Friday, August 28, 2009

Just a Minute with Aran Smith of

When it comes to the NBA Draft and projecting who goes where, no one does it better than Aran Smith of Smith is one of the pioneers in Internet based basketball coverage. He started in 2000 and has grown his site into a global sensation. Full disclaimer: I worked for Smith (pictured above with Dwight Howard in China) for two years on the site before joining the network.

Why is everyone so excited about Enes Kanter? And why is everyone making it such a big deal about his arrival to the American prep scene? Is he as good as advertised?

“He’s really advanced for a player his age. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that is age is not legit but I think it’s good. If that’s the case, he’s only 17. Regardless, he’s really advanced for a guy his age. He put up crazy stats in the European under 18s and he’s been doing that for a couple of years now. He’s really long. He’s really skilled. He has a high motor. He knows how to score and he knows how to play. It was surprising that he came over to the U.S. to play to play high school and likely college ball. He’s basically passing up getting paid good money for the next three years in a top European league. It’s surprising that he’s putting himself in a position where he could get exposed against more athletic players on U.S. soil. There is the thought that some would say, ‘Why not stay in Europe, stay away from that kind of exposure and get paid?’ I actually like the move. It’s smart. I think it makes the level of competition rise up a little. I think the Europeans that come over actually develop their skills better because they are playing against the best in the world. He’ll have good competition in practice and Findlay plays a good schedule. He’s a really skilled. I anticipate him getting to college and making an impact right away. He’s not particularly athletic or quick by NBA standards. He’s more of a finesse guy. He’s more in the mold of Mehmet Okur, a skilled big guy that can shoot. That’s how I see him. I think in this really weak high school class, I think he’s a top five, top ten level guy.”

Do you think we’ll see more of this – Europeans coming to the United States? We’ve seen Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Tyler leave the U.S. and go to Europe but will we see more Europeans come here?

“I think so. I really do. You’ll always have some guys that struggle to get eligible. I think that is a flaw with the whole system. You see that now with Derrick Rose at Memphis. He wasn’t able to pass the SAT. Him going to school and playing that year was the best thing for him so you can argue that someone cheating and possibly taking that test was the best thing for Derrick Rose. It’s set up in the system that we live in for a player of Derrick Rose’s caliber that can’t pass the SAT his options are go over to Europe, cheat or sit out a year. It’s unfortunate in some ways with the system and the way it is set up. It forces a lot of shady stuff to go on…I think every year we’ll see a couple of players going over there. I don’t think it will get out of control but I also think it will continue with guys that are looking to get paid when they can’t get eligible. I just think there are some road blocks. Jeremy Tyler is only making about 150 thousand. That’s substantially less than what Brandon Jennings made. I think for the most part, European teams, unless it is a guy that can fill some seats which Jennings didn’t do, what does that player bring to the team? Jennings, as great as he is, he didn’t really bring that much to the table for the Italian team he played for. It’s just difficult for a player of that age to go to Europe and be that key player. On that level, European teams aren’t going to be paying for a kid to come over.”

Does anyone get you excited in the class of 2010 if you are a NBA team?

“I really like Harrison Barnes. He can basically go wherever he wants. He has a good head on his shoulders. I think he still has a lot of upside that he can develop and I think he’s a really smart player. You don’t really see a lot of guys at his age to have that cerebral of a game that he has. He has an unselfish game and he’s all about getting everyone else better. He makes all of the right plays. I think he is a guy that has a real chance to be a real nice NBA player. I think you can say right now that he’s a sure fire pro guy.

“Next, I think Perry Jones is the other guy that has a lot of upside in the class. He may have the most upside. He has a lot further to go. He has to develop his killer instinct and develop his skills a lot further. But his length, athleticism, quickness and raw potential, he’s a really intriguing prospect as well.

“I think that class has two players that can develop into superstar type of guys. There are a number of guys that are further away and have a nice upside to them.”

