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Thursday, March 19, 2009
Who to watch in South Regional

By Chad Ford
ESPN.com

Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin's position at the top of the draft appears to be a lock.

ESPN.com has talked to multiple NBA scouts and GMs over the course of the season to give you a look at the top five NBA prospects they'll be watching in each NCAA regional.

South Regional NBA Prospects

1. Blake Griffin, PF, So., Oklahoma

The Good: An elite rebounder and an emerging offensive force, Griffin plays as hard as anyone and is unstoppable when he gets it going. His combination of size, strength and athleticism is unmatched in college basketball. He is the best player in the country.

The Bad: Not much. Griffin needs to continue to work on his perimeter game and ball-handling skills.

The Upside: Griffin is the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft, and, short of a horrific injury in the tournament, nothing will be able to knock him off that perch. He's as close to a sure thing as there is in the draft, and his performance in the tournament shouldn't have a big impact on his stock one way or the other.



2. James Harden, SG, So., Arizona State

The Good: Harden is one of the best scorers in college basketball, whether he's putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket or pulling up for a 3. He has a great basketball IQ and is clever at creating offense for himself.

The Bad: He is not a terrific athlete and lacks the explosion that some scouts prefer in a 2-guard. He's also a bit undersized for the position; many scouts think he'll measure closer to 6-foot-4 (rather than 6-5) at the draft combines.

The Upside: Harden struggled a bit over the last month of the season with Pac-10 defenses zeroing in on him. He'll need a strong tournament if ASU is going to advance. And if he has a bad tournament, NBA teams worried about his lack of size and athleticism could start dropping him on their draft boards.



3. Willie Warren, G, Fr., Oklahoma

The Good: An excellent athlete who can play both the point and the 2-guard positions, Warren was the best freshman in the country this season. He is an excellent shooter with deep range and has been a solid defender in his first season.

The Bad: He is a bit undersized if he plays at the 2. And he's still pretty inconsistent -- some nights he looks like the best player in the country, while other nights he completely disappears.

The Upside: NBA executives are impressed with Warren's ability to do a bit of everything on the floor. A big tournament will go a long way in determining where he lands, but he looks like a lock for the lottery. And if he can prove to scouts that he can play point guard at least part time in the pros, he could go as high as top 5.



4. Ty Lawson, PG, Jr., North Carolina

The Good: He is one of the fastest guards in the country end-to-end and is improving as a shooter (47 percent from 3 this season). His greatest strength is his ability to relentlessly push the ball while keeping turnovers to a minimum.

The Bad: Lawson lacks great size for his position. And while he's great in the open floor, scouts question his ability to run a half-court offense in the pros and worry about his lack of a great midrange game.

The Upside: It's hard to find two GMs with the same opinion on Lawson. Some have him as a mid-first-round pick. Others have him firmly in the second round. He doesn't have tremendous upside, but he'll get a nice bump in his draft stock if he can lead UNC to a title. However, Lawson is suffering from a toe injury that could limit his effectiveness in the early going.



5. Jonny Flynn, PG, So., Syracuse

The Good: Flynn is a fierce competitor, a great athlete and a clutch performer who isn't afraid to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line. His excellent quickness makes him very difficult to stay in front of, and he's an excellent passer off penetration.

The Bad: He's a little wild at times -- his shot selection can be questionable, and he can be turnover-prone. His long-distance shooting can be inconsistent. And he lacks great size for the point-guard position.

The Upside: Flynn impressed a lot of people with his heroics in the Big East tournament -- he's got a huge heart and, if he gets hot in the tournament, can improve his stock tremendously. Right now we have him as a mid-first-round pick.

Others to watch: Austin Daye, F, So., Gonzaga; Tyler Hansbrough, PF, Sr., North Carolina; Wayne Ellington, SG, Jr., North Carolina; Ed Davis, F, Fr., North Carolina; Danny Green, G/F, Sr., North Carolina; Deon Thompson, F, Jr., North Carolina; Josh Heytvelt, F/C, Sr., Gonzaga; Matt Bouldin, G, Jr., Gonzaga; Jeremy Pargo, PG, Sr., Gonzaga; Jeff Pendergraph, PF, Sr., Arizona State; Manny Harris, SG, So., Michigan; DeShawn Sims, PF, Jr., Michigan; Dionte Christmas, SG, Sr., Temple; Matt Howard, F, So., Butler; Trevor Booker, PF, Jr., Clemson; K.C. Rivers, G, Sr., Clemson; Paul Harris, G/F, Jr., Syracuse; Eric Devendorf, G, Sr., Syracuse; Marcus Thornton, G, Sr., LSU; Chris Johnson, F/C, Sr., LSU; Tasmin Mitchell, F, Jr., LSU

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.