By Aran Smith
[img_assist|nid=4059|title=Kevin Durant - AP Photo: Deborah Cannon|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=381]Kevin Durant 6-10 220 SF Texas Fr.
18 months ago I saw Kevin Durant get completely dismantled by Spencer Hawes on the AAU circuit, not once but twice in the Main Event in Las Vegas.
Hawes dominance over him may have been the wake up call Durant needed. Taking the skills that he flashed at Oak Hill Academy and Montrose Christian and during the High School All Star games, he has since elevated his play to become the best player in college.
Durant worked hard in the off-season adding 20 pounds of muscle and the results have been extraordinary. The transformation from prospect to player has been a joy to watch. Thank you Kevin Durant, and thank you David Stern!
No player has benefited more from the draft rule than Durant. His year in college will likely allow him to become a much more productive NBA player in the long run and a more NBA ready player in the short term. His long term development is increased as he likely will not have the strength issue and confidence loss that often accompanied highschoolers in their jump to the NBA. It is easy to forget he's nearly a full year young for his grade.
The game comes so easily to him it's like watching a high school kid thrown in with a bunch of middle schoolers. His jump shot is an absolute thing of beauty, one of those jumpers where it's so effortless and pure you assume it's going in every time. His combination of size and athleticism are unparalleled on the college level.
Since December 20th, Durant has been making a mockery of college basketball averaging 27.6 ppg and 12.6 rpg, and that includes Durant's one off game, during that span, against Villanova where he finished with 12 and 8 on 4-15 shooting. The kid has upped his numbers on the year to 24.4 ppg and 11.0 rpg. Which is good for sixth in the nation in scoring and fourth in nation in rebounds. Yes it appears Durant has this college basketball thing figured out.
The NBA already has a KG, and now should be bracing for next year's arrival of KD. Durant is making the spectacular routine.
The questions that still linger about Durant are no longer whether he can make it in the NBA, but just how good he can be. To play devils advocate, KD still must show what he can do against bigger and stronger defenders. He's sure to take his lumps next year with similar sized and talented athletes with better strength and experience defending him on a nightly basis.
He doesn't have the foot speed of some of his NBA counterparts such as Tracy McGrady or another player he often gets compared to, the Iceman, George Gervin. He has the size to shoot over many shorter opponents in college, but he'll need to become better at creating shots for himself, as his foot speed is below average for an NBA wing player, making him a slight tweener.
Durant is in the perfect situation to shine. Obviously he's enormously talented, with a higher ceiling than recent freshman phenom and one-and-doner Carmelo Anthony. But Texas is a team with no upperclassmen. Unlike nearly every other talented college freshman, Durant has not had to wait his turn or deal with any PT limitations.
Can he develop a killer instinct? His performance in the Longhorns game-of-the-year triple OT loss to Oklahoma State showed that he's able to step up in pressure situations. But that's on the college level.
Will he have the hunger to be great and develop into a killer on the next level? His personality is somewhat like Tracy McGrady's so that is yet to be seen. Some labeled T-Mac too laid back coming into the league, and that's bound to happen with Durant when he inevitably hits adversity in his rookie season trying to live up to all the hype.
Durant overtaking Oden for the top overall pick remains doubtful, but the fact that Durant has made team's consider it shows how talented he is. As rare as a dominant bigman like Oden is, a wing like Durant may be just as rare.
Coming in second in this year's NBA draft lottery will make a lot of fans of that team more excited than landing the top pick, and has officially become pick 1b.
Durant is something we haven't seen on the college level in years, why? Because all of the comparable players have gone straight to the league. Don't look for Durant to redefine a position on the NBA level, he's franchise talent good, but not a top player in the league type talent.
For impact and style of play, look for him to end up somewhere between Rashard Lewis and Kevin Garnett when all is said and done.
[img_assist|nid=4060|title=Acie Law IV - AP Photo: Pat Sullivan|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=342]Acie Law 6-3 195 PG Texas A&M Sr.
Law struggled to start the season but has rebounded strong and has Texas A&M back in the top ten with a two seed in the tourney in their cross hairs.
