Commentary

Draft Watch: These wings can soar

Here's a look at the top 10 wingmen in the draft based on conversations with NBA scouts and GMs.

Originally Published: January 23, 2009
By Chad Ford | ESPN.com

James HardenRick Scuteri/US PresswireNext level: NBA execs like what they've been seeing from Arizona State's James Harden.
Last week we profiled the top point-guard prospects in the country and found 10 players with a great shot of landing in the first round of the 2009 NBA draft. This week we have to combine both the shooting-guard position and the small-forward position -- the wingmen -- to come up with 10 potential first-round picks. While there is some talent, the field doesn't appear to have the next Dwyane Wade or even the next Danny Granger in the mix.

Here's a look at the top 10 wingmen in the draft based on conversations with NBA scouts and GMs. Make sure you check out our newly updated Top 100 as well.

1. James Harden, So., Arizona State
Harden doesn't jump out as an elite prospect when you first see him. A little undersized at the 2, he's not a particularly explosive or quick athlete. And there's nothing flashy about his game. However, he has a certain old-school swagger about him that has many NBA executives calling him the second-best prospect in the draft.

Harden is a big-time scorer with NBA strength and a terrific basketball IQ, and has been super-productive as both a freshman and a sophomore. While he doesn't appear to have the upside of many of the younger athletes on the list, right now he looks like a lock for a top-five pick in the draft.


2. DeMar DeRozan, Fr., USC
DeRozan is the reverse of Harden. On paper, he looks like an elite prospect: He possesses incredible athleticism, a chiseled NBA-ready body and a court demeanor that suggests he's always in control. However, his production on the court has been a disappointment.

DeRozan seems to lack the aggressiveness or offensive weapons to really take over a game. His play has improved lately, but he's still not dominating the way scouts thought he would. On potential, he's one of the top five prospects in the draft. But NBA execs are choosing production over potential these days, which means DeRozan might be better served returning to USC for his sophomore year.


3. Al-Farouq Aminu, Fr., Wake Forest
I'm not sure what position Aminu would play in the NBA. He is the size of a big small forward with the wingspan of a center and plays the 3, 4 and 5 at Wake Forest. He flies up and down the floor and is an explosive leaper, but his perimeter game still needs some work. Ditto for his basketball IQ. Still, scouts are in love with his potential, for the most part.

With a consistent jump shot with NBA range (and another year at Wake Forest), he could be a top-five pick in 2010. But given the weakness of this June's draft, he's still a likely lottery pick if he declares this year.


4. Earl Clark, Jr., Louisville
Clark is one of the biggest enigmas in NBA circles. He has an incredible tool set -- he is long and athletic and can play multiple positions on both ends of the floor -- and absolutely dominates the game on some nights. But on other nights, he disappears.

To make matters more difficult, some scouts see him as a 2 in the NBA, others as a 3 and a few as a 4. He reminds me a lot of the Hornets' Julian Wright: a talented athlete without a real position or a definitive game.

Chances are Clark will declare for the draft this year. And if he does, someone will take him between the 10th and 20th picks.


5. DaJuan Summers, Jr., Georgetown
A hot prospect right now, Summers is having a breakout season at Georgetown and proving to many scouts that he could be a Rashard Lewis-type player in the pros. In many ways, he is the prototypical forward: He can play both the 3 and the 4, and is able to shoot the ball with range, rebound and handle the ball.

We have him currently ranked No. 17 on the big board. But if he plays well during the NCAA tournament, he could slip past Clark into the late lottery.


6. Austin Daye, So., Gonzaga
Brimming with talent, Daye has watched his draft stock plummet after a slow start to the season. Much of the criticism isn't fair; he was injured for most of the summer and wasn't 100 percent early on. But lately he's been playing better; he had big games versus Tennessee, Santa Clara and USF.

If he can keep up that production for the rest of the season and then put up similar numbers in the NCAA tournament, he can still crack the lottery. More likely, though, he'll spend the summer adding some much-needed muscle and dominate as a junior at Gonzaga.


7. Tyreke Evans, Fr., Memphis
Evans has been all over our draft board this season. He was hyped as one of the most NBA-ready freshmen in the country, but bombed out of the gate with poor shooting, poorer shot selection and a plethora of turnovers. Then John Calipari moved him to the point ... and suddenly Evans looks like a legit prospect again.

I don't think Evans will play the point in the pros, but he is one of those guards who needs the ball in his hands to create. A lot of scouts are still unsure about him, but the talent is there, and many of the execs I spoke with think he'll go somewhere between 15 and 25 if he declares for the draft this year. If Evans has his sights higher, he'll have to start hitting jumpers or wait another year.


8. Evan Turner, So., Ohio State
Turner is having a breakout sophomore season at Ohio State. He's the prototypical wing who can handle the ball, shoot with range and guard multiple positions on the floor. And this season, he has also shown excellent leadership ability on both ends of the floor.

While it doesn't look as if he has superstar potential, Turner has a real chance to surprise people. Most scouts have him ranked in the late first round, but I think he's underrated.


9. Chase Budinger, Jr., Arizona
Budinger is another enigma. He's blessed with great size, big-time hops and deep range on his jumper, but there's just something missing. Some point to his average lateral quickness and milquetoast defense. But a lot of it has to do with a laid-back demeanor that leads scouts to believe he doesn't have the drive he needs to succeed in the NBA.

On the other hand, perhaps all the coaching changes at Arizona have had something to do with his inability to live up to expectations. There's no question, with Budinger's size and shooting ability, that he can play a role in the NBA. But after being ranked in the lottery for much of his freshman and sophomore seasons, you have to start wondering if he'll ever be a star.


10. Damion James, Jr., Texas
James is yet another kid who is hard to figure out. On the surface, he's an undersized power forward who uses great strength and a terrific motor to make up for his lack of perimeter skills. However, James has also consistently improved his ballhandling and shooting. It might not be enough to pass for an NBA small forward right now, but it's possible he could make the leap.

Scouts are sharply divided on his NBA prospects. A few have him as a potential mid-first-rounder, but most have him on the first-round bubble.

Others in the Top 100: Tyler Smith, Tennessee; Sam Young, Pittsburgh; Gerald Henderson, Duke; Devin Ebanks, West Virginia; Lee Cummard, BYU; Manny Harris, Michigan; Jodie Meeks, Kentucky; Derrick Brown, Xavier; Wayne Ellington, UNC; Danny Green, UNC; Victor Claver, Spain; Dionte Christmas, Temple; A.J. Abrams, Texas; Vladimir Dasic, Serbia; Robert Vaden, UAB; Greivis Vasquez, Maryland; James Anderson, Oklahoma State; Jerel McNeal, Marquette; Terrence Williams, Louisville; Scotty Hopson, Tennessee; Lester Hudson, Tenn-Martin; Antonio Anderson, Memphis; Seth Curry, Liberty; K.C. Rivers, Clemson; Nolan Smith, Duke; Dar Tucker, DePaul; Corey Stokes, Villanova; Craig Brackins, Iowa State.

Click here for Chad Ford's Stock Watch: Five players on the rise Insider

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

Chad Ford

Senior Writer, NBA Insider