Part of the fun in watching the NCAA tournament is to get a sneak peek of the NBA's next freshman class. But as decades of draft busts have shown, the heroes of March often don't become the stars of November. Even now, with all of the brain typing and analytic tools increasingly in use, scouting the next generation is an inexact science, subject to unknown variables such as a college player's still-developing talents and how he'll respond in an NBA environment.
Minus a crystal ball, scouts are left to predict a player's future based on their judgment and research. No matter how many years of hoops wisdom is poured into every draft pick, there are still some elements of the college scouting process that trip up talent evaluators. What parts of a player's game are most difficult to project? We checked in with a longtime NBA college scout to find out what keeps personnel types up at night.
• Shooting range. "The jump from the college three-pointer to the NBA line is significant, so one of the things I look for from perimeter players is how their shot will translate from one level to the next," the scout said. "He doesn't have to be a three-point shooter from Day One, but he's got to be able to make some 17- and 18-footers. I'll look to see if his shooting mechanics are good, if he shoots the ball easily and comfortably from the college three, in which case, in time, he should be able to make the transition to the NBA line when he practices and gets a little stronger.
"Some guys you watch, though, and you just don't know if they'll ever make the shot that far out. I watched a kid [USC's DeMar DeRozan] at the Pac-10 tournament this year, a McDonald's All-American, and he was shooting 18 percent from three for the season. His field-goal percentage was about 50, but a lot of those hoops came in transition or off of offensive rebounds. He plays almost like a power forward, but he's 6-foot-6, 220 pounds. We have point guards that big in our league. If he's going to play at small forward or shooting guard, you have to make perimeter shots. You have to be able to spread the floor."
• Defense. "If you don't give an effort at the top college level, it's probably not going to transfer to our league," the scout said. "A lot of college basketball fans who don't watch the NBA on a regular basis have no idea how big our players are and how skilled they are.
"So I look for how they guard really good players, because, regardless of the system, effort should always be there. I watched someone at the Philly regional [of this year's tournament], and he kept turning his head on defense and guys went by him. A 12-year-old knows that if the ball is passed away from your man, you take a step to the ball. If you're going to turn your head on defense, if you're not willing to work and hustle, that's more than effort -- that's concentration. Maybe you can work on that, but we don't have a lot of patience. That you're young can be an excuse for a little while, but the money is too great, the stakes are too high to give someone a huge window."
• A willingness to change. "Blake Griffin is such a dominant player because he's so physically imposing," the scout said. "He's bigger, stronger, faster and a quicker jumper than most other college players. In the NBA, he's not going to be able to outrun, outjump, outquick and be more physical than everybody else. So then you have to ask, How efficient is his offense? What can I take out of his college game that will transfer to the NBA? And then you have to ask, What can he add to it?
"We're always looking for someone who can become more complete. A lot of players wonder why we'd want them to practice something new when they're already great now. And there's some validity to that argument. But on a nightly basis, if we take some of that stuff away, can you make a jump shot? Can you face up and dribble-drive? Do you have a jump hook? What is your back-to-the-basket stuff like?"
With many projecting a shortage of high-impact players in the 2009 draft class, these factors figure to be even more difficult to discern this year. Maybe that's why the scout considers it a good draft if he can find someone who cracks a team's regular eight-man rotation.
• LeBron's MVP response. After Dwyane Wade made the MVP race a three-man show, James reminded everyone why the award is his to lose by doing his best Oscar Robertson impression. In leading Cleveland to nine consecutive victories through Sunday -- and an advantage over Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the race for the best record in the league -- James has averaged 30.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and 9.6 assists.
• Kobe's shoe initiative. The Lakers' superstar honored the work of a couple of Chicago elementary school students by wearing a pair of black, purple and gold Nikes made in part with snakeskin in L.A.'s 117-109 victory in the Windy City on Saturday. The shoes were the result of a Nike program called After-School All Stars that rewarded the design made as part of a contest on the shoe company's Web site. Yes, Kobe is a Nike guy, and Nike surely will sell plenty of kicks, but it's still a nice gesture to give fans a chance to do more than buy your jersey. Maybe that's why Bryant received chants of M-V-P in Chicago.
• Jarrett Jack's importance. Playing mostly at shooting guard,the Pacers'Jack has averaged 19.1 points since the All-Star break. But he replaced T.J. Ford as the starting point guard Saturday and shot 13-of-14 from the field and scored 31 points in a victory at Charlotte. The lineup change came one day after Jack and Ford got into an argument during a loss to Dallas.
• Questioning officials' integrity. Last Monday, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy bemoaned a late three-second call in a loss at Cleveland by telling reporters, "You won't see that call again. That, I guarantee you. You will not see, with the game on the line, a three-second call in the last 10 seconds. That's part of the reason they're 30-1 at home." On Tuesday, Celtics coach Doc Rivers launched a postgame diatribe about the "most unprofessional technical by a ref I've ever had." By the end of the work week, the NBA had joined the criticism by not only fining Rivers but also referee Bill Kennedy for the dispute. Coaches have already surpassed last season's total for technical fouls, and, as reported by the the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sunday, there is speculation that some referees could lose their jobs after the season.
