As many fans are well aware by now, there are four excellent shooting guard prospects in the upcoming draft slated to be available with the Nuggets’ first overall selection: Gary Harris, Nik Stauskas, Zach LaVine and James Young. While personal preference dictates where exactly these players will fall on draft night, the virtual consensus amongst the Web’s most revered mock analysts is that all four are likely to fall in the top 20. So while the Nuggets should (and likely will) implement the Best Player Available (BPA) strategy, there stands a legitimate chance that one of the aforementioned names will be called to the stage when Adam Silver announces the 11th pick — not because the Nuggets need a starting-caliber shooting guard, but because these players are all more than deserving of that selection. Naturally, understanding which of these players would make the best pick is of critical importance; which, as you might have guessed, is exactly what I’ll attempt below.
Nik Stauskas // 20 // 6-6 // SG // Michigan
If for some reason the Nuggets were dead set on taking a pure shooter, this guy would be their selection — hand down, without question. As I’ve stated a few times in the past month, Stauskas might be the best shooter to declare for the NBA seen since Klay Thompson or Steph Curry. His release is tight and consistent, while his range extends well beyond the NBA 3-point line. But what I like most about Stauskas’ shot is that he can get it off anywhere, anytime. Whether it be coming off screens, in isolation, driving to the basket or simply finding an open corner, Stauskas firmly understands the art of shot creation.
The other thing I like about Stauskas is his intelligence. Stauskas possesses high basketball IQ, has not an ounce of selfishness in his body and is in tuned with the nuances of team basketball that are of paramount importance when it comes to succeeding in the NBA. And for teams that value outside shooting, above-average distribution skills and a willingness to play defense (i.e., the San Antonio Spurs), Stauskas is all you could ever want in a late lottery selection.
Detractors might point towards his athleticism and defensive capabilities as omens that he’ll struggle in the NBA, but those are highly erroneous arguments. First off, Stauskas is an athlete. There were times while watching him last year that I was blown away by not only dunks, but monster jams. For what he’ll be asked to do at the next level, Stauskas has more than enough athleticism to hang with the big boys. As for defense, Stauskas is no lock-down defender but he’s shown an ability to play admirable defense in large spells as well as an overall commitment to that end of the floor, which is more than a lot of collegians can say.
Conclusion: I like Stauskas — a lot. He’s got an elite skill (shooting), requisite athleticism so succeed as an outside shooter at the next level, savvy distribution skills and a good head on his shoulders, all of which adds up to star potential. I’m not saying he’ll ever become a star in the NBA, but he certainly has the tools to get there. If nothing else, his shooting alone should carve a very long and successful career at the next level, which is something the Nuggets would be wise to benefit from.
Zach LaVine // 19 // 6-6 // SG // UCLA
Speaking of star potential, have you heard of Zach LaVine? If you follow the draft in any capacity the answer is “yes,” and subsequent chances are that you have a very polarizing opinion of him.
LaVine is the type of guy who makes or breaks a GM. His potential is through the roof but the sample size in which to analyze him is extremely limited and teeming with question marks. On one hand you salivate over LaVine’s physical attributes, how he comes equipped with unlimited athleticism, great size and length for his position as well as a fluid shooting stroke. On the other hand are the games, his mercurial shooting performances and selfish decision making that are the epitome of red flags in the scouting world. Had LaVine displayed better basketball IQ throughout the season, he’d likely be a top 10 pick. Unfortunately he did quite the opposite, displaying a glut of head-scratching malfunctions which are best summarized by YouTube comments like, “Wow. Those are some horrible weaknesses.”
