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Stock Watch

Thu, 01/10/2008 - 1:59pm

ByAran Smith
1/10/08

Rising

[img_assist|nid=3539|title=James Harden - AP Photo/Matt York|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=350|height=369]James Harden 6-5 220 SG Arizona St. Fr.

James Harden has the Sun Devils riding high after recent wins over Pac-Ten powers Oregon and Arizona.

His clutch 26 point performance in Arizona State's OT win over Arizona Wednesday night has scouts beginning to wonder if Harden is not only the top freshman prospect in the Pac-Ten, but possibly the top NBA prospect in the entire Pac-Ten.

Showing the composure of a veteran, Harden bounced back from a terrible first half against Arizona to score 22 in the second half and overtime, putting the team on his back in the final minutes and converting numerous baskets.

Harden's transition to the college game has been as seamless as a g-string. His four straight 20 point performances show that on top of being a great team player, he can be a prolific scorer and take over games in crunch time.

Harden's feel for the game, passing ability, unselfishness and all around skills are eerily similar to Spurs star Manu Ginobili. Like Ginobili, he excels at driving to the basket and can shoot from all areas of the floor.

But maybe most similar to Ginobili: Harden is a winner. Everywhere he goes he wins. In AAU ball in the summer of 2006 at the adidas Super 64, Harden amazingly led a team along with Austin Daye and coached by Jim Harrick to a championship win over a team consisting of Michael Beasley, Austin Freeman and Nolan Smith.

As one of the highest rated recruits ever to sign with Arizona State, Harden has been a major force in the resurgence of Arizona State. Now 13-2 and tied for first in the conference at 3-0, the Sun Devils appear NCAA Tournament bound. After going 8-22 last year, they are almost certainly the most improved team in the country.

Harden is considered a lock first rounder right now, but sources close to the program insist he won't even consider leaving for the draft this year. He's considered a lock to stay 2 years minimum and help Coach Herb Sendek return ASU to national prominence. Based on his current play, he's a potential top 5-10 pick in the 2009 draft.

[img_assist|nid=3540|title=Jason Thompson - Rider Athletics|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=232|height=350]Jason Thompson 6-10 245 PF Rider Sr.

Despite appearing on television three times early in the season and outscoring projected number one pick Michael Beasley, 24 to 13, Jason Thompson is the biggest draft prospect no one's ever heard of.

Playing at Rider makes it extremely tough for Thompson to get the name recognition and respect that he deserves. But when Rider has matched up against elite level programs, Thompson has answered the bell. Against NC State, Thompson went for 24 and 15, and against Penn State he had 21 and 10.

He's extremely athletic, with great length and strength. On top of that, his skill level is very good. He has solid post moves and can also face the basket and put the ball on the deck. He even shows passing ability with good vision (nearly 3 assists per game).

Playing in the MAAC obviously enhances his statistics as the competition level is not as strong on a night in night out basis. However, Thompson's stats are extremely impressive nonetheless. On the season, Thompson is averaging 20.2 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 2.8 apg, (1/1 a/to ratio), 1.2 spg, and 2.6 bpg. He's shooting just 60% from the line. But he's a career 70% free throw shooter and recently knocked down 10-10 in a game.

His biggest weakness is truly the conference he plays in. If he were in the Pac-Ten or ACC, it's very possible he would be getting mentions as a potential lottery pick right now.

He has a polished set of skills, and a good understanding of the game. He even has a reliable midrange jumper that he can go to, which is a huge asset at the next level. Rider lacks quality guards, so it's on Thompson to create scoring opportunities, which he does. Jason's younger brother, a 6-6 sophomore, Ryan leads the team in assists at 4.2.

Thompson's greatest strength is his versatility. He can do it all, and though he needs to get stronger, he's not one to shy away from contact. He has a big frame and should have no problem adding additional muscle between the end of the season and the draft.

JT is considered a likely first rounder and some scouts even rate a him as one of the top 2-3 power forward prospects for this year's draft.

If you haven't seen Thompson yet this season, Rider next plays on television on January 21st against Iona. Be sure to catch him then!

[img_assist|nid=3541|title=Russell Westbrook - Rich Kane/Icon SMI|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=452]Russell Westbrook 6-3 187 SG UCLA So.

The preseason knee injury to Darren Collison was a blessing in disguise for the Bruins as it gave Westbrook time to develop as UCLA's lead guard. He gained valuable experience and confidence, and now with DC back, Westbrook can play at his more natural 2-guard position alongside Josh Shipp, while filling in at the point when Collison rests.

