The 2011 NBA Draft is deeply dependent on the NCAA Tournament, which is currently underway.
The NCAA Tournament is essentially a convention for employers and potential employees looking to find the right fit. Scouts are watching intently from courtside seats for the players who could fill their holes, while also looking for anything that might be awry.
The basketball court is under a gigantic microscope as NBA talent evaluators scrutinize every part of a player that they see.
The players are out there with one eye on the scoreboard and one eye on the stat sheet with competing team/personal interests. They want to win a National Championship, but they also want to give the best impression possible for suitors.
The hardest part of playing in the NCAA Tournament is balancing team and personal goals to maximize success, and only a few elite players are able to navigate that tension every year.
Many lottery bound players are still alive in the Tournament's Sweet 16, which comes as no surprise. They are jockeying for draft position and the elusive honor of being the No. 1 overall pick.
As of the Sweet 16 in late March, here is a projection of the NBA's lottery picks for June's draft.
The 6'6" sophomore shooting guard drew the eye of scouts with his 20.4 points and 6.4 rebounds. In a draft absent of good shooting guards, the 19-year-old could jump to the league early and score himself a lottery pick.
He is a good athlete who has a nose for the basket, and his size is such that he can go by bigger players or be a mismatch for smaller defenders.
Two weaknesses: his size at 185 pounds and his three-point shooting. Burks needs to bulk up to match the strength of big NBA guards and it is imperative that he improve from beyond the arc. He has taken a dive in long-range shooting this year, but 30.2 percent is atrocious for a shooting guard known for his stroke.
The 6'8", 225-pound big man is second all-time in double-doubles, finishing one behind Tim Duncan for his career.
Faried has dominated the paint for three years with scoring in the mid-teens and rebounding 14.5 times per game this season.
His shot-blocking and shooting are elite in this draft and should be huge magnets to NBA teams needing a polished scorer and athletic shot-blocker. There is concern about his size and whether he can handle the serious jump in talent from the Ohio Valley Conference to the NBA.
The NBA Draft has never been about realized talent, but upside. You hear the word upside all the time when the draft approaches, and Faried epitomizes it. A low lottery selection is almost a certainty.
The Longhorns sophomore is the go-to scorer at 19 points per game. He was good as a freshman but has really taken a step forward this year in shooting and rebounding. Rarely will you see a scoring number nearly double and have increasing FG/FT/3PT percentages to accompany it.
Hamilton has an NBA body and the attention of scouts, who really like his potential. He's a Swiss-army knife of sorts with the ability score or go down low to rebound while being able to handle the ball on offense.
His ability to lead is still developing, and it is no guarantee that he comes out for the draft. If he does, he probably won't break the top 10, but will be just outside.
I am hesitant to put the sophomore any higher than this because of his raw offensive game and his inability to shoot from the perimeter. This is a guy who could really use another year in college, but his athleticism is akin to the typical player who can't help but jump to the draft after a year or two.
Leonard does have his strengths, which include rebounding, lock down one-on-one defense, and good size for a small forward. As a defensive-minded player, he could be very effective in the NBA. If he develops a three-point shot, even better.
His upside and athleticism are enough to get him on the edge of the top 10, but another year of college improvements could see him crack the top five next year.
Vesely is a relative unknown forward playing for Partizan Belgrade in Europe. At 6'11" and 230 pounds, some comparisons liken him to a combination of Mike Dunleavy for his outside shot and inability to drive, and Tyrus Thomas for his athleticism and explosiveness around the rim.
He will need to improve his strength to play in an NBA key every night because his 230 pounds will get tossed around no matter how explosive he is. Consistency is another factor that has been harped on by scouts that he needs to get better at. His highlight plays stick out because they are a marked upgrade from his default level of play.
Even as an unknown commodity, Vesely's size and Euro-style game are marketable in today's NBA, and he should find himself somewhere in the lottery with the known college players.
Check out No. 24 in collection of highlights above.
Kanter, a 6'11" center, was denied eligibility by the NCAA to play his freshman year at Kentucky because of receiving benefits above his necessary requirements while playing professionally in Europe.
Because of this, he is a relative unknown, even though he's technically been seen by NBA scouts. The problem is he hasn't been playing basketball. He would probably be higher in the lottery if not for his absence from game competition and exposure to scouts.
By all accounts, the big man has excellent strength at roughly 270 pounds. His offensive polish is highlighted by soft hands and the ability to complement brute strength with finesse post moves. He can play back to the basket or face up and score from mid-range and in.
One of the only weaknesses being talked about with Kanter is his injury history. He has a past full of knee problems, and some are concerned that he might not pass the standards set for him in league physicals.
That would be a shame because this guy has dominated his age group at every step of his development and could be an NBA star.
The Wildcats point guard is not impressing anyone thus far in his first, and likely only, NCAA Tournament, but his potential is hard to ignore.
At a legitimate 6'4", Knight is a surefire lottery pick that will project as a shooting guard or huge point guard. The outcome will most likely be at the point because he doesn't shoot the ball well enough to play the two-guard in the NBA.
His peripheral stats are unimpressive this season, but he will drafted in the top 10 based on potential and size.
The highest rated import on the board, Valanciunas is very smooth and agile for a 6'11" big man. He has an imposing wingspan (evident in the highlight reel) that makes him a valuable defensive asset in the paint and plays with a strong motor.
He may not be quite NBA-ready, but that won't stop a GM from using a high pick on him and investing a lot in his future. That might not be a negative, because the 18-year-old possesses great potential and the work ethic to realize it.
