This past NBA Draft was a doozy. Every player had at least one wart. None of them projected as multi-time All-Stars based on the skills they already showed in college. The final draft order shocked most of the scouting and fan communities despite consensus that the top five or six prospects were fairly interchangeable.

Of the top seven picks taken in the 2013 NBA Draft, only one was a lock for weeks (Otto Porter to Washington at #3). Two of the most heralded prospects dropped to 6th and 7th (Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore), while two late risers went top-4 (Anthony Bennett and Cody Zeller). Muddying the waters was the number of top prospects rehabbing from surgery, unable to work out against their competition.

In the end, three of the top six picks were guys who hadn't picked up a basketball in months before being selected and weren't guaranteed to play by training camp. What got them picked was their combination of youth and potential.

All three rehabbing prospects are quite young. #1 overall pick PF/SF Anthony Bennett and #6 overall pick PF/C Nerlens Noel are still just 19 years old. Alex Len, picked fifth, just turned 20 over the summer.

Bennett's claim to the top spot was an offensive arsenal not displayed by any other front-court prospect. He can score inside and outside, like a new-day Grandmama. Cleveland, picking first, already had 2011 #1 overall pick Kyrie Irving and 2012 #4 overall pick Dion Waiters in their backcourt. They needed a frontcourt player, yet still had 2011 #4 overall pick Tristan Thompson at power forward. With a list narrowed to SF and C, the Cavs were rumored to be considering Alex Len and Otto Porter.

In the end, they decided Bennett's potential was the greatest and called his name. Bennett's problem is size (he's a tweener, much like Derrick Williams in Minnesota) with an allergy to defense. But he's young and talented, so there's that.

Charlotte, in need of big bodies who could score down low, passed on Alex Len to take Zeller. Zeller's game is that of an NBA center, but he's slightly undersized (6'10" in height and length) and the Bobcats somehow paid Al Jefferson $14 million to play center a month later. Zeller will have to make his NBA mark as a stretch-four, something he's never done before. Is he the next Channing Frye? To me, that's his best potential. Maybe a better version of Frye, but still Frye. Nothing wrong with that, but with the #4 overall pick that's a low ceiling (sorry Channing).

After Orlando (Victor Oladipo), Washington (Porter) and Charlotte (Cody Zeller) took healthy players, the Suns had their choice rehabbing Noel and rehabbing Len, or even sweet-shooting Ben McLemore.

Reportedly, the Suns ruled out McLemore after he showed up at a pre-draft workout. While Oladipo and other guards relished a chance to compete against each other, McLemore chose to work out alone and (again, reportedly) dogged it. Soon after McLemore's workout, I recall Hornacek saying that if a player can't get up the energy to go all out in a pre-draft workout he had a short career ahead of him. Not sure if that was about McLemore, but the Suns did pass on Ben a month later.

That left Noel and Len as the two best remaining prospects when the Suns picked at #5 overall. Neither had a perfect future laid out for him. Noel is a gifted defender, grabbing almost 10 rebounds and blocking four shots per game as an 18-year old freshman. But Noel had a gruesome knee injury at Kentucky that gave pause to every front office. Couple that with a non-existent offensive game, a rail-thin waist and legs so skinny you can see through them, and you've got yourself a big, huge question mark at the NBA level.

Finally, there was Alex Len. Len played much of his sophomore season on a stress fracture and showed little progress from his freshman year. Some scouts blame that on his teammates, while others just see a guy who won't dominate in the NBA. Yet he was picked by professional NBA draft scouts as a top prospect who could be taken as high as #1 overall thanks to his nimble feet, defensive ability and offensive touch.

5. Phoenix Suns: C Alex Len, Maryland

The Ukrainian big man has tremendous potential because of his great touch around the basket and his defensive awareness despite not playing basketball for very long. His upside hinges on that point, that as he learns the game he might become dominant. The Suns were able to take the best available player here, and they graded Len above Noel. McLemore's scoring ability could have been valuable, but the centers had too much potential. Did Phoenix take the wrong one? Grade: B-

None of Bennett, Len or Noel played in Summer League. All have basically dropped off the face of the earth. Golden children from the 2013 Draft are now the healthy ones - Oladipo, Zeller and later pick Kelly Olynyk.

