NBA Draft 2011: What Players Need Big NCAA Tournaments To Improve Draft Status

Howard RubenContributor IMarch 15, 2011

NBA Draft 2011: What Players Need Big NCAA Tournaments To Improve Draft Status

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    They say that timing is everything.  So, if you’re playing in the NCAA tournament this month and have visions of continuing your career at the next level, then bringing your A game to the big stage is paramount, regardless of whether the NBA collective bargaining agreement is renewed or not.

    A host of talented players are eager to show the scouts they have what it takes to be taken in the draft this summer.  There are a number of collegiate stars who have had inconsistent seasons, so now is the time for them to take it the next level.

    The pressure is on these players to win and perform well.  Some, like 6’10”, 250 pound center Aaric Murray of LaSalle and Jimmer Fredette of BYU, are considered locks for the first round of the draft.

    But even Fredette, the nation's leading scorer, and other legitimate NBA prospects can improve their standing with outstanding play at the Big Dance.

    The prospect of an owner's lockout that may jeopardize the 2011-12 NBA season should not deter seniors and underclassmen who are considering coming out early, but it could have a psychological effect as they take to the hardwood this week in the opening rounds of the tournament.

    There's a lot riding on these next couple of weeks for a number of outstanding college players. 

    Here, then, are 10 bona fide future draft picks who stand to move up the draft ladder if they take advantage and play up and over their potential come tournament time.

10. Rick Jackson, Senior Forward, Syracuse

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    The 6'9", 240 pound Jackson has become an inside force for the Orange men this season.  Heading into the tournament, the Philadelphia native was averaging 13 points on 59 percent shooting from the floor in 3.4 minutes per game.  He scored in double figures in all but four games this season.

    Jackson also averages 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals and he accounted for 25 blocked shots this season as well.  Most importantly, he is averaging close to 11 rebounds per contest.

    Jackson worked hard in the off season to shed some pounds and add muscle.  It's helped his quickness and agility in the paint which is where he is most effective.

    In order for Jackson to move up the mock draft ladder (he is currently considered a second-rounder by most experts), he'll need some big moments on the big stage.  Syracuse opens tourney play this Friday against Indiana State, a team they should beat handily.

    If Jackson and the Orange men continue, they could meet North Carolina in the Sweet 16.  It could be a sweet opportunity for Rick Jackson to shine.

9. Tyler Honeycutt, Sophomore Forward, UCLA

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    At the beginning of this season, had this lanky 6'8" sophomore forward rated No. 56 on the draft depth chart, the equivalent of a low second round pick.

    Considering the sort of up and down season he's had, Honeycutt may do well to stay in Westwood for another season.  But, if he suddenly breaks out with a huge game this week against Michigan State in the opening round of the tournament, scouts and general managers may start salivating again for this obviously talented scorer.

    Honeycutt had an NBA prospect dream game earlier this season when he scored 33 points against no. 4 Kansas and almost single handedly knocked off the Jayhawks on the road at Allen Field House.  The Bruins by one point on a questionable foul and free throw.

    UCLA is coming into the tournament having experienced their worst loss of the season last week in Los Angeles at the Pac-10 tourney.  The Bruins were thrashed 76-59 by lowly Oregon, although Honeycutt did score 19 for UCLA in the loss.

    Honeycutt told Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: "Just started from warm ups.  Guys weren't taking, like, game shots, weren't really being focused."

    He'll need all of his focus and then some against the Spartans this week.  They could meet Florida, BYU and even Pittsburgh if they advance, so the opportunity for greatness is sitting right there for Tyler Honeycutt.  Let's see if he grabs it.

8. Marcus Morris, Junior Forward, Kansas

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    Marcus Morris has picked steadily improved his overall game every year since coming to Lawrence as a freshman three years ago.  The 6'9" power forward is strong and fluid and his scoring average of 17.3 on 59 percent from the floor make him an ideal candidate to come out early for the 2011 NBA Draft.

