You think you travel a lot? Puh-leeze. Finch's frequent flyer miles have frequent flyer miles. When he walks into any hotel, the bellhops shout his name, like the bartenders used to do when Norm walked into Cheers.
Finch, you see, is an NBA scout. Only, he's not just one scout, he's several scouts rolled into one, an amalgam of conversations I've had with five NBA scouts over the last week to get their assessments of 56 college players who could be available in this year's NBA draft. Since NBA scouts are not permitted to be quoted talking about underclassmen, I granted my scouts anonymity so they could be candid. Then I combined their quotes together to sound like it came from one person, an invented character named Finch.
The name Finch is the creation of my highbrow colleague Alex Wolff, who affixed it to an anonymous NBA scout whom Alex followed several years ago for a story he wrote in SI. Alex called his scout Finch because that was Scout's surname in To Kill A Mockingbird. Like I said, Alex is a lot more sophisticated than you and me. Or Finch, for that matter.
I've done this exercise for several years now, but this year it was easier to develop a consensus. That reflects Finch's general opinion that this is a weak draft with respect to both the collegians and the European imports. Most of Finch's opinions boiled down to, "Yeah, I like him OK, but he's not gonna be our franchise player." So keep that in mind as you read through these reports.
(Incidentally, my weekly AP ballot plus follows the quotes from my scouts.)
Allow me, then, to present the Book of Finch (in alphabetical order). He really, really knows what he's talking about. Just ask him.
Harrison Barnes, 6-foot-8 freshman forward, North CarolinaI finally figured him out. People have been trying to say he's Marvin Williams, but I think he's Sean Elliott. He's not a star, but he's an all-around good player. If you're expecting a franchise player, you're going to be sadly mistaken, but he can definitely help. If he came out, I'm not sure he'd be a top-five pick, but if he slipped to eight or nine people would come up with reasons why they should take him instead of why they shouldn't.
Keith Benson, 6-11 senior center, OaklandI like him. He's good, he's skilled, he has had numbers against good teams. He's almost a 10-rebounds-a-night guy but can face up and shoot, too. He reminds me of Horace Grant because he's a pretty good offensive rebounder and can step out a little.
Alec Burks, 6-6 sophomore guard, ColoradoWhoa, can he really score. If that guy gets stronger, it's over. He's a big-time talent. Not a great shooter, but a good shooter. He has a great skill set and I love his decision making. He tries to do too much and part of that is he doesn't have a good team. He gets to the foul line a ton, and NBA guys like that. He's first round for sure, maybe even in the lottery.
Norris Cole, 6-2 senior guard, Cleveland StateHe's a pretty good player. I like his command of the team, command of the game. He really tries to play the game the right way.
Kenneth Faried, 6-8 senior forward, Morehead StateHe's the real thing. He's a great rebounder, has great defensive instincts. He's not a great offensive player, but in our league there are only a couple of guys per team who play with the ball.
Corey Fisher, 6-1 senior guard, VillanovaI could miss on him, but I don't see him doing much in the NBA. He plays a power game, and that's not going to fly. He's a nice college player and maybe he makes a roster, but he's not a vertical player.
Jimmer Fredette, 6-2 senior guard, BYUThere are a lot more believers in him than when the season started. I think he has converted a lot of naysayers. He can score and he's fearless. He's not Steve Kerr, because Kerr was a catch-and-shoot guy. Fredette is more like Mark Price. He may not be as quick as Price, but he's a lot stronger, and Price couldn't shoot where this kid shoots from at this stage. He doesn't have to be a real good defender, but I don't know why with his competitiveness and knowledge he can't hold his own defensively. People knocked J.J. Redick's defense, too, but he's playing for a very good team and contributing.
Austin Freeman, 6-3 senior guard, GeorgetownHe doesn't play with enough physicality. With his build he should be getting six or seven rebounds a game. You think about Lawrence Moten. He was also a very good college scorer but for one reason or another it didn't happen for him. Freeman seems like the type of person you would want on your team, though, because he's a winner. I think he goes early in the second round and could sneak into the first.
