The NBA's All-NCAA Tournament Team: Which Active Pros Had Best Tourney Runs?March 24, 2015
The NBA's All-NCAA Tournament Team: Which Active Pros Had Best Tourney Runs?
March Madness isn't just for college basketball fans, office poolers and sports gamblers. It's also a time of fond reflection for much of the NBA. After all, most of today's pros went to school for at least one year, and many of them had the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament.
But not all of the Association's current stars who took steps in the Big Dance were so graceful on their tourney toes. Some stumbled before finding their footing at the next level. Others performed well but failed to carry their teams through deep runs, much less all the way to the title.
With tournaments past on our minds, we decided to put together a 12-man squad of our own, consisting of the league's top Madness performers.
We whittled down the field by assigning scores to players based on how well they and their teams did in March: one point per NCAA win, one point per Sweet 16, two for every Elite Eight, five per Final Four, 10 for each national championship, 10 for Most Outstanding Player honors, one per average point and rebound, and 0.7 points for every assist averaged.
Joakim Noah, C, Florida
Tournament Resume: 2006 MOP, 2x national champion (2006, 2007)
NBA Resume: eight seasons, Defensive Player of the Year (2014), 2014 All-NBA, 2x All-Star (2013, 2014), 3x All-Defensive Team (2011, 2013, 2014)
Ever wonder how Billy Donovan convinced all of his starters off a national title team in 2006 to come back and win another? Those Gators, particularly Noah, knew how to enjoy themselves. He was as unorthodox as they come, and the essence of Noah was captured by CBS cameras after the Gators won the SEC tournament in 2007. (Notice Billy Donovan in the background telling Bill Raftery, "every day." I want to party with that guy.) He could ball, too, putting up 16 points, nine boards and six blocks in the 2006 title game against UCLA and winning tournament MOP. - C.J. Moore
It took some time for Joakim Noah’s unique, all-around game to shine through at the NBA level. That had plenty to do with injuries, of which Noah suffered more than a few through his first five seasons as a pro.
Once Noah managed to stay healthy, his NBA career took off. He earned his first All-Defensive nod in 2010-11 but didn’t crack the first team until doing so consecutively in 2012-13 and 2013-14. Those same seasons saw Noah notch his first and second All-Star selections. The latter ended with Noah being named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year.
But Noah’s post-Florida excellence has defied mere superlative explanation. Last season, with Derrick Rose back on the shelf, Noah served as the fulcrum of a Chicago Bulls offense that, while stilted, was functional enough, all things considered. In that role, he averaged 5.4 assists—the sixth-highest single-season figure for a center in NBA history.
Poor health has once again hindered Noah this season, though he remains as critical to the Bulls’ success as ever. With Pau Gasol playing center in Chicago, Noah is once again shifting shapes to accommodate his squad, because at his core, he remains the team-first player who made him a two-time champion in college.
One Shining Moment
Noah's Bulls gave the defending champion Boston Celtics all they could handle during the first round of the 2009 playoffs. Noah was brilliant throughout that seven-game series, but never did he shine brighter than on his iconic steal-and-slam over Paul Pierce during the third overtime period of what would turn out to be a 128-127 win by Chicago.
Corey Brewer, G/F, Florida
Tournament Resume: 2007 MOP, 2x national champion (2006, 2007)
NBA Resume: eight seasons, 2011 NBA champion
For most of Corey Brewer’s time at Florida, he was just kind of there, underappreciated as a sidekick to Taurean Green while Lee Humphrey broke three-point shooting records and Joakim Noah and Al Horford abused the opposition in the paint.
But that all changed in his final trip to the NCAA tournament in 2007. In the championship game against Ohio State, he paced the Gators to an insurmountable lead with 11 first-half points. Brewer averaged 15.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, scoring in double figures in each of Florida’s six games to be named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. - Kerry Miller
Of the three Florida Gators who were taken in the lottery in 2007, Corey Brewer is, in many ways, the least accomplished. He’s never been an All-Star or an All-NBA performer. He’s never averaged more than 13 points per game in a given season. He’s been to the playoffs just three times in seven previous seasons, though a fourth appearance, this time with the Houston Rockets, is right around the corner.
