The past couple of days have been pretty hectic with travel, so I decided that I’d look back at the NBA combine in Chicago once I finally got a chance to settle down. I spent time with most of the 54 draft prospects in attendance, since the Wizards have several options with picks No. 6, 18 and 34.
The Wizards could go a number of ways, but the areas where they could use more help are with size (they ranked 25th in defensive-rebounding), defensive-minded players (25th in opponents field goal percentage) and perimeter shooters (28th in three-point shooting percentage).
They could use another big man or a small forward, but this draft has few options at that position -- especially with so many talented wings, such as Harrison Barnes, Quincy Miller, Perry Jones, James McAdoo and Mike Gilchrist possibly available in 2012. The strength of an otherwise weak draft appears to be with power forwards from Europe, with Turkey’s Enes Kanter, Jan Vesely from the Czech Republic, and Lithuanian forwards Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas expected to go high.
President Ernie Grunfeld and the team’s other talent evaluators will be in Minnesota on Monday to check out the 24 participants in the Minneapolis NBA draft workout. Many of the top international players will participate a separate combine in Treviso, Italy, next month and the Wizards will likely have one or two representatives in attendance.
Perhaps the most interesting development from last week was Kanter saying that he would like to play for Wizards. He added, “I love Washington.” It’s rare that you find a player who could go second or third talking about his desires to go sixth in the NBA draft, but Kanter said that John Wall is a “really good friend” since both have Kentucky ties. Kanter also mentioned Minnesota (second) and Cleveland (fourth) as places where he’d like to start his NBA career.
But before anyone gets too excited, Kanter probably won’t be around for the Wizards to take him. Cleveland will probably look to draft a big man at fourth to go with likely No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving from Duke. The Cavaliers reportedly have Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas rated above Kanter, but he could easily get scooped up by Utah. Either way, Kanter isn’t expected to slide past Toronto at five. He isn’t particularly athletic and some scouts question his upside, but most agree that he can contribute, likely as a reserve, right away.
The 6-foot-11, 260-pound big man admitted that he is the biggest unknown in the draft, since he was last seen the 2010 Nike Hoops Summit in Portland, where he scored a record 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. In that game, Kanter showed some polished low-post moves and an ability to step out and hit mid-range jumpers. But Kanter said that he wasn’t at his best on a night when he outperformed some of the top freshmen in college last season, Jared Sullinger, Irving, Harrison Barnes, Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones.
“I didn’t show myself,” he said. “Before the game, I took four pain killers because of my back. Before the game, I wasn’t sure if I was going to play or not.”
Kanter said World team coach Rob Beveridge from Australia asked him if he was okay to play. Kanter replied that he could. “I felt good because I took, like, four pain killers,” Kanter recalled with a laugh, before adding, “I didn’t play, like, 100 percent. No one has seen me play yet.”
Kanter expected to join a powerhouse team, with Knight and Jones, at Kentucky but was prohibited from playing last season after the NCAA ruled him ineligible because he had received more than $33,000 in benefits from a professional club team in Turkey, Fenerbahce. He said he thinks that the club prevented him from playing at Kentucky and admitted that he had some hard feelings about the whole situation. “Yeah, a little bit.”
Kentucky Coach John Calipari let Kanter hang around as a “student assistant,” which allowed him to still attend classes and work out with the team. Kentucky junior DeAndre Liggins described Kanter as “a physical specimen. A guy who works. A guy who has tremendous footwork.”
Kanter, who turned
20 19 on Friday, is especially anxious to play again after watching the Wildcats advance to the Final Four without him. He is aware that a possible lockout could affect how soon he plays in the NBA, but he has already ruled out a return to Turkey. “No, not Turkey,” he said, before retracting a bit. “I just, I don’t want to…I don’t know, maybe.”
He has been working out with Tim Grover at Attack Athletics in Chicago the past seven weeks in preparation for the draft. “I feel like I’m in great shape,” he said. “I’m ready.”
Kanter was the only member of an intriguing quintet of international players in Chicago, and he obviously had to most to prove. Kanter was quite engaging during his interview session with reporters, as he explained how he was able to learn English in six or seven months. Kanter learned by watching television and movies. “I didn’t listen to music because [the songs] were too fast. I didn’t understand anything,” Kanter said, adding that before he came to America, “my dad taught me, hello, I’m Enes Kanter and that was it.”
For a while, NBA teams didn’t know much about Kanter aside from his name. But that will change over the next few weeks.