Here’s a primer for the first round of the NCAA tournament. These aren’t necessarily the games I’d watch if I was just trying to enjoy the tournament, but these are the most interesting games from the standpoint of getting a chance to see college prospects that might interest the Knicks in the upcoming draft in June:
UCLA v. Virginia Commonwealth: This is, in my opinion, by far the most intriguing first round game in the entire tournament. Aside from the fact that it should be an exciting game (VCU could very well take down the Bruins), the game also offers us a chance to see Eric Maynor, a player some consider the best PG in the country, go up against Darren Collison, UCLA’s fine senior PG and Jrue Holiday, a freshman combo G who is the future of UCLA’s program (unless he decides to go pro).
Maynor is a guy the Knicks should definitely have their eye on as he’s a pure point who can score, sees the floor well, and makes great decisions with the basketball. He’s also shown that he plays big on the biggest stages (witness this two minute stretch in the finals of the Colonial league’s 2007 conference tourney and this stirring upset of Duke in the 2007 NCAAs). Opinions really run the gamut on Maynor. As I said earlier, some see him as the best PG in the college game while others see him as a somewhat limited prospect due to his slight frame and just average athleticism. The tournament will likely help to shape a consensus and a good showing against UCLA could give his draft stock a big boost.
Collison is an NBA-ready backup PG. He has a slight frame, he’s not flashy and he doesn’t have the great floor vision to be an elite PG but Collison is a great on-the-ball defender and he knows how to run a team. In this game look for him to put a ton of on-the-ball pressure on Maynor and make him work hard for everything he gets. Holiday has a much bigger upside but has largely tended to defer to his more experienced teammates this season. He’s a great athlete with a refined skill-set but we really won’t get a chance to see what he’s capable of until next season when (and if) he takes over the PG reins. If Holiday has a big tournament it’s possible he could declare but if he goes back to school and has a big year running the show he could work his way into the top 5-10 picks of the 2010 draft.
Arizona St. at Temple: I’d especially urge you to check this game out if you haven’t seen James Harden play yet. Harden is a virtual lock for the top 5 in this year’s draft. It’s his basketball IQ that makes him so fun to watch. He simply refuses to force the issue. If the defense he’s facing is set up to deny him good looks, Harden patiently makes plays for his teammates. If the defense changes up to offer some opportunities, he immediately recognizes and starts looking for his offense. His ability to think the game has led to a lot of Brandon Roy comparisons. He loves to set up on the wing and then attack towards the elbow looking to either get to the rim or create an easy bucket for a teammate. If the defense gives him space, he’s a very capable shooter with NBA 3 point range. Harden’s not a great defender but, as with everything else, he’s very smart at that end of the court. And ASU plays a lot of zone.
Temple sports Dionte Christmas, a senior wing who is, right now, a solid second round prospect. Christmas is a primarily a perimeter shooter in the Michael Redd mold but, like Redd, he can score in a multitude of ways when the 3-ball isn’t falling. He’s is a good athlete and a decent defender. With a good tournament he could catapult himself up into the back end first round. In D’Antoni’s system the Knicks will always need players that can stroke it and if DW can acquire an extra pick in the late first/early second round area, Christmas could make some sense for the Knicks as a guard off the bench who can help space the floor.
Also, keep an eye on ASU’s Jeff Pendergraph. He’s a smart, reasonably athletic big that should find a home in the NBA.