For years, pro prospects were described and measured through comparisons to current and former greats. You heard things like “The Next Jordan” or “A Poor Man’s Tim Duncan” or “A Carlos Boozer Type.” This always made sense, because it is an easy way to categorize a player without using too many words. However, after the spate of failed Next Jordans (headlined by Harold “Baby Jordan” Miner), we started to see a backlash. Not just against the use of “Next Jordan,” but against the whole concept of comparing players in general. Now, if you say a guy is like someone else or the next version of a current star, you are likely to be ridiculed for using such antiquated methods of evaluation.
I’m not sure that is fair. Just because we are too liberal with our comparisons or we miss the mark too often, it doesn’t mean there isn’t value in trying to follow a blueprint. By identifying the most similar established player, you are giving yourself the chance to visualize, predict, and simulate how an unproven prospect might perform at the next level. How else are you supposed to do it?
I think the backlash against calling someone the “next so-and-so” has hindered our ability to project players. Had we employed the old ways, we would have seen that Marvin Williams was “The Next Tim Thomas” and that Chris Paul was “The Next Isiah Thomas.” Which Next Thomas would you rather have?
These days, scouts, GMs, and “experts” are so concerned with “length” and “upside” and “athleticism” that they are forgetting to hone in on whether or not a guy will be able to contribute in a defined role in the NBA. The best way to do that is to compare them to someone that is already doing it.
With that out of the way, here is how I would rate the top 10 prospects for the 2006 draft, based entirely on comparisons, offering the best and worst case comparisons and then drilling down on a prediction.
1. Tyrus Thomas. You are no doubt already hearing it. Despite the comparison taboo that hovers over the sports world like the curfew in Futuristic, Fascist London (V for Vendetta reference), people can’t help blurting out “He’s the next Amare Stoudemire!” when talking about LSU’s star freshman. You see a similar frame, similar skills at the same age (Stoudemire was 19 as a rookie, Thomas’ age now), the relentless athleticism, and the jarring agility. Then there are the dunks. Thomas throws down massive two-handed dunks off of lobs, crushes follow-up stuffs, and unleashes tomahawks off of the pick and roll. It’s all very Stoudemire-esque. Of course, Thomas is at least an inch shorter than Amare. On the other hand, he seems to have better instincts and desire on the defensive end, and is quite possibly the best collegiate shot blocker to play in this decade.
Best Case: The Next Amare, with better D and nearly the same scoring output.
Worst Case: The Next Stromile Swift, with better effort (which is still pretty good, considering the fact that Swift plus Effort might equal stud).
Prediction: He won’t score like Stoudemire, but 18-10-3 by his third season seems reasonable.
2. LaMarcus Aldridge. It is tough to keep Aldridge this high after he was pushed around in the LSU game, but if you go back and look at what really happened that night in Atlanta, you see that is was bad luck more than anything. Yes, Big Baby proved that Aldridge needs to add muscle, and yes, the Texas big man shrunk from the moment a little bit, but he still had 10 boards and 5 blocks and could have scored 16-20 points if a few turnarounds and jump hooks had found the net. Besides, the last time a skinny, young, skilled big man was considering making the leap to the pros, people were telling him he wasn’t strong enough either. I would say Chris Bosh is doing just fine.
Best Case: The Next Chris Bosh, a athletic big man who can rebound and score either on the block or from the foul line area.
Worst Case: The Next Raef LaFrentz, a fragile interior player that moves further and further away from the basket with each passing year until he’s just a 6’11″ dude launching threes.
Prediction: I am an Aldridge believer. I think he can put up Channing Frye numbers in his rookie year and that he will be somewhere around 19 and 9 by the all-important third year.
3. Joakim Noah. Before the 2006 tourney started, I gave the Noah the “Antonio McDyess Award” as the player most likely to go from a marginal lottery pick to a top five selection in the span of two weeks. For Noah, it is mission accomplished. The word on the street is that he’s going to stay in school, but I will believe that when I see it. Noah is a human pogo stick with limitless energy, a center that thinks and plays like a point guard, a leader, and a stat sheet stuffer extraordinaire.
Best Case: The Next (Poor Man’s) Kevin Garnett. His ability to score without any signature offensive moves is reminiscent of early KG, and I can’t remember any athletic 7-footers since Garnett that pass the ball this well. Plus, he plays with the same emotion that has made KG one of the most marketable stars in the NBA.
Worst Case: The Next Tyson Chandler, a guy that boards and hustles like crazy, but the faster NBA game leaves him just a split second behind on offense and more prone to foul trouble.
Prediction: Interestingly, both those comparisons are to power forwards, but I do think Noah will be a legit center. He will probably be somewhere in between KG and Chandler as a center that can log 30-35 minutes and put up something like 15/10/4/2/2 by his third year. Hey, I’d take that, and I’m sure there are more than a handful of NBA teams that would as well.
4. Andrea Bargnani. I’m not going to claim to know everything there is to know about this guy, but I saw a bootleg video floating around the Internet that showed Bargnani doing some pretty insane stuff. He appears to have deep range, the ability to take the ball off the dribble and finish, and a healthy dose of intensity. The comparisons are to Dirk, but that is an awful lot to ask. Then again, it is a lot to ask Thomas, Aldridge, and Noah to become the next Amare, Bosh, and KG, so whatever. We’re aiming high here.
Best Case: The Next Dirk.
Worst Case: The Next Vlad Radmonovich.
