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Scouting the NCAA Tournament: Point Guards

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Scouting the NCAA Tournament: Point Guards

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
11:37 AM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

The first two rounds of this year's NCAA Tournament certainly haven't lacked for excitement. There have been shocking first-round upsets such as Ohio over Georgetown and Murray State's buzzer-beating win over Vanderbilt and other opening-round thrillers like BYU outlasting Florida in double overtime and Old Dominion beating Notre Dame in one extra session. Fans also witnessed second-round shockers (Northern Iowa taking down top-seed Kansas and St. Mary's topping Villanova) as well as down-to-the-wire finishes such as Purdue triumphing over Texas A&M and Michigan State and Michigan State nipping Maryland at the buzzer over the weekend. And of course Cinderella stories like Cornell joining aforementioned Northern Iowa and St. Mary's in advancing to the upcoming Sweet 16 are also hot topics around the water cooler, in barbershops and everywhere else this week.

Ardent observers and casual fans alike were captivated by the annually exciting conclusion of the college basketball campaign known as the NCAA Tournament, or more accurately, March Madness. Joining them -- often live at one of the tournament venues -- were legions of NBA executives and scouts, looking for hidden gems and underrated prospects to help their professional franchises next season.

In reality, these pro personnel types have been watching college players all season, but scouting takes on more of a sense of urgency with the various conference tournaments that have taken place over the past few weeks. Now, with the Big Dance under way and higher stakes for its participants seeking to distinguish themselves enough to play basketball at the sport's highest level, NBA scouts -- but especially executives who may have not seen these collegians develop over the course of the season -- occasionally fall in love with a player based on his performance on the big stage rather than his entire body of work.

Still, some organizations -- such as the Bulls in recent years, for better or worse -- evaluate talent with a greater emphasis on team needs and how a player potentially fits into their system. Of course some players. Derrick Rose for instance, are deemed can't-miss future superstars and that notion sometimes extends throughout the consensus top-five or 10 picks and even the whole draft lottery.

For those who don't watch much college hoops until this time of the year, a handful of players have elevated themselves above the crowd and are tabbed as no-brainer selections for teams in the early part of the lottery this June, depending on what positions they need to fill. Explosive Kentucky freshman point guard John Wall is considered the consensus top pick and is expected to have an immediate Rose-like impact as a rookie, but his teammate and fellow first-year Wildcat, DeMarcus Cousins -- a 6-foot-10 beast on the low block -- has impressed with his unique abilities that have garnered Chris Webber comparisons, while 6-foot-7 Ohio State junior Evan Turner -- a Chicago-area native and a rival of Rose during his days at St. Joseph High School in suburban Westchester -- is the likely national player of the year and appears to be somewhat of a Brandon Roy-type, with his multi-positional versatility and polished, mature all-around game.

Behind that trio, smooth and athletic Syracuse junior swingman Wesley Johnson, workmanlike Kansas junior center Cole Aldrich, raw but intriguing 6-foot-9 Georgia Tech freshman Derrick Favors, versatile Wake Forest 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Al-Farouq Aminu, developing North Carolina 6-foot-9 sophomore Ed Davis, talented 6-foot-10 Georgetown junior Greg Monroe and another Kentucky star, 6-foot-8 junior banger Patrick Patterson, are all considered likely lottery picks.

Of that group, only Davis -- who suffered a season-ending injury midway through the defending champions Tarheels shockingly disappointing season (one could argue it would have been less disappointing had Davis stayed healthy) -- played on a team that didn't qualify for the tournament and Turner, Johnson and the trio of Kentucky stars are still playing. That's not a coincidence.

While nothing is written in stone about the aforementioned players -- their performances in the tournament, as well as the entire process leading up to the draft (workouts, interviews, etc.) also will have an impact -- it's the players drafted after the top prospects where things get tricky. For a team like the Bulls, who probably won't have the opportunity to draft a Wall (not that they need another point guard) or any of the other big names, but still would like to bring in an impact rookie to go along with the current group and additions of potential free agents, finding a player that fits a specific niche to pair with its current nucleus.

A scout for an Eastern Conference team discussed with CSNChicago.com on Tuesday some of the players likely to be drafted after the aforementioned top-tier prospects, as well as some of the areas the Bulls could seek to improve through the draft. The source cautioned that nothing is set in stone and players' stocks could drastically fluctuate between now and June. But through his evaluations, he has narrowed down wide-open pool of collegiate talent to a group he and his organization are paying closer attention to.

First, Chicago's status for the upcoming draft. The Bulls have a first-round pick, but Milwaukee -- through the John Salmons trade -- has the right to swap picks with Chicago, granted it's not a top-10 selection, which is unlikely even with the team's current losing streak. The Bucks probably won't have a much lower pick themselves, but with the Bulls not having a second-round pick this year due to trading for the rights of Turkish big man Omer Asik (who is reportedly having a strong season in Europe) in the 2008 draft, it will be an important selection. At the same time, NBA teams treat draft choices like candy, often dealing away both current and future picks for salary-cap purposes or trade value, so don't be surprised if Chicago ends up with no draft picks or multiple selections.

