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NBA-ready seniors again in short supply
By Chad Ford
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Thursday, April 8
Updated: April 8
10:28 AM ET
Chat with Insider Chad Ford from Portsmouth at 12 p.m. EST
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PORTSMOUTH, Va. -- "Why do we even bother?" one GM said with his hands in his head. "I'm not sure there's one guy here who could make a difference on an NBA roster."
Another assistant GM was even more scathing. "Of those 10 high school kids we saw at the Hoop Summit last weekend, how many of them could outplay everyone here right now," he asked rhetorically. "I can think of eight off the top of my head. Now everyone knows why were so in love with the teenagers. When you see what we have had to watch all year, you'd be in love too."
Every year about this time we begin our full swing into our NBA draft coverage with a statement that shows a firm grasp for the obvious. The college senior, the kid with four years of basketball and a diploma under his belt who can come in and turn around an NBA franchise, is a dying breed.
Some years it's more apparent than others. Last year, in fact, several seniors actually looked a little bit like NBA players. The emphasis, however, is on "a few". Of the top 10 college seniors at Portsmouth last year, only seven of the 60-plus players -- Travis Hansen, Jerome Beasley, Willie Green, James Jones, Brandon Hunter, Derrick Zimmerman and Tommy Smith -- actually got drafted. All of them went in the second round and only five made NBA rosters. And that was a good year.
This year scouts are struggling to find one player who's as good as any of the seven listed above.
"This may be the worst senior class in the history of the draft," another prominent GM said. "There's only one senior, Jameer Nelson, who's really a lock for the first round. That's astounding."
Only two other seniors, Oregon's Luke Jackson and BYU's Rafael Araujo, are considered likely first-round picks. The rest are second round or worse. If that isn't bad enough, a number of seniors projected as likely second-round picks actually decided to skip Portsmouth.
Oklahoma State's Tony Allen is among the seniors noticeably absent at Portsmouth.
Every year there are several players who believe that, by skipping Portsmouth, they're actually protecting their "second-round status." Huh? The poster child for this group this year is Michigan's Bernard Robinson. Robinson pulled out at the last second, on the advice of his newly hired agent, sending NBA scouting director Marty Blake into a tizzy.
Can you blame him? If Robinson is too good to play here, we all should go home. He's not alone.
Cal's Amit Tamir, Missouri's Rickey Paulding and Arthur Johnson, Oklahoma State's Tony Allen, Duke's Chris Duhon, Vanderbilt's Matt Freije, Rutgers' Herve Lamizana, Gonzaga's Blake Stepp, Texas Tech's Andre Emmett, Xavier's Lionel Chalmers, Washington State's Marcus Moore and Xavier's Romain Sato are among the prominent names noticeably absent. Of that group, only Sato, Allen and Duhon (who both showcased their skills well in the tournament) have a reasonable excuse to skip the camp. Everyone else should've been here.
Several others noticeably absent, like LSU's Jaime Lloreda, Cal State Fullerton's Pape Sow and Florida State's Tim Pickett, get passes because of injuries.
What's going on here?
"There's a perception out there, that this camp is for bottom-tier prospects," one NBA scout said. "Kids gamble that they'll get invited to Chicago or that they'll be able to rest on their laurels from the tournament. Every year we spend as much time pondering who isn't there as pondering who is there."
The senior defections cause problems for NBA scouts. Up until two years ago, the NBA had a third draft camp, the Desert Classic, held in May. Most of the top seniors who skipped Portsmouth played there. Now, with everyone holding out until June to be seen, there is a pretty big scouting gap for many teams.
It can also be a problem for seniors getting bad advice. How can 15 seniors feel comfortable with their draft status? Last year, 32 seniors skipped this camp. Twelve of them went undrafted. Given the slew of young international players and high school kids thinking about coming out, the list of seniors not getting any love on draft night could be ridiculous.
So, is there anyone worth watching at Portsmouth this year?
Here's five guys we'll be watching closely over the next few days.
