Draft Watch: The naughty and nice list
- AP Photo/H. Rumph JrAlthough he's not one of the top prospects, Dionte Christmas' spirit is strong for Temple.
Roughly 10 games into this college basketball season, many NBA scouts have begun to throw their hands up in the air. Yes, Oklahoma's Blake Griffin looks like an NBA star in waiting. After him, though, everyone on the board looks like a risk.
Ricky Rubio is recovering from a wrist injury. Hasheem Thabeet looks like an offensive liability. James Harden is undersized and lacks great athleticism. Stephen Curry has struggled in the spotlight for the second straight game. Brandon Jennings can't hit a shot in Italy. The rest of the freshman class hasn't been stellar, either.
Is UNC's Tyler Hansbrough going to go in the first round? Check out the progress of other top prospects, including Brandon Jennings' adventures in European ball. Insider
All this has scouts complaining about the draft positioning on our big board.
The conversation goes something like this:
"No way is Stephen Curry a top-five pick in the draft. No way," they say.
"So who is?" I counter.
After mentioning Griffin, there's a lot of static.
Don't get me wrong, there are good players in the draft. Except Griffin, though, none of them looks like an NBA All-Star right now. That may change as the season progresses.
But it also serves as a huge disclaimer to this year's Top 100. A ranking of No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 on our big board doesn't mean the same thing it meant last year.
The nice list
Dionte Christmas, SG, Temple
It's fitting to start our nice list with Father Christmas himself.
Christmas made a name for himself last season in the NCAA tournament but has really turned it on as a senior. He dropped 35 points on Tennessee last week and followed it up with a 21-point performance against Kansas on Saturday. Christmas has a sweet shooting stroke and deep range. He's less effective taking the ball to the basket, but he's willing, which is a plus.
Right now, he's a first-round bubble prospect. His age (he turned 22 in September) works against him. But his consistent production of the past few years says he's a kid who has proven he can score at the highest level.Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain
Rubio has been out most of the year with a wrist injury, keeping us from checking in on his progress after an impressive performance in the Olympics. Rubio got his most consistent minutes of the season in the Spanish League this week and didn't disappoint. His 10 assists per game average would be impressive in college.
But in Europe (where scorekeepers are significantly stingier in crediting players with assists), it's the equivalent of a 20-assist game. Rubio and Griffin are the only players in this draft who appear to have the talent to be franchise players. It's nice to see a little validation of that on the court.James Harden, SG, Arizona State
No one seems to benefit more from the lack of great talent at the top of the draft board than Harden. In a normal draft year, Harden would not be a prototypical top-five pick. He's an undersized 2-guard who lacks the athletic explosiveness that scouts normally look for in elite NBA guards. However, Harden's impressive production is impossible to ignore. He knows how to score and does almost all his scoring within the rhythm of the game.
Harden also has a great NBA body and is shooting lights-out from beyond the arc. He's looking more and more like a consensus top-three pick in the draft. Scouts still aren't sold that he has the physical ability to be a great NBA player, but in preparing for a draft filled with question marks, Harden has been one truly consistent player this season.Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona
This year's draft is vertically challenged. Most of the talent resides in the guards and small forwards. Griffin is the best power forward in the draft, but Hill is quickly distinguishing himself as the second-best 4 in college basketball.
Hill entered the college game as a very raw but talented prospect. His strength has improved, allowing him to be a more dominant rebounder and scorer inside. But he also has begun to pick up many of the nuances of the game. He has been remarkably consistent, chalking up double-doubles in eight of his first 11 games. His 22-point performance in a win over Gonzaga caused many scouts to claim that Hill is a legit top-10 pick. He has room to move up the board if he can prove to scouts that he can keep up his offensive production.Greg Monroe, F/C, Georgetown
The freshman class has been disappointing. To date, not one freshman has made a convincing case that he's ready for the NBA. However, Monroe has turned the most heads early on. His numbers aren't terrific, but his combination of size and skill has many scouts drooling. The Georgetown system won't allow Monroe to dominate statistically (see Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert), but it has highlighted that he's a harder worker than scouts gave him credit for in high school.
If Monroe continues to improve as the season goes on, he has the talent to go as high as No. 2 or No. 3 in the draft. We have him planted firmly in the top 10.DeMar DeRozan, G, USC
In terms of physical ability, no freshman in the country has the résumé that DeRozan does. Head coach Tim Floyd said DeRozan is the best athlete he's ever coached, in college or the NBA. But DeRozan's lack of a killer instinct combined with some outside shooting woes (he's 0-for-13 from 3 this season) have contributed to a disappointing start.
In the past two games, however, DeRozan has started to come on. He scored a career-high 18 points against North Dakota State and followed with a 17-point performance against Georgia Tech. Most importantly, DeRozan is starting to show aggressiveness on the offensive end that was lacking early in the season.
One scout who's close to the USC program told me that DeRozan has tried his best to be the anti-O.J. Mayo. He's tried to fit in and let the veterans jell. But because Floyd has been pushing for DeRozan to do more, he's beginning to step up. If he continues to improve as the season goes on (and starts hitting some deep J's), he'll be a top-five draft pick.Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas
Scouts hunt all year for skilled big men who can score in the post. This season, the expected first and second centers selected in the draft, Hasheem Thabeet and B.J. Mullens, are pretty raw on the offensive end. Enter Aldrich, who is showing as much offensive skill as any legit center in the country.
