After averaging just 3 points and 3 rebounds per game, few Kentucky fans expected to see the name of Daniel Orton
pop up in NBA draft conversations. Thats exactly what appears to be happening though, as it seems inevitable at this point that Orton will enter his name in the draft and keep it in if he likes what hes hearing. Whether or not hes making a mistake is something that we wont be able to judge for a few years, but there is no questioning the fact that Ortons is a very legitimate NBA prospect, either now or down the road.
The main intrigue around Ortons potential as an NBA player revolves around his physical tools. Standing 6-10, with a wide, chiseled frame, an excellent wingspan and above average athleticism, Orton passes the look test and then some for what NBA teams seek from at a player at his position. He is fairly nimble, runs the court competently, can get off his feet, has a solid second bounce and very good hands on top of that. Simply put, there just arent many players around like him, which makes him somewhat of a commodity even in a draft as deep as this one is with big men.
Offensively, Orton was mostly a non-factor for Kentucky this season, reaching double figures in just two of 38 games and averaging an unimpressive 9.8 points per-40 minutes pace adjusted. He rarely touched the ball when out on the floor, being mostly relegated to running the court, crashing the offensive glass and finishing whatever scraps came his way from the multitude of stars Kentucky assembled this year.
Nevertheless, he dropped some small but intriguing glimpses of potential from time to time, particularly as the season moved on and his comfort level seemingly increased. Orton can carve out space in the post with his huge frame, create shots for himself with some interesting spin moves, shows very nice touch around the basket, and finishes extremely well at the rim thanks to his outstanding length and strength. He even stepped outside on rare occasions and knocked down a 15-foot jumper, displaying solid mechanics in the process. While he didnt do any of this on a consistent basis, for a variety of reasons, it would not be accurate to say that hes completely clueless offensively at this point in time.
With that said, Orton still has a long ways to go on this end, as his skill-level is unpolished and his decision making can be extremely pooroften looking like he cant wait to shoot the ball as soon it reached his hand, and throwing up some very questionable looks in turn. While he gets to the line at a decent rate, he only converts 53% of his attempts once there, showing that he still has plenty of room for improvement with this part of his game. He has no left hand, is a poor ball-handler and lacks considerable experience on this end of the floor. He doesnt quite know how to use his body as effectively as he possibly could, and doesnt always show the type of toughness and intensity you look for from a player fighting for minutes on a crowded roster.
As a rebounder, Orton is mostly a mixed bag, on one hand showing terrific potential with his length ability to go well out of his area for loose balls, particularly when crashing the offensive glass. He was responsible for a number of extremely impressive put-back dunks over the course of the year, but all in all measures out as just an average rebounder from a statistical standpoint, failing to pull down even 10 boards per-40 minutes pace adjusted. Considering his paltry offensive role, this is difficult to understand, although the extremely small sample size (502 minutes) may have something to do with that.
Defensively, Orton makes a huge impact at the collegiate level simply by stepping out on the court. His wide base and terrific strength makes him extremely difficult to back down in the paint, and he does an excellent job using his extremely long arms to contest shots and get his fair share of blocks.
Orton averaged a solid 4 blocks per-40 minutes pace adjusted, and while hes not what you would call a high flyer, he shows nice patience and fundamentals for a player his age and should be able to develop even further in this area as he gains experience.
He also does a nice job sticking his long arms in the right place and coming up with steals, although he has a tendency to gamble at times excessively and pick up cheap fouls by swiping at the ball unnecessarily. Hell also bite on the occasional pump-fake and give up too much space in the post thinking hell be able to recover with a spectacular block, but nothing more than you would expect from a 19-year old big man.
A place he does tend to struggle is guarding the perimeter, though, especially on the pick and roll after caught defending guards and wings on a switch. Ortons lateral quickness is simply not good enough to stay in front of smaller players taking him off the dribblealthough his lack of experience doesnt help him much either-- and the limitations he shows in this area makes it pretty clear that his future is pretty much strictly at the 5-spot down the road.
Perhaps more worrying is the recent behind the scenes chatter about potential off-court concerns. The fingerprints of Ortons father were all over his every move on the recruiting trail, in reported heated discussions with Kentuckys coaching staff about his inconsistent playing time throughout the season, and now regarding his draft declaration decision, to the point that some wonder whether this could become a distraction for the team that picks him down the road. While Orton certainly comes off as a thoughtful and intelligent young man, teams will need to study these issues and draw their own conclusions, especially since hes such a work in progress that will only be able to reach his full potential down the road if hes fully dialed into the task.
Orton probably isnt ready to see very many minutes in the NBA in the short-term, but the physical tools he displays combined with his budding skill-set as a defender, rebounder and low-post threat make him one of the more intriguing long-term big men prospects in this draft. Whichever team picks him will have to be very patient with him, but he certainly has the potential to make them look very smart down the road. Backup NBA centers are expensive and hard to come by, and if Orton can develop as expected, he could be a very nice asset for a team to have, especially on a cheap 4-year rookie scale contract.
The main question teams will want to figure out in the workout process is-- just how far off he is from contributing at this point?