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Mid-Majors: Top NBA Prospects

Mon, 11/10/2008 - 1:47pm

 

By Michael DeStefano

Smaller mid-majors always seem to be in the midst of debates. Do most of them deserve to be in the tournament? Why should they get automatic bids for winning a conference full of inferior teams when better teams from the Big East, ACC, or other major conferences are kept out? The same questions are always asked, and then a mid-major goes out and knocks off a team from a power conference and is billed as a Cinderella. The fact is that these teams can play, and these kids can play. Despite being small schools comprised of low-profile recruits, (or in some cases like Memphis, an elite team in a ghost town conference) some of these players find themselves in perfect situations to get better without the pressure and lofty expectations. That’s why NBA scouts are heading out to watch Gonzaga and other mid-majors in the hopes of finding a diamond in the ruff. This year, there are several out there.

(Last year's number one pick, Derrick Rose, came from Memphis, a school that technically (considering the conference: Conference USA) is labeled a mid-major)

 
 


Austin Daye
 

Top 5 Prospects:

  1. Austin Daye (Gonzaga) – He’s got the length and shooting stroke to be a matchup nightmare in the League a la Kevin Durant. He can catch-and-shoot or shoot off the dribble, and he has a variety of moves to get by his defenders when they pressure him on the perimeter. His array of skills make him an extremely dangerous scorer. He has the length to wreak havoc on both ends of the floor, and just needs to get a little stronger to utilize his athleticism and finish at the rim. Averages of 11 points and 5 rebounds don’t jump out at you, but he only played 18 minutes per game as a freshman. Furthermore, he averaged almost 2 blocks per game. He needs to put on weight (only 190 at 6’10), and that added strength will help him become a better defender at the next level. The sky’s the limit for this kid. He'll need to show that the off-season knee injury is not a concern, but he's got lottery potential if he plays up to his potential.
  2. Stephen Curry (Davidson) – Everyone’s favorite player in the country last year, Curry had one of the most memorable and impressive tournaments in NCAA history. 40 against Gonzaga (including 8 threes) in the 1st round. 30 against a tough Hoya defense in the next round. 33 in a 17-point blowout of Wisconsin, one of the best defensive teams in the country, in the Sweet Sixteen. Nevertheless, people doubt his ability to make it in the NBA. He’s too small and too weak, they say. First of all, anyone who shoots the way Curry does will find a place in the League. His form is beautiful, his release is lightning quick, and his range seems limitless. Like Reggie Miller or Rip Hamilton, he moves great without the ball and has incredible stamina, enabling him to wear down his defender to get open shots or backdoor lay-ups. Secondly, there’s no reason to doubt his ability to improve. He works hard, and he knows what it takes to make it (thanks to being the son of former NBA player Dell Curry. The main concern will be his ability to run a team at the next level. Regardless, another season like last year (26 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals per game) will put Curry in the lottery.
  3. Derrick Brown (Xavier) – Another player whose numbers don’t jump off the page, Derrick Brown averaged 11 and 7 for a very good Xavier team last year. Drew Lavender, Josh Duncan, and Stanley Burrell are gone, so his production will increase in a big way. A projected lottery pick in ’09, Brown is an athletic freak, seen in the way he led Xavier in both rebounding and dunks last year. He is great in the open floor and tries to finish everything with power. He didn’t shoot many 3’s last year, and while 35% from beyond the arc isn’t terrible, there is clearly much room for improvement. He needs to show scouts that he can score consistently from the outside. His quick first step is a plus, but he needs to work on his ball-handling and shooting to thrive in the NBA. He’s got the physical gifts to be a good defender in the League; he just needs to show the effort. After a great summer, a strong season will ensure a spot in the lottery for Brown.
  4. Patrick Mills (St. Mary’s) – If you’re a basketball fan and didn’t know who Patrick Mills was last spring, you should certainly know his name now after a great performance in the Olympics. He averaged 15 points and 4 assists per game as a freshman last year, then scored 20 against Chris Paul and Deron Williams in Beijing over the summer for Australia. Playing and excelling against grown men in the Olympics can only help Mills in the long run as he gets ready for his sophomore year and, eventually, the NBA. His speed and skills make up for his lack of size. It would serve him well to improve his outside shot (32% from 3 last season), but there’s no questioning his potential. He’ll be a first-rounder when he decides to come out.
  5. Jerome Jordan (Tulsa) – Size (7’1), length, and mobility are Jordan’s greatest strengths right now. He’s an intriguing prospect for a few reasons. On the defensive end, he’s shown good timing when blocking shots, effective to the tune of 3.7 blocks per game last year. And he has the potential to get better in this area (almost 5 per game over his last six games). He shoots almost 70% from the line which gives scouts hope that he’ll be able to develop some sort of a mid-range game, and despite his lack of post moves, he still averaged almost 11 points per game as a sophomore. Yet, he is still very raw. He needs to add muscle; he needs to add a post game; he needs to become more fundamental on the defensive end and stop relying solely on his shot-blocking prowess. Comparisons to former mid-major center Patrick O’Bryant bode well for Jordan’s chances of becoming a lottery pick, but Bryant’s struggles in the NBA are not too reassuring. Reaching his potential will take a lot of hard work and improvement, and it will be interesting to see the strides he can take over the next two years.

Others receiving consideration: Eric Maynor (Virginia Commonwealth), Tyreke Evans (Memphis), Willie Kemp (Memphis), Chris Wright (Dayton), Lester Hudson (Tenn-Martin), Lorrenzo Wade (San Diego St.), Robert Vaden (UAB), Russell Hicks (FIU)


Sleeper: Josh Heytvelt (Gonzaga)

Heytvelt is an enigma. He has the talent, size, and athleticism that say he should excel playing in a mid-major conference. Yet, he only scored 10 points per game last year. In the WCC Championship game, he scored only 8 points against San Diego. In the first round against a small Davidson team, only 12 points. He also averaged less than 5 rebound per game last year while blocking only fifteen shots in 22 games. Then again, there's the time as a sophomore when he he thoroughly out-played Tyler Hansbrough. Heytvelt gets the benefit of the doubt since he missed the first 11 games, so we’ll see how he performs with a full season under his belt. Nevertheless, injury history and off-the-court issues are taken into consideration and will hurt his stock. A good team with established leaders will select Heytvelt towards the end of the first round, possibly getting a steal if he can stay healthy and keep his head on straight.

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Ahmad Nivins

This guy isn't even on the draft board, and he's one of the best under-the-radar power forwards in the NCAA. Coming from the A-10, he's probably overlooked in the NCAA power forward discussion, but he's still an absolute beast. 19.3ppg, 11.1rpg, 2.1bpg and shooting 66.5% from the field are stats any power forward would be proud of. He's also shooting 74% from the free throw line, which isn't shabby at all. He's also got an NBA power forward body at 6'9", 242lbs. I don't have any idea why he's not even in the discussion as even a 2nd round pick. Why don't you believe he's in the discussion?

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