The biggest problem (or strength, depending on how you look at it) with LaVine is that everything we’ll come to know about him a few years down the road will be determined after he’s drafted. Unlike freshman phenoms or upper classmen — who register extensive and impressive bodies of work — LaVine has almost nothing to show for his lone college season at UCLA. He shot the ball well for a few weeks to start the season (then promptly no better than 40 percent from anywhere on the floor), had a few jaw-dropping dunks and did a nice job of running the break throughout the year. That’s it. Therefore, if you draft LaVine you’re solely drafting him based on what he has a chance to become. It’s an incredibly risky undertaking, but if it pays off it could help a team like the Nuggets forgo the rebuilding process and jump straight to contending out west.
What’s really steamrolled LaVine’s momentum lately has been his workouts. He blew people away at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, registering top marks in virtually all the most revered athletic testing categories, and has since impressed in verbal interviews and shooting drills. LaVine has slowly become a fast riser (oxymoronic as it may sound) and if recent history has taught us anything it’s that these types, who skyrocket up draft boards once athletic testing begins (i.e., Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Victor Oladipo, even Kenneth Faried, who was projected as a second rounder for most of the year prior to private workouts), tend to fare pretty damn well in the NBA.
Conclusion: I’ve ruminated about the idea of drafting LaVine for weeks now (ask me about him later and you’ll probably get a completely different answer) and each time I turn him over in my head my deliberation cycle returns to one essential question: Exactly how many negative attributes does LaVine possess that would hinder his success at the next level? The answer: not many. He may not be the most cerebral player on the floor (yet), he may be somewhat selfish (right now), somewhat inconsistent (thus far)… BUT WHO ISN’T AT 19?!?! As I stated above, this is not about who LaVine is now; it’s about who he’ll become three years down the road, playing against the best athletes in the world, supervised by the best coaches in the word. Even at 19 all signs point towards LaVine being an intelligent enough kid (he’s doing well in interviews) with a strong work ethic and willingness to learn and improve. Add that to his already freakish athleticism, size, length, shooting stroke and unlimited potential, and you have the recipe for a Grade-A superstud at the next level. I just hope whichever GM selects him on draft night has either nepotism, piousness or a strong non-basketball hobby going for them in case LaVine is exactly what he’s shown to be in games.
Gary Harris // 19 // 6-4 // SG // Michigan State
Harris has been RMC’s No. 1 shooting guard prospect for a while now — and judging by his recent private workout with the Nuggets, he’s somewhere atop their list as well.
The reasons for Harris’ deference are two-fold: one fold being offense, the other defense. Unlike most prospects in any draft — and most of the ones we’ll be analyzing this month in preparation for the upcoming draft — Harris is a true “two-way”player, meaning his defense is just as much a part of his overall game as his offense. He’s the type of guy you won’t ever have to encourage to play defense; he’ll just do it because that’s who he is. In today’s NBA that attribute is as valuable as any outside of holding superstar status.
In addition to defense, Harris possesses a well-rounded offensive game mostly predicated on manufacturing space to execute his gossamer jump shot. He’s also a talented slasher who understands the value of penetration in order to spread the floor, yet often times whatever drives he makes are only prerequisites to pulling up for a jump shot.
While Harris’ jump shot and defense are his two characteristics likely to draw the most publicity, what has always appealed to me most when watching him in games is his presence of mind on the floor. Harris is smart. Similar to his defense, you’ll never have to actively persuade him to play with more intelligence, more awareness, more selflessness. Though he’s projected to be a two guard at the next level, Harris has always played with a point guard mentality: finding the open man, dishing out incisive dimes, making whatever altruistic play is necessary for his team to succeed. During his last few seasons at Michigan State there were times I was almost in awe at some of the passes he made, which are usually true signs of an excellent basketball player and potentially elite shooting guard.
