NBA scouts will be heading to Charlotte in hopes of getting a long-awaited look at Duke guard Kyrie Irving – provided he's healthy enough to play Friday in the Blue Devils' opening game of NCAA tournament. And Irving won't be the only player scouts are watching.
While other prospects like Derrick Williams, Jared Sullinger, Marcus Morris and Harrison Barnes have been evaluated all season, the NCAA tournament gives scouts one last time to watch players in a game setting before the June NBA draft. Here's the top 10 players scouts will be watching in the tournament – and who might be playing in an NBA arena next season.
1. Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke, freshman, 6-2, 180 pounds – Scout's take: "It will be good for him to play. He's a possible No. 1 prospect and no lower than three. It will be good to see he's back from injury, which would alleviate any concerns. … He's a true point guard. He's looking to pass first, is quick, sees the floor well and handles the ball real well. When he gets in paint and the defense collapses on him, he finds the open man. … He makes Duke a much more dynamic team and lets Nolan Smith do what he does best – score. … NBA personnel [evaluators] would love to see how he has recovered from injury." NBA comparison: Chris Paul(notes).
2. Derrick Williams, F, Arizona, sophomore, 6-8, 241 pounds – Scout's take: "One of the most explosive athletes in college. … He is quickly moving up draft boards and is looking more and more like a lock for the top five. He's been consistent, which is one of the main things. The focal point when teams play Arizona is to stop him. … He's shown up against big competition, including a big game against the Morris twins of Kansas. … He's versatile and he's that classic tweener. Not the ideal size for a [small forward] or [power forward], but he knows how to play. He can shoot the college three, too." NBA comparison: A young Corliss Williamson.
3. Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State, freshman, 6-8, 280 pounds – Scout's take: "He has dominated all season long. … His height is a natural cause for concern when projecting him for the next level. He rebounds well even though he plays below the rim. He knows how to get rebounds and has a high basketball IQ. … He just has a great natural feel for the game. He has been double- and triple-teamed, yet still puts up big numbers. … He's very poised for a kid his age. He gets beat up every game and has an older presence about him. … Since he's not a great leaper, it will be tougher for him to score against longer, athletic guys, but he has great hands." NBA comparison: Elton Brand(notes).
4. Marcus Morris, PF/C, Kansas, junior, 6-9, 235 pounds – Scout's take: "The more offensively talented of the [Morris] twins. Kansas will need him to produce consistently to make a Final Four run. … I've seen him twice in person and he was impressive. … His great footwork puts him at an advantage. He can face up, put it on the floor and shoot the college three. He can be a pick-and-pop guy or go to the basket to be effective. … He's not a great athlete and doesn't jump out of the gym. His rebounding can be inconsistent at times." NBA comparison: A bigger Carlos Boozer(notes).
5. Harrison Barnes, SG/SF, North Carolina, freshman, 6-8, 210 pounds – Scout's take: "He started to come on late in the season. … Would be nice to see him build on late-season success and see some consistency from him. … [Former UNC guard Larry] Drew wasn't getting his teammates involved, whereas Kendall Marshall goes in and penetrates and kicks. Barnes has been the beneficiary. … He's fundamentally sound in all areas. He has a good jump shot, great body size, good footwork – shooting with jab steps – and can create to get his own shot." NBA comparison: Paul Pierce(notes), Richard Jefferson(notes).
6. Terrence Jones, SF/PF, Kentucky, freshman, 6-8, 244 pounds – Scout's take: "It's hard to find players at his size with his versatility. … Up-and-down season, but highly rated based off potential. … He gets the ball off the glass and pushes it up the court himself. He's a pretty big rebounder and a guy that can finish well around the basket. … It's uncertain whether he's a three or four, but now he's a four because he's inconsistent with his jumper. With improvement he can slide over and play more three." NBA comparison: Al Harrington(notes), Anthony Mason.
7. Kemba Walker, PG, Connecticut, junior, 6-1, 172 pounds – Scout's take: "Exciting point guard who started the season off in Maui with a bang and is finishing even stronger. Five wins in five days to claim Big East [tournament championship] was impressive. He hit two game-winning shots, so he is definitely a clutch player and not afraid to take big shots. … He has shown great leadership on a young team. … With the NBA rules the way they are now, his size won't be a problem. You can't hand-check him. Guys like Aaron Brooks(notes) are more effective because you can't touch him. … He's not a true point guard, but with his size he will have to play point. He's been an inconsistent shooter and some consider him a volume shooter." NBA comparison: Ben Gordon(notes), Jameer Nelson(notes), Aaron Brooks.
8. Jimmer Fredette, PG, BYU, senior, 6-2, 195 pounds – Scout's take: "Most dynamic scorer in college. Has the ultimate green light and is in range after crossing half court. … Comparisons to Stephen Curry(notes) are fairly accurate. He can play the point guard position. He can run the pick and roll. On the next level when you put him in pick and rolls, do you go to him to take the ball out of his hands or let him shoot? … He's pretty crafty like Steve Nash(notes). He's more stocky, taller and stronger than Nash and Curry. He's not as short as a lot of people think." NBA comparison: Stephen Curry, Mark Price.
9. Tristan Thompson, PF, Texas, freshman, 6-8, 225 pounds – Scout's take: "He's a highly touted freshman from Canada who has put forth a solid season. He can improve his stock with good performances in the tourney. … He's almost like a throwback big man. He sticks to the paint and doesn't float to the perimeter to try to shoot jump shots. He knows his bread and butter is in the paint. … His range is limited. But he's young and can develop into a pretty good player. He's going to get bigger and stronger. … He's definitely a power forward." NBA comparison: A smaller Tyson Chandler(notes).
10. Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Diego State, 6-7, 225 pounds – Scout's take: "He's a versatile forward who can handle it and score inside and outside. … He's a pretty good athlete. Scouts are always talking about how big his hands are, which is part of the reason why he is such a great rebounder. … He excels in the midrange area, but his 3-point shot is inconsistent right now. … His overall game will get better." NBA comparison: Ron Artest(notes).
Others to watch: Morehead State F Kenneth Faried; Texas F Jordan Hamilton; Kentucky G Brandon Knight; Kansas G Josh Selby; Southern Cal F/C Nikola Vucevic.
Top NBA prospects not playing in the NCAA tournament: Colorado G Alec Burks; Baylor F Perry Jones; Kentucky F/C Enes Kanter; Florida State F Chris Singleton; Washington State G Klay Thompson.