It’s been a strange tournament this year.
The Big East was seen as conference supreme but suddenly in one weekend, all of its top dogs except 1 were knocked out, and a less-heralded Villanova club has emerged as a true title threat.
North Carolina continues to steamroll their competition, but have had a fairly easy path to the finals so far.
And who knows what to make of Michigan State?
The Spartans have been lead by the masterful coaching of Tom Izzo to defeat two incredibly tough opponents in succession, with only one of the two, Kansas, really giving them much of a test!
And with teams being eliminated, slowly the trickle of player declarations has begun.
Recently, Nick Calathes of Florida and DaJuan Summers of Georgetown announced their intentions to go pro and others will likely soon follow suit. In addition, others who seemed to be on the fence like Willie Warren are now sounding like they fully intend to return to school.
As mentioned in last week’s update, suddenly with what appears to be a shrinking pool of talent, it’s imperative that the Raptors grab as high a pick as possible.
Unfortunately as we all know, the team seems to be flying in the face of that rationale, and have won four straight going into tomorrow night’s match against the Magic. Even if that one ends in an L, games against the Knicks (two), Wizards (two), Pacers and even the 76ers hardly look like guaranteed fatalities.
So the bottom line is that between declarations and Toronto’s sudden winning streak, it’s fairly useless to speculate who the Raps will select come June.
Instead, let’s take a look at a few players who should be on their radar come draft day, because of, or in spite of, play in the tourney last weekend.
1) Terrance Williams – Guard-Forward, Louisville:
You knew we had to start with Williams. A favourite of ours here at the HQ since last year, Williams was a no-show against Michigan State on Sunday and without his offence, his team struggled to score. Does this mean we’re taking him off our list? Hardly, however Michigan State’s defensive schemes did show Williams’ offensive limitations.
He’s simply not a great shooter, and when crowded and forced to play one-on-one, his ball handling still isn’t good enough to facilitate creation off the dribble. Think a slightly less tall and athletic version of Shawn Marion; Williams excels in the open court and creates most of his offense off of his terrific defense and ability to get into the passing lanes. Michigan State easily broke the Cardinals’ presses and therefore Williams just didn’t get the opportunities to get out and go.
That being said, I still think he’d be a great fit on the Raptors and one bad game hardly discounts such an excellent season by the senior.
2) Blake Griffin – PF, Oklahoma:
I’ve thrown around the idea on the site that if BC needs to move Bosh, moving him to a team that has the top pick in the draft might not be a bad idea. Why? Well if you finally got to see a good dose of Griffin this weekend, you now understand.
Having seen Griffin in 20 odd games the past two years, I assumed that I’d seen everything there was to see. However against North Carolina I saw some parts to Griffin’s game that I never knew existed, including some nice moves facing the basket, and some incredible turn-around makes. Even with constant double-teams he was virtually unstoppable, demanding the ball and punishing the Tar Heels. He finished with 23 points and 16 rebounds and even though his team lost, he cemented his status as being far-and-away the best prospect in the upcoming draft.
3) Hasheem Thabeet – C, UConn:
Thabeet might be the most polarizing player in the draft right now and I can understand why. I’ve blown hot and cold on him over the past two years and this continues to be the case into the final four. Against a scrappy Missouri club he got into foul trouble early, and failed to record a single block. His offence was non-existent, and even though he finished with a solid 13 boards, he just wasn’t a difference maker.
In fact there are whispers now that Stanley Robinson is the player teams shoud be talking about. Robinson continues to amaze with his athleticism and together he and Kemba Walker kept UConn en route to another national title.
I like Thabeet, and if the Raptors end up picking in the 10-13 range and he was still on the board, I think they’d have to snatch him up.
But this isn’t a player I’m pegging my team’s future on if I’m a GM. I think Hasheem will be a solid role player in the league ala Diop however is definitely a project, and will be probably take a good few seasons before he can really come in and impact a game.
4) Jordan Hill – PF, Chase Budinger – G, F, Arizona:
I’ve lumped these two together as against Louisville in the Sweet 16, they couldn’t have had more different performances.
Chase was aggressive from the get-go and showed how versatile a scorer he is at the college level hitting numerous 3’s and getting to the line. He finished with 22 points on nine of 15 shooting and kept Arizona in it early even though he got little support from his teammates.
Hill was one of those teammates. While projected by most to be a top 5 pick, this game showed many of the concerns I’ve had about Hill for a while now. I labeled him a "more offensively talented Mikki Moore" a while back and the loss to the Cardinals did nothing to make me want to rethink this statement. Hill was dominated down low by Louisville’s freshman Samardo Samuels and missed all of his mid-range shots. He also look horrific trying to go one-on-one in the post, traveling numerous times, and was seemingly unable to force Pitino’s troops to change their defensive schemes.
I still like elements of Hill’s game mind you, he’s very tough and a great rebounder, but he like Thabeet has a ways to go offensively. The fact that he’s viewed as such a high pick speaks volumes about this upcoming draft I feel and of the two, barring a huge drop in draft status for Hill, I’d much rather see Chase than Jordan in a Raps uniform next year.
5) Sam Young – G, F, DeJuan Blair – F, PITT:
Let’s take a look at one more duo to cap this update off. While PITT looked to be a favourite to win it all, they fell to Big East rival Villanova in perhaps the most exciting game of tournament so far. (Although Western Kentucky and Gonzaga would probably disagree.) The fact is that after their sloppy early tournament performances, PITT looked ripe for the picking. Dominant NCAA championship teams usually have great point guard play, are superior defensively, or have that one player who is able to take control in key moments and will his club to victory. PITT had none of the above this year.
Sure, Blair at times could be dominant, but he was no Carmello Anthony for Syracuse in 2003’s Tourney. And Levance Fields, for all his grit and toughness, was even a step below the infamous Khalid El-Amin as a 1.
In fact while Blair looks to be the more highly touted NBA prospect, it was Young who had the superior tournament. Even in PITT’s loss to Villanova on Saturday evening, Young was extremely impressive scoring 28 points on 10 of 17 shooting. He tacked on seven boards and again showed a lot of NBA promise. He’ll have to work on his ball-handling in order to convert to a 2-3 in the league, he didn’t have a single assist and suffered a bit from turnovers against Nova, but his shooting range and rebounding abilities, not to mention his toughness, should make him useful even as a rookie while the other parts of his game round out.
Meanwhile, Blair finished with 20 and 10 against the Wildcats, about his usual numbers, but he didn’t dominate or force his opponents’ defensive schemes the way players like Blake Griffin did throughout the tourney.
That’s not to say I still wouldn’t love to see Blair in a Toronto uniform next season. He’d be an immediate match-up problem off the bench due to his size and strength, and his touch around the basket and length in the Jason Maxiell mode would be a serious boost to a soft Raptors’ club.
However Sam Young might make even more sense for Toronto.
If Bryan Colangelo is looking to bring in some serious upgrades at the 2-3 spots, he may not be able to afford to keep the likes of Joey Graham and Anthony Parker, even at under $3 Million a season. One strategy may then be to draft similar players, thereby helping to replace some of the lost production for cheap. I’m not convinced Parker is so easily replaceable in regards to his basketball IQ and experience, but take Joey Graham; Graham certainly has improved this year but is there a huge difference between him and Young right now? I’d argue that Young is already a superior shooter, similar athlete, and while not as good a creator off the dribble yet, is more aggressive. Should Young be available late in the first round, it might be a good idea for Toronto to take a long and hard look.