Troy Gillenwater, 6-8 junior forward, New Mexico StateHe's small for a power forward, but he can shoot that three and has a really good feel for the game. He has a nice build on him. They haven't won a lot, but he's been good pretty much every night. He should get into the second round.
Steven Gray, 6-5 senior guard, GonzagaHe has not been as good as I expected. I think people wonder if -- because he's involved in so many things off the court -- maybe basketball is not a passion for him. Dude, do you really want to play in the NBA? Or are you into the piano thing and the acting?
Jordan Hamilton, 6-7 sophomore forward, TexasHe has a quick, compact release. He's not the greatest athlete in the world, but he has done a good job getting to the boards this year. I was not a fan last year, but he has evolved as a player and as a teammate. Now instead of shooting it every time, he shoots every three out of four. He couldn't guard you last year, but at least he's in the same area code now. He's like Jeff Malone the way he takes off to shoot and he's not even facing the basket.
Ben Hansbrough, 6-3 senior guard, Notre DameI love his tenacity, but he would have to be a point guard in the NBA. If he has to bring the ball up against good pressure he'll have trouble. The two spot in our league is a very tough one. But if Chris Quinn can play in the league, maybe this kid can make a team.
Justin Harper, 6-10 senior forward, RichmondHe's a very nice player. He's built well but has kind of a narrow frame, so maybe he's not a four in our league. He's not as good as Channing Frye, but he's that type of player.
Elias Harris, 6-8 sophomore forward, GonzagaHe has been very disappointing. Coming off last year I thought he would take a big step and be terrific. Part of it is that he has been hurt and has to carry more of the load, but he has not played with the kind of energy that got my attention last year.
John Henson, 6-10 sophomore, North CarolinaHe's like an aircraft carrier, he's so long. He gets rebounds whenever he wants. He doesn't have an offensive game, so he has to improve that, but he can finish in transition. His strength is obviously a question because he has a high center of gravity, but he's a good shot blocker despite that. I'm not sure if he's a lottery pick, but he's definitely a first-rounder if he comes out.
Tu Holloway, 6-foot junior guard, XavierI've seen him several times, and every possession is a dogfight. He's not afraid of anybody. His jump shot is not bad, he's a very good foul shooter and a confident ball handler. Not afraid to split the double team. He's built like a football player and he's a gamer. If there's a loose ball, it's his.
Tyler Honeycutt, 6-8 sophomore forward, UCLAHe just looks the part, doesn't he? He sometimes leaves you wanting more, but he's very skilled for his size. Yes, you wish he was tougher and more physical, but they just don't make a lot of 6-7 and 6-8 kids who can do the things he can do. If he's not in the lottery he's going to be close.
Scotty Hopson, 6-7 junior forward, TennesseeHe's all over the place. He's talented, but he worries me. Which Scotty are you going to get? He looks like an NBA wing, but too often his body language is poor and he just disappears.
Kyrie Irving, 6-2 freshman guard, DukeDo I have any reservations if he doesn't play this year? Not even a little bit. He's that good. He'll still be a top three pick if he comes out. This is a point guards' league, it's not a centers' league anymore. He's a good athlete, not a great athlete, so he'll never be electric like John Wall or Derrick Rose, but Chris Paul is not electric in that way either.
Rick Jackson, 6-9 senior forward, SyracuseHe's a man. He gets a lot of rebounds, and you know what, he's a hell of a passer. He has had some big games against quality opponents where he catches that thing on the post and gets to the rim for dunks and and-ones. I don't know where he'll be picked, but he will be in our league.
Charles Jenkins, 6-3 senior guard, HofstraI like him because he can score. He's very efficient. You look at his shooting percentages, and you know he's not a pig. He's averaging 23 or 24 points and taking a regular amount of shots. It's almost to a fault because I think his team needs him to be a little more selfish. I don't think he's a first-rounder, but he's going to get some serious interest in the second round.
