Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March Madness: NBA style

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - When watching the NCAA Tournament, I'm not holding my breath waiting for Cinderella to appear like most of America.

Nope, I'm all about the next level and trying to project which players have the athletic skills and basketball smarts to flourish in the NBA, and which ones are the frauds, manufactured in the Dick Vitale/Jay Bilas ESPN-generated hype-machine (think J.J. Redick).

If you are looking for talent, it's usually a good idea to find John Calipari, the coach that mentored both Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis for a season before they burst onto the NBA scene.

Calipari may have fled Beale Street for the blue grass of Kentucky but he remains the best recruiter in all of college basketball, and his new one-year wonder is point guard John Wall, who figures to be the No. 1 overall selection in June's draft.

The 6-foot-4 Wall has the size and physical skills to become an elite player early in his NBA career. His speed and athleticism are strikingly similar to Rose, and few guards can finish above the rim like Wall. One scout told me Wall has an Allen Iverson-like extra gear, with five more inches of height.

John Wall has the size and physical skills to become an elite player early in his NBA career.
Kentucky power forward Patrick Patterson, a junior, may also be a lottery pick. At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, Patterson already possesses an NBA-body and has the demeanor you want in a post player, a rare thing in today's college game. Patterson actually enjoys contact and seeks to bang inside, like a far more skilled Charles Oakley.

Georgia Tech doesn't bring the same cachet to the dance as UK but they sure bring talent and like the Wildcats figure to have two NBA Lottery players in forwards Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal.

Favors, a freshman, is a sure-fire top five pick and will remind you a lot of Al Horford. Like the Atlanta big man, Favors is only 6-foot-9 but is an explosive leaper with that rare combination of power and quickness that can give even the best fits on a daily basis. Favors also possesses a 7-footer's wingspan, and figures to turn into a top-tier shot-blocker early in his NBA career. Like most young players, Favors lacks a go-to move on the blocks and relies too much on his athleticism, but that's the nature of the beast these days.

Lawal is a junior with a relentless work ethic. He also has the 7-foot wingspan along with an NBA-body and solid athletic skills, but Lawal will beat you with conditioning. Like a big-time NFL defensive end, the Georgia native has a non-stop motor and runs the floor extremely hard on a consistent basis.

Kansas is a No. 1 seed for a reason and could have three first round selections is this year's draft. Freshman shooting guard Xavier Henry has the biggest upside and could be gone in the top 10. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, unlike most freshmen, Henry is physically ready. He's a naturally gifted scorer that gets his shot effortlessly but lacks the foot speed to be a true superstar.

Junior Cole Aldrich is the premiere center in the country and is as fundamentally sound a player as you will find in college. He may not have the athletic skills that wow NBA scouts but he's improved every year and could certainly be a late lottery pick.

Meanwhile, senior point guard Sherron Collins figures to be a late first-round selection. Collins is only 5-foot-11 and thinks shot first, but as a 15- or 20- minutes-a-night backup, he has value. In fact, if Collins proves he can keep people in front of him defensively, he could be a nice little role player on a championship-level club.

Right behind Wall in most mock drafts is Ohio State superstar Evan Turner, a 6-foot-7 combo guard that is silky smooth with a great feel for the game. Offensively, Turner reminds me a lot of Portland Trail Blazers star Brandon Roy. He's not the freakish athlete that Wall is, but has the length to give people fits on the wing.

Syracuse junior forward Wesley Johnson rounds out the top three as far as NBA projections go. The prototypical athletic small forward, Johnson actually has a monster mid-range game, something that is usually lost in the three-point- driven college game.

If you are looking for role players that could be steals in the second round, I like Washington forward Quincy Pondexter, Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez and Notre Dame big man Luke Harangody.

Pondexter is slight but he seems to understand the game and has a feel for his own strength and weaknesses, an underrated trait. Few players have the basketball IQ to stay away from things that hurt them.

At 6-foot-6, you have to like Vasquez's size and he plays with great intensity. Of course, that same intensity means Vasquez will play out of control at times, and his decision making suffers. If a coach can harness that, he might have something in the Maryland senior.

Harangody is 6-foot-7, 245-pound plodding power forward. He lacks athleticism, explosiveness and height but dominated the toughest conference in all of college basketball for three years. In short, Harangody knows how to play the game, and there will always be room for a guy like that.

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