With news that the Pelicans are looking to trade into the NBA Draft to grab a small forward or center plenty of questions have been raised about the plan of the front office. Out of all of them though the most important seems to be which player, or players, have caught the eye of the front office enough to cause them to try to work themselves back into a pick. Instead of trying to guess exactly the player, Pelican Debrief has decided to just break down 18 small forwards and centers leading up to draft day (two reports will be posted daily) so that Pelicans fans will be ready no matter where or when the team trades into the draft and selects a player.
Every year a player or two drastically raises their NBA Draft stock with a great NCAA Tournament performance. This season one of those players was Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early. Early had a great season overall for the Shockers but his performance in the tournament, especially a 31 points 7 rebound game against Kentucky shot him into the first round in many mock drafts.
College: Wichita State
Weight: 209 lbs
Standing Reach: 8’5″
Max Vertical: 40
Stats: 27.5 MPG, 16.3 PPG, 48.7 FG%, 37.6 3PT%, 84.2 FT%, 6 RPG, 1.3 ORPG, .8 SPG, .8 BPG, 1.9 TOPG
Projection: Mid to late first round
Cleanthony Early is one of the best pure scorers in the draft. In just 27.5 minutes per game, he was able to average of 16.3 points per game. His spot up shooting game was solid all year, shooting 39% when his feet were set. If Early can translate his game to a small forward role in the NBA, he can really take advantage of his size throughout the game. His size and figure are huge advantages and with those gifts and his athleticism he can develop into a solid player in the league.
Early was solid all season with identifying mismatches and using the defender’s weaknesses against them. If he had a smaller player on him, Early would use his size to his advantage throughout the game to dominate. If he had a bigger player he used his shooting and ball handling to score.
The versatility and adaptability is a huge advantage for Early going forward. Early put up points spot up shooting, cutting, driving with the basketball, posting up and in transition and he found a way to consistently put the ball in the basket no matter what route he had to take to do it. In his most memorable game of the year in the NCAA Tourney vs. Kentucky, he put up 31 points on 12-17 shooting including 4-6 from behind the three-point arc while being matched up against lottery pick Julius Randle. This game alone bodes well for his stock in the NBA.
For all that Cleanthony can bring long-term, his game is still a huge work in progress. His jumper depends on his mechanics, which had been shaky at times. Since his shot is more of a line-drive, the success rate depends greatly on his form, which was spotty at times. Another big work in progress in Early’s game is his defense. Wichita State played him at power forward last year, and against larger opponents he struggled. The change to SF on defense could be a struggle too, since the dynamics of his game are used to playing power forward. It will be an adjustment to learn the fundamentals of the new position, especially on the defensive end against guys such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
A lot of other smaller questions come up with Cleanthony when evaluating him with the rest of the draft class. He played at Wichita State, which was in an easier conference and could bring up questions as to how inflated are his numbers against inferior competition. A worrying stat is under 8% of his offense came from one-on-one situations, meaning he could struggle greatly to find his offensive game without having someone else help him create it. This could worry some scouts who are looking for a pure scoring SF. His assist percentage is also scary low, only having a 6.1% assist rate. There are a lot of key components to his game that need a lot of work, and since he’s one of the oldest players in the draft at 23, that could sway teams away from him that worry he’ll never develop fully.
Projected Role: Early would fill in as the starting SF or as one of the first players off the bench in his rookie year. His range would help space the floor for Anthony Davis, and could mold his game on both sides of the ball over a few years to become a key starter for the long run.
Tags: New Orleans Pelicans