Next Starts Now

Next week, training camps open for business. Of those three rehabbing picks, its looks as if Anthony Bennett and Alex Len are fully recovered from their injuries. Both have been cleared for contact, and will be ready (but possibly on a limited basis) to play in training camp.

Bennett was reportedly cleared for 5-on-5 play last week, while Alex Len was cleared to work out last month and recently cleared for contact work.

[Assistant coach Mark] West already has been working out players, like first-round pick Alex Len who resumed court activity last month after his second ankle surgery. Len was cleared for contact work with training camp starting in nine days. He has impressed coaches with his shooting touch, soft hook and eagerness to be taught.

Both players have an uphill battle for playing time. Anthony Bennett has to either smoothly transition to a new position - small forward - or fight for minutes behind Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao while Cleveland tries to win a lot of games and make the playoffs. My skepticism of Bennett's smooth transition of spot-up small forward comes from watching players like Michaei Beasley and Derrick Williams - to name a couple - have trouble with that same transition in prior years. Both were #2 overall picks who'd dominated in college at the 4 position but were too small to play the 4 full-time in the pros. It's possible that Bennett becomes the new Larry Johnson or Paul Millsap, but Tristan Thompson is in the way of that.

Alex Len's rehab has gone exactly as the Suns predicted. They predicted clearance for work outs in late August, and clearance for contact by training camp. It remains to be seen what Len's real status is (same for Bennett), but we'll know more by the time training camp is a few days underway.

On the other end, Nerlens Noel still has no timetable for return. The Suns staff took a hard look at Noel's medicals and came away with reservations. As did the other teams in the top 5 of the Draft. Noel was clearly the top talent, but five teams passed him up.

Philadelphia decided to roll the dice anyway. They gave up Jrue Holiday for Noel and a 2014 #1 as they rebuild from the bottom up. Noel is rehabbing like a demon, apparently, but the Sixers are no closer to having their top 2013 pick take the field. With an injury like Noel's, where his success is wholly dependent on his ability to move his feet, the effect on his game could be devastating. If Noel doesn't regain full mobility, what else can he fall back on? He's got no sand in the bucket, so he can't fight for position under the boards.

The Phoenix Suns pick of Alex Len will always be scrutinized by Suns fans and national media. His career will always be compared to Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore and 55 other guys taken after him in the 2013 Draft.

But at least he's starting out on the right (and healthy) foot.

Goran Dragic and EuroBasket host Slovenia fell in the quarterfinals to a talented French team but avoided another loss by beating Serbia and, on Saturday, Ukraine to earn fifth place in the 2013...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]
These are the tiring days of summer, when any Suns action is limited to whomever remains in the EuroBasket tournament. Phoenix’s season ended five months ago, and even when there is a season,...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

It is a common cliché to say that a player makes their statements on the court, but that is exactly what Diana Taurasi did in game one of the playoffs. For the Phoenix Mercury (and Taurasi) the season started in Los Angeles against the Sparks.

That is not a slight on the regular season, but this team was put together with one goal: Win Championships.

Individual accolades come and go for elite like players Taurasi and Candace Parker every year. They are in their own rights MVP's every season for their respective teams just like Maya Moore, Elena Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles, Angel McCoughtry, and every other former MVP candidate of years past. Greatness comes in all shapes and sizes there for it is not defined by a statue or an award, height or length, position, or requisite skill-set.

Earlier in the season Taurasi became the fifth leading scorer in WNBA history and moved up the Top 10 list in assists as well. Her reaction individual accolades was reminiscent of a child who does something great, but in their mind they just did something, but it was great at the end of the day. She hardly knows her greatness, but continues to churn out greatness nightly.

