- Chad Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
The first NBA game of the season took place Dec. 3, in Lexington, Ky. No, LeBron & Co. weren't on hand. But 12 NBA prospects competed in an epic matchup between North Carolina and Kentucky.
I joined a handful of NBA GMs and a number of NBA scouts in Lexington on Saturday to watch the most NBA talent I've ever seen on the floor in one college game.
The game included the No. 1 and No. 2 players on our Big Board, six NBA lottery picks, eight players in our top 20, nine players in our top 30 and a whopping 12 players ranked in our Top 100.
Over the course of the past week, I've been scouring our databases to see whether I could find a game in past seasons with more NBA prospects. I can't.
Kentucky won the game 73-72 in what's sure to become an instant classic. But what's the value of one game in terms of NBA scouting?
On one hand, it's easy to overvalue a game like this. This is just one of roughly 35 games these players will play this season. Furthermore, the game was in early December when players, especially young ones, are still getting their feet underneath them. In March, virtually all of the players on the floor this weekend will have matured their games.
On the other hand, scouting games like this is invaluable. It's rare that we get to see the top prospects in college basketball go up against other NBA-caliber players. Whether it was Anthony Davis versus John Henson or Harrison Barnes versus Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Kendall Marshall versus Marquis Teague ... we got a good look at how each player will fare against elite NBA talent.
Normally on Tuesdays we run our weekly stock watch rounding up the best pro prospects in college basketball. But with so many prospects in just one game, the matchup is worthy of its own stock watch. Here's a look based off my personal observations and the insights of NBA GMs and scouts on all 12 draft prospects in Lexington on Saturday.
Anthony Davis, F, Fr. (Top 100 Rank: 1)
Line score: 34 min., 3-6 FGM, seven points, nine rebounds, two steals, two blocks
You could argue that Davis was a disappointment in this game. Coming off an amazing 15-point, 15-rebound, eight-block game against St. John's earlier in the week, most of the people that tuned in Saturday were expecting greatness. What they got, especially in the first half, was Davis being weirdly invisible.
For a player with his length, athletic ability and motor, he usually impacts the game in multiple ways, even when he's not scoring. The length of Henson and the (relative) strength of Tyler Zeller gave him problems. Davis settled for long jumpers for most of the game and struggled to establish position for rebounds.
The second half was better for Davis. He got a huge alley-oop dunk right away and played with more energy and hustle. But it was the last play of the game, an improbable block of Henson with five seconds left in regulation, that turned Davis from disappointment into hero.
After the game, both Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams and Wildcats head coach John Calipari shared a similar sentiment -- there was only one player in America capable of blocking a shot like that from Henson, and he happens to be Davis. The iconic image of Davis stretching across the lane to get a hand on Henson's shot should be seared in everyone's mind.
Davis is still finding his game on the offensive end. He still needs to add strength and he's going to have to show up with more confidence in big games. But the defensive abilities combined with sheer determination still make him the consensus No. 1 pick in the nation.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F, Fr. (Top 100 Rank: 11)
Line score: 33 min., 6-10 FGM-A, 17 points, 11 rebounds, one assist, one steal
No one did more to help their draft stock than Kidd-Gilchrist. His superb, physical, harassing defense on Harrison Barnes turned Barnes into a jump-shooter. Seeing Kidd-Gilchrist get into Barnes' grill won't come as a surprise to anyone who has followed his career in high school or as a freshman at Kentucky. He's long, athletic and absolutely fearless.
What surprised some was his offensive abilities. Kidd-Gilchrist lacks a consistent jumper or go-to move. Against UNC, he was taking the ball to the basket, hitting some big perimeter shots and showing that with a little more polish he could be a two-way player in the NBA. Kidd-Gilchrist is a lottery pick this season -- even if he doesn't dramatically improve his offensive game. But if he does find more consistency as a scorer, he could be a top-five pick.
Terrence Jones, F, Soph. (Top 100 Rank: 12)
Line score: 35 min., 5-15 FGM-A, 14 points, seven rebounds, three blocks, two assists
It was a tale of two halves for Jones, and frankly, that's been the story of his young career at UK. Jones was awesome in the first half for the Wildcats and really kept them in the game. He put the ball on the floor (including a fantastic ball fake on John Henson that ended with him slamming it home between two defenders) and stroking it from long range. When Jones plays like this, he reminds me some of Lamar Odom -- a versatile forward who uses length and skill to befuddle opponents.
In the second half, Jones disappeared. He settled for long jumpers the rest of the night and didn't end up scoring a point in the last 20 minutes of the game. Jones can get into the bad habit of floating around the perimeter. When he does, he looks a little like a more unfortunate comparison -- former UK alum Antoine Walker. Scouts love the talent, but are wary of his attitude and maturity. They need to see Jones play consistently well for 40 minutes a game every night. If he can, he'll go very, very high. Until those concerns dissipate, this is where he's at.
Marquis Teague, PG, Fr. (Top 100 Rank: 20)
Line score: 30 min., 3-11 FGM-A, seven points, two rebounds, four assists
Teague came in as one of the two highest-ranked freshman point guards in the country. After watching him struggle against North Carolina, scouts are hoping he's willing to be patient. Right now Teague struggles to get his teammates involved in a meaningful way. He's used to taking the ball, putting his head down and finding a way to score.
