July 19, 2007

Same Time, Next Year

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It’s almost August, and many sports fans have stopped caring about the NBA (except me, who rejoiced when the Nets decided not to overpay Mikki Moore). Baseball rules the world right now, NFL training camp is around the corner and David Beckham is about to supplant Kobe Bryant as one of the four people ESPN talks about (along with Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez). That is why this will be my last NBA draft blog and next week I will be back about something else. For this entry, though, I want to point out the key college players for next year’s draft. Like last year, which boasted top-4 picks Greg Oden, Kevin Durant and Mike Conley, Jr., there is another bumper crop of freshmen this season, along with a number of veteran prospects.

Derrick Rose, PG, Memphis – Memphis coach John Calipari must be pumped for the current season, as he returns several players from a team which received a No. 2 seed. Rose is a prolific scorer, similar to Dwayne Wade, and is also a lock-down defender. He currently plays point guard, is an excellent passer and really knows how to run a team. Whatever NBA team gets him will have to decide whether they want him to stay at the point or move him to shooting guard to take advantage of his scoring prowess. Rose could be the first guard to be selected with the No. 1 pick since Allen Iverson in 1996. If anything, it will give opposing teams a reason to repeatedly play Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” during games.

Michael Beasley, PF, Kansas State – Beasley is a tremendous athlete who has a great post game and likes highlight-reel dunks. The knock on him is his attitude, because like a lot of players coming out of high school, he does not have much discipline and is a little lazy. Beasley was going to be coached by former Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins at Kansas State, but Huggins left for West Virginia. The Wildcats did everything they could to keep Beasley including retaining his former AAU coach as an assistant, just short of scoring him a copy of the seventh Harry Potter book weeks before it came out. Fortunately for Kansas State, Beasley decided to stay. Together with Bill Walker, the Wildcats will be an unexpected force next season. Also, the battle between Rose and Beasley for the No. 1 spot could become as heated as the feud between Eric and Billy Walsh on Entourage.

O.J. Mayo, PG, USC – Mayo was just a small-town kid from West Virginia looking to make it big under the bright lights of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, making it big meant having some strange representative call USC coach Tim Floyd with an edict that Mayo was coming to USC despite the fact that Floyd hadn’t even heavily recruited him. Mayo said that he wanted a place where he could market himself before the NBA, and Los Angeles was perfect. He also wanted to play for a school where he could make history, so UCLA was out. After this story broke, Pardon the Interruption’s Mike Wilbon launched into a hilarious diatribe against Mayo and Floyd, repeatedly saying that Mayo would ask his coach to “mop up [his] sweat.” As for his playing ability, Mayo can definitely score, with a tremendous one-on-one game. The problem is that Mayo doesn’t exactly play a team game and has been accused of being selfish. His game reminds some of Stephon Marbury, so maybe if the Knicks are bad enough this year, we could see Isiah Thomas, James Dolan, Eddy Curry, Walt Frazier, Spike Lee and Whoopi Goldberg’s character from Eddie all come together to mop up Mayo’s sweat.

DeAndre Jordan, C, Texas A&M – Remember this name. Jordan isn’t talked about like Rose, Walker and Mayo, and most people would currently rank him below fellow incoming freshmen Eric Gordon of Indiana and Kevin Love of UCLA. But Jordan is an amazing talent. He is 6-11 and 225 pounds, and is apparently unstoppable with the ball and force on the defensive end. Jordan’s skills are very raw, as he still needs to develop his post game and his jump shot, but he is going to be a tremendous player one day.

Roy Hibbert, C, Georgetown – Hibbert took his time deciding whether to stay in this year’s draft, and his draft status caused more uncertainty than the current “Is Nicole Ritchie pregnant?” debate. Fortunately for Georgetown, even though Jeff Green went pro, Hibbert decided to come back. He certainly has a lot of skill and is battle-tested, matching up well against Oden during the NCAA Tournament. You can’t teach size, and Hibbert has a lot of it, standing 7-2. Most people thought that the traditional impact center was killed sometime shortly after Shaquille O’Neal starred in Kazaam, but with Oden in the league now and Hibbert next year, the center appears to be back.

Chase Budinger, SG/SF, Arizona – Budinger, along with Oden, Conley, Durant and Spencer Hawes, was supposed to be part of the “one and done” freshmen class of last year. While all the others went pro, Budinger decided to stay in school another year and learn under Lute Olson. Budinger had a very solid freshman year, posting good shooting numbers and showing his prowess in the passing game, though his defense has room for improvement. Budinger never took over games the way Durant did, so it is good for him to return to college and be the man at Arizona, which might push him into the top-5 next season.

Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina – Lawson was another impact freshmen last year, but was overshadowed at the point guard position by Conley. Lawson was smart to stay in college another year, but unfortunately, he will not be taken before Mayo and Rose. Lawson had a great rookie season, but was awful during North Carolina’s collapse in the NCAA Tournament to Georgetown. Since that game was fresh in everyone’s memory, his draft stock plummeted. In addition, his jump shot must improve and he is hurt by his 5-11 size.

Darren Collison, PG, UCLA – Point guards in next year’s lottery might become as common as getting attitude from the people who work at Wings Over Ithaca. Collison is one of the best defensive guards in the country and excelled in a starting role last year after backing up former first-round pick Jordan Farmar two years ago. Collison is also a very strong offensive player who is good in transition. With the arrival of freshman Kevin Love, UCLA should be one of the best teams in the country for the third straight year.

There are many other prospects for the 2008 draft, including a number of Europeans, but these eight players are enough to focus on. Next week, I’ll be back talking about something else, but in the meantime, I will rack my brain thinking of reasons why Jessica Biel knows enough about sports to have a 10 percent vote in the second round of ESPN’s Who’s Next.