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Stock Watch: Singler, Smith on the rise

4/6/2010

The NCAA Final Four may have been exciting for college basketball fans, but for NBA GMs and scouts, it turned out to be, for the most part, a non-event.

Most of the draft's elite prospects -- including John Wall, Evan Turner, Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins and Wesley Johnson -- played in the tournament but didn't make it to Indianapolis.

Still, there were some interesting draft prospects on display on Saturday and Monday. Here's a look at who helped and hurt themselves in the Final Four along with a few other draft notes.

Who's Up

Kyle Singler, F, Duke Blue Devils
Hand it to Singler. When it mattered most, he played the best basketball of his career -- and led Duke to an NCAA title. Singler's shot was falling from everywhere. He was launching it from deep, hitting the midrange jumper and even hitting a few beautiful fallaways. Watching him play the way he did in the Final Four gives a lot of credibility to the message he'll be sending NBA GMs -- that he's a legit small forward.

I spoke with a number of GMs on Monday; most of them still have questions about Singler. They wonder who he'll guard in the NBA. They question his toughness. They doubt he's athletic enough. But with all of that said, virtually all of them said they were impressed with his whole body of work -- not just in the tournament, but over the past month or so.

The word on the street is that his people are already talking to agents. Where will he go? Anywhere between the late first round to the second if he's in the draft.

Nolan Smith, G, Duke Blue Devils
Smith has flown under the radar all season. After playing like a star in high school, he was buried at Duke for two years but emerged as a complete combo guard this year. Watching him all tournament, he looks like a player who can play both backcourt positions and find a way to stick in the league. He's moved from off the radar to a potential late first- to early-second-round pick. If he returns to Duke, a huge year as a senior could push him even higher.

Brian Zoubek, C, Duke Blue Devils
Zoubek hasn't done much of anything in his career. Even as a senior, the 7-foot-1 big man averaged just 5.5 points and less than one block per game. But he's a terrific rebounder, especially on the offensive end, and looked like a decent backup NBA center over the course of the NCAA tournament. While no one is projecting him to be a star, or even a first-rounder, Zoubek got everyone's attention. At 7-1, someone will take him in the second round.

Durrell Summers, G, Michigan State Spartans
Summers continued his strong play versus Butler. Though he was hounded defensively the whole game, he still converted some sweet jump shots and finished off a few impressive drives to the basket. It wasn't a dominant game, but if you are inclined to like Summers, there was a lot there to praise.

The word out of Michigan State is that Summers will likely declare. I'm torn about it. On one hand, another on-again, off-again season could cause some serious damage to his draft stock. On the other hand, if he can consistently play as well as he played in the NCAA tournament, he's a lock for the first round -- maybe even late lottery.

Right now he'll find himself on the first-round bubble.

A Mixed Bag

Gordon Hayward, G/F, Butler Bulldogs
Hayward had a great tournament. After getting the exposure he needed, a number of GMs I spoke with think he's a lock for the top 20 if he declares. But as much as the legend has grown, his performance in the championship game was uneven. His shot wasn't falling and at times he wasn't aggressive. Hayward had two chances to win a national championship for Butler in the final seconds of the game versus Duke. Both times the shots came painfully close to going in. Had he made either one, he would be a hero right now. The fact that he couldn't connect all night will have some claiming he's been overhyped. But when you look at his body of work the past two years -- his toughness and the fact he had to carry his team on his shoulders -- I think most can see why many NBA GMs see him as a potential pro.

If he decides to declare for the draft, look for him to go somewhere between No. 12 and No. 20.

Who's Down

Da'Sean Butler, F, West Virginia Mountaineers
I hate writing this after all Butler achieved this season. He's the epitome of what a college senior should be. Over the course of his career he has overcome his so-so athletic talents to become one of the most feared players in college basketball and a potential first-round pick.

That most likely changed Saturday when Butler went down with a torn ACL. The image of him on the floor writhing in pain (and coach Bob Huggins cradling Butler in his arms) is hard to shake from our memory. Everyone wants him to have a quick recovery and make his way to the NBA.

But the reality is tough. He won't be able to work out or attend the combine. He'll miss the NBA summer league. He may even miss the preseason and early start of the NBA season. Most NBA teams won't use a first-round pick on someone who has that much to overcome. A second-round pick? Possibly. But even that might be a stretch now.

