Stock Watch: Turner's injury a very bad break
Tuesday, December 8, 2009 | Print Entry
Posted by Chad Ford
We're now one month into the college basketball season, the Thanksgiving holiday tournaments are over and every player has roughly seven or eight games under his belt.
NBA GMs and scouts have been out in force over the past couple of weeks checking on the top draft prospects to see what's changed for good or bad since last season.
That means it's time for our first NBA Draft Stock Watch of the year. We covered the great play of John Wall, Derrick Favors and Ed Davis in last week's blog. Insider spoke with a number of NBA sources to find out who else is hot and who isn't among NBA scouts.
Evan Turner, G, Ohio State
Turner was the leading candidate for NPOY honors before tragedy struck this weekend. Turner lost his balance on a dunk and crashed to the floor, breaking two vertebrae in his back. He's expected to be out at least two months. Turner's loss is devastating for Ohio State. It also isn't good for his draft stock. We had Turner ranked as the No. 3 prospect on our Big Board going into the weekend. That's now changed. A number of NBA GMs and scouts are worried.
"Knees are always the biggest concerns," one GM told ESPN.com. "But backs are a close second. They're tricky. The game is hard on backs and some guys, no matter how many surgeries they get, just never get totally better. It's a pretty big red flag."
The problem with Turner and the draft goes beyond the immediate injury if he's thinking about declaring this spring. If he sits out the next two months, he won't be back until mid-February. Without Turner for so long, it's very possible that Ohio State won't get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. That means that NBA teams may not get to see him back at full strength this season. While Turner could rehab to the point that he's fine to workout for NBA teams and participate in the draft combine, GMs are going to be extra cautious until he proves that he's 100 percent healthy and that the injury will have no long-term consequences.
We're not ready, by any stretch of the imagination, to write off Turner's NBA potential after this serious setback. He was the most well-rounded player in college basketball before the injury and was oozing NBA potential. However, he wouldn't be a top-three pick at this point, either. We've dropped him to No. 10 on our Big Board and will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Wesley Johnson, F, Syracuse
Scouts are continuing to gush about the stellar play of Johnson. He has every physical attribute scouts look for in a wing and he's playing with amazing confidence. He's shooting 53 percent from deep and averaging 7.3 rpg. But here's the stat that has scouts drooling: Johnson is one of those rare players who is capable of averaging more than two blocks and two steals per game. Other college players can do it (see Duquesne's Damian Saunders in our Midrange Game section below), but few have the potential to do it at the next level as well. The Hawks' Josh Smith is the only player in the league right now that even comes close (2.6 bpg and 1.5 spg). So you can imagine the interest. I predict he's going to rank off the charts on John Hollinger's draft rater.
Xavier Henry, G/F, Kansas
After Wall and Favors, Henry has proven to be the most steady freshman in the country. He's averaging nearly 17 ppg and shooting 53 percent from the field (50 percent beyond the arc). That's a huge feat considering he's playing on a stacked Kansas team that's ranked No. 1 in the country. Henry may be a bit one-dimensional, but he is a terrific scorer and just as important to scouts, he already has an NBA body. Like Tyreke Evans, he's going to be able to come in and contribute immediately to any team in the lottery.
Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky
Since his freshman year, Patterson has always been hovering somewhere between 18 and 30 on our Big Board. He's shown the makings of being a solid NBA big man prospect, but never superstar potential. This year, things are beginning to change. Patterson has diversified his game, improved his rebounding, is showing even better range on his jump shot and still is managing to shoot nearly 70 percent from the field. In his big matchup against UNC's vaunted front line of Ed Davis and Deon Thompson Saturday, it was Patterson who looked like the best prospect on the floor. For the first time since Patterson appeared on our Big Board two-and-a-half years ago, he's now cracked the lottery.
Kyle Singler, F, Duke
Just when NBA scouts started to get comfortable with the idea of Singler as a top-20 pick, he's suffering from a terrible shooting slump. He's now shooting a career-low 42 percent from the field. Singler struggled to hit his jumper against Radford, Arizona State, UConn and St. John's. But it was the UConn game that raised eyebrows. Uber-athletic forward Stanley Robinson shut down Singler, raising more questions about Singler's inability to get his offense going against the long-armed, quick-footed, explosive leapers he'll face every night in the NBA.
Malcolm Lee, G, UCLA
Lee has the raw ability of a lottery pick. But he's stuck on a terrible UCLA team and is running an offense not suited to his ability to fly up and down the floor. We've seen this before. Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday didn't look terrific in Ben Howland's system either. But Lee has struggled by any measure, shooting just 36 percent from the field and 24 percent from 3-point range.
Tyshawn Taylor, G, Kansas
A number of NBA scouts who watched Taylor play for Team USA this summer came away thinking he might be a first-round pick. Eight games into the season, scouts are jumping off the bandwagon in a big way. Taylor has had major struggles with his offensive game this season. While scouts still acknowledge that he's one of the better defenders in the country and has terrific athleticism, 7.3 ppg on 39 percent shooting just isn't going to cut it.
The Midrange Game
Last week when discussing Wesley Johnson with a number of NBA scouts, they were quick to point out another lanky, athletic forward who is racking up both steals and blocks.
Duquesne's Damian Saunders is having a stellar junior season. He's averaging a very impressive 15.5 ppg and 13 rpg. But what has scouts drooling is this incredible feat -- he's averaging both 3 blocks per game and 3.4 steals per game.
That feat is a testament to Saunders' terrific athleticism. He possesses both explosive leaping ability and great lateral quickness. However, his skill level on the offensive end is still a work in progress. Saunders is an inconsistent shooter, especially from beyond the 3-point arc. He's much more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and attacking the basket -- where he's proven to be a strong finisher.
We'll be keeping a close watch on Saunders over the next few months. While many scouts have him ranked in the second round, a small handful have him ranked much higher. "He's a Josh Smith or Shawn Marion-type player in our league," said one executive. "He's raw, but he's got a lot of talent. We love him."
We're also keeping a close eye on Tennessee shooting guard Scotty Hopson. Hopson came into the NCAA with a reputation of being a lights-out shooter, but really struggled as a freshman. He's off to a very good start this year (54 percent from 3), but he's doing it against watered-down competition. Against the two quality opponents Tennessee has faced (DePaul and Purdue), Hopson shot a weak 5-for-18 from the field and 0-for-6 from 3.
While a few scouts have Hopson cracking the first round, most are taking a wait-and-see attitude until conference play.
Finally, it's probably worth noting that we all might want to take this flurry of early impressions from scouts and GMs with a grain of salt. Right now, teams are forming impressions on players. But the real in-depth scouting starts taking place once conference play begins.
Why? Because NBA teams want to see how players respond when opposing coaches and teams have had a chance to both scout these talented players and prepare defenses to take away what they do best. The prospects that can adjust end up floating to the top. The players that struggle against the increased defensive scrutiny end up slipping.
So while the early-season games are important (I promise you virtually every GM in the league watched UNC-Kentucky last weekend) -- it's how a player handles himself during the long slog of conference play and then performs in the heat of the NCAA Tournament that really settles his draft stock.