Hi all. The Sweet 16 sure sneaked up fast. Very excited about the matchups this weekend and, as an aside, how good has this tournament been so far? It may not be the strongest draft in NBA history but there’s obviously a lot of parity in college basketball this year, and that’s made for a lot of quality tournament games. And the Sweet 16 appears poised to be even better. As such, I’ve got three featured matchups this round instead of two. So, without further ado, here are the games/matchups that I think the Knicks ought to be watching today and tomorrow (as always, links are to DraftExpress):
Today, Purdue/Connecticut: As far as scouting the NBA draft is concerned, tomorrow offers a better slate of games than tonight does. As I’ve mentioned in this space before, I have a hard time getting too excited about Tyreke Evans, and I’m not a big Gerald Henderson guy either. (Does Henderson remind anyone else of a smoother, better shooting Shandon Anderson? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but here’s hoping the Knicks don’t spend their lottery pick on a shinier version of Shandon Anderson.)
The one game I see that offers a potentially intriguing matchup is the big man battle between Purdue and UConn. I think everyone knows Hasheem Thabeet so I won’t spend time breaking him down, but tonight, he’s facing off against Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, a 6’10, but rail-thin, 4/5 with a skill set that brings to mind Rasheed Wallace. Johnson has some decent post moves and he has a really nice touch out to 18 feet on a tough-to-block jumper he releases from high above his head. He’s also a very good shot-blocker. But he is painfully thin and, if Thabeet is truly worthy of his lofty Top 5 status, you would think he should absolutely abuse Johnson tonight on the blocks. If he can’t (or just doesn’t) push Johnson around to get pretty much whatever he wants, people should worry.
And that’s not to assail Johnson as a prospect. He has really nice talent (though he may be a year away) but Thabeet should be an impossible matchup for him. We’ll find out if he is.
Tomorrow, Syracuse/Oklahoma: Of course, everyone knows Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin and we’ve already broken down Willie Warren pretty extensively in a prior post. Tomorrow night, we’ll get to see how Griffin fares against Syracuse’s pretty effective 2-3 zone that’s sure to try to pack it in tight and force Griffin’s teammates to win the game. That’s where Warren comes in. In the second round against Michigan (tear), Griffin could not be stopped. Warren recognized that, stepped back, and allowed his teammate to carry the Sooners to victory (while chipping in very nicely). Tomorrow night, if Syracuse executes its game plan, Warren’s going to have to get much more aggressive and make some big plays against Syracuse’s excellent backcourt.
Syracuse boasts Jonny Flynn, a PG I like more and more each time I see him. I don’t think he has other worldly court vision and instincts and he’s a little bit undersized. But Flynn sees the floor pretty well, makes good decisions, controls the pace of play, has a sick handle and he’s a great athlete and strong as an ox. He may not be Chris Paul, but he is unquestionably a PG and a born leader. This is a tough matchup for Syracuse as, on paper, they really don’t have anyone on the roster that can check Griffin. If the Orange win this game, Flynn’s likely to be the main reason why, and this game alone could give his draft stock a nice boost.
Gonzaga/North Carolina: This game features some players that draftniks have been touting for quite a while: Tarheels Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson and Austin Daye of Gonzaga. But tomorrow, I’ll be focusing more on a couple of guards that have stepped it up in recent weeks: Wayne Ellington and Matt Bouldin.
Ellington has been around for a while and has developed a reputation as a pretty one dimensional, but lights out shooter. Lately, though, he’s become much more varied in his scoring seeking to compliment his jump-shooting with a more aggressive game off the bounce. Some have believed that Ellington had this within him for a quite a while, but for whatever reason, it took him until his junior year to show it. North Carolina wings do have some history of entering the NBA draft as underrated prospects (see Carter, Vince and Jordan, Air) and I’m interested to see if Ellington is another example of a 2 guard at UNC who’s talent has perhaps been obscured by some of his more widely-acclaimed teammates (though he’s nowhere near the player those guys were).
Gonzaga’s Bouldin is a 6’5 G who can do a lot of things. He has the handle and court vision to run point very effectively and he’s also a pretty lethal shooter from all over the court (50% FG, 44% 3FG). He’s had a terrific year for the Bulldogs (finally emerging as the kind of threat they expected him to be when he arrived 3 years ago) and he’s also been strong in the tournament thus far. This draft boasts a lot of multi-talented guards that could be good fits with the Knicks should they acquire an extra pick later on the first round and Bouldin is another example of that.
Also, speaking of nice wings with varied skill sets, if you’ve never seen him, keep an eye on Manhasset’s own Danny Green. I profiled him here a while back and remain high on him. He’s Carolina’s glue and I think Green will be able reprise that role at the next level.