by Dan Kelly
As I begin this column we are only days away from the 2012 NBA draft.
97 days, 6 hours, 49 minutes, and 20 seconds to be exact. But who’s counting? (besides Bobcats fans.)
It’s the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, and while all eyes are fixed on articles about Kendall Marshall’s wrist and Snooki’s pregnancy, I am getting sneakily excited about an entirely different tournament.
That’s right, the NIT still exists. It’s coming to MSG this Tuesday and I, for one, will be there. To me there are exactly three reasons why you should be there too: Terrence Ross, Tony Wroten, and $1 beers!
The one-dollar beers are fantasy (it’s actually $9 beer night). But Ross and Wroten are for real. I realize that the Brooklyn Nets are way more than a draft away from immediate relevancy (they are probably Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, and one draft away from immediate relevancy.) But everyone has to start somewhere, and assuming the Nets weren’t serious about starting with Gerald Wallace, they will start with the 16th pick in the 2012 draft. Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten are both players who will be available in that area of the draft and will warrant serious consideration in the Nets war room.
Let’s start with Ross. The 6’6’’, 21 year old, sophomore is a silky-smooth perimeter scorer. He was the former high school teammate of Kentucky’s Terrence Jones and it was Ross (not Jones) who was the Oregon state player of the year during their sophomore run to the state title. Ross ran into some transfer eligibility issues, didn’t play his senior year, and arrived at University of Washington way under the radar. As a freshman he showed flashes of brilliance, including his 19 point performance off the bench against North Carolina in last years NCAA tournament. That game, and his summer at the Lebron Skills Camp, earned him a top ten slot in most mock drafts coming into this year. He’s averaging just over 16 points and 6 rebounds a game this year as the small forward on the 24-10 Washington Huskies and his draft stock has seen a slight dip.
His strength is as a shooter. At 6’6’’ with a high release he has nice size for an NBA two guard. He makes threes coming off screens, in transition, and off the dribble. His midrange game is solid now and it’s easy to see it getting better in the NBA. His primary move is a right to left cross over dribble to a pull-up jump shot. It’s hard to defend even when everybody in the gym knows its coming. He also possesses elite level athleticism. He goes up high above the rim for rebounds on both ends and seems to throw down a few alley-oops (usually on passes from Wroten) every game:
If he gets a smaller defender he will go straight to the post and score at will with a number of instinctual type post moves. My favorite thing about Ross’s game, and the thing that makes him unique, is his tough-shot ability. He is one of those guys who isn’t bothered by good defense (think Joe Johnson). He will do his move and get his shot off whether you stay with him or not. And around the basket he can hang in the air, contort his body, and put the perfect amount of english on the ball.
His greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. He relies on his jumper and too often settles for long contested jump shots. That isn’t to say that he won’t make a lot of those shots, because he will. It’s just that with all that bounce and athleticism he should spend more time in the paint (and at the free throw line). Part of the reason he doesn’t get to the hoop more is his average ball handling. He has a perfectly serviceable handle but he doesn’t look confident in it, especially in traffic.
Does Ross remind me a little of MarShon Brooks? Yes, I guess he does. A bigger, more athletic, less savvy Marshon Brooks. But he reminds me a lot more of Paul George and that’s a good thing. He gets compared to Dorrell Wright and Wes Johnson but I think those comparisons sell him short. In the NIT Ross appears to have made a choice to take over. He is a humble guy and all season he has made a choice to let the game come to him and to not force the action (probably to a fault). In the NIT he is averaging over 26 points per game and has been impressively aggressive. Remember he missed his senior year of high school, didn’t play a ton of minutes as a freshman, and is playing his best basketball at the end of the year. I think his stock is going up and that we don’t actually know how high his ceiling is. He isn’t at a position of obvious need for the present version of the Nets. But, depending on their off season moves, he might become the right guy.