Butler is a tough kid who deserves a shot in the league. But it's going to be an uphill battle.

The Midrange Game

• Yes, it's looking more and more likely that all five of Kentucky's young prospects will declare for the draft. That's not a surprise for freshmen Wall and Cousins. Wall is expected to be the No. 1 pick in the draft and Cousins should go in the top five. It's also not a surprise for junior Patrick Patterson. Patterson flirted with the draft last season but was persuaded by new coach John Calipari to come back. Patterson should go somewhere between No. 10 and No. 15 in the draft.

However, many fans and analysts have expressed shock that freshmen Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton are also strongly leaning toward declaring. But if you've been reading the draft blog all year, it shouldn't surprise you.

We wrote in November, and again in early January, that Bledsoe was a favorite of many NBA scouts. With so few legitimate point guards in the draft, most teams have him ranked as the second-best point guard on their boards. Bledsoe played a supporting role to Wall all season, but his athleticism and toughness have NBA GMs convinced he can play in the league. If he declares, he could go anywhere from No. 10 to No. 20.

Orton caught even more people by surprise. The big fella averaged just 3.4 ppg and 3.3 rpg. He played behind Cousins all season and, though his defense was impressive, he was widely regarded as a potential lottery pick in 2011, not 2010.

But as we first reported several weeks ago, Orton has caught the attention of a number of NBA GMs, the most prominent of which is the Oklahoma City Thunder's Sam Presti. According to a source close to the process, the Thunder are sending signals that if Orton is in the draft, they'd take him with one of their two first-round picks. Currently that would put Orton in the early 20s. However, a few other GMs have told ESPN.com that they'd consider taking Orton even higher.

While Orton's numbers may not be impressive, a number of scouts feel that if he had a bigger role, he would've shined. They love his toughness, defense and long arms. One scout compared him to Kendrick Perkins.

• If you were an NBA GM looking to scout pro prospects in early April, the Final Four may have not been the best event to attend. A number of NBA scouts and execs have been traveling overseas to see two players in particular -- Slovenia's Jan Vesely and Lithuania's Donatas Motiejunas.

Vesely, in particular, has been playing well of late. He had a big 14-point, six-rebound game in front of a number of NBA scouts last week and helped lead his team to the Euroleague Final Four. Playing in the Final Four should give him major exposure to NBA GMs who typically attend the event in early May.

Vesely is far from your typical European big man. He's bouncy, tough and has a terrific motor. While teams are still trying to figure out his position in the pros, virtually every GM I spoke with has him ranked in the late lottery.

Motiejunas is also seeing more playing time and a bigger role on Benetton in Italy. In the past few weeks he's had a 32-point, 20-rebound game and an 18-point, six-rebound game in the Italian league. While scouts want to see Montiejunas get stronger, it's been hard to ignore the fact he's starting to put up similar numbers to what he did last year in Lithuania. He, too, looks like a lock for the lottery.

• Now that the Final Four is over, NBA draftniks may be asking what's next? A lot, actually.

On Wednesday, the annual Portsmouth Invitational gets underway. This event invites the top college seniors to play in front of a host of NBA GMs and scouts. Twenty years ago, the event was prestigious, but its luster has faded considerably. Most of the top seniors skip the event, and scouts are often left with a number of players playing for a few spots in the second round. Still, every year there are one or two gems. Players such as John Salmons, Carl Landry, Jason Maxiell, Willie Green, Chuck Hayes and Wes Matthews have jumped from the PIT to stable roles in the league the past few years.

On Saturday, Nike hosts its annual Nike Hoop Summit. This one is all about next year's draft but is worth watching. All of the top GMs and NBA scouts are in attendance. Twelve of the best high school players in the country square off against 12 young international players. This event tends to have its fair share of star power. Last year, it had Wall, Cousins and Xavier Henry playing against Motiejunas. All four could be lottery picks this year.

Finally, the last date for underclassmen to declare for the draft is April 25 at 11:59 p.m. You can expect a flood of underclassmen to continue to declare over the next few weeks. Per the new NCAA rules, underclassmen who declare and don't hire an agent have until May 8 to withdraw and maintain their college eligibility.