Draft Watch: Which Players Are Making A Strong Case For June?

Sean StancillSenior Writer IJanuary 18, 2009

With the annual NBA Draft approaching in June, its never too late to study player tendencies and gauge reaction from players and coaches; most notably composure.

Here's what I have seen so far:

Players to watch:

Jordan Hill

Jordan Hill has vastly improved all aspects as his game thanks to strenuous offseason workouts, and has turned into one of the nation's best defenders with a rapidly reformed offense game.

Hill has three 20 and 10 performances and 11 double-doubles this season. The Atlanta-based recruit is the best rebounder in in the Pac-10, and leads the conference with 12 rebounds per game. Hill also leads the Pac-10 in all eight major rebounding catergories: offensive and defensive rebounds per game, offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, total rebounds, and owns the the Pac-10 season-high total with 22 boards against UAB.

Teams attempting to focus on defense as their main priority will have interest: Toronto, Phoenix, Denver, San Antonio, and on a side note, you must think Chicago will have interest as well as their love for defense-minded semi-scoring bigs continues to linger (prime examples are: Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah, Aaron Gray).

Chase Budinger

After Jerryd Bayless vacated the Wildcats en route to the NBA Draft this summer, Chase Budinger was forced to upgrade his play and keep Arizona afloat and he has succeeded. Becoming "The Ironman" of the Pac-10 -- leader in minutes, minutes per game and minute percentage -- is no easy task and does not guarantee fertile output and his chronological heroics can be easily quashed if he isn't productive while on the floor.

Luckily for Budinger he is both, averaging a career-high 17.3 points and ranking third in the Pac-10 in points scored. He reeled off five straight 20+ point games to begin the season and has completed 15-of-16 free throw attempts against Pac-10 opponents for a sweltering 93.7% free-throw percentage, the highest of any player against any conference in the country with a minimum of 15 attempts.

Sliding off screens and running around the baseline, Budinger scores the majority of his points thanks to good off-ball movement and has become a deadly shooter when he catches the ball. Primarily a catch-and-shoot player, the 6-foot-7 forward has increased his points, assists, rebounding, field-goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage, and blocks in his junior season.

He also has an excellent vertical leap, and was runner-up in the 2006 McDonald's All-American Dunk Contest.

His decision to return to school has looked wise and may appeal to teams at the next level in search of a athletic swingman. Or he could turn out as another Joe Alexander.

Demar DeRozan

DeRozan has heavily refuted and attempted to shed any comparisons of O.J. Mayo and has tried to make every effort to distance himself from Mayo's image. Playing with the unbearable weight of following in the foosteps of Mayo is no easy task and took a toll on DeRozan earlier in the season.

However after a rocky start to his career at USC, DeRozan has mellowed out and has reached double-figures safely in 10 consecutive games after failing to do so in three out of his first five.

Former freshman star Eric Gordon also struggled in his only season at Indiana despite his brilliant scoring production. Gordon missed 8 or more shots in 13 games last season and Mayo himself had an astounding 24 games in which he suffered the same fate, including seven of his first nine at Southern California. By the way, DeRozan only has one.

So in retrospect, DeRozan is ahead of schedule in terms of shot-selection he just needs added work and on his shot. He's not a great shooter or defender but he has the talent, athleticism, and length to develop all of those qualities -- like a collegiate version of Andre Iguodola.

Because of his potential ceiling, he's a lottery pick. If he decides to return next season he could be the first guard taken off the board.

Taj Gibson

To say his numbers have ascended would be an understatement. Grave inflation would be the necessary lingo to describe it, as Gibson is averaging career-highs in points, rebounding, blocks, steals, free-throw percentage, and field goal percentage. He's also expanded his game to the perimeter and is improving his mechanics with each passing week.

His most underrated stat is that he's yet to take a three-pointer in his three seasons at USC showing he understands his range and has yet to fold under a consistent opportunistic shot selection. However, Gibson occasionally has a problem staying on the floor because of his inability to stay out of foul trouble, racking up 43 fouls in the first fifteen contests.

His greatest disposition may be his size and lack of conditioning, his game is similar to Michael Sweetney. While that could be a tad bit too harsh, remember the last under-sized, steadily improving power forward with questions at the next level? Think former ASU Alumni Ike Diogu.

