The road that leads a young basketball player to the NBA is long, ambiguous and full of pitfalls. It's not a process that can always be expedited, even if we live in a world that ranks eighth graders and makes national commodities out of 15-year olds who look like they might have the body, athleticism or skill set to make it in the NBA. Truth is, very few players reign atop their age group throughout their careers in the same way LeBron James and Derrick Rose have. For many, basketball development equates to a slow burn.
While this thought process is more prevalent in college recruiting, it's important to remember a player's development doesn't stop at age 18. Take the case of Patrick Beverly. Those attuned to Chicago high school hoops may remember him as the dynamic scorer that powered Marshall High School in 2006. He was overshadowed in-state by stars like Rose and Jon Scheyer, but anyone who saw him ball knew he played impossibly hard and had a real knack for getting buckets.
Beverly was fairly highly regarded coming out of Marshall, ranked No. 65 in his class by Rivals. He'd go to Arkansas, where he had two solid seasons before getting kicked out of school for cheating in class. He went undrafted and would spend the next few years playing all over the world, in Greece, Ukraine and Russia.
Beverly spent the time overseas working on his game, and when the Houston Rockets came calling late this season he was able to make an immediate impact. Now there's some talk he could be a better long-term fit with James Harden than the more touted Jeremy Lin, and he's still only 24 years old.
Point is, Patrick Beverly got better. Since very few prospects come out of college with spotless profiles, it's an idea found at the core of the draft whether you're picking in the top five or the second round: a draft pick essentially amounts to betting on the player to improve.
Those types of guys are all over the 2013 draft. Nerlens Noel will eventually have to develop some sort of offensive package. Victor Oladipo needs to improve his ball handling and his outside shot. Anthony Bennett has to prove he can play defense. The list goes on.
For the Chicago Bulls, one player they could bet on is San Diego State wing Jamaal Franklin (scouting report). Franklin isn't exactly a blank canvas, but he might only be a half-finished painting. If he improves in a few pivotal facets of the game, there's a real chance Franklin could be the next Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard is the player Franklin is most often compared to, and for good reason. Both came to the league via San Diego State. Both have good size, great athleticism and a reputation for killing it defensively and on the glass. Franklin's flaws also look a lot like Leonard's when he was entering the 2011 draft. You may not remember it after he shot 37 percent from three-point range in each of his first two seasons, but there was a time when Kawhi Leonard was thought of as a guy who couldn't shoot the rock.
The numbers tell the story. Leonard only shot 29 percent from three-point range and 44 percent from the floor during his breakout sophomore campaign. Franklin shot 28 percent from three-point range and 41 percent from the field as a junior at San Diego State last season.
Leonard established himself a star in the making during the Spurs' run to the Finals because he's a better player now than he was in college. But even if Franklin never makes similarly dramatic improvements, he still brings enough to the table out of the gate to make an impact. You can make the argument that Franklin has a pretty high floor.
Jamaal Franklin can really fly. Watch him hammer home a series of dunks about a minute into his DX video. You might remember the killer alley-oop he threw down against Florida Gulf Coast in the tournament. You might also remember when he did this against Oklahoma in the Aztecs' opening round game:
I think Franklin will be able to defend at the NBA level pretty much immediately. We just saw Leonard average nine rebounds a game in the playoffs (ridiculous for a small forward), and Franklin might be able to be similarly effective on the glass. Leonard averaged 10.6 rebounds a game his last year in college, Franklin averaged 9.5.
Jamaal Franklin should be able to finish at the rim both in transition and as a cutter in halfcourt sets. He should be able to defend shooting guards and small forwards really well. He should be able to crash the boards both offensively and defensively. And if he can make the strides that Butler and Leonard were able to make after coming into the league, it isn't crazy to believe Franklin could one become one of the better players from this draft. There's a good chance he'll be available when the Bulls pick at No. 20.
This study isn't very kind to Jamaal Franklin, who ranks as the second least efficient scorer in this group at 0.882 PPP overall. His sample worst 23.7% catch and shoot conversion rate and 17.3% turnover rate are the driving factors behind his limitations on paper. Getting to the line at a second ranked 18.5% rate and the only shooting guard prospect using more than one possession per-game in the post, Franklin's athleticism and versatility show here in various ways, but the team drafting him will be looking for him to provide value outside of the scoring column as he continues to work on his perimeter stroke.
Compared to Allen Crabbe and Reggie Bullock, the two other wings the Bulls might consider at No. 20, Franklin has the least offensive polish. While he's by far the best finisher of the three, he's also by far the worst shooter. At 6'5, he also will be undersized in guarding most small forwards, let alone stretch fours. There's reason to believe that Franklin could be able to effectively guard a bigger player, but he certainly won't have the same physical advantages in the NBA that he had in college.
By all accounts, Franklin is a good kid and hard worker, which seems to fit right in with the Bulls' ethos. Still, betting on development is always tricky. There are other players in this draft who would help the Bulls out more immediately. Even if Leonard somehow turned himself into a very good shooter between his last season in college and first season in the NBA, it's tough to expect Franklin to do the same so quickly. Leonard is also actually a month younger than Franklin, which speaks to how bright the Spurs wing's future really is.
If Jamaal Franklin never develops his shooting stroke, I still think there will be a place for him in the league, but it the role he'll fill wouldn't help the Bulls as much as some other teams.
I really like Franklin, but I worry he might be too redundant on the Bulls. The Bulls already have a young, athletic wing who plays top defense in Jimmy Butler. And while Butler's three-point shooting in March and April made all of us delirious about his future, it's tough to count on Jimmy to fix the Bulls' shooting woes by himself next season. This roster could really use another guy who can knock down an open three, and Crabbe and Bullock are more ready to do that than Franklin.
If Franklin can find a stroke, though, just imagine two totally badass wings running and jumping and locking down opposing players all over the court. That's a very appealing thought, and it could be the Bulls reality in a year or two. We all want to believe the Bulls will be serious title contenders next season, but Rose will only be 25 this season. Noah should have at least three more good years left in him before any semblance of decline. I'm all for a 'go for it' mentality, but taking the guy with the highest ceiling of the three wings isn't such a bad strategy.
I'm also pretty sure the only way to beat the Heat is by having a bunch of killer defenders who don't take anything off the table offensively. With Deng's status decided after next season undecided, there's a lot to like about adding someone with the potential of Jamaal Franklin.