The lowdown on the NBA's top prospects, Illini make the AP ballot
Greg Monroe and Blake Griffin top the NBA scouts' draft boards
Despite reservations, Stephen Curry and Tyler Hansbrough are pro material
Breathe easy, Illini fans, Illinois returns to the latest AP ballot
Good news, Hoop Thinkers. Finch is back.
Devoted readers of this space (both of you) will recall Finch is the invention of my esteemed colleague Alex Wolff, who assigned the pseudonym to an NBA scout whom Alex followed throughout the 2000-01 college season. Alex, a highbrow, literary type, chose to name his protagonist "Finch" because that was the character Scout's surname in the novel To Kill A Mockingbird.
I have once again mimicked that exercise for all you Hoop Thinkers. Over the past two weeks, I asked six NBA scouts and executives to give me their opinions on some of the top college players in the country. Since these professional bird-dogs generally don't like to see their names in print or on the Internet -- especially since NBA rules forbid them from commenting on non-seniors -- I have combined all of their comments into a single dialogue provided by an insightful, forthcoming character named Finch.
A few tips about the way Finch thinks. He is more likely to be critical of someone who will be drafted very high, because it is his job to look for flaws. (And Finch is very good at his job.) Conversely, Finch tends to speak glowingly about players he thinks will be drafted late, because he likes to spy diamonds in the rough. Finch's opinion changes frequently, depending on what a player did the last time Finch saw him play. Finch has very strong opinions, and while he has been wrong in the past he can't remember exactly when. But I always love listening to Finch because he sees a lot more games in person than I do, he knows a lot more about basketball than I do, and loves to dish the latest gossip on what is happening in our sport.
Here, then, is what Finch had to say about 40 of the top college players in the country. And if you happen to run into Boo Radley, please tell him Finch says hello.
A.J. Abrams, 5-11 senior guard, Texas: "He's OK, but he's a midget. He's a great shooter, but it's going to be hard for him to defend point guards in our league."
Jeff Adrien, 6-7 senior forward, UConn: "Someone will take a chance on him. He doesn't fit any box. He's not quite like Ryan Gomes, but he's going to be undervalued. He's so tough, and he's going to guard threes and fours. I saw him at LeBron's camp one year, and he was the only one who wanted to guard LeBron. He's one of those tweeners like Renaldo Balkman and Craig Smith who have found a role."
DeJuan Blair, 6-7 sophomore forward, Pittsburgh: "He'll be a great rebounder in the NBA. He can also really pass, which just punishes a defense. He's going to be able to finish plays other people set up. Guys are going to block his shot, but he's used to that. He's a stud, leave it at that."
Craig Brackins, 6-10 sophomore forward, Iowa State: "He's eventually going to be a pro, but I don't think he's ready physically right now. He has good agility, and he has a small forward's game in a big forward's body. He's not clumsy like a lot of big guys, but when he makes moves off the dribble, he does it with grace and finesse as opposed to strength."
Michael Bramos, 6-5 senior swingman, Miami (Ohio): "He's going to make money playing basketball, but I'll be shocked if someone drafts him. He can't create at all on his own. He's a good athlete for a 6-5 white kid, but he's not a special athlete and he's not a special shooter."
Derrick Brown, 6-8 junior forward, Xavier: "I really like him. He has refined moves, and he's a pure three. He's going to be able to guard twos, threes and fours. He's really a very good defensive player. I think he could be late lottery."
Chase Budinger, 6-7 junior forward, Arizona: "I'm not as big a fan as other people are. Everyone says he doesn't love the game. He's a good shooter, but he's not at a Kyle Korver-Ray Allen level. He's talented, but he's a little soft."
William Buford, 6-5 freshman guard, Ohio State: "He makes the game really easy on the offensive end, but he doesn't have a clue how to play defense. He's got a refined game, can pull up on one dribble, he's getting better at getting to the rim. He'll be good down the road, but I would tell him definitely don't come out."
Dionte Christmas, 6-5 senior guard, Temple: "He's a great athlete, but he has no clue how to play. If you don't let him catch and shoot and make him put it down, he has a problem. Someone will take him 15 to 30 based on him being a 6-6, fairly athletic kid who can stroke it, but my question is, will he be Mark Macon, who was a bust, or will he be Eddie Jones?"
Darren Collison, 6-foot senior guard, UCLA: "I don't love him but I like him. He's a rotation guard in the NBA. His shot has improved, plus he'll guard the ball. The kids out of UCLA will defend because it's mandated by Ben Howland."
Earl Clark, 6-9 junior forward, Louisville: "He's been disappointing. He has all the skills and a great body, but at the end of the day he's soft. He has small hands, which will prohibit him from being good around the basket at the next level. He's the same size as Jeff Green, but Jeff Green had great hands and wasn't soft. He can't really get his shot off unless he's wide open. Someone will take him high because they think he'll be an all-star in three of four years, but I don't think that's going to happen."
