CJ's Corner: Pro Potential

Being honest, we love Top 10 lists here at <i>The Bootleg</i>. They inspire lengthy discussion and debate amongst fans, while provoking new areas of thought. Chris this week takes his Corner as an opportunity to tackle one of the most controversial and debatable topics on the West Coast: the top ten NBA talents in the Pac-10. For an authoritative take on the subject, plus CJ's weekly postseason predictions, read on.

Though it is not a truly valid measuring stick for college players, there have been discussions for years on The Bootleg's message boards about the professional prospects of Cardinal players.  The thinking is that the Stanford program is in better shape the more NBA caliber players are on the roster.  Take the 2000-01 team, which by several measures was the most accomplished squad in the modern era of Stanford hoops.  Sure enough, the roster was littered with future pro's.  Some of the best college basketball players of the last 20 years have had middling performances in the Association, but let's toss that caveat aside for the moment.  Let's strip away the college chemistry and talent dilution discussions and do a straight evaluation of who are the 10 best pro prospects in the Pac-10 today.  The fans of just about every school will tell you they have a "future NBA" guy on their roster - or three - but below they will find a healthy dollop of reality...

1. Andre Igoudala, Arizona.
Iguodala is one of the most versatile players in college right now.  His assist totals demonstrate that he is a capable passer in addition to being an effective slasher and finisher in transition.  Iggy plays inside and outside for Arizona, occasionally acting as a true wing, but sometimes playing the role of a four.   At the next level, he'll play the 2 and 3.  With his exceptional athleticism and wingspan, he should be capable of defending most of the league's small forwards, despite being 6'6".  Igoudala is rapidly improving and has no obvious shortcomings as a player that are likely to limit his progress.  It should be borne in mind that Andre is a late bloomer (he focused on track and field as much as basketball through his junior year of high school as an elite high jumper), so he may be farther away from his peak as a player than others on this list.

2. Josh Childress, Stanford
Unlike some on this list, Childress has a natural NBA position -- small forward.  Childress' game should translate well to the next level.  A legitimate 6'7" (6'8" in NBA parlance) and possessing excellent length, he will be able to finish at the goal when he slashes or gets out on the wing in transition (yes, a few teams still get up and down the court).  He can also be expected to use his remarkable quick leaping ability to snare some offensive boards.  The only limitations on Josh's upside might be his strength and outside shot.  It's not entirely clear that Josh's thin frame will be as much of a liability on defense as it might have been several years ago, as posting up smaller or slighter players is becoming a lost art among NBA wings.  As for his shot, it's anybody's guess as to whether it will be consistent enough to make Josh a real threat from deep.  If he is a threat from the perimeter, Childress could become a serious offensive weapon and one of the top dozen or so small forwards in the league.  If not, Josh might still make it as a solid starter on the strength of his slashing, intermediate game and rebounding.

3. Mustafa Shakur, Arizona.
As I mentioned in last week's column, the preseason comments out of Tucson comparing Shakur favorably to Mike Bibby as a freshman were misguided.  Nevertheless, Shakur has significant upside.  He has the size, ballhandling ability, quickness and court sense, particularly in the open court, to thrive in the NBA.  The wildcard with Shakur is his jumper.  The Arizona coaching staff is planning to revamp Shakur's shooting mechanics in the offseason.  If the results are favorable and his jumper becomes sound, he could be a deserving of a high lottery pick.  Shakur would be well-advised not to jump to the NBA prematurely, as he will improve his draft status enormously not only with the work on his shot but also with some additional seasoning in Arizona's guard-friendly offense and some physical maturation.

4. Trevor Ariza, UCLA
Ariza has the combination of size, athleticism and skill that will make him a lot of money as an NBA small forward some day.  The biggest questions about Ariza have to do with attitude, not ability, and if he stays in Ben Howland's program long enough, he'll develop into a fine prospect.  If he leaves too early, however, he might never live up to his full potential. 

5. Matt Haryasz, Stanford
The most important statistic for Haryasz' future as a pro is 225.  That's his current weight.  If Matt fills out well and gets into the 240-245 range, he could be a very effective power forward in the NBA.  Haryasz has as much upside as any big man in the Montgomery era because of his combination of height (6'10") and length, athleticism (he runs the floor exceptionally well and has good leaping ability), and shooting touch.  Haryasz has shown flashes of his potential this season, including his shot-blocking ability, outside shooting touch, ability to run the floor and a few nifty low post moves.  On the other hand, the sophomore's production has tailed off of late, as defenses have forced him away from the basket and forced him to become one dimensional as a high post shooter.  If he can add the weight and strength necessary to establish and hold position in the low post, he'll be a first round draft pick and successful NBA power forward.

6. Channing Frye, Arizona
Frye is somewhat similar to Haryasz in several respects, including his build, ability to run the floor and versatility.  With an extra year under his belt, Frye is slightly more mature physically.  I give the nod to Haryasz as the better long term prospect primarily on the basis of his slightly better shooting touch.

