Kentucky's Davis atop 2012 NBA Draft board

It’s NCAA tournament time, which is just as important around the NBA for its pools and trash talking by the real pros of that sport. But it’s business for league executives, who have been fanning out for weeks at conference tournaments and league games and later this week to find the next great — or not so — NBA talents. So let’s take an early look at how the pros see the 2012 NBA Draft.

Generally, the draft is regarded similar to last season’s as it doesn’t feature major impact players in the lottery, but is deep with potential rotation players all the way through the end of the first round.

  1. Anthony Davis, center/power forward, Kentucky. He’s generally agreed to be the consensus top pick. He’s some combination of Chris Bosh, Marcus Camby and JaVale McGee, skilled and athletic.
  2. Andre Drummond, power forward/center, Connecticut. Big center more the Greg Oden size — healthier, we’d hope — though raw and more years away from contributing than Davis.
  3. Thomas Robinson, small forward, Kansas. Player who’s developed considerably with versatility and commitment.
  4. Harrison Barnes, small forward, North Carolina. This is how far Luol Deng has come. Now top picks are compared with him. A smart, good shooting, long forward.
  5. Jared Sullinger, power forward, Ohio State. Doesn’t impress you with athletic gifts as he plays below the rim. But he makes plays and is a worker.
  6. Perry Jones, small forward, Baylor. Scouts bring up the so called “motor” issue of not always competing, but he is a terrific talent who’ll impress someone in workouts.
  7. Jeremy Lamb, shooting guard, Connecticut. A smooth, top shooting guard and that putting the ball in the basket thing becomes important. He can do it with Reggie Miller comparisons.
  8. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, small forward, Kentucky. Not a good shooter, but a lockdown defender and hard worker whom the pros love as your Gerald Wallace type.
  9. Tyler Zeller, power forward/center, North Carolina. Versatile if not physical big man who has good feel for the game.
  10. Bradley Beal, shooting guard, Florida. A little small for the position, though considered sort of an Eric Gordon type, which has become popular.
  11. Austin Rivers, shooting guard, Duke. Compared to, well, Doc Rivers. A kid who’s grown up around the game with a bold attitude and good size.
  12. Meyers Leonard, center, Illinois. Reasonably athletic big man who is considered something of a project but perhaps too much size to pass.
  13. Terrence Ross, shooting guard, Washington. Not being considered high yet because his team missed the tournament, but good size and athletic.
  14. Terrence Jones, small forward, Kentucky. An issue with his shot, but create, and a Scottie Pippen type wingspan to make plays.
  15. John Henson, power forward, North Carolina. Thin, active big man in a sort of poor man’s Anthony Davis.
  16. Kendall Marshall, point guard, North Carolina. More a passing point in the old school sort, which means not the explosiveness of the top guards of today. But classy passing and ballhandling without much offense.
  17. Arnett Moultrie, power forward, Mississippi State. Agile big man whose talents can take him higher though with questions about previous transfers of schools.
  18. Moe Harkless, small forward, St. Johns. Versatile guy who can be a Trevor Ariza type.
  19. Marquis Teague, point guard, Washington. Quick slasher and penetrator who is a bit more shot first.
  20. Deron Lamb, shooting guard, Kentucky. A little on the small side for his position, but a shot maker who knows the game and can make plays.
  21. Damian Lillard, point guard, Weber State. More of a shooting point who is aggressive and a leader.
  22. Tony Wroten, point guard, Washington. Very quick and aggressive in being likened to Tyreke Evans as a lefty who could be a sleeper.
  23. Dion Waiters, shooting guard, Syracuse. More the classic combo guard who can do a bit of both and would be an ideal NBA reserve.
  24. Tony Mitchell, small forward, North Texas State. One of those upside gambles with athletic gifts and versatility but not strong hold on the game.
  25. John Jenkins, shooting guard, Vanderbilt. Excellent outside shooter and worker who is just an OK athlete.
  26. William Buford, shooting guard, Ohio State. Good shooting senior who is an average ballhandler, though exposive.
  27. Mason Plumlee, power forward, Duke. Good size, though gets pushed around some. An improving offensive player with a good shot.
  28. Cody Zeller, power forward/center, Indiana. Developing big man who shows promise as a physical player and is active.
  29. Kris Joseph, small forward, Syracuse. Athletic swing man who is more hustle than skill.
  30. Quincy Miller, small forward, Baylor. Coming back from injury the Chicago native is clever creating shots and getting to the basket.

