Commentary

Who's helped their stock in the tourney?

Here's the good and bad from the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament

Originally Published: March 31, 2009
By Chad Ford | ESPN.com

Blake GriffinBob Donnan/US PresswireBlake Griffin showed on the big stage why he is the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft.

The second week of the NCAA tournament provided a few classic games, but NBA scouts and GMs are pretty disappointed. There are only two players in the Final Four -- Hasheem Thabeet and Ed Davis -- that look like legit lottery picks. And one of them (Thabeet) isn't having a great tournament, while the other (Davis) doesn't play a big role on his team.

The other draft prospects in the Final Four are mostly late first-rounders or potential second-rounders. Most of the teams with the top NBA prospects were eliminated this past week, which means the past couple days of scouting was critical.

Here's a look at who helped and hurt their draft stocks during the past two rounds.

The Good

Blake Griffin, PF, So., Oklahoma
Griffin continued to prove why he is far and away the best prospect in the draft. He destroyed Syracuse by dropping 30 points and grabbing 14 boards in 33 minutes. And after a slow start against North Carolina -- which double- and triple-teamed him every time he touched the ball and held him without a field goal for the first 11 minutes of the game -- Griffin ended up with 23 points, on 9-for-12 shooting, and 16 boards.

Griffin's strength, athleticism and tenacity on the boards make him a no-brainer as an NBA player. However, he did show his biggest weakness during the tournament: For a guy who is so tough and physical, he had virtually zero impact on the defensive end of the ball. He certainly has the physical abilities to get it done, but what about the desire? That could be the biggest question he faces on his jump to the pros.

Expect Griffin to announce his decision to turn pro within the next few weeks.


Ty Lawson, PG, Jr., North Carolina
If Griffin has been the best player in the tournament, Lawson has been a close second. He shredded the defenses of both Gonzaga and Oklahoma in the past two rounds.

Lawson's speed and strength are his best attributes, but over the years he's also turned himself into a terrific spot-up shooter and a point guard who isn't going to make many mistakes. He is 7-for-11 from 3 with 20 assists and just 2 turnovers in the three tournament games he's played in.

While he may not have the same feel for the game as most elite point guards, he is quickly quieting those who have doubted his ability to be an impact player in the pros. He's moved back into the lottery discussion with his play in the past three games. And if he delivers an NCAA title to North Carolina, I think he'll land somewhere between 8 and 15 on draft night.


Tyreke Evans, G, Fr., Memphis
Evans has made the argument over the past two weeks that he, not Willie Warren, is the best freshman in college basketball. He capped off a great tournament with a spectacular 33-point performance against Missouri. Although it came in a losing effort, Evans showed off some big-time moves driving to the basket -- his ability to change directions and finish is amazing. Combine that with his long arms and NBA body, and Evans has great appeal as an NBA scorer who can get his own shot.

On the other hand, the tournament also highlighted Evans' weaknesses. He still struggles with his jump shot, plays out of control and sometimes forgets that he has four teammates on the floor.

Still, the chances are very strong that he's going to declare for the draft. And if he does, I expect him to go somewhere between 8 and 14 on draft night.


Sam Young, G/F, Sr., Pittsburgh
Young's excellent tournament run came to an end in a heart-breaking loss to Villanova. But over the past two weeks he has showed his ability to score from just about anywhere on the floor -- he scored 32 points against Oklahoma State, 19 versus Xavier and 28 versus Villanova. He has also proven to be an excellent rebounder and his long-range shooting continues to improve.

If he was 19 years old, he'd be a lock for the lottery. However, Young turned 24 in March and teams worry about his upside. I'd expect Young to land somewhere in the second half of the first round.


Jonny Flynn, PG, So., Syracuse
Flynn has had a fantastic run over the past three weeks. From playing 67 minutes in a six-overtime thriller versus UConn in the Big East tournament to putting up strong 22-point, 6-assist performance against Oklahoma in the Sweet 16, Flynn has proven he's one of the top point guards in college hoops. His speed, toughness and ability to probe defenses have more and more NBA executives impressed.

While his lack of size, streaky shooting ability and proclivity for turnovers will probably keep him from being a Top 10 prospect, a number of NBA executives I've spoken with this week currently have Flynn ranked somewhere between 12 and 18 on their big boards.

Flynn was adamant last week that he's returning to Syracuse for his junior season. But given the feedback from NBA scouts at the moment, the temptation to bolt may be hard to pass up.


Earl Clark, F, Jr., Louisville
Louisville fizzled in the regional finals versus Michigan State, but it wasn't Clark's fault. For the second year in a row, Clark put together a terrific tournament. He scored 19 points against both Arizona and Michigan State, and showed his ability to score both inside and out. His terrific athleticism, length and rebounding ability were also on display during the tournament.

Clark remains one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft. When he plays like he did in the tournament, he looks like a surefire Top 10 pick. However, scouts have seen enough disappointing performances from him to know that he doesn't always look this good.

A number of scouts compare him to Julian Wright. Given Wright's still uncertain future in the NBA, I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Look for Clark to declare for the draft and fall somewhere between 10 and 20 on draft night.


Cole Aldrich, C, So., Kansas
Aldrich followed up his impressive early-round performances with a strong 17-point, 13-rebound, 4-assist, 4-block game in a losing effort versus Michigan State. Over the course of the past month, he's been the most productive big man in college basketball.

With so few big men in the draft, a few NBA executives I spoke with this week had Aldrich ranked as a Top 10 pick. While he could really use another year at Kansas to polish his low-post game, he'd take a risk by going back. Once you start cracking the Top 10, you have to think long and hard about the NBA. From what I'm hearing, the chances are pretty high that he declares for the draft and, at the very least, tests the waters.