Strength is a concern for him, but at 18, his body might not yet be fully developed. Whether it is or not, he'll certainly put on 20 pounds or so once he hits an NBA weight room.
Henson's physical gifts are rare, with ridiculously long limbs at 6'10" and a nose for shot blocking. His 10 rebounds and three blocks in just 26.7 minutes per game are enough to generate saliva in the mouth of every NBA scout.
He is a Marcus Camby-type, and those guys don't come around very often. The sophomore's offensive game is pretty underdeveloped, so he'd enter the league as a project or one-way player with potential to improve.
True shot-blockers are at a premium in the above-the-rim world of the NBA, and Henson is that. His 200-pound frame is unacceptable for the NBA low post, and the worry is that he might simply get pushed off smaller but stronger players who use the separation to shoot over him.
He's had good training and progress at North Carolina, and with an intensive weight training program, Henson could be an imposing tower for years to come.
If you've seen Kemba Walker play, there isn't much that needs to be said about his NBA Draft potential. His unbelievable scoring, characterized by a good jumper and creative finishing at the rim is unmatched in the country this side of Salt Lake City, Utah.
What makes him even more attractive is his leadership and competitiveness. The run that he has had his Huskies on right now is ridiculous. Leading UConn to five straight wins from the nine seed in the Big East tournament and now two in the NCAA's has Walker at the top of the Naismith Award race. His heart and leadership will speak just as loudly as his scoring ability to NBA scouts in need of character players.
His game is full of positives and short on negatives, and the junior is a lock to come out and land in the top five of the draft.
The super-athletic, 6'8" power forward finds himself this high because teams perpetually covet a big man that is ready to play right away and has polish.
Jones features a complete offensive game, and being left-handed makes him even rarer of a scorer. He is lean, but his quickness and athleticism allow him to take defenders a little further away from the basket before breaking them down to the hoop.
He blocks shots and defends well, but needs work on his face up shot, which he's shooting at just 44 percent this year.
All in all, Jones could find himself anywhere in the top 10 and as high as this point.
At 6'9" and 261 pounds, Sullinger is big. Perhaps too big.
One of the only knocks on the No. 1 overall seed's game has nothing to do with his game, scouts want him to lose 10 pounds to gain some quickness and bounce. It hasn't seemed to matter in college as he's torn up the NCAA to the tune of 17 and 10, but will absolutely affect him at the next level.
When college big men are ready, there's no reason for them to stay in college, even as freshmen or sophomore. Sullinger is ready to go, and he will be a surefire top five pick on draft day.
The only remaining question is, will he have a National Championship trophy?
The rise of the 6'11" forward to the top of the lottery is not warranted by his pedestrian 14 and seven averages. Jones is teeming with potential that is unrivaled in the Class of 2010, and that is what NBA executives will say to justify their coveting of Jones in this spot.
The player is a unique mix of height, wingspan and perimeter ability. He shoots, handles the ball, and has the lateral quickness of someone seven inches shorter than he is. His athleticism is off the charts in spite of his lack of readiness for the league. I've said it in this slideshow already, and I'll say it again, the fact that a player isn't ready to play in the NBA has never stopped someone from investing a high pick on that player.
Jones will have to improve his jump shot and post game, whichever spot on the court he ends up spending the most time at.
The top pick might seem curious (more on that later), but Williams is the most complete player with greater potential that will be in this draft.
The 6'7" forward has been phenomenal this season, most notably by shooting 60 percent from the field and an otherworldly 58 percent from beyond the arc. That kind of shooting will put anybody at the top of that season's draft board.
Williams does more than shoot well, though. He is a good rebounder for his size and is a physical 210 pounds. He will either be undersized as a power forward or will be more physical than small forwards. He plays with his back to the basket quite a bit, which might imply him as a power forward in the NBA.
Whatever position he ends up playing, scouts are unanimous that Williams is NBA-ready with a polished offensive repertoire and ability to rebound with bigger players.
His dynamic skills and offensive awareness have his Wildcats playing in the Sweet 16, where Williams is sure to shine against Duke on Thursday and possibly on Saturday for a berth to the Final Four.
Now before you freak out and flood my comment board (feel free to do that by the way), let me justify the omission of the Tobacco Road freshmen phenoms.
I don't think either will be in the NBA Draft in 2011. For Irving, he will have played a maximum of 13 games (and seven at full strength) in his one season at Duke. It's both risky for him to jump to the NBA after that much time, and risky of scouts to invest in him without even seeing him for half a season.
He is everyone's consensus No. 1 pick if he enters the draft, and will get taken in the top three undoubtedly, but that doesn't mean he should be there yet. I just don't think he's ready yet and could benefit greatly from another year under Coach K and with Austin Rivers and Marshall Plumlee entering next year.
For Barnes, it just doesn't feel right. Does Harrison Barnes look like a top five player after the full year he's had? Carolina has come on very, very strong in the second half, and he's to credit for a lot of that, but as a shooter, shouldn't he have something better than one 42 percent season to take to the NBA with him?
He's not a banger or a low post player, so he will make his living on the perimeter. He needs another year to prove that he can do that consistently.
With the rate of improvement he's taken this season, he would be my favorite for National Player of the Year in his sophomore year. Instead of going between picks five and 10 this year, he could wait one year, not have to worry about a lockout, then enter as a potential No. 1 pick.
Is that justification enough? I realize that these two guys are among the best players in the draft, but I feel that the reasons for staying in school are compelling and legitimate for both players. You can make equally good arguments against them staying in school, but the side I took makes most sense to me.
Feel free to weigh in on the message board.