Illini Wonk
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
  Illini in the NBA
Every year, as soon as the nets are cut down at the Final Four weekend, the speculation about the NBA draft begins. This year, that speculation will be on the minds of all Illinois basketball fans, as they have two juniors who were named the Sporting News Player of the Year and the MVP of the NCAA Tournament Chicago Region. Rather than wait until the final whistle, Illini Wonk is letting you know today which members of the Fighting Illini will be drafted and what their careers will be like at the next level.

I'm sure you're asking: "How can Illini Wonk know all of this?" Well, I don't. That's why Wonk has an exclusive interview Brendan McGovern of About.com Guide to Basketball. In case you haven't heard of him, McGovern's NBA Mock Draft is a must read for those interested in who will go where at the next level. What follows is a little Q&A on the NBA prospects of the current crop of Illinois basketball players.

Illini Wonk: Although Coach Bruce Weber has said he's staying in college unless he's a top 15 pick, Deron Williams has hinted that he will go pro if he's likely to be taken in the first round. Seth Davis of SI said he's the second best point-guard in the draft behind Chris Paul and will be a future NBA star. After the season the Illini are having, is there any way Williams doesn't go pro and if he does where will he be selected and what kind of future will he have at the next level?

Brendan McGovern: There's really not much "business to be finished" for Williams now that the Illini are headed to St. Louis so I can't really think of a scenario where he DOESN'T come out. The comparisons to Jason Kidd are acceptable, but he doesn't have quite the vision that Kidd does. Not many players in history have. Williams spots his teammates off the dribble very well, but he's clearly not as comfortable going left and he lacks the innate ability to create even when his first passing option is taken away. That's what separates the great from the very good. On the positive, he's a better shooter than Kidd. His weight will be an interesting consideration for NBA teams. His size can be an advantage -- he can back down smaller guards and take contact in the lane -- but it may also hinder his ability to guard people on the next level. The ease with which Salim Stoudamire was able to get the corner on Williams probably settled it: Williams needs to shed some pounds off his upper-body. If I had to offer an NBA-comparison, I'd say Terry Porter.

(Note: Brendan projects Williams to be the 15th selection in his Mock Draft and lists him as the #5 guard prospect).

Wonk: Hopefully it won't take breaking his jaw again. Luther Head has been called one of the most improved players in America and was a candidate for most of the major hardware. You list him #4 in your Top 10 Draft Sleepers and as the #42 pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. Do you think Head is still a sleeper or has his performance this year earned him a first-round selection?

McGovern: Head will still be on the outskirts of the First Round, because of his size and his obvious ceiling as a solid combo-guard off the bench doesn't offer the kind of long-term potential that teams drafting in the late First Round are looking for. With the way his basketball skills have caught up to his tremendous athleticism, I think he'll only continue to get better and will enjoy a nice career as a seventh man off the bench a la Antonio Daniels.

Wonk: You list Dee Brown #38 in your NBA prospects for 2006. In recent weeks, Brown has won Big Ten and Sporting News player of the year. Although he has said he will most likely stay for one more year, he has left the door slightly ajar. Can you make Illinois fans extremely happy and guarantee that Brown will be in Champaign next season or do you see a scenario where he leaves this year?

McGovern: I think Brown understands that he can really improve his draft stock by being THE guy for Illinois next season. Brown can help himself most by simply running the offense and showing that he can be a full-time distributor. Which is really how he started before Williams grabbed the reins of the offense, so I fully expect Brown to excel in that role next year and work his way into the upper half of the First Round. Everything about Brown is eerily similar of Jason Terry.

Wonk: Whew! That will make Illini fans happy. Roger Powell surprised everyone and declared for the 2004 NBA Draft before withdrawing his name and returning to Illinois for his senior season. Although a very good college player, some are saying that his in-between size (6-6) could cost him a draft selection. Do you see an NBA career in Roger Powell's future?

McGovern: Not really. He's built like an Adonis but he doesn't really have a position on the next level as an interior-oriented 6'6" small forward without a great outside shot, nor great ball-handling skills. He could carve out a niche as a tough one-on-one defender with his size and strength, but he hasn't shown to have that mindset at Illinois.

Wonk: I guess that will leave plenty of preaching time for the Reverand. James Augustine has developed into one of the best big men in the Big Ten and some say he could score more, but he understands his role on a team of scorers. What do NBA scouts think of Augustine or are they reserving judgment until after his senior season?

McGovern: I think everyone knows Augustine could and will score more in his senior season, but his offensive skills are still pretty limited to shots from 10-feet and in and offensive putbacks. I'm not sure how much more he's going to develop offensively, but he can get by in the NBA with his energy and athleticism. At this point, he projects to be an Andrew Declercq-type player on the next level.

Wonk: Some fans on the IlliniBoard might disagree with you on that one. Moving on, are Jack Ingram and Nick Smith destined for European basketball if they want to play competitively after college or could their size get them looks from NBA teams?

McGovern: Ingram and Smith are really two peas in a pod. They're both very skilled offensively and have good range on their jumpers, but neither can compete physically in the NBA. Smith, in particular, lacks the lower-body strength to stand his ground has been shown to be allergic to the paint. It's a shame since he has such great size and is an intelligent offensive player. They seem destined for Europe, but I think Ingram could get a look this summer by an NBA team in camp.

Wonk: At 36-1, Illinois has been THE story in college basketball this year. How much does that help or hurt the draft prospects of the individual players?

McGovern: It can work both ways. A lot of International and High School prospects benefit from NOT being seen ... they're guys who are going to be drafted on skill or physical attributes alone so playing in real games doesn't necessarily help them. It's better for college players to be seen since they need to demonstrate actual on-court skills (quite a novelty, eh?) and game film exists on all of them and is readily accessible. There's no mystery surrounding NCAA players so playing on a high level and playing well is the best way to improve one's draftstock, especially for guys who scouts aren't setting out to see (Ingram, Smith) but who may catch someone's eye with their play.

Wonk: Lastly, the Illini are so balanced and unselfish this year. Who's the top NBA talent on the team?

McGovern: Williams' physical limitations could really undercut his career, but I'd still give him the nod over Brown simply because Williams' passing talents are in such demand in the NBA.
 
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