Here we are in 2010 and we have just two sure fire guys. Two, three, four years ago, that wasn’t the case. We were looking at a dozen sure fire guys. What happened? Did we just go through a run of just incredible players at the high school level?

“I think the class of 2007 was amazing. You look at all of the title game of the Reebok even in Vegas and you have Eric Gordon, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Renardo Sidney, Brandon Jennings and so many guys. That’s ridiculous. You just don’t see that anymore to have that many sure fire pros in one game. It’s just not going to happen. It is sort of an anomaly. Then you look at this year there really isn’t much depth. Once you get to 10, it’ is an incredibly weak class. After I left the Pangos (All-American camp in June) camp and I saw Harrison Barnes, I kept asking myself if he was really the only sure fire pro in this class. You can’t expect a great class every year. This current senior class is just very weak.”

Have you had a chance to dive into the underclassmen very much, particularly the class of 2011?

“I have a little bit. I think you have a lot of maybes there as well. There is nobody really standing out at the top. Michael Gilchrist has a lot of upside but he still has a long ways to go. You can’t really say anyone in that class is really a sure fire NBA superstar yet. It’s more like a class of guys with potential that have a lot of work to do. I like the class and it has more upside than the 2010 class. But there aren’t any sure fire bets. I like Rakeem Christmas a little bit. I like Gilchrist a little bit. I like Austin Rivers a little bit. But they have work to do. I think Harrison Barnes has developed into that. I think he’s put in the work to say that he’s a sure fire guy no matter what. With 2011, you just have to wait and see.”

Allow me to theorize here for a bit. Are we seeing a dumbing down of the high ceiling theory of prospects now that kids have to go to college for at least a year now? You look at a guy like Gerald Green. Was his upside considered higher because he was coming out of high school? But in today’s game where he has to go to college for at least one year, is he viewed differently as a prospect? Are players being viewed differently because they have to go to college for one year?

“That’s interesting. I think that players have a little bit longer to develop and the hype isn’t as big as it used to be because there is no pressure about being a preps to pros guy. I think maybe the excitement about the guys that would go straight to the pros, you may not see that hype around them as much anymore, sure. All the pro teams needed to know more about the high school guys much more back in the day when guys like LeBron James were coming up. I think now that they have a year to watch in college, you have that urgency is lessened to a degree. I don’t think the players aren’t trying as hard. There could be something to that though. These players aren’t playing for a contract in high school the way they once were. When guys like Tyson Chandler were in high school, they were essentially in a contract year as a senior in high school. I think that is one of the positives of the rule. Kids can now have a full high school experience. The one and done kids have positives and negatives to it. But the positives include spending one year, at least, in college.”

What is your take on the one year minimum in college rule?

“I kind of like the rule the way it is now. I know a lot of people feel like the rule needs to be two years. Some think the rule doesn’t need to exist. I was always of the opinion that if guys can serve our country at 18, they should be able to play basketball or whatever sport they want for a living. Then again, the NBA is a private league and you are better off having kids that can come in and contribute in games than you are having that kid filling a roster spot and learning on the fly as a practice dummy that is taking a veteran’s pay check. The NBA scouts have a little easier job now. There are no Ndudi Ebis anymore and come out of high school and are getting taken over Josh Howard. They are still projects after one year of college but at least they have that one year of college to get them better and figure them out. NBA teams are making better decisions and that is what needed to happen. It’s better for the league. But then you do have that drawback like I mentioned earlier with guys that are forced to go to college like Derrick Rose. It does create a strange environment for the colleges where you have kids there now that were forced to be there. I tend to think that the rule is a good one. You only have a few guys where the rule really affects them. For a lot of kids that think they are a one and done type of player, they get to college and realize that they have work to do.”

You seemed to be way ahead of the curve on spending resources and identifying international talent. It seems like the last couple of years that teams have scaled back on picking players from the international scene. What is your view where the international kids are being viewed at by the NBA guys right now and what made you have the foresight back in 2000 to really uncover the international prospect base?

