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Rudy Gay: Rising Star

Wed, 12/08/2004 - 1:43pm

[img_assist|nid=4846|title=Rudy Gay|desc=Photo: John Woike|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=167]In this day and age of athletic freaks turning their nose up to college basketball like it was limburger cheese, a player such as Rudy Gay not even considering the leap is (for all basketball fans) a breath of fresh air.

Gay was definite first round material coming out of high school but bucked the trend, didn't even inquire about his "draft status", and decided to attend UConn.

With his picture perfect jumpshot, ability to take the ball off the dribble, and madder than mad hops, Gay is a nightmare to defend. As one NBA scout put it,"If there's a better prospect in college, I haven't seen him."

His skills are still under construction, especially his one on one game. But there is so much there, it just needs to be refined.

Compared to Luol Deng at the same stage, (7th pick in the draft after just one season at Duke) who leads all NBA rookies in scoring this season, he is not nearly as far along skill wise.

After just a few games, Deng had quickly established himself as not only Duke's top prospect, but their most skilled and effective player. Gay has a lot more athleticism and upside than Deng, but lacks Deng's advanced skill set, and would greatly benefit from a second season in college.

After 4 games, Gay is tied for 4th on the team with 9.5 points per game. 2nd in rebounds at 7 per game, and first in highlight worthy dunks.

Coming off a Championship season in which their top two players (Okafor and Gordon) left for the NBA, both as top 3 selections, UConn is still a talented team with a number of quality players left. So Gay comes off the bench, but still sees significant playing time. (roughly 23 min. per game)

After Coach Calhoun molded Okafor and Gordon (both top 50 prospects, but neither top 20) into top 3 picks, it would be interesting to see what he could do with Gay, given time.

In this era of drafting for potential over all else, Gay will have a decision to make come June. He may find it hard to pass up (possibly) being a top 5 pick for another year of development under Coach Calhoun.

After the first couple weeks of the college basketball season, one thing has become apparent, Rudy Gay is the best prospect in college basketball. Let's hope he can put off the NBA for a second season and see how far he can soar.

#1 Pick Still Wide Open

If Las Vegas books put out a line on the top draft pick, the best bet would probably be the field. As there are sure to be some other players who emerge as candidates as the basketball season develops. Right now the field looks something like this:

[img_assist|nid=4849|title=Martynas Andriuskevicius - Photo: Fiba Europe|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=250|height=333]Martynas Andriuskevicius is the frontrunner at the moment, and he impressed NBADraft.net European correspondent Cristian Biagini who saw him play recently.

Biagini commented that he looked even taller than when he saw him last season (could he still be growing?) and remains one of the most fluid over 7 footers around.

His skills are somewhat similar to Pau Gasol with his face up game and passing ability. Though he's bigger, he lacks Gasol's quickness and ball handling. Martynas' biggest chore will be to add strength and some more toughness to his game.

He is seeing some action in Euroleague, and the time spent learning under Arvydas Sabonis is bound to increase his long term potential.

No European has ever gone first, so he will have to buck that trend. Is he a shoe in for the top pick? Hardly. But for now he is the lead horse.

Chris Taft is the top bigman prospect in college bar none. Taft is one of the few college bigmen with a chance to be a dominant player on the next level.

His greatest attribute is his strength. Add to that the fact that he has a nice touch inside and loves contact. Taft benefits from NBA GMs inclination to when in doubt, go big.

If Rudy Gay develops more quickly than expected, he could pull a Carmelo Anthony and become a top 3 pick after his freshman year, going as high as first. He is currently listed as the top pick on the 2006 mock draft. In a weak 2005 draft class, it certainly wouldn't be out of the question for him to go first.

But it will take the right set of circumstances, and a quick maturation on his part. It's hard to knock a player that will be a top 5 pick for deciding to leave. But Rudy's skills could really be enhanced long term with a second year in college.

Chris Paul has gotten some mention as a possible top pick.

Scouts love him, despite the small stature. He really is the complete package with scoring, PG skills, savvy, intelligence, leadership, basically everything you would want in a point guard, except size.

He'll be fighting an uphill battle with a number of obstacles in his way. He has struggled so far this year, and with everyone gunning for him, there are no easy games.

