Continuing this week's series of positional analysis, I move on to the small forwards. This is an amazingly deep group of kids. Wilson Chandler, down at #10, is about as talented as the 3rd or 4th best point guard.
1) Kevin Durant - Texas - There's nothing I can say hear that you don't know already. Except for the fact that Durant might be underrated. As a big man, Oden has a chance to be a dynastic, Tim Duncan-like winner. Durant might not win a handful of championships, but he's probably even a bigger lock to be a consistent all-star.
2) Julian Wright - Kansas - I wan't to love Wright.. he's so long, runs so well, does so many things, plays with good intensity. But yet there's a good chance he never develops into anything more than a sixth man. Out of all the small forwards, Wright is perhaps the biggest risk/reward pick. Some team could get burnt taking him Top 10.. or some GM will look like a genius. Its hard to tell.
3) Al Thornton - Florida State - The biggest thing going against Thornton is his age. He's one of the oldest guys in the Draft along with Derrick Byars and Alando Tucker. One of the reasons that the small forward position looks so deep is because you have a lot of long-time, but older college players. The fact is though, that for all the talk about how kids should stay in college, its not like seniors have been dominating the NBA recently. (Perhaps the success of Brandon Roy will change some opinions on this though). Besides age, Thornton's biggest problem is that he's really a power forward in disguise. He dominated at times last year, but did it in large part because of his great physical strength and maturity. These attributes will be evened out in the pros. You have to respect the fact though that he improved every year in college, turning from being a good body into a guy who can hit free throws, jumpers, and ocassionaly take over games.
4) Thaddeus Young - Georgia Tech - Its true Young should go back to school. His freshman year was nice (14 and 5 per game), but he never really played up to the high expectations others put on him (or that he put on himself). Still, he probably has more upside than any small forward prospect outside of Durant. Compared to a guy like Jeff Green below, Young is a much bigger risk, but he also has star potential. To be honest, if your team looks ready to contend this year, take Green or Tucker.. but if you're a forward-looking GM, the smart bet is to take a chance on Young.
5) Jeff Green - Georgetown - Some people see Green as a legitimate top 5 pick. I'm not buying it. Throughout his college career, Green gives you moments where he looks like an NBA player. He'll also give you long stretches where he doesn't do much. Statistically, he never improved in 3 years.. which isn't such a bad thing because his freshman year was so good. Still, I don't ever see Green becoming that much better than he is now. Green is a pro lock.. but a lock to be a complimentary role player. Every team needs good role players, but with a Top 10 pick, don't you at least want to take a chance on drafting a star? Green is no star, which is why I'd probably let him fall more than he will.
6) Alando Tucker - Wisconsin - There's a big drop between Green and Tucker. In fact, the final five guys on this list are all very similar. They all seem destined to be bench players. The problem with Tucker, as noted above, is that he's already 23.. and basically has the body of a small forward. He doesn't have three-point range, can't hit free throws, and though he's a good athlete, his physicality isn't that amazing compared to the other SF prospects. I could easily see Marcus Williams or Wilson Chandler having better careers, but Tucker is more of a lock to come in and contribute right away. Still, he's barely a 1st round talent.
7) Marcus Williams - Arizona - The Wildcats had a pretty mediocre season, and Williams was a big reason why. He always seems to put up numbers, but he never seems to take over games. He's a good athlete, but so is everyone else, so there's nothing to get too excited about in that respect. He's not the strongest guy, so it would be very helpful if he could play the two-guard in the NBA. But he's not the best shooter, and he's not the type of guy you really want with the ball in his hands down the stretch. I see a guy like Antoine Wright barely getting 15 minutes a game for the Nets. What can Williams do that Wright cant? Nothing, which is why Williams seems destined to be an 8th man off the bench.
8) Derrick Byars - Vanderbilt - No player benefitted more from his team's success than Byars. If Vandy had their usual mediocre season, than I can guarantee no one would be considering Byars as a Top 20 pick. To me, he's more of an early second round talent. Even though I have him listed as an SF, he could easily have been on the shooting guard list. In fact, his best bet of sticking as a pro is by using his good, strong body, to lock down shooting guards on defense, and develop his shot enough to be trusted on the perimeter. Still, Byars will never be an NBA starter, and will more likely make it as a deep bench player.
9) Jared Dudley - Boston College - Its funny, no one likes Dudley. He just doesn't have that NBA body and high-flying game that NBA GM's love. But the guy is rock solid. Every year, he puts up numbers, and every year he helps his teams win. Even though he's a senior, he's also well over a year younger than guys like Byars and Tucker. In fact, you have to consider him an older sophomore going by age. Its true, he was really a power forward-type player in college. But no one on this list will outwork Dudley. Considering the fact that guys like Byars and Williams are also future bench players, there's no reason not to put Dudley in this mix as well. Teams will be blinded by those guys better perimeter abilities, but off the bench, you often just need strong, effort guys to come in and mix it up. Dudley could be one of the Draft's surprise performers.
10) Wilson Chandler - DePaul - Chandler reminds me of Brandon Rush in some ways. A kid who I thought would be a stud coming out of high school, but who often times seems to defer to his teammates. Whenever I watched DePaul I'd think, why doesn't this kid shoot the ball twice as much. Its true his perimeter shot is lacking, but he has the tools to get more consistent from outside. Its when Chandler gets into the lane, around the basket, where he really excels though. The problem is that he just didn't get there often enough. Chandler has enough upside to be the 4th or 5th best SF, but he's also by far the least sure thing.
Summary: Durant is a stud. Two of Wright, Young, and Thornton will be consistent starters. Green is a lock to be fringe starter, 6th man type player. The other 5 guys on the list are career reserves at best.