But only Brewer can flaunt an NBA championship ring along with those two he earned in Gainesville. Granted, Brewer was little more than a benchwarmer for the Mavericks after arriving in Dallas by way of a mid-season trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011. Even so, he gets to flaunt his fancy jewelry all the same if he so pleases.
One Shining Moment
Brewer’s current stint in Houston makes plenty of sense, since he torched the Rockets for a career-high 51 points last April (while on the Wolves for a second stint). Crazier still: Brewer, anything but a sharpshooter, shot 11-of-15 from beyond the arc that night. And even crazier still: The Wolves needed every scrap of Brewer’s explosion to pull out a two-point win over the Rockets in Minneapolis.
Shabazz Napier, G, UConn
Tournament Resume: 2014 MOP, 2x national champion, five 20-point games
NBA Resume: one season, 24th pick in the 2014 NBA draft
Napier was one of the most clever and fearless scorers in the history of the college game. And he did everything for the Huskies in his senior season, becoming the only national champ in the last 40 years to lead his team in scoring, assists and rebounds. He averaged 21.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game on the championship run. He was always in control, as legendary former UConn coach Jim Calhoun said after the title win, "He controlled the game. It was his game." - C.J. Moore
Napier hasn’t done much in the NBA yet, if only because he’s just halfway through his first season as a pro. He’s appeared in 50 games, starting 10 of them, and converted just 38.4 percent of his field-goal tries. Along the way, Napier’s shuttled between the big club and the D-League, all in search of stability.
"We've told him to concentrate on player development and the commitment to the work every day, and he's been great with that," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman. "When you're a young player, sometimes the minutes aren't consistent. Sometimes your role changes."
One Shining Moment
Three years after watching Kemba Walker lead UConn to victory against Butler, Napier did the same at Kentucky's expense. The senior paced all participants in the 2014 title game with 22 points to give the Hungry Huskies their second championship during his four seasons in Storrs.
Kemba Walker, G, UConn
Tournament Resume: 2011 MOP, 2011 national champion, two 30-point games
NBA Resume: four seasons, career-high 42 points vs. Orlando (Dec. 2014)
The further we get from March 2011, the more it seems like what Kemba Walker accomplished was just a figment of our imagination. Contrary to popular lore, he did have more than a little help from Jeremy Lamb’s 16.2 points per game, but Walker’s 2011 tournament average of 23.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists is just surreal—and that doesn’t even include the 26.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists he averaged while winning five games in five days in the Big East tournament. It was perhaps the most incredible 11-game stretch in the history of college hoops.
And let’s not forget that 2011 was actually his second successful trip to the Big Dance. As the sixth man on the 2008-09 roster, Walker averaged 10.2 points and 4.2 assists in helping pace the Huskies to the Final Four, including an incredible 23-point performance in a seven-point win over Missouri to reach the national semifinals. - Kerry Miller
Like a certain Canadian rapper, Walker started at the bottom—like, the very bottom. He played in all 66 games (25 starts) of the Charlotte Bobcats’ sorry 2011-12 season, during which Michael Jordan’s outfit posted the worst winning percentage (0.106) in NBA history.
Since then, Walker’s pro career, like Charlotte’s fortunes, has climbed steadily, with all of the good and bad that comes with that. On the one hand, his scoring average has improved each year, up to 17.9 points per game this season. On the other, he’s still shooting under 40 percent from the field (32 percent from three).
All that said, Walker, with his ability to create and score off the bounce, has become a key cog for a Hornets squad that’s seeking its second straight playoff appearance.
One Shining Moment
The Huskies needed all they could squeeze out of Walker to survive against Kawhi Leonard's San Diego State squad in the Sweet 16 of the 2011 tournament. Fortunately for UConn, Walker came up big, torching the Aztecs for 36 points during a 74-67 win in Anaheim.
