Austin Rivers at the 2012 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, IL, June 8, 2012.
The players making the leap from the NCAA to the NBA in the 2012 NBA Draft were tested Friday on their physical attributes, such as vertical leap and sprint times.
Andre Drummond likely cemented his place in the top five of the draft with a maximum vertical of 38 inches, he told media, adding that he's "hit 40 before." Miles Plumlee created buzz among the press and players with his 40-inch vertical leap, showcasing athleticism with his seven-foot frame.
But it was another player's vertical that made the most noise: Damian Lillard, the 6'3" point guard from Weber State, maxed out at 40 inches, raising his ceiling from a low lottery pick to perhaps as high as top eight or 10. No matter what, he likely guaranteed himself a lottery slot, despite the rising stock of some of the bigs projected behind him.
Austin Rivers and his agent may need to talk
I made it a point to ask many players what they saw as their greatest weakness, and many were consistent with prior scouting reports, showing self-awareness about their inexperience and body types.
Drummond always said that his offense is his weakness, as did Fab Melo. Orlando Johnson, the 6'5" focal point of mid-major UC Santa Barbara, understood he won't have the ball as much in the NBA and said he needs to learn to move better off the ball. Meyers Leonard, whose stock has been rising, acknowledged that he needs to get a better shot and add strength to his 250-pound frame. John Henson wants to add about 15 pounds to his 6'11", 216-pound frame. The list goes on and on.
Except for Austin Rivers, that is. When asked of his greatest weakness, he replied, "My biggest weakness?"
Then, he paused and looked away, pursing his lips in thought and replied, "Umm, man, umm. It's one of those things where, um, you know, I'll let other teams figure that one out. I don't really know."
He continued: "I try to do everything. Whether I'm not good at everything or not, I don't know. I try to compete and go out there and do everything I can to win. When I get on an interview and [the team] says I need to get better in an area, I'm gonna do everything I can to get better in that area."
Considering that the narrative surrounding Rivers is his ego, this wasn't the answer his people probably hoped he'd give -- even though he answered honestly in perhaps the most ironic Austin Rivers-y manner possible.
The point guards
Not a lot of names are at the top of the point guard power rankings in this draft class, but the two best -- Lillard and Kendall Marshall -- are competing to be selected first. Lillard's athleticism may have pushed him ahead, as there's no indication of Marshall moving up or down from the middle of the first round.
Lillard said that in his 12 interviews with NBA teams, he hasn't been asked once to be a shooting guard, but he hears the question often: "Do you think you're a two-guard?"
He's answered "no," adding that he wants to run an offense -- not "just to push the ball up the floor, but run NBA sets."
When Marshall was asked why someone should pick hm over Lillard, he acknowledged that he'd never match Lillard's athleticism, but added: "I know how to manage egos, having played with pro talent. I mean, we got four players [from UNC] going in the first round."
Marshall seems confident that he can be a floor general no matter where he lands in the NBA.
There's no indication of any wings going up, but I met my first optimist about Harrison Barnes out of D.C., who would like the Wizards to use the No. 3 pick on the projected high-ceiling, low-basement prospect. The D.C. journalist said that Barnes will, for the first time in a long time, not be expected to be the greatest player on his team -- let alone a perennial powerhouse program.
If anyone moved down, it would be Bradley Beal, who's more likely to be at the bottom of the first 10 selections than the top, or maybe Jeremy Lamb, who could slip out of the top 10 completely. But this is more due to the rising stock of bigs like Drummond, Tyler Zeller and John Henson who, along with Lillard, are becoming impossible to ignore.
Rivers has been told he'll be picked anywhere from sixth to 12th.
In any case, teams drafting in the middle and bottom of the first round will have plenty of three-point-shooting wing players to choose from, as power forwards and centers get nabbed.
More bigs rising
Andrew Nicholson, who we'll generously call 6'10", measured a 7'4" wingspan. Projected at the bottom of the first round or the top of the second, he said that teams haven't asked if he's interested in playing the five, but he is willing. He played plenty of the four and five in college, showing the ability to "defend the basket to anchor the paint and bang down low," but he was another player who admitted the need to add strength to his 234-pound frame. As some bigs go higher than expected, a team in the 18-to-25 range dead set on getting a big may well end up resorting to him.
Leonard continues to rise from being an early post-lottery pick to almost a guaranteed top-12 guy. Though he's a monster at finishing around the rim and weighs about the same as Tyler Zeller, Zeller has more of a rounded game with the versatility and willingness to "play the four and stretch it out" if it's ever asked of him. Zeller expects to be at the bottom of the top 10 or 12.
I really don't know what anyone thinks of Melo. People were too busy asking him about what he thought of Nene and if he'd ever met him. Otherwise, I heard nothing. It seems likely he'll be that leftover big after Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, Drummond, Henson, Jared Sullinger, Zeller and Leonard. If a team looking for a big isn't dead-set on grabbing a legit seven-footer (in shoes), Perry Jones III, Arnett Moultrie and Royce White could even slip ahead, putting Melo in a wide range for the second half of the first round.
The 2012 NBA Draft will take place on June 28, 2012.