By Andy Barks
We present our annual look at the NBA Draft. In S&F style, of course — analogies a la carte.
Chandler Parsons — Forward — Florida
6’10”, 220 — Senior — Casselberry, Fla.
Cheap, interchangeable and chock-full of protein, the soybean is the culinary world’s answer to the monkey wrench. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve consumed as much processed soybean in your lifetime as probably any other crop. Its primary utilization is in vegetable oil, which, if you’ve ever suffered through Super Size Me or Food, Inc., you know is in virtually everything. Parsons, a 6-foot-10 Florida forward often referred to as another kind of bean (string) thanks to his lanky stature, was in on everything during the post-Noah-Horford-Brewer years in Gainesville.
He arrived alongside Lake Howell High teammate Nick Calathes as part of the 2007 recruiting class that had the unenviable task of being Billy Donovan’s first following back-to-back national championships. Calathes lasted just two years (before signing a pro contract in Greece), and the Gators came crashing back to the NIT in ’08 and ’09.
But Parsons steadily developed into the one of the nation’s preeminent stat sheet stuffers, leading a resurgent veteran group that made the NCAAs in his final two seasons. A first-round exit in 2010 was followed by an Elite Eight run in 2011, with Parsons being named SEC Player of the Year as a senior despite averaging a modest 11.3 points per game. League coaches felt so strongly about his importance to the Gators that they ignored the often-overvalued scoring totals, referenced some other impressive numbers (7.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1 spg in about 34 minutes per night), and pointed to The Soybean’s ability to provide a glut of nutrients in giving him the nod.
When looking for a piece to add to their ever-assembling puzzle in the mid- to late-first round, NBA GMs love a guy whose presence commands such attention, which is exactly why Parsons will not slip past some savvy, established club in Round 1.
Kenneth Faried — Forward — Morehead State
6’8”, 225 — Senior — Newark, N.J.
Ah, scrapple. It’s a scrapheap only the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania could concoct, let alone justify. For those that don’t know, scrapple is a geographically confined delicacy — an artery-arousing amalgamation of pork scraps congealed into a cornmeal and flour-infused wad. It is truly the ass of the pig, and visually it offers the amount of charm you might expect. But ask anyone from the Tri-State area (That’s PA, NJ and Delaware, fools) that’s ever checked his or her pallet’s pretentiousness at the door and succumbed to the scrap. They’ll confirm that this eyesore is somehow delicious, and as long as you can overcome your prejudices, you’ll never speak ill of it again.
Such is the game of the little-known, perennially underestimated Faried.
He hails from the original Brick City– Newark, New Jersey– and brings a lunch bucket game that epitomizes the mentality of a town lying begrudgingly in the shadows of Manhattan. To say Faried was underrecruited would give too much credit to recruiters, since he received only three D1 scholarship offers. He chose the foothills of Morehead, Kentucky, over the more comfortable Metro Atlantic alternatives, Marist and Iona, and went on to shatter school, conference and national rebounding records over the course of his four-year college career. At the risk of statistical overload, take in these splits: 10.5 points, 8 rebounds and one block per game as a freshman in ’08; 14, 13 and 2 as a soph; 17, 13 and 2 as a junior; 17.3, 14.5 and 2.3 (not to mention 2 steals per) as a senior, when he forever engraved his name into Morehead State Eagle immortality by spearheading a first-round NCAA Tournament upset of in-state uncle Louisville.
Go ahead and shrug off the numbers by pointing to the Ohio Valley Conference competition or the freewheeling system that allowed the small-forward-sized Faried to sprint his braided self up and down the court as a pseudo-center a la Hank Gathers. Dismiss him as a small-school aberration whose lack of bulk will handcuff him at the next level. Just remember that Dennis Rodman, arguably the greatest rebounder in NBA history, stood barely 6-7, weighed a spindly 200 and change, and balled at NAIA Southeastern Oklahoma State. The Worm had desire, moxie and that unteachable instinct that all great glass-cleaners possess. Faried has eerily similar intangibles, and maybe, if people stop thumbing their noses at scrapple, an even better nickname.
