My NBA draft threads march on today with discussion of Kansas sharpshooter Brandon Rush.
Much of the discussion of this years potential draftees is about whether they can be stars in the league despite having ideal size or measurables for their projected roles. There are many "tweeners" in this draft: Bigs who lack ideal height (Kevin Love), shooting guards in point guard bodies (Eric Gordon, Jerryd Bayless, Russell Westbrook), and point guards smaller than the norm (DJ Augustin) There are no such worries about Brandon Rush from Kansas, who is a prototypical off the ball "wing" player who will be a very good fit for most NBA teams, having excellent size and body build for long term success in the league.
Rush is probably, from what I have seen, the best player in the draft at playing away from the ball offensively. He does many things from a fundamental perspective at a very advanced level, such as setting up cuts by faking away from the direction he is going to go to, and by cutting off screens low to the ground, so he is in shooting position with his knees flexed before he actually recieves the ball. In addition, Rush has a very impressive high release on his jump shot, which will help him be able to pretty much get his jump shot off whenever he wants at the NBA level. He wasn't asked to "read" screens often in the system at Kansas, but I believe his pedigree and skill levels tell you will do that well if asked.
Rush has some clear strengths and weaknesses offensively, and it will be important for him to have two things happen to him: First, he needs to be drafted by a coach who likes players who play in a traditional way. What I mean by that is he will need to play for a coach who likes a one guard front offense, so they can align Rush off of the ball along the baseline, because Rush is a pure "catch and shoot" type of player I think at the NBA level. This team that drafts him will need to be a team that runs plays for him, because he won't be all that creative in breaking people down off the dribble on his own, he will need screens all over the court to get opportunities to get his silky smooth jumper off.
Secondly, in order to play the way I described in the last paragraph, the team that drafts Rush will get the most out of him if they have a slasher/defender type at the opposite wing playing beside him, and a superior ballhandler playing the point guard for them. There is a perfect fit in the draft for Rush, one that is very very obvious to me as an analyst of the draft and as a viewer, and I will name that team later in the article.
Rush has all the measurables size wise you'd like in a player at his position. He is long, lanky, clever as a defender, is efficient in his steps, showing very good technical footwork on both ends. Rush isn't a great defender by any means, but he is not a liability from a physical standpoint. He will be good enough that he won't need to be "hidden" in a team's defensive scheme, and will more than make up for any defensive issues he has by being a very good offensive player, in the right system.
Rush is not a good ballhandler, either in making decisions for others or in trying to create for himself. While I project Rush as being very quick and clever without the ball, with it in his hands trying to make a dribble move he gets slower and more predictable. He will project to be a very good foul shooter in the league, but likely will struggle early on to get many actual attempts, because he will be somewhat easy to guard off the dribble, thereby not getting his defenders off balance enough to get past them.
So far, Rush hasn't shown much of a post game, but I project that eventually he may have this as a possible weapon down the road. I love Rush's high release, and someday when stronger and more experienced, he will be able to develop I believe a very good "fadeaway" in the low post, again assuming that he gets in the right system.
I project Rush to be, if he is drafted by the right team and the right coach, to potentially be a better pro player than many drafted ahead of him. He is in my view severly underrated at this point in time for a variety of factors, but first and foremost among them being that he did not fully show a lot of burst and "quick twitch" ability last year at Kansas, due to the fact that he had a serious knee injury, tearing his ACL, a few months prior to the season. I suspect that the view of Rush some people have may be influenced by that fact too much, and that they need to realize that it often takes a player into his second season after that surgery to feel fully confident and strengthened again, and to regain his explosiveness.
Rush played on a national championship team at Kansas under the classy Bill Self, putting together reasonably good stats although playing in an offensive system that didn't fully use his skills coming off baseline screens, or off of pindowns, "zipper" cuts, "philly cuts", or any of the other creative ways a halfcourt oriented coach will create for him to score. At Kansas in their Henry Iba inspired high/low pattern offense, Rush was often only a spot up shooter, or when he was screened for off their standard "staggered double" screens, it was very predictable where he was going.......in their scheme, he wasn't allowed to read the screen and "fade" he was required to continue his cut to meet the ball at the top of the circle.
Rush will be a better pro player than a collegian in my opinion, and if in the right system I project him to be on the all rookie team after next season. I think he projects as a slightly above average defender for his position, a slightly above average rebounder, and a superior off the ball offensive force. He won't be a great screener, but he will likely learn that skill in order to have another way to get himself open. Not yet, but someday if he works at it he will be a force to have the ball in his hands in screen/roll situations.
There are a few of other speciality situations Rush can really help a team with that will be fully realized in the NBA. One, he will be one of the better three point shooters in the league, enabling you to play him when you are trailing late. If you have good ballhandlers with him you'll want him in the game when you are ahead late, because I think he can be a fine foul shooter for you. A smart coach can use him as a zone buster against teams who sag alot (like Indiana). A smart coach will use him as a primary post feeder, because he will have the size to feed the post well, and teams won't be able to lay off of him at all. Lastly, in speciality situations he will be able to take the ball out of bounds for you, and be a threat to come back in bounds and recieve a screen for a late game catch and shoot on the side out of bounds, or recieve screens after stepping in from inbounding the ball underneath.
A huge amount of postitves for Rush I think, with just the limitations as a ballhandler as a weakness. But, he has to fit in to the right system to fully maximize his talents. Fortunately for the career of Brandon Rush, I think the team he will fit best with is in position to draft him, and I am projecting them to do so. Which franchise do I mean?
I expect the Charlotte Bobcats to surprise the world and select Rush at nine, creating a buzz on television and on this draft board on draft night. I have not found anyone so far that I have felt is a perfect "fit" for a team so far in my studies as I do Rush with the Bobcats. Larry Brown is the perfect coach philosophically for Rush, as he can use him like has used Reggie Miller and Rip Hamilton in the past. The Bobcats I think may be the most improved team in the league next season I think, because their pieces will "fit" together much better than expected under Brown, and Rush fills a need for them in the Brown system they don't currently have. LB will coach up Ray Felton, Gerald Wallace will defend the opponents best player and be a great piece next to Rush, who will be someone Brown can run plays for in the half court, and someone to help feed the ball inside to their bigs.
Rush is such an obvious pick in my opinion for Charlotte, it almost makes me wonder what I am seeing that everyone else is missing so far.
Now, I do not think Rush would be a good fit for Indiana, as they are currently constituted. Brown and his system is a perfect fit for Rush, but Jim O'Briens lack of screens and half court play won't fully feature the slinky wing man way other teams could and would. If you factor that in to your thinking, along with the obvious fact that Indiana already has Dunleavy and Granger (a somewhat similar player to Rush, but not exactly), and you realize that there is little logic to Indiana picking him at #11, barring a deal I can't envision yet. If for some reason that I don't anticipate Rush is available at #11, the debate will begin all over the league, this board, and in my own head about taking the best player available vs one who "fits your scheme" and needs. It will be a tough call for Larry Bird and David Morway if that occurs, but if we did select Rush I have no doubt he at least has the requisite skills and talents and size to be an extremely good player in the league. I just like him better in a different system.....I bet Rick Carlisle would love him almost as much as I am projecting Larry Brown will.
Keeping in my tradition in this series, I need to find a player from the 80's that I can compare Rush to. Rush projects to me to be a super good and efficient offensive player, who probably will be the ideal 3rd best playr on a championship team. Because I really like Rush and think he will have a very good and long NBA career, I'll compare him to one of my favorite players from the 80's: Ricky Pierce.
As always, the above is just my opinion.