Lately, Acie has shouldered more of the scoring load for the Aggies with 16 or more points in his last 7 games averaging 20.2 ppg. On the season, he's averaging 16.6 ppg and 4.9 apg. His shooting numbers are higher than they've ever been at 51.7 fg% 75.8 ft% and .43.8 3p%.
Most importantly A&M is having an excellent season at 17-3.
Now in his senior season, Law benefits greatly from the lack of talent available in this year's draft at the point guard position.
Law is the new breed of NBA point guard with a score first mentality. But his vision and PG skills are adequate and he's got great size, speed and competitiveness.
If Law continues playing the way he is now, look for him to land in the first round of the 2007 draft.
Herbert Hill 6-10 240 PF Providence Sr.
A late bloomer, Hill averaged just 9.0p and 4.8r as a junior in 18 minutes per game last year. But with a chance to play this season, Hill has made the most of the opportunity and is averaging 17.1p and 8.4r (good for fourth and fifth in the Big East) as well as 3.2 blocks (fourth).
Hill has solid ability to get up and down the floor and shows the length and explosiveness to block shots. His touch around the basket has grown, and he's very active on both ends of the court.
H2 has been extremely hot of late averaging 19.8 ppg over his past seven games.
He still needs to add strength to his body, but with a good showing in workouts and camps leading up to the draft, Hill has a shot to crack the first round.
[img_assist|nid=4061|title=Dominic McGuire - AP Photo: Brad Horn|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=340]Dominic McGuire 6-8 210 SF Fresno St. Jr.
Maybe the top transfer player in the country, McGuire sat out last season after transferring from Cal and used the year off to improve his skill level. He always had great athleticism, which he has improved upon, but now shows the ability to create shots off the dribble, as well as score like he never had before.
Averaging 12.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, and a whopping 3.5 blocks per game (good for eighth in the nation).
Along with fellow NBA forward prospect Quinton Hosley, McGuire has helped Fresno State to a 15-6 record. They have lost recently 4-out-of-6 games in conference, including some close games, but McGuire has played well.
In his last four games, McGuire is averaging 15.5 ppg.
With the versatility to play some time at point guard, he's got the athleticism and length that scouts are drooling over. One scout likened him to a poor mans Scottie Pippen due to his body, explosiveness and versatility.
McGuire can become a late first rounder in the 2008 draft if he continues to develop his decision making, offensive abilities and overall feel for the game.
Ramon Sessions 6-3 190 PG Nevada Jr.
When Nick Fazekas missed two games and fouled out in a close game against Gonzaga, Sessions proved that he's a clutch player capable of stepping up and scoring important baskets for the Wolfpack.
Sessions established himself as a steady PG with excellent leadership and passing ability during his first two seasons in Reno. He's now expanded his game to scoring (averaging 14.1 ppg, and a 4.5/2.0 (2.26) a/to ratio).
Sessions was a lesser recruited prospect coming out of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina but has slowly progressed into one of the top handful of point guards in the nation.
His size and composure at the PG position have scouts labeling him a sleeper, and a potential first round pick for the 2008 NBA draft.
[img_assist|nid=4062|title=Aaron Brooks - AP Photo: Kevin Clark|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=415]Aaron Brooks 5-11 160 PG Oregon Sr.
Brooks has been the catalyst for Oregon's tremendous season. He has been extremely clutch hitting game winning shots to beat UCLA, and the Pac-Ten player of the year award is his to lose.
Besides a 2 point loss to USC, Oregon has been perfect in games Brooks has played in.
Brooks leads the Pac-Ten in scoring by nearly 2 points a game at 19.1 ppg. He's fifth in the conference at 4.5 apg.
Brooks point guard skills are decent, but he has always struggled with decision making and had a tendency to get out of control in games. His game has matured in his senior year elevating his shooting numbers across the board, (.478 fg% .862 ft% .412 3p%) and maintaining an above average a/to ratio (4.5/2.8 - 1.62).
Looking at his pro potential, he has struggled to add weight to his frame. At 5-11 and 160 pounds he will struggle to make in the NBA. But with such amazing speed and the craftiness to create shots, he's beginning to create some buzz as a possible Earl Boykins type of spark plug off the bench.