Darius Rice, SF, Miami
He was once considered one of the top high school players in America and a lock for the lottery. Oh how things have changed. How bad have things turned for Rice and the rest of this group at Portsmouth. I spent 30 minutes debating with an international GM about whether Rice could be a good player on a Euroleague team. When I explained this to Rice after a subpar performance in game one, his response was simply, "Huh?" Exactly. The kid is a good athlete with a great outside shot. But he's too thin and too one dimensional to really have a place in the NBA. I think he could be a great four in Europe, where big men aren't required to bulk up and are allowed to drift out past the 3-point line. I couldn't, however, convince the Euroleague GM. That's not a good thing, Darius.
Nigel Dixon, C, Western Kentucky
He's the best big man prospect in the camp and may be the most intriguing guy here, period. He once ballooned to 430 pounds before leaving Florida State for Western Kentucky. Since then he's dropped 100 pounds and has one of the smoothest inside games in college basketball. When his weight is under control (he still could stand to lose another 30 pounds) he has the raw materials of a decent back-up center in the NBA. But the weight thing is a big if.
Richard Melzer, SF, Wisconsin River Falls
Melzer is a Division III stud who has drawn comparisons to the Lakers' Devean George. Could he be this year's Jerome Beasley? Melzer is a good athlete who runs the floor and can spot up from the 3-point line. He's long and has put some muscle on his body this season. Scouts say he's more polished than George was when the Lakers made him a first-round pick. However, Melzer isn't the athlete George was. He's been playing primarily at the four this season, but scouts see him as a three in the pros. The biggest issue is lateral quickness in defending 3s at the next level. He's definitely a second-round sleeper. He averaged 26.9 ppg and 8.5 rpg on 56 percent shooting this season.
Antonio Burks, PG, Memphis
A sleeper at the point guard position who really helped his draft stock with a strong senior season. He's always been a solid distributor and decision maker, but has added a very nice 3-point jump shot to his game this year that made a world of difference for him. Took nine 3s his junior year and 137 his senior year. Now, defenders have to guard him closer, which has helped him get to the basket. He's a little undersized, but scouts are intrigued.
Desmon Farmer, SG, USC
He was a big-time scorer on the college level, but scouts are worried about his shot. If he can improve in that area, Farmer could suddenly become a draft darling.
Others to watch: Nate Williams, Georgia State; Cliff Hawkins, Kentucky; Brian Boddicker, Texas; Michel Morandais, Colorado; Andre Barrett, Seton Hall; Justin Davis, Stanford; Luis Flores, Manhattan; Bryant Matthews, Virginia Tech; Timmy Bowers, Mississippi State; Brandon Mouton, Texas; James Thomas, Texas; Justin Reed, Mississippi; Delonte Holland, DePaul; Taliek Brown, Uconn; Sean Finn, Dayton; Jackson Vroman, Iowa State; Gerald Fitch, Kentucky; Velimir Radinovic, Ohio State; Andre Brown, DePaul; Andrew Wisniewski, Centenary.
Who's Hot and Who's Not at the PIT?
* Georgia State big man Nate Williams had the game of his career in the opening game at the PIT. Williams, a 6-11, 230-pound center, looked great in the paint, scoring 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting and grabbing nine rebounds. In fact, Williams posted better numbers only once, versus Auburn, his entire senior season. Wililams is an athletic big man who runs the floor well, has nice hands and decent jump shot. His rebounding last season, however, has been suspect.
* Miami's Darius Rice got off to a terrible start on Wednesday, going a miserable 2-for-12 from the field. The only redeeming part of his game was a nice 10-rebound performance and a willingness to go into the paint on occasion.
* Manhattan's Luis Flores can flat out score. He showed that again on Wednesday, scoring 16 points. However, what scouts really want to see is whether the 6-foot-1 two guard can make the transition to the point in the pros. His one assist Wednesday night did little to suggest that.
* Colorado's Michel Morandais is the oldest player here at the ripe old age of 24 and his maturity showed. Morandais scored 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting and, next to Williams, had the most impressive offensive performance of the night.
