You can’t not enjoy March Madness. Games all day long. Upsets. Bracketology. Skipping classes to see Indiana State and Oakland. Considering yourself an expert on Belmont because you watched their conference championship for about eight minutes. It doesn’t eclipse the NBA playoffs for me as far as enjoyment, but it definitely has it’s share of Shining Moments. Take away brackets and polls, and the main reason why I watch the field is to find the future pros, the guys who’ll be All-Stars down the road, the different makers, the next Taj Gibson, the next Jared Jeffries (more fun than you might realize). March will reveal sleepers who turn out to be busts. It’ll reveal nobodies who get their first glimpse of the big time. Frauds will emerge. Stars will develop.
This year, that aspect should be better than ever… or at least ever since players started skipping college for the NBA. While last year’s draft was an exercise in “Why should I care?” this year’s is loaded. It’s going to have big men, post-up players, athletes, point guards, wing scorers – it’s going to be littered with difference-makers. But as we’ve come to see with much of the NBA, even the most talented need to find the right situation to prosper.
With college basketball tipping off, and tonight being the first real Big Monday of the season, here are my top 10 college prospects and where I hope they end up.
10. Austin Rivers
At this point with a kid who’s been hyped non-stop for the past two years, I think I have a pretty good idea of what Rivers will become in the NBA: a two guard who will excel offensively for a team that needs a player with his cockiness (I say that in a good way) and ball skills. He may not ever develop into an All-Star, but I’m almost positive he’ll be averaging 16-18 points a night pretty soon.
BEST FIT: Toronto
The Raptors have a few decent offensive backcourt parts, and I think DeMar DeRozan is developing into one of the more overlooked young players in the game. But they don’t have a single guard who can create shots off the dribble. Jose Calderon is a conventional lead guard. Leandro Barbosa isn’t a player you can go to consistently with the shot clock running down. And DeRozan is much more comfortable playing 17 feet and in. They need someone like Rivers (They could also use a point guard like Marquis Teague, who will probably prove at Kentucky this season that he’s Rivers’ equal).
9. Quincy Miller
I’ve been so up and down on Miller’s potential. Sometimes I can’t help but be intrigued by his feel for the game. But often he doesn’t look like a top 10 prospect, and can get lost in the shuffle. He’s had his issues with injuries and people questioning his brash attitude. Now, Miller’s come out of it all to play on basically an NBA pre-draft team in Baylor, where everyone there seems to be in the same situation: young, raw athletes looking to find their way into the lottery.
BEST FIT: Phoenix
Remember the last versatile wingman who could play inside and out, and had a really weird looking shot? Steve Nash helped turn him into one of the best players in the world. Miller isn’t the athlete the Matrix was, but he can handle and finish. Defensively, there’s no comparison. But the Suns could use a younger wing player. Miller wants to be great. He wants to learn. He says he’s spending this whole year in Baylor working to improve his J. If Grant Hill is still in Phoenix by next year, I can’t help think of a better tutor for this kid.
8. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
At the start of his junior year at St. Patrick’s, Kidd-Gilchrist was being called the best player in the country, regardless of class. I saw him play Findlay Prep that season when the two teams were ranked No. 1 and 2. It might’ve been the best high school game all season and pitted four future pros against each other: MKG, Kyrie Irving, Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson. I came away thinking there was a limit to MKG’s potential that would probably keep him from ever being an All-Star. At the same time, he had the look of someone who would one day become a third option/defensive stopper on a championship contender.
BEST FIT: Sacramento
The Kings have kings in Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. Jimmer Fredette is going to need shots as well. Offensively, Sacramento has incredible individual talent. It’s young, but it’s there. Kidd-Gilchrist competes harder than anyone else on this list. He’ll be happy scoring five points or 20, and I think he’s smart enough to fit in wherever he goes. Out in California’s capital, he’d endure himself to teammates and fans for doing everything Evans and Cousins don’t.
7. Perry Jones
What hasn’t already been said about Jones? Everyone knows his potential. Put together his best highlights and you think he’ll be a future No. 1 pick and an All-Star many times over. But I’m a firm believer that you can’t teach hunger. Dirk Nowitzki. Kobe Bryant. Paul Pierce. Tim Duncan. Dwyane Wade. Those are some of the names of the recent stars who’ve led their team to titles. Have we ever questioned their work ethic? Their attitude towards being the best? Their will to win and dominate? Jones will make it in the NBA simply off his tools. But I don’t think he’ll ever reach what he could be.
BEST FIT: Milwaukee
Could he last under Scott Skiles? The coach is a hard-nosed guy, but he’s gotten the most out of his players everywhere he’s been. In Chicago, he was respected by nearly everyone because he was fair (the Bucks have had much of the same). With a team that desperately needs Jones’ athleticism and versatility, and with a coach that won’t take crap, I think it would work here.
6. James McAdoo
The first player to come along who actually reminds me a little of Josh Smith. He’s not starting in Carolina and actually only played nine minutes in their last game. But that’s not really his fault playing behind people like John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes. He’ll be a workout wonder next spring.
BEST FIT: Golden State
McAdoo is a phenomenal run-and-jump athlete, fluid in his movements and finishes. There’s no better place than to throw him in Golden State – even with Mark Jackson there, I can’t see them slowing down… they never slow down – who could use another athlete on the wing. Of course, a true big man would be what they really need. But McAdoo would have no trouble adjusting to second (or third) fiddle status. He’s already doing it this year for UNC.