Kawhi Leonard — Small Forward — San Diego State
6’7”, 225 — Sophomore — Riverside, Calif.
Onion, garlic and a little bit of olive oil. Any resourceful kitchen hand will confirm: If you always have these three essentials, you can whip up damn near anything. Abundant, cheap and still flavorful, this time-tested trio will never steer you astray. Sexy, the onion is not. It’s merely a papery ball with a cowlick that has the misfortune of being male B.O.’s smell-cousin. It’ll make your breath stank and your eyes water, but its many utilizations cannot be denied.
Leonard certainly doesn’t stink, but if you watched the resurgent San Diego State Aztecs this past college hoops season with no prior knowledge of their roster, you might not have picked him out as the pro prospect of the crew. A wiry 6-7 wing from the hometown of Reggie Miller, Leonard isn’t the tallest, quickest or strongest on the court, and both his jump shot and his handle need refining. But he’s a voracious rebounder — he averaged better than 10 a game in 2011 — and his 7-3 wingspan could make him a potentially brutal perimeter defender at the next level.
Projected as a small forward, Leonard will have to seriously diversify his offensive arsenal. He shot 29 percent from 3 as a sophomore and averaged more than two turnovers per game. If he’s going to be more than a spot-duty defensive specialist in the NBA, he’ll need to at least offer his coach the option of playing him at the two. Assuming The Onion peels like he’s expected to — a few tears, little bit of stink but eventually stabilizing flavor — there will a niche for Kawhi. Elite defensive wings come along sporadically, and when you find an Eddie Jones or a Bruce Bowen you keep him, regardless of how you got him.
Derrick Williams — Forward — Arizona
6’8”, 240 — Sophomore — La Mirada, Calif.
It’s neither a solid nor a liquid, nor is it accurately described as gelatinous. Its attributes are debatable but its shelf life is not. It’s one of a few man-made edibles that would supposedly survive a nuclear holocaust. Ever tried to light a Twinkie on fire? It doesn’t burn, doesn’t catch flame; it merely singes. It is a baffling, befuddling, bread-heavy oddity, but it is undeniably scrumptious. You don’t truly know what it is, but it’s spectacular enough in stretches and spurts that you don’t care.
Such is the performance of Derrick Williams. He’s a 6-foot-8, 240-pound man-child, no doubt, equally adept at dunking on your face as he is extending his range to 25 feet (nearly 57 percent from three in 2011). He emerged on the national scene by carrying an otherwise mediocre — albeit well coached — Arizona squad past Memphis, past Texas and past Duke before falling to eventual national champion UConn in a memorable Elite Eight defeat. He finished his sophomore season by scoring 20-plus six times in his last seven games, did so on the most visible of stages and cemented his status as a lottery pick in the process. But is a guy who shot barely over 70 percent from the line and averaged a nearly 3-to-1 turnover-to-assist ratio in his two-year college career truly prepared to play (and defend) the NBA 3? Over the past three months, we’ve been made to believe so. But the notion that Williams went “head-to-head” with Duke’s Irving and UConn’s Walker is overblown.
A more apples-to-apples comparison would be with Texas power forward and fellow stock-is-suddenly-high draft prospect Tristan Thompson, against whom Williams posted 17 and 9 in the Sweet 16 near-loss. The point is not that Derrick Williams will be a bust, or that he’s of questionable talent for a lottery selection. Rather, it’s that we’re asking a lot of a guy who, to this point, has played almost exclusively the four or five to suddenly morph into an NBA-ready small forward just because we think it’s time. Allow The Twinkie a few seasons to age. It’s going to be around long after whatever else is in the pantry.
