2011 NBA Draft: 10 Prospects Cavs Fans Should Watch in the Sweet 16
Madness was not a term chosen solely for an apt alliteration. Every March sports fans are sure to find buzzer beaters, Cinderellas and late game heroics contributing to the frenzy that is the NCAA Tournament.
After Selection Sunday, some rely on hunches while others use meticulous research to make their picks. We all wake up Thursday morning with an unwarranted optimism that this is the year we got it all right—the year we got that million dollar bracket.
(Even though we all secretly aware of the inevitable truth that Joe Schmoe's girlfriend will win the pool.)
For most bracketeers, the first weekend of play serves as a cold hard slap in the face from Fate that this year is not that year.
Personally, my bracket is so screwed it deserves its own Kama Sutra chapter.
Luckily, the Madness still has two big reasons to keep me utterly captivated: 1) My favorite college team (Ohio State) is still in it and 2) my favorite NBA team (Cleveland Cavaliers) holds two lottery picks in the 2011 NBA Draft and there are several players worthy of lottery selections left in the tournament.
In no particular order, here are 10 players any Cavs fan should keep an eye out for this weekend:
Derrick Williams, SF/PF, Arizona
Okay, so I lied about the no particular order. Williams has become my personal favorite for the Cavs to draft with their top pick. He is the leader of his team, a freak of an athlete, ambidextrous around the hoop, and clutch. He also shot 60 percent from three-point land this year. Now, I know he only took 60 or so attempts, so I am not going to label him the "Greatest Shooter In The Universe" anytime soon. But it's a large enough sample size to let me know that he has a decent jumper.
Scouts are down (and I say "down" lightly, he is still regarded as a top five pick) on him because he is a "tweener," but I could care less. All I know is that he is a ball player—and I want him on my team.
Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke
This is the player most Cleveland sports pundits have pegged as the Cavaliers' No. 1 target. Personally? I don't see it. He's not the explosive top point guard we have seen in recent drafts (Derrick Rose and John Wall), nor does he "wow" me with his court vision like Marshall from UNC. I have watched a couple of Duke games with Irving this year, and if I had not known he was widely regarded as the nation's top prospect, I probably would not have noticed him.
I asked ESPN Draft Expert Chad Ford to sell me on him in his chat today, and he admitted that he is "not sure he has an elite quality." And this is the guy that is supposed to be the favorite No. 1 pick?
Again, I personally do not yet see it. But that does not mean he does not have it and that I won't be watching closely.
Harrison Barnes, SF, North Carolina
The first freshman to ever be named preseason All-American, this is the guy I had the highest hopes for to be the potential franchise player Cleveland needs. After a slow start, I became down on him—especially when scouts tried making excuses for him. He just flat out didn't show up in the first half of the year.
But he started coming on strong in the second half of the season. He's got a silky smooth jumper and after watching him drop 40 points on Clemson, I became sold that he is the swing man with the most potential. He has only backed it up so far with a strong showing in the NCAA Tournament.
(*Side note: I am beginning to develop a bit of a man crush on his point guard, Kendell Marshall. Scouts don't have him anywhere near the lottery [yet], but I see a lot of Jason Kidd in the kid. Everything from the size to the freaky court vision to the ugly-yet-effective jumper. Just saying.)
Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State
He'll get compared to every slightly undersized, slightly overweight successful big man ever to play in the NBA. He might lack that All-Pro potential, but he is a guy that you just know will average a double-double in the NBA. Excellent rebounder, natural touch around the hoop and an uncanny ability to draw fouls and get to the line.
He won't be the sexy pick, but I believe he is as safe a pick out there.
Also, he could add some great material to the scoreboard at the Q.
Terrence Jones, SF, Kentucky
He has the size (6'8", 226 lbs.) and athleticism that a team would look for in a top pick. I saw a few highlights on YouTube and became enamored for about a week—that is, until I actually saw him play a few games this tournament. He disappeared for huge stretches in the game and didn't seem overly active (that high motor everyone wants to see). He has a lot of potential and I will be curious to see how he plays against the Buckeyes.
Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky
Terrence Jones' teammate was a highly recruited point guard coming into the year. Like Barnes, he started off slow but began to come into his own down the stretch. After hitting the game winner in the first round, he followed it up by dropping 30 in the second round. (*Note to the NCAA: I'm not calling the first round the "second round" or the second round the "third." Just letting you know)
If the Cavs do not go with Irving with the top pick and are still looking for a point guard, look for Brandon Knight to be a possibility for that second pick.
Kemba Walker, PG, Connecticut
I was admittedly cold on Walker for a long time (he had a bad game the first time I saw him and his jumper scared me off). But over the past few weeks, that cold shoulder got thrown into a microwave. Earlier, I mentioned that Chad Ford wrote he did not think Kyrie Irving possessed any one elite skill. I believe that Kemba has an elite quickness mixed in with a killer instinct and the nerves to hit a big shot.
If the Cavs end up with a top three pick and a second in the 8-12 range, my pipe dream is to pick up either Derrick Williams or Harrison Barnes and couple him with Kemba Walker with the second pick.
John Henson, PF/C, North Carolina
Long and athletic, seems like an elite shot blocker (already has 10 through the first two rounds). I think the word "wingspan" is the most over used word in Jay Bilas' vocabulary, but I have to admit I notice it with Henson.
He looks like he has a lot of potential but also looks to be far from a finished product. After watching him nearly give the game back to Washington in Round 2 (by touching the Hail Mary toss before letting it go out of bounds and inexplicably nearly goal-tending the last second shot attempt), it appeared to me that he has some growing up to do on the court.
Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Diego State
Honestly, I've never watched a game where I focused on his play. But he is listed as the No. 13 prospect in ESPN's Top 100, so I figured he would be worth mentioning. The Cavaliers desperately need a big athletic swingman and at 6-7 225, he seems to fit the bill.
I know I will be watching him when they play Connecticut.
Jimmer Fredette, PG/SG, BYU
You think I'd make a list of players to watch for and NOT include Jimmer Jammer? Well, sir, you are sorely mistaken. Like Jared Sullinger, he is going to get typecast in his NBA comparables except this time to basically any white guy to play in the NBA, which is just wrong. That being said, I see a lot of J.J. Redick in him.
Seriously though, I think he is a much better prospect than Redick or Adam Morrison. Unlike those guys, Jimmer can create his own shot and I think he best compares to Steph Curry, which is a tribute to his abilities and potential.
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