There’s no doubt that the NCAA Tournament is where players make their final impressions on NBA scouts. Every year there are usually a few players who go from relative nobodies to the first round or even the lottery (see: Gordon Hayward). Then there are those players who play themselves out of the lottery or the first round. This year’s tourney was no different. We saw a variety of players improve their stock dramatically while some played themselves into another year of college. Here are my top risers and fallers for the 2011 NBA Draft:
Walker has been playing out of his mind all season, taking preseason unranked UConn into the national spotlight with wins over teams like Kentucky, Texas, and Pittsburgh. Kemba continued his dominant and clutch play into the tournament, scoring 36 points with relative ease against San Diego State University in the Sweet Sixteen and then matching potential number one overall pick Derrick Williams with 20 points in the Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four. Walker is of the Allen Iverson mold, a small player (6-0, 171 pounds) who uses his dribbling and speed to create shots and penetrate the lane. His size is what ultimately hurts his draft stock the most, as it won’t be quite as easy to create shots in the NBA, where opponents are much bigger, stronger, and faster.
Draft Projection: Late lottery to early 20’s
Position: Shooting Guard/Small Forward
One of the biggest breakout players of the tourney has been UConn’s Jeremy Lamb. It’s safe to say that without Lamb, UConn would not have made it as far as they have. A 6-5 freshman, Lamb significantly improved his game from the beginning of the season in Maui, going from a timid freshman to a sharp shooter who nearly single-handedly led UConn past two seed San Diego State by going 9-11 from the field and 3-3 from behind the arc, in addition to hitting multiple shots down the stretch to close out the game. At only 18 years old, scouts are drooling over Lamb’s potential. At best, Lamb looks to be comparable to Rip Hamilton, a long and lanky scorer who can stroke it from three or drive hard to the bucket. Lamb is a great compliment to Kemba and looks to be a great compliment to any star in the NBA some day.
Draft Projection: If he enters this season, mid to late teens in the first round. Top 10 pick if he enters in 2012.
Seemingly the most talented player NBA-ready player in the entire tourney, Williams has played himself into the number one overall selection debate. Unfortunately, he’ll probably begin his career in Cleveland if he does go number one but there’s no doubt in my mind that he will make an immediate impact at the NBA level from day one. Williams has a complete offensive game, with a variety of post moves in addition to a three point shot. Don’t forget that he hit five three pointers in the win over Duke in the Sweet Sixteen, en route to a 32 point, 13 rebound game. Williams looks like the second coming of Antawn Jamison, but with added strength.
Draft Projection: Top three overall guaranteed
Position: Point Guard
Knight is a player who has been on the brink of the top 10 all year until the tourney. His skill set is suited perfectly for the NBA. He is fairly consistent from three point land, and shoots in the high 80s percentage wise from the line. Knight also has the speed and handling to be a successful scoring guard. He is comparable to the likes of Jason Terry. Also, Knight has showed that he has the clutch gene with the likes of Kemba Walker, after hitting two clutch buzzer beaters in his four tournament games. Although he is still very young and raw, Knight looks to be the second point guard taken behind Duke’s Kyrie Irving.
Draft Projection: Anywhere from 4-10 overall
School: North Carolina
Position: Small Forward
Prized prospect Harrison Barnes started off the season extremely slow and looked like a college bust for a short period of time. However, down the stretch Harrison has played up to his potential for UNC. In his four games in the tournament, Barnes averaged 21 points and eight rebounds per game. Barnes also showed his ability to take over games, scoring eight straight points for UNC in the final five minutes in their Elite Eight loss to Kentucky. NBA teams are banking on him becoming a Kevin Durant-type of player, but right now he resembles Luol Deng. Barnes has a lot to improve on, though. He possesses a nice shot but can use some work on his handling and defense. Rumor has it that he may return to UNC for his sophomore season, which would only help him develop some more assets to help him be effective at the next level.
Draft Projection: Top 5 overall in either 2011 or 2012
School: Brigham Young University
The Jimmer seems to have made himself less love-able through his play in the tourney. Yes, he had 30+ points against Florida, but if you watched the game many of Jimmer’s flaws were exposed. He looked eerily similar to Larry Hughes in the way that he jacked up bad shots from all over the court, going only 3-15 from three point land and converting only 11 out of his 29 attempts. Jimmer was also constantly getting beat when attempting to contain guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. He also didn’t handle the ball up to par either, creating a 6:5 turnover-to-assist ratio. Granted, he probably didn’t move down the board too much, but can you avoid asking yourself “is this the next Adam Morrison?”
Draft Projection: Dropped from 8-10 range to late lottery.
Before Kyrie Irving suffered his toe injury, Nolan Smith was a non-factor offensively for Duke. After the injury, however, Smith cemented himself as one of the NCAA’s best players. Once Kyrie Irving returned to play for Duke in the tournament, Smith once again became a ghost. And therein lies the problem: can Nolan Smith be successful when the ball isn’t in his hands 90 percent of the time? Maybe in the right system.
Draft Projection: Late first round
Position: Point Guard
Selby was one of the more anticipated freshman this year but has since been a disappointment for Kansas and NBA scouts. Selby started off his college career with a bang, but hasn’t seemed to find his niche at the college level yet. He has the perfect build for an NBA point guard, but his skills haven’t seemed to come to fruition as of yet. Since February 14, Selby didn’t notch a single double digit point game. In the tournament, he averaged sub 4 points a game. Entering the draft should not even be an option for Selby at this point.
Draft Projection: Dropped from potential lottery pick to early second round
Position: Small Forward
When you look at Kentucky’s success in the tournament, Jones hasn’t contributed to much of it. He has taken a backseat to players like Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson. Jones’ inconsistent play hasn’t helped his stock. He hasn’t scored above 12 points in any of his tournament games, but he has rebounded fairly well. Jones was a top ten overall pick mid season but has since dropped far into the end of the lottery, and possibly even out of it.
Draft Projection: Dropped from top ten overall to mid first round