Bismack Biyombo — Power Forward
6’9”, 240 — Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo
If Parsons is the soybean, a versatile contributor whose nutrients can be easily implemented, Biyombo is the edamame, by definition an immature pod-version of its more ripened parent plant. Like the curious and suddenly cool Japanese leaf cluster, Biyombo is also green as shit. He didn’t play four years at one of college basketball’s preeminent programs — he’s barely been playing organized basketball at all for five. Under offensive skills, scouts commonly list “limited” when evaluating the soon-to-be 19-year-old, and indeed, Biyombo registered an assist on an just four percent of his offensive possessions during his only season playing in the highly regarded Spanish ACB league. But he’s a physical marvel, 6-foot-9 and 240-plus pounds with 4.8 percent body fat and a 7-foot-7-inch wingspan that would make Stretch Armstrong jealous. He led the ACB in blocked shots as an 18-year-old and has the name and the raw instincts that could inspire a Kevin Bacon renaissance should they decide to make The Air Up There 2 — Jimmy Dolan Brings Back Bismack.
No matter how unlikely the immediate payoff, even the most incompetent of NBA public relations teams should be able to sell Biyombo to its fans, especially if he agrees to start going by the shamelessly Americanized “Smack Biyombo.” To be fair, Serge Ibaka he is not. The current Oklahoma City Thunder forward and fellow native of the former Zaire was considered an equal gamble when he entered the 2009 draft, but Ibaka possessed at least a sniff of a jump shot, as well as two more years of professional experience.
Yet where Ibaka’s ceiling may be as the middle-class man’s Kevin Garnett (Boston era), Bismack has drawn reasonable comparisons to a shorter Dwight Howard for his limitless defensive influence. It will take a few trial leaves and some serious seasoning, but The Edamame will be a quirky first-round choice that leaves one team feeling healthy, trendy and unsure of how to spell what it just ordered.
THE FROZEN PIZZA
Jimmer Fredette — Guard — BYU
6’2”, 195 — Senior — Glens Falls, N.Y.
The debate concerning the all-time greatest It’s-late-and-I-need-it-quick-and-I-need-it-now food may never be solved. Compelling cases can be made for the burrito, ubiquitous in cities like Chicago and New York, or the cheesesteak, always satisfying but harder to legitimately find if you live off the Eastern Seaboard. There’s no doubt a time and place for fast food– reaffirmed every Friday and Saturday night by backseat drivers who demand the Burger King drive thru through vehement, sometimes drunken, occasionally disturbing screams. But a sleeper pick is the frozen pizza, who’s always ready to heat up, yet still gives you 20 to 30 minutes to do what you do. If you’re from the East Coast, you know about Ellio’s, the rectangular slab of cheese and sauce that’s so money you can just nuke it, and if you’re from anywhere else you’ve likely burned the roof of your mouth on a DiGiorno or two.
If you hail from the curious Beehive State of Utah, you’ve grown a taste for The Jimmer, a cheesy white pizza who flung himself into the oven of national consciousness with a ridiculous 29-ppg senior season and enough Oh-No-He-Didn’t moments to draw Mormon Pistol Pete parallels. Jimmer jimmered his way to 40 at UNLV, 40 at then-no. 2 San Diego State, 40 four more times down the stretch, and then 44 in a Sweet-16 loss to Florida.
His field goal attempts climbed conspicuously over the final month of the season, but it was in part out of necessity. BYU suspended forward Brandon Davies in late February for his sexual deviance, and essentially played a four-guard lineup the rest of the way. That often meant “Get it to Jimmer, get out of his way and let’s see if he can hit 25 step-back jumpers tonight” — an approach that was doomed to backfire at some point. When the 30-footers stopped falling and the turnovers got too frequent, Fredette and BYU were done, and some legitimate questions arose concerning his viability as a pro prospect. Still, this draft is too devoid of big-name draws, too uncertain in the middle stages, for some famished small-market franchise (we see you, Jazz) not to dial up a Jimmer somewhere in the first 15 picks.
THE CRAB CAKE
Kyrie Irving — Point Guard — Duke
6’2”, 180 — Freshman — West Orange, N.J.
It’s hard to grasp the allure of the elusive crab cake. Much of its appeal, it would seem, is derived from the restaurant world’s insistence on giving us only bird food-sized portions of it. We see it on the menu, our hearts light up, we order, and then we finish it in two bites. It always leaves us always wanting more. But it was $12, so you reluctantly reminisce, lick your teeth for crumbs and dream of the next time you’ll have the pleasure of indulging in this somehow-steep appetizer whose ingredients would seem to be abundant.