• Roger Mason's fuel gauge. Mason has been a fabulous contributor this season, but he seems to be running on empty lately in trying to help San Antonio make up for Manu Ginobili's absence. The Spurs have lost four of six games to fall from the No. 2 spot in the West, and Mason has averaged only 8.0 points (on 40 percent shooting) in that stretch.
• Larry Hughes' impact. Just when it looked like he was fitting nicely into Mike D'Antoni's offense, Hughes struggled as the Knicks dropped four in a row over the last week. Trying to play through a toe injury, Hughes shot 10-of-40 from the field (25 percent) during the losing skid.
A year removed from leading the University of Memphis to the NCAA championship game, Derrick Rose is trying to push the Bulls into the playoffs. An NBA scout assesses the progress of the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft.
"What sets him apart is his combination of speed and strength. He's in the top tier of those guards able to go end to end and attack a defense. He has the ability to take shots and finish on his own that other guys at the point guard position do not have.
"He's going to have to improve his jump shot and become a better defender, but his upside is pretty high. Chicago has done a good job of figuring out how to play with him, which is hard to do with a rookie point guard. He's tried to lead that team but hasn't tried to do too much. He has a fundamental understanding of how to play to win. That changes on a given night -- sometimes it's scoring, other times it's being more of a playmaker and making sure Chicago is playing at a fast pace to take advantage of its athleticism. He's already started to help them win games late. He's learned how to become a little more aggressive and become a little bit more involved in the crunch-time minutes.
"Athletically, his size and quickness give him the ability to be stronger and have a more physical presence defending the ball than he's shown. He should also be able to break up pick-and-rolls and not be a guy who is easily screened. All of that is effort at the defensive end."
• "It means having a good owner, a good GM and good players equals longevity in the NBA."-- Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, to the San Antonio Express-News, on how he has survived in the NBA long enough to coach 1,000 games.
• "I don't even have a computer. I don't know how to turn one on. I don't know what you're talking about. I'm going to be totally honest. How would you do that?" -- Jerry Sloan, to theSalt Lake Tribune,on Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva's use of Twitter.
• "I heard someone say Charlie Villanueva was tweeting, and I thought it meant he went in to take a leak at halftime. I guess that wasn't it."-- Kevin McHale, to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, on hisSloan-like knowledge of Twitter.
• "As long as he gets 25 [points] and 11 [rebounds], he can do whatever he wants. He can Twitter, Facebook, MySpace."-- Suns coach Alvin Gentry, to the Arizona Republic, on Shaquille O'Neal's in-game posting on Twitter.
• "It shows how I've been consistent at what I've been doing, and the next guy is my illegitimate father, Wilt Chamberlain. So just like in Star Wars, hopefully I can catch up to my father."-- Shaq, to The Associated Press,on moving up to fifth on the all-time scoring list, more than 4,000 points behind No. 4 Chamberlain.
•San Jose Mercury News: A detailed analysis of the dysfunctional mess the Warriors have become and what it could mean for the future.
•Los Angeles Times: Adam Morrison, the No. 3 pick in the 2006 draft, reflects on the expectations he has yet to meet and the unique role Lakers coach Phil Jackson envisions for him.
•Charlotte Observer: Former Sixth Man Award winner Rodney Rogers contemplates a life confined to a wheelchair after one wrong turn on a dirt bike.
•New York Post: Could the Cavaliers be more than a one-man team? It sure seems so if you observe GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Brown in action.
• The Clippers are reportedly considering stripping Mike Dunleavy of his GM duties. That seems typical Clippers, nibbling at a problem when a hearty bite is needed. Clearly, Dunleavy has done a poor job assembling parts to his dysfunctional machine, but anyone who has watched a quarter of Clippers basketball this season knows the players' effort has been lacking. That falls in part on the coach, who is ... Mike Dunleavy. And owner Donald Sterling is mulling the idea of removing only the GM duties?
• A part of me loves that Shaq, via Twitter, has offered tickets to fans for finding him in a mall or hotel; few athletes make themselves so available to fans. But another part of me fears Shaq is opening himself up to any manner of unhinged fan. Fun as this Twitter craze has been, it also has broken a boundary athletes of Shaq's stature need. No, it's not fun to wall yourself off from the people who help pay your salary, but when you are worth as much as O'Neal is, and are as recognizable as he is, you are a target. By offering up your coordinates, you invite not only the well-intentioned but also the opposite. There are plenty of more controlled environments to interact with fans than by inviting them to get a piece of the Diesel.
• Strap in for what is shaping up to be a busy summer. Beyond the draft is a free-agent season low on long-term impact but high on marquee names, with Allen Iverson, Carlos Boozer and Rasheed Wallace among those possibly on the move. The impact, of course, could become much bigger if Kobe Bryant elects to test the waters, which isn't likely but not impossible if the Lakers fail to win in June. And after a trade deadline in which Shaq, Amar'e Stoudemire and other big names were dangled, expect a few payroll-clearing deals amid projections of a decline in the salary cap and luxury-tax threshold. On top of that, there's also a chance that LeBron and Wade will lock in extensions rather than wait for free agency in 2010. And don't forget the coaching carousel, too.