No under under-six-foot-point-guard has ever gone first. And there are very few (six-foot and unders) that have had a big impact in the league. Look for Paul to be the first point guard taken, but at under six-feet it would be a shock to see him go first.

Others:

Nemanja Alexandrov has already officially declared for the 2005 draft, having sent his paper work in the day after the 2004 draft. However with his lackluster performances in front of numerous scouts in Zaragoza Spain last summer, he has fallen from top pick consideration. He is an immensely talented wing with size, skills and shooting ability. But he lacks the fire to maximize his skills.

Tiago Splitter a Brazilian playing in Spain who quickly rebounded from poor workouts in Chicago last June. He looked strong early in the season but went down with a minor leg muscle tear injury. Splitter played his first game in weeks last night and played very well with 10 pts on 5/6 shooting in 13 min of action. He is still very foul prone, so he will need to improve on that. He has a lot of talent, but will need to stay healthy and prove it on the court to be a high lotto pick.

Johan Petro is probably the best physical specimen prospect out there. He has size, leaping ability, shot blocking and continues to improve. He lacks great offensive skills, so scouts are all over the board with him. But his developing play at Pau Orthez has definitely moved his stock into the mid first round area and with a weak crop, he could land in the mid lotto area.

Fran Vasquez: Fran The Man

Spanish sensation Fran Vasquez just keeps getting better. He was considered by many as a late first rounder going into this season. But he has absolutely taken over as a key player in probably the top league in Europe: ACB.

After a couple injuries to starters, Vasquez cracked the starting lineup of Unicaja Malaga and has been nothing short of sensational. He is averaging close to 10 pts per game (which at under 22 is inscredible).

His footwork in the post is vastly improved. He has always been strong on the glass and defensively, but this season he has broken through as a dominant player on both ends of the floor.

His progress over the past year, becoming such a key member of a Euroleague team has scouts abuzz.

Last night he almost single handedly led a comeback victory over the top team in all of Europe CSKA. They lost by 11 but the game was close, and Vasquez was the high scorer for Unicaja with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Vasquez is now considered a lottery pick for the 2005 draft and some even think he has a shot at being a top 5 pick.

High Schoolers

The 2005 Senior Class of High School players has two potential first rounders:

Gerald Green, a 6-8 swing man who broke out at the Reebok ABCD over the summer and hasn't looked back. He's best described as a poor mans Tracy McGrady, with great shooting and handle packaged on a specimen type, long and lanky frame.

[img_assist|nid=4850|title=Louisv Williams|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=226]Louis Williams, an an absolute freak of a 6-2 shooting guard who despite being undersized, uses his quickness and leaping ability to posterize bigger players ala Steve Francis.

His scoring ability is truly scary, but some fear about his size and lack of great point guard skills.

Both players are possible lottery picks but must impress scouts this season, and especially in the All Star games and practices and in workouts.

The three candidates most likely to make the mistake of leaving early and getting shut out of the first round are:

Andray Blatche, a 6-10 PF from New Jersey who many want to compare to Kevin Garnett. The biggest knocks against Blatche are his attitude (soft), slow feet, and his love affair with playing on the perimeter having stunted his post development. Blatche seems to have fallen victim to his own hype and isn't working hard enough on his game or in the class room. There are some rumors that he is not even thinking about college, which may end up being an enormous mistake.

Brandon Rush, 6-6 wing with an almost identical game to oldest brother JaRon. He is the same type of athlete with a high freak factor, but would be best advised to follow the career path of his other brother Kareem and develop his game in college for a few years. Despite being a superior athlete, his game is still very wild, and NBA scouts consider him iffy as a late first round pick.

Keith Brumbaugh, 6-8 wing who has averaged 37 points over his first 3 games and has hinted at the idea of going pro out of HS. There are some question marks surrounding Brumbaugh with off the court issues. Brumbaugh has NBA athleticism, and could turn into a very good SF prospect. But for now there are off the court red flags which have teams worried about him.

While Sophomore OJ Mayo and Junior Greg Oden have been tabbed as top draft picks in future years, and grabbed most of the attention, the best High School prospect overall could be Brandan Wright, a skilled and freakishly athletic bigman from Tennessee. Think Eddie Griffin without the personal problems. Wright needs to get stronger, but he has the same bigman-freak-factor going for him that made a number of top 5 picks out of high school players the past few seasons.