Stephen Curry, 6-3 junior guard, Davidson: "I'm a huge fan. People worry about his body, but that comes with maturation. He's not a great athlete, but he has really quick feet and has all kinds of creative stuff to get himself shots. There's no reason he can't be a Steve Nash-Jason Kidd type of player. The kid can really pass."
Austin Daye, 6-11 sophomore forward, Gonzaga: "This kid will get you fired. Soft? He invented soft. Jeff Adrien cold cocked him when they played UConn, and he spent the rest of the game behind the three-point line. I'm not denying he has a high skill level, but you better surround him with a lot of bullies."
DeMar DeRozan, 6-7 freshman forward, USC: "I'd like to see him go back to school, but if he comes out he'll be a lottery pick. You look at the one-and-done guys who were highly touted, they usually do well eventually. Look at Daequan Cook. The half-court system DeMar is in now isn't the best system for him, but in some ways it's good for him because he's learning. Obviously, he's not the player O.J. Mayo was, but it appears that he's bought in and is trying to run the half-court system the way they want. He's going to have to be a pullup dribble shooter in our league, and he doesn't have that yet. But remember, he's only 19. He's done nothing to turn me off."
Tyreke Evans, 6-6 freshman guard, Memphis: "He doesn't make enough shots for me, but we always draft on potential because that's who we are. It doesn't matter if I think he should come out, he's coming out. If he can really prove he can play point guard, people will look at him in a better light, because as a two guard he can't shoot very well."
Blake Griffin, 6-10 sophomore forward, Oklahoma: "The only downside to him is he's not 6-10. He's probably 6-8. He's not going to be able to bully guys like he does in college, but he's a great athlete who can get out in transition and dunk. He's a more athletic version of Karl Malone."
Tyler Hansbrough, 6-9 senior forward, North Carolina: "Everyone has to be all over the map on him. I've been one of those guys who's been saying all along, 'How's he going to do that in the NBA?' Now I'm convinced he's going to do that in the NBA. He's not going to get that shoulder shot in our league, and he's not going to get the calls he's getting now. So the first couple of games he'll get his butt kicked, but eventually he's going to figure it out. He'll get in the gym and take 500 shots a day so he can become a pick-and-pop guy. I don't know if he's in the lottery, but he's definitely a first-rounder."
Luke Harangody, 6-8 junior forward, Notre Dame: "I love him. Have you watched him step outside and stick jump shots? He plays in supposedly the toughest conference in the country, and he had 14 games where he had at least 20 points. He doesn't have the same range as Kevin Love, but other than that they have very similar games. He's going to look awful athletic at times, but he has so many shots in his bag. He has those little weird fadeaways, a one-dribble stepback. Even if he's just a scorer off the bench, he's going to find a spot in this league for seven or eight years. Why can't he be Matt Bonner?"
James Harden, 6-5 sophomore, Arizona State: "I like Harden a lot, but he's a little short for me. Don't tell me he's 6-5, no way. He's a Paul Pierce type of guy, but Paul Pierce is 6-7. He's not a great shooter, but he's a scorer. Great players figure it out. I like him, but if I were drafting in the four to seven range and the team before me took him, I wouldn't be upset."
Gerald Henderson, 6-4 junior guard, Duke: "He's finally become the player we all hoped he would. He's more than just a superior athlete, he's making some shots. He's never going to be Ray Allen, but he's attacking the basket and finishing. I don't know if I completely trust it yet, but he's obviously an NBA player athletically. If he comes out, he'll sneak into the late lottery because he has so much upside."
Jordan Hill, 6-10 junior forward, Arizona: "He's an athlete, he's a monster, he's got big hands, he tries to dunk everything. He's going to be in the lottery."
Jrue Holiday, 6-3 freshman guard, UCLA: "I don't think he has had a great year, mostly because he's trying to play in a system with other veteran players, but there's a lot to like about him. Long arms, great feel for the game, can defend two positions, good passer. He can truly, truly play with both hands. He's got a quiet confidence about him. People are getting on Jrue for not having special numbers, but Russell Westbrook's numbers weren't special, either. Watch the games, look at all the things Jrue does on the floor, and you can see he has a chance to be really good."
Damion James, 6-7 junior forward, Texas: "I'm not a huge Damion James guy. He's 6-7 and he's got to be a three, but I just don't see the skill level there. Can he play in the league? Yeah, but you look at some of these mock drafts and his name is in the middle of the first round. I don't see that."
James Johnson, 6-9 sophomore forward, Wake Forest: "I love him, but I don't know if he plays hard every night. He's a sneaky athlete. He has that big body, a good mind, a great passer who can put it on the floor, step out and shoot it. He's physical enough that he can pound it inside if he wants to."
Ty Lawson, 5-11 junior guard, North Carolina: "He can definitely play in the league, but his size is a question. There are very few midget point guards that can really get it done in the NBA. I don't think he can shoot it as well as Jameer Nelson. If he gets on a team that plays up-tempo he'll look really good, but none of Roy Williams' point guards learn how to play at different paces because he has them playing so fast, they never learn how to negotiate the game. I'd say Lawson is between Raymond Felton and Jacque Vaughn. I've never been crazy about his leadership skills."