Sam Young

He's averaging 18.7 points, just under 6 boards per game, a steal, and a block displaying just how multifarious he truly is. His 24.7 points per 40 minutes ranks 4th in the Big East. An underrated shooter, Young has shot over 50% from the field and from downtown seven times this season and is Pitt's best one-on-one defender.

He's also accounted for a staggering 33.6% of Pitt's blocks though he only stands 6-foot-6; hints the claim of the Panthers' best defender. Before tip-off on Wednesday against USF, Young empathically threw down a between-the-legs dunk in a awe-inspiring sequence as the team awaited fans to trudge through the snow towards the arena.

Young's capabilites on defense and his evolving offensive game secure his status a mid-first round pick, ranging from 14-18.

DeJuan Blair

His rebounding numbers are incredulous. Blair already owns the most productive game in the Big East this season when he racked up 27 points, 10 rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot in 21 minutes in a 88-60 bashing of Indiana (PA).

Last season in his debut game versus Louisville, Blair had 20 points and 11 rebounds in a loss and 16 points and eight rebounds in their second meeting.

Dating back to last season, Blair has had a double-double in 12 out of 16 games with eight of them coming this season. His four 20-10 games ranks second in the Big East who has ten.

Key fact: How important is Blair? He's scored at least 20 points nine times in his collegiate career. The Panthers are 8-1 when Dejuan Blair scores 20 points or more with their only loss coming against Louisville.

Blair uses his strength in the post and is excellent at boxing out and isolating the opposition from the basket, enabling him to grab near 35% of Pitt's offensive rebounds. He also has quick hands for a player his size and leads the team in steals which is rather unusual for a player his width. But it speaks wondrous volumes of his activity on defense. Glen Davis and had a motley of post-moves but a simple drop step towards the basket seems to be the most effective.

Key fact: The Panthers' are 19-2 when Blair shoots 60% or better from the field and 17-3 when he shoots over 80% from the free-throw line over the last two seasons.

Samardo Samuels

Following in the footsteps of Greg Oden as the latest big man of the year to capture USA Today Player of the Year honors, Samuels has had a shakey freshman campaign so far in his first 15 games.

Conditioning and integrity on defense has been his greatest weaknesses. Samuels was noticeably weary throughout his game against Villanova. Samuels was tired because he was forced to expend a greater deal of energy to amass himself against competition, as Dante Cunningham bullied him inside, and did not allow him to gain admirable position low in the paint. That said though, the 6-9 forward/center did display brief pockets of basketball I.Q. and was able to use his meaty-build to collect rebounds and convert on put-backs.

He also used imposed his will on defenders and modified shots in the paint and he was fluid enough to extend his defense out to the perimeter near the origin of the three-point line, finishing with four blocked shots. Because of his frame and his movements, Maurice Taylor comparisons are suitable.

Those are certainly long strides after a forgettable first two games in 2009 spearheaded by a terrible Jan 4. outing against Kentucky. Samuels had four points, four fouls, and a rebound and was undermanned on defense as he was forced to guard Patrick Patterson. The next game he had 9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 fouls, and two turnovers against South Florida but managed to send away six shots.

Overall, Samardo Samuels is a work in progress and his minutes have dwindled all season long as a result of foul trouble --he's had four straight games with 4 fouls or more and has eight overall this season -- because of this he will most likely be a late first-round selection if he elects to enter the draft after this season with a skill set similar to Maurice Taylor.

He survived Luke Harangody on Tuesday night and with upcoming match-ups in which he will be pitted against Pittsburgh's Dejaun Blair and Syracuse's Arinze Onauku, the Cards' sole interior force will truly experience the sheer talent and ruthlessness of the Big East.

Earl Clark

Elaborating on last week's analysis, Clark has continued to be of the country's most multi-dimensional players with double-doubles against Villanova and Notre Dame rising the toll to seven. He proved to be a deciding factor early on compiling four points, three field goal attempts, and four rebounds in the opening 7:46 against Nova'. Later in the second half Clark again displayed just how invaluable he is to his team.

From 13:40 to the 6:14 minute mark he accounted for 7-of-the-9 points Louisville scored during a 15-9 Nova' spurt. After a brief time-out he distanced the lead even further stepping back and sinking a three over the arms of an out-stretched Antoine Pena.

Over his last three games, Clark  has scored 53 points and grabbed 31 rebounds and while shooting 50% in his last two contests from over 21 feet.

