Thursday, June 7, 2007

Re-examining the 2006 NBA Draft 2nd Round Underclassmen

Every year several college underclassmen declare for the NBA draft. Some are drafted; some are forced to make an NBA team through try-outs and pre-season camps. In 2006, 30 underclassmen were drafted. Some, such as Adam Morrison and Rudy Gay, were among the top selected, drafted third and eighth, respectively. Others had to wait much longer to hear their names called.

In 2006, eight underclassmen were drafted in the second round of the NBA Draft. Two of these former underclassmen, Daniel Gibson of the Cavaliers and Paul Millsap of the Jazz, attained both team and individual success during the 2007 Playoffs. Some were not as fortunate or prepared to contribute and were assigned the NBA developmental league or a European league to hone their skills.

But what if these eight underclassmen had stayed in school? Would they have improved their draft potential and perhaps made themselves first round picks in an already stacked 2007 draft? Or did they leave when the time was right? Now I am far from a draft expert, and I invite your comments, but here is my attempt at speculating who, if anyone, made the wise choice to declare early and should have stayed in school.

Starting with the highest drafted:

PJ Tucker - SF/SG, Texas, Jr. - drafted #35 by the Toronto Raptors

2006-07 Stats (NBA only): 17 games, 1.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg, .2 apg

Pre-draft analysis: From Is he more than “an undersized power forward”? If he doesn’t convince at least one NBA team’s decision makers before June 28, he might still be waiting to hear his name called by the middle of the second round.

Conclusion: This is a tough one. Although calls him a PF, his position listing has him at the same positions as Kevin Durant. So did he leave at the right time, even if his numbers in the NBA weren't that good? Could he have been pushed aside by the freshman phenom? As good as Durant was, he would have hurt Tucker's numbers in an all-too-crucial senior year.

Daniel Gibson - PG, Texas, Soph - drafted #42 by the Cleveland Cavaliers

2006-07 Stats: 60 games, 4.6ppg, 1.2 apg, 1.5 rpg

Pre-draft analysis: From Going into the season, Gibson was projected as a probable lottery selection. Now, after his well-documented early-season struggles as the Longhorns’ playmaker led Coach Rick Barnes to move him off the ball, he’s going to have to sizzle in individual workouts (he turned down the opportunity to play in the Pre-Draft Camp) to land in the first round.

Conclusion: Another Texas underclassman. Although still not an NBA-ready point guard, the draft couldn't have been better for Gibson. Playing with LeBron James, Gibson doesn't have to worry about running the floor. Had he stayed, however, he might have gotten more experience at the point as he would have been feeding the ball to Kevin Durant. So unlike Tucker, Durant might have helped Gibson. But then he wouldn't have ended up alongside LeBron.

Alexander Johnson - PF, Florida State, Jr - drafted #45 by the Indiana Pacers (eventually traded to the Memphis Grizzles)

2006-07 Stats: 59 games, 4.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg, .3 apg

Pre-draft analysis: From Johnson has created more of a buzz about his NBA potential during workouts than he did while having a pretty solid junior season for the Seminoles. There is talk that he could land late in the first round but he will still need a lot of polish (D League?) before he’s ready to bump heads with the power-forward elite of the NBA.

Conclusion: I'll admit, being an FSU alumnus myself, I am a bit of a homer when it comes to Johnson. That said, his progress is one of the reasons I decided to write this post. With all the talk that the Grizzles might look at former Florida Gator Al Horford as their big man of the future, I had to wonder, what about AJ?

Admittedly, Johnson's offensive game needed work. His athleticism saved him quite often at Florida State, and at 6'9 he can't get away with as much at the NBA level. Another year at Florida State would probably have helped. Playing alongside Al Thornton, Johnson might have been one of the better big men in the nation, and even a possible mid-first round pick. Would he have been as good as a senior as Horford was as a junior? Maybe, maybe not. My guess: Johnson would have been a top 15-20 pick, depending on team need.

