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While Kentucky's John Wall is the consensus No. 1 selection in June's NBA draft, the jockeying for the No. 2 spot continues. Georgia Tech freshman Derrick Favors has been most frequently mentioned in that spot, but lately a pair of wings -- Syracuse's 6-foot-7 Wesley Johnson and Ohio State's 6-7 Evan Turner -- have entered the conversation. But which one is better?
While Johnson and Turner are putting up similar numbers -- Turner is averaging almost 19 points and almost 10 rebounds and Johnson is putting up 17 points and 9 rebounds -- they will offer NBA teams tantalizing talents with different strengths from different positions on the court. Here is a breakdown of both players:
Evan Turner, G, Ohio State
When I talked with Gene Pingatore, the coach at Saint Joseph's High School in Westchester, Ill., early in the season, he told me of discovering a 6-3 point guard in his freshman class seven years ago. It was Evan Turner, and as he grew to 6-7, he remained a player that Pingatore could always trust with the ball in his hands. The coach has a history of great guards at Saint Joseph's, including Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, and it's obvious that he spawned another one in Turner.
What has made Turner a player who intrigues NBA clubs is that feel for the game he has always possessed, his above-average athleticism and the fact that he excels in almost every fundamental area. He has proven that he can be a playmaker at his size, and he gets into the lane off the bounce -- especially using his right hand -- at will. His rebounding ability on the defensive end allows him to use those guard skills in the open court, and he has the strength to finish inside while getting bounced around. He has a high turnover rate, but I'm not particularly worried because the ball is in his hands so often.
Another factor in Turner's rise to the top of the draft boards has been his intangibles. His work ethic and character make him a low-maintenance player for NBA teams. The attitude that Pingatore talked to me about has always been evident at Ohio State. Going back to Turner's performances at the end of his freshman season when he helped the Buckeyes win the NIT, he has always been a clutch performer and has morphed into their team leader. When Buckeyes coach Thad Matta told Turner he would be the team's point guard this season, Turner spent the summer working on his left-handed dribbling.
A great example of Turner's off-the-charts intangibles is the way he responded to fracturing two vertebrae in his back Dec. 5. He missed only six games and returned a month earlier than was originally projected. His physical strength and toughness at the NBA level should not be an issue.
While Turner hasn't needed a jump shot to dominate in the Big Ten, his midrange game, especially off the dribble, is effective. He will have to hone an NBA 3-point shot if he wants to become an even more well-rounded player, but there is nothing structurally wrong with his form. He has hit 35 percent of his 3s over his college career, and the expectation is that his work ethic will take care of that issue.
Some NBA people are comparing Turner to Brandon Roy, and while that might be wishful thinking at the moment, there are similarities in overall skill level, basketball acumen and character. Like Roy, Turner has a game that is not flashy but understated in an old-school way.
Wesley Johnson, F, Syracuse
I saw Wesley Johnson when he was a skinny 6-6 freshman at Iowa State and remember saying during a broadcast that I thought he had a chance to play in the NBA someday if he grew and filled out. He had a lithe, athletic frame and a nose for the basketball on the boards. And he was thrust into action for a young Cyclones team that needed him to play heavy minutes. For old-timers, he reminded me of NBA great Alex English. I couldn't have foreseen how much Johnson has developed since he transferred to Syracuse. He went into hiding for a year and has emerged as one of the nation's best college players.
Now about 200 pounds, Johnson is a legit small forward prospect who may be the best athlete in the draft. He is terrific in transition, scores along the baseline and on the backboards and has improved his shooting range. While not a great ball handler, the truth is, with his length, he needs only a dribble or two to get the rim, especially in the open court. He has proven to be a very efficient scorer, needing only 11.5 shots a game, and he has fit perfectly into a Syracuse team that has a very balanced offensive attack.
If there are concerns about Johnson, one area would be his ability to create his own shots off the dribble, especially to his right hand, in a half-court offense. Most of his scoring comes in open midrange and college 3-point jump shots, lob dunks and offensive putbacks. He hasn't had to move without the ball and read defenses to get himself open like he will working against NBA small forwards and shooting guards.
Another area of concern would be his defense because he has sat in the Orange's vaunted zone all season. (In fact, his basketball frame makes him the prototypical zone defender.) As a former coach, I believe that Johnson, with his athleticism, length and good basketball IQ, should pick up NBA offensive and defensive concepts pretty easily.
His lack of strength is something else that Johnson must attack, and that will come with time and effort. His attitude, like Turner's, is tremendous, so an NBA team would be drafting a player with a high ceiling and a work ethic to match.
Whom Do You Take?
While both players are almost assured of being drafted by the middle of the lottery, I think Turner will have the easier adjustment to the NBA because of his all-around offensive ability, including his playmaking skills. In that regard, the Brandon Roy comparison is fair. Johnson, on the other hand, is likely to be more Shawn Marion than Corey Brewer, but his specific skills will have to fit into a team, while Turner's unusual skill set will allow a team to mold its players around him. In a close call, I will go with Evan Turner.