Wednesday, March 18, 2009 Updated: March 19, 10:09 AM ET
Who to watch in East Regional
By Chad Ford ESPN.com
Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair has a soft touch to go along with his formidable power game.
It's March Madness, baby!
Many of college basketball's best players have earned a chance to show off their games on the big stage, where NBA scouts and general managers will be out in force during the next few weeks. And a great tournament can really improve a player's draft stock.
Last year, Derrick Rose moved past Michael Beasley on most NBA teams' boards with an excellent performance for Memphis. Other players, such as Russell Westbrook and Brandon Rush, also helped themselves with strong tournament play.
In 2007, Florida's Al Horford, Ohio State's Mike Conley and Georgetown's Jeff Green helped their respective draft stocks in the tournament.
In 2006, Florida's Joakim Noah (drafted in '07) and LSU's Tyrus Thomas saw their stocks skyrocket after leading their teams to the Final Four. And so on
Who will take advantage of the national stage this year? ESPN.com has talked to multiple NBA scouts and GMs during the course of the season to give you a look at the top five NBA prospects they'll be watching in each NCAA tourney region.
East Regional NBA prospects
1. DeJuan Blair, PF, So., Pittsburgh The good: Blair is a beast in the paint, knocking heads and crashing the offensive boards with a fierceness few players can match. He also has become a solid offensive player, showing more touch around the rim and growing more clever at finding ways to score. His 7-foot-3 wingspan makes up for his relative lack of size in the paint.
The bad: Undersized as a power forward, Blair lacks great explosiveness and struggles to defend quicker players who take him out on the perimeter. Some scouts feel he'll be a tweener in the pros. The upside: He has been one of the biggest risers on our draft board this season. More and more NBA teams feel that Blair, despite his weaknesses, will be a great power player in the pros in the mold of Utah's Paul Millsap. If he has a huge tournament, he could even sneak into the top 10.
2. Jrue Holiday, G, Fr., UCLA The good: Holiday has a great basketball IQ and can play either backcourt position. He's also a ball hawk on the defensive end and a steady offensive player who rarely makes mistakes. The bad: He has been very inconsistent, struggles as a jump shooter and lacks the explosive athleticism of most of the elite point guards in the NBA. Plus, scouts haven't gotten to see him play the point regularly this season. The upside: Based on raw talent, Holiday is a lottery pick. But his lack of production, especially down the stretch, has been a problem. Most scouts believe he needs to return to UCLA for his sophomore season and play the point full time. However, if he has a big tournament the way Russell Westbrook did last year, some NBA team will snatch him up in the lottery.
3. Gerald Henderson, SG, Jr., Duke The good: An excellent athlete with great strength, Henderson has turned himself into a terrific lockdown defender. He also has gotten more aggressive on the offensive end this season and has shown the ability to take over games for Duke. The bad: Unremarkable for much of his career at Duke, Henderson has really turned it on only in the second half of the season. He's a streaky shooter from long range, and scouts feel he may be a bit undersized for his position in the pros.
The upside: Henderson has won some fans among NBA scouts with his strong performance in the second half of the season. But does he have enough talent to be special in the NBA? Most teams see him as more of a defensive specialist in the pros, so he'll need a really big tournament to up his stock past the middle of the first round.
4. Eric Maynor, PG, Sr., VCU The good: One of the purest point guards in the country, Maynor has excellent court vision and creativity. And throughout most of his career, he has posted an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio. On top of that, he has turned himself into an impressive scorer with deep range on his jump shot. The bad: Maynor plays in a weak conference. With the exception of a few excellent performances in the NCAA tournament as a sophomore, he rarely has gotten to show off his talent against the best competition. He struggled in VCU's one big nonconference game this season versus Oklahoma, going just 5-for-19 from the field and turning the ball over eight times.
He also needs to add strength, isn't a super athlete and sometimes tries to do too much with the ball.
The upside: To me, Maynor would be the biggest draft sleeper. He has all the tools to be an excellent NBA point guard. If he were playing for Duke or Kansas, he'd be in the lottery conversation right now. If he can have a big game in the opening round against UCLA, one of the top defensive teams in the country, I believe he could crack the lottery in June.
5. Damion James, F, Jr., Texas The good: James is a physical wing whose athleticism, motor and toughness have scouts drooling. He's an excellent rebounder, a strong defender and an emerging offensive player. The bad: A bit of a tweener, James still lacks a consistent perimeter game and the ballhandling skills to create off the dribble. He needs an excellent point guard to be really effective on the offensive end. The upside: James has struggled to dominate this season the way his talent suggests he should, but he could be a James Posey-type player in the NBA if he can develop his jump shot. He's on the first-round bubble right now, but a big tournament could put him solidly in the first round.
Others to watch:Darren Collison, PG, Sr., UCLA; Kyle Singler, F, So., Duke; Sam Young, G/F, Sr., Pittsburgh; Derrick Brown, PF, Jr., Xavier; James Anderson, SG, So., Oklahoma State; Tyler Smith, G/F, Jr., Tennessee; Larry Sanders, F/C, So., VCU; A.J. Abrams, G, Sr., Texas; Chris Singleton, F, Fr., Florida State; Toney Douglas, G, Sr., Florida State; Scottie Reynolds, G, Jr., Villanova; Corey Fisher, SG, So., Villanova; Corey Stokes, PG, So., Villanova; Dante Cunningham, F, Sr., Villanova; Scotty Hopson, G, Fr., Tennessee; Nolan Smith, G, So., Duke; Lance Thomas, F, Jr., Duke, Jon Scheyer, G, Jr., Duke; Josh Shipp, G/F, Sr., UCLA; Obi Muonelo, G, Jr., Oklahoma State
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.