So much amazing will be happening tonight, and to help get you ready, the Shootaround crew is choosing some of their favorite players in this year’s draft.
Gary Harris, G, Michigan State
Robert Mays: Gary Harris and his game deserve more than a one-word description, but every time I watched Harris play for Michigan State in the past two years, I kept coming back to the same adjective: sturdy.
That may seem like a fairly “meh” way to describe a guy lurking around the top 10 of what we all (except Danny Ainge) see as a pretty good draft, but I mean it as pretty high praise. Everyone’s favorite thing about Jabari Parker, even before the Joel Embiid news, is that he’s the best plug-and-go option at the top of the draft. I’d argue that Harris is an even better one.
The majority of teams in the league could lean on Harris as their starting shooting guard tomorrow, and even among first-round talents, that’s a rarity. As a Bulls fan, my hope in December was that Charlotte’s pick would fall at 11 or 12, solely so Harris could wind up in Chicago and be the off guard it has been needing for years.
Harris will never be a highlight machine — and that fixed athletic ceiling is part of what’s keeping him at the back end of the lottery rather than the top eight — but he just does everything you’d want a player at his position to do. I’m choosing to throw out his shooting numbers from last year. He shot 41 percent from 3 as a freshman, but really, all you have to do is watch. He couldn’t look any more comfortable on catch-and-shoots from the corner; it’s effortless. More important, he brings it on the other end.
The sturdiest part of Harris’s sturdy game is the defense. He makes up for the 6-foot-4 frame by knowing where he has to be pretty much all the time. That doesn’t come along all that often in 19-year-olds who shoot it like he does. Don’t just lump him in with the 3-and-D crowd, either. Part of what makes Kawhi Leonard the guy he is right now is what happens when he puts the ball on the floor. Harris already has that; he’ll put it down if he needs to.
I hope every team drafting in the top 10 enjoys the limitless potential of guys like Noah Vonleh when Harris is averaging 14 points a game, shooting 40 percent from 3, and generally making life hard for other teams’ point guards next year. Every draft has its “Wait, why did we act like we didn’t know this?” guy. Harris has been my pick for a while.
Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State
Sean Fennessey: Have you ever had a really bad zit? The kind that feels as though it’s embedded in your pores, hypertrophied around the dermis and inside its molecular cell structure? So strong and deep and throbbing with acute pain that you’ve considered raising a straight razor to that little patch of real estate on your face? So embarrassing that you’ve skipped school to bury your face in a scalding terry-cloth towel for 14 consecutive hours? So loud and aggressive and red that it feels like a family of hornets is living inside your face?
Marcus Smart has bad skin. He knows that pain. He is that pain. And he plays like a zit, a nub pushing out of the surface, a little messy, imprecise, and dangerous. Last season, he was a blemish on the game at Oklahoma State, a once fresh-faced superstar freshman who committed the sin of showing his mug at school for one year too many. And when he came back, that shot oozed pus. Those passing instincts, how hideous they looked. Sometimes he settled, receding back beneath the skin. Sometimes he ruptured. He’s got the scars to prove it. None of that means very much if you’re measuring a man’s wingspan (a staggering 6-foot-9¾) or sizing up his muscle mass (227 pounds) and assessing lateral footwork (it’s impressive). Smart has obvious tools, a bullheadedness and strength that codes well in a modern NBA backcourt. Still, he’s a zit. There’s nothing easier to make fun of than a kid with zits. (Except maybe this guy.)
I don’t usually like players like Smart, guys lacking elegant skills, cool demeanors, and defined roles. Give me Danny Green and Marc Gasol and Nicolas Batum all day — chess pieces with programmatic identities. Smart doesn’t have a position, can’t shoot, and has a temper. But he is what our boss calls a “badass” — a sociopathic person who will do whatever he can to win, to get better — to pop the zit, scars be damned. I admire him, my scarred comrade. May he ooze into the right environment tonight, where the Proactiv is plentiful.
Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
Chris Ryan: I understand why attributes like vertical jump and wingspan are important, and I get why upside and explosiveness are buzzwords. But at the end of the day, give me a dude with a flea market of exotic passes and a dope Twitter feed and I’m all set. I don’t care if he is slow, positionally challenged, and has a shot release that makes Thabo Sefolosha look like Ray Allen. You can keep Zach LaVine. I want Kyle Anderson.
Churrrrrch. Look, some players play in bullet time; Anderson plays like a dude watching The Matrix on HBO2 at 1 a.m., eating Kraft Mac & Cheese with sour cream–and-onion Pringles crushed up and mixed into it. At first he seems like a waste of space, but then you realize he’s some kind of genius. He is the basketball equivalent of Floyd from True Romance. I’m all in, obviously.
There are some … I don’t want to say red, but maybe maroon flags to his game. For his dance to work, the music has to play in his time — he needs a lot of the ball, and sometimes it looks like the offense has to slow down to his pace. He is a swinging gate on defense. But watch him dump all sorts of passes over the top of the Colorado front line in this highlight clip, and tell me he doesn’t look like a Garden State–bred Boris Diaw:
Anderson has played at two of the most storied institutions in basketball history — St. Anthony and UCLA. I hope he ends up at a good program in the NBA. In Chad Ford’s mock draft, Slowmo is headed to the Thunder. I hope that happens. Oklahoma City could use a Boris Diaw, both on the court and in terms of nightlife. Frankly, we all could. Otherwise, I hope he goes to the Raptors.
Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan
Matt Borcas: They say the best players are like coaches out on the court. Well, in that case, Mitch McGary is the next Herm Edwards.
WIN THE GAME is the only strategy he needs, and it is (at least theoretically) unbeatable. To wit, after posting solid but unspectacular numbers as a doughy freshman, McGary enjoyed a breakout 2013 NCAA tournament, averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game against the likes of VCU, Kansas, and Florida. Sure, John Beilein’s famed tactical acumen may have helped, but Michigan’s national championship game appearance can mostly be attributed to McGary’s revolutionary victory-minded approach to basketball.
It worked so well that the 6-foot-10, 250-pound power forward had transformed into a likely lottery pick in just a month’s time, which made it all the more surprising when he decided to return to Michigan for his sophomore season. The 2014 class was loaded, and with national player of the year Trey Burke leaving, the Wolverines weren’t expected to duplicate their title run. His stock had nowhere to go but down.
You know the rest. This past August, McGary began to suffer daily back pain, and eventually he was forced to undergo season-ending surgery. If that wasn’t enough of a blow to his lottery aspirations, he also tested positive for marijuana in March, and the ensuing yearlong suspension (draconian even by the NCAA’s standards) essentially forced him to declare for the draft as a projected late first-rounder, which could very well end up being a blessing in disguise. A team that knows how to WIN THE GAME would be an ideal fit for McGary anyway, and that sort of team wouldn’t expect him to contribute immediately. Look, Chad Ford’s already pegging him to the Heat. Figures.
Aaron Gordon, SF, Arizona
netw3rk: Above, you see Aaron Gordon working on his free throws.
In the parlance of the NBA draft, Gordon has a lot of upside. He is 6-foot-9, with an abundance of athleticism. He runs the floor like a deer who just heard a twig snap under a hunter’s boot. He’s a smart, willing defender whose mixture of size and mobility allows him to guard multiple positions. He’s got springs for calves, thrives in transition, hustles like he doesn’t know any better, and can handle the rock with a facility that belies his size.
But what really has me irrationally excited about Aaron Gordon is his free throw shooting: 42 percent on 6.1 attempts per 40 minutes last season at Arizona. That is, like, incredi-bad. Gordon sprays his free throw attempts around the rim like a drunken, half-blind hobo taking a leak in an alley at midnight. It is wonderful.
Hard off the back iron, smacking wide left and right of the square, freaking air balls — this kid can miss free throws in a variety of ways. He’s not quite Andre Drummond–level hopeless, when you think about hiring a hypnotist, but he’s not far off. Assuming Gordon’s free throw percentage translates to the next level, 42 percent would put him among the worst rookies in league history. I can’t wait.
Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
Danny Chau: I’ve really pigeonholed myself as the international prospects guy over the past week, and as much as I want to show the Internet that I’m more than just a foreign fetishist, I really, really want you to know about Big Jusuf.
Jusuf Nurkic (not to be confused with fellow European big man prospect Nikola Jokic) is a big boy. Real big. And remarkably fluid for all the heft. He’s a moai of Easter Island gliding up and down the court on a dolly. He’s Zangief with Chun-Li’s legs (sorry). He is, based on height and weight alone, every bit the brick wall Nikola Pekovic is, but with little dainty dancer’s feet, allowing him to do ridiculous things no man his size should even dream is possible.
Check out this play at 7:10.
Look at where he is hedging this pick-and-roll. Look at him rushing the passer. Look at how terrified that poor guy is. Look at how fluid he is taking the ball coast-to-coast for the dunk. How many other 6-foot-11, 280-pound guys in the NBA are capable of pulling this play off? DeMarcus Cousins, surely, but there is no way he’s putting that much effort into hedging that far out. Greg Monroe would be able to get the steal, but he’s not getting from Point A to B that quickly.
Scouts have talked about Nurkic’s “conditioning issues,” but if he’s already capable of doing things like this, imagine what he could do when a team whips him into shape. It’s a pick-and-roll league, and this guy has shown he can play it on both ends of the floor. Again, he’s 6-foot-11 and 280 pounds. It’s surprising he isn’t considered a consensus top-10 prospect. Whatever, man. I’m holding this tiny dancer close.
Nik Stauskas, G, Michigan
Andrew Sharp: There are real, basketball reasons to love Nik Stauskas. In two years at Michigan he remade his body, got better at creating off the dribble, and went from a scrawny shooter planted in the corner to the leader of a Michigan team that came within one Harrison brother’s shot of making a second straight Final Four. He can get his shot off the dribble or spotting up, and he’s got a 40-inch vertical leap. Think of him as less J.J. Redick and more Klay Thompson, and you start to see why he’s going in the lottery tonight.
He’s also Canadian, which is an automatic plus for me. And Juliet Litman informs us that he’s been in the middle of a passionate campaign to get his Twitter account verified, which finally happened a few days ago. So many dreams coming true this week.
But most important, he talks endless amounts of shit on the court, and he backs it up. This makes him more fun to watch than almost anyone in the draft. Here he is silencing USA chants at Illinois this past year.
What more do you need to know? DRAFT THAT MAN.