2017 NBA Draft

UCLA's Lonzo Ball heads deep class of point guard prospects in Draft

David Aldridge's 2017 Big Board: Point Guards

Talk about Fake News.

It’s a dangerous term to throw around, but you’re going to be hearing a lot of things that may not necessarily be true in the coming weeks when it comes to the NBA Draft. We merely are offering a public service — don’t believe every mock draft you read or see. It is not in many people’s best interests — agents, GMs, teams — to be honest right now, lest the player they want fall into someone else’s hands. So people pump up guys they don’t think they can play, and stay quiet about the people they really like.

Yet we want to prepare everyone, including ourselves, as best we can for the June Draft, which should be one of the deepest and most versatile in years. If ever a talent-deprived team needed to have a pick, or picks, this is the year. There has rarely been a year with as many point guards — our first group — available, or so many different kinds of scoring wings, which we’ll get to in the coming weeks.

So we begin our annual deep dive with point guards.

It’s an odd time to be a college or international playmaker. If there’s one position that the NBA is full of, it’s dynamic point guards. There are so many, who play the position so differently, yet so well — James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Isaiah Thomas, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic and on and on and on. Yet teams are always looking for the next great one, because a great point guard can turn around a team’s fortunes so quickly.

Yet the decisions will be fascinating.

What if the Boston Celtics, who will have the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick this year, wind up with the top spot? They already have an All-Star point guard in Thomas … could they pass up the elite talent available? What if the Philadelphia 76ers, which will receive the better of the two picks between itself and the Sacramento Kings due to a 2015 trade, somehow gets the first pick again — a year after the 76ers got the first pick and used it on point guard Ben Simmons? What if the Los Angeles Lakers get the first pick? They used the second pick of the 2015 Draft on point guard D’Angelo Russell. Under new management — and in need of an incandescent star — would the Russell experiment just … end?

ICYMI, here are the other evaluations:

Shooting guards

Small forwards

Power forwards


And so you can mark your calendars, the NBA’s Draft Lottery is on May 16.

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A note on the rankings:

This is not a predictor of when these players will be taken. These rankings, based on discussions with dozens of NBA and college coaches, and NBA college scouts and team executives, address the question of how ready players are to play the position which they are assigned: In other words, if there was a game tonight, who would play better at that position tonight, not in three years.

We include underclassmen that are expected to declare for the Draft, or are at least thinking strongly about it. No one who hasn’t thought about declaring is going to be swayed by seeing his name on a Draft board. So we include everyone.

Players are listed at the position at which NBA people believe they’ll play as pros.

For example: when I originally did the small forward Big Board, I thought that Syracuse forward Tyler Lydon was more likely to play the three in the pros. But most scouts and team execs with whom I’ve subsequently spoken have strongly said they believe that Lydon will, at least for now, have to play more power forward than small forward. So I took him off of the small forward Big Board (with everyone originally behind him moving up a spot, and Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu moving into the number 10 spot) and put Lydon on the power forward Big Board.

Players who declare for the Draft have until May 24 — 10 days of the end of the NBA Combine, which was from May 9-14 in Chicago — to pull out of the Draft as long as they don’t sign with an agent. This rule was instituted last year to give players more time to make a more informed decision about their potential Draft status after talking with and working out for NBA teams at the Combine.

Again: This is not a mock Draft (though one of those is, sadly, coming). No one has any idea what will happen between now and June 24; we don’t know if there will be a major injury that will impact what a team wants or needs. What follows is a rough consensus of what NBA personnel people, GMs and coaches, and college coaches that I trust — and that, obviously, can’t be quoted by name — believe is the pro potential for this year’s crop of college and international players.

• “Sleepers” are players almost certain to go in the second round, or may go undrafted, but who could nonetheless make a roster or otherwise have an impact on the teams that select them if they overcome perceived shortcomings.

• “Some Scouts Like” will refer to players whose intentions are not yet known for certain, but who are viewed as potentially draftable if they do. Emphasis on “potentially.”

• If a player was not invited to the Combine, his height and weight is his listed one from his school and/or his pro team if he’s an international prospect.

