The game was held at Continental Airlines Arena in the New Jersey Meadowlands, home of the New Jersey Nets, the NHL's New Jersey Devils, Seton Hall Men's Basketball team and a coveted concert venue. The NBA draft lottery will ironically be held right down the road from here in Secaucus, New Jersey in mid-May.
22 year old center Shelden Williams, possibly the most steady and reliable defensive big man in the country and an accomplished post presence, matched up with potential laden 20 year old LaMarcus Aldridge, a long and extremely athletic PF/C who displays nearly all the basic attributes NBA scouts look for from a player at his position.
This matchup didnt end up revealing all that much in terms of things we werent previously aware of regarding the two big men prospects. With that said, the highly central location of the game both physically and in terms of national exposure will probably amplify the magnitude of the matchup between the two for NBA types and casual fans that dont follow the NCAA season as closely as some.
The game itself was never really a match as Texas appeared to have come wholly unprepared for the gameplan that Duke has been showing all season long. Texas threw various players (Kevin Paulino, Daniel Gibson, PJ Tucker) at J.J. Redick but none of them were able to slow him down. Simple pick and roll plays gave Redick opportunities to set his feet and get open looks all night long as the Longhorns either shockingly went underneath the screens Duke set for him, hedged half-heartedly time after time or switched defenders in chaotic fashion. Texas floor general Daniel Gibson once again showed his poor playmaking and decision making ability throughout the game along with his nonexistent leadership skills, continuing to hurt his already shaky draft stock.
The highly anticipated big man matchup was a dud for the most part, as for some unclear reason it was 6-7 and highly inexperienced sophomore Mike Williams who was the one that was asked to guard the senior Shelden Williams. Aldridge did get a few looks at Shelden occasionally on both ends of the floor, though, and the results were telling even if they were inconclusive.
All of Williams points came within 8 feet of the basket as usual, but we did get a much more extensive look at his perimeter skills this time than we are typically accustomed to. Duke runs an incredibly large number of pick and rolls and since Williams sets such terrific picks and is also an imposing presence and finisher rolling towards the basket, this was a play that was run repeatedly. In this game, though, Williams combined his typical forte with a conceited effort to show us a part of his game that we rarely see from him; his ball-handling. Williams handled the ball on the perimeter at length at least a half dozen times in this game, and looked surprisingly good doing so. He made a few nice passes off the dribble to a cutting man and also pulled up for a contested mid-range jumper that looked good but rimmed out. On one occasion he baited LaMarcus Aldridge into the air with a nice pump fake from behind the arc and then pulled up for a jump-shot from the free throw line, something Im not sure Ive ever seen him do. Williams will never be a Dirk Nowitzki or Kevin Garnett type player, but its good to see him showing that he does have some raw skills outside of the paint.
Williams showed off his passing skills (to the tune of 4 assists) on a few more occasions as well, whether it was throwing a beautiful outlet pass after a rebound to a streaking Sean Dockery for an easy layup, or confidently handling a Texas trap out in no mans land before dishing off a terrific 35 foot pass to freshman Martynas Pocius for yet another easy basket. He looked steady and very experienced all game long as you would expect from a senior leader that has played in so many big games in career thus far, impressively knocking down 9 of his 10 free throws, never forcing the issue and making almost no mistakes on either end of the floor.
Aldridge on the other hand looked to be out of his element at times in what was clearly the biggest game he had played in so far in his early career. Keep in mind that he missed all but the first 16 games for Texas last year with a season ending hip injury. As we are unfortunately growing accustomed to, Aldridge will not force his often selfish guards to pass him the ball in the post by calling for it aggressively. This is hardly a shock considering the stage he is at in his development, but it would have been nice to see some more heart and emotion out of him in key stretches of the game. This is something that will be key both for Texas ability to make a run to the final four as well as Aldridges own prospects of landing the top spot in this upcoming draft.
