In recent years, Final Fours haven’t provided nearly the bastion of evaluation treats that they did, say, as recently five or six years ago.
That, of course, is due to the race-to-the-NBA that the best prospects make once they enroll.
These days, any time a player identified as “elite” before he starts his freshman collegiate season is on NBA’s “early-entry” draft list by the spring of that freshman year.
But the squads – well, at least three of them, that is – that will be in Indianapolis this weekend figure to contribute heavily to the first round of the June 25, 2015 draft.
Each of those two has probably played himself into conversation for invitations of the NBA’s Pre-Draft Camp in Chicago and, possible, a selection somewhere in the second round on June 25.
With the same kind of progress over the next year that most of Tom Izzo’s players from season to season, it wouldn’t be startling if junior Denzel Valentine – a terrific jump shooter with prototypical “shooting guard size” (6-foot-5ish) – evolves into a potential first-round selection in June of 2016.
And, while we’re on the topic of the Spartans, how remarkable was the improvement that Izzo’s club made over the past month and a half or so?
Not to beat the obvious into the ground but . . . there isn’t a better coach in the sport, is there?
And the Spartans will be hooking up with another pretty-well coached squad (you’ve heard of Mike Krzyzewski, I’m assuming) in the Duke Blue Devils.
At times, both on Sunday evening in Houston and throughout most of the regular season, three freshmen took turns looking – and playing – as if they were Krzyzewski’s best player.
And an April 6 final pitting Kentucky and Duke could pit six freshmen who could be Top 20 or so selections on June 25: Karl-Anthony Towns, [Player: Trey Lyles and Devin Booker of the Wildcats and Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones of the Blue Devils.
Regardless of the winners on Saturday, all three contests will be heavily scrutinized by NBA “decision makers” (general managers and personnel directors).
That’s because Wisconsin, which will meet the Wildcats in a second consecutive Final Four semifinal, offers them two players who could be selected in lottery range to the late teens on June 25.
Seven-foot Frank Kaminsky pretty much did whatever he wanted, for the second year in a row, against Arizona’s assorted post defenders, to help the Badgers past the Wildcats for the second year in a row in Southern California (the 2014 West Regional final was held in Anaheim’s Honda Center; the 2015 regional was played in the Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles).
Kaminsky has done nothing to hurt his stock come June 25 – if you’re looking for a possible comparison when it comes to his long-term NBA impact, Spencer Hawes (now with the Clippers) comes immediately to mind.
He has all of the perimeter post skilled that Hawes brought with him into the league after one year with the University of Washington minus the innate athleticism (end to end speed and lateral and vertical explosiveness Hawes possessed as a rookie).
But the player whose tournament has done the most to jet into lottery range – at least – is Kaminsky’s junior teammate, Sam Dekker.
Is he a “big wing” or “stretch 4”?
At 6-foot-8 and some change, he’s got the body, quicks and vertical pop, skills as a handler and range and release on his jumper that could enable him to play either spot in the NBA.
He played like the easily the best “player” on the floor on both nights in the Staples Center and looked every bit the best NBA “prospect”, as well, even considering his big name teammate and the guys who were on the Arizona and North Carolina rosters.
There will be a lot of notes taken by NBA-types Saturday when Kaminsky is matched up against the likes of Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein (in the Top Five hunt, for sure) down low or in pick-and-roll/flair situations Saturday night, and Dekker is being trailed by Lyles, Cauley-Stein or Booker.
Of course, the intently evaluated head-up matchup in a championship game in a long while could be on the table if Kentucky and Duke are battling Monday night.
That’s when all of the GMs, personnel directors – and, yeah, some head coaches and owners, too – of any of the teams who are in contention for the No. 1 slot on June 25 – would get to see Okafor and Towns help the decision making for whichever franchise is picking first a whole lot less stressed.