Corey Fisher

Fisher is a sporadic guard that will either make a positive impact or become a apparition on the court. He has two blanks this season and four games in which he's scored 5 points or less. In the last three weeks, he has just as many turnovers as assists (7) and is shooting 7-for-23 from the field.

His inconsistent play has him along the likes of Will Bynum but if he is able to concoct and string together several solid efforts he may be wild-card in June.

Scottie Reynolds


A 40-point outburst may have saved Reynolds from the realm of the undrafted but after Nova's loss to Louisville in which he failed to log a single minute after the five minute mark, his toughness has been questioned.

Reynolds is a crafty point guard who plays the game based on angles, cutting and driving and tends to dance around the paint before committing to either a shot or an assist. He's a streaky three-point shooter (sixth in the Big East) and capable of a copious amount of points in very little time.

However his duties as a point guard have been less flattering. In the last three weeks He has the double the amount of turnovers than assists (12-6) and has doled out three assists or fewer in six straight weeks.

His spotty job as a leader and wayward shooting has him listed as a second-round pick identical to former Tennessean guard Chris Lofton.

A.J. Price

Thus far the Huskies have played in 14 games and Price's offensive production has been a wash. He's scored in double-figures in seven games and failed to do so in the other seven -- including a goose egg in the opener, 0 points, 0 free-throw attempts, and 0 three-pointers made.

Perhaps he's still recovering from off-season ACL surgery which has hampered his creativity and stifled his explosiveness.

Price the impresario of UConn's offense, must be consistent to stay afloat in any draft chatter amongst the first round. Though he is a shoot-first orientated point guard, he has excellent ball control and is a superb dribbler which allows him to navigate the Huskies' offense.

He must deliver the ball in a accurate and timely manner and feed his teammates in order to stabilize UConn during important stages out of the game, most notably teammate Hasheem Thabeet and within the final 2 minutes.

If he is able to push the Huskies deep within the NCAA Tournament his status as first-round draft candidate will be solidified. Currently because of his suspicious play, he is a borderline second-round selection like former collegiate point guard Earl Watson and teams at the next level will be ecstatic about his sturdy play.

Kemba Walker

He's averaging near 10 points, three rebounds, a steal and is close to shooting 50% from the field and 80% from the free-throw line; competent marks by any standard, principally by a freshman.

Walker is a playmaker with a nact for controlling the tempo and posseses outstanding quick-strike ball handling. He can be a bit one-sided at times, veering into the role of a scorer rather than a distributor (more field goal attempts in his last two games then assists in his last three).

Walker has the second highest possession percentage (21.5%) on the Huskies behind Jerome Dyson. Asking a freshman point guard to extemporize a team through crucial stages of games is walking the tightrope of wishful thinking so mishaps will generally be expected.

However he's learning as the season progresses. In Conneticut's loss to Georgetown, Walker turned the ball over four times and since he only has committed three follies in his last 56 minutes of play.

But his potential is undeniable and once Price leaves, UConn will become Walker's team and it will be interesting to see what a masterful job of what he does with the reigns in his hands under Jim Calhoun in the upcoming future. 

Greg Monroe

Monroe has a plethora of moves to which he scores the basketball. Over his last three games Monroe is averaging 14.6 points, 9.6 boards, 5.6 assists, and 3.5 steals in a complete effort. He's one of the most unselfish big man in the land and has scouts drooling over his multifaceted play.

He along with Blair posses some of the fastest hands especially at the 5, and Monroe uses them to effectively palm the ball and deliver precision-based passes to his teammates. Against Syracuse, Greg exploited the Orange's zone by patiently waiting for his teammates to execute baseline cuts and then pitched the ball to his open team member -- piling six assists -- while scoring 10 of his own ( for the sixth straight game).

Perhaps labeling him the next "Hakeem" is a stretch but with excellent hands and a credible perimeter game, it may catch on.

Kyle Singler

Singler is a uncanny outside shooter and a great team player; he's notched double-figures in all but one game this season. He's accounted for over 20% Duke's points, three-pointers made, offensive rebounds, steals, assists, and free-throw attempts and the Blue Devils are 3-0 this season when Singler scores 20 points or more.

Simply put, Singler is an impact player.

Because he's a good stretch-the-floor shooter, its easy to place him in the same category as a Kyle Korver at the next level; players that won't dominate with brute strength or be stars but are able to effect the game with their outside touch.


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