In this edition of Overrated Underrated, I’ll take a look at two college players whose teams just made the Elite Eight and who we expect to see taken in the first round June's draft. I’m examining how good they’ll be as pros, so don’t get your panties in a bunch if Kemba’s team advances further than Williams' in this tournament.
Arizona’s Derrick Williams
Some mock drafts have already pegged Williams as a potential #1 selection, but I think we all understand that that spot is Duke’s Kyrie Irving to lose. Not only that, not a lot of fans are actually talking about Williams as if he’ll be a future All-Star – more of a “yeah, I knew who he was as a freshman” sort of discussion that says little about his pro potential. Not only that, he’s a 6-feet-8 PF who isn’t particularly powerful. All that being said, many fans didn’t realize how effective and productive he is until he singlehandedly dismantled Duke last night.
For a college player’s game to translate well into the NBA, he better be able to do a lot of things well or at least one thing outstanding from both an eyeball and statistical standpoint. His 20 ppg are nice, but they’re downright great when you realize he only shoots 10 shots a game. He’s connecting on 60% of his 2-pointers, a startling 60% of his 3-pointers (1.8 attempts per game), and he nearly lead the nation in free throw attempts this season at 8.6 per, more than every player at a BCS school. His offensive versatility has expanded faster and wider than any other NCAA player over the past two years after he entered Arizona as a 3-star recruit. He knows exactly what to do based on who’s guarding him. Bigger, stronger players have to follow him out to perimeter so he doesn’t knock down 3’s and long 2’s, but he’s much faster than most true PF’s even though Williams has put on 30 pounds of muscle since joining the Wildcats two years ago. If a smaller, quicker player is assigned to him, he goes to work inside and will certainly get to the free throw line. Take everything Kyle Singler is known for in his versatility as a scorer, and Williams is more advanced in every area, plus he’s just much more decisive with the ball and can take over bigger games (see also: last night’s win over favored Duke).
Throw in 8.4 boards in 30 minutes per game and only 2.8 fouls per despite regularly having to guard true power forwards, and you have a player who is a banger inside who’s smart about his work, although I will mention he’s no stranger to fouling out of contests. The effort Williams puts into defense is top-notch, but his tweener status in the frontcourt will necessitate that hustle to maintain his decent-not-great defensive abilities, which he’s shown he can do. I know he doesn’t bring the athleticism and supposed high ceiling that players like Perry Jones or Terrence Jones have, but when you look at things like production, efficiency, and actually improving a team (pre-season rankings: P. Jones’ Baylor was 16, T. Jones’ Kentucky was 11, and Williams’ Arizona was 38 in the “Others Receiving Votes” section), Williams has them crushed.
UConn’s Kemba Walker
Joining Williams as one of the Elite Eight stars is Kemba Walker, whose Huskies were also 38th in the initial rankings that were released at the end of October. UConn has been on a magical run, taking the Big East Tournament crown by winning five games in five days (nearly impossible), and currently sitting one reasonable win away from the Final Four. Word of caution about that run: this is a very weak year for college talent, the type of year these sorts of runs typically happen in (look at the draft after George Mason went to the FF, or last year’s after Butler’s run). This run of UConn’s and Walker’s explosion on the national consciousness feels a little too similar to what happened with Jonny Flynn in 2009 - just saying.
So let’s get to what people like about Walker that could make him a top-10 pick this June. He scores a lot and is super fast. About those 24 ppg, he only shoots 43% overall and a barely-average 35% from deep [Update: Kemba shot only 40% in the tourney, including 29% from deep. In the Championship Game, he was 5-for-19 with 0 assists and 2 turnovers - not exactly big time.]. I hate to say it, but he’s little more than a volume scorer. He’s listed as a PG, but once he gets the ball you pretty much always expect him to shoot it. His shot selection is questionable at best (when he’s not driving out of control into the paint in hopes of getting a call), and most teams that do well against the Huskies do so by stopping his teammates and letting him shoot; he’s shot 20 or more shots 12 times this year, during which the team is 6-6. They’re 23-3 the rest of the time. Not only is he a bad decision maker who expects to have the constant green light with the ball in his hands, but Walker is only 6 feet tall.
The college player he most reminds me of was Cincinnati’s Steve Logan, who graduated in 2002. He was also 6-feet (until he tried out for the NBA, then he was only 5-10) and could also score a zillion points from the “point guard” position. Logan averaged 22 ppg as a senior, was an All-American, shot some middling percentages (46% FG, 37% 3FG), and also wasn’t much of a distributor. His most well-known achievement might have been outscoring the entire opposing team on Feb. 15, 2002, when he dropped 41 points in a 89-37 win over Southern Mississippi. This all sounds great and very Walker-esque, but Logan fell to the second round and never played in an NBA game because teams recognized what he was – a short volume scorer who made bad decisions with the ball. It looks like some NBA GM won’t discover this obvious comparison until too late.