What will definitely help him were some of the flashes he did show at times in the game. A couple of terrific catches deep in the paint amongst traffic led to a number of impressive dunks that looked quite effortless. One particular early move backing down Josh McRoberts and spinning to his right shoulder for a gorgeous turnaround jumper is an advanced move for a player his size and may have been his highlight of the game. A good looking jump-hook shot that rimmed out, an aggressive put-back dunk in traffic and another impressive hook/scoop shot were a few more intriguing moves that Aldridge showed in his arsenal. Whats notable is the fact that Aldridge managed to look like a very impressive draft prospect despite the fact that he wasnt really playing all that well.
LaMarcus Aldridge- 21 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, 0 blocks, 0 assists, 2 turnovers, 3 fouls, 40 minutes, 8-13 FG, 5-6 FT
Shelden Williams- 23 points, 6 rebounds, 5 blocks, 4 assists, 2 turnovers, 1 steal, 35 minutes, 7-12 FG, 9-10 FT
While Williams clearly had the better game (even beyond the box-score) and also came away with the win, its Aldridge who obviously comes off as the better NBA draft prospect.
From a physical standpoint, he is clearly bigger than his listed height of 6-10 and has an extremely impressive wingspan on top of that. Hes a fluid athlete who is highly coordinated and possesses excellent quickness both running and getting off the floor. What separates him from your typical lanky run/jump athletic big man is the array of skills he possesses on the offensive end. Just the sparks that he showed in this game (noted above) were enough to let you know that hes a player with 20 point plus per game potential on this side of the floor. His raw physical attributes imply that he has the potential to get the job done in the very important areas of defense and rebounding as well as he continues to mature.
With that said, this game did clearly show us that he is far from being a complete player at this point and still has quite a few things he needs to work on. Despite the fact that he has added plenty of bulk to his frame over the last year, he still has his work cut out for him to be able to mix it up inside with the physical beasts the NBA will throw at him every single night. And while he was able to get the job done against the freshman Josh McRoberts, he was clearly outmuscled by the chiseled body of Shelden Williams and was even rejected embarrassingly at one point trying to score on him in the post. He looks more willing to throw his weight around in the paint than he did last year, but a certain sense of scrap and hustle were missing from him at times, which came to play in his somewhat paltry rebounding numbers in this game. Defensively, he showed quick hands getting his hands on a couple of balls that were in his area, but again didnt make his presence felt as much as you may have hoped from a player with such fantastic physical attributes. If he continues to steadily improve in this part of the game leading up to the NCAA tournament, Aldridge is as strong a candidate as any to end up as the #1 pick come June.
Shelden Williams on the other hand did about as much as he could to help his stock in this game, beyond possibly stepping out and knocking down a couple of 18 foot jump-shots.
He is a man amongst boys when he gets the ball inside the paint, using his body to the fullest to carve out space for himself and finish strong around the basket. His footwork is solid and he shows one or two moves (such as a nice jump-hook shot) that might leave you somewhat optimistic in regards to how his somewhat brute and robotic offensive game will translate over to the NBA. He is an outstanding rebounder and man to man defender who leaves everything he has in his time out on the floor. His fundamentals and timing looked outstanding both blocking shots and extending himself for difficult rebounds outside of his area.
The raw skills he showed on the perimeter (noted above) are hardly the stuff legends are made out of, but its definitely a step in the right direction. You could definitely say that he would probably be a better NBA prospect if he was a bit taller, a little more explosive and showed some more finesse in his game, but the skills he does have are things that NBA teams need and few, if any other players in this draft possess. His defense, rebounding, work-ethic, attitude and the experience that comes along with being such an important player for four years at possibly the best basketball program in America make him a virtual lock to get drafted in the first round and appears to be enough to at least land him a spot in the late lottery. The fact that as many as six teams (Toronto, Chicago, Portland, New Jersey, New Orleans and either Atlanta, Phoenix or Boston) could all have multiple first round draft picks in his range and all need help at the position he plays is something that is definitely in his favor. Teams with two draft picks often like to counter one upside pick with a sure thing type player that will be able to contribute rotation minutes right away. That is likely exactly the way Williams will be described in his scouting report.