JaJuan Johnson, 6-10 senior center, PurdueSome people really like him, but I just don't know how he gets his game off. I don't think his post game will transfer, so you're looking at a 6-10 jump shooter who will have a hard time guarding any positions in our league. He strikes me as a combination of Marcus Camby and Hakim Warrick. I'd say he's on the bubble for the first round. I think he makes the league, but he won't get a lot of scratch.
Perry Jones, 6-10 freshman forward, BaylorHe's the most talented kid in the class, but I don't think he's a franchise player. He doesn't have the personality for that. He's more of a blend player. He reminds me of Tim Thomas. He gets you 22 and 11, but you want him to get 36 and 17. If a team has a point guard and wants to pass on Kyrie Irving, I could see him going No. 1. He's so stinking fast it's amazing. You talk to the coaches, they say he wins all the sprints in practice against the guards. One thing you have to wonder about is he never won, not in high school, not in AAU.
Terrence Jones, 6-8 freshman forward, KentuckyHe's a lottery pick. He scores inside and in transition. His shot is low, but if he takes his time he can make shots. He needs to be a little less selfish with the basketball, but he's a talented kid. He's a poor man's Michael Beasley. I'm not sure I trust his shot yet, but man, he competes. People ask, What position is he? I say he's a basketball player.
Cory Joseph, 6-3 freshman guard, TexasHe can get his mid-range shot whenever he wants. He's so comfortable being part of a team. He carries a quiet confidence. He needs to come back to school because with Dogus Balbay back there he's not really playing point guard and he's too small to be a two in our league.
Kris Joseph, 6-7 junior forward, SyracuseHe's an interesting player. His shooting has improved, so I like that. He's just well-rounded. He can pass, he rebounds, he can handle, he can get his own shot. I'd like to see him be a little more assertive at times, but he has a nice ability to get a mid-range shot, and if he gets out in the open floor he's awfully good. The problem for him is there are a lot of wings in this draft.
Brandon Knight, 6-3 freshman guard, KentuckyMature personality, fantastic worker, can really shoot the basketball. Winning matters to him. He's in the first round if he comes out, for sure. People try to compare him to Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans, but he's not at their level. The one thing I will say about him is he's an absolute gym rat. He loves being in the gym and working on his game. He may not be a prototypical point guard, but with his work ethic, size, speed and ability to shoot, you have to take a chance on him.
Kawhi Leonard, 6-7 sophomore forward, San Diego StateThat kid is just a basketball player. The questions are going to be position and jump shot. He's a fantastic rebounder, obviously, with a decent handle. They use him as their backup point guard sometimes. And he's got the biggest damn hands I've ever seen. He makes the ball look like a grapefruit. He could be a Desmond Mason-type guy. The thing about him is they signed him early in high school, he went on to become California player of the year, he had a great freshman season and he has continued to make strides. So this kid has gotten better the last three years.
Travis Leslie, 6-4 junior guard, GeorgiaMan oh man, what an athlete. He plays hard and he's getting better. Shooting is not his thing, but he's a great slasher. I've talked to some scouts who are crazy about him because the game is so wide open in the league. Let him run the lane, throw it up and he'll go get it.
Jon Leuer, 6-10 senior forward, WisconsinHe's more skilled than you think. He can put it on the floor and has a back-to-the-basket game. The main question is, what position does he guard? And is he good enough? He's a little bit like Nick Fazekas. Nick is better than him in a lot of ways, and Nick is not good enough right now. But the two things I like about him are, he really understands how to play and he plays with passion. I'd think he's a second-rounder right now, but I can see him sneaking into the first round because he'll have some good workouts.
Demetri McCamey, 6-3 senior guard, IllinoisI don't think he's good enough. He and Deron Williams aren't even in the same ballpark. He's not that kind of athlete. He should be blowing it out, but he's not. He uses his size and body to get places. It looks to me like he does not get along with Bruce Weber. I don't think he's a natural point guard. When you draft a point guard you want these things to be second nature, but he has had to make himself into a point guard.
