Final Four: NBA Draft prospects
Taking stock of which NBA draft prospects have the most to gain and lose at this week’s upcoming NCAA Final Four in Detroit:
#1 Connecticut vs. #2 Michigan State
Hasheem Thabeet, 7-3, Junior, Center, UConn
Hasheem Thabeet is clearly the most highly touted NBA draft prospect in the NCAA Final Four, even if he hasn’t really looked like it over the course of the NCAA tournament thus far. That’s why he would really benefit from a strong showing in Detroit. Thabeet will have a tough matchup, though, as Michigan State senior Goran Suton has been absolutely on fire as of late, and he’s just the kind of big man that can give a player Thabeet major problems.
As Missouri reminded us, Thabeet is not very adept at stepping out and guarding the perimeter, which is exactly where sweet-shooting Suton likes to operate. Thabeet did not record a single block in the Missouri game, in addition to being a complete non-factor offensively, and it’s not clear that UConn can survive against the incredibly disciplined Spartans without a good performance from their star center. His status as a top-5 pick might not either if he bombs.
AJ Price, 6-2, Senior, Point Guard, UConn
A.J. Price did not play all that well in the Phoenix regional (shooting 11/32 from the field in two games), but he was named the Most Outstanding Player regardless. For UConn to have any shot at knocking off Tom Izzo’s team, they will need Price to relocate his stroke, as his 1/9 showing from beyond the arc over the past two games could spell the end of the road for them.
Price is exactly the kind of skilled, aggressive and unpredictable combo guard that can break down a defense on his own and create scoring opportunities for himself and others. Cold-shooting in Phoenix aside, he’s looking more and more like the A.J. Price of old as of late with his ability to get to the free throw line, something that he had major issues with over the first few months of the season as he struggled to return from a torn ACL last March.
Despite how stacked this year’s draft class appears to be at the point guard position (Ricky Rubio, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson, Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, Jonny Flynn, Eric Maynor, Jrue Holiday, etc), Price will have the eyes of the entire NBA on him on Saturday and has a chance to help his stock significantly.
Stanley Robinson, 6-9, Junior, SF/PF, UConn
Possibly the most physically gifted player at this Final Four, Robinson was having a downright horrendous season up until the Big East tournament kicked off three weeks ago. Since then, he’s been on fire, scoring in double-digits in all five contests, averaging nearly 9 rebounds per game, getting steals, blocks, and all kinds of highlight reel plays that surely stuck in the mind of everyone that watched him play.
Robinson is a downright freakish athlete who can change a game with his leaping ability, something that Michigan State will surely have to account for in their game-plan. It’s rumored that he’s interested in testing his draft stock when the season is up, and a big showing in Detroit could go a long ways in helping that cause.
Kemba Walker, 6-1, Freshman, Point Guard, UConn
Kemba Walker had a breakout performance against Missouri, stealing the show from his upperclassmen teammates, and likely engraining himself in the memory of NBA scouts in the process. What he lacks in size, experience and perimeter shooting ability he more than makes up for in speed, court vision and New York City moxy.
Walker doesn’t figure to be a factor in this year’s upcoming draft, as he still has quite a legacy to carve out at UConn first, but it’s never too early to start building up his resume as a winner, as he’s sure to be poked and prodded by executives when it is time for him to join the NBA.
Kalin Lucas, 6-0, Sophomore, Point Guard, Michigan State
Like Walker, Lucas came up in a huge way for his team in the tournament, in an unbelievably clutch showing in the Sweet 16 against Kansas. Like Walker, Lucas is undersized, but sports great speed and a huge heart to help compensate for his shortcomings. Unlike Walker, though, Lucas needs to have a superb outing if his team is going to have any chance at advancing to the championship game, as his team relies very heavily on his presence as a scorer, distributor and defender.
Only a sophomore, Lucas is probably a year away from having the breakout season he needs to engrain himself in mock drafts. It’s never too early to start padding his credentials, though.
Goran Suton, 6-10, Senior, PF/C, Michigan State
Not many people knew the name Goran Suton, that is, until this past weekend, where he exploded for 19 and 20 point performances against Louisville and Kansas to help his team advance to the Final Four. Suton hit jumper after jumper right in the face of lottery pick Cole Aldrich, and then proceeded to shred apart Louisville’s zone in similar fashion. He also picked up 19 rebounds in the two games combined, six of which game on the offensive end and played a pivotal role in his team’s success.
The blueprint is there for him to have a similar outing against Hasheem Thabeet, and if he manages to do so, who says he won’t convince some NBA GM watching on that he’s not the next Matt Bonner? If not, his Croatian passport will come in very handy next season somewhere in high-level Europe.
