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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.

Steve Kerr stays positive, keeps perspective with new Warriors' challenge

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USA TODAY

Steve Kerr stays positive, keeps perspective with new Warriors' challenge

Kevin Durant chose to leave for the Nets in free agency. Klay Thompson faced rehabilitation after tearing his left ACL during Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Yes, Steve Kerr knew this Warriors season would be different.

But nobody knew that Steph Curry would break his left hand and be sidelined until likely after the All-Star break at the earliest. Nobody knew D’Angelo Russell, the Warriors’ prized offseason acquisition, would miss nine games with a sprained right thumb.

But just as he kept perspective and an even keel throughout the Warriors’ dynasty, which produced three championships and five straight trips to the NBA Finals, the ever-grounded Kerr is doing the same with a team that lugs a league-worst 4-19 mark into Friday’s meeting with the Bulls.

“I’m enjoying coaching the young guys and going through the details of what they need to learn and helping them develop,” Kerr said in an interview following Thursday’s practice at University of Illinois Chicago. “I basically survived my whole career. I was never really in a position where I felt like, ‘OK, I’ve made it.’ From year to year, it was just survival. So I can relate to a lot of these young guys and I can relate a lot of experiences to them. That’s a satisfying process when you see them do well.”

That said, Kerr is a competitor. There’s a broken clipboard and some bloody towels from last Wednesday’s home victory over the Bulls to prove it.

So the teaching element may be rewarding. The losing?

“It sucks. It sucks,” Kerr said, repeating himself for emphasis. “We’re 1-8 in close games. That’s part of having a young team, learning how to close games. That part of it is a struggle.

“You want your players to feel rewarded when they play well. We had a stretch of two weeks where we played well every night and we had one win to show for it. And that was Chicago. It’s frustrating to walk in the locker room and see guys with their heads down because you know how hard they’re working and how much they want it.”

Kerr experienced a dynasty as a player with the Bulls and as a coach with the Warriors. Invariably throughout last season, he’d remind anyone willing to listen to savor how special those times are.

Does he think people listened?

“No,” he said, laughing. “It’s human nature to think we’re going to win it again and we’re going to keep going forever. Life changes quickly.

“I talked not only to the media and our fans but to our team. Last year there were several times when I said, ‘This is going to be our best chance to win a championship.’ We’ve got an incredible opportunity that may never come up again. That’s something that’s important for everybody to realize---fans, management, players. It is lightning in a bottle. You can do everything perfectly and you still may not get to where you think you might be.”

The Warriors’ dynasty may be over. But with Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green still under contract, an attractive young piece in Russell and a huge trade exception from the Andre Iguodala deal, the Warriors are solidly positioned for the future.

And if this season produces a lottery pick, well, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Until then, Kerr keeps coaching and teaching. Thursday’s film session and practice stretched to the 2 1/2-hour mark.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys. Draymond has been fantastic, basically helping coach the team and talking guys through different situations. They’ve been thrown in the fire every day. It’s not easy. But they’re doing a good job,” Kerr said. “We have to figure it out as a staff: How much do you throw at them? Too much information sometimes can be a bad thing. And so we have to find the balance. We also can’t not give them the information that they need. It’s just maybe doing it sequentially and maybe finding the right order and plugging holes as you go.

“The NBA game is so different. These days, players come in at such a young age. There’s just an awful lot of fundamental stuff you have to break down on a daily basis as a young team. That’s the biggest difference for us as a staff between having a young team and having vets. It’s a different daily routine for sure.”

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With attendance waning, Bulls focused on 'making their own energy'

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USA TODAY

With attendance waning, Bulls focused on 'making their own energy'

Last night, the Bulls announced 15,017 fans in attendance for the team's 106-99 victory over the Grizzlies. That figure is more than 4,000 people below their season-average of — after last night — 19,099 fans per contest.

That scarcity was eminent and didn't go unnoticed, especially by players on the court.

"I was telling us in pregame, we're gonna have to bring our own energy today," Zach LaVine said after Thursday afternoon practice. "We got out on that 10-0 run, I was really excited about that, but it was uh, it was a scarce crowd, it was a little quiet in there. But we made our own energy but sometimes that's just what you have to do."

After 11 home games, the Bulls are fourth in the NBA in total attendance (210,090) and sixth in average attendance — both fine marks by the standards of most, but underwhelming for a major-market franchise with their illustrious history. The real kicker: The team is tied for 22nd in the league in percent capacity (91.3) with the Indiana Pacers. Just ahead of that No. 22 slot are the 5-17 Atlanta Hawks, just behind the Phoenix Suns.

Per ESPN's NBA Attendance Report, the Bulls have not finished a regular season outside the top three in total attendance or average attendance since the 2002-03 season. Before last year, they ranked first in both nine seasons in a row. They were also top two in percent capacity for eight straight years before finishing 17th last season. As mentioned, their ranking in that category has dipped even further this year. 

The 2019-20 Bulls currently own a 4-7 home record. Last night was only the Bulls' tenth home victory of the Jim Boylen era, which spans back to Dec. 3, 2018. No one is naiive to the impact those types of results can have. 

"We haven't been a winning basketball team the last couple years, so you know, it makes sense," LaVine said. "Once you start winning that the crowd gets back into it and gets more lively. I understand that, I understand professional sports. So we don't take it personally."

From shootaround to gametime in advance of the Grizzlies game, Boylen stressed the importance of the Bulls getting on a roll on their home floor. According to Boylen, momentum in that respect has to come by way of fast starts, and that came to fruition last night. The Bulls jumped out to a 13-2 lead early in the game and led by as many as 22 in the first half, holding the Grizzlies to 0-for-15 3-point shooting while hitting 8-for-18, themselves. Those numbers stabilizied as the game wore on, but in the locker room afterwards, LaVine was adamant that the team's energy wasn't the issue.

In fact, Boylen and his players seem to have taken ownership of sparking themselves. 

"I want our guys to play hard and compete, and we have to bring our own energy, and we have to play with physicality and effort and all those types of things," Boylen said. He added: "We have the best fans in the league."

They'll have another chance to begin re-establishing a homecourt advantage Friday night agaisnt the lowly Warriors. For the time being, the team's focus is on controlling the things they can control: Results. The rest will come later.

"Obviously you wanna win. We're not going out there to win for, you know, to get more attention, we're going out to win to try to make the playoffs," LaVine said. "So, you know, I think the crowd will come, and they'll get behind you."

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