    Morris has worked on his offensive game and it shows.  He is the go to guy in Bill Self's offense and is equally adept shooting from the perimeter as he is down low, posting up.

    Where Morris needs work is on the defensive side of the ball.  While he does average 7.2 rebounds per game, Morris is slightly undersized (225 pounds) for the pros and will have to convince the scouts and general managers that he can mix it up with the bigger power forwards currently playing in the NBA.

    Morris has a skill level on par with Arizona's Derrick Williams and that makes him an attractive NBA candidate. 

    As the number one seed in the tournament, Kansas has one of the easier roads to the Final Four.  They may face a tough Notre Dame in the Elite Eight, but otherwise it looks like smooth sailing and creates an excellent opportunity for Marcus Morris to further cement his draft status, perhaps moving up a few notches.

7. Ashton Gibbs, Junior Point Guard, Pittsburgh

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    This 6'2", 190 pound junior can flat out shoot.  Averaging 16.7 points per game, the more impressive stat is Gibbs' 48 percent accuracy from three point range.

    Some of the scouts and general managers say that Gibbs may not possess the physical skills yet to start in the NBA, but they do acknowledge him as one of the country's best pure shooters.

    The New Jersey native takes a remarkable 91 percent of his shots from the perimeter and is one of most accurate catch and release shooters in the game.  He also averages close to three assists per game, so Gibbs can make the necessary pass when needed.

    Gibbs may indeed be a year away from entering the draft, but a standout NCAA tournament with some eye popping numbers could change his and the scouts' minds come draft day.

6. Brad Wanamaker, Senior Guard, Pittsburgh

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    Probably more so than Ashton Gibbs, Wanamaker is NBA ready and a big tournament could easily move him up from a low second round to low first round pick in the draft.

    At 6'4" and 210 pounds, the Philadelphia native has a well rounded game that relies on high energy and high basketball IQ.  Wanamaker has excellent court sense, which accounts for his 5.1 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game.

    Wanamaker can also score as evidenced by his 12 points per game on 45 percent shooting from the floor.  He makes 39 percent of his three point attempts and, with a little work, could easily top the 40 per cent mark.

    Where Wanamaker has some issues is on defense.  Though he mans up well, Wanamaker often has trouble keeping up with speedy guards who penetrate off screens.  His lateral movement is not good either, but he often makes up for it because he knows where to be on the court at any one time.

    Pitt will be on the national stage this week and beyond if they keep winning.  They are the number one seed in the Southeast and could possibly meet Kansas in the semifinals of the tournament in Houston on April 2. 

    Wanamaker has a tremendous opportunity ahead of him.

5. Elias Harris, Sophomore Forward, Gonzaga

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    Elias Harris, at 6'7" and 245 pounds, is somewhat undersized to play power forward at the next level. 

    While the German native does possess all the physical skills to be an outstanding NBA player, it just may not be next fall.

    Harris had a pretty remarkable freshman season for Gonzaga, averaging almost 15 points and seven rebounds per game, including a stunning 45 percent accuracy from three point range.

    Those numbers tailed off during an up and down 2010-11 campaign in which he suffered through some injuries that limited his play.  Harris averaged 12.1 points on 51 percent shooting and 5.9 rebounds per game while averaging about 3.5 minutes less of playing time.

    Timing is everything for Harris.  After scoring 24 points against Syracuse in an NCAA tournament game last year, there were many who thought he would turn pro after his freshman year.  Harris decided to come back and this past year has not gone as well.

    Still, if Harris can string together a couple of big games in the tournament (they meet St. John's Thursday and could face BYU in the second round), the NBA talk will most likely pick up a heavy dose of steam again.

4. Jared Sullinger, Freshman Forward, Ohio State

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    Is Jared Sullinger a one and done freshman?  The All American 6'9", 280 pound power forward from Ohio State is a raw talent with all the basic tools to make the big jump to the NBA.

    Sullinger is one of those players that, in earlier years, may have gone right from high school to the pros.  His freshman season at Ohio State were exceptional: 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds in 32 minutes per game for the top ranked, 32-2 Buckeyes.

