Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Plenty of NBA Talent in NCAA Final

The NCAA Championship Game on Monday night may have been relatively routine victory for the Florida Gators, but it will prove to memorable when the NBA Draft rolls around in June. The Gators and the Ohio State Buckeyes (provided they all declare for the draft) showcased at least nine players that will be drafted into the NBA, five likely lottery picks, three of whom may be among the top six players selected- incredible! A look at the NBA prospects that took the floor in Atlanta on Monday:

In the Top 6

Greg Oden-
A no-brainer. Oden came into the game as the likely #1 pick, and he firmly cemented himself into the top spot in June by putting up 25 points, grabbing 12 rebounds (4 offensive), blocking four shots and staying out of foul trouble. Had the Buckeyes made a stronger commitment to running their through Oden, the game may have played out differently. He's likely to adapt to the NBA much like Shaquille O'Neal did, with his defense and rebounding outpacing his offense in his first season. But make no mistake, his size, power and athleticism will make him an offensive force in the paint from the beginning. With a year or two of NBA experience (and stamina) and coaching, Oden will be absolutely unstoppable.

Al Horford- An experienced, NBA-ready big man, Horford was a top 5 draft prospect coming into the title game and, like Oden, did nothing to hurt his status. Horford is a powerful scorer down low and a skilled rebounder, grabbing both defensive and all-important offensive boards. He's also versatile on offense, with 12-15 foot range on his jumper, as well as a presence on defense, averaging just under two blocked shots per game. In time, he could develop into a Jermaine O'Neal-type big man.

Corey Brewer- As much physical ability as anyone in the draft and, unlike many young players, never has a game where he gives you nothing. His length, quickness and anticipation are huge assets on the defensive end, where he will be a terror. His combination of agility and a 7-foot+ wingspan will make him a stopper along the lines of Scottie Pippen before his rookie season is over. Offensively, he's extremely versatile- his speed and quickness allow him to get into the lane on a regular basis, and his strength and athleticism make him a strong finisher once he gets there. He should have room to get his jumper off at the next level, and his improving perimeter game (to 20 feet) will make him a legitimate inside-outside threat as a pro. Outside of the Oden-Durant duo, Corey Brewer will be the biggest impact player from this draft.

Still in the Lottery

Mike Conley, Jr.- Has the speed, quickness and poise of Tony Parker. Although he plays the game at 100 mph, Conley is always under control and never seems to make a mental mistake- traits normally associated with championship point guards. His absurdly clutch play for the Buckeyes down the stretch, combined with a weak crop of point guards in the draft, has catapulted him into the top eight picks this June (assuming he comes out). He's two steps quicker than anyone who tries to guard him, something that will really benefit him in the Association, where any good faith effort to play defense usually results in a foul. Like Parker, he will make a very nice living carving up NBA defenses.

Joakim Noah- Didn't show any improvement in his game from his outstanding sophomore season which, along with his underwhelming performance in the title game (8 points, 3 rebounds, 0 blocks), likely dropped his draft stock into the lower half of the lottery, which is probably still a bit high. Noah's energy and defensive effort will not be enough to mask his lack of physical strength or a refined offensive game. It's difficult to see him becoming much more than an A.C. Green-type role player. Had he played for any other college team, he'd be a nice late-first round bagain, but team success at Florida has inflated his draft stock.

Late 1st/Early 2nd

Lee Humphrey- Most contending team in the late 1990s would gladly have traded a late-first or early-second round pick to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for Steve Kerr. Humphrey offers an opportunity to do just that by picking up the NCAA Tournament's all-time leader in made 3 pointers (47; 23-for-49, 47%, in 2007) and one of the best outside threats in the draft, in the #28-35 overall range. Drafting on potential is all well and good, but there is something to be said for drafting a clutch 3-point threat who's proven himself on the biggest stage in back-to-back years. Upside and athleticism do not always translate into a defined role in the NBA. Lee Humphrey has a defined role and he will prove to be an asset to a contender looking for an outside threat.

Round 2

Chris Richard- Think Chuck Hayes. Chris Richard will not be a star in the NBA, but his strength and championship experience will keep him on an NBA roster for a long time. In his senior season, in just 18 minutes per game, Richard averaged 6 points and nearly 4 rebounds, 1.5 of them offensive- solid production for a big man off the bench. He raised his production in Final Four, averaging 12 points and 6 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. He will be a low-risk second round steal.

Taurean Green- A talented point guard with a versatile offensive game and championship experience. In 2007, Green's field goal percentage jumped to 44%, a dramatic improvement over his 36.6% percentage of 2006. This, along with his strong perimeter game (40% 3-point percentage) and excellent free throw shooting (84.9% in 2007; 88.6 in 2006) will make him a viable second-unit point guard in the NBA. Taurean Green has played college basketball at the highest level and has been the point guard for a two-time national championship squad. Drafting this type of resume in the middle of Round 2 is seldom a mistake.

Ron Lewis- Rather than spending a late second round pick on some little-known European or small-school prospect who may or may not develop into an NBA player, why not select a player who has contributed at the highest level of college basketball (NCAA career- 13.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and has an NBA-ready body (6'4", 200 lbs)? Ron Lewis, who averaged 17 points-per-game in 2003-04, has four years of college experience as well as the ability to raise his game when the situation calls for it, evidenced by his 18 point, 4.6 rebound tournament averages (vs. 12.5 ppg and 3.5 rpg during the season).

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