Through NBA Eyes: The NCAA Tourney

 

Damion James of Texas and Al-Farouq of Wake Forest head-to-head. Wow!

This year, thanks to tracking the Jeremy Lin Movement, I've experienced a renaissance with watching NCAA basketball. Last year, I couldn't name you more than half of the first round NBA Draft picks off the top of my head. Now, I can safely say that I've seen at least two-thirds of the players on most draft boards a few times this year (I've even seen some below-the-radar guys in person, very near courtside, as well, but that will have to wait for another blogpost).

Most of you will be watching the tournament because of the (random?) picks you made in your office's bracket pool. I'll bet most of you might even just be waiting for the final scores, or the CBS cut-ins to late nail-biters where one of your #12/#5 upset picks might make you look like a genius. Sitting down and actually watching the #8 Texas vs #9 Wake Forest or #7 Oklahoma State vs #10 Georgia Tech game from tipoff to buzzer is the furthest thing from your mind.

Not if you watch the NCAA Tournament through NBA eyes!

I never knew that the NCAA could be draw my interest like a kid collecting baseball cards, knowing every player's name in the 792-card set. This is because, for all intents and purposes, I'm an NBA guy. I don't really recall how this happened, because I once camped out to get season tickets to watch Jason Kidd play in Harmon Gym (yeah, I said "gym", not "arena").

For various reasons, I've become an avid follower of the NBA Summer League in Vegas and hence the Draft, and now I've gone even further to the source into NCAA non-conference and conference play. Having worked in Silicon Valley, it's akin to starting as a mutual fund manager (the NBA), then becoming a private equity specialist (Summer League), then becoming a venture capitalist (NCAA). If you've ever worked with or at a startup, you know how exciting the "pre-IPO" world can be, even though everything is sort of helter-skelter.

Then tying this all back to the Warriors, it's really speculative and fun, especially over the past several games where the frontline of the Dubs has been completely held up by D-League players, to try and imagine any number of potential draft picks entering the spotlight in a mere three months for the June Draft, in place of certain guys you see right now on the floor. Having knowledge about the Draft gives you a better idea of where NBA teams might be headed and certainly makes a 19-win season a lot more interesting. The NBA doesn't necessarily become only about the four or five teams who are seriously in contention for the O'Brien Trophy.

So let's get to it. What are the upcoming games you ought to be watching for some raw Assocation talent? Note, I'm skipping the "any Kansas game" or "any Kentucky game" cliches. You don't need any more than superficial knowledge to know that each of those teams has at least three future NBA draft picks. Besides, I don't wanna waste my time watching three draft picks rip apart Lehigh or East Tennessee State -- more on that in a future blogpost, I promise.

Thursday, March 18

  • 4:20pm PDT: #6 Marquette vs #11 Washington

    I'll be honest with you, I haven't seen Marquette's Lazar Hayward (senior, 6'6", 205) play yet, but he's listed on NBAdraft.net's 2010 Mock Draft as the #30 pick. Meanwhile, most people here on the West Coast have heard of Quincy Pondexter (senior, 6'6", 220) of Washington, who's listed at #33 on NBAdraft.net, but #23 on the 2010 Mock Draft on DraftExpress.

    Ncaa_basketball_mar_3527_medium
    It's ironic that Hayward (18.1 ppg, 7.7 rpg) is not listed on DraftExpress, while Pondexter (19.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg) is listed ten spots lower on NBAdraft.net (#33) than on DraftExpress (#23). And now these two small forward NBA prospects are head-to-head.

    I've seen Pondexter and haven't been blown away, because he tends to display some talent in flashes. For example, you can't sit back and watch the Pac-10 tournament championship in which Washington beat Cal and tell me that Pondexter dominated that game.

    But, hey, NBA GMs clearly are drawn to athletes in the late first round. Oh well, what are you gonna do. I suppose they know what they need on their teams!

    In my mind, this is a mini-battle between NBAdraft.net and DraftExpress. I cannot wait to see how this unravels.
  • 6:35pm PDT: #8 Texas vs #9 Wake Forest

    This is a can't-miss. It's a head-to-head matchup between two of the most impressive small forwards in the NCAA: Damion James (senior, 6'7", 225) of Texas straight up against Al-Farouq Aminu (sophomore, 6'9", 215) of Wake Forest.