If you want to pick him apart you could point to Harris’ size as an issue. He’s barely 6-4 in shoes and has only a 6-7 wingspan. He’s also criticized for mediocre athleticism (even though he’s built like a freight train). To me, these bullet points seem persnickety, like people are trying to find fault in him rather than acknowledging that some players simply lack the same number of drawbacks as others. As the great Michael Lewis once said, “If you look long enough for an argument against reason you will find it.” In a player like Harris’ case, this quote could not ring more true, as his shortcomings have never stood out as reasons he wouldn’t succeed at the next level. This is not to say Harris doesn’t have peccadilloes. Like everybody in the world outside of John Green, he’s not perfect. But that’s exactly my point. Harris isn’t Dwyane Wade. He’s certainly no Kobe Bryant. Hell, he might never even be as good as Bradley Beal. But if you’re looking for a starting two guard who’s passionate about defense and possesses a robust mix of intelligence and court vision, look no further than Gary Harris.
Conclusion: It’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen on draft night. Every year, no matter what we think will unfold, it never plays out that way. I don’t know if Harris will be gone by the Nuggets selection and I don’t know what other, more highly valued players will be available if he’s still on the board. All I know is that outside of Dario Saric and Aaron Gordon — the two players most likely to slip on draft night, according to the “experts” — there is nobody I value more than Harris. This isn’t to say I wouldn’t approve of the Nuggets selecting one of the other three shooting guards in this post; I’d be more than happy if one of them fell to the Nuggets. All I’m saying is that I value Harris a little bit more than all the others. Just a bit.
James Young // 18 // 6-7 // SG // Kentucky
Ever see a movie you can’t stop talking about because you liked it so much, yet every time you try to engage your friends or family about it they just shrug their shoulders and say, “Eh, it was alright”? That’s exactly how I feel about James Young.
Like Harris, I see Young as a total-package type of player. He gets tons of criticism for not having elite athleticism, not being ambidextrous, not focusing in on defense enough at Kentucky under the incredibly demanding John Calipari, not being as consistent of an outside shooter as everyone would have liked and so on down the line. It seems like every time I read or hear about James Young people are focusing on nothing but the negatives. And that’s somewhat understandable, as Young did make lots of mistakes his freshman year. But when you consider he’s a full year younger than the average college freshman, still put up 14 points per game in the SEC, was the second best player on an extremely talented team that went all the way to the national championship game and still shot a respectable 35 percent from beyond the arc his lone year at Kentucky, I think Young possesses quite a lot of impressive qualities and accomplishments the myopic pessimists are overlooking.
The reason Young gets so much flack is because he’s an easy target. He was the Mario Chalmers of his Kentucky team. When something went wrong, no matter how much another player or even the entire team was at fault, it was always easiest to blame Young. After all, he was the youngest, the slowest to pick up on Calipari’s defensive schemes and the one who took the most shots. That right there is an unadulterated formula for undeserved blame if there ever was any.
For whatever reason, I never saw things that same way with Young. I always knew he was youthful for his class, and so I guess I tempered my expectations a bit. Still, I was often far more impressed with Young than I was discouraged. Because Kentucky was on national TV a lot last year, I watched Young a lot last year, and from my perspective he was right up there with Julius Randle in terms of overall importance to his team. This sentiment was then corroborated by collegiate voters who named Young to the All-NCAA Tournament Final Four team during Kentucky’s run to the national title game.
If Zach LaVine is potential mixed with risk, Young is potential accompanied with a near guarantee. I would be absolutely shocked if he didn’t turn out to be a starter or sixth man at the next level. He already has the shooting stoke (fluid, compact, quick release, etc.), rebounding prowess and passing instincts to secure him a long future in the NBA. He already has the athleticism. He’s displayed the precociousness. He’s proven himself at the college level. Now all Young really has to do is grow up. Once he improves his handle, becomes more consciousness overall when dribbling and dedicates himself to the defensive side of the ball, there’s no telling how far this kid could go.
Conclusion: After Gary Harris I’d endorse James Young as my favorite shooting guard prospect in the draft. He wont’ turn 19 till August (!), already stands 6-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, was the second best player on the second best team in the country last year, was a consensus top-10 recruit coming out of high school and can flat out splash it from downtown. And did I mention he doesn’t turn 19 till August?
(All embedded videos courtesy of DraftExpress.com)