NCAA Eye for the NBA Guy: East Regional, Day 1
The "Kentucky bracket" obviously oozes NBA potential -- there could seriously be six 2010 lottery picks here, including the top two. But the talent isn't limited to the Wildcats, who face East Tennessee State in New Orleans, with the winner drawing Wake Forest or Texas. Kentucky's second-round opponent will have one potential lotto pick, and if it's Texas, a couple more future first-rounders. But the talent is spread here, with Washington, Montana and New Mexico also providing intriguing prospects.
Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, Wake Forest
19 years old, 6'8, 210 lbs., Sophomore
The guy with the best name in the tournament is also one of its best players. Aminu has been up and down this year, but not for a lack of natural talent. At 6'8, 210 lbs., he has an abundance of qualities NBA GMs desire, namely his size and versatility, length, scoring, rebounding, and of course, insane upside. Similar to another former ACC star in Thaddeus Young, he is a multi-faceted player who can contribute in a variety of ways. Yes, Aminu is that gifted. The sophomore is arguably the best player in this entire tournament not named John Wall, Evan Turner or DeMarcus Cousins. In the rugged ACC, the Georgia native averaged an impressive 16 points and 11 rebounds. He must continue to develop his outside game as well as his off-hand, but should he declare, Aminu is a sure-fire lottery pick who could even sneak into the top five with a good showing in the tournament. The battle with Texas's Damion James will be special. -- Jordan Schultz
John Wall, PG, Kentucky
19 years old, 6'4, 195 lbs., Freshman
Wall will almost assuredly be the No. 1 or No. 2 pick this June. Heck, he probably would have gone no lower than No. 3 last year, had he decided to test the letter of the NBA's age-19 rule. (Wall is actually older than 2009 draft pick Ricky Rubio.) If you haven't watched Wall yet, you're in for a treat. Pointing out what exactly to keep an eye on seems silly, though. You'll see. -- T.Z.
DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kentucky
19 years old, 6'11, 270 lbs., Freshman
As with Wall, Cousins is well-known by NBA fans -- arguments about Cousins and Georgia Tech star Derrick Favors are becoming as common as the eternal beer-or-whiskey? debate in my circle. But no doubt plenty of NBA eyes will be on Cousins every time he hits the floor, and not just because of his incredible talent. Attitude problems have been discussed fairly openly, and every scout who doesn't want egg on his face should Cousins become a real problem child at the next level will be looking for the bad streak to show up. -- T.Z.
Damion James, SF, Texas
22 years old, 6'7, 225 lbs., Senior
The best senior in the country not named Greivis Vasquez, James is a very sound and solid basketball player who stood out as one of the premier players in the perilous Big 12 all year long. At 6'7, he can defend both twos and threes, and is a well-rounded offensive player who can score either on the block or face up from 16 feet and in. The upside isn't there for him -- he's not the greatest athlete and is already 22 -- but his winning mentality and polished skills are a rarity in the college game today, and why we will hear his name called sometime in the first round.
Quincy Pondexter, SF, Washington
22 years old, 6'7, 220 lbs., Senior
Pondexter is unquestionably one of the elite players in the field. At 6'7, he has a superb mid-range game, and is lethal using his post-up game to abuse smaller defenders on the block. He is dynamic in transition where he violently attacks the basket and often gets to the line. A terrific defender with great feet and length, he understands how to bother even the best of scorers. His improved game and overall leadership earns him a spot in June's lottery. -- J.S.
Jordan Hamilton, SF, Texas
19 years old, 6'7, 210 lbs., Freshman
Hamilton, one of three Longhorn freshman who qualify as the opposite of gun-shy, is the type of player who can make a string of plays brilliant enough to boost his draft stock a couple spots. On paper, he's an erratic scorer without much defensive or playmaking potential. But he's silk on hardwood, a real natural looking basketball player, the reason Marvin Williams goes No. 2. Hamilton will never get anywhere near the top-5, in my opinion, and he probably shouldn't. But if his name is called a bit too early this June or next, you'll know that he had one of those runs on a nationally televised game.
And Eight More ...
Isaiah Thomas, PG, Washington -- You won't find a better small guard in your bracket. Like his predecessor Nate Robinson, Thomas is generously listed at 5'8 in your program, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in sheer determination and skill. The left-handed Thomas is a terrific scorer who LOVES to drive the lane and finish amongst the trees. He has a collection of floaters and gimmicks to create space, but if you give him too much, he'll drain the three. Should Thomas lead UW into the Sweet 16, he'll quickly become the darling of this year's tournament. -- J.S.
Abdul Gaddy, PG, Washington -- You'll hear more about Gaddy next year -- he's the backup for Thomas now. An 18-year-old pure point guard with buckets of playmaking talent and good size, Gaddy will look to take over the Washington program as Thomas moves on. The Huskies are in good hands. -- T.Z.
Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky -- Patterson could very well be a lottery pick come June -- he has a great attitude, he's smart, and hey, he can ball. Pat-Pat is a Paul Millsap type, an efficient if non-imposing scorer, a strong rebounder who relies on fundamental strength and positioning over electric athleticism and reach. And he happens to be the counterbalance to the high-volume Cousins, which either makes things clear or creates fog. NBA scouts will have to decide which. -- T.Z.
Eric Bledsoe, SG, Kentucky -- Bledsoe is Wall's Patterson, if you will: few likely have any idea whether Wall's talent is making Bledsoe look better or worse than he actually is. Only a Wall-less season in Lexington can tell the truth, and Bledsoe really ought to stay in school, barring a tournament breakthrough. (Think Daequan Cook, or on the flipside, Willie Warren.) -- T.Z.
Avery Bradley, SG, Texas -- The Longhorn freshman is in the same boat as Bledsoe, needing more seasoning to get his NBA stock really bubbly. Bradley has shot well this season, but has been a bit overshadowed by James's great year and a solid freshman campaign from Hamilton. -- T.Z.
Dexter Pittman, C, Texas -- Pittman is another potential NBA Longhorn, a big man who slimmed down and became much more effective. A monster offensive rebounder, Pittman looks like late second-round material as a big man who just turned 22. -- T.Z.
Anthony Johnson, SG, Montana -- All you need to know is he dropped 42 on Weber State in the Big Sky Conference Final (this season's Harold Arceneaux?) and scored 21 straight in the second half. New Mexico should handle the Bobcats fairly easily, but at least you'll have reason to watch when the Lobos are up 20 in the second half. -- J.S.
Darington Hobson, SF, New Mexico -- Juco transfer Hobson, 22, won't remind too many of Lobo product Danny Granger, but he's a similar type of player: versatile, a heady scorer, and plays bigger than he looks. The question is whether he's good enough to make a difference for an NBA team. Versatile players are valued in the bigs, but only if they do one or two things really well. Does Hobson have it? -- T.Z.