Khris Middleton, 6-7 sophomore forward, Texas A&MI like him. He's got a pretty smooth game, like a miniature Kevin Durant. He has to get much stronger to be able to do more things on the floor. He was awful against Texas.
E'Twaun Moore, 6-4 senior guard, PurdueI think someone will take him in the second round. He's small and not very athletic, so that's a bad combination, but the kid has found a way to get it done at a high level. But again, who is he? What does he bring to the table? He can get to the basket at the college level, but he doesn't shoot it great. He reminds me of Reece Gaines, who didn't make it in the league because he had no position. Or Joe Forte from North Carolina. Forte was better than Moore in college, but he didn't make it in the NBA.
Marcus Morris, 6-9 junior forward, KansasHe's their best NBA prospect. He's just so talented offensively. He can step out and shoot it, put it on the floor, and he has a back-to-the-basket game as well. You wish he was a better rebounder, but I think he has made strides.
Markieff Morris, 6-10 junior forward, KansasHis brother is probably better, but the gap is closing. He needs to continue working on the offensive skill part of his game. He does have a true position. He's a four in our league. It depends on your expectations. If you take him at 16, that's cool. If you take him at six, you'll expect too much.
Reeves Nelson, 6-8 sophomore forward, UCLAI tell you what, that kid plays his ass off. His lack of vertical athleticism makes you worry, and he won't have the same strength advantage in our league, but you never discount a kid who plays that hard.
Chandler Parsons, 6-10 senior forward, FloridaHe's good. He's big, he shoots it some, he has just never been really consistent. He gets 18 points one game and the next he's 2-for-7. But we're a league that wants to like him because of his size, and he's a pretty good athlete, better than a lot of people think. I feel like he's starting to get it. I think he can get drafted.
Mason Plumlee, 6-10 sophomore forward, DukeHe struggles playing in traffic. When you run and throw a lob to him, he can go get it, but if you throw it to him on the block he struggles. He's so big and athletic that there's a place for him in our league, maybe as a backup five, but I'd like him to continue to get stronger. He has no business coming out, though, if you ask me. At Duke, if you stick around, you're going to get better.
Jacob Pullen, 6-foot senior guard, Kansas StateI don't think he's good enough. He has a nice stroke, but he's not a point guard, he's small and he's not that good of an athlete. I could see someone picking him up in the second round and saying he was good last year, maybe he's being asked to do too much right now, so we'll go more on what he did last year. He has to be a point guard and he doesn't have natural point-guard instincts.
Josh Selby, 6-2 freshman guard, KansasHe's still out of game shape. You can see him get winded on the sidelines. He seems not to quite have that full explosion at the rim that he had in high school. He's a two-guard, maybe a combo guard. He's pretty good defensively when he commits to it, but he can get awfully lazy and fall asleep. He'd be pretty close to the lottery, maybe in the 10-20 area.
Renardo Sidney, 6-10 sophomore forward, Mississippi StateI have no interest in him. He's a fat kid. The history on him is just not good. If he had no baggage and it was just a weight issue, then he'd probably get more attention. If you're going to have a weight issue plus baggage, you better be Shaquille O'Neal off the charts. Now some other team might say he's talented, we can deal with all this stuff, let's take him. But he's not for me.
Xavier Silas, 6-5 senior guard, Northern IllinoisI went to see him play and he was disappointing. He just didn't make his teammates better at all, and they're not winning. He does a fantastic job of getting into the lane and making plays for himself, but he doesn't make plays for others.
Kyle Singler, 6-8 senior forward, DukeI'm a Singler guy all the way. He's not quite at the level of a Battier where he can be a starter, but he can be a great sixth man in our league. He's going to be a little bit challenged athletically, but he's going to play his tail off and work to defend and get some rebounds. I don't think he goes in the lottery, but he'll definitely go in the first round. He'll start off as a seventh or eighth man, but as he grows and gets a little stronger and gets a feel for the pro game, you can see him sliding up.