    James is averaging 18 ppg, 10.4 rpg, and 1.2 bpg, and is listed as a "G-F", but he'd be a small forward in the NBA. Aminu would also play a small forward position in the NBA, and has got some impressive numbers as well: 10.7 rpg and 1.5 bpg to go along with the requisite 15.7 ppg. Keep in mind, if you're scoring 16 ppg on an NCAA team, you are a bonafide star of your team. Double-digits in rebounding and at least 1.2 blocks? That's pretty crazy when you're shorter than 6'11" and a small forward.

    With Aminu and James, we have a microcosm of the John Wall vs Evan Turner debate. Aminu is more of the out-of-this-world athlete and, like Wall, the younger prospect: long limbs, runs like a gazelle, a human pogo stick. James is the experienced, muscular guy who can make nice moves to the basket off the dribble, although I'd have to say, I personally don't think his basketball IQ is up there on par with most seniors.

    NBAdraft.net has Aminu being drafted at the #10 spot, with James going at #13. DraftExpress has Aminu at #5 and James at #15.

    It goes without saying that this game has direct implications on the 2010 NBA Draft.

    I might also add that Texas has a freshman shooting guard in Avery Bradley (freshman, 6'2", 180), who is now infamously known as "that guy" who was ranked higher than John Wall coming out of high school. Bradley is a solid 2-guard.

    Let me be the first to say, his jumper reminds me of Michael Jordan's. Now, before you get too excited and accuse me of blaspheme, let me point out, the jumpshot is the only resemblance. That is to say, he's a got a sweet jumper, it's very fundamental, his mechanics on it are fluid and he loves to take that shot, as well he should. He's also a solid one-on-one defender. There's a lot of talk that he'll come out this year, but I just don't see how he can, considering his very "freshman" numbers: only 11.7 ppg, an anemic 2.9 rpg and 2.1 apg, playing on an otherwise dysfunctional team.
  • 6:45pm PDT: #6 Tennessee vs #11 San Diego State

    Tennessee has power forward Wayne Chism (senior, 6'9", 246), who averages 12.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg, and 1.4 bpg. He's unlisted on DraftExpress and listed at #47 on NBAdraft.net.

    There are increasing rumblings about San Diego State's freshman Kawhi Leonard (6'7", 225), who doesn't quite have the ppg numbers to make the jump to lightspeed, at just 12.8 ppg. But he's averaging 9.9 rpg and has an incredible 16 double-doubles this year. Still, he may come out for the Draft if he has another breakout game here against vaunted Tennessee, and the 2011 lockout looming.

    From a logistical standpoint, you probably shouldn't be watching this game too much, as it overlaps with the Texas vs Wake Forest game.

Friday, March 19

  • 4:10pm PDT: #8 Gonzaga vs #9 Florida State - POTENTIAL FUTURE WARRIOR ALERT!

    First off, you actually shouldn't be watching this game. You should be watching the one listed in the next bullet point. However, during timeouts of that one, you may want to flip to this one real quick, out of curiosity.

    Florida State's center Solomon Alabi (sophomore, 7'1", 251) is listed on NBAdraft.net at #26 and DraftExpress at #17. I have not seen him play, but because he's a center, he's definitely on the Warrior draft radar. Alabi's numbers are not as good as you would hope: just 11.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and 2.4 bpg -- which probably means that, somehow, the Warriors will end up with him.

    I'm more intrigued by Gonzaga's big point guard Matt Bouldin (senior, 6'5", 224) and swingman Elias Harris (freshman, 6'7", 215). Yep, you saw that correctly: Bouldin weighs 224 lbs and is a point guard. He's crafty with the ball and can shoot the trey. He averages 15.8 ppg, 4.1 apg, and 4.6 rpg, but only 1.4 spg. So he's not the fastest or quickest, but he can sure absorb contact. That's why he has NBA draft stock. He's currently listed at #43 on NBAdraft.net and unlisted on DraftExpress. For you Jeremy Lin fans, at the big point guard spot, Bouldin will present direct competition during the Portsmouth Invitational, as well as the pre-draft combine.