Another interesting High School note, Mississippi guard Monta Ellis (Mississippi St. commit) has played in 4 games so far this season and has not scored less than 47 in any game. He is still considered a player who needs a few years in college, but he's one to keep an eye on for years to come.

ESPN Televised Game:

Look for High Schoolers Greg Oden Lawrence North and Tyler Hansbrough Poplar Bluff as they square off in the first Nationally televised game of the year on ESPN tomorrow, Thursday Dec 9th.

Rashad McCants Making His Move

Rashad McCants caught a windfall of criticism a few weeks before the season began over his comments comparing playing for UNC to being in prison.

And while that obviously didn't have a positive effect on his draft stock, many scouts seem to have already forgiven and or forgotten him for them.

McCants has never been viewed as a consummate team player, or a great club house guy. However there is no doubting his immense talent.

McCants skills were extremely polished as a freshman and they have only gotten smoother in his 2 plus years at Chapel Hill. McCants long arms and athleticism overcome his small stature (listed generously at 6-4). He plays bigger than his size, so that shouldn't hurt him too bad.

McCants is playing in the top conference in college, with a roster loaded with scorers, yet he is leading the team by a healthy margin in ppg, and if he were to stay for his senior season, is on pace to become North Carolina's all time scoring champ.

McCants might not score well on the personality tests that teams give out before the draft, however, his stock should remain high and land him somewhere in the lottery come June.

Deron Williams New Look

Illinois' dismantling of #1 Wake Forest on their home court last week can be attributed to Illinois great 3 guard tandem and a raucous home crowd that wouldn't allow Wake back into the game after the Illini had jumped on them.

Deron Williams worked hard over the summer on his body and his game which has led some to call him the second best point guard in the country after Chris Paul. This might be true, however he is far from the second best point guard prospect.

He has even drawn comparisons to Jason Kidd. Which would not be a bad comparison if Kidd weren't fast for an NBA PG while Willaims is slow on the college level.

A closer comparison for Williams would be a poor mans Andre Miller. Williams is a heady, competitive player, who does make his teammates better. But his lack of foot speed will be a big liability in the NBA.

Despite being a strong defender in college, he will have a tough time defending quick point guards on the next level, not to mention gaining any type of separation. He has a chance to be a first rounder this year, but his lack of foot speed will be a big detriment in the NBA.

Illinois other two guards are also on the radar of NBA teams. Dee Brown is one of the quickest guards in college. Though undersized, he's a ball of energy with good all around skills and scoring ability.

Illinois third guard gets less pub but has NBA teams interest. Luther Head has always had the athleticism, coming out of Chicago with great leaping ability. His scoring ability and skills have steadily evolved to where scouts are comparing him to Eddie House.

New CBA Rule Could Affect Yi Jianlian

The Chinese Basketball Association announced late last week that it has implemented a new rule which forbids players from declaring for the NBA draft early. So all Chinese players from this point on will be forced to wait until they are 22 years of age.

And while this probably wont have too big an impact on the majority of Chinese NBA prospects, there are a few that could be affected.

A number of Chinese Journalists have contacted me wondering how this will affect Chinese players, and whether this limits their NBA ability.

One school of thought is that a number of players peak at 19-20 and by 22 they are no longer displaying that upside which NBA GMs and scouts find so intriguing. So if a player such as Yi Jianlian is determined to be born in 1987, and is forced to wait until he's 22, he wont be allowed to enter the NBA draft until 2009.

Yi's age has become the big mystery after the Chinese National team listed him on their official roster as born in 1984. This confirmed many peoples suspicions about his true age. Another stir was created a few days later when team officials announced that it had been a mistake and he was actually 1987 born, which had always been the officially listed birth year.

Pavel Has Surgery

Dallas Mavericks center Pavel Podkolzine, the 20th pick of the 2004 NBA draft who has been placed on IR for the season had successful surgery to remove his pituitary gland. Pavel decided to put off the surgery until after he had been drafted. Now that that's out of the way he can move forward with concentrating on becoming an NBA center.

Pavel's recovery is expected to move along quickly and he could be back practicing within weeks. It is unlikely that Pavel will see much action this season for the Mavs, but some expect big things from him in the future. Whether or not he becomes much of a factor in the NBA remains to be seen, but Dallas made a nice gamble on (trading for) him at 20.

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