Wayne Ellington, G, North Carolina
Tournament Resume: 2009 MOP, 2009 national champion, two Final Fours (2008, 2009)
NBA Resume: six seasons, seven three-pointers made vs. Miami Heat (Nov. 2012)
Like several others on the list, it wasn’t until Wayne Ellington’s third trip to the NCAA tournament that he really blossomed into an unstoppable force. Despite sharing the spotlight with Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough, Ellington was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2009 NCAA tournament, and rightly so.
The Tar Heels weren’t even challenged en route to the national championship, and Ellington was largely to thank for that. He scored at least 19 points in five of their six games and shot 17-of-32 (53.1 percent) from beyond the three-point arc. - Kerry Miller
Ellington’s played for five NBA teams since turning pro—four in the last two-and-a-half seasons alone. If not for his sharp shooting stroke (38 percent from three for his career) and the Los Angeles Lakers’ desperate need for depth at shooting guard, Ellington may well have flunked out of the Association by now.
One Shining Moment
To his credit, Ellington has been one of the few bright spots in what's otherwise been a dark and dismal season for the Los Angeles Lakers. Ellington's made the most of his opportunity as Kobe Bryant's placeholder, scoring a career-high 28 points during a loss to the Washington Wizards in late January.
Carmelo Anthony, F, Syracuse
Tournament Resume: 2003 MOP, 2003 national champion, 33 points and 14 rebounds in the 2003 Final Four vs. Texas
NBA Resume: 12 seasons, 8x All-Star (2007, 2008, 2010-2015), 6x All-NBA (2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013), 2013 scoring champion
Knowing what we do now, it makes sense that Carmelo Anthony averaged 20.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per NCAA tournament game in his only season at Syracuse. At the time, though, he was merely a pretty good player on a No. 3 seed. Somehow, Anthony wasn’t even named one of the five finalists for the 2003 Wooden Award, making Syracuse the only Final Four team that year without one.
He would have the last laugh, though, in becoming the high-water mark against which all subsequent freshmen in the NCAA tournament are judged.
In what was supposed to be an exciting battle between two NBA Lottery picks, Anthony absolutely obliterated T.J. Ford and the No. 1 seed Texas Longhorns in the Final Four, putting up 33 points and 14 rebounds with three steals for good measure. In the national championship, Anthony had 20 points and 10 rebounds—his third consecutive double-double—besting the double-doubles of Nick Collison and Jeff Graves as Syracuse beat Kansas to win the title. - Kerry Miller
Contrary to popular belief, Anthony’s as accomplished a pro as any Final Four MOP who’s still active in the NBA. His 10 All-Star selections, six All-NBA nods and lone scoring title—he's the Derrick Rose to Kevin Durant’s LeBron James-like run of them—speak for themselves. So, too, do the 10 straight playoff appearances of which Anthony was a pivotal part prior to the New York Knicks’ recent run of futility.
One Shining Moment
Anthony’s racked up plenty of memorable moments as a pro, but his career-best 62-point outburst against Charlotte last season at Madison Square Garden—a single-game record at the Mecca of Basketball—takes the cake.
Tyler Hansbrough, F, North Carolina
Tournament Resume: two Final Fours (2008, 2009), 2009 national champion, eight 20-point games, six double-doubles
NBA Resume: six seasons, career-high 30 points vs. New York (March 2011)
Nobody played harder than Hansbrough, and the guy produced so consistently—through effort as much as talent. He's UNC's all-time leading scorer and rebounder, made four All-American teams and won National Player of the Year in 2008, but his most memorable college moment was taking a cheap shot from Duke's Gerald Henderson and mean-mugging Henderson with blood gushing down his face. - C.J. Moore
Aside from elevating the Psycho T nickname to new heights, Hansbrough hasn’t done much to follow up on his decorated career at North Carolina. His overall productivity has slipped from season to season since averaging 11 points and 5.2 rebounds in 21.9 minutes as a sophomore for the Indiana Pacers in 2010.
Hansbrough’s spent the past season-and-a-half with the Toronto Raptors. To his credit, Hansbrough’s arrival in Canada roughly coincided with the Raptors’ rise to relevance.
Not that Hansbrough has had much of a hand in that. His role as an energetic instigator has diminished considerably this season, to the point where whatever meaningful minutes he gets at power forward are those left behind as scraps by Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson.
