Andy G: We attended Wolves-Wizards last January. The Wiz were barely beginning to hit their stride (which made the ass-kicking that much more painful — we didn’t totally see it coming, despite Mickael Gelabale being a starter) and in particular their young backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal looked mighty impressive. The synergy that Ernie Grunfeld envisioned when he drafted Beal (and reportedly turned down a James Harden trade (!)) was coming to fruition before our eyes, even with Randy Wittman at the wheel.
John Wall created shot opportunities. Bradley Beal took advantage of them. In the course of their first season together — largely limited by injuries — the duo thrived. On average they were +3.6 per game, best of commonly-used Wizards player pairings. I think many will predict big improvement from Washington next season, including a playoff berth, in large part because they’ve put together such a talented and balanced backcourt.
I bring this up because the Wolves also have a magnificent playmaker at point guard, a dearth of capable 2’s, and a pair of first rounders in the upcoming draft. Also like Washington, Minnesota has veteran frontcourt talent. Basically, everybody’s waiting for that shooting guard to arrive. Whether it be with the lottery pick (9) or the one received from the Grizzlies (26) it seems likely that a wing player will don a Timberwolves cap on June 27.
We’ve already talked Victor Oladipo and Shabazz Muhammad. ‘Dipo is not Beal. Whether better all-around or worse, there’s a clear difference in style; in tool sets. And Shabazz, well… it’s probably best we lay off that one for a bit. He’s controversial, putting it mildly.
If they end up going lottery wing, that likely leaves Kentavious Caldwell-Pope from Georgia (if they stay at Number 9) or Ben McLemore from Kansas (if they trade up). Both can shoot it.
Which is the way to go, all things considered?
Patrick J: So, with Ben McLemore and KCP, we’re looking at fairly comparable players in certain ways – especially if the comparison is, say, either a Victor Oladipo or a Shabazz Muhammad. What do we know about McLemore and KCP? They’re both solid shooters; their strokes and range should make each viable in the NBA as a corner three guy, though both have the potential to do more.
Who fits better with the Wolves?
Let’s think about your Wall-Beal bit for a second. (Not that John Wall and Brad Beal are the be-all [see what I did there], end-all backcourt duo, but they did re-energize a tired team that looked pretty terrible before Wall came back, when it was just Beal and AJ PRICE in the Wiz backcourt [along with doses of Jordan Crawford, before he got traded]). Basically, you get someone at closer to a Beal level of talent if you move up to get McLemore. Sure, there are question marks, but McLemore has the athleticism, body, and grace to be a possible star – sort of like Brad Beal (!) does – and KCP doesn’t. His upside is somewhere in the good Martell Webster stratosphere – not really the kind of guy you get excited about, but the kind of guy who adds value in the right situation doing a limited amount of things. KCP has been moving up the mock draft boards so there’s certainly a buzz about him. But I think you wait until #26 to move on a player with a relatively limited upside (i.e., the kind of player about whom you’re unsure if he has the physical talent to become the kind of player you’d want in your starting lineup for multiple years, let alone make good on that talent).
Andy G: To defer to the experts for a moment, they rank as follows:
* Chad Ford: McLemore 4th, KCP 13th
* Jay Bilas: McLemore 1st, KCP 13th
* Jonathan Givony: McLemore 2nd, KCP 21st (!)
For KCP, the Givony ranking is a little bit alarming. What might explain the divide between these two score-first guards?
On basic measurements, KCP is slightly taller (6’5.5” versus 6’4.75”) with a longer wingspan (6’8” versus 6’7.75”) but strangely they have the same standing reach (8’4.5”). McLemore has slightly less body fat (5% versus 6.5%). They measure out very similarly, in other words.
McLemore is more athletic. That’s evident watching their DX Scouting Videos (or if you’re a college hoops fan, watching their games) and it showed up at the combine. McLemore’s max vertical jump — an impressive 42 inches — was 7.5 higher than KCP’s 34.5.
McLemore and KCP are almost the exact same age; Mac was born one week earlier. However, due to eligibility issues he didn’t play his first year in Lawrence, so we have one less season of work to analyze. (Lest you worry about Mac’s background or character, take a closer look at his life story, here.)
KCP was a volume scorer on a crappy Georgia Bulldogs team. The Dawgs were just 15-17, not even eligible for the NIT. But on an individual basis he was very good — he put up 18.5 points per game and shot 37.7 percent from three-point range on a whopping 7 attempts per game. That’s a shot-chart distribution that we’d like to see next year… provided he can stay accurate from the NBA line. He also pulled down 7.1 rebounds per game. But how much does guard rebounding matter on Kevin Love’s team?
McLemore had a slightly smaller role than KCP but on an infinitely-better team. Kansas was 31-6 and a Trey Burke miracle shot from advancing to the Elite 8. B-Mac chipped in an efficient 15.9 points and 5.2 rebounds and was widely considered one of the Jayhawks’ premier players.
I’ve watched tape of both guys and see a few minor, but important, differences:
McLemore has the better standing shot form. It’s basically flawless and he plays with a shooter’s instincts. Not many players — or any at all — can perfectly balance shooting and slashing instincts, and McLemore is quite clearly one that catches a pass thinking jump-shot first. For an NBA comparison, think Klay Thompson. Thankfully, he’s an accurate shooter (42% from 3 last year) so he’ll pull defenders out toward him and open up drive opportunities accordingly.
KCP is less controlled. He’s probably the better improviser of the two, but there is great reason to question whether his wilder shots that worked (?) on the sub-.500 Bulldogs will carry over to the professional game. What’s a “good” shot on Georgia last year might be a terrible one even on a mediocre NBA team. (Just ask Jimmer.) So I think there is greater uncertainty with Caldwell-Pope that he’ll transition smoothly into an NBA role.
Both guys are athletic, though McLemore clearly jumps higher. I don’t worry about either being “black hole” types — they showed more than enough secondary playmaking abilities on things like pick-and-rolls and head fake-initiated penetration plays.
Next to Rubio? I think an aggressive move-up for McLemore would pay dividends down the road. A KCP-level talent could possibly be gotten at 26, or a slight move-up from there anyway. With McLemore, I’d feel pretty certain that the Wolves would have at least a starting-caliber shooting guard that would punish defenses when left open. He also has the upside to become better than that — not Ray Allen, but maybe Klay Thompson. I think KCP actually may have higher upside, but this could also just be that he had to improvise out of necessity on a bad team. (Maybe McLemore would’ve shown us more in that role.) I’d be more worried with KCP that his jumper will be inconsistent when left open and that his dribble-jumpers from his sophomore college season just won’t translate to the pros. It takes a hugely special talent to play that way in the NBA, and I don’t think that’s KCP.
But the differences can be overstated, too — they are similar players as a whole, and cost is certainly a big factor.
Patrick J: Would number 9 plus Derrick Williams be enough to get us into McLemore territory? I suspect not (unfortunately).
So let me throw one more name out there: Sergey Karasev. In Eurocup completion this season, the Russian swingman shot 49% from the arc at a relatively high volume in Euro ball (4.6 3PtA per game in 11 games). He’s 6’7’’, 197, and Flip Saunders already likes him enough to compare him to Toni Kukoc—presumably a compliment to Karasev despite Flip repeatedlymisspelling his name. DraftExpress is currently projecting Karasev to go 26th to the Wolves. A Cody Zeller/Karasev haul from numbers 9 and 26 would have to be considered a big win for Flip Saunders.