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Scott Howard-Cooper

Early tournament exits not a big deal for top prospects


Posted Mar 28, 2014 2:38 PM

The teams quickly disappeared from the NCAA tournament, big teams taking one-and-done to a new level and others lasting all the way until the actual weekend of the first weekend.

Jabari Parker jumper
Duke's Jabari Parker

Duke's tournament opener ended in an upset by Mercer, and there went the season, and possibly the Blue Devils career, for Jabari Parker, among the lead pack to be considered for first overall in the June 26 NBA Draft. Another candidate, Andrew Wiggins, exited a round later as Kansas lost to Stanford. Which gave him more postseason experience than a third top contender, Joel Embiid, Wiggins' teammate, who missed both games while recovering from a stress fracture in his back. With both Parker and Wiggins out, the conversation began about how much the non-showings hurt their chances at No. 1.

It was an overreaction. While the losses were bad, there is a line of players who underwhelmed in the tournament and still went first in the Draft. In fact, that's become more common than a prospect turning the tournament into a long victory lap.

In 2013, UNLV and Anthony Bennett lost to California. Bennett made four of 11 shots en route to 15 points and 11 rebounds in 37 minutes. A little more than three months later, he went No. 1 to the Cavaliers.

In 2012, Anthony Davis was a tournament star as Kentucky won the title, but against Kansas' Jeff Withey in the title game, Davis finished with six points, missed nine of his 10 shots and didn't get his first (and only) basket until 5:14 remained. It didn't matter. Davis countered with six blocks and 16 rebounds and became the first pick, Withey the 39th.

Davis could have gone one of 10 all six games and still gone No. 1. He could have taken a nap at the free-throw line in half of them and still gone No. 1. The NBA had the entire regular season to analyze. That's the message. If front offices are going to look hard at Parker's four-of-14 with no assists and four turnovers against unknown Mercer in the round of 64, they're also staring at the 30 points and 11 rebounds against North Carolina, 19 and 10 against Syracuse and 27 and nine against Kansas in Chicago.

Similarly, while the Wiggins farewell to what he long ago said would be the lone season in college was one-of-six shooting and one assist and four turnovers, he made seven of 13 shots against Eastern Kentucky in his first tournament appearance. Two games before, that was nine of 17 for 30 points against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament.

In 2011, Kyrie Irving was the No. 1 pick after totaling six assists in the three Duke tournament games, against five turnovers, and scoring more than 14 points just once. That one game, the 28 in 31 minutes in the Sweet 16 loss to Arizona, was especially meaningful. It proved he finally was recovered from a toe injury that ruined much of his freshman season. Still, that was not a first choice sparkling in the tournament.

In 2010, John Wall had an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 2-1 against Cornell and East Tennessee State, but posted 5-5 against West Virginia and 7-5 against Wake Forest. He shot 50 percent in only two games and still went No. 1.

In 2009, Blake Griffin was pretty Blake Griffin. He crushed all creatures big (North Carolina, Syracuse, Michigan) and small (Morgan State). He would have been No. 1 even with a bad tournament.

History shows the NBA will not bury a top prospect for a bad March. As much as the postseason has extra meaning, with front offices wanting to see how a player handles pressure, the emphasis is clearly on the body of work.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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