While that might have worked for Teague in high school, in college hoops he often looks lost or out of control. Teague has as much or more potential than his brother, Atlanta Hawks PG Jeff Teague. But he's going to have to be patient. Remember, at this time last year, most everyone, myself included, was really disappointed with Brandon Knight. Six months later he was a top-10 pick. Adjustments, especially for point guards, can take time. In another year or two Teague could be a real NBA PG. Right now, however, he's not close.
Doron Lamb, SG, So. (Top 100 Rank: 29)
Line score: 34 min., 6-12 FGM-A, 14 points, four rebounds, two assists, four turnovers
Lamb is, by far, the most underrated player on the Wildcats' team. He's versatile, can really stroke his jump shots and has come up big over and over for Kentucky this season. The Wildcats rode Lamb's hot shooting touch down the stretch and he's just as responsible, if not more so, for the Wildcats' win than Davis. Lamb's a little undersized for his position and scouts are skeptical about whether he could play PG in the pros. But Saturday's game gave them a lot of reasons to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Harrison Barnes, F, So. (Top 100 Rank: 2)
Line score: 24 min., 5-12 FGM-A, 14 points, two rebounds
Barnes continues to play well -- just not up to expectations. There are times when Barnes locks in and looks like he could be a devastating scorer at the next level. There are other times when he looks like nothing more than a big jump-shooter who doesn't trust his handle or his ability to be physical in the paint.
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, it was the latter Barnes who showed up for much of the game. While he was a scintillating 4-for-5 from 3, he was just 1-for-7 from 2-point range and didn't assert himself as strongly as he has in previous games. Barnes has all the tools to be a Danny Granger-Luol Deng-type wing in the pros, but he's got to be a little more selfish and prove he can carry a team for long stretches, not just in short bursts.
John Henson, F, Jr. (Top 100 Rank: 9)
Line score: 33 min., 4011 FGM-A, 10 points, eight rebounds, three blocks
Henson played as well as anyone from the Tar Heels on Saturday. His length, athletic ability and defensive prowess have been well-documented here. But it's the 10- to 15-foot jumper he's developed that is really adding some nuance to his game. Henson hit a couple of big shots for the Tar Heels, especially in the first half. When his jumper is falling, he's almost unstoppable. But you could also tell that the strength of Kentucky and the length of Davis clearly gave him some problems. Overall, NBA scouts are thrilled with Henson's progress and feel he'll go somewhere between 4 and 10 on draft night.
James Michael McAdoo, PF, Fr. (Top 100 Rank: 13)
Line score: 15 min., 1-3 FGM-A, two points, four rebounds
I love McAdoo's game, but right now he's not ready for prime time. He's got an old-school game and I've seen him play better than he did versus the Wildcats on Saturday -- but he's clearly a way away from being an NBA player. His poor decision making often hurt the Tar Heels when he was in the game. He'll get better -- possibly even great -- down the road. But for now, Tar Heels and NBA fans are both going to have to be patient.
Tyler Zeller, C, Sr. (Top 100 Rank: 17)
Line score: 28 min., 4-9 FGM-A, 14 points, eight rebounds, four turnovers, one block
Zeller had a solid game for the Tar Heels. That's good news, as he seems to have regressed a bit as a player this season. Zeller ran the floor, got position inside and was successful converting around the rim. The question for Zeller is how much longer he'll be the highest-ranked Zeller on our Big Board. As we've written several times here his brother Cody Zeller at Indiana is having a better year. Cody's Hoosiers play UK this week too. If Cody puts up bigger numbers, he'll likely leap past his older brother on our Big Board. In fact, according to a couple of GMs, he already has on their boards.
Kendall Marshall, PG, So. (Top 100 Rank: 33)
Line score: 35 min., 3-6 FGM-A, eight points, eight assists, three turnovers
Scouts want to focus on what Marshall can't do (like shoot or win dunk contests), but it obscures the fact that Marshall is the best pure point guard in the game right now. He makes so many good decisions with the ball it's hard to believe he won't have some place at the next level. A number of scouts have used the Mark Jackson comparison on him. I think Andre Miller might be another one for Marshall down the road. Either way, I think he'll go higher than people expect when he decides to declare for the draft.
P.J. Hairston, SG, Fr (Top 100 Rank: 34)
Line score: 14 min., 3-4 FGM-A, 3-4 3PM-A, 11 points
Hairston comes off the bench and doesn't play a major role for the Tar Heels this year. But if he was at another school, he'd likely be both a starter and a star as a freshman. Hairston has a big NBA body and can shoot the lights out from 3. Even more encouraging is the confidence he plays with. He thinks every shot is going in and doesn't hesitate to take them. If he were starting on a different team, he'd likely be mentioned as a possible late lottery to mid-first-round pick. If he plays strong all year he could be a late-first-round prospect. If he sticks around another year, the lottery isn't out of the question.
Reggie Bullock, SG, So (Top 100 Rank: 95)
Line score: 19 min., 3-8 FGM-A, 2-5 3PM-A, eight points, five rebounds
Bullock is still recovering from March 7 knee surgery but his game is becoming increasingly more confident. He can be inconsistent and needs to diversify his game. But a number of scouts believe he has first-round talent if he returns to UNC for his junior season.
Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist raised his draft stock considerably, while North Carolina's Harrison Barnes continued to play well in a game that featured 12 Top 100 players.