Irving left Duke fans — and hoops enthusiasts nationwide — feeling similarly teased this season, playing in just eight games during November and December before a toe injury sidelined him and derailed what could have been another championship run in Durham. He returned for the NCAA Tournament and shook off the rust to score in double figures in wins over Hampton and Michigan. Then he went toe-to-healing-toe with Arizona’s Derrick Williams, his consensus competition for the No. 1 pick in this draft, and dropped 28 to no avail as the Dukies bowed out in the Sweet 16. Suddenly, after just 11 games, Irving’s college career was done.
Considering he arrived on campus as one of the top recruits in the country, his one-season cameo was always expected. But with such a limited game sample size and a not-quite-NBA-ready frame, does Irving remain the surefire top pick for the Cavs?
Cleveland, as a city and as a franchise, is still picking itself up off the canvas following last summer’s LeBracle. It’s a team desperately in need of a Derrick Rose-type face, and it’s worth wondering whether Irving, a pure point who’s supremely talented but not necessarily polished, is that answer. He’s certainly no LeBron, in terms of jaw-dropping athleticism, forehead or brand. But he’s a point guard, undoubtedly the best in this draft and maybe the best for the foreseeable three years. With the fourth pick in its pocket as well, Cleveland may be wise to take Irving with number one and then couple him with a big man at number four. That way the two can grow together, lessening the pressure on either one, and go about building a team — as opposed to constructing a monument to one player and simply filling in the blanks around him.
Kemba Walker — Guard — Connecticut
6’1”, 170 — Junior — Bronx, N.Y.
You don’t have to reject the meatloaf. But don’t feel obligated to accept its hype, either. Your grandmother or aunt or favorite cafeteria lady has been pushing and peddling and promoting its universal charm since you were in Weeboks. But why, exactly? Its assumed appeal is both frustrating and fascinating. For those of the Baby Boomer generation and beyond, “Who wants meatloaf?” is a no-brainer. And it’s not their fault. They’ve been brainwashed to believe that meatloaf is the shit, even though its very name should cause caution.
Meat in the form of a loaf? Maybe Eddie Haskell could play it off, but there’s no reason for us, in the 21st Century, to continue to feign fondness for this funky combination of fatty and nutty that makes your teeth tickle. Similarly, there’s no reason to buy into the Kemba Walker pressure if you’re not feeling it.
What Kemba did — leading a team of talented but extremely green freshmen and sophomores to a national championship via an epic and historic 11-game win streak — was nothing short of spectacular. He will live in the annals of college hoops forever, and true fans will never deny him his due. His performance during the Huskies’ five-game run through the Big East Tournament (as the league’s No. 9 seed) was perhaps even more impressive than his NCAA showing, which included 30-point outbursts against Cincinnati and San Diego State. And his November onslaught in the Maui Invitational, where he dropped 31, 30 and 29 in consecutive days against Wichita State, Michigan State and Kentucky, kicked off an unprecedented season during which UConn never lost in tournament play or, for that matter, outside of Big East conference play. Walker’s junior year will be remembered as one of the greatest individual seasons in college history.
That said, this is not the Steph Curry Corollary. A volume scorer and college-team carrier does not necessarily an NBA star make. Kemba will get his — in the right situation he could even average 20 per game and make an All-Star team or two. But in the event that he ends up a less-pint-sized Nate Robinson, a less-unlucky Dajuan Wagner or a less-enigmatic Delonte West, please don’t feel cheated. Appreciate his greatness and his contributions to the college game and accept the possibility that it may have been his peak. In other words, if you’re going to be force-fed the Kemba Loaf, at least draw your own conclusion. It’s OK not to love it.
Enes Kanter — Power Forward/Center
6’11”, 255 — Istanbul, Turkey
The Youngbul from Istanbul has piqued the curiosity of NBA scouts for better than three years now, and thanks to his commitment to and subsequent disqualification from the college hoops world this past fall, his name is now known in even casual circles. Kanter was expected to arrive in Lexington, Kentucky, alongside Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb, as part of John Calipari’s heralded sequel class. The quartet was expected to alleviate, if not totally fill, the void left by the wondrous 2010 class of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton, all of who bounced after just one year in Calipari’s pro-producing assembly line.
