The first two rounds of the 2009 NCAA tourney weren’t quite as mad as other years (no true buzzer beaters as of yet) however there have been lots of great games. Furthermore, with most of the favourites advancing, the Sweet 16 and beyond promises to showcase some great team and individual battles. It’s these individual battles that NBA scouts and GM’s will be paying close attention to and of course, we here at the HQ will be as well.
Currently, the Raptors are sitting around the seventh or eighth pick, lottery aside. Originally I felt that for Toronto to grab an impact player in this draft, they had to get into that top 7. Unfortunately, I think that number may have gone up. With some of the recent performances by the likes of Jrue Holiday, James Harden, Greg Monroe and others, we now may see numerous players electing to return to college next season, thus causing what many are saying to be a shallow talent pool, to become even more shallow.
That’s not to say however that the Raps couldn’t grab a solid player at the ninth or tenth spot, as I, unlike many of my peers do like many of the prospects out there right now.
It’s just that there are already very few players outside of Blake Griffin who look to be able to come in and contribute next season.
So if Toronto is looking to patch major holes via the draft, they better stop beating teams like the Clippers.
Here are our 5 up and 5 down from the first two rounds of tourney action:
1) Demar DeRozan – Forward, USC:
Earlier this season we had DeRozan on our top 5 list. However since Rogers showed zero Pac-10 games, and the Trojans stumbled early in the season, he fell off our radar. That changed when I discovered Sportsnet showing Sunday night late Pac-10 matches about a month ago. Finally, I got to see why DeRozan was so hyped prior to the season, and with USC’s heroic Pac-10 and NCAA run, hopefully Raptors’ fans got a better look at the 6-7 high-flyer as well.
His USC squad came up short in the end to Michigan State on Sunday, but DeRozan again was virtually unstoppable one-on-one. He finished with 18 points, the same total as in his first-round game, and in both matches showed-off some jaw-dropping athleticism. His game doesn’t have the polish of a Gerald Henderson, another spectacular athlete, or the all-around moxy of a Terrence Williams, but should he declare for the draft, this is a guy who could easily end up being the best player in the draft when all is said and done.
2) Tyreke Evans – Guard, Memphis:
Memphis is another club that didn’t get a ton of play via Rogers’ Sportspack this year. While Evans was in the spotlight more than DeRozan, it was hard to know what to make of his club since the Tigers were far and away the best team in Conference USA. Evans was always solid, but didn’t have the athleticism of peers like Robert Dozier or shooting stroke of Roburt Sallie.
However it’s hard not to be intrigued about Evans as a Raptors’ fan. He’s done a great job at the 1 for Memphis, and looks more and more like a Brandon Roy type with each game. He’s not blowing you away in any one area but has a solid handle, controls the pace, and with his size, is a match-up problem at the 1. Draftexpress has compared him to Larry Hughes and while I think he’s a slightly better shooter even at this point, I can see the similarities as both are solid on-the-ball defenders, can create off the dribble, and can play both guard positions.
For a Raptors club looking for some additional help at both spots, Evans might not be a bad option if he comes out.
3) Johnny Flynn – PG, Syracuse
I’ve been a big Flynn fan since he burst onto the college scene last year. While teammates Paul Harris and Donte Greene were getting most of the attention in Flynn’s freshman season, it’s Johnny on the spot who has become the Orangemen’s heart and soul this year. If you witnessed his performance during this year’s Big East conference playoffs you saw why, and so far in the NCAA tourney he’s picked up right where he left off.
It was in fact very interesting to see Syracuse matched up against Arizona State this past weekend, which featured Flynn going up against the much more heralded James Harden. However if you watched the game you’d be hard-pressed to say who was the better NBA prospect. Flynn created off the dribble, got into the paint almost at will and led his crew to victory. James, who we’ll touch on later in this article, was the complete opposite and finished with a measly 10 points on 2 of 10 shooting.
Flynn is slight of build of course, but he’s a true 1, and a 1 that is becoming more and more common in the NBA; an explosive athlete and scorer, able to get virtually anywhere on the court and create havoc in the lane. His handle is as tight as they come, and he’s a lethal shooter, especially in clutch situations.
The first issue with seeing him in Raptor red is that he’s already stated adamantly that he’s returning to ‘Cuse next year. If that’s the case, Toronto will have to wait until the 2010 draft to get a shot at him. In addition, at only about six feet, he’s not exactly a defensive answer to spelling Jose Calderon even if he does declare. He’d be a great change of pace, but Toronto already has a prospect in Roko Ukic who looks like he’ll be able to fulfill that niche eventually.
4) Evan Turner – SG/SF, Ohio State
Turner is finally starting to get some buzz after his 28 point, 9 rebound, 8 assist performance in Ohio State’s first-round loss to Siena. The scary thing is that Turner had been putting up these type of numbers almost all season for the Buckeyes but in relative anonymity.
I personally love Turner’s game. He’s a better creator off the dribble than players like Henderson or Terrance Williams, is taller and longer, is almost as athletic, and I’d go as far as saying that he’s probably the most underrated player in this draft.