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David Aldridge’s Big Board 2017: Point Guards

Rank | Name | School/Team | Class/Age | HT | WT > Projected

1. Markelle Fultz | Washington | Freshman | 6-4 | 195 > High lottery

2. Lonzo Ball | UCLA | Freshman | 6-6 | 190 > High lottery

3. De’Aaron Fox | Kentucky | Freshman | 6-3 | 170 > High lottery

4. Dennis Smith | NC State | Freshman | 6-3 | 195 > Mid-lottery

5. Frank Ntlikina | Strasbourg Intl | 18 | 6-5 | 190 > Mid/late lottery

6. Monte’ Morris | Iowa State | Senior | 6-2 | 175 > Late first round/Early second round

7. Jawun Evans | Oklahoma State | Sophomore | 5-11 | 185 > Late first round/Early second round

8. Edmond Sumner | Xavier | Sophomore | 6-6 | 186 | Second round

9. Frank Mason III | Kansas | Senior | 6-0 | 188 > Second round

10. Melo Trimble | Maryland | Junior | 6-2 | 195 > Second round

SLEEPERS: Nigel Williams-Goss (JR), 6-3, 195; Marcus Keene (JR), Central Michigan, 5-9, 175; Derrick Walton, 6-1, 190.

SOME SCOUTS LIKE: Isaiah Briscoe (SO), 6-2, 224, Kentucky.

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Ball remains head of the class

In a Draft full of point guard prospects, the top choice is almost unanimous — UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball.

The 6-foot-6 Ball was Pac 12 Freshman of the Year, breaking Gary Payton’s conference record for assists by a freshman while leading the nation in assists (7.6 per game). With fellow freshman T.J. Leaf, Ball led a major turnaround in Westwood this season, with the 31-4 Bruins going back to the Sweet 16 after beating Cincinnati Sunday.

Ball impresses personnel types of all stripes foremost with his court vision and his ability and willingness to pass. At his size, his passing angles are going to be more varied than someone shorter. Because he’s from California, passes the ball willingly and is a light-skinned African-American, the easy comparison is to Jason Kidd. He is not Jason Kidd, at least not yet. Kidd locked grown men up defensively while he was still in high school, and was among the best ever at his age as an athlete, able to change direction, burst and break pressure all by himself.

But, Ball shoots the ball much better (55 percent this season) than Kidd did at a similar stage of his career, even with a funky release on his jumper. Per sports-reference.com, Ball led the Pac-12 in Effective Field Goal percentage (.667) and was sixth in the country.

Ball is not a volume scorer — his season high for points was 24 against Arizona in January. But with his young hand guiding the way, the Bruins won and won and won (other than against the Wildcats, which took two of three from UCLA this year, including in the Pac 12 conference tournament). Winning is Ball’s calling card: his Chino Hills (Calif.) high school team went undefeated (35-0) in winning the state championship and a No. 1 ranking in USA Today last year.

“Just look at his body of work,” a Southwest Division personnel man said. “When he came in they were ready to fire (coach Steve) Alford. It was struggling. This kid comes in with T.J. Leaf and changes the whole dynamic of that team, and the city. He’s a pass-first, push point guard who shoots second type of guy, but he can make shots when he needs to. Guys are gonna want to play with him. He’s smart. He plays with good rhythm. He does stuff that you can’t teach, that coaches can’t teach. Makes plays that guys want to be around him, makes your team better. Gets the ball to guys at the right spot, when they’re ready to shoot.”

Ball’s shot is not how you’d draw it up in a clinic. But it goes in — he shot 41 percent this season on 3-pointers. The form — Ball brings the ball across his body when he’s rising to shoot — will allow teams to guard him a certain way, at least initially.

Scouts think he’s better going left than right, so he’ll no doubt be pushed to his right and have to show he can pull up and make jumpers going that way. But Ball’s speed and his size should more than compensate for that.

“If he was more of a standstill catch and shoot point guard, it might be an issue,” the Southwest Division personnel man said. “But he’s always in transition. He’s always looking at freedom (on the floor). If the shot was good, he’d be perfect.”

A Southeast Division personnel man compared Ball’s shot to that of Jamaal Wilkes’, the Hall of Fame small forward who won three NBA titles (one with the Golden State Warriors, two with the Lakers) after winning two national championships at UCLA.

