NBA prospects in the Final Four
April, 5, 2013
By Chad Ford | ESPN.com
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesTrey Burke has a chance to improve his NBA draft stock this weekend at the Final Four.Last year's Final Four was a dream for NBA scouts. A total of 15 players in our Top 100 played that weekend, including five of our top 13.
That isn't the case this year, as three of our top 14 players are in Atlanta, and overall only 10 players in our Top 100 will be in action.
That said, there still are some terrific matchups to watch this weekend. Here's a quick guide to every NBA prospect in the Final Four.
Trey Burke, PG, So.; Glenn Robinson III, F, Fr.
Potential second-rounders: Tim Hardaway Jr., G/F, Jr.
Wait 'til next year: Mitch McGary, F/C, Fr.; Nik Stauskas, G, Fr.
Burke has been the leading candidate to be the Wooden Award winner all season. But over the past two months he has seen his NBA draft stock rise significantly as well. Once thought to be too small and lacking the elite athletic ability to be a lead NBA guard, scouts have slowly been won over by his steadiness, toughness, leadership and ability to carry his team on his back when they need him.
Burke's virtuoso performance against Kansas in the second half may have been the best single-game performance by a player this season, and now many NBA GMs and scouts have him ranked as the second-best point guard in the draft after Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart. Burke will have to go head-to-head against our No. 3-rated point guard prospect Saturday. Can he score over the length of the Syracuse zone? Two more great performances by Burke could seal his spot in the top seven picks.
Robinson isn't putting up Burke-like numbers. But his length and athleticism combined with his hustle and perimeter shooting have scouts drooling. While he may not be technically ready for the NBA right now, he has so much upside that it's likely a team would draft him in the late lottery anyway.
Hardaway is having a great season but has struggled to find traction with NBA scouts in the first round. While he has a well-rounded game, especially offensively, there hasn't been one element of his game that has screamed "NBA" to scouts. If he were to declare for the draft right now, he'd probably be a second-round pick. A huge two games in the Final Four might move the needle a little, but I don't think it will move it a lot.
I wrote extensively about McGary on Tuesday. He has been one of the two or three best players in the NCAA tournament to date. He has shot 33-for-45 from the field in the tournament and grabbed 46 rebounds in the first four rounds. That's just incredible.
McGary told reporters Tuesday that he had no intention of entering the draft this year. We'll see. If he has two more power games against an athletic Syracuse front line and (assuming the Cardinals move on) a physical, athletic Louisville one, he may push himself into the late lottery to mid-first round range. That may be hard for him to pass up considering that Burke, who sets him up for so many easy baskets, is likely heading to the NBA at season's end.
Stauskas also looks like an NBA player down the road. He was in a bit of a shooting slump early in the tournament, but broke out in a huge way against Florida, going 6-for-6 from 3-point range. Stauskas is more than just a sharpshooter. He's a good athlete who can also score off the bounce. He could be key for the Wolverines in stretching out Syracuse's vaunted zone defense. If he declared this year, I think he'd be a second-round pick. Another season at Michigan, however, could push him into the first round.
Michael Carter-Williams, PG, So.
Potential second-rounders: C.J. Fair, F, Jr.; James Southerland, F, Sr.; Brandon Triche, G, Sr.
Wait 'til next year: DaJuan Coleman, F/C, Fr.; Rakeem Christmas, F, So.; Baye Keita, F/C, Jr.
Carter-Williams has had his ups and downs this season. In November and December he looked like the best point guard prospect in the country. Once he hit Big East play, his assists starting going down, his turnovers rose and his shot just wouldn't fall, and some scouts began to cool on him as a result.
But his play in the tournament has been stellar. He has been Syracuse's best player. His size as a point guard is obviously intriguing to NBA folks. He's a good athlete and can be slithery in getting to the basket and finishing around the rim. Right now his biggest weakness is that jumper.
Carter-Williams' matchup against Burke on Saturday is the main event for NBA scouts. While Syracuse's zone defense means that Carter-Williams is unlikely to guard Burke a lot, having both players out on the court together will give plenty of chances to compare the two. Both could be taken in the top 10, and if Carter-Williams really outplays Burke, I think there's still a great chance he could go ahead of him on draft night.
Fair has been another key cog for the Orange all season long. He was a tweener as a freshman and sophomore, but as a junior he has really started to settle into his role as a small forward. His jump shot has been falling most of the season and he's clearly got the athletic ability to finish high above the rim. Right now he's a second-round pick, but he does have first-round potential.
Southerland has had a breakout season. He has NBA size and athletic ability at his position and has deep, deep range on his J. He can be a bit streaky, but when he gets going, Syracuse is very tough to beat. He has been streaky in the tournament, going 7-for-19 from 3. He's going to need a really good Final Four to do anything more than crack the second round.
Triche is a marginal NBA prospect thanks to the fact that he's not an elite athlete and has tweener skills. His 29 percent shooting from 3-point range this season doesn't help. But if you watch Syracuse play, you know his toughness and leadership can help them win games. It's still unlikely he'll be drafted.
Christmas, Coleman and Keita are all a ways away. Of the three, Coleman has the most NBA upside, but you won't see much of it this weekend from any of them.
Gorgui Dieng, C, Jr.
Potential second-rounders: Russ Smith, SG, Jr.; Peyton Siva, PG, Sr.
Wait 'til next year: Montrezl Harrell, PF, Fr.; Wayne Blackshear, G/F, So.; Chane Behanan, F, So.
Dieng is having a remarkable tournament. He has shot 20-for-24 from the field, grabbed 30 boards and blocked seven shots. He has significantly improved over his three seasons at Louisville and has transformed from just a defensive stopper to a solid offensive weapon as well. He's unselfish, an excellent passer and rarely tries to do more than what he's capable of.
While no one in the NBA expects him to be an All-Star someday, he fits the profile of an NBA backup big man quite well. He's likely to go somewhere in the second half of the first round. If he were a few years younger, he'd probably be a lottery pick.
I tackled Smith in-depth on Tuesday as well. Suffice it to say, he has been the best scorer in the tournament and has appeared unstoppable. He's the key to Louisville's offense and as Russ Smith goes, so go the Cardinals.
As far as his status as an NBA prospect goes, it's a much more complicated story. He's a 6-foot shooting guard who is not a particularly great shooter. His elite quickness on both ends of the floor and scoring acumen around the rim are obviously strengths, but can he do that at the NBA level? Very few guards hailed as a poor man's Allen Iverson ever do much of anything at the next level.
Siva is less likely to make the second round cut because of his size and overall lack of offensive polish. But he's one of the quickest guards in the draft and an excellent defender. Behanan has a wide body and can carve out space, but his lack of size and so-so offensive numbers make him a wait-and-see prospect.
Harrell is a potential first-round pick in 2014. He's tough, has great length and athleticism and plays with a terrific motor. Blackshear has the body of an NBA player and the athletic ability, but he still needs to work on his jumper.
Carl Hall, PF, Sr.
Wait 'til next year: Cleanthony Early, F, Jr.
Early is a versatile forward who can score either inside or outside. He's a tough, physical defender and is very solid on the offensive boards. Hall is a physical beast in the paint who uses strength and a great motor to get it done on both ends. However, his age (he's already 24) really works against him. Both players are potential second-round picks if they declare.