“International scouting has been huge for our site. Of course, you may not have a Dirk Nowitzki out there anymore but you do have guys that come in and are big factors with teams every year. Basketball has become global and every team has an international player that is a factor. Tony Parker, Manu Ginoboli, Andreas Bargnani, the list goes on. I think to some degree that there was a big push for teams to go after foreign guys after Dirk. And a lot of players were overrated and overvalued like Darko Milicic. I think the real importance is being able to see both sides. You have a lot of scouts that just see the international players. If you can see both sides and compare and contrast you can say, ‘How will this guy fit into the NBA and how will he fit into this draft?’ A good example is Nic Batum. He falls to the 24th pick and then you have Danilo Gallinari going at six. It’s pretty clear that Batum should have gone that high and Gallinari, with all of his injury concerns, should have slipped into the later part of the first round. Getting over and seeing these guys and getting as much exposure as possible with them and talking to them is all part of getting a better grasp of what kind of player they can be at the NBA level. It’s tricky. The real challenge is plugging the players into the NBA after being so indoctrinated with the European style of play. It’s a matter of being able to figure out the jigsaw puzzle.”

Who are the five guys that are at the top of your board as we enter the college basketball season?

“John Wall is not a sure fire first overall pick by any stretch of the imagination but I think at this point he is the odds on favorite because of what he brings to the table – his dynamic athleticism, his quickness, his ability to become a better point guard. If you look at the success Derrick Rose had in that system and the similarity with their two games only helps Wall. I think when you look at the returning NCAA guys, there are a lot of guys that have some intrigue.

“I really like Ed Davis. I’d like to see how his body has developed over the summer. I think playing behind Tyler Hansbrough and Deon Thompson last year was good for him. Davis was just an energy guy and wasn’t really asked to do too much. Having seen him in high school, I think he has a lot of offensive skill that people don’t know about yet. I think he has a real chance to break out offensively and score 18 to 20 points a game. I could be wrong. Maybe he isn’t there yet. Maybe he needs more time. I really anticipate a big year from him. His defense, his athleticism, his length and his potential makes him a guy that could be the number one pick as well.

“You look at guys like Derrick Favors, who has a ton of length and athleticism, is another guy that you’d have to look at for the number one pick. I think he is further away than the other two. His offensive game needs some work. We’ll see what happens when the season comes along.

“Cole Aldrich is another guy that you’ll have to watch. Then there is a guy from Lithuania that people are going to need to watch named Donatas Motiejunas. I really like him, too. He has a nice combination of offensive game, size and agility and quickness. Those are the guys you’ll want to watch for the top five. And there will certainly be some guys that creep up and blow up that have big years.”

Speaking of guys that can blow up, who are some of those guys that you feel like you beat the curve on. Looking back, who are some of the guys that you feel like you beat everyone to the punch?

“Every year man! (laughing) We were on top of Derrick Rose way back when. We were in Vegas and a lot of the competition was there, too, and a lot of people had him around seven or eight. We had Rose and Michael Beasley right there at one and two. That’s where they ended up going and we had that two years before they were drafted. Nobody really knew about Nene and we put him into the top ten after seeing him in international competition. A year and a half before Blake Griffin was the number one pick, I can remember some of the draft experts had him in the 30-40 range on their big board. In the first year I did this in 2000, Kenyon Martin sustained his leg injury and was out the whole season and we had him number one even after that. People dropped him but we stuck with him. Let’s see, who else? Russell Westbrook. Not too many people saw him as a high level pick and we put him up there really high. We had Yao Ming number one all along. There were a lot of coaches and scouts that raved about him and we went on their good word. A lot of people wondered aloud about how good a Chinese player could be in the NBA. We saw him, we liked him and we were blown away. I thought he was the real deal.”

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