With that out of the way, let's move on to the current crop of pro prospects. A scouting report of each player would be entirely too time-consuming, but a brief positional breakdown of the talent just below the aforementioned elite prospects, especially as fans reflect upon what they've already seen and continue to watch as the tournament progresses. It must be noted that even though more and more players will declare for the NBA Draft as their seasons end, there's no guarantee that any underclassmen will put his name into the pool, let alone "test the waters" (declare for the draft, but retain their college eligibility by not hiring an agent). Still, whether they choose to stay in college or go pro, only players who are likely to be selected in the draft will be discussed.
Point Guard

Overview: Wall's backcourt mate at Kentucky, fellow freshman Eric Bledsoe, a 6-foot-1 speedster, may be the next best prospect at the position, despite having to play off the ball this season. While some observers seem to think he will stay in college another season to benefit from being out of Wall's shadow and take over primary ballhandling duties, others believe he will turn pro, as his stock is still high. Two Chicago natives, Kansas' Sherron Collins and California's Jerome Randle, are also under consideration, although possibly as second-round picks. While they are similar in height (in the 5-foot-9 range), Collins has a higher profile and a more pro-ready body than Randle, as well as a national championship on his resume. However, there are concerns about Collins weight -- which has fluctuated throughout his college career -- in addition to his ability to explode past and finish over players in the NBA, as the source believes his game might not translate as well to the next level. The diminutive Randle is more of a true speedster, although his slight frame is major question mark despite his ability to shoot from deep range and create for himself and others.

Villanova's Scottie Reynolds is another player who pro decision-makers have concerns about, as he isn't a true point guard and lacks top-notch athleticism, although his successful four-year Big East stint shows he's a player that rises to the occasion. Others who fit the "combo guard" profile (almost a misnomer in the NBA, as "lead guards" who can make plays with the ball in their hands run the show for a lot of franchises) include juniors Dominique Jones of South Florida and Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney. Both are prolific scorers, but fly a bit under the radar because of their respective teams' relative lack of success. Delaney is seen as more of a shooter, while Jones is a tough, athletic slasher.

BYU's Jimmer Fredette is an especially hot name these days as fans now know him for his tournament heroics, but NBA scouts have been hot on his tail for the duration of the season. A big-time shooter, scorer and playmaker, some worry about his lack of explosiveness and lateral quickness. Similar to Fredette -- although he's 6-foot-5 and a senior (Fredette is a junior and likely to at least test the waters) -- is fiery Maryland leader Greivis Vasquez, somewhat of a polarizing figure during his ACC tenure. Simply a clutch player whose had to do it all for his team, Vasquez also lacks great burst, but -- according to the source -- with his "transferable" size, versatility and overall skills, it's not hard to see him being valuable to a pro team, as long as he's in the right system. Gonzaga's Matt Bouldin also fits that bill to a degree, as he's a big lead guard -- at 6-foot-5, with a powerful frame. And while he isn't a blow-by type, he's extremely fundamentally sound, shoots it well, rebounds, distributes at a high level and overpowers smaller guards. Two sophomores with similar games and frames -- UCLA's Malcolm Lee and Memphis' Elliot Williams -- are long and athletic 6-foot-5 guards that are in need of polish and strength, but are highly regarded due to their long-term potential.

Scout's take: "Overall, that position is relatively pretty weak compared to recent years. It's pretty much John Wall and beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Potential lottery picks: Wall and Bledsoe

Bulls fit: Fredette

If Fredette indeed declares for the draft -- early indications are the junior will at least test the waters -- and slips to the second round (not an unlikely scenario, depending on how he performs in workouts), he may intrigue the Bulls with his toughness, long-range shooting and ability to create off the dribble, despite concerns about his defense and true point-guard skills on the NBA level. None of those factors should come into play with the Bulls, as he'd likely be off the ball, paired with Derrick Rose or Kirk Hinrich as a spot-up shooter type. Maryland's Vasquez may also earn a look.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls

Over the past several weeks, the Bulls have been heavily rumored to be selecting Boise State small forward Chandler Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although the 6-foot-7 Hutchison had a stellar four-year career with the Broncos, and was regarded as a top-100 national prospect coming out of high school, his background is relatively unknown compared to many of his first-round counterparts. Not many recruiting gurus watched Hutchison in-depth in high school. The same could be said about draft analysts watching Hutchison's career unfold at Boise State.

Part of the reason Hutchison has flown under the radar for so long, despite being a first-round talent, is his unique basketball upbringing. Many elite high school players opt to transfer to big-time basketball schools while playing in high-exposure shoe-company leagues during the spring and summer. Instead of the normal path, Hutchison chose to stick with the people that he trusted.

Playing for a small, independent grassroots program in high school known as Team Eastbay, Hutchison started showing special gifts as a sophomore in before blossoming into a top-100 national prospect towards the end of high school. Hutchison's trainer and coach with Team Eastbay, Perry Webster, saw that Chandler had the ability to be a big-time player.