    Sullinger scored more than 20 points nine times this year, including a 40 point outbreak against IUPUI and 30 against South Carolina, a game in which he also had 19 rebounds.

    Sullinger made the transition from high school to college as effortlessly as any player in the country and his first season was truly remarkable.  He has a tremendous low post game.  According to Synergy Sports Technology, Sullinger scores on over 50 percent of his field goal attempts when creating his own shot inside and gets fouled on nearly 25 percent of his possessions.

    Where Sullinger has issues is on defense.  Standing somewhere between 6'8" and 6'9", Sullinger is undersized for the center position that he currently plays.  And though he is in better shape than when he first arrived in Columbus, Sullinger will need to get extremely fit and build muscle for the NBA.

    Teams do take advantage of Sullinger on defense—he is not much of a shot blocker and lacks lateral quickness.  But, with his high basketball IQ, passion for the game and good nature as a teammate, Sullinger is destined for the big time.  A few big games during the tournament will only enhance those sentiments.

3. Kawhi Leonard, Sophomore Forward, San Diego State

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    Kawhi Leonard has been a pleasant surprise on a surprisingly strong San Diego State team this season.  The Aztecs, under coach Steve Fisher, finished the regular season 32-2 with their only losses coming at the hands of BYU.  Leonard was a major reason for SDSU's big time success.

    The 6'7", 225 pound Leonard upped his average this year to 15.4 and had nine games with 20 plus points for the Aztecs.  He's a high energy, physical player with tremendous wingspan and a fluidity that one cannot teach. 

    Leonard has a great upside to his game.  He had 22 double-doubles this year and averaged close to 11 rebounds per game.

    Leonard's weakness is primarily in his outside perimeter shooting.  It's not very good at the moment and he's getting most of his points in the paint where his strength and agility take over.

    Whether or not Leonard comes out for the draft remains to be seen.  He is one player the scouts love for his raw talents and if he shines on the national stage, that may make the decision easier for him.

2. Kemba Walker, Junior Guard, University of Connecticutt

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    A about 6 feet, the junior from the Bronx is a scoring machine.  If not for Kyrie Irving of Duke, the junior could be the first point guard taken in the next draft this June.

    Kemba Walker's scoring average of 23.5 is one of the best in the country and, despite his size limitations, he can also rebound at a clip of 5.3 per game.

    Walker was MVP of the Maui Invitational Tournament at the start of the season, scoring 90 points in 99 minutes as the Huskies defeated Michigan State and Kentucky. 

    He scored 33 points against Syracuse, 34 against Notre Dame, and 31 against Georgetown, DePaul and Pittsburgh.

    Walker hits on 43 percent of his field goal attempts, so there is a lot of room for improvement as he'll sometimes take ill-advised shots.  Walker may be questioned by some for his defensive abilities, mainly due to his size.

    Still, Walker is street savvy and tough, recognizing the opponents offensive schemes and being quick enough to adjust to pick and rolls.

    Walker and UConn take on Bucknell in the opening round and could meet San Diego State later on in the tournament.  Great match ups for Walker to stake his claim as the best point guard in America.

1. Terrence Jones, Freshman Forward, Kentucky

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    At 6'8" and 244 pounds, Terrence Jones is already NBA-size following his first season with the Kentucky Wildcats.  He is being projected as a top 10 pick in the draft should he decide to come out this summer.

    Jones averages 16.5 points and 8.9 rebounds in 31.5 minutes of play.  While he still needs work on his post play, Jones is very mature as a freshman and rarely turns the ball over.

    Jones does have a tendency to lose track of his man on defense, something that can easily be corrected over time.

    Kentucky is a fourth seed in the East and could meet Ohio State in the Sweet 16.  Jones going up against Sullinger would be a superb match up of the two top freshmen in the country.

    Some big numbers and strong defense at the tournament will certainly give Jones a leg up as draft day rolls around. 

    Do not expect this gem to stay at Kentucky.