NBA Draft: Top 10 Power Forwards

Two Gators, three internationals make up ten best PFs

June 14, 2007

By Steve Aschburner

Special to CSTV.com

 

Along with other trendy, overused terms such as athleticism, length and speculation about a guy's "motor," everyone wants to know at this time of year whether an NBA prospect has a high basketball IQ.

 

But what about those who might possess a high media IQ? Someone who actually draws back the curtain and sees the little men and women behind it, propagating the whole "perception is reality" thing?

 

Joakim Noah seems like a player whose intelligence quotient is high in both categories.

 

"I think mock drafts are a complete joke," the University of Florida power forward told reporters in Charlotte earlier this month. "I hear a couple of guys making the mock drafts are kids in basements. You read what these guys say and they have no idea what they're talking about."


 

 

 

That sort of criticism (clarity?) is a tremendous insult to a great many of us who create mock drafts and round up scouting information on players like Noah and his 2007 NBA draft classmates. The 6-foot-10 former Gator ought to know that, once you slap up some sheetrock and lay down some carpet, it officially becomes a "rec room," not a basement.

 

But on his bigger point -- that opinions are merely that, and mock drafts actually can be worth less than the cyberspace they occupy -- Noah isn't wrong. The only draft that matters is the one NBA teams participate in on June 28, the ones with multimillion-dollar contracts attached to each first-round pick and deputy NBA commish Adam Silver subbing in for David Stern after the first 30 picks. Until then, we all are just guessing, some based on conversations, some on their own eyes, some who'd get similar results with a dartboard.

 

Noah has particular reasons not to trust the mock drafts; a year ago, he would have found his name among the top three in most predictions. But another year at Florida, where his team won a second consecutive NCAA championship, apparently has hurt him as a pro prospect. Noah has been downgraded because some of his stats slipped, he didn't build on his breakout performances in the 2006 tournament and, well, others in this year's draft class passed him by.

 

Now the son of former tennis pro Yannick Noah is expected to wait anywhere from the fifth pick to the end of the lottery (No. 14) before hearing his name. That would make him the third, fourth or even fifth power forward to be drafted.

 

If you believe the kids in the basement.

 

Here is a look at 10 prospects at the power forward position:

  

Al Horford, Junior, Florida: 6-foot-9, 245

One of the best things for young guys like Horford is that the NBA draft is held relatively soon after the NBA Finals, which annually reminds everyone how important it is to have size, strength and toughness. Horford has all of those, is a sturdy defender in the post and blocks shots well. He handles himself like an adult, works hard and takes instructions, all of which should have him going in the top three or four selections.

 

Brandan Wright, Freshman, North Carolina: 6-foot-10, 210

Wright will be a great example of the type of player who used to develop physically in a college dorm, rather than on a pro team's clock and payroll. He is lanky in the extreme, not nearly strong enough to handle the rigors of the NBA paint on an 82-game basis. But the rest of his skills -- his quickness, his knack for swatting shots, his sheer length -- will have a team paying him in 2007-08 and possibly 2008-09 for what he'll be able to start providing in 2009-10. Hopefully he has the work ethic to fast-track that.

 

Yi Jianlian, China: 7-foot, 230

Selling Yi to a team's fan base might be a tougher task than selling his skills and potential to its scouts. The sample size of successful China-to-NBA transitions is minute; Yao Ming made it, Wang Zhi-Zhi did not and most fans couldn't name a third. Experts are impressed with Yi's international experience, his physical attributes and his finesse skills. As a defender, though, he plays smaller than his height and he has shown little taste for banging. And if the suspicions about his age (is he 19 or 23?) are true, then projections for his body development might be off, too.

 

Joakim Noah, Junior, Florida: 6-foot-10, 230

On paper, Noah has it all. He has plenty of talent at both ends, is a smart player, shows great intensity and has a look and personality that actually will sell some tickets before he plays his first NBA game. But some scouts downgrade him for what they saw as a step down this season -- Noah's desire to stick around Gainesville defeated what would have been impeccable timing had he submitted his name for the 2006 draft. Still, given what passes for NBA big men in a lot of markets these days, Noah should do just fine on most nights. It's at playoff time that he might disappoint because of his lack of strength.

 

Jason Smith, Junior, Colorado State: 7-foot, 230

Smith has legitimate size and plays an old-fashioned low-post game, though his mechanics and speed need improvement. He's more comfortable straying from the paint on offense than he is on defense, and he'll want to work on technique to keep his rebound numbers up at the next level. He has attracted more interest as the draft approaches, as long as he keeps moving to the right on his learning (and lifting) curve.

 

Tiago Splitter, Brazil: 6-foot-11, 235

Splitter has great breakout speed for a big man, with solid footwork and a knack for getting his shot off, even in traffic. His quickness is an asset at both ends, both in moving and getting open and in staying between his man and the goal. He hasn't always handled banging well -- it disrupts his ability to score inside -- and some scouts wonder if his body will hold up to the demands of a full NBA season. He also might not be free to join the NBA until next summer.

 

Josh McRoberts, Sophomore, Duke: 6-foot-10, 240

This is a big guy with good outside skills from Duke? Automatically, people flash back to the likes of Christian Laettner and Cherokee Parks, big men who peaked in college and were most comfortable at the high post. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- McRoberts moves well, has good court vision and is an adept ball handler -- but it doesn't take full advantage of his size.

 

Ali Traore, France: 6-foot-10, 246

A tremendous wingspan and the ability to score with either hand are a couple of Traore's strongest attributes. He can get and hold his position in the post pretty well and can box out effectively with his long arms. He doesn't burn with intensity when he plays and seems to get distracted. His shooting range is minimal, at this stage, and he picks up avoidable fouls.

 

Glen Davis, Senior, LSU: 6-foot-8, 300

Davis will never be considered svelte, but there's more muscle in his body mass than some thought, which makes him a better risk. As the draft's most notable wide-body, he can claim rebounds by clearing air space beneath them, and he makes for a sizable pylon as a defender, if only he can beat guys to their spots. "Big Baby" still has room and time to mature, playing a smarter and more team-oriented game.

 

Nick Fazekas, Senior, Nevada: 6-foot-11, 240

If Duke guys have to deal with Laettner comparisons, long pale forwards from the West often have to cope with comparisons to Keith Van Horn, which comes up frequently regarding Fazekas. His absent post game, his good shooting range, his relative lack of strength, his strong fundamentals and his smart if not athletic rebounding remind many of the player picked No. 2 in 1997. Not to say that Fazekas will be selected that high, of course. His size won't be the automatic asset it was in college, and he faces lots of work if he wants a post game.

 

Steve Aschburner is a senior NBA reporter and columnist, covering the Minnesota Timberwolves for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 13 seasons and serving as president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association from 2005-07.