The portfolio continues to grow every game at this point for the now ten year veteran who has either consciously or nonchalantly has become a consensus MVP candidate every year as the masses have become numb to how great she is.

An MVP in some eyes is the best player statistically in the league in any given season. To others it is the most irreplaceable player on a good team. For the rest it is the best story of the season.

That is not something determined in a board room or from behind a laptop. It is determined on the court.

Everyone of those players are the best statistical player on their team. They are the most irreplaceable player on the roster and are a story in their own right.

Taurasi did just that in game one against the Sparks when she came out and set the tone for her teammates, for herself, and the complexity of the series. No player in the history of the WNBA has displayed the balance between scoring and distributing like Taurasi has this season and throughout her career.

Early on she set the tone with three assists in the first quarter making play-after-play-after-play for her team. Her aggressiveness made up for 58% of the Mercury offense in the half and kept them in the game.

In the second half she produced 46% of the team's offense switching gears becoming more of a scorer closing out the game with 20 points in the half.

The game was a statement. Taurasi went out, on the road, and outperformed the actual MVP with an MVP performance of her own closing out another playoff win taking her record in first round playoff games to a remarkable 9-2 overall.

On the court Taurasi makes her mark like a marksman from deep or threading the needle with accuracy on a pass to an open teammate.

Her presence is felt on the court. Her MVP credentials are put on full display every night with her play and how her influence played a major role in turning the Mercury from a 7 win laughing stock to 19 win legitimate contenders in the Western Conference. Other influences played a part in the teams' 12 win turnaround, but none with more value, or impact, than what Taurasi brings every night.

This individual performance was not a metaphorical fist to the chest saying, "look at me, I am the best," but a statement that this team is here to win a Championship. Taurasi is that Championship Engine.

The Mercury were not able to replace the impact of the best guard in the history of the WNBA last year when she was injured. They went from the Western Conference Finals to the No. 1 Overall pick without her. That was not the leagues definition of an MVP this year, but she surely was for the Phoenix Mercury.

Not to slight the regular season, but the Mercury's goal is to win a Championship and Taurasi's goal is to be the MVP of the season that matters. The post-season.

Goran Dragic was drafted in the second round by the Phoenix Suns in 2008 at the tender age of 22 when he was merely a backup point guard for TAU Ceramica (now Caja Laboral). His first two NBA seasons were spent as a backup to former two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash in Phoenix while he concurrently backed up former Euroleague MVP Jaka Lakovic on his Slovenian National Team.

Once dubbed the worst player in the NBA and given the nickname "Goran Tragic" by ESPN columnist John Hollinger (now somehow the Director of Player Personnel for Memphis), Dragic has ascended the NBA and Euro ladders at a rocket-fueled pace in the last three years.

2010 - Stepping from the shadow

By spring of 2010, his second year in the NBA, Dragic became a serious NBA threat. While he still backed up Steve Nash in Phoenix, logging only 18 minutes a game, Dragic scored 32 in a loss to Utah and then famously blasted San Antonio in the second round of the 2010 playoffs. Suns fans remember Dragic's transformation that year. We remember that opponents began to fear the Suns bench almost as much as the star-studded starting lineup.

At the time, I worried that Dragic had already reached his ceiling. I wrote an article for Bright Side, warning fans not to fall for the national hype over Dragic and wait until he had another season to prove himself.

That fall, Dragic joined Lakovic to lead the Slovenian team to 8th place in the 2010 FIBA World Championships - the highest Slovenia had ever finished on the World Stage. Dragic still shared time with Lakovic at the point, but he otherwise played shooting guard and had become the face of Slovenian basketball, posting 12.7 points, 4.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds for the overachieving squad.

But when he returned to Phoenix, he played (relatively) terribly for the Suns and their new general manager, Lance Blanks, traded him to Houston for a purportedly better player in Aaron Brooks (AND a first round pick). I was in favor of the trade at the time, thinking that Dragic's ceiling was a good backup, rather than a solid starter, while Brooks had proven himself to a starting quality point guard (19 points, 5 assists the year before).

