Cleveland won the NBA title last night thanks unreal performances out of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. LeBron, the No. 1 pick in 2003, put together the most dominant three-game stretch of basketball I can remember seeing, and Kyrie, the No. 1 pick in 2011, totally outplayed two-time MVP Stephen Curry over the course of the final five games of the series. Throw in Kevin Love, who the Cavs essentially obtained with the No. 1 pick in 2014 — aka Andrew Wiggins — and the Cleveland roster is essentially built with guys that were supposed to be this good.
The amazing thing about the Warriors is that their stars were never really supposed to be stars. Draymond Green was the 35th pick in the 2012 draft. Klay Thompson was the 11th pick in the 2011 draft. And Steph, who famously didn’t get any ACC scholarship offers coming out of high school, was the No. 7 pick in 2009 behind Tyreke Evans, Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio.
With the 2016 NBA Draft coming up on Thursday night, here are five players projected outside the top ten that could end up being all-stars one day:
Jamal Murray, Kentucky: OK, so I lied. Murray is almost assuredly going to get picked in the top ten — although he did fall outside of the top five in the latest mock on Draft Express! — but I wanted to mention him here because I think that, outside of the top two picks in this draft, Murray has the best chance to become one of the best players at his position in the NBA. The biggest reason for that? He’s already elite at one of the most valuable skills in the NBA these days: shooting the ball. He’s particularly dangerous when he’s asked to run off of screens, which is where he has an advantage over Buddy Hield right now. I think there’s a chance he’s only a year or two away from having the impact on an offense that J.J. Redick has on an offense.
The key for Murray is going to be how his body reacts to getting put into an NBA strength and conditioning program. Murray has the skills to be able to operate in the pick-and-roll and to be a playmaker off the dribble — he played point guard his entire life before getting to Kentucky — but he doesn’t have the physical tools to be able to turn the corner against NBA caliber athletes.
I don’t know if he’ll ever get there. It’s a lot harder to change a kid’s physical tools than it is to turn an athlete into a shooter.
But if he does, watch out.
Deandre Bembry, Saint Joseph’s: Bembry is exactly what NBA teams should be looking for in a draft like this. He’s a swiss army knife with the size and length of an NBA small forward. Offensively, he played basically every spot on the floor for St. Joe’s this past season, from point guard to post, and managed to put up 17.4 points, 7.8 boards and 4.5 assists. He has the physical tools to where he should be able to be an above average defender at his position as well as a guy that can switch onto point guards and small-ball fours fairly effectively.
The problem for Bembry right now is that he doesn’t have a skill that will be impactful at the NBA level in half court offense. He struggled shooting the ball as a junior and he’s never been great at creating for himself in isolation. Both of those flaws are fixable, however, and given the direction the NBA is heading, I can see Bembry eventually having quite a bit of value.
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: Valentine did something as a senior that we have literally never seen done before in college basketball history: He averaged 19 points, seven assists and seven boards. Throw in the fact that he shot 44.4 percent from three while firing up 7.5 3PAs per game, and you have a player that, on paper, is a perfect fit for the direction the NBA is heading. The problem is that basketball isn’t played on paper, and Valentine lacks both the size and the quickness to truly be a position-less wing player. He’s an elite passer, but will he be able to get to the spots on the floor where he can actually take advantage of that passing ability? Is he quick enough to guard guards in the NBA or physical enough to guard the 6-foot-8 small forwards that populate every roster? Making the gamble all-the-more risky are reports that Valentine has a knee issue that could be degenerative. That’s why a lottery-level talent may end up falling to the back end of the first round.
Kay Felder, Oakland: Isaiah Thomas 2.0. I don’t know if Felder is ever going to have an impact on the defensive end of the floor in a basketball game. But what he almost assuredly will do is be able to make something happen offensively. Much of this is the product of the system that he played in at Oakland, but he averaged an absurd 24.4 points and 9.3 assists. He can do things on that end of the floor, just like Thomas, who was an all-star this past season, can. The question is whether or not he’ll actually get the chance to prove it.
Dejounte Murray, Washington: Murray’s flaws are evident to anyone that watched Washington play this season. He’s a bad jump shooter at this point in his career, he weighs 170 pounds soaking wet and he’s, at best, an apathetic defender. Those issues, however, are fixable, much the same way that his decision-making and point guard skills are; he’s a 19-year old lead guard that’s always been asked to be a scorer. What Murray does well are the things that can’t really be taught. A 6-foot-5 playmaker with a 6-foot-9.5 wingspan, Murray can seemingly get into the lane at will, has impressive body control and a knack for being able to finish tough floaters in traffic. He doesn’t take contact well and tends to be turnover prone, as he looks to shoot first and pass second, but those are parts of his game that can be coached away. His ceiling may only end up being Jamal Crawford — an elite-level bench scorer — but there is potential here.