Wednesday, May 23, 2007

End of the Bench: Top 10 College Players Board

By Jared Trexler
The Phanatic Magazine

From The End of the Bench is trying something new post-lottery, looking into the crystal ball to determine the Top 10 collegiate players with the most career upside. I am not talking most "NBA ready", a phrase used to justify a pick on a talented shooter with "win-now" skills but little career longevity.

I'm not even discussing college's Top 10 players -- a list that would surely include Vanderbilt's Derrick Byars, the SEC Player of the Year who carried the Commodores within a Jeff Green bank shot and a sliding pivot foot from the Elite Eight.

I play NBA GM with one goal in mind. I'm not interested in ticket sales or marketing campaigns but rather focused on the players who can "Bring Me the Ring." China's Yi Jianlin does not warrant consideration because last I checked he didn't attend Hoops U.

Top 5: (6-10 unveiled on Thursday)

1. Greg Oden (Ohio State)
John McMullen, rejoice. I stand by my assertion, repeated by ESPN's Jay Bilas just last night, that Kevin Durant will have a greater impact right away, but no one can argue both Oden's upside and each franchise's need for a intimidating post presence as the centerpiece of a title run. Oden shoots with both hands, uses his body well on both sides of the floor and has quick feet for a man his size. A shot-blocking and rebounding machine, Oden is proficient around the basket and keeps the ball high, meaning he uses his height to his advantage around the rim. I do have questions about his floor intelligence in terms of foul trouble -- some NBA assistant will tell the big man to go straight up instead of tilting his wings on an obtuse angle. Yet, it shouldn't be as much of a problem at the next level, where officials allow more contact and players are bigger and stronger. That's the next concern: Oden needs to develop his body, which isn't NBA ready. He becomes winded too quickly and takes himself out of games on the low block when he's tired. Getting post position won't be as easy in the league, so adding 10 pounds of muscle and extra stamina are keys. That being said, he's 7-foot with a deft touch and a knack for protecting the rim. Like Pat Ewing in NY, Shaq in Orlando, Los Angeles and Miami and Tim Duncan in San Antonio, Oden should score and disrupt while allowing his talented frontline mates in Portland (Zach Randolph and LaMarcus Alridge) to score in space.

2. Kevin Durant (Texas)
No one in the draft has his skill set -- a 6-10 frame with a 7-foot wingspan, post-up moves, a face-up game and the ability to drain jumpers off the pass and bounce. Durant has it all, except for the muscle he will likely add before the season even begins. He's a scorer, and we know how NBA scouts love those players. The question that remains is, "How can he change the game when the shots aren't falling?" Durant had a few games, including the bow out in the NCAA Tournament, where double teams affected his ability to make shots and in turn flustered him on both ends. He's a B or B- defender with just average rebounding and passing ability. His court sense is slightly above average, but no one will confuse him with Albert Einstein in shorts. Granted, he scores in so many ways that lengthy dry spells are unlikely. He should thrive in the ISO and pick-and-roll sets of the NBA, but he needs to improve his intangibles to have a historic, game-changing career.

3. Brandan Wright (North Carolina)
Raw is the word I'd use to describe this UNC freshman. He's likely less NBA ready than Florida forward Al Horford, but his upside is limitless. Wright has the wing span of a condor, flying through the air, swatting and altering shots from in close. His touch around the rim is second to none. When Brandan Wright obtains post position and gets the feed on either block, it's money in the bank. He shot almost 60 percent from the floor during his one season in Chapel Hill. While he can already score and alter, Wright needs to improve his body and face-up game at the next level. In today's game, 6-10 forwards can shoot foul-line jumpers, something Wright never truly worked on with the Tar Heels. He never worked a defender off the bounce in the face-up game nor shot a jumper off the pass. His wiry frame will get beat to death at the next level, so pushing for an NBA body may take a year or two of bumps and bruises. His wing span and touch for a big man have him rated this high, as does my belief that his work ethic will quickly push him toward improvements in the areas listed above.

4. Corey Brewer (Florida)
When I see Corey Brewer play, I immediately think a slightly smaller version of Scottie Pippen. Brewer has an adequate long-range game, can take a defender off the dribble and rebounds well for a 6-8 shooting guard (small forward in the NBA). Yet, what sets Brewer apart from the rest is his work ethic, intangibles, and dogged defensive pressure. Brewer is a floor general, always aware of time and place in each set and defense. He hedges well off on-ball screens, making him a perfect defensive weapon in the spread and slip NBA offensive scheme. His on-ball defensive skills bring him comparisons to Pippen, with the long arms and quick feet to disrupt stand-still jump shooters and penetrating swingmen. Yet, he doesn't take his natural skills for granted by playing token D on the ball. He's in your grill when you have the ball, and plays excellent help defense when the ball is miles away on the opposite wing. Brewer is never going to be a 20-point per game scorer at the next level, but I can see lines that look like 15 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals on a nightly basis. Those players have long careers at the next level. Brewer won't be a sexy pick like Mike Conley, Jr. or Julian Wright, but he'll have a better pro career than both.

5. Al Thonton (Florida State)
This was a tough decision. I looked at various players with various styles, trying to fit their pieces into the NBA puzzle. Thornton's piece just fit naturally. In the rights of full disclosure, I saw Thornton play a lot last season (probably 10 or 12 times). I always came away highly impressed. He didn't have the best supporting cast, playing with the bullseye on his chest nightly, yet he always put up his 20 points and seven or eight rebounds. Out of the top 5, Thornton may have the best NBA body -- 6-7 and built like a freight train. He is Durant Lite on the offensive end, but the Texas forward's superior on the glass and defensive end of the floor. Like Durant, Thornton can score off the dribble, in space or surrounded by trees in the paint. Unlike Durant, Thornton moves well off the ball, weaving through screens because his size doesn't allow him Durant's advantages on the block. His athleticism may be unmatched in this draft. He handles contact well and finishes after fouls. He is a streaky long range shooter and sometimes becomes frustrated with an off shooting night, so the mental side of the game needs some polish. Yet, if a team is looking for a wing scorer with an NBA body and isn't Seattle with the second pick, Thornton is not a bad alternative.

Where is Horford or Conley? What about Wright or Spencer Hawes? Who is the surprise name that cracked the Top 10? Find out in Thursday's installment of "From the End of the Bench" and email me your Top 5 at

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