"I walked into the gym and saw this 15-year-old kind of gangly kid. And he just moved different than anybody else. I thought he had a chance to be a pretty good player," Webster said of Hutchison.

As Hutchison developed more of a reputation in the Southern California basketball scene, becoming a starter at Mission Viejo High School his junior season, he started to draw more attention from local and national recruiting analysts — including former ESPN recruiting insider Joel Francisco, Scout.com's Josh Gershon and SoCal recruiting analyst Devin Ugland.

"You saw during his junior year that he was a legitimate Division I prospect. During the spring he started blossoming," Francisco said. "He had the ball skills and the prototypical length and things like that. And he was finishing plays. He had a good IQ for the game. It was a matter of strength and he had to fill out to become a more complete player."

By the end of summer going into his senior season, Hutchison had established himself as a potential Pac-12 recruit, as schools like Oregon and USC started to show heavy interest. But it was mid-major programs like Boise State, Saint Mary's and UC-Irvine who had long been involved in Hutchison's recruitment.

Knowing that Hutchison was a unique wing with a high IQ and passing skills, Webster, a former Division I player at Cal State Fullerton himself, advised that his star player take a close look at the programs that would put him in position to succeed right away.

"Every AAU program in Southern California was trying to get him for their team. Free ride this, free shoes. The kid stayed really loyal to me. I was very hard on him," Webster said. "I demanded a lot of him. I screamed at him, I yelled at him. And he looked me in the eye and took it. I realized, this kid is pretty special because he's not running away from what he is. He knows what his limitations are. That's not something he's afraid to address.

"Not everybody was sold on him. Joel [Francisco] was. Joel was one of the proponents of him. But being that he burst on the scene late, and that he didn't play for the big shoe companies, we kind of came to the decision that we wouldn't be so enamored by the Pac-12. He realized he had ability but he still had a long way to go." 

Hutchison eventually decided to sign his National Letter of Intent with Boise State before his senior season started as assistant coach Jeff Linder acted as his lead recruiter. Even though his collegiate future had been decided, Hutchison continued to evolve into a major prospect during senior year as he flourished at Mission Viejo.

Even with his strong senior season, skepticism remained about Hutchison since he hadn't played with and against many of the major names in Southern California. Ranked as the No. 83 overall prospect in ESPN's final Class of 2014 national recruiting rankings, Hutchison was viewed as the seventh best player in his own state. While Francisco pushed for Hutchison to be ranked in the top 50, he had to settle for him being a back-end top-100 talent.

"They're like, hey, he's going to Boise State, he's not on a major shoe company team. How good can he be? But if he can play, he can play. It doesn't matter if he's not on the adidas circuit, he's not in the EYBL," Francisco said.

Francisco wasn't the only major recruiting analyst to take notice of Hutchison's play. Rivals.com's Eric Bossi also labeled Hutchison as a potential breakout player at Boise State. Hutchison was even placed in the Rivals national recruiting rankings, ending up at No. 98 overall, after his senior season. Bossi was on vacation with his family during spring break and he happened to see Hutchison play during his senior season. But Hutchison's strong effort, along with some research, convinced Bossi that he was worthy of a top-100 ranking, even with only one serious viewing. 

"I decided to go watch some regional California high school playoff stuff. And it just so happened to be that Chandler's high school team was one of the teams I was seeing," Bossi said. "I knew he was on the team and committed to Boise State. But then when I watched him play I was like, 'Holy cow, what an incredible get for Boise State. Like, this dude's legit.' He had great size for a wing. He could handle the ball, he could really pass and I thought he could defend multiple positions at the next level when it was all said and done. I thought he was a versatile, well-skilled, well-rounded basketball player. So, based on that, I thought he was top-100. I wish I had seen him more."

Even as a former top-100 national prospect, it took some time for Hutchison to gain traction at Boise State as he didn't put up big numbers during his first two seasons. Although Hutchison played plenty of minutes and started a healthy amount of games, he often took a back seat to talented all-conference players like Anthony Drmic and James Webb III.

When those players eventually moved on from the Broncos, Hutchison was given his chance to shine, as his ascension into all-conference player and future first-round pick came with an intense work ethic that continually developed during workouts in college.

Hutchison also became a consistent three-point threat — something he had been lacking during his development — as he became a hot name in the 2018 NBA Draft despite his unorthodox basketball background.

"He's always been competitive. I think the big thing is reps. And it still will be as he continues to play in the league," Webster said. "He wasn't a bad shooter in high school, but I think the big adjustment for him getting to college, it's hard to put up good percentages in college. I think some of it is mental. But I think he's a good shooter and I think that he'll prove that." 

It's hard to predict if the Bulls will end up with Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick on Thursday night — especially given all of the chaos that can occur on draft night. But if Hutchison does end up in Chicago, he won't be fazed by having to prove himself after already doing so at the high school and college level.

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