Jones and Lamb had superb rookie campaigns by any measure, and have both returned to UK for their sophomore seasons looking to augment their Rupp resumes with a championship after reaching the Final Four in year one. Knight is parlaying his Mike Conley-esque consistency as a freshman point guard into a likely lottery position. But Kanter never got himself on the floor, thanks to a drawn-out NCAA investigation (he was allegedly compensated by a Turkish club team before arriving in the States) that ultimately led to his departure from the program.
Still, his burly physique and legitimate professional-level experience have scouts overlooking our collective lack of looks at him. He was considered the most prepared of the four freshmen-to-be last summer, and despite the year off, the buzz surrounding his American debut has not fizzled. In terms of sheer numbers, Kanter is a project — he’s just barely 19, hasn’t played regularly in more than a year, and undoubtedly will get outmaneuvered at times by the Boshes and Amar’es of the League. But his tantalizing size, soft hands and innate court awareness (not unlike that of his NBA countrymen Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur) have teams willing to wait it out.
This may be a case of desire by way of unfamiliarity. Like the knock-you-on-your-ass Absinthe, Kanter is exotic, intriguing in his mystery, and has been deemed illegal in pockets of the Americas. But that only furthers the likelihood that some daring executive will order up a round of him earlier in the night than he probably should. Whether that leads to jovial inebriation or vomit on the front of that team’s metaphorical shirt remains to be seen.
Alec Burks — Shooting Guard — Colorado
6’6”, 195 — Sophomore — Grandview, Mo.
Late to ripen but ultimately available to all, the Clementine has experienced such a mainstream resurgence that Cuties (its corporately manipulated mass form) have earned marquee status over boring big brother, the tried-and-true orange, in your local produce section. And it’s no wonder why. Who’s not trying to eat a snack that’s maintenance-free, abundant, delicious, generally considered a healthy option and makes your hands smell good? It’s why, from October through January, when the seedless tangerine makes its world tour, every grizzled soccer mom from Bryn Mawr to Brentwood has her Kia crammed with crates of clems.
A slow bloomer from the sneakily fertile metro KC area, Burks was considered a marginal high-major prospect out of high school and was barely sniffed by Mizzou or KU. He surfaced in Boulder, where for the last two seasons he and Cory Higgins formed one of the most explosive backcourts you never saw. A sinewy 6-foot-6, Burks burst onto the Big 12 scene, averaging 17 points and five rebounds per game as a freshman while showing a defensive maturity that vaulted him up mock drafts. He eschewed the NBA for one season, returning to post 20.5, 6.5 and 2.9 assists per as a sophomore, and although his shooting percentages dipped with the revved-up defensive attention, he provided leadership and an alpha-dog presence for a CU team that won 24 games and just missed the NCAA Tournament.
Similar to his fruit kin, Burks is deemed a bit delicate by big-league standards. He’ll need to bulk up and prove himself as a dependable outside shooter to make bones as a regular in the NBA. But as shooting guards come, he’s equipped with the ideal size, range and scoring know-how. He or Washington State junior Klay Thompson will likely be the first of their position to go, given the constant need for wing help on both ends of the floor. They’re the best Cuties in the crate, just as long as you don’t let them sit too long and allow them to bruise.
THE SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE
Marcus Morris — Forward — Kansas
6’9”, 235 — Junior — Philadelphia, Pa.
Markieff Morris — Power Forward — Kansas
6’10”, 245 — Junior — Philadelphia, Pa.
There exist a handful of food pairings that are both inexplicable and indisputable. The two components must go together, for they epitomize the “whole is greater than the sum-of-the-parts” conjecture. PB&J fit the mold. As do pancakes with syrup or the infamous chicken and waffles. A similar kinship has blossomed between the sweet potato and its loyal comrades: the marshmallows. Individually, they inspire only mild excitement. Sweet potatoes are often mistaken for the infinitely less-appealing yam; marshmallows are best known for their contribution to the s’more. But when whipped into a casserole the combo forms a vibrant, virile blend of indulgences.