Aldrich has an array of low-post moves and an ugly but effective jump shot that stretches out to 18 feet. He has been a beast on the boards and is more athletic than he looks at first appearance.
Said one NBA executive, "In a draft as weak as this, Aldrich will be a top-10 pick if he declares this year. He's not ready, but offensively, he's light-years ahead of some of the other bigs in the draft." We've moved Aldrich into late-lottery-selection position in our mock draft, and he still has room to move up if he keeps playing well for Kansas.Jarvis Varnado, PF, Mississippi State
Scouts fell in love with Varnado this past summer at the LeBron James Skills Academy. His long arms, freakish leaping ability and awesome shot-blocking skills are well-known. Lately, Varnado also has been getting it done on offense.
Varnado has scored 21 or more points in four of his past five games. For a guy who's shooting 65 percent from the field and blocking six shots per game, he's still a little under the radar, but expect that to change. Five scouts I spoke to recently all expected him to be picked anywhere from No. 15 to No. 25 in the draft in June.
DeShawn Sims, F, Michigan
Sims is a tough player to project. Many scouts question whether he's a 3 or a 4, and much dreaded "tweener" talk is out there. But his production of late has been undeniable. He scored 28 and 12 points in two contests against Duke and an impressive 20 points and 20 rebounds Monday night versus Florida Gulf Coast. If Sims can answer questions about whom he'll guard in the NBA (offensively, he can play both positions well), he could become a late first-round pick.
Tyshawn Taylor, G, Kansas
Taylor is quickly solidifying his spot as one of the top freshmen in the country. Taylor has great speed and athleticism and is showing an ability to run the point for KU. He had eight assists against Temple and 11 against Jackson State.
Although Taylor needs to work on his jump shot, he is drawing more and more attention from scouts who call him a potential Russell Westbrook-type player. He's probably a guy to watch more for the 2010 draft than the 2009 draft. Then again, we were saying the same thing about Westbrook last year.
The naughty listStephen Curry , G, Davidson
Curry has been a darling of old-school NBA scouts who value basketball IQ and fundamentals over pure athletic ability. But a significant chorus of scouts worry that Curry lacks the speed and explosiveness to dominate in the pros the way he dominates in college. They point to Curry's shooting struggles and turnovers against elite teams. The latter group got another arrow in the quiver this past weekend when Curry struggled mightily against Purdue.
Purdue followed a proven strategy of throwing multiple bigger, more athletic defenders against Curry, and he struggled. One NBA executive said after the game, "You can't judge a kid in one game, but what I saw out there doesn't look like a lottery pick. How's he going to score and defend in our league?"
To be fair, Curry lacks any semblance of a supporting cast, and that allows teams to focus all their available defensive resources on Curry. In the NBA, Curry will have dramatically better teammates. But enough questions about Curry exist that you have to wonder a little about where his draft stock will end up. I still have him pretty high on the big board, but if players below him begin to shine, especially some of the freshmen, his stock will start to drop.Tyreke Evans, G, Memphis
Evans is another player who seems to be hurting his stock each week. Evans' shooting woes continued this week with a dreadful 2-for-9 shooting game against Syracuse. Evans is shooting worse than 20 percent from 3-point range and doesn't seem to have a clue about good shot selection.
Evans was projected early as a potential one- and-done, but more and more scouts seem to be souring on him. "What most NBA teams don't need is a young player coming into the league with the attitude that every shot is a good shot." We dropped Evans from No. 15 to No. 26 on our big board.Samardo Samuels, PF, Louisville
Samuels has put up solid numbers as a freshman, but his lack of explosive leaping ability combined with just average height is hurting his NBA draft stock. His 2-for-13 shooting performance against Mississippi highlighted his struggles against long, athletic big men.
Samuels struggles to finish at the rim and gets his shot blocked too often. Although he has the strength to excel in the post at college, he'll need much more to do that in the pros. Samuels has slipped from the first-round bubble into the middle of the second round.
Nick Calathes, G, Florida
Some scouts love Calathes. He has a high basketball IQ, can play multiple positions and can stroke the ball. But more and more, scouts are wondering where he really fits in a draft that appears to be dominated by point guards. There is so much traditional talent at the point guard position this year that I keep seeing Calathes slip on draft boards. Calathes has the talent of an NBA player, but this might be the right year to declare for the draft.Terrence Williams, G/F, Louisville
Williams has great size and athleticism as a swingman. But his shooting woes continue to doom him as an elite NBA prospect. Two years ago, some scouts predicted that Williams could be a mid-first- round pick. Now it's hard to tell whether he'll even be drafted. Williams is shooting worse than 40 percent from the field and just 25 percent from the 3 this season. He's never been able to reverse that pattern, but you'd never know it because he jacks up so many jumpers.
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.
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2009 NBA DRAFT
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Chad Ford• Draft Watch: Who was great in '08?
• Draft Watch: Naughty and nice list
• Draft Watch: Louisville's Clark climbing
• Draft Watch: Curry's driving up the charts
• Draft Watch: Rubio's hot, Collison's not
• Ford: Top 100 prospects
Watch: Draft Video• Brandon Jennings, Italy
• Earl Clark, Louisville
• Jrue Holiday, UCLA
• Hasheem Thabeet, UConn
• James Harden, Arizona State