7. Marcus Moore, Washington State
Moore, who nearly entered the draft after last season, has benefited from an extra year -- and some quality coaching -- in Pullman.  Moore often tried to do too much in previous years, although it was hard to blame him given his supporting cast (or lack thereof).  However, he has become a better distributor this year while remaining one of the Pac-10's more dangerous scoring threats.  His upside would be better if he had more quickness and were a better defender, but I expect Moore to achieve some success in the NBA on the strength of his ability to post up smaller point guards and to distribute the ball while still posing a scoring threat.

8. Ike Diogu, Arizona State
Diogu is an absolute beast at the college level, capable of going for 20-10 against almost anyone despite facing nearly constant double teams.  He has demonstrated an ability to shoot all the way out to the arc, in addition to scoring on the blocks, so versatility is not an issue for Diogu as it is with so many college post players.  Despite all the positives of Diogu's game, when it comes to the NBA, I don't like Ike.  That may be a slight exaggeration, but I tend to be wary of college players who rely on their size and strength if they are not likely to have such an advantage in the NBA.  Diogu looks to me to be about 6'7", maybe a shade taller, despite published heights to the contrary.  He's not an explosive athlete by any stretch, and when he's guarded by NBA caliber power forwards, Ike's effectiveness is likely to be limited.  On the defensive end, he will be vulnerable to the legitimate 6'9"+ power forwards who are a dime a dozen.  Ike brings enough versatility on offense to be a contributor at the next level, but I would not expect him to be a starter.

9. Luke Jackson, Oregon
Jackson does everything reasonably well and should be a capable backup at the next level.  He probably has enough size and has adequate athleticism to play at both the two and three.  The one problem I see with Luke's game at the next level is that he will probably have difficulty creating his own scoring opportunities, a skill that is much more important in the pro game. 

10. Hassan Adams, Arizona
With as much athleticism as you can pack into a 6'4" frame, Adams has the physical tools to make it to the NBA if he can develop his perimeter skills.  Forced to play both forward positions this year, Adams is not getting as much ballhandling work and as many touches on the perimeter as would be conducive to his development as a guard.  His greatest assets right now are his effectiveness in transition and ability to hit the offensive glass.  With limited frontcourt help on the way, it is possible that Adams will continue to have to play on the interior -- at least on defense -- in the future.  Still, if Adams can improve his jumpshot and get some more work on the perimeter, he could make it in the NBA.


Leon Powe, Cal:  I don't care what his listed height is, Powe is no taller than about 6'7".  Powe has the strength and quickness to be an effective inside player in college, and he'll be a tough matchup if he sticks around in Berkeley.  The problem with Powe as an NBA prospect is that he's small for a power forward but currently lacks the skills away from basket to play small forward.  He's already mature physically, so Powe's best bet for his professional future is probably to work as hard as possible on his mid-range game and versatility.

Justin Davis, Stanford:  Although he has a different set of strengths and weaknesses, Davis will face some of the same issues as Powe insofar as he is a bit undersized for an NBA four and doesn't figure to have enough game away from the basket to play the three.  Nevertheless, the Stanford senior is a good enough rebounder and runs the floor well enough to have a shot at catching on with a team as a free agent or late second round draft pick if he performs well in pre-draft camps (and measures out at 6'8").

Marquise Kately, Cal:  Tremendously gifted physically, it remains to be seen whether he can develop the skills to make it as a professional.  He has a long way to go, but he has to be considered a prospect based on raw potential.

Rodrick and Lodrick Stewart, USC:  See Marquise Kately.

Nate Robinson, Washington:  Despite being 5'8" or so, he may have the athleticism and work ethic to improve to the point of making an NBA roster.  Playing under Lorenzo Romar isn't helping, though.

Amit Tamir, Cal:  Could get a cup of coffee from the NBA just by virtue of being a near seven footer with outside shooting ability.  But he's way too soft to be anything but a fringe player.

Postseason Projections:

NCAA Tournament:
1. Stanford.  #1 seed in the West if the season ended today.
2. Arizona.  #3 seed if the season ended today.
3. UCLA.  The Bruins will make it if they merely win the ones they should.

NCAA Tournament Bubble:

NIT Possibilities:
1. Oregon.  Lunardi thinks they're more or less a bubble team.  I disagree.
2. USC.  Game at Maples represents a huge opportunity for inconsistent Trojans. 
3. Arizona State.  Good win against USC, but USC is potentially the better team.
4. California.  Need a split this week to avoid joining Washington on the list below, but showing against Stanford indicates improvement.
5. Washington State.  Still searching for an identity on offense.  They'll run one game, then play stall ball the next.

No Chance:
1. Washington.  Nice comeback against Oregon State to save face.
2. Oregon State.  Against UW, blew a great chance at a rare conference win.

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