NBA Draft: Scouting The Final Four
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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There are just two games remaining in the 2011-2012 NCAA season. On Monday night a national champion will be crowned and the offseason will begin. From an NBA draft perspective, that means guys will continue to declare, which we are tracking here, and private and group workouts will begin shortly.
With four traditional powerhouses in the Final Four that can basically go after any recruit they want, there of course is a lot of pro talent who we could see in the association as soon as next year.
Unsurprisingly, Kentucky features the most NBA hopefuls of any remaining squad. John Calipari has turned Lexington into a hotbed for aspiring pros. Two future Wildcats, Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress, participated in last night’s McDonald’s High School All-American game. The game also featured five undecided recruits, four of which are strongly considering Kentucky, including the second-ranked Shabazz Mohammed. Nerlens Noel, the highest-ranked player in the class who did not play last night, is also very interested in Kentucky.
These are the kind of recruiting classes that Calipari has to bring in to stay contenders at a national level because his teams experience more turnover than most other programs combined. Wildcats administration has to be as happy as anyone that there are no changes planned to the Academic Progress Rate that would penalize them for having guys leave early to play professionally. They would have been in serious trouble if there were; bringing in seven top-20 recruits is the only way Calipari can stay in the national championship mix with the kind of talent he loses year in and year out.
Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague could all be playing their last games as a Wildcat. Darius Miller is certainly done since he’s a senior. There’s a slight chance that Teague may come back for his sophomore year, but everyone else is as good as gone. Their stocks have really risen this year. Miller is the only one who isn’t currently projected to be selected in the first round, but that could certainly change.
Louisville, Kentucky’s longtime rival and opponent in the Final Four, has a couple of promising underclassmen of their own. Freshman Chane Behanan, although a tad bit undersize for a power forward, has impressed with his ability to score so efficiently. Sophomore center Gorgui Dieng has firmly put himself on the NBA radar with his shot blocking. Standing 6’11 with an imposing wingspan, Dieng is making the necessary improvements in his game overall to expect to see him in the NBA sometime soon. He could be a first round pick in next year’s draft.
There are a lot of people who believe that freshman Wayne Blackshear could be their best prospect. Unfortunately, we’ve only seen a very small glimpse of him this year as he missed a big portion of the season with an injury. He’s healthy now, but getting minimal playing time.
Scouts will also be watching Kyle Kuric, Chris Smith, Russ Smith and Peyton Siva for the Cardinals. None of them are locks to make it into the league right now, but they are undoubtedly good enough to play professionally somewhere.
On the other side of the bracket Ohio State possess a handful of prospects, led by the big man inside Jared Sullinger. Sullinger easily would have been a top five pick in last year’s draft, but decided to pass on that opportunity to pursue his goal of winning a national championship. There’s no real indication yet as to whether or not he plans on leaving this year. If he comes up short of the championship, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him stay. Whenever he does decide to call it a career as a Buckeye, he’ll be hearing his name called early on by NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Senior guard William Buford has been looked at by the league for a long time now. He’s going to be chosen in the second round and have a chance to make a roster next year. He hasn’t played well enough this year to crack the top 30, but his well-rounded skill set will earn him a paycheck.
Sophomores Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft and Lenzell Smith, Jr. are all names to remember for the 2013 draft and beyond. Thomas and Smith are intriguing because of their offensive capabilities, while Craft has established himself as one of the premier defenders in the country. Their stocks are poised to rise as juniors with expanded roles.
Ohio State’s opponent Kansas produced two lottery picks, and three selections overall, just last year. They could match that this year, depending on whether or not Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson want to use their final year of eligibility. They would be second round picks if they left this year. Withey because of the way he protects the rim and Johnson because of the way he can score and create.
Tyshawn Taylor is currently projected as a second round pick as well, but due to the lack of depth at the point guard position he could go in the first round if a team drafts by need. The Final Four is going to be very critical for him, especially considering that he’ll be matched up against quality point guards the entire time.
The next two games are less important for Thomas Robinson, who has already secured his spot in the top five with a breakout junior campaign. He’ll be taken somewhere between 2-5 depending on how the lottery plays out.
All in all, there will be over 20 NBA prospects in action in New Orleans this weekend. Eight guys are locks to be picked in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft. Two seniors are guaranteed to be selected in the second round and there are three juniors and a handful of sophomores and freshman who would be considered in the 30-60 range or in future drafts as well.
What better way to end a season than to see them all compete for a title?