One thing I’ve learned after years of following the NBA Draft is that as selection day approaches it’s always wise to prepare for the unexpected. Though the Nuggets have what appears to be a franchise point guard in Ty Lawson, selecting another point guard in the first round should obviously not be ruled out if the team sticks ardently to the Best Player Available strategy whenever their pick(s) arise. In fact, nabbing a floor general in the first 20 picks might just be the best decision Tim Connelly makes in his first full year as general manager, as there are several highly undervalued point guards — each with one elite skill — slated to be available within that range, which I analyze below in RMC’s latest Prospecting installment.
Tyler Ennis // 19 // 6-2 // PG // Syracuse
If Ennis was in the 2013 NBA Draft he’d likely have been a top-10 pick. Same goes for Elfrid Payton (seen below). That’s how awful last year’s draft was and how insanely deep it is this year. If you’re comfortable with conjecture (which, let’s be honest, we all are this time of year), then I don’t think it’s too outlandish to suggest there’s a legitimate chance both of the point guards in this post have better NBA careers than last year’s No. 1 pick, Anthony Bennett. That’s the level of disparity we’re talking about.
What makes Ennis so appealing is his court vision, plain and simple. It’s the best I’ve seen since Kendall Marshall in 2012. But unlike Marshall, Ennis is more of a complete package. He not only sees the floor like a spider (lots of eyes), he also has excellent height (close to 6-3 with shoes), length (6-7), solid athleticism and a decent shot for a pass-first, 19-year-old freshman. But what scouts and draft analysts seem to love more than anything is his poise. Many claim watching Ennis is tantamount to watching a 10-year NBA vet — which, in a weird way actually seems to have tainted his stock. Because these days, nobody wants to draft a youngster who plays like an old man. Steadiness is predictable. Poise is somewhat bland. In the age of instant gratification and CGI, people want to be wowed. They want springy athleticism, lightening-quick first steps, glass-shattering dunks. Which is fine and all. But last I checked Boris Diaw is still playing a vital role for a world champion Spurs team and Andre Miller is still top 10 all time in assists.
Conclusion: The Nuggets interviewed Ennis at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago and also brought him to Denver for a workout. You simply aren’t that inquisitive about someone unless you’re interested in signing that player to a contract. And this is good. I like Ennis — quite a bit, in fact. He has all the tools to succeed at the next level including the one elite skill (vision) that’s mandatory to be a starter in the NBA. If the Nuggets trade for picks 16 and 19 from the Bulls, there’s a good chance Ennis will still be on the board come the first selection (the Magic at pick 12 being the only other team in need of a point guard) as well as one of the aforementioned shooting guards covered in RMC’s previous Prospecting post at 19. And if that’s the case, Nuggets fans better start warming up to the idea of moving back, because landing two starting-caliber prospects in this draft is a deal that’s just too good to pass up.
Elfrid Payton // 20 // 6-4 // PG // Louisiana-Lafayette
In every draft there’s always a consensus about several players who, for whatever reason, are underrated. Kenneth Faried was one of those players in 2011; Gorgui Dieng was one in 2013 (each being my No. 1 guy on their respective draft nights). And this year is no different. At least one player will be drafted much lower than he should be, and many believe that player is Elfrid Payton
Like most of the criminally undervalued prospects in the history of the NBA Draft, Payton comes from a smaller school and has one major flaw: shooting. If he was slightly better at stretching the floor (a seven or eight percent increase from downtown) I think he’d be a guaranteed top-10 pick. Because aside from his mercurial shooting touch, Payton has all the tools you could possibly want in a point guard. He has elite height, excellent vision, fantastic athleticism (for a point guard), youth (he’s insanely young for his class, having just turned 20 this past February) and best of all, a voracious appetite to shut down his opponent. Payton is truly one of the better defensive prospects not only in this draft, but in the last several drafts combined. Like all eminent defenders in the NBA, Payton displays a competitive fire to completely shut down his opponent. And with his physical tools and athleticism, he’s often more than capable of doing so.
Conclusion: Each year there are only a limited number of guys you can point to and say, without question, they’re gonna make it at the next level. Even as deep as this draft is there are still legitimate concerns with guys like Dario Saric, Joel Embiid and Doug McDermott — all slated to go before the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajun. But those concerns just do not exist with Payton — at least not from my vantage point. I truly believe he’s going to be a really good player at the next level. And that alone, that confidence, that’s exactly what you want when investing millions into a first-round lottery pick. Finding that assurance is exactly what all this reading and studying and analyzing is all about. So when you find it, given its rarity and importance to the franchise, you’d better think long and hard before letting it slip by in favor of somebody else.
One last point worth noting about Payton: Chad Ford is reporting the Magic are leaning more and more towards taking a power forward with the fourth pick in the draft then securing a point guard with their 12th selection. Knowing Rob Hennigan’s values (defense, leadership, smarts, all of which Payton excels at) I highly doubt he slips past the Magic at 12; therefore, if the Nuggets want him they’ll likely have to keep the 11th pick in order to obtain him without a trade.
(All embedded videos courtesy of DraftExpress.com)