Friday, May 20, 2011

The 2011 NBA Draft: The Year of The Role Player

By Charlie Scaturro

Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America
One of the first things that most people have been quick to point out about the 2011 NBA Draft is that it's not the most talented collection of players anyone has ever seen.

You could blame this relative lack of superstars on the surprising number of top tier prospects who decided to stay in school or you could simply chalk it up to the luck of the draw, either way, it's hard to deny what most experts have been saying about this class for some time.
And while there have certainly been some less than flattering assertions made about this class as a whole, I think it makes more sense to look at the 2011 NBA Draft for what it is, rather than focus on what it isn't.
To borrow a baseball analogy, if you're looking for home run hitters in this year's class you're probably going to be disappointed, but there are plenty of guys who can hit singles and doubles.

With the exception of Kyrie Irving and possibly Derrick Williams, who figure to be the top two picks in the draft, it's hard to decipher who the potential stars of this class might be, if they exist at all.  At the same time, there seems to be a lot of role players available who should be able to make a difference for whichever team drafts them.   

Call it turning lemons into lemonade if you like and maybe I'm a little biased about a lot of these guys because I enjoyed watching them excel in college, but when I look at the 2011 draft class as a whole, I see a lot of guys who can help NBA teams in one way or another.  They're not going to be superstars who change franchises but they also won't enter the league with a ton of hype or attempt to do too much in an effort to become something they're not.
Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America
Take someone like Tyrus Thomas for example, a guy who came into the NBA thinking that he was going to score 30 points per game rather than working on becoming the elite defender and rebounder which his size and amazing athleticism would have allowed him to be.  As we all know, Thomas hasn't matured into the player many thought he would become when he was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2006 draft and his mindset certainly had something to do with it.

Most teams, front offices, and coaches won't be looking for the moon and the stars from the majority of the 2011 draftees and they will instead turn their attention to developing them to fit specific roles on their respective teams.

This thinking could be very beneficial for the players of this less-than-stellar draft class and it's also a perfect fit for the way in which the NBA is evolving.  We've already seen plenty of role players make an impact in the 2011 playoffs and guys like J.J. Barea, Taj Gibson, Nick Collison, James Harden, and Udonis Haslem (just to name a few) have all played important secondary roles in helping their teams succeed in the postseason thus far. 

The trend of the superstar team is here to stay, which makes these secondary players even more valuable now that NBA franchises will be looking for that lock down defender or automatic three-point shooter to play alongside the LeBron's, Derrick Rose's, and Kevin Durant's of the world.

Let's take a quick look at the some of the players from the 2011 draft who have the ability to become serviceable players in the NBA.

Kemba Walker: He's not a complete point guard but we know he's got the toughness, athleticism, and scoring ability to contribute.

Marcus Morris:
There is room in the NBA for a player who is 6'9'' and as skilled as Marcus Morris.

Kawhi Leonard:
A great athlete with the necessary size and length to rebound, defend, and slash in the NBA.

Tobias Harris:
Any time you're drawing comparisons to Shane Battier, there's a spot for you on most teams in some capacity.

Klay Thompson:
His inconsistency in college was worrisome, but he's got the size and scoring ability to make a difference.

Kenneth Faried:
An elite defender and rebounder who has a motor that doesn't stop?  Why wouldn't a team want him.

Jordan Hamilton:
He's not a complete player but when you can score the way Hamilton does, you will catch on somewhere.
Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America
Chris Singleton: Great size, athleticism, and an elite defender who can guard multiple positions.  Singleton will have value in the NBA.

Jimmer Fredette:
He may not play any defense but he's a great shooter with plenty of range.  Pair him next to an elite penetrator or a big man who draws consistent double teams and he could succeed.

Tyler Honeycutt:
A lot of questions surrounding his inconsistency, but he's got the size and versatility that can work in the NBA.

Justin Harper:
When you're 6'10'' and can operate on the outside like Harper does, you should at least have a chance to make a difference.

Nolan Smith:
A gritty, tough, experienced, and skilled guard who won't be outworked.

Charles Jenkins:
He didn't play at a major program or get much hype but he's been turning some heads at the draft combine.

JaJuan Johnson:
He will get pushed around under the basket, but his shooting ability makes him tough to defend in pick and rolls and he can block shots.

Isaiah Thomas:
He's at a disadvantage because of his size but we've seen guys like Earl Boykins and more recently, J.J. Barea be productive.

Maybe some of these players will develop into more than role players at the NBA level and there's little doubt that some of them won't amount to much of anything.  There are also other guys in this year's draft class that I could have mentioned as well, but the point is that there is value in the 2011 NBA Draft even if it might not be the kind of value that NBA organizations would prefer to see.

The term "role player" definitely isn't the highest compliment you can pay to a prospect and it's generally used to describe a guy who doesn't have a very high ceiling.  These solid but unspectacular players who only excel in a specific area of the game won't get anyone terribly excited or garner much praise from the average fan.  But we've seen over the years that in order for any team to be successful they're going to need contributions from players other than their superstars.

In a few years the 2011 NBA Draft could very well be known as the year of the role player, and there's nothing wrong with that.

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