Scottie Reynolds, PG, Jr., Villanova
After a stellar freshman campaign in 2006-07, Reynolds was considered a potential first-round pick by a number of NBA scouts. But his game really plateaued after that and he's put up essentially the same numbers ever since. His ability to score from just about anywhere on the floor has been tempered by questions about his ability to play the point and his poor field goal percentages.

However, Reynolds' last-second heroics against Pittsburgh in the Elite Eight, plus strong games against Duke and UCLA, have put him firmly back on the NBA radar screen. In all three contests, Reynolds shot below 50 percent from the field, but hit big shots and really controlled the game for Villanova.

If he can continue to carry Villanova in the Final Four, you could see Reynolds' stock resurrected to the point that he could be in the conversation as a late first-round pick again. Right now, he's projected as a second-rounder.

Stanley Robinson, F, Jr., UConn
Over the past few weeks, Robinson, not Hasheem Thabeet, has been the force in the paint for UConn. The super-athletic forward from Alabama did not have an impressive season statistically, but he's been terrific in tournament play. In the Big East tournament, he had 28 and 14 in the six-overtime game versus Syracuse. In the opening round of the NCAA tournament, he put up 24 and seven versus UT-Chattanooga. And against Missouri in the Elite 8, he was critical in UConn's win, scoring 13 points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking four shots.

Robinson has a lot of weaknesses as a prospect: He needs to get stronger, improve his perimeter shooting and play with more consistency. But there's no question he's back on the radar screens of NBA scouts. His combination of size and athleticism is intriguing. If he can put it all together next season and team up with freshman Kemba Walker (see Insider for our take on his superb game versus Missouri) to lead UConn back to the Final Four, he's got a shot at cracking the first round in 2010.

Goran Suton, F/C, Sr., Michigan State
Michigan State is not stocked with surefire NBA prospects, but it was hard to ignore Suton this weekend. The senior from Bosnia destroyed Kansas and Louisville, stretching the defenses with his perimeter shot and grabbing key rebounds inside. He is averaging 12 boards a game in the tournament and scored 19 points versus both Kansas and Louisville.

After pushing scouts this weekend, I wouldn't be shocked to hear his name called in the second round. He doesn't have a high ceiling but his shooting and rebounding ability should get him a close look.


The Bad


Tyler Hansbrough, PF, Sr., North Carolina
I know it's popular to pick on Hansbrough right now, but he had a chance to quiet his critics in his matchup versus Blake Griffin in the Elite Eight and didn't. The Tar Heels won the game, but Griffin was in a different league as a prospect. Hansbrough got in early foul trouble, never got going in the game and ended up with eight points and six rebounds compared to Griffin's 23 points and 16 boards. While Griffin was double- and triple-teamed the entire game, Hansbrough was largely guarded straight up by Blake's brother, Taylor.

Yes, Hansbrough is a winner and a tough-as-nails college player, but that doesn't make him a great NBA prospect. I think the more scouts watch the tape with Hansbrough and Griffin side-by-side, the more Hansbrough's stock will slide.


Gerald Henderson, SG, Jr., Duke
Henderson did a lot to resurrect his draft stock during the second half of the season. He was aggressive, shot the lights out and proved that he had the combination of size, athleticism and skill to be a legit starting guard in the pros.

However, all of that came crashing down a bit in the tournament -- Henderson shot 11-for-44 from the field, went 1-for-11 from 3 and came up completely empty against Villanova with a 1-for-14 performance. Immediately after the game, the Henderson doubters were back out in full force questioning his ability to be a top-tier shooting guard in the NBA.

"I think his defensive ability and his basketball IQ will allow him to stick in the pros," said one NBA GM. "But what's the difference between him and Dahntay Jones?"

We have had Henderson in the mid-first round for the past two months and still think he'll go somewhere between 13 and 22. I know a few draft prognosticators have been talking about Henderson as a Top 5 pick -- it only takes one GM to love him that high -- however, Billy Knight won't be making any picks this year, and the GMs I've spoken with don't have him close to that high.


Jordan Hill, PF, Jr., Arizona
Hill has been a default Top 5 pick for the past few months. No one thinks he's good enough to go that high, but when you look at who else is out there, he kind of floats to the top. His high-energy game and his terrific rebounding numbers have given NBA scouts hope. But the tournament really brought out his weaknesses, as well.

Hill's limited offensive repertoire, coupled with a pretty low basketball IQ, makes him a bigger reach than most top 5 picks. Hill could still go that high, especially if a few of the other top prospects like Greg Monroe and Al-Farouq Aminu stay in school. But that shows how weak the draft is.


Willie Warren, G, Fr., Oklahoma
Warren had a terrific freshman season, but his play against Syracuse and North Carolina highlighted some of his weaknesses. In both games, Warren's perimeter shot wasn't falling and he resorted to taking some wild shots. His numbers versus North Carolina don't look that bad, but most of his points came when the game was already out of reach for the Sooners.

Warren said this weekend that he was 99 percent sure he was returning for his sophomore year, wanting to see how strong his game is without Blake Griffin on the floor. He shined in the few games in which Griffin didn't play this season, so maybe he knows what he's talking about. Still, it's a risk for Warren. He's widely considered a Top 10 pick now based on upside. If he skips the draft this year, he's going to have to prove he's worthy of a Top 10 pick next year.


Samardo Samuels, F/C, Fr., Louisville
Samuels is another freshman that really struggled in the limelight -- his 3-point performance against Michigan State exposed what are likely to be his struggles as a pro. An undersized power forward without great athleticism, he plays below the rim for the most part. Put him on the floor with a tough front line like Michigan State's and he falls apart.

Samuels needs to return to Louisville and prove to scouts that, despite his lack of size and explosion, he can get it done in the paint.

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

Chad Ford

Senior Writer, NBA Insider