“Ideally, you like everybody’s form to look great,” a Southeast Division personnel man says. “But (Ball’s) got great confidence in his shot … I’m not going to break it. It limits him a little bit; he’s going to be a big guard bringing it across his face a little bit. But he’s going to have the size advantage, and I’m sure he’ll figure out how to create space for himself.”

Said an Atlantic Division birddog: “Everybody’s critical of his shot, which is the ugliest thing in the world. But he’s an infinitely better shooter than any of those guys were at the same time. They all get better. If he couldn’t shoot it at all, he’d be pretty damned good. Defense is stuff we can teach and develop. He defines himself by hoops, and he’ll get better.”

“The biggest thing is he plays the right way. … He doesn’t care about points. If a play needs to be played, he makes it. He takes that dribble to draw the defense and get the ball to the guys where they can catch it and shoot it.”

University of Portland coach Terry Porter, on Lonzo Ball

Defensively, Ball isn’t a hawk. But at least some of that, scouts believe, can be attributed to the likelihood that he couldn’t afford to get in foul trouble for the Bruins, and had to err on the side of caution when it came to aggressiveness. In the pros, he’ll also get better weakside help if he has trouble staying in front of the Westbrooks and Hardens of the league.

Then, there’s the father.

LaVar Ball is a former player himself (one season at Washington State in 1987), and he’s been unabashed in being the biggest advocate for his three sons. Lonzo Ball’s younger brothers, LaMelo and LiAngelo, played with him in high school, and both have already committed to following him at UCLA — LiAngelo next year and LaMelo in two years. LaMelo scored 92 points in a game this season, surpassing LiAngelo, who’d put up 60 in a game earlier in the season.

LaVar has stepped out publicly, saying that Lonzo Ball is better right now than Curry, who just happens to be a two-time reigning Kia NBA MVP and an NBA champion. He’s said that he expects a $1 billion total commitment from whatever shoe company signs his three sons. He’s said that he would have beaten Michael Jordan one-on-one in his prime — LaVar Ball averaged 2.2 points per game in that one season of college ball he played at Washington State.

(That same year, 1987-88, Jordan led the league in scoring and steals per game – 35.0 ppg and 3.2 spg, respectively – shot 53.5 percent and made his fourth straight All-Star Game.)

But, this isn’t the genteel world of, say, professional tennis, where a tennis dad like Richard Williams caused all kinds of pearl-clutching and couch-fainting two decades ago when he proclaimed his two daughters would revolutionize the game, even though they were black girls from the public courts in Compton rather than white girls from the country clubs and the world of junior tennis tournaments that had fashioned and formed most every other great player.

Except, Richard Williams was right. Two decades later, Serena and Venus Williams are still dominating tennis, with Serena Williams’s 23 Grand Slam singles titles second only to Margaret Court’s 24 on the all-time list. Will LaVar Ball be right about his boys? Time will tell.

But almost no one in the NBA that evaluates players cares what LaVar Ball thinks.

“All the noise with the dad, I said, hopefully, that will shove him back to us,” said an executive of a team that’s likely going to be in the Lottery. “The old man is Don King. Tell me how he’s different from Earl Woods or Serena’s and Venus’s dad. In (Lonzo Ball’s) high school league in Cali … everybody there thinks the kid is solid.”

And in a league where many players have strained relationships with their fathers — or no relationship at all — some personnel types respect that LaVar Ball is, by all accounts, a caring and loving father who is a major influence in his sons’ lives.

That love is not universal.

“I’m not a fan (of the father),” another Pacific Division man said. “He’s putting so much pressure on those kids. He’s such a trainwreck, nobody’s going to be able to look away … but, a lot of these guys don’t have fathers. If he chooses to be present — it’s unique — at least it’s something.”

Scouts believe that for Ball’s skills to have their greatest impact in the pros, a team has to surround him with shooters and someone with low-post skills. If you’re looking for Ball to be a 30-point guy, you’re missing the things that could make him great in the pros. The net-net, though, is that Lonzo Ball is likely to be a superstar in the NBA, even though his is a placid nature personally. There aren’t a lot of teams that need point guards in the point-guard dominant NBA of the present, but for those who do, and who will be picking in the top four or five of the Draft, Ball looks like a keeper.

“The biggest thing is he plays the right way,” said Terry Porter, the former Trail Blazers point guard and former Bucks and Suns coach, who is now coach at the University of Portland. Porter’s team played UCLA early during the non-conference schedule this season.