Chris Singleton, 6-9 junior forward, Florida StateHe's never going to be a great shooter. To me he's still a four morphing into a three. Great athlete, can really guard, does a lot of blue-collar stuff. If he can be a backup guy on a fast team like Phoenix or Golden State, where they say go guard someone and then run ahead and get some runouts and dunks, then he's a good player.
Nolan Smith, 6-2 senior guard, DukeI like his size, but I don't think he's a point guard. His decision making needs to tighten up, but I like the way he works off the ball, and he absolutely wants to be good. Can he make it as a two guard? That's the question. I'm not sure he has the kind of speed and quickness to be able to attack guys. I think he's proven enough to be drafted and he'll figure it out once he gets up there. I don't know that there are 360 better players than him in the NBA right now.
Jared Sullinger, 6-9 freshman forward, Ohio StateI love him. He's like Elton Brand but he's a better basketball player. If he's not No. 1, he's not lasting past the top three. He'll get his shot blocked just like Kevin Love did, but his shooting percentage already accounts for that. He's comfortable with both hands and he makes free throws. He just has a great feel for the game, and you can tell winning is important to him. My concern is that he doesn't have a lot of upside, he's a finished product. And he's not a great athlete, so he has a ceiling.
Jeffery Taylor, 6-7 junior forward, VanderbiltHe could sneak his way into the middle of the first round. He's got a nice package. He's quiet, doesn't cause a ruckus, but I don't mind that. Some people say they want more emotion, but I don't think a kid has to be a thug to not be soft.
Isaiah Thomas, 5-9 junior guard, WashingtonI like his moxie. He really competes. He's a guy you don't want to count out, but obviously his size is a deterrent. The best thing that happened to him was Abdul Gaddy going down with an injury, which means Isaiah has to run the show. I know he's short, but his body is strong, so he can take a hit and finish.
Trey Thompkins, 6-9 junior forward, GeorgiaA little soft, but very skilled for his size. He's an NBA player for sure. He'll be a good pick-and-pop player. You might even be able to drag him to the three-point line one day because his stroke is pretty good. I think he'll struggle defensively against the better athletes, but somebody will take him in the first round. He can get you 10 or 12 points off the bench, and there's a lot of value in that.
Klay Thompson, 6-6 junior guard, Washington StateTerrific shooter. Moves well without the ball, very smart, high basketball IQ. If you put him out there with some better players and they have to double team somebody, you can swing it to him and he'll knock it down. He has to work on his handle and get a little stronger so he can finish, but he has some deep, deep range. He's definitely an NBA player.
Tristan Thompson, 6-8 freshman forward, TexasJeez, he plays his ass off. Just competes, runs the floor hard every play, gets early post position. Offensively his skill is still developing. He's physical, too. He and the Morris twins really battled. He took it right to them physically. You're not going to throw him the ball in the post and have him go to work like Zach Randolph, but he'll do a lot of blue-collar stuff. I don't know if he's going to leave, but someone would take him in the first round because of his upside.
Kemba Walker, 6-1 junior guard, UConnI think he'll get his feelings hurt up here. He's a big-time competitor, but he's not the feel player these guys are up here in the NBA. He can be like a Jose Juan Barea. Just let him play pick-and-roll at the top. It's just hard to score in the NBA when you're little. I like the fact that he has matured because to be honest with you, I hated him last year. He made so many plays and it was all about him, but he has really gotten better with that. In draft rooms there will be a lot of discussions between him, Fredette and Brandon Knight.
Maalik Wayns, 6-2 sophomore guard, VillanovaI love his court demeanor. For a point guard, I think he has a real grasp of the game. He's tough, he can shoot the ball. He's not the athlete Kyle Lowry is, but he's still pretty good.
Derrick Williams, 6-8 sophomore forward, ArizonaHe's not a great athlete, but he's physical, he has a high basketball IQ, and he's a winner. He's a little undersized, but he's pretty effective and his numbers are crazy. I love his patience. He's a four-three combo at the next level. What he's really developed this year is his outside shot. I question his motor a little, but he's definitely a lottery pick.
