NCAA/NIT Tournament Stock Watch, Rumor Mill

NCAA/NIT Tournament Stock Watch, Rumor Mill
Mar 24, 2009, 04:47 pm
A full dose of NBA draft information to keep you going until the NCAA tournament kicks off this Thursday, including some thoughts on Gerald Henderson, Stephen Curry, Patty Mills, Terrence Williams, Sam Young, Jonny Flynn, Michael Washington, Brandon Costner and others.

Tying Up Loose Ends—the NCAA Tournament

Since it was impossible to watch all 48 NCAA tournament games over the last four days—although you can’t fault us for trying—we needed to spend some time catching up on what we missed out on today. Here are some things that caught our eye that we didn’t get a chance to include in our initial observations.

Gerald Henderson clearly wasn’t ready to end his season in Duke’s second round matchup against Texas, showing just about as much aggressiveness trying to help his team out as you can ask for. He notched a career-high 21 field goal attempts, of which he converted just 7, but also got to the free throw line 13 times (making 10), helping him finish the game with 24 points. It wasn’t the most impressive performance we’ve seen from his this season by any stretch, but it was nice to see him rise to the occasion and contribute in a number of different areas.

Henderson showed his beautiful mid-range game in the first half, converting on pull-up jumpers from 18, 19 and 20 feet out when the defense went underneath the screen on the pick and roll. He also missed quite a few jumpers, though, particularly in the first half, where he may have settled a bit. Henderson’s 3-point shot has gone completely cold over the past two months, he’s made just 16 of his last 66 attempts from beyond the arc in 17 games and is now shooting a paltry 34% from 3-point range, after starting the season off 24/51. NBA teams will likely look very heavily at this part of his game in private workouts starting in May, but considering the nice form and touch he shows from 18-20 feet out, you would think he should be able to develop into at least a solid long-range shooter down the road.

Henderson has made significant improvements to his slashing game, which has really taken his game to another level. He’s attempted 97 free throws over the last 11 games, or 9 per game, after only accumulating 87 attempts in his first 25 games (3.5 per). Mike Krzyzewski is doing a great job taking advantage of mismatch opportunities that present themselves on the floor—similar to what NBA coaches do, as Henderson is regularly isolated on pin-downs and regular post-up plays, an area where he’s found moderate success. He’s also doing a better job utilizing shot-fakes to draw defenders in the air, and looks much more aggressive using his phenomenal first step to beat his defender off the dribble, going either left or right. Once Henderson gets a step on his man, it’s a pretty safe bet that he’s going to finish with either two points, a trip to the line, or both, as he’s not only an incredible leaper, but he’s also developed a real nastiness going up and challenging his man at the rim—looking like he wants to dunk absolutely everything. What’s scary is that Henderson still has a great deal of room to improve on his shot-creating ability—he doesn’t show a great deal of advanced ball-handling skills, his ability to operate out of the triple threat position is mostly relegated to using superior timing and athleticism to beat his man off the dribble, and he’s still not great at changing directions with the ball once he’s cut off. His upside on this side of the floor is considerable, as he still has plenty of room to continue to improve his offensive polish.

Very important to remember is the different ways in which Henderson can impact a game, as he’s much more than just a scorer. He’s also a good rebounder, an excellent passer, and a terrific defender as well. Unlike many star players, Henderson is a real hustler who is very much willing to step in and take charges. The fact that he’s showing such an aggressive mentality in Duke’s biggest games this season (he was nothing short of spectacular in the ACC tournament championship game for example) is really a great sign for the future, and should give NBA decision makers plenty of room for optimism. With James Harden coming up so flat in the last three games of his college career, there is plenty of room now for a player like Henderson to step up and take over as the #1 shooting guard prospect in this draft. This upcoming weekend could play a pivotal role in that.

Terrence Williams put on an unbelievable shooting display against Siena, draining four of six 3-pointers. Some of them came from deep NBA range, and others were sweet looking pull-ups in rhythm. Over the last 11 games, Williams has quietly knocked down a barrage of 3-pointers—24, on just 52 attempts. That’s a stellar 46%. He’s now shooting a very respectable 38% on the year. The emergence of his perimeter shot is really a major story, and is a big reason why many scouts we’ve spoken to have him currently ranked as a lottery pick, much higher than where we’ve had him all year. Another reason is his amazing versatility—Williams also contributed 15 rebounds and 4 assists against Siena, and played his typical excellent defense. For us, his inability to create his own shot and get to the free throw line make us wonder whether he really is starting NBA shooting guard material, but the fact that he can defend three positions and also see minutes as a pseudo point guard/point forward will allow him to get plenty of minutes alongside the right teammates. Some scouts we talked to have mentioned some concerns about potential off the court issues, which is something to keep an eye on. Louisville’s matchup with Arizona on Friday will probably attract hordes of NBA scouts and decision makers, as it’s a rare opportunity to evaluate as many as four potential lottery picks on one court.

