While I love the NCAA tournament (I mean, who doesn’t love all-day basketball?), I’m always looking out for NBA prospects. NBA is my first love and I just can’t help but filter my college hoops through an NBA lens. This has been especially true in the post-LeBron era, where the Cavs’ crappy records gives them a great shot at selecting the cream of the college crop at the top of the NBA draft.
I’m a huge proponent in the Cavs building through the draft. The Cavs have drafted players like LeBron James and Kyrie Irving (and Brad Daugherty, Terrell Brandon, Ron Harper and Mark Price) while they’ve added guys like Larry Hughes, CJ Miles and Anthony Parker through free agency. The lesson I’ve taken away is that if I want the Cavs to add All-Star talent, it’s (unfortunately) going to have to be through the draft.1
Now, one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t necessarily equate a good/great tournament performance into a good NBA player2. Some guys like Mateen Cleaves are just great college players. That’s fine. A good tournament run does not an NBA career make.
But what about going the other way? Do NBA All-Stars have crappy NCAA tournament games? A guy like Cody Zeller drops a stink bomb against Syracuse and I’m wondering if that should be a giant red flag or if I should focus more on his complete body of work. It’s the flip side of falling in love with a Big Game performance from someone like Derrick Williams3.
The Cavs’ current record 22-49 places them at third-worst in the NBA, giving them the third-best chance at landing that coveted top pick. And since I want the Cavs to draft another All-Star, I’m going to take a look at how the 2013 All-Stars fared in their respective NCAA Tournaments and see if many (or any) of them played poorly.
For the sake of clarity and my sanity, I’m only going to take a look at the 2013 NBA All-Stars. Also, with apologies to Jacob, I’ll only be using basic scoring/rebound/assist stats. There will be nothing advanced. Also, I’m only looking at the Tournament games preceding each player’s draft year. So if Tim Duncan had a crappy tourney game as a sophomore, that won’t be taken into consideration. I fully understand that whether a player makes it (or doesn’t) in the NBA is based on any number of factors, from measurables like size and quickness to simply landing with the right franchise or situation.
Here’s the All-Star rosters listed with their colleges. Six players (LeBron, KG, Tyson Chandler, Tony Parker, Dwight Howard and Kobe) did not attend college. Also, Chris Bosh’s Georgia Tech team played in the NIT and Paul George’s Fresno State team didn’t make either tournament.
Unsurprisingly (considering who we’re sampling), there wasn’t a lot of truly horrendous games, but I do count a few stinkers. Not every All-Star went really deep in their final collegiate season, but the vast majority played pretty well. I counted five guys who put up some clunkers:
James Harden didn’t play particularly well at all during his final college tourney. He’s the biggest outlier among the bunch. Harden shot 3-18 over his final two games but did average 6.5 boards and 4 assists.
Jrue Holiday shot just 6-18 over two games but still dished out a decent amount of assists.
None of Zach Randolph’s game were super horrendous, but none were crazy crazy good either.
LaMarcus Aldridge put up a 2-14 stinker in his last game, but still managed to grab ten boards. So… kinda like Cody Zeller.
Rondo and Westbrook put up some classic Rondo and Westbrook games. Not the best field goal percentage but they did tons of other stuff.
So. What have we learned? First, Tim Duncan and Dwyane Wade were beasts in college (go figure, Hall of Famers are great in college too). Second, most of the eventual All-Stars played pretty well in their final collegiate runs. Third, even the guys who did play (or rather, shot) poorly, most of them did other things to fill up the stat sheet. They still made an impact on the game. I didn’t come across any “2-15, 1 rebound, 3 assist” type games.
Now, let’s take a look at the Tournament runs from some of the prospects that the Cavs could be targeting at the top of the draft:
2013: #1 Kansas vs #16 Western Kentucky: 11 points (2-5 FG, 7-8 FT, 0-2 3pt), 6 rebounds, 2 assists.
2013: #1 Kansas vs #8 North Carolina: 2 points (0-9 FG, 2-2 FT, 0-6 3pt), 5 rebounds, 2 assists.
Well, if there’s any one thing I take away from this list it’s that there’s no Tim Duncan/D.Wade in this class. No one performance or player really stands out. The best game seems to be Anthony Bennett’s 15 point, 11 board night. Both McLemore and Muhammad had nice scoring games, but neither shot the ball well nor did much of anything else.
Another issue is that the sample sizes are really small for these top prospects (not that a deep tournament run is really all that more significant stats-wise). Smart, Porter, Bennett and Muhammad each got bounced in the first second round. Not one of the 2013 All-Stars got bounced after only one game (although, again, Chris Bosh and Paul George’s teams failed to make the bracket of 64).
As for the Cavs, I won’t have a strong opinion on who they should draft until I know where they’ll be drafting. I like to know who is a realistic option at their draft spot. I would guess they’d be going Best Player Available, assuming it’s not a point guard4. Even then, back in 87 the Cavs took Kevin Johnson the year after drafting Mark Price and then flipped KJ for Larry Nance. Something like that may be necessary if the Cavs don’t want to reach in order to draft a need position.
And if the Cavs some how end up with the top pick, they won’t even have to worry about any March Madness performance. Nerlans Noel hasn’t played a game since February.
the last All-Star that the Cavs have traded for was Mo Williams (and let’s be honest….). Before that it was Shawn Kemp. Before that, it was Larry Nance. [↩]
or we’d still be marveling at the NBA career of Trevor Huffman [↩]
let’s take this time to thank anything holy that Chris Grant didn’t put too much stock into Williams’ 2011 tournament performance [↩]
and while I assume Chris Grant prefers a SF or C, I don’t think either Waiters or Thompson necessarily precludes them from taking a SG or PF [↩]
Ben has been writing about the Cavs for WFNY since 2011. Known as the "town bicycle of Cavaliers bloggers" and a librarian by trade, when Ben's not tweeting about the Cavs (@WFNYBen) or curled up with a book, you're likely find him on a disc golf course.