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2011 NBA Draft: The Biggest Risers and Fallers Leading Up To March Madness

Ross LipschultzAnalyst IMarch 7, 2011

2011 NBA Draft: The Biggest Risers and Fallers Leading Up To March Madness

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    No college basketball player has been on ESPN more than Jimmer Fredette. If Dick Vitale has been on television for 30 seconds and not said his name, the apocalypse is upon us.

    Don't worry, that never happens.

    As March Madness approaches, analysts have begun projecting where Fredette will go in the 2011 NBA draft. Some have him going in the lottery, while some don't have him even getting a guaranteed contract. Let's end that discussion here:

    He will go wherever the Utah Jazz pick. End of story.

    Despite how ESPN makes it seem, Fredette isn't the only player going pro. The 2011 draft class may not be as star-studded as past seasons, but it has lots of talent and plenty of players who can contribute in the NBA. 

    The real question, however, is what each of these youngsters is doing to help or hurt their draft stock. With the regular season over, these players have only a few big games left to prove their worth to the scouts.

    Who's got the most work to do?

Rising: Derrick Williams, Arizona

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    Before the year started, people outside of Arizona didn't know much about Mr. Williams. Now that it's almost tournament time, however, everyone has eyes on the Wildcats' swingman.

    The one worry many teams hold is that Williams is a tweener, but NBA scouts don't mind now that he leads his team in scoring, field goal percentage and rebounding. He turned around Arizona's program faster than people thought after Lute Olson left, and that leadership will be invaluable at the next level.

Falling: Perry Jones, Baylor

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    "Falling" might be a strong word because Jones might have only fallen out of the top five. He still oozes potential, but his performance as of late has not justified the hype that he could be the first name David Stern calls.

    He shouldn't be a defacto second option to LaceDarius Dunn, yet that's how Baylor's made it. He's been under 20 points in 10 of his last 11 games and only had double digit boards once in that time frame. The Big 12 tournament will be his chance to regain his spot atop draft boards.

Rising: Markieff Morris, Kansas

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    Markieff used to be the other Morris brother, but this season has changed that. His sophomore season was nothing to write home about, so he brought a newfound dedication and doubled up his scoring this year.

    Don't forget about his 8.3 boards and 1.2 blocks, though. His prototypical power forward body and post defense have made him a first-round choice, and considering Kansas will likely be around for most of the Big Dance, he will get his chance to shine on national television.

Falling: Kemba Walker, Connecticut

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    Walker probably enjoyed hearing his name in all of the National Player of the Year discussions for the first two months of the season. Now, he's losing traction in the race for Big East Player of the Year.

    His scoring isn't the issue; it's his consistency. He's lost the efficiency he showed during the non-conference schedule, taking and missing a lot more shots.

    Also, for a guy who's 6'1", Walker needs to use the Big East tournament to show he has the point guard skills for the NBA. Right now, he's a two guard in a point guard's body, and that won't help his draft stock.

Rising: Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State

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    The Mountain West doesn't get a lot of attention, and it's even less if the name "Jimmer Fredette" isn't involved. Leonard, however, will make both NBA scouts and NCAA tournament foes wish they'd caught some of the Aztecs games.

    At small forward, he leads San Diego State in points and rebounds, and if he isn't getting a double-double, he's damn well close. He's played well under the national spotlight against BYU, so it will be interesting to see how he does with the target on his Aztecs during March Madness.

Falling: Harrison Barnes, North Carolina

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    Barnes doesn't exactly get a fair shake, considering scouts had him as the No. 1 pick in the draft before the season. The expectations seem to have got to him, as the freshman Tar Heel has yet to be the lock many pegged him to be. 

    Although, he's shown signs of life, especially with the game winner against Florida State. He's shown a lot of promise but been much too inconsistent as of late. He needs to start making plays for himself, as opposed to focusing on his jump shot, which has led to many poor shooting nights, well under 50 percent.

Rising: Jonas Valanciunas, Lithuania

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    It's often hard to guess whether European players will be the next Dirk or Darko, so scouts often have to follow them extensively. Valanciunas, however, has done enough to show he's no bust, and the NBA can't wait for the youngster to declare.

    Shooting 70 percent and averaging a double-double immediately gets everyone's attention. Then, when they find out it's from a 6'10", 230-pound, 18-year-old, scouts start drooling, especially in a draft lacking in size. Get the Lithuanian to the weight room, and he could be an impact player.

Falling: Josh Selby, Kansas

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    Selby has dealt with injuries and suspensions and still tried his best to fit his lottery pick projection from before the season. The camel's back is slowly breaking though, as Selby has been a roller coaster to watch. 

    Even worse, that roller coaster has stayed in the station. He's shooting poorly, and can't seem to get back to his explosive play from before his injury. For a guy who most thought could be an excellent scorer in the NBA, it's not a good sign that he's not even doing that anymore.

Rising: Nolan Smith, Duke

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    Nolan Smith didn't get near the first round of scout's draft boards after last season, and he just couldn't let that stand. So he came back for his senior year and increased his play across the board with career highs in every category except minutes played.

    Kyrie Irving won't be the only Blue Devil point guard with a guaranteed contract. Smith brings leadership and a winning mentality, something every floor general needs. With a lot of national games left for Duke, Smith can show the country the skills he's brought to Cameron Indoor the entire year.