-With DeJuan Blair seeing a great deal of attention in the post, Sam Young was able to knock down 4/10 3-pointers and finish with a strong 28 point, 8 rebound, 4 block performance against Oklahoma State. Young was ultra aggressive all game long, not hesitating for an instant to get his shot off when given a moment to set his feet. He punished Oklahoma State’s zone with a number of big shots, and also gave Pitt a presence in the post by taking his man down low and scoring as well. Young also chipped in on the glass with five offensive rebounds, some of which he converted into easy points. Facing the basket, Young was solid when the defense was unbalanced and he was able to quickly penetrate off the dribble. When asked to do a bit more with the ball and create his own shot off the dribble, Young struggled, turning the ball over four times on the afternoon.

Patty Mills vs. Stephen Curry NIT Showdown

20 NBA teams were on hand last night for an extremely intriguing NIT matchup between Stephen Curry’s Davidson Wildcats and Patrick Mills’ St. Mary’s Gaels. Curry finished with 27 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists, but also committed 6 turnovers and shot just 11-27 from the field. Mills also had an off night shooting the ball, making just 1-10 3-pointers, but he still managed to finish with 23 points as well a sparkling 10 assists compared with just 1 turnover. Most importantly, St. Mary’s came away with the victory at home, and now moves on to play at San Diego State (Wednesday, 9 PM EST, ESPN2) with a trip to Madison Square Garden on the line.

Curry started the game off extremely well, making a terrific move to the basket that really highlighted his quickness and ability to change speeds with the ball. He also pulled up and knocked down an absolutely ridiculous shot from about 26-feet out, but then began to struggle after that. St. Mary’s did a very nice job throwing multiple defenders at him, particularly the very pesky Wayne Hunter and the very agile Diamon Simpson, who did a great job hedging on the perimeter and denying Curry open looks. Curry was able to free himself up on a few occasions for pretty decent looks by his standards, but unfortunately missed a couple of shots that he normally would make. He struggled in particular around the basket, not getting much lift around the rim, being forced to throw the ball up high off the glass, and failing to get to the free throw line even once. Although much of this game centered around Curry taking on St. Mary’s entire defense, he did make some excellent passes to teammates showcasing his very nice court vision, but only saw a few of them converted. As is the tendency when watching Davidson play, you often got the feeling that Curry was trying or forced (depending on your perspective) to do a little too much.

After the game Curry had the following to share about his chances of entering this year's draft: “I haven’t thought about that. I tried to put it off until our season was over. I’ll talk to all of the people who are involved and see what happens. I don’t have a time limit or anything like that, but my heart’s still at Davidson."

This was a strong showing for Patrick Mills, particularly the fact that he was able to show better distributing skills than we’d seem from him all season. Mills does not play the point for St. Mary’s full time, and is averaging just under 4 assists per game compared with nearly 3 turnovers. Mills did a good job of driving and dishing as well as finding the open man rolling to the basket on pick and roll plays. His speed and ability to create his own shot is clearly one of his strongest selling points as a prospect, although his shot-selection left quite a bit to be desired in this contest. Mills made some excellent pull-up mid-range jumpers, the main source of his points last night, but was extremely cold from beyond the arc (1-10 3FG). His shot-selection looked exceptionally poor, as he showed absolutely no conscious heaving up tough contested pull-ups very early in the shot-clock, especially when you consider that he’s just shooting 34% from beyond the arc (41% total) on the season. Considering his size, he’s going to have to do a much better job playing at different speeds and getting to the free throw line if he’s to stick in the NBA. Defensively, he did not stand out either. A trip to Madison Square Garden and a good showing once there could really benefit his stock, as most scouts we talked to have him rated in the late first or early second round depending on who is in the draft.

NBA Draft Links

• Jonny Flynn: "I'm coming back to Syracuse"

Bud Poliquin of the Syracuse Post Standard got a pretty definitive statement out of Jonny Flynn:

"I'm coming back to Syracuse," Flynn declared on Saturday. "That's it. I'm coming back to Syracuse. There is no 'as of right now.' I'm coming back to Syracuse. Yeah. I'm coming back to Syracuse."

Asked if those words could be really and truly believed, Flynn demurred not at all.

"You can believe whatever you want to believe," he said with a broad smile. "I can't make you believe it. I can only say it. I'm coming back."