Thursday’s trade deadline could be a quiet one

-- So are there going to be any major trades this week? Most league executives think not for two reasons: The difficulty in figuring what the Magic want to do with Dwight Howard, whose move could open up or limit other deals. For example, do you want to trade Pau Gasol or Monta Ellis if you think you can get Howard? There’s also the home run effect, that the teams with the likes of Gasol, Rajon Rondo and Ellis are looking for major scores with whom they consider elite players. The Trail Blazers in a bad slump are said to be active in trying to make moves as rumors persist coach Nate McMillan has run his course there. Jamal Crawford, Marcus Camby, Gerald Wallace and Ray Felton all mentioned. With Paul Silas having his son coach the team a game last week there’s been speculation North Carolinian McMillan could be headed there, though it seems unlikely the Bobcats are close to being good enough to pay a high salaried coach.

Could Duke’s Collins fit in at Illinois?

-- This is a big time for NBA players as the rooting for their schools in the NCAA tournament gets intense. The players follow their schools quite a bit, and though there aren’t any Bulls players from the University of Illinois, the coaching vacancy got some attention as talk came up among Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Derrick Rose about Chris Collins, the Duke assistant from Chicago’s north suburbs whose name has been mentioned for the Illinois job. All know Collins from Duke and Boozer’s and Rose’s associations with USA Basketball, where Collins assisted Mike Krzyzewski. Boozer said Collins would be an excellent choice for Illinois because Collins is in the unique position of having worked closely with NBA players, knowing the NBA game as a result, and being able to talk to and work with recruits about what it takes to get into and be in the NBA, which few college coaches can do.

“Chris obviously comes from a great basketball mind,” said Boozer. “His father is a phenomenal coach. He’s been around basketball his whole life. He’s been exposed to great basketball his whole life. He was a great player in high school and college, played in championship games — he has been there — and was around the NBA his whole life. He learned from maybe the greatest coach in college ever next to John Wooden. He coached us in the Olympics in ’08 and in the World Championships.

“The experience I had in Turkey with USA Basketball and with Chris, he was great,” said Derrick Rose. “He’s a hands on type of coach who really can help you, someone who really knows the game and can teach, And he really can relate to players. I loved his energy. And you can see when you watch the Duke games that he loves the games. I think he’s a winner by heart.”

“He’s ready for a coaching job,” said Boozer “He learned from great coaches in Coach K and his father and been around great coaches. I hope he gets the (Illinois) job. Chris, you shouldn’t forget, was a player at the highest level at Duke. So he knows what players go through. He knows how to run a practice, what it takes to win and being around the pros in the Olympics he saw how hard the pros work and what it takes to be great. He’ll see a kid and can say, ‘You have to work harder than that. I worked with Kobe Bryant and he works harder than that, Derrick Rose, he works harder than that.’

“We talk to Chris all the time,” said Boozer. “He knows the NBA guys. He has ties to a lot of pros. I don’t know if there’s another guy out there for that job who has his pedigree, his experience, who’s been through what he’s been through. I don’t know who else is going for the job. But Chris Collins would be great. Plus, in recruiting who has better connections than a guy like that? The bottom line is you have to get players. He can do that.”