However like Flynn, it sounds like Turner intends to return to school, a big blow for a Raptors squad who could really use the talents of a wing like Turner.
5) Marcus Thornton – PG/SG, LSU
Undersized for the 2 spot? Yes. Not a true point guard? Yes. However we see this every year and every year there are certain players who vow GM’s in individual workouts and work themselves into the first round. Thornton, one of the best scorers in the nation, is my pick for this role for the upcoming draft.
It doesn’t matter who he’s matched up against, be it an athlete like Jodie Meeks in SEC play, or Ty Lawson during the NCAA tourney, Thornton still gets his and in the process, helps keep his team in the thick of the game. He’s not a pass-first type, but he’s hardly selfish either and for a Raptors team looking for some fight and a spark off the bench at the 1-2 spot, Thornton would be an absolute steal if he fell into the second round. (Assuming of course that Colangelo could grab a pick there.)
1) Jeff Teague
2) James Johnson –
I can’t even begin to explain how pathetic Wake’s performance was in the NCAA tournament. Yes, this is a young team, but on talent alone they should have been a lock to get out of the first round. Instead, the club imploded early, looked lost on both ends of the court, and of their three top prospects, Teague, Aminu and Johnson, only Aminu showed any sort of grit. Johnson in fact, their most physical presence, insisted on launching 3-pointer after 3-pointer ala Zach Randolph.
As a result, I’m not sure we’ll see any of these three in the draft now. Of the trio, Teague is probably the best bet but with their disappointing finish, it’s not hard to imagine them regrouping for another NCAA run. Next year’s draft isn’t shaping up to be that much better in terms of talent and for Teague, there will probably be a lot less competition in terms of point guards who are declaring.
I’m still a big Aminu fan, and perhaps if he declares, Wake’s late season drop-off lowers his stock into Raptors’ range, but as of now, I’m not getting my hopes up.
3) James Harden – SG, Arizona State
Of all the top dogs slated to be available in the upcoming draft, Harden’s stock took the biggest plunge. He was mediocre at best for Zona State in their first-round match-up and was essentially invisible in their loss to Syracuse on the weekend. Yes, Cuse’s Zone gave Arizona State all sorts of trouble, but for a player who spent the season living at the free-throw line in the Pac-10, Harden took far too many long-range jumpers.
In addition, when he did attack the basket, his handle looked sloppy and he struggled against the Orangemen’s more athletic defenders like Jackson and Harris.
However there’s a big caveat to all of this. Watching Harden over the weekend I think told me more about this year’s draft class and the Pac-10 this year than anything else. I still view Harden as one of the top prospects, but it’s simply an indication of what to expect from this year’s class. I don’t think Harden has star potential, but does that mean he wouldn’t be a solid player for Toronto? Not in the least, and if he falls to Toronto somehow, BC would be wise to snatch him up.
4) Jrue Holiday – PG/SG, UCLA
Every year in the draft we see a player declare to soon. As a result, his stock suffers, and at times he gets lost in the rotation of a team that’s either a poor fit, or too talented for him to find minutes on. Therefore it sometimes takes years for that player to start to break out. This year, Jrue Holiday looks to be a perfect candidate for this role.
Holiday was probably the most heralded freshman going into the NCAA season. He was seen as serious competition for Collison at the 1, and many believed he’d follow in the footsteps of Russell Westbrook in terms of helping the Bruins back into the final stages of the NCAA tourney. However that didn’t occur, and were it not for Darren Collison’s defence on Eric Maynor in the first round, UCLA might have been knocked out quite early. Instead, Holiday and co. ended up getting into the round of 32 but were destroyed by a much more superior Villanova squad.
What was disappointing was not so much that UCLA lost to Nova, but how they did it. The club looked disorganized offensively, and Holiday was Exhibit A in this mess. He forced things, failed to take advantage of match-ups, and ended up hitting only one of his six shots while turning the ball over four times.
So why would Holiday declare? It’s a great question, as with Collison off into the NBA next season, the Bruins would essentially be Jrue the Damaja’s team to run. However the lure of the NBA might be too much for this talented frosh and while I still think he’ll be a solid pro down the road, I’m hoping the Raps stay away for now.
5) Greg Monroe – PF/C, Georgetown
Monroe of course didn’t get a taste of the NCAA tournament thanks to G-Town’s disappointing season, but the Hoyas did continue to play in the NIT. Unfortunately, the results weren’t much better and Georgetown was bounced by Baylor in the first round. And Monroe, who I was so high on early in the season, turned in another ho-hum performance with 12 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in the loss.
Monroe’s upside is still greater than most of the prospects at the college level but I’m not sure he’s got the requisite toughness that Toronto needs for such a big body. He’s got a feathery shooting touch around the rim, has a great feel for the game, and has legit NBA size, but I’m just not sure he’s the best fit for the Dinos, even with his talent. Furthermore, with Georgetown’s performance this year and it being only his freshman season, I’m not even sure he’ll declare now. Numerous mock drafts have taken his name off their lists and while it’s not official, this is probably the best thing for him career-wise in the long-run.