Our only advice for Syracuse fans is: don’t get your hopes up, because you’re likely to be disappointed. We’ve seen too many impressionable young players make similar heat of the moment type comments after a big win to take Flynn’s words too seriously. Maybe he will decide to return for his junior year, but all indications going into this season were that this was going to be Flynn’s last year at Syracuse. Unfortunately for college coaches, the NBA early-entry deadline is on April 26th, not March 26th. Once Flynn finishes off his season and is able to sit down and really give his future some serious thought, our bet is that he throws his name in the poll, maybe saying that he just wants to “see where his stock is” initially. Syracuse fans shouldn’t be mad, they just need to realize that their players are living out their childhood dreams right now, and are in no emotional state to be making binding decisions about their professional careers.

Are we starting to sound a bit cynical after six years of doing this? Maybe so, but when you see how history repeats itself year after year, you tend to take these type of comments with a grain of salt.

Michael Washington mulls NBA draft outlook

Bob Holt of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette brings quite a bit of information to the table from Arkansas coach John Pelphrey, to help us understand Washington’s situation.

"I think he'd like to come back for his senior year, but I think he does want to see what interest might be out there," Razorbacks Coach John Pelphrey said Monday. "My sense of it is that if he can be a first-round draft pick, that's one thing.

"If not, let's come back and work and see if we can't become a first-round draft pick."

The NBA Draft, held June 25 in New York, includes two rounds and 60 overall picks. Only the 30 picks in the first round get guaranteed contracts. has Washington No. 41 among its top 100 NBA Draft prospects and lists him as a late first-round to second-round pick. Two other Web sites - and nbadraft. net - don't list Washington as being picked in either round.

Pelphrey said he's spoken briefly with Washington on the subject and the two likely will talk about it more in the coming days.

"Certainly, it's perfectly within his right to test the waters," Pelphrey said. "That's all within the confines of the NCAA rules and regulations, so we'll see."

Pelphrey said he'll help Washington in whatever way he can, but that whether he enters and stays in the draft ultimately is a decision for Washington - who turns 23 on Oct. 2 - and his family.

"We will gather some information, but obviously this is a Mike and his family decision,” Pelphrey said. “It is not a John Pelphrey or University of Arkansas decision. We will support him to make the best decision possible. We aspire for all these young men to have a chance to play at a higher level and obviously Mike has worked hard to garner some recognition..

"I thought Mike made great, great strides from his sophomore to his junior year," Pelphrey said. "I think he's got a chance to make a similar jump again from his junior to his senior year."

It sounds like Pelphrey—a Billy Donovan disciple—is going about this the right way. Washington will turn 23 in October, and has quite a few things going for him as an NBA prospect—mainly his outstanding physical attributes. Washington has great size, length and athleticism for an NBA power forward, and has some intriguing skills to match, particularly his ability to finish around the rim, his productivity as a rebounder, and his very raw ability to face the basket. The problem is that Washington is still very much a project, especially defensively and as a decision-maker, only really having one solid season at the college level after seeing little playing time his first two seasons at Arkansas. Scouts are going to raise serious red flags about the way him and his team finished off the season—losing 15 of their last 17 games, after starting off the year in such a promising way. If Washington feels like he can improve even half as much next season as he did this past year, he would be smart to go back to Arkansas, as his stock isn’t all that high right now, and he might have a hard time sticking on a roster immediately considering how far he is from seeing consistent playing time at an NBA level. On the other hand, he doesn’t have a great deal to lose by testing the waters and going through private workouts and possibly the NBA combine in Chicago this June, as long as he does it the right way.

We currently have Washington ranked as a late first round pick in our 2010 mock draft, and would probably move him to the early to mid portion of the 2009 second round if he decides to enter, depending on which other players declare.

• DeRozan “hasn’t thought” about NBA draft

Immediately after being eliminated from the NCAA tournament, DeRozan understandably wasn’t all that interested in talking about his future. According to Chris Foster of the LA Times:

"It's something I haven't really thought about," DeRozan said after he scored 18 points in a 74-69 loss to Michigan State that eliminated the Trojans from the NCAA tournament Sunday. "I'm still dwelling on this loss. I'll sit down with Coach [Tim Floyd] and my family and see how it looks. The whole opportunity I got this year has helped me. A lot of freshmen I know didn't get a chance to make it to the NCAA tournament. I got a lot of friends playing in the NIT, and they probably will never get to experience the NCAA like I did."

Foster also mentioned that “(Daniel) Hackett and (Taj) Gibson also said they would make a decision later.” According to numerous sources we’ve spoken with, Hackett is very likely to leave USC and play in Italy next season (he holds an Italian passport) if he isn’t drafted, which he likely won’t. Gibson turns 24 this June and also could very well decide to move on.

