The Black & Gold Standard is a VandyRadio sports blog featuring nuanced commentary and advanced statistical breakdowns following Vanderbilt men’s basketball games and throughout the year. Robbie Weinstein of The Homefield Advantage will be bringing you the best analysis of Commodore basketball as the team looks to build on the success of last season’s NIT appearance. Check out The Black & Gold Standard for all kinds of new content as the Dores fight through the 2015-16 schedule. All stats courtesy of KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.
After a thoroughly unsatisfying season followed by a decisive and hope-inspiring coaching search, Vanderbilt moves into the offseason needing to replace a pair of stars. Wade Baldwin IV and Damian Jones unsurprisingly opted to put their names in the 2016 NBA Draft, and each decided to stay in the draft for good by hiring agents. Now that the NBA Draft Combine is over with, it seems appropriate to break down potential teams that Damian and Wade might fit best with. This will be the first article of a two-part series looking at each respective player, and I’m starting with Damian. In terms of fit, I’m concerned with both how each player’s skills match what a team needs (i.e. shooting or shot blocking), as well as the quantity and quality of players a team returns for next season at relevant positions. Since free agency won’t occur until after the June 23 draft, some of these fits are difficult to project — I don’t have any non-public information about which players may retire or head to another team, so I’ll be making some assumptions regarding team personnel changes. NBA teams generally draft based on a “best player available” strategy, but even though a team not on this list could certainly end up taking Damian or Wade, I’ve highlighted the teams with the biggest need for the two. Please note that due to potential weirdness with measurements at the combine, reported standing reach and vertical leap numbers are subject to error. You can find all combine measurements here.
Relevant measurements: 6’11.5” in shoes and 243.6 pounds, 7’3.75” wingspan, 8’11” standing reach, 37” max vert
As we’ll also see with Wade, Damian should benefit from being a great fit for how basketball is played in the NBA today. With an ideal skillset for running the floor and finishing in the pick and roll, Damian fits seamlessly in almost any NBA offense, although his lack of a consistent jump shot hurts his case. On the defensive end, his size and athleticism provide quite a bit of upside as a future rim protector. Most NBA teams are actively looking for more size and athleticism at center, so Damian has a long list of teams that make sense as a landing spot for him.
Fits (in loose order):
Al Jefferson is old and headed toward free agency this summer, and Charlotte could use a true center with athleticism and mobility to continue to help build its defense around. With Frank Kaminsky and Marvin Williams at the 4, the Hornets would be able to surround Damian with enough shooting to cover for his current lack of a consistent perimeter game. Head coach Steve Clifford has a fairly strong record of developing young players, and Damian would almost certainly get the chance to earn playing time instead of heading straight to the D-League. This is a great fit for both Damian and the Hornets, and at No. 22 overall Charlotte’s pick falls right in Damian’s range.
This depends somewhat on whether Tim Duncan retires, but the Spurs need more size regardless. Damian’s great speed and lateral quickness would help offset LaMarcus Aldridge’s defensive limitations, and the Spurs represent one of the best organizations in pro sports for a young player to grow in. San Antonio is very particular about the type of personality and work ethic it wants in its players, but I don’t think Damian is the type of person coach Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford would actively rule out. The question here might be whether Damian has the vision and overall passing chops to fit in San Antonio, but the Spurs desperately need an athletic big man.
Fresh off of Kobe’s Retirement Tour™®, the Lakers have huge holes on the wing and at center. Drafting Damian would (in my opinion) be a better move than signing fellow former ‘Dore Festus Ezeli to an big contract. Los Angeles has playmakers in the backcourt in D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson who could presumably get Damian the ball in the pick and roll, something Vandy’s guards continually struggled to do over the past three years. I’d expect the Lakers to go for a wing before a big man, but if they take Brandon Ingram at No.2 then they’ll be positioned to either trade back in to the late first round (possible) or grab Damian at 32 overall if he somehow slides (unlikely).
Joakim Noah is washed and Pau Gasol (35) could head elsewhere in free agency. As such, the Bulls are facing the prospect of having no centers on their roster without overpaying in free agency. While I wouldn’t wish having to work for Jerry Krause and Gar Forman upon anyone, Damian could get lots of playing time with the Bulls and it’s a position of need. Chicago has enough shooting at the other four positions, and Damian’s proficiency in the pick and roll fits well in Fred Hoiberg’s offense. I expect Damian to be in play at 14, but trading back in could be a possibility for the Bulls due to the likelihood Philadelphia (24 and 26) and Boston (23) will both look to make a deal.
