Thunder Draft Preview (Cleanthony Early)

By Randy Renner

As Thursday’s NBA Draft gets closer we’re continuing our look at some of the players who could be available for the Thunder with either the 21st or 29th selection.

Either or both picks could be traded if the Thunder believe they will not be able to get a player they’ve targeted at those spots. Thunder GM Sam Presti made it clear earlier this month he and his staff prefer to “select” a player rather than merely “pick” one who happens to be available.

With the various scenarios in play this should be a fun week.

Remember our InsideThunder.com team will be in place Thursday night at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center to provide full coverage of Thunder Draft Night 2014.

CLEANTHONY EARLY (Small Forward, Wichita State)

Early had an outstanding senior season in Wichita and Thunder staffers are very familiar with him. It's also believed Early has been in for a workout at the Thunder facility.

Most mock drafts have him going in either the late first round or at the beginning of the second.

Offensively Early is a very effective and efficient player. He ranks second among small forwards available in the draft scoring 1.11 points per possession and he was in that same point production range from several spots on the floor according to advanced stats from Synergy Sports Technologies.

He scored a group leading 1.13 points per possession in the post, 1.11 points per jump shot to rank third and an above average 1.28 points per shot around the rim.

Looking at his numbers from his senior season as a Shocker he averaged 27.5 minutes and scored 16.3 points per game on 48.7 percent shooting overall. He was 37.6 percent on threes and an outstanding 84.2 percent from the stripe.

At the NBA Draft Combine he measured 6-7 and 209 pounds with a wingspan of 6-11.

His physical stature indicates his future is most likely as a small forward in the NBA or even as a shooting guard, but in college he generally played the power forward position.

Some scouts are a little concerned that Early's offensive numbers might be a tad inflated because of the Shockers overall competition in the Missouri Valley Conference but Early also played well and produced against high quality opponents too.

His shooting percentages would indicate he's got a really nice stroke but it's something he's been working on throughout his college career. When he came to Wichita State his shooting mechanics weren't anywhere near where they are now and they could still use some work.

Watching film on Early and reading scouting reports it appears he's almost exclusively a catch-and-shoot guy (he made 39 percent of those attempts). At Wichita State he almost never shot off the dribble (just 12 times this past season).

Early can adapt his game to take advantage of mismatches. He liked to power over and through smaller players to get opportunities at the rim and against bigger, slower players he liked to dance around them for jump shots.

The problem with Early is that he hasn't really improved certain other areas of his game during his time in junior college and then at WSU. His ball handling skills aren't very good and he can't seem to pass the rock worth a darn. The physical tools that make him fearless going into traffic in the lane tend also to tempt him to take tough (if not silly) shots so his decision making isn't what you'd like to see from a college senior.

Defensively Early has struggled to stay in front of quicker players and on the NBA level that will be an even bigger problem. If he was getting back on his heels at Wichita State scouts worry he might look like he's on skates in the NBA.

Still with all that said Early has made significant improvements in his overall game and reports indicate he's a very hard worker who is ready and willing to learn. That attitude should serve him well.