This season's NBA draft seems to follow a recent trend, one where superstar talent is largely absent. However this lack of depth will do nothing but help the Pac-10 draft class, which appears to contain just one sure-fire top pick. In fact, the lack of depth may have even persuaded some Pac-10 underclassmen to declare early rather than stay in school.
Derrick Williams is hands-down the headliner of the 2011 Pac-10 draft class, but expect to see at least one or two other names called in the first round, leaving a handful of sleepers to be snatched up in round 2.
Derrick Williams, Arizona
Derrick Williams is the cream of this year's Pac-10 draft class and for good reason. Williams is easily the most NBA-ready player in the Pac-10 and possibly the country. Offensively, he's a very strong post player, showing an innate ability to score with his back to the basket as well as in his face-up game. In the post, Williams uses his superior foot speed and quickness to get by defenders and then his good upper body strength to score in traffic. Somewhat unexpectedly, in his sophomore year Williams showcased a smooth shooting stroke from the perimeter, knocking down 57 percent of his threes.
When speaking of Williams the proof lies in the numbers. Not only was his offensive rating (ORtg) tops in the Pac-10, he ranked second nationally (with a minimum of 28 percent of possessions used). He also placed sixth nationally in effective FG percentage, fourth in True Shot percentage, and sixth in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. All impressive numbers showing what this kid it capable of.
On the down side, Williams is undersized for his position, which may cause trouble on D and on the defensive boards. True, his rebounding was respectable last year, but the Pac-10 was not known for its size. Williams will need to make sure he continues to improve fundamentally if he wants to guarantee success against bigger and more athletic opponents.
Klay Thompson, Washington State
Thompson has been on the NBA radar for a few seasons now. The 6-6 guard averaged 22 points, 4.5 rebounds, and four assists per games in his junior campaign. Thomspon's greatest at the next level may be his ability to score from anywhere on the court. Though he often relied on his outside jumper, (taking 45 percent of his shots from beyond the arc), Thompson also showed an ability to create off the dribble and finish in the lane.
On the other hand I worry that Thompson lacks the athleticism required to sustain the kind of production we saw from him at Washington State. While he has good size for the guard position, he lacks the top-tier athleticism that so many NBA players possess. I'm also concerned about his high turnover numbers at the college level; he must learn to take better care of the ball if he wants to see minutes in the NBA.
Overall, consider me a believer in Thompson's stock in the NBA draft, as teams love guys that can score. I see Thompson going late in the first round.
Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA
If there is one thing NBA teams love on draft day it's upside potential, something Tyler Honeycutt has lots of. Offensively, he struggled to find consistency this year, as evidenced by his relatively poor ORtg. But he did show flashes of an extremely talented, versatile player. He has a very smooth, good looking shot, he distributes well, and was successful scoring inside and out at various times. Honeycutt's biggest asset is his size (6-8) and length. He uses his size very well on defense, allowing him to cover a variety of players. Honeycutt also comes from a UCLA system that's known for its defensive intensity. I see Honeycutt going in the mid- to late-first round.
Nikola Vucevic, USC
Vucevic is the only Pac-10 draftee to average a double-double last season, yet because the draft class is thought of as "Derrick Wiliams and others" he is often overlooked. Vucevic has a good set of offensive skills that will translate well to the NBA. To go along with a solid set of low post moves he has vastly improved his mid-range and perimeter game, shooting 35 percent from outside last season. With more and more NBA teams utilizing the high ball screen, Vucevic's ability to score from the perimeter will make him a great pick-and-pop threat. He also rebounded well all year, and was an effective shot blocker. Vucevic isn't the most athletic of specimens, and has never been know as a power post player, which may lead to issues defending bigger, stronger guys. But overall I like the skills Vucevic brings. A late first round selection may be optimistic, but don't expect Vucevic to be available after the early second.
Isaiah Thomas, Washington
Thomas leaves school as the sixth-ranked all-time scorer at Washington, averaging 16 points per games over three seasons. Nevertheless, major questions about Thomas's game and his ability to produce loom over his decision to enter the draft. Thomas has one of the quickest first steps in college basketball and is most effective penetrating off the dribble. But at 5-9 he's going to have serious problems creating and scoring in the lane at the next level. Also, Thomas's shot selection is often questionable and he has a tendency to dribble too much. In college he was able to get away with these habits, but moving forward they will only hurt his chances to play. Still, Thomas is a true competitor. He plays extremely hard, is never afraid to take the last shot, and performs well under pressure. I love these qualities, and so do NBA teams -- just not enough to make Thomas a first round pick.
Justin Holiday, Washington
Known as a defensive specialist throughout his career with the Huskies, Holiday proved he could become a viable scoring threat in his senior year. He scored in double digits in 12 of the season's first 14 games. Holiday's biggest improvement came from the three-point line, where he shot 36 percent -- a dramatic improvement over his 11 makes in the previous three seasons. There is lots of potential offensively for Holiday and he has good size (6-6) and length (seven-foot wingspan), which NBA scouts will like. That said, don't expect Holiday to crack the first round -- I like him as a flyer in the late second.
Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Washington
One of the few seniors entering the draft from the Pac-10 that has a legitimate shot at being drafted, Amaning's biggest draw is his size (6-9) and superior length (7-4 wingspan). Those are some extremely long arms and NBA teams love length. Amaning's biggest issue is that his skills on the court are very unrefined, both offensively and defensively. He is a great athlete, a good finisher around the basket, an effective shot blocker, and good off-ball defender, but it's all still very raw. There is a good chance Amaning goes undrafted, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him go late come draft day. It's awfully hard to pass on length like that.
Malcolm Lee, UCLA
Much like UCLA counterpart Honeycutt, Malcolm Lee will be hoping NBA scouts see his potential and draft on that. Defensively, Lee is a solid player, using his size and length to his advantage over smaller shooting guards -- he should be a dependable defender in the NBA. Offensively, Lee's game is best described as needing improvement. This season, he shot only 30 percent from beyond the arc. Also, Lee never managed to average more than three assists per game in his entire career at UCLA. I don't see Lee as a starter in the NBA, but he could be a good bench player, bringing energy and defensive intensity. If Lee is taken, expect it to be in the late second round.
Jeremy Green, Stanford
Green doesn't appear on many draft boards and is likely to go undrafted. He's not an NBA point guard and, at 6-4 and 198, he will be considerably undersized against the next level's shooting guards. That said, Green is possibly the best three-point shooter in this Pac-10 class. He shot an impressive 43 percent from beyond the arc last season. Over the last three years Green made 228 threes.
DeAngelo Casto, Washington State
Casto is potentially the least known of the Pac-10 draft class. The 6-8 junior forward/centerwas the first Pac-10 underclassman to declare -- and he surprised many by doing so. Casto averaged 12 points and seven rebounds per game for the Cougars, but proved to have a somewhat limited offensive game. He's going to struggle making any transition to the NBA. Casto is undersized for his position and offensively too limited. Expect him to land either in the NBDL or Europe.
Sam Rayburn was a member of the Cal basketball team from 2004 to 2008.