He's so quick, he's nearly impossible for opposing guards to stay in front of. And once on the move he has an array of scoop shots and runners that he's able to covert over interior players.
Derrick Byars 6-7 225 SG/SF Vand. Sr.
Byars struggled to start the season and so did the Commodores with a 1-3 start. Since then the team has gone 15-4 behind their senior leader.
Showing a steady progression each year at Vanderbilt, Byars always showed excellent athletic ability, but has really polished his skills in this his senior year.
His ability to elevate the play of his teammates as well as create baskets for himself has made him most intriguing to scouts.
Byars has been the hottest of his entire career over the past 6 games averaging 20.5 points on 53% shooting. He's become one of the top handful of seniors in the nation and now has a chance to land in the first round of the 2007 draft.
Freshman of the Week
[img_assist|nid=4063|title=Matthew Pilgrim - Photo: HamptonPirates.com|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=308|height=240]Matthew Pilgrim 6-8 225 SF Hampton Fr.
Scoring 20 of his 24 points in the first half, Matthew Pilgrim helped Hampton outlast a late run by North Carolina A&T at their raucous"dog pound" home court.
Hampton built a 20 point first half lead behind Pilgrim's barrage of 3 point shots and acrobatic dunks. Pilgrim along with fellow freshman Mike Freeman, make up one of the most talented freshman duos that no one has heard of.
Despite playing for a small mid-major, Pilgrim is a legit NBA prospect with excellent size and strength already. His skill level is very advanced for a freshman with the ability to score inside and out, plus the strength to overpower players inside for rebounds and handle and pass the ball.
He missed the first nine games of the season after breaking his foot. He started the season off slow, but his game against NC A&T showed that he's regained his explosiveness. He's back close to 100% and beginning to assert himself as one of the top players in the MEAC conference.
Though just 8-12 on the season, Hampton is very young and looks extremely promising for the future. Pilgrim, along with Freeman will hope to turn Hampton into another George Mason in the next few seasons, and in the process develop into a first round NBA prospect.
[img_assist|nid=4064|title=Sean Williams - AP Photo: Stew Milne|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=397]Sean Williams 6-10 235 PF BC Jr.
Williams draft stock took a big hit when he got kicked off the Boston College team on January 17th for "violation of team rules". He had been suspended 2-3 times prior to this, due to marijuana possession, so this was not unexpected.
For a team with NCAA tourney aspirations and so much riding on the line, Williams loss will be devastating, not only to the team but to Williams as well.
A good showing in the tournament could have vaulted him into the first round of this year's draft.
This season, Williams became more than just a shot blocker with a stretch of 9 straight games in double digits and a 12.1 ppg and 6.9 rpg average to end his junior season. His 5.1 blocks per game was good for second in the country and first among high major conferences.
He is now considered likely to enter the 2007 NBA draft. He's a Theo Ratliff type of game changer on the defensive end of the floor, and it's possible a team will take a chance on him at the end of the first round, based on his upside. But more likely he will slide due to team's being wary of his off court troubles.
Williams will need to prove to scouts and GMs that he's serious about his future and not disrupting team chemistry or he could find himself undrafted and playing in minor leagues or Europe.
Glen Davis 6-8 280 PF LSU Jr.
Big Baby has been struggling over the past few weeks, his scoring output has been decent but his shooting numbers have dropped off. Coinciding with LSU's 3 game losing skid, Davis has shot just 17-42 (40%) over that span.
[img_assist|nid=4065|title=Glen Davis - AP Photo: Bill Feig|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=389]A preseason top 10 team, LSU has struggled losing conference games to Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Georgia. They are now 2-4 in their conference and 13-7 on the season. If they don't right the ship soon, they could be left watching the Big Dance, instead of trying to make it back to the Final Four.
Davis worked extremely hard on his body during the off-season dropping 50 pounds. And his game has shown solid improvement. However, his foot speed and agility have not increased as dramatically the way some anticipated.
He is very crafty getting shots off around the basket, but it's hard not condition his exploits with a "for a guy his size (shape)".
Scouts consider Davis a likely early second round pick for the draft with an outside chance to jump into the late first round if he elevates his play as some teams remain high on him.
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