The Big Ten has lagged behind the other major conferences in producing NBA draft picks in the past decade, ranking behind the ACC, SEC, PAC-12 and Big 12 in that span. In this June’s draft, the ACC still easily led the way with nine selections, but the Big Ten found itself in a logjam with the SEC and Big 12 with six total draft picks.
The NBA might be even harder to project futures for draft picks than in the NFL, as we did all of last week here at Landof10. Small rosters and lots of trades create a mass influx of players, and making all but the immediate future difficult to evaluate for non-lottery picks.
So here’s a look at the short-term for the league’s six draft selections and what each must do to carve out a role on his team for the 2016-2017 season:
Denzel Valentine, SG, Michigan State
Selected No. 14 overall by the Chicago Bulls: When the Bulls signed Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade this offseason to create some version of a Big Three with Jimmy Butler, they were met with intrigue but also jokes about how bad the 3-point shooting could be. In a league designed around the perimeter shot, this created a major need for someone like Valentine in Fred Hoiberg’s up-tempo, spacing-based offense. Michigan State’s triple-double threat offers a variety of skills to a recharging unit like Chicago, but the most important will be the 44-percent clip he shot the 3-ball from a year ago. That doesn’t project to be lights-out at the NBA level, but it could be a nice asset mixed with 6-foot-6 size and sharp passing.
Valentine seems caught between a point guard and a shooting guard, but he can thank another former four-year Spartans player in Draymond Green for clearing a path for these kinds of positionless players. This season, he’ll look to provide some shooting and ball movement with Chicago’s second unit while working to develop his man-to-man defense and drive.
Caris LeVert, SG, Michigan
Selected No. 20 by the Indiana Pacers, traded to the Brooklyn Nets: If LeVert is healthy, the Nets will love his plethora of skills, but it’s a big if at this point. He missed the final 20 games of his college career with a lower leg injury, which just added to the struggles of the foot he broke the previous season. It’s a legitimate concern for a 6-foot-7 shooting guard who currently lacks the beef and muscle to protect against injuries.
When he is on the court, LeVert can be a sharp utility man with the balance to not only post up for rebounds but also shoot at what was better than a 40-percent clip from deep throughout his college career. The Nets felt good enough about his medical reports to make him a first-round pick after a trade with the Pacers.
Now they will ask him to compete with another rookie guard in Seton Hall product Isaiah Whitehead, whom they traded with the Jazz to acquire with the 42nd overall pick. Brooklyn is in rebuild mode under first-year coach Kenny Atkinson and first-year general manager Sean Marks, so LeVert should have a better chance at carving out an early role here than he would have elsewhere.
Deyonta Davis, PF, Michigan State
Selected No. 31 by the Boston Celtics, traded to the Memphis Grizzlies: Widely projected as a lottery pick, Davis surprised many when the talented freshman fell all the way to the second round. Perhaps it’s his shooting that holds the athletic 6-foot-11, 237-pound force back. Until the game moves away from the “hack-a” rule, he’s going to be a liability in crunch time.
The burly Zach Randolph still holds the Grizzlies’ power forward position on lockdown, but he’s 34. He and 31-year-old center Marc Gasol will need breaks. If Davis is able to pull down boards and improve his defensive consistency, he’ll fit one of the most hard-nosed, blue-collar teams in the league.
Diamond Stone, C, Maryland
Selected No. 40 by the New Orleans Pelicans, traded to the Los Angeles Clippers: At 6-foot-10 and 254 pounds with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Stone is a throwback rim protector who did not attempt one 3-pointer in his one year at Maryland. That dropped his stock in today’s stretch game, and so did his mental lapses, such as the one-game suspension he received for shoving Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown’s head to the floor.
Stone is a developmental prospect in a league where true big men now have limited roles, but that’s all the Clippers will expect out of him with DeAndre Jordan demanding more than 33 minutes per game. Jordan tends to need breaks when his career 42-percent free-throw shooting calls “Hack-a-Jordan” into play, so minutes should still be available for their talented rookie center.
A.J. Hammons, C, Purdue
Drafted No. 46 by the Dallas Mavericks: For as much as big men have become the NBA’s version of the running back these days, a glimpse at the final three games of this year’s NBA Finals shows how much an inside defensive presence can matter against the great physical drivers of the game. That’s Hammons’ true calling, as he was voted the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season.
After four years at Purdue, he’s also developed his scoring, particularly his outside shot, giving him more potential than just a limited role off the bench. He’s not a ball-handler type of big man right now, so the Mavericks will look to him to simply back up Andrew Bogut, the asset they added via a trade with the Warriors this offseason. Effort and energy will be musts from him off the bench, and those areas were lacking at points during his time in college.
Jake Layman, SF, Maryland
Selected No. 47 by the Orlando Magic, traded to the Portland Trail Blazers: Maryland’s first trip to the Sweet Sixteen in 13 years came on the back of two of this year’s draft picks. Layman is the rare selection who played all four years in college, but at 6-foot-9 and 208 pounds, he’s also the type of athlete with size that teams love these days.
The Blazers made him their only draft pick this season, and they were likely drawn to the big man’s ability to match their love of the 3-point shot. Portland is looking for more contributions at the forward positions to help the star backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Layman, who showed some long-anticipated aggressiveness down the stretch at Maryland could be a factor at either frontcourt spot with 2014 lottery pick Noah Vonleh showing little progress and with nothing proven or under contract long-term at small forward.