“Great feel for the game,” said Porter, a two-time NBA All-Star who made two Finals with the Blazers. “He doesn’t care about points. If a play needs to be played, he makes it. Great instincts. He takes that dribble to draw the defense and get the ball to the guys where they can catch it and shoot it. He rebounds well.

“His defense is decent and that’s where he has to have some more growth when he gets to the next level … when I watched him play against us, it was just how easy the game came to him. There wasn’t a facet of the game that he wasn’t in control of.”

Fultz’s game much like Beal’s

That Ball is thought of so highly does not mean scouts don’t really like the University of Washington’s freshman guard, Markelle Fultz.

Coming into the year, Fultz was probably higher on many team’s Draft boards, having finished a sterling career at storied DeMatha High School in suburban Washington, D.C. (full disclosure: the author is also a graduate of DeMatha, the most successful high school in the history of the United States, and will never have anything bad to say about it — One DeMatha, y’all).

But Fultz was not able to lift Washington to the NCAAs, and the Huskies fired coach Lorenzo Romar at the end of the season, the last four games of which Fultz missed with a knee injury.

Fultz did it all for Washington. He was sixth in the country (and first in the Pac 12) in scoring at 23.2 points per game, shooting a robust 41 percent on 3-pointers. The next-highest scoring freshman, Kentucky’s Malik Monk, was 35th. Fultz was tied for 15th nationally (5.9) in assists, and added almost six rebounds a game to boot in earning first-team All-Pac 12 honors. Like Ball, Fultz is also a finalist for the Wooden Award, given annually to college basketball’s best player.

There’s no doubt that Fultz will be a prolific offensive talent in the pros. But at what position?

“He’s got a really good scoring knack. Whereas Bradley [Beal] likes to spot up a little more. I like (Fultz’s) ability to create a little more.”

Western Conference executive, on Markelle Fultz

Several scouts believe that Fultz will be utilized best as a two guard in the NBA. It’s not that Fultz can’t handle the ball and pass, but his skill as a scorer will probably be what gets him on the court faster.

“If I’m looking just guard, and I’m looking at the personalities on my team, I’m going Fultz,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “If I have John Wall (at the point), I’m going Fultz. I think Fultz is Bradley Beal with a little better handle. And I like Bradley Beal.”


“To me, he’s not really a point,” a Western Conference executive said. “He’s a two guard. He’s more like Bradley Beal, no question. But he can score. He can do a little bit more than Bradley. He can put the ball on the floor a little better, he can create. He’s got a really good scoring knack. Whereas Bradley likes to spot up a little more. I like (Fultz’s) ability to create a little more. No matter what, the kid’s going to be successful in our league, because he can score that ball. And he’s a great, great kid.”

Another name comes up in comparison with Fultz, as well.

“He’s more like Dwyane Wade,” a Pacific Division scout says. “Dwyane has developed into a facilitator. I think that’s kind of what Markelle is. That’s the first name that I thought of. You watch him at Washington when he was trying to carry the load every game, and I thought t was too much. He made a lot of mistakes because he had to do everything. He’s got a little bit of a ways to go.

“His instincts are tremendous. His natural athleticism, I think he reacts great. He can play a guy one on one with his size and physical abilities. He got in foul trouble a couple of times but I think he’ll be all right.”

Some scouts believe Fultz is a better defender than Ball, but it was hard to see on Washington’s squad, which finished 9-22, going just 2-16 in the conference and finishing 11th out of 12 teams. (On Sunday, Washington was hired longtime Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins to replace Romar.)

“Unfortunately, he was just on a really bad team,” a Central Division scouting maven said. “To me you have to look past a lot of that; you have to look on his team. Just think if Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray (who both left Washington last year after one season and were taken in the first round of the Draft) had stayed. Just think about how good they would have been. Everybody saw him at the 18 and unders. When he played on the U.S. team he was totally off the charts … when he was on that U.S. team he had his own alpha way about him. When the competition picks up, his play picks up.”

Two other scouts, though, were not ready to absolve Fultz completely.

Said one: “I’m not blaming him totally for Washington not being good, but if you’re that guy, they’ve got to be better than they were.”