Clint Capela is the center of the future in Houston, but the Rockets could use some depth if/when Dwight Howard goes elsewhere this summer. Donatas Motiejunas can probably spend some time at center during the regular season if necessary, but another true center would be nice. Damian fits great with Houston’s spread pick and roll scheme under new head coach and noted offensive master Mike D’Antoni. Houston might prefer to address depth at other positions, but it’s probably impossible to find a better offensive fit for Damian than the Rockets. Daryl Morey’s squad doesn’t hold a first-round pick this year, so this isn’t a particularly likely landing spot.
The Pelicans are locked in to four more years of Omer Asik, but they’re going to need help at center regardless. Damian’s local team could use more athleticism at center, and New Orleans has enough floor spacing with Anthony Davis and co. that they can afford to take a big man that didn’t display much range in college. Small forward might be more of a priority, however, so the Pels are a distant fifth on this list. While the fit makes sense, the fact that the Pels’ pick is all the way up at sixth overall means this is an unlikely landing spot without some sort of trade.
Regardless of whether Al Horford leaves in free agency or not, Atlanta needs tough, physical, and athletic big men. While Damian didn’t show significantly above average toughness or physicality at Vanderbilt, his size and athleticism would be a major upgrade over what the Hawks’ mediocre bench big men (Mike Muscala and Kris Humphries) bring to the table. Atlanta would be significantly higher on this list if Tiago Splitter weren’t around, although the Brazilian big man will turn 32 in January and is coming off major hip surgery. With Cleveland having pushed around the Hawks’ undersized frontcourt two years in a row, Damian’s size and frame would be welcome in Atlanta. What’s more, Damian’s ability to switch out on ball handlers when guarding the perimeter fits perfectly with coach Mike Budenholzer’s defensive system. The decent long-term upside as a shooter that Damian offers doesn’t hurt here, either.
The Pacers would be a tremendous fit for Damian had they not taken Texas big man Myles Turner No. 11 overall last season. I see Turner as more of a center than a power forward long-term, so Indiana might prefer a more traditional power forward like North Carolina’s Brice Johnson or Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis at No. 20. Indiana big men Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill are both free agents this summer, so team president Larry Bird will need to decide whether he wants to re-sign one or both players, find a different free agent center, or fill the need through the draft. The Pacers could use an upgrade at backup point guard as well, so this fit is mostly dependent on which position the team prefers to fill through the draft given the options that remain at No. 20. If the Pacers do take Damian, the available playing time combined with a lack of elite pick and roll ball handlers means the fit would be very good, but not great.
For the past couple of years, general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics have always seemed to be in the middle of free agency and trade rumors regarding star players. And, like clockwork, any player in question either stays with his current team or eschews Boston for another destination. Kevin Love? #FutureCeltic (And #FutureLaker. By the way, that tweet is from a real NBA analyst that tagged Love in multiple tweets trying to “convince” him to go to Boston. It’s a crazy world we live in.). LaMarcus Aldridge? #FutureCeltic. Kevin Durant? #FutureCeltic. Hawks center Al Horford is the latest in line here, and while it’s smart to doubt any rumors associated with the Celtics, Boston’s hole at center would be filled if Horford or another free agent center decides to sign. Assuming Ainge strikes out yet again, Damian provides the type of size, athleticism, and dynamic potential that none of Boston’s big men possess. Between Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and even Jonas Jerebko, the Celtics have enough skill up front. Damian’s defensive potential and ability in the pick and roll would give Boston something it doesn’t have with its current group. Aside from the third pick, the Celtics have the No. 16 and No. 23 picks. Their deep roster, however, suggests trading one or both of the mid-first round picks is likely.
The dirty little secret about the Warriors that their ability to play Draymond Green at center masks is that their center rotation can’t match up with those of the top teams in the NBA. Andrew Bogut is old and perpetually injured, Marreese Speights is fun in small bursts, and Anderson Varejão couldn’t crack the Cavs’ rotation. And, as much as it may infuriate Vandy fans to hear it, Festus Ezeli doesn’t provide the defensive mobility and/or offensive skill required to stay on the court against Oklahoma City and Cleveland. Damian provides good potential in both those areas, and Festus could well leave this summer in free agency anyways. Damian should be good enough right now to play 15 or so minutes per game in the regular season immediately if he were surrounded with the perimeter talent Golden State has, so this is a pretty good fit on both sides. I would be quite surprised, however, if Damian lasts until the 30th pick.