Falling: Jeff Taylor, Vanderbilt

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    Taylor definitely has the athleticism to play on the perimeter in the NBA. He just hasn't improved the rest of his game to perform out there. The increased minutes haven't, as the Commodore has roughly the same scoring numbers with a much lower shooting percentage.

    Taylor is likely still a first-round pick on his potential and defensive ability. But he can likely forget about the lottery, considering his difficulty finding his own shots will not suddenly go away in the pros. Luckily, Vandy will need him to come up big if they want to win the SEC tourney, which might bring the beast out.

Rising: Alec Burks, Colorado

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    Colorado has been just awful for so many years now, but Burks has given the program hope in its last year in the Big 12. The sophomore stepped into the spotlight after an under-the-radar freshmen campaign, as he's first in scoring and assists and second in rebounding for the Buffs.

    At 6'7", 185 lbs, Burks definitely needs to gain some muscle to make waves in the NBA. Luckily, that can be coached. What can't be coached is leadership, and he has it in spades. The Pac-12 is praying he goes pro.

Falling: Kris Joseph, Syracuse

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    When Wesley Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku left school after last year, Kris Joseph was anointed the Orange's top dog. He knew his minutes would increase, and scouts hoped his performance would match his enormous athletic ability.

    Sadly, it's been a lot more mediocre than anything. Syracuse does have a lot of weapons, but that doesn't excuse a drop off in rebounding and shooting percentage. Come tournament time, Joseph will need to work more in the offense than in isolation sets if he wants to raise his stock.

Rising: Kenneth Faried, Morehead State

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    Don't know anyone who's represented Morehead State in the NBA? Well, you will now.

    Faried spent the 2010-2011 season absolutely demolishing the Ohio Valley Conference and didn't back down against big time competition, recording double doubles against Ohio State and Florida.

    Faried led his team to the OVC's automatic bid this weekend with 24 points, 15 boards and five blocks. All of the potential, two and three seeds are shaking in their boots, because no one wants to see this guy in the first round. Well, except maybe the scouts.

Falling: Jacob Pullen, Kansas State

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    Pullen started the year as a First Team Preseason All-American on a top five team. Now, his Wildcats are unranked and fourth in the Big 12. His numbers have been pretty stagnant since last year, so his decision to return for his senior campaign isn't looking so great right now.

    He's scoring plenty, but the rest of his game hasn't met his shooting skill. Pullen can use the Big 12 and NCAA tourney's to eliminate the "tweener" moniker, because he's not looking like a good one or two guard prospect any more. Luckily, tournament time is guard time.

Rising: Brandon Knight, Kentucky

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    Scouts see 18 years old and John Calipari-trained point guard on Knight's résumé, and they are already sold. While he's no Derrick Rose or John Wall, yet the freshmen has consistently improved his passing, which, with his size, have dramatically raised his value.

    He came to Kentucky as the second option behind Terrence Jones, but now that he leads the Wildcats in scoring and shoots 40 percent from distance, he's giving putting Jones in his shadow.

Falling: Elias Harris, Gonzaga

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    Gonzaga always contends and going into this year, people thought Elias Harris would be the reason why. Now, the Bulldogs are doing so in spite of him, and that likely sent Harris out of the first round. 

    Harris' inconsistency has led to decreased minutes, and he's statistically worse in almost every category from his freshman year. Maybe, he set the bar too high for himself, but he's struggling to meet the expectations. 

Rising: Jordan Hamilton, Texas

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    Hamilton waited until his sophomore season to take his potential and make it real. He shot so poorly during his first year, but now, in an increased role, Hamilton's shooting has become one of his greatest strengths.

    He still needs to be more selective with his shots, but scouts are happy to see him developing an all-around game. The Longhorn is one of his team's leading rebounders and outside shooter, and his length has frustrated many of the Big 12's top scorers.

Falling: Klay Thompson, Washington State

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    Klay Thompson's junior year improved on his body of work, but he's following the same disheartening pattern. He starts incredibly hot in non-conference play and slowly becomes a higher volume shooter and less of a team player.

    He hasn't exactly helped himself off the court, either. His suspension for marijuana before the season ending loss to UCLA might worry some scouts. A key player should know how much he means to his team, and to cost his team a chance to end fourth in the Pac-10 and help their tournament résumé is a huge red flag. 

    Note: I'm not arguing no one smokes or has marijuana. I'm saying that during the stretch run of the season, his lack of focus is not good for his draft stock.

Rising: E'Twaun Moore, Purdue

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    When Robbie Hummel went down before this year, analysts wrote off Purdue's chances in the Big Ten. Thanks to Moore's surge, however, the Boilers had a chance to win the Big Ten on the last day of the year.

    Likely to be a late second-round pick or undrafted, Moore shot his way on to many a draft board. Unlike many prospects, NBA teams know exactly what they get in the Purdue standout—a bonafide scorer and floor general. He could make his way to the bottom of the first round with strong tournament showings.

Falling: Rodney Williams, Minnesota

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    Williams is another big-time athlete with little else going for him at this point. His scoring has been up and down, but a 6.6 scoring average on the year points mostly to "down." His minutes doubled from freshman to sophomore year, but his numbers across the board have not shown the same improvement.

    His team hasn't helped, as the Gophers have won once since January, likely cutting Williams' chance to play in the spotlight short. Williams could still get drafted on sheer athletics, but he's not the lock he would have been with some polish on his game, both offensively and defensively.

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