Said the second: “His stats are like empty calories. It doesn’t impact the win percentage. That kind of bothers me. Especially being a guard. A guard usually impacts the flow of the play. He’s like a show dog. He’s out there and everybody’s oohing and ahhing, but at the end of the day, you’re like, how many did they lose by? That kind of bothers me.”

Fox a frisky defender, growing playmaker

After Ball and Fultz come, depending on who you talk to, Kentucky freshman De’Aaron Fox and N.C. State freshman Dennis Smith. A couple of scouts have Fox rated ahead of Fultz as a point guard, but a couple have Smith rated ahead of Fox, too.

Fox was first-team All-SEC, leading the conference in assists. He is not viewed quite as highly as, say, Wall or Eric Bledsoe were as point guard prospects coming out of Lexington. But, he’s got a lot of admirers around the league who believe he may have as good an upside as any of the others in the Draft.

“Here’s what I love about Fox,” the Central Division evaluator said. “That dude can flat-out defend, and loves to defend. Undoubtedly one of the fastest guys in the draft. I just love the way he defends the ball. He’s capable of defending with his eyes.”

Fox is not viewed as the passer that Ball is, but his speed helps him compensate; not too many defenders will be able to stay in front of him.

“He’s like so fast he’ll beat the lights out,” another Southeast Division personnel man says. “But I don’t think he passes the ball as well as Ball, and Smith, and Fultz. I don’t think his instincts are as good as those guys. He’s got them little, small hands. He’ll get stronger, but he’s got that KD frame. He won’t put on a lot of mass, but he’ll get stronger. He’s got freak athleticism.”

He shot an abysmal 23 percent on 3-pointers during the regular season, and that will lead to a season or two of defenses going under every screen until he makes some jumpers. This is where you are reminded that Wall shot seven percent — .071, to be exact, making three of 42 — on threes his second year in the league. With reps, Fox will get better.

Physical questions persist for Smith

Smith, who finished 13th in the country in assists (6.2 per game), was the first N.C. State player to be named ACC Rookie of the Year in 40 years, since Hawkeye Whitney shared the award with Duke’s Mike Gminski.

He was a second team All-ACC selection, leading the conference in assists per game to go with 18 points nightly. The talent is undeniable, as is his toughness in coming back so quickly from a torn ACL and meniscus suffered at adidas Nations in California in the summer of 2015; a year later, Smith went back to the same court to participate and play well in the 2016 adidas Nations.

“The most impressive thing about Smith was at Adidas,” one scout said. “I’m looking at the roster, I’m sitting there saying ‘Dennis Smith, he’s going to be here?’ I was there the year before when he tore his knee up. And he comes back to the same place, and he’s out there and he’s boogying? My guys in North Carolina, they were talking him in the eighth or ninth grade. They were telling me, Dennis is the type, if he wasn’t getting paid, he’d still be out there hooping.”

But, again, as with Fultz, there are questions about Smith’s impact in college. The Wolfpack were just 15-17, lost in the first round of the ACC tournament and didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. Smith’s defense was often substandard, though there were games when he got down in a stance and really got after it. (Some NBA types think Smith also was miscast in his role at N.C. State and could have more success in the pros playing more off the ball.)

Some were sympathetic: “Paul George, he couldn’t win at Fresno State,” one veteran personnel man said — but others thought Smith’s leadership was too little, too late. And there are some who aren’t sure he’s all the way back yet physically. One veteran personnel man said Smith could, potentially, fall out of the Lottery all together.

“I think most people think Smith has the edge (over Fox), but I think he lost some in some people’s eyes because of the injury,” one scout said. “His body language and mannerisms on the court, people are looking at that closely.”

But Smith’s signature game, which occurred in State’s signature win this season — 32 points in a road win at Duke in January — was as good as any individual performance in the country all year. And Smith is still viewed as one of the top leaders available.


“Is that lack of winning going to translate to the pros? I don’t put a lot of stock in it,” a Pacific executive said. “His role is going to be different. These guys are so young. They need to develop, not only physically, but emotionally. As a freshman it’s really tough. Not many guys can do it.”

Ntlikina has ‘long way to go’ as prospect

Eighteen-year-old Frank Ntlikina, the top international point guard prospect in the Draft, has come on strong in the last two years, and is now viewed as a potential late Lottery pick.

