With the 2014 NBA Draft mere hours away, most of the focus will be on the lottery and the frenzied pick swapping prevalent to the late first round, and rightly so. What I want to do here is attempt to spotlight a few of the potential 2nd rounders who are good enough to make an immediate impact in the D-League next season, but not quite good enough to immediately be snatched up by a foreign team in desperate need for fresh American talent.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo- F, Delaware 76ers The older brother of Giannis, Thanasis has both the great fortune and the unfortunate curse of having the Antetokounmpo name. On one hand, if his last name was anything different, he might not be in the position he is, as a probable NBA draft pick. On the other, he wouldn’t be having words like “too old” and “not as athletic” bandied about his draft stock. He’s 21 years old and has been playing professional basketball in America for less than a year. He’s a great athlete, though admiteddly not the same caliber of freak his younger sibling is. By all indications, he’s a legitimate 3 and D prototype in today’s NBA. Coming off a season with the Delaware 76ers of the D-League where he averaged 14.8 points, 5.2 boards, 2.6 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.4 steals per 36 on .469/.309/.663 shooting, Thanasis is both very raw and very intriguing. Regardless of his offensive development, he looks to be a good defensive player who plays exceedingly hard, two attributes that bode well for his future. He’d be best served by landing with a team with a firmly established D-League system, like Houston, Golden State, Dallas, or even Philadelphia, which would perhaps be most ideal as it would allow for a sense of continuity for him when he undoubtedly returns to the D-League next season.
Russ Smith- G, Louisville. Russ Smith would inevitably draw comparisons to Pierre Jackson, last season’s most explosive scorer who left overseas after not getting a promise from any NBA teams. Smith would be lucky to be that good in the D-League. Ever. That being said, there are similarities. Both players are fast, but perhaps not blindingly so. Both are undersized for point guards, never mind shooting guards, which would ideally be their calling at the next level. Both LOVE to shoot. I mean, it’s what they live for. That’s not a bad thing, but it might not be the best attribute to bring into what is, ostensibly, still the Developmental League. That being said, Russ is a maniac and would at the very least entertain whichever D-League fanbase gets him. As with before, a team with an established commitment to prospects would be ideal. If he’s still around when Houston picks at #42, he’d be essentially perfect, especially if Isaiah Canaan is on the main squad this season, as Houston’s track record with these sorts of things would suggest. RGV never rebuilds. They only reload.
Nick Johnson- G, Arizona. Nick Johnson is another guy cursed with being three inches shorter than he needs to be. He’s a two guard and a very good athlete, but he just seems to be too small to be much of a threat in the NBA. Which is exactly what the D-League is for. Plenty of intelligent players have parlayed being too small for the NBA into great D-League careers. Ron Howard and Othyus Jeffers come to mind. Granted, they’re both a lot larger than Johnson, but if he can prove at least some aptitude with running an offense, he could be a Darius Johnson-Odom type who finds himself bouncing around the league until some team gives him enough of a shot to stick, and once he does, it’s unlikely he’ll ever leave. Someone with a lot of picks to spare would be best, like Philadelphia or Phoenix would be best. Johnson would be very welcome in Delaware or Bakersfield, for sure.
DeAndre Daniels- F, UCONN. Daniels is an interesting guy, because it’s just as easy to see him flaming out entirely as it is him becoming a very good role player for a long time. He’s got a very large wingspan and moves well while also having a solid stroke from outside. He’s very good in transition and profiles pretty well defensively against small forwards, where he projects to play professionally. He’s got an effective post game, blocks shots and plays very hard. He does a lot well, but nothing great, which is generally the sign of a good specialist in today’s NBA. Look at Troy Daniels, last season’s breakout shooter who does essentially nothing but shoot but did it well enough to play major minutes at the end of several playoff games over guys who’d been on the roster much longer. Whether or not Daniels’ shot develops enough to turn him into a high level 3 and D guy is a mystery, albeit one intriguing enough to warrant a 2nd round pick in a good draft. Someone like Houston (this is a running theme), Miami, Indiana or Charlotte would do well with him.
Dwight Powell- F, Stanford. Having proven himself at the collegiate level, Stanford’s Dwight Powell will almost certainly need the D-League to secure a lasting NBA career, and he has the potential to do it. He’s very tall, long, and a fluid athlete with a good stroke, seemingly everything the modern team would want in a stretch big. The problem is that his three point shot comes and goes at the collegiate level, as does his rebounding. He was productive, but rarely dominant. His post game is simplistic if effective. Above all else, he just doesn’t seem to have…developed very much. Hence the need for the Developement League. Ideally, he’d have gone to Dallas with one of their second rounders, but after the Tyson Chandler trade, they no longer have either pick. New York, the recipient, wouldn’t be a bad destination, either. Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta or (gasp) San Antonio would work well, also.