Stock Watch: Final Four

Thu, 04/09/2009 - 9:20am

By Aran Smith

While the games in Detroit didn't quite live up to expectations in the way of competition or excitement, they did give scouts a glimpse of top talent in the pressure cooker of the Final Four. Michigan State showed how playing as a team can overcome a talent disadvantage with their win over UConn to make the Final Four.

Unfortunately the Spartans ran into a much more talented UNC squad which was playing just as well as a team. They never knew what hit them as they were run out of the gym in the first five minutes and the final score was much closer than the actual game.

Here's a look at how the Final Four affected the top prospects draft status:


Wayne Ellington
AP Photo

Wayne Ellington 6-5 194 North Carolina Jr.

The high scorer for the tournament with 115 points (edging Blake Griffin out by a point) was a model of efficiency displaying his ultra-smooth perimeter game to the tune of 19.2 ppg, (44/80) 55% fg, and (17/32) 53% from 3.

No single player enhanced their stock over the course of the tournament more than Ellington. Not only was he MVP of the Final Four, he was North Carolina's most consistent performer (with just one off game: Oklahoma) throughout the tourney.

UNC's star 2-guard raised his stock from a bubble first rounder to a possible late lottery pick by helping UNC win their 2nd championship in 5 years, and the first for Roy Williams consisting entirely of players that he recruited.

Ellington and Lawson were North Carolina's most valuable players, because without Hansbrough this team still had enough pieces to win it all, but without either Ellington or Lawson, they might have fallen short.

Despite the stellar play, Ellington maintains a wide range of opinions from scouts, some going as far as saying he's the best shooting guard prospect in this year's entire draft class while others feel he's merely a specialty shooter at best and only worthy of a late first round selection.

Regardless of where scouts view him, one thing is clear: he enhanced his stock tremendously over the course of the NCAA tournament.

Ty Lawson
AP Photo

Ty Lawson 6-0 195 PG UNC Jr.

Lawson was the big wildcard entering the NCAA tournament as no one knew just how bad the extent of his toe injury was. He was kept out of their opening round game and given an extra 2 days to rest.

Over the rest of the tournament he reverted back to midseason form as no opponent could come close to containing him. His speed off the dribble and pushing the ball up the court is at an elite level for the NBA level which is what makes him so intriguing to NBA scouts. The new NBA hand check rule has made it easier to be a small and quick guard, as Chris Paul has proven.

Lawson doesn't have the talent or all around skills of Paul, but after guiding the Tar Heels to a national title, there is more optimism among NBA scouts about his ability to eventually become a starting NBA point guard. Lawson basically gets wherever he wants on the court and has become extremely efficient at not turning the ball over.

The ACC player of the year's statistics throughout the tournament were absolutely
mind boggling as he averaged 20.8 ppg on 63% shooting. He also had 34 assists to 7 turnovers, nearly 5-1.

Winning a title usually has a positive effect on NBA prospects, and look for this year to be no different as Ellington and Lawson are likely going to see a nice boost in the draft position on draft night.

Had UNC lost, both players likely would have landed in the 18-25 range. But teams love champions, and both players have a real shot to go late lottery after leading the Tar Heels to the National Championship.

Lawson now stands a good chance of getting into the late lottery despite his lack of optimum size at the point guard position.

Tyler Hansbrough
AP Photo

Tyler Hansbrough 6-8 245 PF UNC Sr.

Hansbrough may never be a star at or even starter at the NBA level, but turning down millions to return to UNC and winning a national championship will put him among the legends of UNC basketball for all time.

Hansbrough scored 18 points in both games shooting 11-27, which isn't sensational but got the job done. He averaged 9 rebounds in the two games and had 4 steals against Villanova.

A lot of great players have played in college without winning a championship and it was obvious just how much it meant to him with his victory celebration.

The entertainment lost in the championship game being noncompetitive was partially recovered with the precision and efficiency that North Carolina played with. This team came into the season as the clear cut favorite and rolled through the tournament like the team that everyone envisioned going into the season.

In some ways this team had the ability to turn it on and off whenever they needed to, and the tournament was just what they needed to focus and raise their level of play to levels unrivaled by anyone else in the country.

Despite the fact that Hansbrough lacks huge upside, winning a national championship enhances Hansbrough's stock and should ensure a place somewhere in the late first round on draft night. Look for him to become a productive player, ala Mark Madsen, despite a goofiness and unorthodox game, and have a lengthy career outworking bigger and more talented players.

Kalin Lucas 6-0 165 C UConn Jr.

Lucas had an excellent all around tournament and was a big reason the Spartans got to the final as he outplayed both AJ Price and Kemba Walker in their Final Four match up. His 14.5 ppg and 5.6 apg over the tournament gave MSU a big lift. He struggled in the final against UNC shooting 4-12 from the field (14 pts) with 7 assists and 6 turnovers.

Lucas still needs to improve and isn't close to a first rounder yet, but the progress and potential he showed this year will give him a chance to make in the league someday, possibly becoming a late first rounder if he continues to develop.


Hasheem Thabeet
AP Photo

Hasheem Thabeet 7-3 265 C UConn Jr.

Thabeet isn't going to slip far as you can't teach 7-foot-3 and everyone loves the defensive presence and shot blocking potential that he brings. But it was disconcerting to see Thabeet spend the final minute and a half of his UConn career laid out on the sideline while his teammates battled to the finish.

Granted he had sustained an injury getting crashed into and undercut by Michigan State bigman Goran Suton. Whether he could have gone or not is questionable, but not fighting through the injury left some question marks about his toughness among scouts.

Thabeet actually had a solid performance putting up 17 points, shooting 6-13 and holding his counterpart, Suton, to just 4.

Thabeet's got an excellent shooting motion from the line giving cause for optimism about his offensive potential. On the negative side, his hands are poor as he often fumbles passes or rebounds that he should get.

Despite the rough edges, Thabeet remains a likely top 3-5 pick. He has a Dikembe Motumbo level ceiling and should anchor a defense in the paint for years to come.

AJ Price 6-2 200 PG UConn Sr.

Price needed a strong Final Four performance to put himself in position to get into the first round. He's a clutch performer who had some big games toward the end of the year and in the tourney, but with so many point guards in this year's draft, Price didn't do enough to separate himself.

Price did score 19 ppg during the tourney shooting 37% from the floor, but he shot a miserable 5-20 in their loss to Michigan State registering just one assist.

His first step is decent but he lacks great ability to get to the rim. His best asset is his jumpshot and scoring ability, but that won't be nearly as effective at the next level. He also isn't great at running the show and setting the table for teammates. His average point guard skills and checkered past will likely cost him.

While he's still a likely second rounder, he may fall into the mid to late second round after UConn's collapse against Michigan State.

Kemba Walker 5-11 175 PG UConn Sr.

As great as Walker looked in the Elite Eight, he was a deer in headlights in Detroit. Whether it was playing in front of 70,000 people or just a case of nerves, Walker struggled mightily missing 5 free throws in a row in a crucial part of the game. He shot 1-5 from the floor 3-9 from the line for 5 points with 4 turnovers.

Walker is an impressive point guard prospect and should bounce back well next season taking over the point guard duties, but this was a tough learning experience for him.
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