NBA Draft 2011: NCAA Tournament Stock Watch; 10 Athletes Who Helped Their Cause
As the NCAA season commenced and NBA teams are eliminated from playoff contention more and more focus will be placed on the NBA Draft. The NCAA tournament is the last chance top prospects have to prove their worth or blow their chance of playing in the league and earning millions and millions of dollars.
The following 10 athletes are ranked in order of how much they improved their stock; not how high they will be drafted.
We won't discuss the 10 who hurt their stock the most (like Jimmer Fredette, who plays zero defense and does not attempt to rebound) because they have already lost about the amount of money it would take to feed several African nations and should not have to worry about being ridiculed in a list of mine.
10. Kyrie Irving
Kyrie comes in at the No. 10 spot here but could go as high as numero uno on draft day. Irving was a consensus top-five pick heading into the tournament despite being injured early in the season and only having a handful of games under his belt at Duke.
He is such a talent that he has drawn comparisons to Chris Paul. Word of his being ready to go for the NCAA tournament altered thousands of people's brackets (which now looks bad, however as it was in favor of picking Kansas and OSU who did not fare much better).
His play in the tournament, most notably his 28-point outburst in the Blue Devils' loss to Arizona, showed he is one of the nation's top talents and justified himself being the possible No. 1 pick.
9. Kawhi Leonard
Leonard was an outstanding player for a terrific team this year as shown by his being named a second team All-American and SDSU being a No. 2 seed in the tournament. That said, with the exception of the BYU games this year, he was not on national television. The NCAA tournament was his chance to prove he could play with the best players in the country and show he was NBA worthy.
Although Leonard did not have any monster games in the tournament, he did average nearly a double-double to go along with a respectable three assists per game. He certainly showed he can play with anybody and solidified himself a spot in the upper half of the first round of the draft.
8. Matt Howard
Matt Howard is an interesting figure; after being Butler's go-to player two seasons ago, he took a backseat to Gordan Hayward in last year's run to the finals. Now in this year's NCAA tournament, he has been as clutch as any player; winning two games for the Bulldogs in the closing seconds.
Howard is a scrappy player who handles pressure as well as anyone in the tournament. He may not be as athletic or as big as your average NBA prospect; however, Howard has the heart of a champion.
Look for an NBA team to give Howard a shot after another outstanding NCAA tournament, and watch as he defies the odds against him and succeeds at the game's highest level.
7. Kenneth Faried
Kenneth Faried is a beast. Prior to Morehead State's victory over Louisville, Rick Pitino called Faried a young Dennis Rodman. Faried boasts tremendous leaping ability and great instincts which make him such a tremendous rebounder. He averaged 14.5 rebounds per game in the regular season and upped that number to 15 per game in his two tournament appearances.
Faried's high motor, intensity and rebounding skills were all shown off in the NCAA tournament. Throw in some extremely high praise from one of college basketball's most successful head coaches comparing Faried to an NBA Hall of Fame elect, and you have a first-round pick.
Faried can succeed right away in the NBA and could develop into a Rodman-type player and average double-digit rebounds within a few years.
6. Jamie Skeen
Skeen is a long, do-it-all forward whose stock has risen tremendously with VCU's cinderella run.
Skeen is a 6'9" forward who shoots over 40 percent from beyond the arc and can rebound; this screams NBA. Skeen's best game came against No. 1 seed Kansas where he put up 26 points and 10 boards, leading his VCU team past one of the two most talent-laden teams in the tournament.
Skeen stepped up under the most pressure-filled circumstances, and in doing so, will land himself in the second round of the NBA draft. Prior to the tournament, Skeen stood almost no chance at playing in the NBA; however, now it would not surprise anyone if he was an everyday NBA player with a few years of fine tuning and polishing his game.
5. Jeremy Lamb
Jeremy Lamb has really stepped his game up in this year's tournament. He has solidified his spot as the second best player on Connecticut (which is not a bad thing considering the best player is probably the best player in the nation). Kemba Walker has learned to trust Lamb, and with this newfound trust, UConn has flourished, becoming arguably the best team in the country.
Lamb is a lanky shooting guard who has a very smooth and solid game. If he sticks around for another year or two, he will surely be a lottery pick; however if he ends up leaving after some brilliant NCAA tournament play, he will be picked in the middle of the first round unless a team falls in love with him and drafts him early.
Prior to the tournament, no one viewed Lamb as a one-and-done type player. He has certainly proved himself to be a future NBA starter and one of the best players in college basketball today.
4. Derrick Williams
Derrick Williams has as complete a game as any in this year's NCAA tournament/draft class. He can shoot, finish, rebound and defend; all of which were on display in Arizona's run to the Elite Eight. Williams, who played in a weak Pac-10 this year, proved he can play and dominate anyone in the country with his versatility.
Williams is the most NBA-ready prospect in this year's draft class, and along with Kyrie Irving, one of the two most talented players in the NCAA tournament this year. After his tremendous performance this March, it would be surprising to see Williams fall any lower than the No. 2 spot.
3. Brandon Knight
Brandon Knight and Kentucky had an up-and-down regular season which saw them underachieve at times.
Knight and his team certainly began to play up to their potential towards the end of the regular season and into the tournament. Kentucky made a tremendous run to the Final Four and were actually the favorite to win the title at one point due to Knight's spectacular play.
Knight did as well a job as could be expected of him to follow up the Calipari freshman point guards of the last few years. His level-headed, calm play in the tournament this year has caused for his draft stock to rise exponentially. There is no reason to believe he will not be the fourth Calipari PG in as many years to declare for the draft after showing he is a big-time player leading Kentucky to the Final Four.
Knight may not be as talented as Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall, however his work ethic is not second to any of these NBA studs. Look for Knight to go in the top 10, as high as No. 5, and work his way into the same tier player as the past Calipari PGs.
2. Shelvin Mack
The Butler Bulldogs fell in the final game of the tournament for the second year in a row; without Mack, they probably would have fell in the first round this year. Mack was the one player on Butler who played exceptionally well throughout the tournament, including the final game.
He is strong, can create his own shot, can get to the hoop and is very smart with the ball in his hands. Mack played an equal role to Butler's success in this year's tournament as Gordon Hayward did last.
Mack has shown NBA scouts he can be a productive player at the next level. With his play in the tournament this year, he has propelled himself into the first round of the draft and could potentially be a very productive player at the next level.
1. Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker is one of the greatest winners in college basketball over the past decade. He carried UConn to a Big East Championship and then followed that up with an NCAA championship. He truly is a player who plays his best on the game's biggest stages.
Kemba may not have the ideal size for the NBA, however his first step and will to win are second to none. After leading his team to the tournament title, a team will surely "gamble" on Kemba, drafting him in the top five or six; I think this will prove to be a wise choice that will pay dividends in the future.
Don't be surprised if Kemba wills whatever team drafts him this year to a title before his career is over.