Tony Wroten had probably the most catalogued high school career of any West Coast basketball player ever. He was ranked the #1 player in his class for a number of years before he suffered an ACL tear and Anthony Davis grew 11 feet over night. Tony is very comfortable with the media and the fanfare that comes with major college basketball. In short, he already carries himself like a pro…most of the time. Tony also suffers from an overabundance of confidence that sometimes results in embarrassing turnovers and horrible shots. In other words, he has a lot of swag. In fact, his swag has swag. He is 18 years old and has been talking about the NBA for 5 years now. There is only one problem: He can’t shoot! He will likely enter the draft after this season without having made 20 outside jump shots. This is really amazing to me. What is more amazing is that he’s going to get away with it. Tony is one of those rare talents who rolls out of bed in the morning and averages 17 points 4 assists and 4 rebounds. Ten years ago he would have stayed in school for three or four years, developed a serviceable shot to go with his passing and uncanny ability to drive by people. He would become a legit top 5 pick and would go on to a successful 12-15 year career with a few All-Star games and maybe even a ring. But today basketball is different and Tony will most likely test the waters, sit on a bench, get rich, not develop, and end up leading Tel Aviv to some kind of trophy in 10 years.
Tony Wroten is a 6’5’’ lefty point guard. And when I say lefty I mean LEFTY. The man does not go right. He has three, maybe four NBA skills: His ability to get to the basket, his vision, his rebounding, and his on ball defense. Actually I think he has a fifth NBA skill which is called swag:
When the shot clock is low and he makes a decision to get to the rim he doesn’t think anybody can stop him. The way that he gets to the rim is the most satisfying thing to me. He does not venture to drive around his defender. He goes right at them and drives through them. This is how he averaged 7.8 free throw attempts per game as a point guard. His vision is Rondo-esque. I don’t mean to say that he is as good a passer as Rondo. But he makes one or two passes every game that make you think: Never in a million years would I have thought to make that pass. Which is exactly what Rondo does. They see the game on a different level. The trouble for Wroten is that he is usually throwing these savant like passes to a seven foot soccer player from Senegal named Aziz N’Diaye. And when he isn’t throwing them to Aziz he is throwing them to buttoned down Microsoft guys in the third row. In basketball verbiage ‘he has a tendency to try to do too much.’ Which is a gentle way of saying that he makes unfathomably moronic decisions. His offensive rebounding is nothing short of amazing. If he misses a shot around the rim he almost always gets his own rebound. I can’t imagine that this skill will translate to the NBA but for some reason I wouldn’t be surprised. His fourth strength, as an on ball defender, is debatable. Against lesser players he can make life miserable. With his long reach and instinctual anticipation he can be a terror on the ball or in the passing lane. But he takes plays off and he takes too many chances that result in baskets for the bad guys.
His kryptonite is his inability to shoot. College defenses left him alone at the three point line and tried to force him right. He drove around them anyways, always to the left. In the NBA life will not be so easy and Tony will have to develop a shot. What’s confusing and encouraging is that his mechanics aren’t horrible. They are inconsistent and he appears not to believe in them. But I don’t see any reason why NBA coaching, the extra NBA practice time, and Necessity (the mother of all invention) shouldn’t turn him into an okay shooter.
I have seen him compared to Tyreke Evans which makes sense because they were both awkward shooters in college and they are both bulls going to the hoop. I want to call him Rondo but Wroten does not have Rondo’s alien-like length and brooding brilliance. I think he has a little John Wall in him with his ability to get to the rim and finish. He has some Gary Payton in him with his toughness and his post game. Collectively he is a totally unique player. And he’s one of those players who makes the game 1000 times more exciting. You never know what he might do: dunk on somebody, throw an alleyoop off the backboard or pull up for a contested 25 foot three super early in the shot clock.
Deron Williams, by all accounts, is as good as gone. Tony Wroten is not the answer at point guard for the Nets next year. But he could be part of the answer. Or a future answer. Whatever the case may be he is certainly worthy of consideration and is even more worthy of convincing you to spend $20 to rent a seat at the Garden this Tuesday ($29 including the beer.)
YOUR TURN! ARE NBA PROSPECTS ENOUGH TO MAKE YOU TUNE IN TO THE NIT? SHOULD THE NETS AND KNICKS HAVE THESE GUYS ON THEIR RADARS AS THE DRAFT APPROACHES?