Out of Kansas comes a similarly inseparable duo: the Morris twins, a pair of still-blossoming forwards whose collective appeal is largely agreed upon. It’s as singular entities that the Morris boys are considered wild cards. They readily admit they’ve hardly spent a half hour apart from each other in their lives. Not identical in stature or game, they began their high school careers at Philly’s Prep Charter, where they helped win a Public League title in 2006. They completed their scholastic tenures at South Jersey’s Apex Academies before committing, as presumed, to the same college. But before their emergence as a devastatingly effective frontcourt duo over this past season, the three-year stay of the Morri in Lawrence was not without speed bumps. There was an on-campus bee-bee gun incident their freshman year in which at least one, maybe both, played a prominent role. There was the infamous Tyshawn Taylor-versus-the-whole-damn-KU-football-team scrap outside the library in 2010, when by most accounts, the twins and others merely had their teammate’s back.
In 2011 the twins confined their noise to the court. Marcus (17.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg) stepped into the role of number one offensive option for a team that had lost Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry, and Markieff (13.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1 bpg) anchored Bill Self’s ever-stingy half-court defense. Along with freshman point guard Josh Selby, the two decided to forego another season at KU and enter the draft, but the impending separation anxiety has already set in. Outside of a well-conceived trade, there exist few scenarios in which ‘Cus and ‘Kieff could spend their first year as pros together. Considering that they’ve literally never been apart, let alone played without each other, it presents a legitimate concern for NBA teams. Will they still be effective in individual doses? Quite possibly. But would you rather stuff them together into a Mar-casserole? Most definitely. The Morris twins are hoping nobody in round one really likes straight ‘mallows.
Jan Vesely — Forward
6’11”, 230 — Moravska Ostrava, Czech Republic
Fascism, dictatorships and slave trades aside, the motherland continent of Europe has offered the Americas some alluring imports over the years. The luxury automobile, your favorite white wines, and most do-it-yourself home furniture assemblages owe their popularity, in large part, to European ingenuity. Both the hamburger and the hot dog, widely accepted as dip-in-the mouth, shotgun-in-tow, scratch-your-balls-and-spit American staples, were devised and originally concocted in Hamburg and Frankfurt, respectively. And over the past 20 years, beginning with Vlade Divac and the late Drazen Petrovic, climaxing with recently the ringed Dirk Nowitzki, the European Invasion infiltrated our enterprising, every-man-for-himself, undeniably American playground game of hoops.
Remain ignorant if you’d like. Feel free to spit that burgers-fries-ball-and-apple-pie rhetoric about how stateside ball remains the most competitive and credible route to the basketball promised land. But remember that one of the most talented and revered USA national teams (“Redeem Team,” 2008) needed 40-plus minutes to put away a no-joke Spanish squad in the Beijing Gold Medal Game three years ago. Acknowledge that for the past 15 years, there have been as many European lottery gems — Nowitzki, Gasol, Bargnani, Gallinari — as busts (Milicic, most notably).
All that said, the Haggis is one import for which an acquired taste is required. Like the traditional Scottish sausage-pudding dish, Vesely will demand some seasoning and a lot of chewing. At just 21, he’s hardly ready to contribute in the manner Dirk or Manu were when they arrived in the League. He does, however, possess many of the same offensive skills and intangibles as his continental predecessors. His length and raw shooting ability have prompted the inevitable Dirkolades, but there’s a reason Vesely passed up the opportunity to be a potential lottery pick last summer. He knew — and admitted — he had to get better.
The Scottish didn’t introduce their haggis until the recipe was tailored to perfection, and when they finally did unveil it, they didn’t advertise its sheep-intestine origins. Vesely is hoping to arrive similarly streamlined. Ten years from now, if he’s stroking jumpers and creating matchup problems for a contender, no one will worry that he labored through his early years in the Euroleague or that his defense is more matador that mastiff. It ain’t where you’re from; it’s where you’re at.