By Aran Smith
By starting off the year with video game type numbers, 24.8
and 16.3 through 8 games, (his rebound average was over 19 after six games) Blake
Griffin has staked his claim as not only the top player in the country but the
surefire number one pick in the 2009 draft.
Building on a tremendous freshman season in which he would have been the fourth
pick in the 2008 draft, Blake has improved his body and skills tremendously.
The biggest addition to his game has been raising the level of his shooting ability
from mid-range. Blake now looks confident shooting 12-15 foot jumpers, even showing
the ability to go high off the glass ala Tim Duncan. His free throw shooting also
has shown improvement.
There has been talk about this year’s draft not having a player the caliber of
the top two in each of the past two drafts (Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose
and Michael Beasley) however Blake is showing that he can be a franchise type
talent on the same level with those four.
His stats, so far, resemble last year’s Big 12 player of the year (Beasley) and
while he may lack Beasley’s offensive prowess, his overall strength and strength
of character give him more long term potential.
Griffin’s loyalty, opting to return to school and in the process turning down
millions of dollars to play alongside his brother Taylor (Griffin) and help Coach
Jeff Capel continue to build up the Oklahoma program is just one example of his
unique strength of character.
In a preseason
interview, Coach Capel described what makes Blake so special: "Obviously
he’s been incredibly blessed with great talent. He’s been blessed with great genes
and a great body. But the other thing he’s been blessed with is an incredible
work ethic, and a desire to be really, really good. And it’s not a phony desire.
You know I don’t think I’ve ever met a guy that doesn’t want to be a good player.
But so many guys are not willing to put in the time. And Blake does that. He’s
a guy that’s fallen in love with the process of becoming great, of becoming the
best he can be. And he does it in every aspect, from the way he eats, from the
way he trains his body, from being in great shape to working on his body. And
has such a desire, he plays so hard, so when you add all of those things up, and
like I said from the beginning the talent that he’s been blessed with, I think
those are the things that make him such a special and unique talent."
With his amazing strength and skills, Griffin has the potential to be the top
power forward in the league some day. This year’s draft may lack the overall talent
of recent years, but there’s certainly a big prize at the top.
Coming off last season’s NCAA tourney snub, Harden appears
to be a man on a mission. While the level of talent surrounding him leaves a lot
to be desired, he’s the type of player that single handedly makes a team by raising
the level of play of those around him.
He is showing added offensive skills, with better shooting range and more aggressiveness
going to the rim. At 25.5 ppg 7.3 rpg and 4.3 apg, Harden is dropping some video
game numbers himself and has put his name among a short list of All American candidates.
If he continues to play at or near this level, it will be difficult to leave him
off the First Team All American lists, East Coast bias or not.
Scoring 32 and 40 points in back to back nights, in Anaheim, in front of a host
of NBA scouts certainly drew the attention of those who previously had not considered
him a top 3-5 pick. Against Baylor, Harden pulled them back into the game with
numerous shots off the dribble and long range bombs in the second half. Although
the Sun Devils suffered their only loss on the season, Harden’s competitiveness
and determination to keep them in the game was extremely impressive.
The following day Harden was completely in the zone scoring a season high 40 points
on 6-7 from 3 and 14 of 25 overall against UTEP.
While his athleticism isn’t on the level with the top NBA guys, his heart and
determination will make him one of the top shooting guards at the next level someday.
According to a source close to the Sun Devils, Harden recently measured 6’4.25
barefoot meaning that he’s a legit 6-foot-5 by NBA standards, (players are measured
in shoes and normally gain an inch minimum) which for a SG is the magic number.
He was also measured with a 6’7 wingspan, which is solid. The fact that he is
listed in many places at 6’4 might have some fooled, but come June when official
measurements take place, Harden’s results will dispel any concerns about his lack
Harden’s tremendous basketball IQ and feel for the game have him drawing comparisons
from scouts to former Pac-Ten and current NBA standout Brandon Roy. And while
Harden lacks Roy’s point guard abilities, he shares his winners mentality and
ability to make his teammates better.
7-3 265 C UConn Jr.
Hasheem’s decision to return for both his sophomore and junior
seasons came as a surprise but will serve him incredibly well in the long run
as his 2nd and 3rd contracts in the NBA are sure to be far greater now that he
has put the work in to polish his offensive skills and enhance his feel for the
game under one of the best NBA developers in all of college, Jim Calhoun and staff.