Paul Millsap - PF, Louisiana Tech, Jr. - drafted #47 by the Utah Jazz

2006-07 Stats: - 82 games, 6.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, .8 apg

Pre-draft analysis: From He led the nation in rebounding three consecutive seasons but he didn’t overwhelm the Pre-Draft Camp competition under the backboards. Like another player from the Western Athletic Conference, Nick Fazekas, he would have been wise to retain the ability to return for his senior season.

Conclusion: Millsap had one of the better years of any of the second round draft picks, playing in every game for the Utah Jazz. Could he have stayed in school for his senior year? Perhaps. But with the plethora of big men available in the 2007 Draft, who's to say Millsap wouldn't have fallen into the second round yet again?

Leon Powe - PF, California, Soph - drafted #49 by the Denver Nuggets (traded to the Boston Celtics)

2006-07 Stats: 63 games, 4.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, .2 apg

Pre-Draft Analysis: From He was easily the dominant low-post presence in the Pac 10 last season. But he will have to make the transition on the NBA level as an undersized power forward.

Conclusion: Like Millsap, Powe is a small power forward. Again, considering the amount of quality forwards in the 2007 Draft, it is difficult to see how Powe could have been more than a 2007 late first round pick. Save to say, he might have lucked out by going to Boston in '06 and getting playing time in his rookie year.

Guillermo Diaz - SG, Miami (FL), Jr - drafted #52 by the LA Clippers

2006-07 Stats: Unavailable. Played in Czech Professional League and Greek Professional League.

Pre-Draft Analysis: From Diaz is among the more spectacular players in the draft, with the ability to soar over the biggest defenders for lay-ups or dunks. His jump shot is effective, if streaky, and his first step is quick enough for him to blow by all but the best defenders. He’s a long way from becoming a point guard, though. His professional prospects would have been better a year from now after a senior season at Miami.

Conclusion: Although Diaz's rights are still held by the Clippers and he is promised an invite at the 2007 Rookie Camp, Diaz has spent the last year travelling through Europe trying to improve his game. Vastly undersized for a shooting guard, the 6'2 Diaz needs to become a point guard in order to be successful at the NBA level. It is doubtful Miami would have quickened Diaz's development into a PG. Therefore, the sooner he left the program and entered professional basketball, the better, despite his long ways to go.

JR Pinnock - SG, George Washington, Jr - drafted #58 by the Dallas Mavericks (traded to the LA Lakers)

2006-07 Stats: 6 games, 1.8 ppg, 2 rpg, 1.3 apg

Pre-Draft Analysis: From Pinnock looks like he was hewn out of granite. He is a rock, with a muscular upper body and strong but nimble legs. He's an able one-on-one player who uses both his size and his athletic quickness to get by his man. Late in his final college season, the junior Pinnock started mixing in more jump shots with his drives, which is OK considering he had success from the perimeter. In the NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando, he was one of only a few players to consistently nail 3-pointers.

Conclusion: Although Pinnock is a great athlete, I am not sure why he left early. He was clearly not ready for NBA-level competition. However, he did average 11 ppg in the D-League. Still only 23 years old, perhaps Pinnock will eventually earn his way onto an NBA roster.

Will Blalock - PG, Iowa State, Jr - drafted #60 by the Detroit Pistons

2006-07 Stats: 14 games, 1.8 ppg, 1.2 apg, 1.1 rpg

Pre-draft analysis: From Blalock is one of the many players who would have been better served by playing another season of college basketball (he’s signed with an agent) with the likelihood of landing in the first round being much greater a year from now. He’s among the best penetrating-guards in the draft.

Conclusion: With the lack of senior point guards in this year's draft, I think Blalock might have made a better case for himself had he stayed in school.

So what have I concluded? Honestly, not much. Some (Johnson, Pinnock, Blalock) would probably have been better off staying in school for their senior year. Some (Tucker, Powe, Diaz) made a wise choice leaving early, and some (Gibson, Millsap) found relative early success in the NBA. When to leave college and pursue the professional ranks will never be an exact science. Leaving school early is a tough decision for even the greatest college players. For those underclassmen who by chance or ability fall into the second round of the NBA Draft, the road ahead can be either one of opportunity, success, and a dash of luck; or it could be a career of disappointment, unrealized potential, and far too many "what ifs".

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