One Shining Moment
Hansbrough almost single-handedly willed North Carolina to the Final Four in 2008. The four-time All-American piled up 28 points and 13 rebounds to carry his Tar Heels past Louisville in the Elite Eight, 83-73.
Al Horford, F/C, Florida
Tournament Resume: 2x national champion (2006, 2007), four double-doubles
NBA Resume: eight seasons, 3x All-Star (2010, 2011, 2015), 2011 All-NBA
The contrast between Al Horford’s first two and last two games in the NCAA tournament could not have been more night and day. As a freshman, he scored precisely zero points in 48 minutes. But in the 2007 Final Four, he had nine points and 17 rebounds against UCLA before putting up 18 and 12 in the national championship game to defeat Greg Oden’s Buckeyes.
One individual game for Horford that springs to mind came in the 2006 Elite Eight. The No. 3 seed Gators had an easy path to that point before running into top-seeded Villanova. It was when Horford annihilated that guard-heavy Wildcats lineup to the tune of 12 points and 15 rebounds that we finally realized he could be a key piece of a mini-dynasty in college basketball. - Kerry Miller
When it comes to Al Horford, Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal might as well be Nostradamus. Here’s what he wrote about Horford in early October, long before the Atlanta Hawks started setting fire to the rest of the Association:
Horford has labored away in relative obscurity for a while now, thriving as one of the NBA's best hidden stars. All it takes is one season leading the Hawks beyond the expected level, and he'll start receiving the nationwide attention he deserves.
Horford’s certainly gotten that—and then some. Eastern Conference coaches tapped him as an All-Star reserve. The league made him one of five Hawks to share Player of the Month honors for January.
But Horford’s recent success isn’t all that new. He’d twice been an All-Star prior to this season. And though Atlanta’s title prospects have never been stronger, Horford’s impending trip to the playoffs will be his eighth in as many NBA seasons—seven, if you subtract his absence from the 2014 postseason on account of a torn pectoral.
With any luck, Horford’s long-running all-around excellence will yield a deep playoff push and, perhaps, another piece of jewelry to add to his sparkling collection.
One Shining Moment
Perhaps Horford’s under-the-radar-ness has something to do with his lack of memorable moments. His first-career triple-double is probably his closest qualifier in this category. But coming as it did against the sad-sack Sixers won’t leave as much of a mark as it might otherwise.
Mario Chalmers, G, Kansas
Tournament Resume: 2008 MOP, 2008 national champion
NBA Resume: seven seasons, 2x NBA champion (2012, 2013), 4x Eastern Conference champion (2010-2014)
Mario's Miracle... Chalmers was a really good college player, but his career will forever be remembered for just the one shot, sending the 2008 national championship game against Memphis to overtime with a deep three-pointer on a play called Chop. Crazy thing is, he'd been there, done that. Chalmers hit the same shot off the same play to send the Big 12 tournament championship game against Texas to overtime a year earlier. - C.J. Moore
Mario Chalmers was a winner in college and has been fortunate to remain one in the pros. He’s been to the playoffs every year since joining the Miami Heat in 2008 as a second-round pick, and he stuck around long enough to win two titles in four trips to the NBA Finals while LeBron James was in town.
And it’s not as though ‘Rio has been an innocent bystander, either. He was one of the few Heat players to perform well during Games 5 and 6 of the 2011 Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, tallying 33 points, nine assists and five steals combined. The following year, Chalmers put together three 20-plus-point showings during Miami’s run to the top, including a 25-point outburst in a Game 5 win over the Thunder. And when the Heat’s backs were against the wall in 2013, Super Mario came through with 20 points in Game 6 and 14 more in Game 7 against the San Antonio Spurs.
Don’t think it’s been all roses for ‘Rio, though. He was the team’s oft-mocked little brother throughout the Heatles’ historic run and played so poorly during the 2014 postseason that he eventually lost his starting job to (whatever was left of) Rashard Lewis.