Thabeet may never be a true "offensive weapon", but having some confidence
and being more NBA ready when he first enters the league greatly enhance his chances
of becoming a factor. Thabeet’s defensive skills are improved as well, as he has
gained better discipline and instincts to stay on his feet and not fall for pump
fakes and commit fouls.
Thabeet’s dominant play, not only with his Shaq like dunks on school children,
but his ability to convert on legit post moves; drop steps and turn around hooks
is giving the impression that he may actually have some real offensive ability
in the NBA some day. His defensive ability is a sure thing as many feel he can
be something close to Dikembe Motumbo on the defensive end.
If he can sustain his current level of play, 14 ppg 10 rpg 4 bpg, Thabeet can
be a top 3-5 pick in ’09.
The champion Jayhawks lost a great deal of talent from last season, but retained
one of the top bigmen prospects in the nation with Cole Aldrich. He;s got an intriguing
combination of length and mobility. Aldrich’s huge 7-5 wingspan makes him essentially
a 7-footer despite being just 6-10, and his run jump ability is exceptional for
a player his size.
Although his shooting motion lacks grace, he has proven to be a consistent shooter
this year. Aldrich’s excellent start to the season (14.4 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2.8 bpg,
58 fg% 89 ft%) has been a big reason for Kansas excellent 7-1 start, and puts
Aldrich in position to be a potential lottery pick in just his sophomore season.
Mr. March is making a strong case for being not only a great
college player but a lottery pick type of talent. Curry’s exploits are becoming
college hoops lore and his games are getting national television coverage with
King James even showing up to watch the kid play (as he did last March).
It’s a foregone conclusion that Curry will struggle mightily to defend at the
next level, due to his lack of great strength and athleticism. He also could be
put in an impossible situation with a team looking for him to be a savior and
deliver more than he can, particularly if he’s taken too high.
Curry’s incredible outside shooting ability makes him the perfect candidate to
fill the JJ Redick role Orlando had envisioned when they chose him with the 11th
pick, only Curry has much better quickness and shot speed to catch and release,
as well as create shots for himself.
While it’s highly unlikely Curry can be a full time PG at the next level, his
6.4 assists to 2.7 turnovers (2.34) is cause for optimism that he can play in
spot duty. His 31.3 ppg currently leads the nation by 3 points a game.
If a team can use him in the right way, as a third or fourth option who spots
up and spreads the floor, there’s no reason to think Curry can’t have an excellent
NBA career, possibly even mirroring the tremendous career his father Dell had.
Another player who has upped his game from last season, Jeff Teague has been a
player we have loved since high school and he has exceeded all expectations with
his quick development at Wake Forest.
He appears to be the top point guard prospect in the entire ACC, and while he
still needs to work on his team management and ability to run a team, his scoring
ability and athleticism give him NBA starter potential.
Teague had one of the dunks
of the early season, also in Anaheim, dunking on Fullerton’s athletic forward
Teague’s has fantastic numbers on the year with 20.6 ppg and 4.9 apg while shooting
52% fg, 57% 3p and 82% ft. If he can continue to develop his point guard skills,
Teague has the potential to be a lottery pick by 2010.
Maybe the most improved player in the country, Lawal made the
most of his summer adding a solid 15-20 pounds of muscle to a frame that appears
to still have a lot of room for growth. In Dallas at the adidas Nations camp,
he made a huge impression emphatically dunking over Cole Aldrich twice and playing
with newfound strength and toughness.
That has carried over to this season as he has come in and been one of the top
bigmen in the nation. He’s currently averaging 19.8 and 11.3 with tougher foes
on the horizon.
Lawal still has work to do on his game and would benefit by returning for his
junior year. His free throw shooting is abysmal at 45%, but without a great deal
of depth in this year’s class he could find himself in the lottery if he can can
maintain his current level of productivity. Lawal might just be the top bigman
prospect in the entire ACC.
The PG/C combination of Kemba Walker and Hasheem Thabeet has to put some concern
in the mind of UNC coach Roy Williams. While UNC has a more experienced and deeper
squad than UConn, the Huskies might have the pieces to beat them. Walker’s fast
start, showing the ability to run the show and make great decisions, gives him,
as well as the team, a lot of promise this season.
