be available to the Nuggets at No. 27. Grab him, Tim Connelly.
And three prospects I believe are overvalued. It doesn’t mean I think they are bad players, only that I wouldn’t draft these guys as high as they probably will be drafted:
1. Victor Oladipo, Indiana — Remember when the Nuggets drafted a shooting guard who couldn’t shoot? Oladipo is a different type of player (and a superior athlete) to Julius Hodge, but I have a hard time with a starting shooting guard with a suspect jump shot. I struggle to justify using a top-five pick on a defensive stopper.
2. Alex Len, Maryland — I trust Mark Turgeon’s player-evaluation skills; the Terps coach knows good players from bad players. So when Turgeon says Len will be a better pro than amateur, it makes me wonder if it’s a mistake putting him this list. But I have at least one steadfast rule in evaluating high school prospects before they reach college: A kid should dominate at the high school level if he’s going to be an impact player in college. The same rule is true from college-to-the-NBA. Even as a 7-foot-1 center in a mediocre ACC, Len didn’t. Still, he must be a top-10 selection. Top-five? Dunno about that.
3. Shane Larkin, Miami — Late first round? OK with that. Top-15? He’s 5-10, maybe 5-11. That would be a tough sell.
My recent track record is decent, if unspectacular. Thought Damian Lillard was a future star and kind of reminded me of Isiah Thomas. I loved Paul George coming out of Fresno State. Completely whiffed on Wesley Johnson a few years back.
For the Nuggets in this draft, I’m thinking a perimeter scorer: Pierre Jackson, Erick Green or Jamaal Franklin — or trade out of the first round and save the money guaranteed to a first-round pick. That would make for a productive Thursday.