One Shining Moment
Unless/until he hits a shot bigger than the one he knocked down to send the 2008 title game to overtime, Chalmers will likely look back at the so-called Mario's Miracle as the moment of his basketball life—and rightfully so.
Kyle Singler, G/F, Duke
Tournament Resume: 2010 MOP, 2010 national champion, three 20-point games
NBA Resume: three seasons, 2013 All-Rookie, career-high 22 points (Nov. 2013 vs. Atlanta)
It took a few tournaments for Kyle Singler to find his groove, but he was ready to take the world by storm in his third rodeo. He averaged 18.0 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 42.4 percent from three-point range in leading Duke to its fourth national championship in 2010.
His best game came in the Final Four against West Virginia. In Singler’s freshman year, the Mountaineers knocked Duke out of the tournament in the round of 32. But by putting up 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists, Singler made sure the Blue Devils got their revenge. - Kerry Miller
Singler hasn't accomplished as much in the NBA as his close pal and fellow Oregonian, Kevin Love, that’s for sure. Singler spent the 2011-12 season in Spain, while the NBA and the players sorted out their differences over a new collective bargaining agreement.
Since joining the Detroit Pistons in time for the 2012-13 campaign, Singler has been a lesser version of what he was at Duke: a jack-of-all-trades type whose best asset is his three-point shot (38.4 percent from deep as a pro). As a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, he's been even less than that: a fill-in for the injured Kevin Durant whose starting spot was usurped by Dion Waiters.
The most remarkable thing about Singler’s NBA career thus far? That he’s started more than two-thirds of his games. Such is the benefit of being a credible threat from beyond the arc.
One Shining Moment
Singler's big game against West Virginia in the Final Four (see above) still stands as the finest overall effort of his basketball life.
Ty Lawson, G, North Carolina
Tournament Resume: 2009 national champion, two Final Fours (2008, 2009), five 20-point games
NBA Resume: six seasons, 2x Player of the Week, career-high 37 points vs. Minnesota (April 2011), 35 points and 10 assists vs. Golden State in the 2013 playoffs
Lawson was the true MVP of those title-winning 2009 Tar Heels. Tyler Hansbrough was the face of the program and Wayne Ellington won the Most Outstanding Player in the 2009 NCAA tournament, but Lawson was the best player on that team. He even set two NCAA records that Final Four weekend—steals in a championship game (8) and free throws made at the Final Four (25). - C.J. Moore
Ty Lawson has yet to play in an All-Star Game or win a postseason series, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been plenty productive in the NBA. He’s been a full-time starter at point guard since part-way through his second pro season, and if not for the Denver Nuggets’ forgettable season, his 15.5 points and 9.7 assists in 2014-15 might’ve garnered him consideration as no less than an All-Star snub.
One Shining Moment
Twenty-one points. Four rebounds. Six assists. A championship-record eight steals. One national title for his Tar Heels. Yeah, that'll do for Lawson's highlight—no offense to his 35-point explosion against the Warriors in the 2013 playoffs.
Anthony Davis, F/C, Kentucky
Tournament Resume: 2012 MOP, 2012 national champion, three double-doubles
NBA Resume: three seasons, 2012 All-Rookie, 2x All-Star (2014, 2015), 2014 blocks champion
Davis was so good on the defensive end that no one had a chance to knock off Kentucky in its dominant run during 2012. Take the national championship game, for example. Davis had just six points on 1-of-10 shooting against Kansas, but he was the most dominant player on the floor, blocking six shots, grabbing 16 rebounds and dishing out five assists. - C.J. Moore
In less than three full seasons, Anthony Davis has managed to establish himself as one of the very best basketball players on planet Earth. You could even argue that Davis, by virtue of his all-court dominance, has been the best player in the NBA this season. At the very least, he belongs in the MVP race and will remain so as long as the New Orleans Pelicans are knocking on the door of the Western Conference playoffs.
One Shining Moment
Davis' collection of great games far outnumbers his stock of memorable plays—no offense to the myriad dunks, blocks and other jaw-dropping maneuvers he's flashed over the last four years. That being said, Davis' double-pump three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City from earlier this season stands out, especially as the capper on a 41-point night.
Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.