Looking back at the 2010 NBA Draft

-- Almost two years later, the 2010 draft led by John Wall isn’t looking very good. Maybe you’d still take Wall No. 1, though he’s still shown himself mostly to be a track star with decent numbers on a bad team of which he seems to have no effect. Paul George, No. 10 with Indiana, may be having the most effect, though subtle. DeMarcus Cousins, Ekpe Udoh just lately and Greg Monroe start for losing teams. Cousins has been wildly erratic while Monroe is solid, if unspectacular. That makes six starters from the first round, and a recent one, mostly overlooked until now, seems to be rising to the top. It’s seemingly forgotten No. 2 pick Evan Turner, who had 24 points and 15 rebounds in Sunday’s win over the sliding Knicks. Turner had been having trouble finding his way into games with the 76ers having so many perimeter ballhandlers as Turner tends to play like Brandon Roy and likes the ball in his hands. The 76ers were going with shooter Jodie Meeks. But coach Doug Collins decided to go with multiple playmakers and Turner is averaging 22 points and 13 rebounds the last three games. Said Collins: "Evan is a great leader. He needs the ball in his hands. When he has the ball in his hands, he's a totally different player. Evan's a point guard. The big thing about it is that we have to play an extended period of time with him and Dre (Iguodala) out there together and that's what I'm locked into. Unless there's an injury, I'm going to finish the year with those two guys playing together." ... One of the great delights always was talking with Kevin McHale, the sarcastic version of Charles Barkley. I remember Bill Walton once telling me about his first day with the Celtics. Walton was making this unlikely and amazing comeback, a counterculture opposite of the conservative Celtics’ stars. So the players are together at a meeting after practice and McHale looks at Walton and says, “OK, Bill. So did you have Patty Heart in your basement?” For those not old enough, there was a wild urban legend story circulating on the 70’s version of the Internet (lots of bad gossip) that Walton was hiding radicals. It was the classic McHale ice breaker and Walton was immediately a part of the family. So it was interesting and to the point to hear McHale telling the Boston Herald about getting old in the NBA, the constant question around Boston these days. Said McHale: “Look, getting old in the NBA is not for the meek or the mild. It sucks because your mind is as sharp as it’s ever been. Sometimes you just can’t do some of the things you could. I think they’re (Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce) playing better than we did. I think at this point in our careers we were all beaten down and had injuries and had a lot of other stuff going on, which is hard to deal with. But, look, it happens to everybody. It’s just part of the game. It depends if you’re delusional or honest (about retiring). If you’re honest with yourself, you wake up in the middle of the night and go, ‘Yeah, I suck.’ You know? But some people can’t do that. There were nights when you went out there and you played your best and, like, ‘That’s all I got?’ I never appreciated enough guys who just ground themselves to (the) nub and got little accomplished until I became one of those guys. When you’re really rolling and stuff, playing NBA basketball, if you can really play, it’s fun. It’s not hard. It’s fun. The competition’s fun. Playing hard’s fun. If you go out and play hard, good things happen. But it’s like if you grew two heads and everybody’s afraid to tell you. At some point you might look in a mirror and go, ‘I got two heads.’ You know? If you put on the false bravado and go, ‘No, I’m the same.’ You’re just not the same. That’s just the way it goes.”

Craze formerly known as Linsanity visits Chicago

-- The Bulls get their look Monday at the former Linsanity, Jeremy Lin, who is now not as bad as they are saying in New York where they have declared “Linsanity over” and that he just saved February. He probably is in the bottom half of starting NBA point guards. And there’s talk already it’s like Denver with Tim Tebow that they need someone of higher skill than the fan favorite. Wow, that was fast! I thought the view of Brandon Jennings when the Bucks beat the Knicks last week was more accurate: "I don't know about the whole 'Linsanity' thing. He's a good point guard in a great system, if I could put it like that. He should be able to get numbers, should be able to get assists with Amar’e, with Melo, Landry Fields, J.R. Smith and all those guys. If any point guard goes there, they all should be able to get numbers. But, I mean, he's a good player." He’s probably exhausted. He shoots a bit too much and you should put him in the pick and roll because he doesn’t try much to get through. But he’s good in a pick and roll offensively, though his dribble isn’t great. The Knicks’ issues are larger as you bring in characters like Baron Davis and J.R. Smith and you are asking for trouble. They play way too much isolation. Amar’e Stoudemire is playing more a ground game these days, raising questions about his knees, and Carmelo Anthony is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Both sat Sunday when the Knicks finally made a late run and never got back in the game. Even on the team broadcast, Walt Frazier said this has happened before but “inexplicably the coach brings back Melo and Amar’e and the Knicks lose momentum.” Mike D’Antoni didn’t Sunday and the Knicks lost, anyway. It couldn’t be more obvious the biggest deal this week with the Thursday trading deadline is Anthony and Tyson Chandler for Dwight Howard. Orlando surely would do it in a second and Howard running the pick and roll with Stoudemire and shooters like Steve Novak would really make the Knicks a serious threat. Of course, it’s too obvious for the Knicks to do. ... Pouting on the bench, meanwhile, is now so common among Knicks players they practice during walkthroughs. ... The Magic, by the way, don’t want Andrew Bynum because he’s a year away from free agency and they’d have to go through this all over again ... As for J.R. Smith, who isn’t these days sending out public messages and pictures of naked women?