The Bucks love athletic frontcourt players with long wingspans who display defensive versatility, and Damian fits that description. While it’s unclear how actively Milwaukee is looking for a center, Damian makes sense as a fit with the roster and what the front office looks for in prospects. Greg Monroe didn’t prove to be a great fit with the Bucks last season, so a trade is a possibility and would open major playing time for Damian. Milwaukee, however, could look to address its need at point guard. DraftExpress itself currently has the Bucks taking Wade at No. 10, suggesting NBA exec chatter paints the same picture. Like with Utah, No. 10 is a bit high for Damian, but the fit is there.
Between Zaza Pachulia, Salah Mejri, and JaVale McGee, Dallas had one of the weirdest center rotations in the NBA in 2015-16. Pachulia is a free agent this summer, Mejri doesn’t offer much mobility, and JaVale McGee is JaVale McGee. The Mavs are going to need a center of the future at some point, but they don’t have a first-round pick this year. Damian makes some sense for Dallas if it can trade back in to the first round, but Mark Cuban and co. could go in a number of directions here. That’s what an aging roster will do for you, and I doubt Dallas has the assets or the motivation to trade for a first-round pick in order to take a big man who isn’t certain to be a solid rotation player in his first year.
With Timofey Mozgov having gone in the tank this past season, the Cavs could use some legitimate NBA size at center. Tristan Thompson is a roughly average starting center, but at 6’10” he’s a bit undersized. Thompson is relatively average as a rim protector, so Cleveland would love to get its hands on a better shot blocker if it can. Damian brings this added shot blocking while bringing Thompson’s perimeter mobility to the table as well. Offensively, Cleveland’s impressive group of shooters offers Damian similar prospects to Golden State; his job would be simplified and made much easier due to the extra space on offense. Cleveland’s top needs are a two-way wing and an athletic center, and the Cavs have highly-rated 2015 draft pick Cedi Osman ready to come over in 2017 to fill the former hole. Damian represents a good prospect to fill the latter hole, but the Cavs have no picks this year and aren’t likely to look to the draft to fill their needs.
The Jazz probably prefer to shore up their perimeter play at No. 12, but Damian fits as a reasonable facsimile for Rudy Gobert off the bench. Damian projects as a relatively low-usage big man who will score mostly off of pick and rolls, dump-offs, and offensive rebounds early in his career, and that’s more or less the role that Gobert currently fills for Utah on offense. On the other end of the court, Damian’s perimeter quickness would add another dimension to an already strong Utah defense. Utah picks at No. 12, so getting drafted by the Jazz would represents a major pay increase for Damian compared to the range he’s probably expecting, due to the NBA’s rookie pay scale. This seems a tad high for him, but one can’t rule out the possibility that the Jazz value Damian more as a prospect than most teams and scouting services.
Unless they really believe in Cole Aldrich as a backup center, I have to believe the Clippers would love to get their hands on “DeAndre Jordan lite.” While that isn’t my actual comp for Damian, the similarities in terms of both players’ abilities in the pick and roll on offense are real. The two also have similar frames, and both move well. That’s about where the similarities stop, but I’d be shocked if Damian fell past the Clippers at No. 25. Jordan’s struggles at the free-throw line are well-known, and coach Doc Rivers would surely like having as strong an option as possible off the bench to take over for Jordan when opponents choose to intentionally foul (assuming the rule isn’t changed this summer). Damian might not get a ton of playing time in LA, but I’m also not sure that it would take much to prove himself as a reliable backup option there in the short-term. Regardless, it’s difficult for teams like the Clippers to find players with as impressive physical tools as those Damian brings, and for that reason I’d list No. 25 as his floor barring a trade.
Check out VandyRadio’s comprehensive Vanderbilt sports blog series. Building the Masonic Tradition covers Commodore football, The Black & Gold Standard covers VU hoops, and Eyes of the Hawk covers Vandy baseball. VandyRadio.com is your home for year-round coverage of your favorite Vanderbilt teams.