    Harris is only a freshman and does not appear on either draft board. However, he's recorded six double-doubles and averages 14.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg, rather eye-popping figures for a freshman. Lean and mobile, he's probably a 2011 or 2012 draft pick, although the impending lockout for 2011 may very well have him leave early, we'll see.

    But you really should be watching...
  • 4:15pm PDT: #7 Oklahoma State vs #10 Georgia Tech - POTENTIAL FUTURE WARRIOR ALERT!

    Oklahoma State has one of the best 2-guards in the country, James Anderson (junior, 6'6", 195), while Georgia Tech has a sure-fire top-five pick in power forward Derrick Favors (freshman, 6'11", 246), as well as a late-first-round prospect in Gani Lawal (junior, 6'9", 234). All Warrior fans ought to be salivating right now! But we'll get to Favors (okay, and Lawal) in a minute...

    Anderson, who is averaging 22.6 ppg and 5.8 rpg, will most likely be matched up one-on-one with Georgia Tech's big point man Iman Shumpert (sophomore, 6'5", 209), due to Georgia Tech's lack of size in the backcourt. I've seen Anderson play once or twice this season and he can really light it up. He's athletic, in the Jason Richardson mold. Bear in mind, 22.6 and 5.8 are pretty gaudy stats at the NCAA level. Compare that to OKC rookie James Harden, who played at Arizona State last year and averaged 20.1 ppg and 5.6 rpg (albeit with 4.2 apg, which is far better than Anderson's 2.4 apg -- but then again, we're talking shooting guards here). Remember, Harden was the 3rd overall pick in the 2009 Draft!

    Anderson is listed at #14 on NBAdraft.net and #20 on DraftExpress. Just goes to show you what a deep draft 2010 is.

    Shumpert is an athletic player and scored 30 against UNC early in the season before the Tarheels fell off a cliff. He isn't quite there as a draft prospect yet, averaging just 10.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.0 apg, and 1.9 spg. However, Shumpert occasionally has flashes, although I'm not quite sure of his future as a point guard due to what seems to be a lack of a plan out there on the court. As such, the media has criticized the Georgia Tech backcourt heavily for its inability to make Favors look better down low, say, compared to DeMarcus Cousins.

    Shumpert may be juiced for this game, though, especially knowing that NBA scouts are there to see Anderson.

    And so we come to Favors and Lawal. Lawal's listed at #15 on NBAdraft.net and #29 on DraftExpress. He's averaging 13.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, and 1.4 bpg. He's a solid power forward, but doesn't seem to have the nice long limbs that Favors has. There's not a lot of upside to Lawal's game. What you see is what you get.

    Favors is listed at #4 on both DraftExpress and NBAdraft.net. He averages 12.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, and 2.1 bpg. There's talk that he can definitely move up with another strong showing if he plays like he did in Georgia Tech's loss to Duke in the ACC final, and because people are starting to really notice Cousins's attitude problems.

    Favors is a big body -- not too heavy, and certainly not considered skinny -- who can run the floor, rebound, make inside moves, all of that. He doesn't have a midrange game, but neither did Amare Stoudemire when he came into the NBA, although Favors will need to work on conditioning and chiseling out his frame. He's certainly far better than Andris Beidrins as-is, and look how much the Warriors are paying AB and how badly Warrior fans miss him. Finally, Favors is only a freshman and he has a great attitude, which means he is one hot commodity.

    I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that if Cousins were a sophomore, Favors would be #3 and Cousins would be #4. That's how it is on the draft boards. That's what we mean by "upside". Heck, one more outburst by Cousins in the next few weeks, and we could very well see Cousins at #2. Then again, if Kentucky wins the national championship and Cousins is the hero, then Cousins could very well move up past Turner (gasp!). In any case, remember, the Warriors have the 3rd-worst record in the league. Getting the #3 pick in the 2010 Draft is very much mathematically in the Warriors' "favor"!
  • 6:30pm, PDT, #15 Vermont vs #1 Syracuse

    I haven't seen him play, but Marqus Blakely (senior, 6'5", 225) of Vermont is listed at #58 on NBAdraft.net. He is not listed on DraftExpress. He's averaging 17.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg, and a rather impressive 3.7 apg for a small forward. He has an eyebrow-raising 2.4 spg and 1.9 bpg.

