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Friday, March 18, 2011

First Round Exits: Next stop, NBA? (Jeff Taylor, Keith Benson, Tobias Harris)

The NCAA tournament presents an opportunity for the whole basketball community to observe prospects at the biggest stage, granting players a lot more attention than they are used to. They are treated like a pro - going through countless interviews, playing on one day of rest, and going up against quality talent each game - and in the end, some will end up being pros. Some put more emphasis on the draft than others, but for the media, it definitely offers a chance for them to scrutinize and hype players up. After losing in the "second round", these prospects are all free of further scrutiny from college basketball fans, but the hype train has been derailed as well. The scrunitizing, however, has only just begun from NBA personnel. Plenty of tape is now available to watch and individual workouts and combines are just around the corner. Where do the following players stand now?

Jeff Taylor - Taylor is a junior who will be 22 before the draft comes along. That is considered old for a prospect, so while Vanderbilt could be very dangerous with him Jenkins and Ezeli next year, he has to give the NBA draft some thought. The lack of tournament success surely stings, but it doesnt hurt Taylor much. He has been on scouts radars for the past two years and there is plenty of film out there. Taylor is the kind of player who plays like a role player, so the fact that he couldnt lead his team past the 1st round isnt a big knock on him. It is no secret that he prefers to be a second banana, and his game matches his personality.

His biggest strength is his athleticism. He has a great first step. He enjoys using that step to collapse the defense a bit and then kick it out to his teammates, which is often a more effective play than him taking it all the way to the rim. While his first step is great, once he gets around the hoop, he struggles to finish. He's a great leaper and dunker, but he has yet to learn to finish through traffic and creative space inside. To create space outside, he has an effective crossover that is used in a herky-jerky way to free him for a jump shot. Fortunately for his stock, he has gone from one made three last year, to 39 treys this season. He used last offseason to work on both his shot and his body, which he added a noticeable amount of muscle to. If last offseason was supposed to be his first step into becoming a first round pick, he might have succeeded because his stock definitely improved with the improvement of his jump shot. Look for him in the mid-late first round if he declares.

Keith Benson - There is no doubt that Keith Benson will be taking his talents to the draft, as he has already turned in 4 productive years in college. He has put up great numbers and has all the measurables, but it may not be enough to get him in the first round. One may blame it on the small conference, but it is obvious from watching him play that he could for put up great scoring numbers anywhere in the country. He is that talented offensively. He can shoot it, put it on the floor, and moves wonderfully for a center. The problem, though, is his strength. At the age of 22, he still lacks the muscle to hang in the post at either end of the floor. That will surely effect both his gaudy rebounding and block shot statistics, and probably make him more of a liability on defense despite a great wingspan. It doesnt help that he doesnt have the best BBIQ. Offensively, his strength is going to make him mostly and jump shooter and driver.

His weakness makes him a strong candidate for the D-League where he will almost certainly spend his fair amount of time over the next year or two. In the right organization, he can eventually work his way into an NBA rotation, maybe even as a starter. More than likely, though, you will still find him as a fringe NBA player years down the road. He reminds me of Courtney Sims of the D-League, who puts up excellent numbers each year, but never gets more than a 10 day call-up. To avoid being like Sims, Benson needs to gain that strength and become more gritty. OKC would be an ideal fit for both parties. They have their own D-league team and do a good job of developing their own players, while the Thunder would benefit by having an athletic big with a face-up offensive game. The Thunder love athletic, super long centers so it could be the perfect match. Right now, he would be a stretch in the first round.

Tobias Harris - The Bruce Pearl turmoil definitely effected the Vols and resulted in them getting demolished by the Michigan Wolverines. That same turmoil might end up forcing out their best player too, Tobias Harris. Harris was the only bright spot in their tournament game, scoring 19 points in the first half on perfect shooting. He uses an inside-out game like his cousin, Channing Frye, to do his damage. He drives strong to the hoop, posts up, and can hit the college three. He relies on good fundamentals and skills, which in turn, makes him the model of consistency. It was nice to see him breakout, though, against Michigan and has definitely gotten people talking about him.

All signs show Harris being a great kid, coachable, hard-working, and a team player. He understands the game a lot better than most freshman and does a great job picking his spots offensively. The kind of production at his age alone warrants first round consideration. He doesnt have the athleticism to be talked about in the lottery with some of his McDonald All-American peers, but he could be the first one offering solid contributions to a winning team. Coaches will love him and kind a way to use his unique skill set on offense and put him in position to hang defensively.

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