Though undersized for the NBA shooting guard position, Westbrook's ability to play some point guard plus his amazing athleticism and length make him a terrific pro prospect. He has developed tremendous offensive skills as he's a bona fide go-to scorer with excellent mid-range skills.

Westbrook "YouTubed" Jamal Boykin in UCLA's big win over Cal on Saturday, gathering speed on the tarmac and then rising up and tomahawking over him. It was maybe the most impressive televised dunk thus far through the college season, with Westbrook making a loud statement about his standout athletic ability.

A majority of the NBA players who scrimmaged with the UCLA program during the summer came away so impressed with Westbrook they called him UCLA's top NBA prospect, over the likes of Darren Collison and Kevin Love.

With a number of players that figure to leave after this year, especially if UCLA wins it all, including Love and Collison as well as Josh Shipp and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Westbrook is in position to take over the team next year along with incoming freshman Jrue Holiday and three other top 25 caliber recruits.

Westbrook is averaging 11.7 ppg on 50% shooting and 42% from 3 with a 2.3 a/to ratio, and is leading the Pac-Ten in assists per game at 5.5, although with Darren Collison now playing point guard, that is sure to change as the season winds down.

With lightning quickness and an array of offensive skills, Westbrook has top ten potential for the 2009 NBA draft.

[img_assist|nid=3542|title=Joe Alexander - Rich Kane/Icon SMI|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=483]Joe Alexander 6-8 210 SF W.Virginia Jr.

Alexander has gone from a projected mid-second rounder to a projected mid-first rounder over the past month due to his tremendous all around play leading West Virginia to a terrific (11-3) first half of the season.

Bob Huggins is notorious for the toughness that he instills in his teams, and after just half a season, the effects are showing as Alexander has been fearless, taking big shots and playing tough defense.

Alexander's looks are deceiving with his boyish face and elf-like ears, but in reality he's ready to rip his opponents guts out. He was a tough kid before Huggie Bear arrived, but has become even tougher and has stepped into the role of team leader and go to player.

One of the most athletic players in the country, at 6-9, he jumps the opening tip for the team, often out-jumping players 2-3 inches taller than him.

Alexander has raised his scoring average on the season to 15.6 ppg with 6.4 rpg, 1.8 blocks per while shooting 48% from the field and 89% from the line.

His 19 points were instrumental in West Virginia's upset win over conference powerhouse Marquette.

JaVale McGee 7-0 237 C Nevada So.

The late-blooming Nevada bigman out of Chicago is quickly becoming one of the top center prospects in the country. Though still very raw, his immense potential is unmistakable.

McGee has a basketball body to die for. His 7-foot height and 7-6 wingspan give him ideal attributes to play the center position at the next level.

[img_assist|nid=3543|title=JaVale McGee - AJ Mast/Icon SMI|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=405]His foot speed and athleticism make him a potential big time player, as he gradually improves and fully learns how to play inside the post. His development this year has been extremely intriguing as he's blocking shots and showing great offensive promise.

Maybe most encouraging about McGee is his competitiveness and desire, which isn't the case for many bigmen. Though he can appear immature at times, his emotional outbursts on the floor show just how passionate he is and how much he wants to improve.

McGee still has a lot of growing up to do, but he has done an admiral job of filling the shoes of Nick Fazekas. Though he still can't play extended minutes without getting winded, McGee is beginning to become a force. In just 27 minutes per game, McGee is averaging 13.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg and 3.5 bpg.

He opened a lot of eyes with his 14 point 7 rebound and 4 shot block performance against North Carolina. Nevada lost, but for scouts in attendance it quickly became obvious who the top prospect on the floor was.

The fear for Coach Fox and Nevada is that the NBA will come calling this year and McGee will be tempted to leave a year early. But it would be in McGee and the NBA's best interest for him to stay and develop as he appears a year away from really putting it all together and becoming a legit dominant bigman.

McGee has a world of potential and currently sits at #6 on the 2009 mock. If he continues to develop at his current rate, he could certainly crack the top 5 picks of next year's draft.

[img_assist|nid=3544|title=DJ White - AJ Mast/Icon SMI|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=436]DJ White 6-8 242 PF Indiana Sr.

The Indiana postman is delivering on a consistent basis and appears to finally be injury free. White has been an absolute beast all year, but especially of late. He's had three straight 15+ point and rebound games including a recent 20-20 performance with 21 and 23 against Michigan.

Although he lacks optimum power forward height at 6-8, his huge wingspan gives him great length which makes up the difference. White is also extremely explosive. He's capable of taking off along the baseline from just inside the paint without much momentum and dunking right over opponents.

