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Tuesday, January 4, 2011
How NBA execs see college hoops' best

By Eamonn Brennan

The college-to-NBA talent transition always fascinates me. I love college basketball, and I also love the NBA (and I'm not really sure why so many people who like college basketball actively dislike the NBA, but to each his own, I guess), but I'm always a little bit blown away by the players who do and don't get love from NBA scouts when the draft rolls around in June. If NBA general managers ignored potential and only drafted on sheer collegiate production -- which would be a horrible draft strategy, unless you're the Chicago Bulls -- the NBA draft would look much, much different.

Which brings us to this year. How are NBA scouts seeing the current college hoops season? Who is drawing their attention? And how has players' production in the season to date factored in to those perceptions?

The answer is, well, a little bit. According to ESPN.com NBA Insider Chad Ford, many scouts still like North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes as the No. 1 overall pick, provided Barnes rebounds from his early struggles at North Carolina and increases his production in the ACC season. (Unfortunately, this doesn't settle a heated ongoing argument I have with my buddy Tom. Tom, a fellow Iowa native who watched Barnes' prep career more closely than most, is convinced Barnes deserves to slide in a big way. I think scouts, scared of watching a potential impact player fall too far, will draft him in the top five overall even if he doesn't get any better this season. I'm pretty sure I'm right. According to Ford, the jury is still out.)

Scouts were also high on Kyrie Irving, who played as well as any player in the country before a toe injury sidelined him indefinitely. Then there's Baylor forward Perry Jones, a 6-foot-10 athletic freak whose production has been decent but not great, but who is still drawing NBA looks based on sheer potential alone. Other mentions for the top pick included Enes Kanter, though scouts will apparently hesitate if they can't see film of him playing college ball this season.

There are some signs that big seasons are helping players. Kemba Walker has shot up draft boards based on his big start, while San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard and Arizona forward Derrick Williams have both become coveted prospects thanks to hugely productive winters. But more often than not -- surprise, surprise -- scouts like potential. They rate John Henson as the best non-freshman draft prospect in the country (over Walker, Williams and Leonard) and there's nary a mention of Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger, who has been effortlessly dominating college basketball for about two months now.

In any case, go read Chad's entire breakdown. (I'm not going to copy and paste any of it, because it's Insider, and that kind of defeats the purpose of Insider, right?) But it will be interesting to watch how these perceptions change as conference play heats up. If you're an NBA scout, who's your No. 1 pick?