    He'll be matched up against the much-ballyhooed Wes Johnson (junior, 6'7", 205) of Syracuse. Johnson is averaging 16.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg, and 1.9 bpg. NBAdraft.net has him listed at #3, the Warriors position, which would be a disastrous pick since there are so many 6'9" and above high-quality power forwards available -- after all, there was that pursuit of Amar'e Stoudemire, no? -- while DraftExpress has Johnson listed at #8.

    It's been awhile since I've seen Johnson play, so I'm curious to see why NBAdraft.net has him ranked so high.
  • 6:35pm PDT, #15 UC Santa Barbara at #2 Ohio State

    Okay, I'm asking you to flip over to this one during commercial breaks of Blakely vs Wes Johnson, because this matchup will likely end up a blowout. And I'm being a bit of a homer here, but (extended) Bay Area product and WAC Player of the Year Orlando Johnson (sophomore, 6'5", 205) might actually find himself guarding Evan Turner (junior, 6'7", 205). Please note, however, that Johnson is currently not a draft prospect, but could very well be in 2012 when he is a senior.

    Ohio State has a pretty tall backcourt and UCSB's is pretty normal, so it's more likely that Johnson would be matched up on someone like David Lighty. Actually, any matchup on Turner is a hopeless cause for UCSB, so let's just leave it at that.

    In any case, Johnson is a burly small forward who finds a lot of his time in the paint. He's got some nice numbers: 18.9 ppg with no plays being run for him and 5.4 rpg.

    Basically I'm saying that you ought to watch Turner every chance you get (and you didn't need me to tell you that), but this one isn't a throw-away game as much as the Kentucky vs East Tennessee State one is, because of the possibility of Johnson and Turner being matched up.

    Johnson's been given an opportunity to boost the radar on his draft potential. Let's see if he takes advantage of it.
  • 6:40pm PDT: #4 Maryland vs #13 Houston

    The fiery Greivis Vasquez (senior, 6'5", 200) of Venezuela is the star for Maryland. He's a tall ballhandler and can shoot. Oh, does he like to shoot: 16 shots per game, including 33 attempts when he scored 41 on Virginia Tech. But he's pretty crafty with the ball as well, averaging 6.3 apg to go along with 19.5 ppg and 4.6 rpg. He presents direct competition at the scarce "big point guard" position, for both Jeremy Lin and Matt Bouldin, among others.

    Vasquez may very well find himself matched up with Houston's shooting guard, Aubrey Coleman (senior, 6'4", 200), who is averaging an off-the-charts 25.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, and 2.7 spg. I have not seen Coleman play this year and I'm very much looking forward to this one.

    Vasquez is not the best defender. He's not very mobile or fast, but does use his 6'5" frame to his advantage. It's really too bad the Tournament Committee didn't just pit Maryland vs Gonzaga to get a Vasquez vs Bouldin head-to-head. They are similar players.

    Coleman is listed at #47 on DraftExpress and #41 on NBAdraft.net. Vasquez is at #48 on DraftExpress and #34 on NBAdraft.net.

Well, that does it for Thursday and Friday. A bit light on Thursday and too many overlaps on Friday. There are even more intriguing head-to-head matchups that are possible for Saturday and Sunday, but we'll cross that bridge if needed.

Hopefully this has given you more than an ample head start. Did I forget any first-round matchups pitting potential draft picks going head-to-head? Let people know in the comments.

Oh, and before you start dissing Jeremy Lin in the comments because he's nowhere to be found on the draft boards nor the NCAA Tournament, please realize that no sane person who runs an Internet draft board, nor an NBA scout or GM, would openly suggest that they would use one of their two draft picks on some guy from Harvard. 

On the other hand, on scout's honor, I have actually heard from someone who knows a GM by their first name, that this GM thinks Jeremy will get drafted. But talk is cheap. That one will pretty much be decided at Portsmouth.

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