Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The art of relaxation will be a useful exercise on Thursday night, except for Kyrie Irving.
There has been widespread speculation indicating that the Cleveland Cavaliers will make the Duke point guard the top overall selection at the Prudential Center in Newark (You can read more about Irving's collegiate resume and his NBA prospects in Part 1 of this series in the column archive). For everyone else, their guess is as good as mine; meaning a night of success and smiles for some, trepidation and disappointment for others.
In the meantime, NBA Editor John McMullen and I discuss tangible skills and which players will best climb the steep learning curve. For my part, I will look back at what they showed on the collegiate level, while McMullen postulates how those accomplishments and skills equate to the league. We will discuss the second set of six players below, ranging from lottery picks to those rising and others clinging to hope of hearing their name called on draft night.
Kemba Walker (G, Connecticut)
Kemba Walker has amazing speed, along with the quickness and ability to change directions and create separation.
What he showed in the past (Trexler): Bookending eye-opening performances -- first in Maui and then during UConn's run to the NCAA championship -- leave Walker in an advantageous position on draft night. He can flat-out score despite an all-out defensive focus on limiting his touches. Walker excelled off the ball, especially evident after watching tape of his torrid scoring exhibition at the Maui Invitational. He took breathers by working off the ball for the majority of the shot clock, only to receive it in scoring position late in possessions. He scored 90 points in 99 total minutes in Maui, starting off his final campaign with a major-league statement. He then showed his court vision and rebounding prowess late in the NCAA Tournament, tossing in seven assists with 18 points in the national semifinal against Kentucky and grabbing nine rebounds in the championship game against Butler.
What he can show in the future (McMullen): Walker isn't a true point, but the game is changing and he certainly proved to be a playmaker at the college level with the mental makeup to take and make big shots, something that should never be undervalued.
Walker has amazing speed, along with the quickness and ability to change directions and create separation. However, his lack of size will certainly hurt on the defensive end in the NBA. A sure-fire top-10 pick thanks to his NCAA tourney run.
Jimmer Fredette (G/F, BYU)
What he showed in the past (Trexler): The legend of Jimmer Fredette was born from his uncanny ability to put the ball in the basket. Fredette showcased some variety to his offensive skill set as a senior, becoming more comfortable attacking the rim and using his body to shield defenders at the hoop. He also developed a more reliable jump shot off the bounce, which is an advantageous trait for nearly every successful scorer at the next level. His 49 percent shooting percentage on two-point field goals was even more impressive if you watched tape, considering almost every shot was closely guarded and he faced several gimmicky defenses aimed at slowing him down. He also shot just under 40 percent from long range, all adding up to a 28.9 scoring average in just under 36 minutes. His broad shoulders provide leverage under the rim, and his legs are strong, as he rarely tired from playing just less than 36 minutes a game for the Cougars last season.
What he can show in the future (McMullen): Fredette is a tremendous pure shooter that understands the game and takes what the defense gives him. He's also a better ball-handler than most marksmen, which elevates his chances of becoming more than a one-dimensional player at the NBA level.
Defense will be a problem and he looks to be a tweener there, unable to stand up to the quickness of most NBA point guards while lacking the strength and athleticism to check big time players on the wing.
Jordan Hamilton (F, Texas)
What he showed in the past (Trexler): Skilled but at times disinterested is the perfect way to sum up Hamilton's time in Austin. His peripheral numbers (18.6 points per game, 48 percent shooting inside the arc, 38.5 from beyond the three-point line, 7.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per contest) point at an all-around game that should translate to the next level, but Hamilton disappeared at the end of games and, after watching tape, seemed to float around the perimeter if he wasn't involved in the early offensive action.
What he can show in the future (McMullen): Hamilton is a solid wing player that is probably a little undervalued after a spotty career at Texas. Unlike most young players, he can score in a variety of ways and excels on the block against smaller opponents. His mechanics on the jumper are also solid and his range projects to the NBA three-point line, making Hamilton a high-ceiling offensive prospect.