NBA news and notes

-- One of the rumors making the rounds on the Internet this weekend was the Cavs and Warriors saving cap room for Omer Asik. I like Omer, but saving large cap room? That’s difficult to believe. He’s a restricted free agent, anyway, which means the Bulls can match an offer. Some suggest given that you should trade Asik. But if it even were true you couldn’t get much for someone leaving. But you never get scared into making a move and Saturday’s win over Utah continued to show Asik’s value for a playoff run. ... In the four games in March before Sunday, Roy Hibbert was shooting 6 for 27 (and he doesn’t shoot beyond a foot, basically) and averaging six points in about 32 minutes per game. He had 10 points but two rebounds in Sunday’s loss to the Magic. The league wants its All-Star ring back. ... The NBA eliminated division tiebreakers this season because of the uneven schedule. But it still won’t be perfect because teams are playing opponents a different number of times. But with the Heat up 1-0 on the Bulls in the season series, Wednesday’s game obviously looms large with two more between the teams home and home in April. Said Shane Battier to the Ft. Lauderdale Sun: "At this point of the year, you start looking at tiebreakers. That's a big issue when it comes to the playoffs, and so obviously you want to win the season series against the teams you may play in the playoffs. Those games will be hotly contested, I promise you that." ... He gets criticized for passing them up, but LeBron James made a big three with 10 seconds left to force overtime against the Pacers Saturday. Yes, Dwyane Wade hit the winner in overtime, but James should get a break for now.

-- How about that supposed set of grievances for Josh Smith wanting to be traded, that the team didn’t promote him well enough for the All-Star team and he was blamed too much by media and fans for playoffs losses. How could you not want to build around that guy? Smith is a free agent after next season, though I have to admit I’ve never heard fans boo when a guy just lined up to shoot. Even Chris Dudley. ... The Orlando Sentinel newspaper lists a daily “Dwight watch” and “Countdown to trade” clock. ... The Suns, 12th in the West, are just two and a half games and one loss behind the slumping defending champion Mavs ... Though he’s not as spectacular as Blake Griffin and not with the post game of LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love gave both lessons last week with 29 and 16 beating Portland and 39 and 17 beating the Clippers. It’s obviously tough losing the entertaining Ricky Rubio for the season, but Luke Ridnour and Love run a great pick and pop and J.J. Berea will get more time. They’re among eight teams within about four games of one another for the last four playoff spots in the West. ... The ‘wolves had just complained to the league before Rubio’s serious injury that teams were going after Rubio. But his injury was a fluke, actually, when he put himself in bad position trying unrealistically to draw a charge 20 feet from the basket.

-- One of the great statistics is Nick Young without an assist until his fifth game after the All-Star break when he had six assists. Then zero in the next game. ... The Bucks and Cavaliers now are just a game behind the Knicks for the last playoff spot in the East with two games left against each. The battle for eighth! ... My mistake for your mistake. The Wizards and Bobcats just have to make Tyrus Thomas for Andray Blatche. Would the Warriors take Blatche for Andris Biedrins? ... It looks like Mike Brown finally has found an offensive coordinator: Kobe Bryant. Bryant apparently drew up the final play to Andrew Bynum in the Lakers Sunday win over Boston. It came at the conclusion of a contentious week for the Lakers in which Bryant pointed out how the Thunder coaching staff knew how to get its best players good shots and it was leaked to media that players wanted to return to Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. Brown is in his sixth year now of coaching LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, the two greatest players of this era, and getting farther from a title. Maybe there was something to Phil Jackson other than coaching the best players. Imagine what Jackson might have done with two All-Star centers.

-- The Clippers are under .500 since Chauncey Billups was injured. ... It’s been a brutal season for Caron Butler as he’s failed to score in double digits in seven of the last 10 games with four with two points or fewer. It’s gotten so bad 10-day contract Bobby Simmons was finishing some games for him. His scoring average is second lowest of his career as he’s in the first season of a $24 million deal that the Bulls passed on last summer. ... The Cavs’ Kyrie Irving leads the league in fourth quarter scoring followed by Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose. ... It’s difficult to rank all the bad moves the Magic has made, but the least noticed might be the trade of Marcin Gortat, who basically has saved the Suns from all their bad moves. Gortat is averaging a double/double and 19.1 points and 12.2 rebounds the last 10 games. His three 20/15 games this season is the most in a season by a Suns player since Amar'e Stoudemire in 2006-07. And you’d rather have him now than Stoudemire. Yes, the Magic got Hedo Turkoglu back but mostly made the deal to dump Vince Carter’s salary. By the way, the Magic has the fifth best record in the NBA and the teams on Howard’s trade list have the sixth, 12th and his main choice, the Nets, the 26th best record. Yes, he is about winning ... There’s an Internet story floating around saying the Magic would like to talk about trading Howard for Bulls players but aren’t since Howard won’t consent to play for the Bulls. My favorite part was a comment from a reader at the bottom of the story that reads as follows: “I could have made this article much shorter and to the point: ‘Dwight Howard won't sign a long-term deal with Chicago, so any fantasy trades suggested by so-called insiders are absolutely irrelevant to any conversation whatsoever.’"