Looking to the Future: The Fantastic Four Still Alive in the Elite Eight

Published: March 24, 2012

The college season is heading down to the wire, and lucky for all of us, the best players are still standing.

Harrison Barnes, like Andre Drummond did just a week before, has played himself out of contention for the Hornets top pick this summer. Against an Ohio team that came in as a heavy underdog, Barnes was a virtual no-show in a game that a true superstar would have taken over after the team’s point guard went down. Instead, Barnes hoisted up brick after brick, finishing 3-16 on the night. Sure, even the best shooters have poor games, but usually those guys attack the rim and get to the line when there jumper is not falling. Barnes just kept settling for jumper after jumper, and that just reflects poorly on his basketball IQ and overall value to a team.

So the Sensational Six is down to the Fantastic Four, as only Anthony Davis, MKG, Thomas Robinson, and Jared Sullinger remain as guys who will be worthy of the Hornets first pick in the June draft. Some analysts and mock drafts have Jared Sullinger “falling”, whatever that means. We all understand that there is no real and tangible thing from which Sullinger is “falling” right? I just had to ask, because I see people responding to this as if it were a real thing, as if all GM’s must adhere to some universal board that players rise and fall on throughout the season.

I remember when Elton Brand was falling back in 1999. Reports were coming out that GM’s felt he was undersized and didn’t have the upside of Steve Francis, Odom, or B-Diddy. He could even fall out of the top 6 some said, two mock drafts had him going number eight to the Cavs. But draft night came and Brand went first overall, because apparently he magically rose back up those mythical draft boards again. Point is, Sullinger is not rising and he is not falling. GM’s are still in the ‘gathering information’ stage and ranking these kids has not yet become a part of the process.

With that said, let’s take a look at some of the things that took place this week in college basketball.

I’m Coming Out!

– Austin Rivers and Royce White have declared and hired agents, as they are both virtual locks to be first round picks- but can either of them sneak into the lottery? White is perhaps the most unique player to come out in the past five or six years because his game is unconventional to say the least. You can’t help but think about former Hornet Anthony Mason when watching White, but I find myself wondering how many teams Mason could fit on if he were in the league today.

The league is more open and we are in the golden age of point guards, so some of Mason’s (and therefore White’s) skills simply wouldn’t be utilized. Perhaps he can be the leader of a second unit that plays at a slower pace, is more focused on defense, etc.- similar to Chicago’s second unit. Rivers, on the other hand, is better suited for the pros than the college game. He thrives in isolation settings and will benefit from more improvizational offensive sets that don’t have to go against zone defenses. He has to work on his left hand and must work on finishing better in the paint, but he compares favorably to a guy like Monta Ellis at this point in his career.

– Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is rumored to be entering the draft according to the infamous “sources.” MKG came out and said that he didn’t know where those rumors came from, but did not flatly deny that they were untrue. The fact is that Gilchrist will be told that he is a lock to be a top five pick, and it will be foolish for him to return after hearing that. That said, he is a team guy and if Kentucky falls short, there is a chance he could return- so I guess I’m telling all of you to pull for Kentucky to tear down the nets.

– Reports are that Damian Lillard will enter the draft, and he is a virtual lock to go in the lottery with New Orleans, Portland, Utah, and Phoenix all hungry for a point guard. Lillard can flat out score but will face much stiffer competition in the pros than he did at Weber State. He played in two games against teams outside of their conference that made the tourney (BYU and California) and he averaged 14.5 PPG and shot 34% from the field; compared to 25 PPG and 47.5% against the mid-major teams that made up the vast majority of their schedule.

– I have never mentioned Moe Harkless before, but I am going to do so now. There is no way he goes in the lottery, but he would be a guy that Demps could target if he picks up an extra pick or trades back. He is 2-3 years away from being a serious contributor, but he can be a Rich Man’s Trevor Ariza if he reaches his full potential.

Time to Shine

– The guy most likely to turn the Fantastic Four into the Pheonomenial Five? Bradley Beal. As I said in the past, if he is the top guy on your board, you have to take him regardless of the similarities between he and Gordon. If the worst happens and the Hornets are drafting fifth or sixth, the Hornets would be foolish to reach on the lesser player (Perry Jones?) just because it filled an immediate need.

– Three weeks ago, James Michael McAdoo was a talented freshman who looked to be the future face of North Carolina, poised to lead them after all the stars left. Flash forward to today, and there are several people anticipating that he could leave after this season, and not only that, they think he might go ahead of the guys in the front court who start over him, based purely on potential.

The Injury Bug

– Kendall Marshall missed the Sweet Sixteen game due to an injury to his wrist, but it might have been the best thing that ever happened to him. GM’s and scouts watched the talented North Carolina team struggle without their floor general, and now it is hard to argue that anyone else is the MVP of the second best team in the nation.

– Although he has played relatively well, there is growing speculation that Jared Sullinger is playing with an injury, and if he is, that guy just became even more impressive. He just doesn’t have the same range of motion as usual, and it appears that it is due to a lingering back problem. If it is revealed that he played through the pain, and then gets the problem fixed, it should secure his spot in the top five despite all the projections saying otherwise.

Looking Ahead

– Kentucky vs. Baylor- wow! Two top three picks (MKG and Davis) against two guys who could be top three if they come back next year and mature, but probably won’t (Jones III and Quincy Miller). I don’t think Davis or Gilchrist have anything to prove, and their draft status is secure enough to overcome a dud tomorrow, but Miller and Jones could really help themselves by showcasing themselves in this game. A bad performance, however, could force them to do what they should do anyway- stay in school.

– Kansas vs. UNC. Again, we are watching a game that will feature multiple lottery picks and Hornets fans should focus their attention on the paint in this ball game. Thomas Robinson is slightly undersized and he will be forced to go up against two guys in John Henson and Tyler Zeller that have extraordinary length and ability. If Robinson can still dominate the paint and the glass against NBA caliber players, then his status as a top 3 pick will be secure.

– Syracuse’s 2-3 zone should cause all kinds of problems for Jared Sullinger today and might force him out onto the perimeter, but if OSU can get through the Orangemen, he will have an excellent chacne to showcase himself in the Final Four against either Thomas Robinson or UNC’s bigs.

Michael McNamara’s Hornets Big Board (Ceiling/Floor)

1. Anthony Davis (Kevin Garnett meets Hakeem/Alonzo Morning)

2. Thomas Robinson (Young Carlos Boozer + heart / Taj Gibson)

3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Scottie Pippen minus handles / Young AK47)

4. Jared Sullinger (Kevin McHale/ Tyler Hansborough)

5. Bradley Beal (Allen Houston/ Bobby Phills)

6. Andre Drummond (Athletic Andrew Bynum / Javele McGee)

7. Cody Zeller (Greg Monroe/ Jason Thompson)

8. Harrison Barnes (Paul Pierce/ 2011-12 Danny Granger)

9. Kendall Marshall (Young Andre Miller/ Mike Conley)

10. Tyler Zeller (Nene/ Robin Lopez)

11. Jeremy Lamb (Kevin Martin/ Gordon Hayward)

12. Damian Lillard (Russell Westbrook/ Raymond Felton)

13. Perry Jones III (PF version of Tyson Chandler/ Stromile Swift)

14. Terrance Jones (Young Antawn Jamison/ Al Harrington)

Looking to the Future is a weekly feature that you can find every Saturday only on Hornets 247.com. For past articles, click here.


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