• Harden: No decision yet on NBA draft

Harden’s comments to the Associated Press after ASU’s loss to Syracuse were fairly typical:

"We're still in the season. We had a game today. So was that the furthest thing from my mind. I still won't think about it. It's something I'll think about later with my coaches and my family. I'm not worried about it right now. We just came off a tough loss. I'll take a couple of days or a week to think about it."

Make no mistake, Harden is no dummy. He will put his name in the draft, especially once he finds out that he’s a top 10 pick.

More interesting were the frank quotes made by Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, as reported by Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic:

"Harden did nothing (in a first-round win against Temple), he was really passive," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, explaining the Orange's game plan against the All-American. "And (Sunday) when he was on the perimeter, we weren't concerned. If anything, we were going to let him shoot the 3 over the other three guys."

Harden seemed to realize the missed opportunity: "I shouldn't have waited until the second half. I should have been aggressive in the first half as I was in the second half."

• Chad Ford: Jeff Teague Needs to Go Back to School

Wake Forest head coach Dino Gaudio will likely love hearing Chad Ford’s comments (fast-forward to the 16 minute mark of the podcast) on ESPN. Ford says that according to NBA teams he talked to, Jeff Teague “needs to go back to school” as he was once thought of as a lottery pick, but “completely blew it against Cleveland State” and showed that he “can’t handle running a team in a big time pressure situation”, which means his “stock could really drop.”

Ford also talks about the strong play of Blake Griffin, mentioning the opinion of one NBA GM he spoke with who thinks that “he would have went ahead of Michael Beasley and Derrick Rose” in the draft last year. He also calls Evan Turner “one of the most underrated players in America”, and believes that Eric Maynor “can end up in the lottery on draft night, as he “reassured NBA teams that he can be a big time NBA player.”

Ford later reiterated some of those comments in two very interesting stock watch-type articles published on ESPN Insider (one and two).

• Brandon Costner Leaving N.C. State

North Carolina State yesterday announced that junior power forward Brandon Costner is leaving the program, despite possessing a year of college eligibility. Costner, a highly touted high school player who was recruited by Herb Sendek, was forced to redshirt his first season after suffering a stress fracture in his foot. Many, including us, had high hopes after seeing him dominate the ACC tournament as a freshman, helping N.C. State reach the championship game, where they lost to North Carolina. He’s been very up and down since then, struggling with conditioning issues and poor shot-selection, and clearly never quite buying into Sidney Lowe’s system. N.C. State won just 10 of 32 games in the ACC over the past two seasons, and failed to advance to a post-season tournament in either year. According to the Winston-Salem Journal article, Costner will receive his degree this summer. From what we’ve seen, Costner is likely a long-shot to get drafted, as he’s not particularly athletic, is a poor rebounder and defender, and is not quite skilled enough on the perimeter to make a living in the NBA strictly as a face-up power forward. With no NBA pre-draft games this year, Costner might have a hard time proving that he’s that much different of a player than was able to show at N.C. State. There is clearly a market for players with his size and skill-set in Europe, though, and Costner should be able to make a good living playing overseas.

•Tight family keeps Blake Griffin grounded

An in-depth profile by ESPN's Andy Katz on Blake Griffin and his family.

•A Bad Year to Stink in the NBA

Kurt Helin of the excellent Forum Blue and Gold and NBC Los Angeles thinks this year's draft class is exceptionally weak. We respectfully disagree, but he does make some strong points. It's definitely good to see the draft becoming a main-stream media topic these days.

•NCAA tournament ratings up for first 2 rounds

Television ratings for the first and second round of the NCAA tournament are up 6 percent from last year.

Overnight ratings released Monday show CBS earned a 5.4 rating and 12 share, up from a 5.1 rating and 12 share for the first two rounds in 2008.

On Sunday, the overnight rating was up 10 percent from 2008. The final group of games, including a tight contest between top-seed Louisville and surprise Siena, earned an 8.1 overnight rating and 14 share, the highest rating for the 5-7:45 p.m. EDT slot since an 8.2 in 2006.

• Flip Saunders says Cole Aldrich could be top 10 pick

As quoted in the Minneapolis Pioneer Press:

"He's going to help somebody," Saunders said. "He's a more than adequate offensive player right now. Defensively, he can really rebound, as you saw in the (Dome) games, and he blocks shots. All kids are going to struggle somewhat, because it's a change. (Sunday against Dayton), he played against guys who are 6-9, 6-10. (In the NBA), you're going to play against guys who are 6-11, 7-feet every night who are skilled, strong and quick. He'll be able to play, but it will depend on how much adjustment he makes early, being able to deal with things. He's a guy who would get some playing time. But he's got a chance to be a pretty good player in the league because he's long, strong; offensively, he can score a little bit; he's got really good, soft hands; and he's got great reach."

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