On the other hand, Hamilton has been criticized for taking bad shots and lacks good feet on defense, making his lateral quickness a rather large concern to most scouts.
Isaiah Thomas (G, Washington)
What he showed in the past (Trexler): Thomas is skilled in transition and would fit well in an NBA offense with wing players who like to get out and run. He led a Washington offense ranked 14th in tempo, according to kenpom.com and he made good decisions on the break, with 6.1 assists per game. Yet, at times he was careless with the dribble and did commit nearly three turnovers per game last season, most coming without much ball pressure. His small stature led to a 44.5 percent field goal percentage lowered by his failure to convert consistently around the rim. He liked to play into contact and got to the charity stripe at a high level, but truth be told, he will not receive the quick whistles in the NBA that he benefitted from in the Pac-10.
What he can show in the future (McMullen): Thomas was named after the former Indiana and NBA All-Star Isiah Thomas when his father, James, lost a friendly wager on a Lakers vs. Pistons playoff game in 1989. That, and his diminutive size, are about all this Isaiah has in common with the real article.
Thomas measured 5-8 3/4 without shoes at the recent NBA combine, making him one of the most undersized prospects in recent history. He will need to play the point at the NBA level and was able to show some solid instincts and vision when taking over the lead guard duties from Abdul Gaddy at Washington.
His best attribute is speed and the ability to beat people off the dribble, but he is an unreliable shooter and his size poses some rather obvious problems at the defensive end. He could be a nice change of pace commodity for 10-or-15 minutes at the next level, but his ceiling as a player probably takes him off the board as a draftable commodity.
Scotty Hopson (G, Tennessee)
What he showed in the past (Trexler): Hopson was at his best in the open floor, when his smooth, yet deceptive quickness allowed him to elevate above and slip past defenders. He played in space more times than not during Tennessee's 7-0 start last season, but teams started to force the Vols into the half-court, and Hopson's numbers slid with the team's overall offensive metrics. He wasn't offensively polished, didn't always make the most prudent decisions and his intensity varied from game-to-game, sometimes possession-to- possession, which was the case with many of the Vols during a roller coaster season. Despite his faults, Hopson did score, averaging 22.4 points per 40 minutes, up from 16.9 as a sophomore. His determination to attack the rim led to plusses and minuses last season. He got to the free throw line at the highest level of his collegiate career, yet also averaged just under three turnovers per game, losing the basketball during almost one-fourth of his used possessions last season.
What he can show in the future (McMullen): Hopson has some outstanding physical tools for an NBA wing player and has flashed a nice skill set at times, but he is a rather raw player that lacks polish, consistency and has a number of scouts questioning his basketball IQ. In fact, a number of his interviews with NBA general managers have hurt his case.
That said, Hopson is an NBA caliber athlete with the length personnel people crave on the perimeter these days. All he has to do is convince one team that he will reinvest himself at the defensive end, and he will be drafted.
Keith Benson (F, Oakland)
What he showed in the past (Trexler): Don't let the collegiate uniform fool you. Benson played plenty of stout competition last season, as Oakland loaded up on West Virginia, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, Tennessee, Michigan and Ohio State during the non-conference schedule as well as a first-round NCAA Tournament game against Texas, in which Benson scored 15 points with 11 rebounds and three blocks against the likes of Gary Johnson and Tristan Thompson. Benson needs to play smarter at the next level, as he sat with foul trouble during several showcase games against faster and stronger interior players. He averaged a double-double as a senior (17.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game) and was an above-average shot blocker (3.6 per contest).
What he can show in the future (McMullen): A very slight "center," Benson is a solid athlete with a monstrous 7-foot-2 wingspan. At 215 to 220 pounds, strength will be a major problem at the NBA level. Pedestrian big men, never mind a monster like Dwight Howard, will push around Benson. A true project, Benson will get his name called in the second round, but will likely need two or three years of work in the weight room before he would be anything more than an end of the bench option for any NBA club.
Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out
Your Hoops Bracket." Click HERE to purchase the Kindle version...and stay tuned on
an updated hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State
Football: An Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the
Nittany Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.