With such a disappointing start to the season for so many freshmen, Walker is
climbing the ladder among freshman prospects. Walker’s stats have trailed off
some recently, and it’s considered unlikely that he would jet after just one year
in Storrs, but with the potential he’s shown, Walker appears to be a lottery pick
candidate in 2010.
"Hello My Name Is":
Fresno State freshman Paul George had his coming out party in a nationally televised
game against St. Mary’s with the Sportscenter dunk
of the night. The under-recruited small forward has proven to be more than
a just highlight reel athlete with his excellent play early in the season. Averaging
16 pts and 6 boards while shooting 54% fg and 44% from 3 through 7 games, George
looks like a top 25 freshman prospect with the potential to be a 2 to 3 year and
out first rounder.
The much hyped freshman has struggled to adjust to the college
game. DeRozan is a world class athlete but through his first 8 games, he hasn’t
been able to break out and display it with a bigtime performance.
DeRozan’s 9.8 ppg on 43 fg% isnt dreadful but it isn’t exactly filling the top
3 projection that many had for him before the season.
Some are beginning to wonder if he might be better off waiting for his sophomore
year to enter the league as right now he doesn’t have the skill level to bring
anything of substance to an NBA team. In essence it would be like drafting a high
schooler based on potential.
On the bright side, it’s early in the season, and every time out is a learning
experience for him. Right now he doesn’t seem to have any clue what to do without
the ball in his hands.
Pulling out some old footage of Reggie Miller’s off ball activity, running defenders
off screens and learning the nuances of timing to get open would be of great service
to him. He’s got the potential to be an excellent offensive player as he has shown
the skills to knock down outside shots. But if he can’t develop offensively, he
could enter the league as another Gerald Green, only with a year of college experience
under his belt.
DeRozan would likely be best served to bypass the urge to be a one and done guy
and work at developing his skills, but indications are he will look to get paid
sooner than later. It will be interesting to see how he develops as the season
Price appears to be slow to bounce back from the horrific knee injury that ended
his and the Huskies season last year against San Diego. Price’s scoring numbers
are way down (14.5 to 8.1) so too are his efficiency from the field (44% to 34%). The
emergence of aforementioned point guard Kemba Walker has obviously cut into Price’s
minutes and productivity, however his effectiveness and confidence appear to have
waned on their own.
Price’s A/TO ratio has also seen a steep decline (2.5 to 1.5). It’s early and
with a team that has a real chance to make the final four and even win the title,
Price’s stock has a chance to climb as the season progresses. But right now, it
appears Price has fallen from a potential first rounder to a likely mid to late
Now in his third season at Duke, Henderson has been slow to live up to the potential
he showed coming out of high school. Maybe it’s the Duke system that limits top
athletes to a degree or maybe it’s Henderson’s lack of confidence and development
in his outside shooting. Whatever the case, the projected preseason lottery pick
has struggled early in the season with his consistency.
Sophomore Kyle Singler has taken over as the team’s offensive focus, and while
Henderson is surely a featured player, he has not had a great start to the season.
In Duke’s recent loss to Michigan, Henderson got in foul trouble and ultimately
fouled out after just 19 minutes.
Henderson’s numbers will need to improve (10.3 ppg, 43 fg%, 36 3p%) if he wants
to secure a spot in the mid-first round in his junior year.
His offseason took a lousy turn when he injured his knee on a fall at the LeBron
camp early in the summer. The good news was he hadn’t torn his ACL, which was
the initial diagnosis, but the injury did keep him off the court for much of the
summer and slowed his physical and basketball progression.
He has put on some weight since last season but the improvement has not given
him the strength and athleticism to get to the rim and finish. He still appears
to be a guy that will struggle to add weight and carry much additional weight
without seeing a drop off in mobility.
The sophomore Zag is currently playing with a knee brace which might be merely
a security blanket, but decreases his appeal in scouts eyes. According to sources,
Daye would like to enter the draft after this season, but there’s no guarantee
he’d be a first rounder. His stats are down, and outside of his great length and
tremendous shooting ability, he has a lot of question marks surrounding his game.
Daye’s lack of explosiveness and strength makes it easier for defenders to play
his shot on the perimeter and dare him to drive by them. While his ball handling
is excellent, his first step is below average and his ability to finish is decreased
by his lack of explosiveness.