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Draft Buzz 1/14/04

Wed, 01/14/2004 - 8:41pm

By Aran Smith

Team to Beat

[img_assist|nid=4518|title=UConn|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=315|height=225]

With UConn's 86-59 dismantling of #6 Oklahoma Sunday, the Huskies have re-solidified their dominance upon the country and definitely look like the team to beat for the National Championship. Only Duke seems to have a legitimate chance to beat them.

Stanford has looked like the next best team with gutsy PG Chris Hernandez at the helm. However it's early, and a lot (injuries, momentum, chemistry) can happen between now and early April.

Emeka Okafor is looking like the dominant college player in the country and the best pro prospect as well. Despite possesing little offensive skills and instincts, he's looking like a surefire top 3 pick. It's tough to find a player that dominant on the boards and defensivly. He may lack great offensive potential, but he makes good decisions with the ball, and understands his limitations well.

Ben Gordon has done nothing but help his cause with incredible offensive performances and superb decision making. Gordon could suffer some if scouts question his point guard skills, but he posesses them. Playing point guard in the NBA possibly hurting his scoring ability might be another concern. One way or another, Gordon will be a mid-lotto pick and very good pro.

Charlie Villanueva has emerged as a key player for this team. And though his job is made a lot easier with the presence of Okafor and Gordon, he has risen to the challenge of college basketball without much trouble.

In terms of the NBA, he doesn't have any more chances to withdraw from the draft field. As one scout put it, "It may take two years of solid play to get the bad taste out of scouts mouths after his lackluster workout in Chicago last summer." So though he's anxious to become a pro, his best move might be sticking around at Storrs for a second season and becoming "the man".

Despite Villanueva's apparent laziness, you can't discount a player with the skills he posseses as a shooter, passer and ball handler. He's also got great size and teriffic hands.

Another Marketing Giant?

[img_assist|nid=4531|title=Ha Seung-jin|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=180|height=233]South Korean bigman Ha Seung-jin has been working out in LA with SFX sports for the past month-and-a-half focusing on his conditioning and post skills. His practices are closed off, and scouts wont be allowed to see him for roughly another two months.

His play in Greece during the World Championships over the summer hurt his stock to an extent. Due to sluggish play and putting up lackluster numbers, most scouts felt he would slip to the late first round area.

However, the Korean junior national team that was sent to Greece was essentially an All Star team, much like the American teams that play internationally. The team came together just weeks before going to Greece and had very little cohesion. Korea, unlike China has much more emphasis on backcourt play and for the most part has stronger guards than bigmen.

In Greece, the guards looked for their shots instead of looking to get Ha involved. Ha was forced to look for shots mostly off rebounds and garbage baskets.

Being the next Asian bigman to make the leap to the NBA, Ha inevitably gets compared to Yao Ming. However their games are completely different. Ha is a post player, with an emphasis on "post".

One big positive is that he's more aggressive than Yao. Ha models his game after Shaq, not Sabonis or Bill Walton. He doesn't have the range or shooting abilities of Yao, nor the great passing and vision. But he has more strength and nastiness.

Ha was brought over to work on his conditioning because that was considered the aspect of his game that needed the most work, and giving him a full 6 months leading up to the draft to work on it should be beneficial.

So exactly how high can Ha go? It will have to be based on workouts as he wont be playing in any more actual games for scouts to watch. So his draft stock will be based on his progression in workouts and how teams feel he will develop.

Another project player, Pavel Podkolzine will likely be drafted in the top 8 picks, and though he's more mobile than Ha at this point, it shows that teams are more apt to take a risk on the unknown when the potential is so great.

Another factor in Ha's favor is the revenue he could bring due to his overseas popularity. Yao Ming has been a marketing phenomenon. From a marketing standpoint, Ha could bring a team added merchandising revenue as South Korea is one of the leaders worldwide (some reports say #2) in basketball shoe sales. He will be the first South Korean to play in the NBA, and Seoul,Korea alone has 44 million people.

The success of Yao Ming definitely helps him. But injury concerns and lack of playing time may keep him from going too high. Ha has the potential, where he ends up going in the draft is ultimately up to him.

Rising

Kris Humphries has moved himself into a virtual lock for the first round with his dominant play this season. Scouts love his physique and warrior attitude and see him as another Tom Gugliotta. His shooting range has improved and scouts are raving about him.

The biggest question seems to be his ability to fit a position as he's just 6-8, but scouts assure he's a big 6-8 and see him as a PF. Few players on the college level possess his combination of strength and athleticism, and he's just a freshman.

Luke Jackson had a 39 point game recently in a losing effort against Oregon State. Scouts love Jackson's scoring ability and versatility.He's got good passing skills and competes.

Sean May has come in this year in much better shape and his mobility has improved considerably. He's still undersized and scouts question his ability to defend and get shots, but he's looking a lot closer to a potential first rounder now than a year ago.

He's not the athlete of Zach Randolph, but he possesses similarly slick post moves and ability to create shots. After Raymond Felton, he may be the best prospect on the Tar Heels.

Falling

Pavel Podkolzine has begun to develop a reputation as an attitude guy. His teammates have shunned him and he is beginning to be considered more than immature and a possible headcase.

The team has gone through a lot of turmoil this season with management being in disarray, and it has all had a negative affect of Pavel. He is going a little better than he was a few months back, but scouts are now seeing him in the mid-lotto area instead of the top 3 lock that he looked like after his workout in Chicago last summer.

Tiago Splitter
has been out of action due to a cyst being removed from his thigh. He'll soon begin to play again. On the court he looks eerily like Pau Gasol. However don't be mistaken, he's not nearly as long, agile or polished as Gasol.

Because he's from Brazil and not Europe, he only plays in Euroleague (half the team's) games. He has a large contract with his Spanish club Tau Vitoria and a big buyout that wont help his cause either. He is still considered a lottery pick, but has dropped some in the minds of scouts.

Viktor Khryapa is still a first rounder in the minds of some scouts but he has definitely suffered a rough season. People feel his game has become stagnant, and his offensive skills have shown little improvement. Khryapa is best known for shutting down European legend Dejan Bodiroga during the playoffs last year.

Granted Bodiroga is slow by NBA standards, he's among the best offensive players in all of Europe. Based on Kirilenko's development, Khryapa's offensive skills should improve when he comes to the NBA.

Ike Diogu was probably the second most dominant freshman in the country last year after Melo. However, his game does not translate well to the NBA, and most scouts don't see him as a first rounder.

He's seen as being a one dimensional player, with great offensive post skills, but lacking great defensive presence and size. His lack of height hurts him, and he's not a super-explosive player to make up for it.

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