Jordan Williams, 6-10 sophomore forward, MarylandHe gets a double-double every night. He's a rebounder, he's tough, he can score it. If he could make a free throw he'd be putting up bigger numbers and getting more notice. The question with him is the athleticism -- he's a below-the-rim finisher. You wonder if there's a chance of development where he could step out and make a jumper. His free-throw shooting makes you wonder, but there's a place in our league for that kind of guy.
Tyler Zeller, 7-foot junior center, North CarolinaWhat does he do? He can't play in traffic, can't rebound in a crowd. You can pick-and-pop him because he can shoot it and he runs OK, but I don't see him as an impact player. He's not as strong as Michael Doleac, and he's not as good as Brad Miller. But he shoots it from 15 feet pretty easy, so maybe that's something people will bring up.
(Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Texas (2)2. Ohio State (1)3. Kansas (3)4. Pitt (4)5. Duke (5)6. Notre Dame (7)7. Villanova (6)8. BYU (8)9. San Diego State (9)10. Georgetown (10)11. Wisconsin (14)12. Florida (12)13. Purdue (16)14. Louisville (17)15. Vanderbilt (20)16. Connecticut (11)17. Arizona (21)18. Missouri (15)19. Syracuse (18)20. North Carolina (22)21. Kentucky (13)22. Saint Mary's (23)23. Utah State (19)24. Texas A&M (25)25. St. John's (NR)
Dropped out: Wichita State (24)
This is the least that I've had to alter my ballot in quite some time, but it's also the first time in a while that I have made a change at the top. There is a very strong case to be made that Ohio State should still be ranked No. 1, despite the loss at Wisconsin. I have to admit I went with Texas partly out of a desire to shake things up a little. But the main reason is I believe Texas is playing the best basketball right now by a smidge. That doesn't mean the Longhorns are the best team or will win the NCAA title, but right now they're playing the best.
By the time you read this, the AP poll will have been released, but I would guess in advance that each of my top four teams will garner some first-place votes. You could certainly make a strong case for any of them. At any rate, they are solidifying their chances at a No. 1 seed, and that is far more important than being ranked No. 1.
I'm probably ranking Villanova too high after their two losses last week. Yes, the Wildcats lost to Rutgers, but it was on the road and was decided by a freak four-point play. And yes, they lost to Pitt at home, but the Panthers were ranked higher, and 'Nova had to play the game without Corey Stokes. (Then again, Pitt was playing without Ashton Gibbs, so that was a wash.) If Villanova loses at either DePaul or Seton Hall, I'll make sure to lay the hammer on 'em next week.
I got several questions on Twitter this weekend asking if I was going to drop Kentucky from my rankings. You have to rank them behind Vanderbilt, but dropping them out would be too harsh. I seem to have a higher opinion of Kentucky than most people. Everyone harps on their road woes, but every one of Kentucky's SEC road losses have been close. (Three of the five came down to the final possession.) I don't know if this team will ever get over the hump, but it's darn close.
I don't know if my fellow voters are going to be as forgiving as I am of Utah State, which lost its first WAC game of the season at Idaho last Wednesday. Maybe it's just because of my soft spot for Wild Bill, but I did not want to drop the Aggies for committing the crime of losing one conference road game. They still have just three losses all season, and they pass my eye test. I'll keep ranking them until they lose again, but that may not happen until the NCAA tournament.
I thought about dropping out Texas A&M, but I figured that wouldn't be right after the Aggies won two road games last week -- in overtime at Colorado, and by three points at Texas Tech. That left Wichita State as my only dropout of the week thanks to its loss to Southern Illinois. It came down to Xavier and St. John's for that last spot, but when I compared their resumes it wasn't as close as I anticipated. St. John's has five wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI, including three ranked in my top ten -- Duke, Notre Dame and Georgetown. Plus, St. John's won on Sunday at Cincinnati, where Xavier got blitzed by 20 on January 6.