Prediction: I was going to put “The Next Skita” for worst case, but I don’t think that is even possible for this 7-foot talent from Italy. Bargani is either going to be a tall three-point gunner or an offensive powerhouse. I will put him somewhere in between, meaning that “Poor Man’s Dirk” is the best I can do.
5. Brandon Roy. Up until now, I haven’t made any drastic jumps from what your typical draft board might look like, but here I shake things up a bit. Based on looking for reasonable NBA comparisons, Roy simply seems like a better bet than guys like Gay, McRoberts, and Morrison. He is 6’5″, has shown that he can do everything there is to do on a basketball court and lead a team on a nice tourney run. He appears poised to be the next fabulous NBA two guard.
Best Case: The Next Paul Pierce. He’s not quite as big or as explosive as Pierce, but he reminds me a lot of the former Jayhawk at this stage of his career.
Worst Case: The Next Caron Butler. Again, he’s not as tall as Butler, but they are similar in terms of athleticism and skill sets.
Prediction: I am a huge Brandon Roy guy, so I think that 3-4 years in, he’s going to be closer to Pierce than Butler, but either way, he certainly won’t suck. He’s such a team player yet possesses that extra ingredient that stars always have. The funny thing about this comparison is that Pierce and Bulter both dropped to 10th in their respective drafts, but they have been among the best players in their class. I could see the same story playing out with Roy.
6. Randy Foye. Someone will go for a bigger body before they take Foye, but this guy should be a top five pick based on ability and potential impact in the NBA. He is a lot like Gilbert Arenas – a guy that played the two on a talented college team, but that has serious point guard skills. He won’t go in the second round like Gilbert and he may not average close to 30 a night like Arenas is doing this year, but there are enough similarities to take notice.
Best Case: The Next Arenas.
Worst Case: The Next (Improved Version Of) Flip Murray.
Prediction: I don’t think anybody in this draft has a bigger gap in how good or bad they could wind up being in the NBA. Foye plays defense, can create his own shot, and is a leader, but he will need to hit the NBA three and prove he can play the point in order to keep from being an undersized, microwave type shooting guard. I think he will be closer to Arenas than Murray, but its a thin line when you are this type of player.
7. Adam Morrison. He needs to lose the ‘stache and the crying before the game is over, but he should be a solid scorer in the NBA. He’s no Larry Bird, I can tell you that, but his ability to move without the ball, shoot in traffic, and get to the foul line should allow him to be a quality NBA player.
Best Case: The Next Rip Hamilton.
Worst Case: The Next Hedo Turkoglu
Prediction: Morrison obviously isn’t as fast as Hamilton, so the danger is real that he could be looking at “Next Hedo” status. He will probably end up being a more passionate version of Wally Szczerbiak.
8. Josh McRoberts. Another guy that I’m assuming will go out once the chips are down.
Best Case: The Next Boris Diaw. Bear with me on this one. McRoberts is a terrific passer and ball handler and I think he can be a triple-double threat by mismatching NBA big men with his ball handling skills. Six months ago, being the “Next Boris Diaw” would have got you second round consideration. Now? Teams would kill for that type of player, regardless of system.
Worst Case: The Next Troy Murphy. Some may prefer Murphy, and this is just proof that McRoberts is a very safe pick. I don’t think he is going to be an annual All-Star, but I can’t see him being a bust either. The same can’t be said for Duke teammate Sheldon Williams, who could be staring at being “The Next Etan Thomas.”
9. Al Horford. His dad, Tito, says that Horford is going back to school, but I’m putting him on here anyway, if for no other reason than to illustrate that he’s a better power forward prospect than Shelden Williams.
Best Case: The Next (Healthier) Carlos Boozer.
Worst Case: The Next Udonis Haslem.
Prediction: Horford is more athletic than either of these guys and he’s a better ball handler and passer as well, so he could be a more aesthetically pleasing player than Boozer or Haslem. However, I’m sure any team would take the 16 and 11 that a healthy Boozer provides every night and leave it at that. I think Horford can deliver it by his third or fourth year in the league.
10. Marcus Williams. This is a guy that can shoot, drive, pass, and perform in the clutch. And steal laptops. I’m not sure why he’s projected as a mid-first rounder since he has the size, experience, and the talent. The fact that he’s lefthanded makes him harder to compare, stylistically, but we can do it.
Best Case: Chauncey Billups. He’ll need to add strength, but other than being a little slower, Williams has some Billups qualities.
Worst Case: Delonte West. West is pretty good, so this shows that I think Williams is a pretty safe pick.
Prediction: I think by this third year, Williams will be one of the 10 best point guards in the NBA. In the right situation, he could throw up 15 points and 7 assists with steals and threes as early as next year.
The Next Bruce Bowen – Bobby Jones. (I would seriously consider drafting this guy in the first round. Does anyone realize how valuable Bowen is to the Spurs? Well, Jones is going to be Bowen 2.0.)
The Next Darius Miles – Rudy Gay (albeit with a better jump shot).
The Next Steve Kerr – J.J. Redick (with an even quicker release).
The Next Gerald Wallace – Julian Wright (in two years).
The Next Joe Johnson – Mo Ager (if he learns to dribble with his left hand).
The Next Ryan Gomes – Jeff Green (overlooked “tweener” who just knows how to play).
The Next Robert “Tractor” Traylor – Glen “Big Baby” Davis (goes without saying).