NBA Draft 2011: Combo Forwards

These are players who don’t easily fit into either the SF or PF groups. They have skills and weaknesses of both. I rank them separately, because the position they eventually end up playing in the NBA will be determined by what team drafts them, which skills they work on and other factors that are too difficult to predict right now.

This year we also have two of the best forwards and players available who fit into this category in Derrick Williams and Marcus Morris, making it one of the few intriguing groups in what is certainly going to go down as one of the weakest drafts ever.

Williams and Morris both finished with a statistical trifecta of over .600 on 2-point FGs, over 20 P40 and over 10 R40. Here’s a list of players who were also considered tweener forwards coming out of college who also topped .600, 20 and 10.

Player 2 Pt. Pct P40 R40 A/TO ASB40
Danny Manning .619 27.5 11.0 0.6 4.9
Keith Van Horn .628 27.9 11.3 0.6 3.8
Rodney Rogers .648 25.2 10.5 1.2 6.2
Ryan Bowen .607 21.0 12.7 1.1 7.9
Stanley Brundy .649 24.4 12.8 0.6 5.8
Spencer Nelson .609 22.3 11.0 1.9 8.9
Jess Settles .609 22.5 11.0 0.7 5.7
Derrick Williams .601 26.0 11.0 0.4 3.7
Marcus Morris .620 23.2 10.3 0.9 4.2

This isn’t a wildly impressive group. Manning was a very good player. Van Horn and Rogers both had some moments. Bowen hung around the league for a long time. Brundy had a nice career overseas. Nelson’s season came when he was older than most other players. Settles saw his career go downhill after this, his freshman year.

This table doesn’t bode well for either player. Not only are their college careers comparable to what is basically a below-average group of players, but their ASB40 numbers are also very much on the low side. And they’re the top of the heap in this group. Players are listed in order of preference, that being which one I would prefer to draft all other things being equal.

Marcus Morris, Kansas: I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of Marcus Morris, but I do like him better than the more highly-touted Williams. While both look like they’ll be overmatched as PFs, I can see Morris as a NBA SF, even a pretty effective one should things break right for him. I can’t say the same about Williams. In Morris I see a SF who is a pretty decent scorer, but is also a little soft on defense. On the right team he could even become a decent starter. He could also play some PF in a smaller lineup without hurting the team too much.

Derrick Williams, Arizona: Terrific offensive season. The most amazing stat was that he hit 57% on 74 3-point attempts. Guards don’t even shoot this well. There are just a few players who top 50% every year. Derrick Williams was simply the best 3-point shooter in the nation last year. He fell just short of qualifying for the record, I’m guessing because a player needs to have at least 2 attempts per game to qualify. This isn’t a bad skill to have at all, but it doesn’t tell me he can play either forward position.

The problem with Williams is I’m not sure where he’ll fit. As a PF his defense is very weak, with a 2.2 combined steals and blocks per 40 minutes. His .600 on 2-pointers is good, but the best PFs have been well over that, so it isn’t like he translates to becoming a dominant inside scorer. The same could be said about his rebounding: decent, but hardly dominating. That he’s smallish for a PF isn’t going to help either. As a SF, he has that low ASB40 and has never shown much of an inclination to pass the ball. Those are two very bad signs for long-term NBA success. He just isn’t a good fit at either forward position. That makes him a role player at best and a real reach in the top five of any draft, even one as weak as this.

Chris Singleton, Florida State: I really love his defense, but he has shown very little on offense for three consecutive seasons now. The good thing he did this year is knock down the 3-pointer at a .368 clip. With this in his arsenal one could imagine him in something of a Robert Horry-type of role. That’s a player who is on the court for his defense, but is enough of a threat from the outside that he commands some attention on offense. The problem with that career scenario is typically players like Horry were much better and more efficient scorers in college than Singleton has been.

Trey Thompkins, Georgia: A player who might be something of a bargain late in round one as he’s coming off a down season. He has good size and put up nice defensive numbers for a PF this year. That said, as a rebounder and inside scorer he has never shown he has what it takes to be an NBA PF. What he does have is PF size, decent defensive skills and an OK outside shot. That combination of skills gives him a chance as a stretch the defense PF.

Kahwi Leonard, San Diego State: Leonard looks nothing like a top prospect to me at either forward position. His only real skill is that he’s an excellent rebounder, pulling in 13 per 40 minutes. The downside of his resume is he hit less than 50% of 2-pointers and less than 30% of 3-pointers. He’s also a poor shotblocker, despite a 7’3”wingspan. Since he can pass the ball better than most forwards and will only turn 20 a week after the draft, I can see where some might look at him and envision his upside being a poor man’s Scottie Pippen. But he’s a long way from becoming that or any kind of useful NBA player. Such long-term projections rarely pay off.

Matt Howard, Butler: He came back with a decent senior season. He might make it as a stretch the defense PF, having hit .398 from behind the arc this year. More likely his substandard rebounding and weak defense will hold him back.

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