2011 - Fits and Starts

Upon receiving his professional "wake up call", Dragic played much better in Houston than he had in Phoenix. He was still a backup, but the coaching staff loved him from day one and when starter Kyle Lowry for injured, Dragic "killed it" over the final week of the season as starter. Back in Phoenix, Aaron Brooks rubbed everyone wrong and barely made an impact as the Suns sputtered to the finish line.

In the 2011 Eurobasket championships, Dragic led his Slovenian team in points and steals per game, while finishing second in assists to the fading Lakovic. Slovenia fell to 7th place after having taken 4th place in Eurobasket 2009 and 8th in 2010 Worlds.

2012-13 - Rise of the Phoenix

Over the past 18 months, Dragic has taken much bigger steps than most people anticipated he could ever take back in 2008. Dragic became a full-time NBA starter for Houston (final 28 games of 2012 season) and then signed a huge deal to supplant Steve Nash in Phoenix.

For the first time in his career, Dragic was a full-time starter from day one in Phoenix. He responded by proving to the world he could repeat his high efficiency on double the minutes, posting a wide range of stats that only a few NBA players could match. Only FOUR other players in the entire NBA put up more points, assists and steals than Goran Dragic's 14.7 points, 7.4 assists and 1.6 steals.

Eurobasket 2013

Now in Eurobasket 2013, Dragic is carrying his undertalented Slovenian team beyond their means as the undisputed leader. Lakovic is a shadow of his former self and other long-time national team members are missing (Udrih), injured (Erazem Lorbek) or retired.

Dragic is the only NBA-caliber player on the team, yet they have ridden their home crowd to the quarterfinals and a guaranteed World Cup berth in 2014. Slovenia had missed the odd-year Olympics counterpart in 2012, so this will be their first World stage since 2010.

Dragic has posted team and (Euro) career highs of 15.5 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds, by far the team leader. But he's only been able to play 23.9 minutes per game and lately looks gassed in the fourth quarter. The emotional toll of his home crowd (Slovenia is hosting the tournament, with 10,000 fans per night) and pressure to play 110% every minute is wearing him down.

The Zenith?

How much further can Goran Dragic go with his professional career?

At 27 years old, he still relies almost entirely on his high motor and athleticism to beat the opponent. His shooting mechanics make it difficult to be a consistent shooter, something he will need as his legs fail him in the coming years.

After close to a decade of year-round basketball, how many years can he sustain being the face of his franchise and national team? Probably several. He will be moving part-time to the shooting guard position next season next to Eric Bledsoe, which might ease the pressure on him during games in the NBA.

But the bigger question is: what is Goran Dragic's ceiling?

Can he rise any higher than he already has: a quality NBA starter and national team leader? Can he become an NBA All-Star?

To do so, he must improve his shooting percentages and become a better leader. For Slovenia, he's already there.

"I didn't realize what a tremendous leader he is, by his words and example," [assistant coach Chris] Thomas said to Paul Coro recently. "I marvel at how our guys look up to him on a daily basis. It's impressed me beyond what I can express."

But it's been different in the NBA. Goran is quiet, and not inclined to be a leader and mentor off the court. Maybe that's changing, but he needs to realize how necessary it is in Phoenix with such a young squad. Last year, Dragic got frustrated with his teammates and couldn't get them to play all-out-all-the-time like Slovenia does.

We shall see this upcoming season in Phoenix whether Dragic can take that next step.

Final note

Slovenia has one more Eurobasket 2013 game tomorrow, playing Ukraine for the 5th place spot vs. 6th. Neither team will win a medal, but both Ukraine and Slovenia have guaranteed themselves a trip to the FIBA World Cup in 2014.

New Suns player Viacheslav Kravtsov faces off against Dragic before they both return to Phoenix for training camp. Kravtsov had 6 points, 6 rebounds and 6 blocks today against Italy and leads the entire field in blocks for the tournament as a backup C for Mike Fratello's Ukraine team.

Page 766 of 1843

766

Web Links

Sponsored Ads