Born in Belgium to Rwandan parents, and currently playing in France for SIG Strousburg, Ntlikina (pronounced nee-lee-KEE-nah) has the kind of passport that makes him a natural for the modern NBA. At 6-foot-5, with long arms and reach, and good feet, Ntilikina could find a niche quickly in the NBA as a defensive-oriented ballhawk while his passing and shooting skills continue to develop. For now, he’s thought of as a point guard, compared by more than one person with the Atlanta Hawks’ Dennis Schroeder.




Ntlikina made an impression last year in Toronto when he participated in the Basketball Without Borders camp held during All-Star weekend, a camp that also featured 2016 first-round pick Thon Maker. And he got on everyone’s radar after picking up MVP honors in the Under 18 European championships for France, with 31 points in the gold medal game against Lithuania.

“I love the kid,” said an NBA coach who attended BWB Toronto. “He’s strong, shoots it. He was one of my favorites there. He’s a point guard, with (Denver’s Emmanuel) Mudiay size, with a better shot now.”

Ntlikina has gotten further seasoning since then playing for Strasbourg, whose coach, Vincent Collet, has been the national team coach for France since 2009, presiding over France’s greatest era of international success in basketball, led by the San Antonio Spurs’ Tony Parker and the Utah Jazz’s Boris Diaw. Ntilikina is likely to be in the next wave. But first, he’ll almost certainly be a high first-round Draft pick.

“People don’t know him,” a Western Conference executive said. “In the junior level, he dominates. Our USA (Under 18) team couldn’t play against him. At the junior level, the kid just dominates, and that’s where you have to factor in. He plays in a pro league, so he’s not really getting the minutes right now. He’s starting to play a little more and he’s putting up numbers over there now.”

He is not starting for Strousburg, but at least Ntlikina has improved significantly as a shooter, hitting 46 percent of his 3-pointers this season after shooting just 26.8 percent behind the arc last season.

“Schroeder had those issues when he came out,” one scout said, “and now he’s a damn good player.”

Said an Eastern Conference GM who’s seen Ntlikina twice in the last month: “Good young talent. A long way to go. Was great in the Under 18 championship, but playing against men he will need to develop.”

Steady playmaking marks Morris’ game

Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris is as good with the ball as any prospect. He led the nation in assist-turnover ratio (5.3/1) and was 13th overall in assists for the Cyclones, who won the Big 12 championship for the third time in Morris’ four seasons there. He’s the school’s all-time leader in assists and steals, and was first team all-Big 12 this season.

“Maturity and playmaking,” said a Northwest Division executive who likes Morris’ game.

“He’s gonna make it as a backup/third guard,” one scout said. “Doesn’t make mistakes, can shoot it a little bit, great assist turnover guy. He’s just solid.”

Morris’ game was almost surely enhanced by his playing his senior season in Ames rather than coming out after his junior season last year, an idea with which he briefly toyed.

“Lately I think people have him moving up late in the first round, because he’s really playing better toward the end of the season,” a Central Division evaluator said. “He’s playing more like he did a couple of years ago. Again, here’s a guy that’s been there four years. That’s starting to have benefits for teams, a guy that can come in and be a good solid backup. He takes care of the ball. He scores when he needs to.”

And some notes on the others …

Oklahoma State sophomore Jawun Evans was a first-team all-Big 12 selection, displaying occasional passing wizardry (15 assists against Kansas in OSU’s regular season finale; 12 dimes, along with 23 points, in its first-round loss to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament). He said after the one-point loss to Michigan that he was “likely” to return for his junior season; if so, he’d be a likely preseason pick for Big 12 Player of the Year for 2017-18.

“You just like his quickness, his ability to find people, like Morris,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “Those guys have a lot of similar qualities, in terms of being able to run the show and find people and balance their ability to score. He needs time to grow, but he’ll get it.”

Maryland’s Melo Trimble was a consensus first-team all-Big 10 pick as a junior, displaying a knack for big shots in helping the Terps get to the NCAAs. He briefly considered coming out after his sophomore season, but went back to College Park. It was a good decision. He has a decision to make about whether to enter and then stay in this year’s Draft, too.


