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Red Flags: The plight of the "tweener"

6/20/2010

Last week we broke down some of the "red flags" that occur off the court and can hurt draftable players, potentially lowering their stock. This week, let's look into how some on-court issues hurt these players when they are evaluated by NBA teams.

The issue I hear about most often from scouts is that the player is a "tweener," meaning one who lacks the prototypical size for the position that his skill set most resembles. When teams cannot figure out where he'll play, it's hard to get a firm grasp on the overall picture. Though the NBA is filled with terrific players who fall into this category, many more players have either failed to make an NBA team as tweeners or failed to even get a real chance. Either way, a lack of ideal size makes for a scary proposition for teams to draft a player at a premium spot.

Things can get even more difficult if a team's assessment of a player's position doesn't jibe with his own. Tyrus Thomas, for example, was seen by most NBA executives as a fast power forward, but he talked about being a small forward. It didn't hurt his draft positioning, but has helped to slow his overall development, another reason teams are paying more attention to these factors.

In this year's class the same can be said for Al-Farouq Aminu, who talks of being a 3 while looking like a solid 4. Gordon Hayward is a more classic example, as he has the body of an NBA shooting guard, the skills of a small forward and yet played power forward often in college.

We see this issue a lot with guards who are smaller than 6-foot-5 (normally seen as the minimum height for a starting 2 guard) but are scoring guards more so than point guards. The term "combo guard" was coined for these players (Bobby Jackson might have been the first guy recognized as such), and combos tend to be better utilized off the bench. Teams, especially those drafting in the top 20, always hope they are drafting a potential starter, which makes slotting a guy like Avery Bradley this year a challenge.

Motor malfunction

Another major problem some talented players face is the question about their "motor," or how hard and how often they play. Think of today's best players -- the LeBrons, Kobes and Wades of the league -- and their incredible skill, athleticism or both shine through. But what they and most good-to-great players have in common is their ability to compete extremely hard all the time. Teams worry that if a player struggled to compete consistently in the short college season, they'd be even more of a risk in the pros. Players with a suspect motor will have excellent games, but in an 82-game season (at minimum), they are projected to have too many lifeless efforts. That's a coach killer as much as anything, partly because it can be contagious.

Cole Aldrich, Paul George and Greg Monroe all are dealing with this issue, so if they fall far below initial expectations, it likely means they did not answer those questions well enough in workouts.

Fatal flaws

But red flags don't just come in intangible forms. Draftable players, even likely first-rounders, who fail in one particular area specific to their position are at risk to drop. Shooting guards who don't shoot well, big men who put up average rebounding numbers or point guards who turn the ball over too much (or just didn't pass a lot), all have to show improvement in these areas during the pre-draft process.

Solomon Alabi measured as the tallest player in Chicago this year but has pedestrian rebounding numbers. Dominique Jones is an explosive scorer but made less than 32 percent of his 3-pointers the past two years at USF. Eric Bledsoe is a point guard (though he didn't play there a lot) who had a very low assist-per-40-minutes stat (pace adjusted). All three players have a big draft range because some teams have real concerns about those issues. We saw this last year with Jrue Holiday, who dropped to No. 17 because he looked like a point guard who couldn't shoot and didn't pass much, after being the Gatorade National Player of the Year.

College catalyst

The draft is more about tomorrow than today, but today does matter. Unproductive or underachieving college players with discernable upside are certainly draftable, but their stock is rarely as valuable as it would have been had they done more while in school. It's one reason why players who perform well in the Final Four can see a jump in their perceived value. (David Lee put up underwhelming numbers in college and slipped to No. 30 while Emeka Okafor helped lead UConn to a title and went No. 2 overall.) When it comes down to it, teams like to know that the player they are drafting has at least done something meaningful and impressive before.

That, and exactly where he fits on the floor, of course.