* Seton Hall's Andre Barrett had an evening-high eight assists, but the evening-high five turnovers took away from the feat to a large extent.
* Texas forward Brian Boddicker hit 4 of 7 from the 3-point line and ended the game with 16 points. However, scouts feel he lacks the lateral quickness to guard anybody.
The best thing about the PIT is that it's packed with NBA GMs, scouts and agents chewing the fat on the draft. On Wednesday night, everyone was trying to get a real handle on who's in or who's out of the draft. Here's what we're hearing . . .
* The biggest buzz at the PIT had to do with Duke's Luol Deng. Several scouts claim that Deng, because of his high draft position, is now thinking about the draft and gathering information. That's still a long way away from being in the draft, but the fact that he's hasn't closed the door completely encourages scouts who want him in this year.
* By all accounts UConn's Ben Gordon and Arizona's Andre Iguodala will definitely be in the draft, though neither player has formally announced. Both players should be mid-to-late lottery picks.
* Look for Colorado center David Harrison to officially put his name in the draft as early as Friday. If Harrison leaves, he's likely to hire an agent. Harrison has gotten mixed reviews from scouts for years. Some see him as a mid-to-late first-rounder. Others think he's a second-rounder all the way. Given the dearth of big men in the draft every year, it's hard to believe that someone wouldn't take him late in the first round.
* Minnesota's Kris Humphries will announce his intentions to declare for the draft (and hire an agent we're told) today. Nevada's Kirk Snyder and Mississippi State's Lawrence Roberts officially declared on Tuesday and will hire an agent. Roberts' decision has some scouts scratching their heads. Apparently, several of them spoke personally with Roberts' coach and family and said he should return to school. Roberts decided to come out anyway.
* North Carolina State's Julius Hodge is now believed to be leaning toward declaring for the draft. The general buzz about Hodge is that he'd be a mid-to-late first-rounder.
* If the draft isn't already too full of high school players looking to strike it reach, the word is that another one, LSU recruit Glenn Davis, is now considering putting his name in the draft. Davis, a 6-foot-8, 320-pound big man, better talk to NBA reject James Lang before making his final decision. Davis is talented and has an NBA body (and then some). but he's unlikely to crack the first round if he declares.
* The word is that Lithuanian big man Martynas Andriuskevicius might not be in the draft after all. Despite being projected anywhere from the third pick all the way down until No. 7, a source close to Andriuskevicius claims that he's reluctant to enter the draft because . . . drum roll please . . . he doesn't think he's ready. Imagine that.
* Two prominent high school players who have flirted with the draft may not be in after all. Sources said that Duke recruit Shaun Livingston is hesitant to enter the draft and may decide to go ahead and play college ball next year. Livingston has been back and forth on the decision for days. Despite being rated as a top-six prospect in the draft, the source said Livingston's chances of going pro are no more that "50-50."
North Carolina recruit Marvin Williams also sounds like he's resisting the siren's call. Williams is now receiving information from teams that he'd be a late-lottery to mid-first-round pick. That is, apparently, enough to give him his father's blessing. However, the word from several scouts was that Williams still prefers to play for the Tar Heels next year.
* Add Washington's Nate Robinson and UCLA's Dijion Thompson to the list of ridiculous underclassmen now declaring for the draft. Given the crunch of high school and international kids already in the draft along with top underclassmen like Emeka Okafor, Josh Childress, Gordon, Iguodala, Humphries and Snyder, they have zero shot of making it into the first round. Both players claim that they won't hire agents and plan on playing at the Chicago pre-draft tournament. It's tough to see why they'd bother.
* After the success of Slovenian point guard Sasha Vujacic at the Chicago camp last year, look for more agents to bring over second-tier international talent to get exposure or to help their draft stock. Serbia combo guard Ivan Koljevic is the latest international prospect to agree to play at Chicago this year. Right now he's a second-rounder, but could help his stock with a great performance running the point there.