“If you watch him, Melo runs the pick and roll probably the best in the country,” one scout said. “People talk about how Melo is slow, but if you watch him handle the ball, he never has to turn his back on anybody. He never has to crab dribble up the floor. And Melo’s bigger than what people realize. He gets penalized for going back to school. When we talk about guys need to go back, the guy goes back, and now he gets penalized. I think coming back will help him down the road.”

Maryland faded some down the stretch of the regular season and went out in the first round of the NCAAs, but that won’t be a disqualifier for Trimble, according to scouts.

“His whole body of work, you’ll take into account,” another said. “He’s a good player.”

Kansas senior Frank Mason III was Big 12 Player of the Year, averaging almost 21 points per game for the Jayhawks, who are in the Sweet 16 for a second straight season. He is the quintessential great college player and leader, but at 5-foot-11, even in an era where diminutive players have found a home in the NBA, Mason will have to be lucky to make it.


“I think those guys are specialists, that they have to be in the right situation,” a veteran scout said of Mason. “I think he’ll find one some place. But me, picking a guy to be a lead guy like that, I wouldn’t do it. Right now, it’s risky for me. I would be more surprised if he didn’t make a team. You’ve got to be in a mindset that your coach is on board with a little guy and how to use him.”

Like Mason, Central Michigan’s Marcus Keene would have been limited to dreams of playing professionally abroad just a few years ago, there being no place for a 5-foot-9, 175-pound point guard in the NBA. But things are different now. Thomas is only the most successful of the diminutive ballhandlers that now have a real chance of sticking. Keene, who led the country in scoring this season after transferring from Youngstown State, has a shot, too.


Keene averaged 30 a game, including seven 40-point games, and broke both the conference and school records for points in a season for Central Michigan, which finished third in the nation in scoring. The first-team All-MAC selection has been compared favorably with Kay Felder, the diminutive, high-scoring guard from Oakland University who was drafted late in the second round of last year’s Draft and has stuck with the Cavs all season.

There are, of course, any number of point guards who could stick that may not be rated quite as high.

Two seniors, Michigan’s Derrick Walton and Virginia’s London Perrantes, will get looks because of their pedigree and past history.

Walton led the Big 10 in Offensive Rating (128.7 points/100 possessions) this season, and he’s been at the controls during the Wolverines’ improbable run to the Big 10 tournament title and their Sweet 16 berth, all of which followed the team’s plane skidding off the runway in Ann Arbor after an aborted takeoff in high winds.

Walton got stitches in his leg, but has been sensational of late — 29 points against Minnesota in the Big 10 semifinals; 22 points, six rebounds and seven assists in the tournament final win over Wisconsin — Walton was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament — 26 and 11 assists against Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAAs. All that is likely to get Walton a second look by NBA types.

Perrantes didn’t have quite as much good fortune with Virginia, which was bounced in the second round. But the senior was a second-team All-ACC selection, for a Cavaliers team that was again one of the best defensive units in the country. And with the success of former UVA guard Malcolm Brogdon, a second-round pick by Milwaukee, as an NBA rookie this season, Perrantes will probably get a chance to stick on someone’s roster.

Connecticut sophomore Jalen Adams led the American Athletic Conference in assists and was a first-team AAC selection. On a team that was destroyed by injuries and failed to make the NCAA Tournament, Adams was a rare bright spot.


“He’s pretty daggone good,” said one coach who played UConn this season. “One of the best finishers of all the guards we played. Can change pace. Kid’s a winner. He made big plays for them. He’s really good. Better athlete than you think he is. Can dunk the ball. I was impressed. He has a chance. He has some extra (stuff) with him. He’s a competitor. I’m not sure how good his J is but he makes plays for teammates at a high level.”

Villanova’s Jalen Brunson, the son of longtime NBA guard Rick Brunson http://stats.nba.com/player/#!/1594/, didn’t get the national attention of teammates Josh Hart or Kris Jenkins, but the sophomore displayed the toughness that allowed his father to play for eight teams in nine NBA seasons.

“He’s a capable scorer,” said a college coach who played Villanova this season. “He scored a lot in high school, but he’s more of a facilitator in college. They do a great job of executing. He did everything they asked of him, running the team. He’s a capable shooter, not great. He’s a good athlete, but he’s not a speed demon, not a quick guard — more of a physical, bowling ball kind of guard.”

Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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