Two of the bigger question marks of the 2009 NBA draft concern young point guards who played overseas last year.
Ricky Rubio and Brandon Jennings are both credited with have having undeniable gifts. For Rubio it's a story of uncommon vision, handle, passing, leadership, creativity and commitment to defense. For Jennings: Speed, handle, commitment to defense, and athleticism.
But they are also both exceedingly young and not yet fully formed. Rubio is 18 and Jennings is 19. With youth comes imperfection, and both Rubio and Jennings have various notable shortcomings. Rubio, for instance, is questioned for his shooting, finishing in traffic, physicality, and high turnover rate. With Jennings, the questions are mainly about his commitment to making a team offense work, as opposed to merely his own.
Ibrahim Jaaber is uniquely situated to comment on both. It is much discussed that Jennings did not play much for his Italian team, Lottomatica Roma. That's in part because Jennings played behind Jaaber, a former two-time Ivy League player of the year who has played in Europe since graduating in 2007.
Jaaber agreed to provide a scouting report on his former teammate, Jennings, as well as Rubio, whom Jaaber faced on the court last December. I don't know if it's fair to expect Jaaber to be unbiased -- Jennings is a former teammate, and he has no such relationship with Rubio -- but he assures he is speaking from the heart when he writes:
I was allowed to get a pretty good look at two premiere players, and potentially top ten NBA draft picks in Brandon Jennings and Ricky Rubio, playing along side Brandon Jennings and against him everyday in the practice setting, and then on one occasion against Ricky Rubio.
Given the caliber of the two players playing the match-up in Barcelona last December between the two quickly turned into a prime-time type of show case. Scouts from all over came to see the game, and they even played the Euroleague game on NBA TV.
In my opinion, within that game, both B.J. and Ricky displayed great talent and potential to be successful.
Because they are both guards, close to the same age, and stage in their development, and in the same draft class, they naturally are compared and put into competition with one another.
As a bystander much of the year in the debate of who's better or who should go earlier in the draft, I couldn't help but consider the possibilities.
First, I think Rubio and Jennings, like I said before, have great potential and talent, and I am sure the scouts would agree.
I think the difficulty in deciding who would be the smartest pick comes out of them being two completely different players. In my opinion, they are apples and oranges.
Ricky is known as a "true point," as a great passer and defender who has displayed good leadership qualities, while possessing a substantial amount of professional basketball experience in Europe.
Brandon is known as a super talented kid who can score, pass, and is athletically blessed with great quickness and exceptional vertical leaping ability.
I would not disagree with what the majority of scouts have said in defining these two players.
However, at this stage in their developments I don't think any of those assessments help to separate them from each other as potential draft picks.
Factoring in the success Ricky had in the Olympics, or the fact that Brandon is the first kid to make the jump from high school to the professional European game, does not set them apar from one another. If anything it works to keep them at a stalemate.
But still a choice has to be made, somebody has to be picked over the other. I really have no idea what's going to happen with the draft, or where either kid will end up, and have no intentions in getting into that. However, if I were in the position to choose one of the two I would base my decision on who has the greatest physical potential and range of skills. Not because you have to be a great athlete to survive in the NBA (because that's not true) but because both players are very young, and neither are built like a young Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.
As a result, the potential of either to have immediate success in the NBA is lower than it would be for a more physically developed player.
I look at both as players who will need to be nurtured and given a lot of attention in order to thrive in the NBA. After one or two seasons in the League, given the same coaching, opportunities and development, in my opinion, I think Brandon Jennings will be the overall better player. Which is not to say that Ricky won't be successful. I just think Brandon has greater potential -- and as they are both in my eyes players who will have to make great developments, I would invest my pick in the better athlete, Brandon Jennings.