#1 North Carolina vs. #3 Villanova
Ty Lawson, 6-0, Junior, Point Guard, North Carolina
No body part has captured the attention of the American media as much as Ty Lawson’s toe. The more people talk about it, the better he seems to play, though, which makes you wonder just how much of an issue it is at this point. Lawson has been magnificent in the tournament, scoring 61 points in 3 games to go along with 20 assists and just 2 turnovers. He’s made big shots when his team needed him to, distributed the ball evenly amongst Carolina’s legion of outstanding scorers, and kept the tempo of the pace incredibly high at all times.
If the historic statistical season he had leading into March didn’t convince NBA decision makers about his credentials as an NBA point guard, then his clutch tournament play probably did the trick. The only thing left for Lawson before claiming his spot as a lottery pick is to cut down the nets in Detroit. If he can manage to do so, he could possibly establish himself as the #1 point guard prospect in this year’s draft.
Tyler Hansbrough, 6-9, Senior, PF/C, North Carolina
This is exactly why Tyler Hansbrough decided to return to school for his senior year—to win the elusive NCAA championship that had escaped him up until now. His NCAA tournament performance hasn’t been overwhelming so far, particularly his 8 point, 6 rebound performance against Blake Griffin, but the bottom line is that Carolina is not a one-man show anymore. Carolina will definitely need him to have a strong showing against this fairly small and not particularly deep Villanova team if they are to advance, though, and his low-post presence will be sorely needed.
There really isn’t a whole lot more Hansbrough can show to convince NBA decision makers that he is or isn’t an NBA prospect at this point—he’s been scouted more than any player in NBA draft history possibly. Still, a strong outing may remind people what they liked him about him so much in the first place, and could give him good momentum going into the draft process this spring.
Wayne Ellington, 6-4, Junior, Shooting Guard, North Carolina
Few NCAA players have been playing as well over the past few months as Wayne Ellington, but he definitely has his work cut out for him this weekend against an incredibly physical and aggressive Villanova crop of guards. Ellington’s smooth stroke and ability to create shots in the mid-range area will be sorely needed in this contest, and scouts will be looking to see how he’s ability to perform under pressure in one of the biggest stages he’s competed on so far.
Ellington struggled in the Final Four last year against Kansas, so it’s likely that he’ll be looking to put that behind him and have a much stronger outing this time around. He has a rep for not really being the toughest guy around, but he definitely has a chance to show otherwise if he can go toe to toe with this feisty group out of Philly.
Danny Green, 6-6, Senior, SG/SF, North Carolina
Green has always somehow been the forgotten prospect on Carolina’s roster, but it was him who stepped up to the plate and had two fantastic performances in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight against Gonzaga and Oklahoma. Green is the Shane Battier of this Carolina squad, responsible for making shots from the outside, defending the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer, crashing the offensive glass with a vengeance, and doing everything in-between.
Green has his work cut out for him going up against Villanova’s two most important players as of late—Reggie Redding and Dwayne Anderson—both tough, physical, aggressive combo forwards who play with a chip on their shoulders. UNC will need Green to be his typical steady self in this game and do what he’s been doing all season long, which is help them win games.
Ed Davis, 6-9, Freshman, PF/C, North Carolina
Not a whole lot is expected out of Davis beyond being a steady rebounder, defender and occasional post-presence offensively backing up Tyler Hansbrough and Deon Thompson. He’s been playing more and more lately, though, and has definitely been a positive contributor for Roy Williams off the bench, leaving plenty of room for optimism regarding how he may perform next season in a more prominent role.
It’s pretty clear that the NBA is in his long-term future, but we’ll probably have to wait until next year to see just how good of a prospect he really is.
Dante Cunningham, 6-8, Senior, Power Forward, Villanova
The leading scorer and likely lone NBA draft prospect on this Villanova squad, Cunningham will have his hands full in this game, but definitely has a lot to gain with a strong showing. He’s been steadily improving his stock with an excellent senior campaign, making huge strides over the past few years, to the point that the NBA is now a realistic possibility.
Cunningham is both undersized and not incredibly athletic, but he does bring tremendous toughness and a very nice mid-range jumper to the table, things that could help him carve out a niche as a role-player at the next level if things fall into place for him. With the eyes of the entire NBA on him, there is no better spotlight to showcase his skill-set, and a good performance against this crop of blue-chippers could solidify his spot in the draft.
Jonathan Givony is the president of DraftExpress.com and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
Tell us what you think about this interview. E-mail us at HoopsHype@HoopsHype.com