White is currently averaging 16.7 ppg and 10.9 rpg. Excellent numbers, which would likely be higher if not for the presence of Big-Ten leading scorer Eric Gordon.

Gordon certainly helps White by taking some of the defensive pressure off of him, but with such a high shot volume, some of White's offensive production gets eaten into.

While there's a lot of season left to be played, and White needs to remain healthy and keep his current level of productivity up, there's good reason to expect White to find a spot in the first round based on his play thus far through the season.

Jordan Hill 6-10 230 PF Arizona So.

Despite losing three of their last four games with the absence of Jerryd Bayless, Jordan Hill has been a rock of consistency for UA. His emergence has been a big boost to the Wildcats as he's their only true dominant post presence.

Hill is currently averaging 13.9 ppg and 7.6 rpg. His 65% fg percentage is good for 2nd in the Pac-Ten and his 1.3 blocks per game good for fifth, and he is one of the leading post players in the nation in thunderous highlight dunks.

Maybe most impressive about Hill is how late he picked up the game. Hill reportedly didn't start playing organized basketball until his junior year of high school. He still has the occasional traveling call and can be unorthodox, but his frame and athleticism, plus his developing skills make him a bigtime prospect.

In some ways picking up the game late was a positive as he never developed bad habits. He has good form on his shot (72% from the line) and surprisingly a solid feel for the game.

Hill is an excellent shot blocker with great length and explosiveness. He should become even better as he becomes more disciplined and doesn't leave his feet until his opponents do. His one real weakness is the fact that he gets into foul trouble far too easily. He gets overzealous attempting to block shots and must learn better discipline. Though he has shown improvement over the past month.

He also may struggle to put on a great deal of weight, but he should continue to get stronger and has a fair amount of strength now, despite a lack of girth.

Hill is considered as a potential mid-first rounder for the 2009 NBA draft.

Falling

[img_assist|nid=3545|title=Earl Clark|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=400]Earl Clark 6-8 220 SF Louisville So. 

Clark has been in a serious funk over the past couple weeks. Coach Pitino went on record saying he didn't think he was ready to leave for the NBA this year, and since then Clark has proven Pitino correct.

In the three games prior to the Kentucky game he averaged just 5.3 ppg. on 26% (5-19) shooting. He was suspended for Saturday's Kentucky game for unspecified reasons.

Clark's recent play combined with his lack of discipline which caused the suspension leads to major concerns about the sophomore's maturity.

For a player that was beginning to get mentions as a potential lottery pick, his stock has taken a nose dive over the past couple weeks.

His 3 point shooting, which started out solid has dropped all the way to 16% on the season, and his scoring average has dipped to 11.8 per game.

Clark still has a lot of intrigue and is averaging double digits in rebounding, but he'll need to bounce back from the string of disappointing games and the suspension.

Clark's stock at least in the short term (2008 draft) has taken a major hit and as of now, he would be best advised to return for his junior season.

Louisville appears to be turning into the college version of the late 90's-early 2000's Portland Jailblazers with Caracter problems abound. Their top signed recruit Terrence Jennings has a shoddy reputation as does their top recruiting target Tyreke Evans who was recently involved in a shooting in which his cousin was charged with murder.

[img_assist|nid=3546|title=DeVon Hardin - Larry Goren/Icon SMI|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=449]DeVon Hardin 6-10 240 PF California Sr. 

After shooting 80% from the free throw line in an injury shortened junior year, many expected Hardin's offensive game to show vast improvement this year.

Unfortunately that hasn't been the case, as Hardin continues to struggle to do much of anything offensively outside of put back dunks and ally oops. He's currently averaging 10.1 ppg, down .2 ppg from a year ago.

For a player that shows solid form and touch in warm ups and practice situations, it's bizarre how his shooting touch abandons him in game situations.

Hardin has a decent hook shot, but he lacks much of a back to the basket game for someone that only plays with his back to the basket. He really struggles to shoot on the move and is not a good finisher unless he has an opportunity for a dunk.

Granted playing alongside a prolific scorer such as Ryan Anderson limits Hardin's offensive responsibility and touches, but for a senior with such tremendous body structure and athleticism, he should be able to roll out of bed and average 15-18 points per game.

The lack of scoring does not bode well for him as anything more than a rebounder and shot blocker at the next level with single digit scoring numbers.

On the positive side, Harden certainly passes the "look test" as he's good for at least one jaw dropping dunk per game. His athleticism is on par with some of the game's elite bigmen and just a notch below the Dwight Howards and Amare Stoudemires. Unfortunately, Hardin's skill level pales in comparison.

There are very few players on the college level like Hardin, and despite extremely limited offensive skills, he's considered a likely first rounder.

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