Everybody Into The Pool
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SECAUCUS, N.J., March 12, 2007 – Welcome to perhaps the most unproductive week the American workforce turns in each year. It’s enough to make Henry Ford roll over in his grave.

We here at NBA.com will be joining you on Thursday and Friday, television sets dialed to CBS and burning up the company broadband, but the small difference is we’ll actually call it work and won’t have the boss cracking down on us – well, too much. Just like many team executives, we will be taking the opportunity to get a closer look at a number of future NBAers, players we may have seen a handful of times, if at all, this college hoops season.

Those NBA hopefuls dotting all 64 rosters may have a solid body of work to show for a number of years in college, yet it’s amazing what a strong run in March, when scouts and executives are watching, can do for a prospect’s draft stock. Lead your team into April and you’re all but guaranteed a handshake with Commissioner David Stern on Draft night. Bow out in the first round and you could have work to do at the Portsmouth Invitational, Chicago Pre-Draft Camp or individual workouts.

By now you likely know the names of those few young stars that are locks for a lottery pick should they declare for the NBA Draft. So, too, you know which prospects you should be watching. (You don’t? Here are some. Here are more.)

But just how much impact can a strong showing really have on draft position? One needs only look at the draft board in recent years.

Two years ago, the North Carolina Tarheels made their annual pilgrimage to the NCAA tournament and, fueled by five future NBA players, gave Coach Roy Williams his first-ever national championship.

Three short months later, four of those players – Marvin Williams (No. 2), Raymond Felton (No. 5), Sean May (No. 13) and Rashad McCants (No. 14) were all selected in the first round. The only other time as many players were tabbed in Round 1 was in 1999, when Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, Corey Maggette and William Avery were all top 14 selections. The Blue Devils, like their ACC rival Tarheels, had advanced to the National Championship game, but fell short of Richard Hamilton and his Connecticut Huskies.

A day later, Sports Illustrated’s Marty Burns, grading the 2005 Draft, wrote, “Four lottery picks out of UNC? No wonder the Tar Heels won the national title.”

Here we have a matter of which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did the Tarheels win the national title because they had four lottery-caliber players? Or were they lottery picks because the world was watching and they played remarkably well on the big stage?

Burns may have answered that in the same analysis, questioning whether “May's leadership and savvy carry over to the NBA game” and noting that “McCants is considered something of a head case, but he can shoot the ball.”

Those concerns, alone, my friends, have a way of torpedoing a young man’s stock. A national title – not to mention going 10-11 from the field for 26 points and adding 10 boards, as did May – has a way of easing some of those fears.

A similar situation played out a year earlier, when the Chicago Bulls spent an early pick on UConn’s Ben Gordon with the third overall pick, one spot after the Charlotte Bobcats took Huskies teammate Emeka Okafor. Then a junior, Gordon was hardly an unknown commodity, as his team went wire-to-wire after ranking first in preseason polls. Even though Gordon chipped in 21 points to help lift UConn over Georgia Tech in the championship game, concerns remained.

“He is an undersized scorer who will have to move to point guard at the NBA level,” read one scouting report from the Atlanta Hawks.

Bulls GM John Paxson, however, may have watched Gordon bury Tech early, hitting all three of his first-half three pointers to build a 15-point UConn lead at the break. Gordon finished the contest with only two dimes.

“Ben Gordon is coming off a championship season at the University of Connecticut,” Paxson said on the Bulls’ website after selecting Gordon and Duke’s Luol Deng in the first round in 2004. “He can really shoot the basketball and break people down off the dribble. He’s eventually really going to be able to score in the NBA.”

Eventually came sooner than later, as Gordon poured in 15.1 points per game off the bench for the Bulls in his rookie year and currently leads the team in that department, averaging 21.5 points per night.

Gordon and the UNC four are just a few examples of players who ascended the draft ranks in part because of strong late tourney showings, but a number of players will find themselves in a similar situation with solid play in the earlier rounds.

Last year, UCLA’s Jordan Farmar gained exposure vs. Florida in the national title game, but scouts may have determined him first-round material as early as the Sweet 16, when he helped the Bruins rally from as many as 17 points down and zipped the game-winning pass to defeat Adam Morrison and the Gonzaga Bulldogs. On Draft night, the Lakers selected Farmar with the 26th overall pick.

Taken long before Farmar were players who also made a splash in the tournament but whose teams fell short of the national title game.

As a sophomore at Texas, LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 15.0 points and 9.2 rebounds in 37 games. In the NCAA tournament, Aldridge guided the Longhorns to the Elite Eight, where they lost to LSU. In four tournament games, he totaled 59 points, 41 boards and nine blocks – including a 26-point, 13-board outing in a win over West Virginia. It’s conceivable to believe that performance, along with the all-important “upside” of the young player, contributed to him being selected second overall in 2006 by the Chicago Bulls, who then traded him to the Portland Trail Blazers on Draft night.

Would Aldridge have been selected as high had Texas stumbled in the opening round? We’ll never know, but given he earned third-team NABC All-America honors and AP Honorable Mention All-America honors after his sophomore year it’s reasonable to believe otherwise.

Two picks later, LSU freshman Tyrus Thomas was selected by Portland – and shipped to Chicago – after making a Final Four appearance and claiming the Atlanta Regional’s Most Outstanding Player honors. In an Elite Eight win over Texas, Thomas posted 21 points, 13 boards and three blocks. A round earlier, he hauled in another 13 rebounds and rejected five shots as the Tigers defeated the top-ranked Blue Devils.

Sure, Thomas, as well as Aldridge, Gordon, May, Felton, McCants and Williams, were likely first-rounders – some perhaps even lottery picks – before the tournament even began. But they all no doubt benefited come Draft night simply by turning in some of the best performances of their college careers when the national media attention was trained on them.

So, whose stock will rise when March Madness has come and gone? We can only tune in and watch. Just don’t let the boss catch you.