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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

The transition game, from college to pro

Here is the annual NBA draft during the NCAA tournament, but don't hold him to it.

March 22, 2009|MARK HEISLER

In a salute to the NCAA tournament, here's my annual NBA perspective, trying to project who's rising, who's falling, and set it up so whatever happens, I can say I was right.

For every phenom the pros don't talk about because they're not expected to come out -- such as North Carolina's Ed Davis or Florida State's Solomon Alabi -- there are stalwarts like UNC's Tyler Hansbrough, who aren't on this creme de la creme list but may make the real first round.

Thanks to the NBA people and the great Frank Burlison of the Long Beach Press-Telegraph, who helped me.

These are listed heights with players in sneakers or, in some programs, on small ladders, so knock off an inch, to start with.

1 Blake Griffin, 6-10, 252, Soph., Oklahoma -- Powerful, explosive, the one sure bet.

2 Ricky Rubio, 6-3, 180, Joventut Badalona, Spain -- "Spanish Pete Maravich" and dead ringer, facially. Great length, big-time playmaker, even defends, but can't shoot yet.

3 Jordan Hill, 6-10, 235, Jr., Arizona -- Major athlete, still making strides.

4 Ed Davis, 6-9, 225, Fr., North Carolina -- No one talks about him now, which, as one GM said, "is how Roy Williams wants it."

5 Hasheem Thabeet, 7-3, 265, Jr., Connecticut -- Pros, who rolled their eyes for years, have noticed he's improving, however slowly, and, oh, yes, still huge.

6 James Harden, 6-5, 218, Soph., Arizona State -- Not athletic, but big, skilled with great feel.

7 Jeff Teague, 6-2, 175, Soph., Wake Forest -- Great athlete, deadeye shot. Skeptics say he's a pint-sized shooting guard. Admirers think he can handle point in a structured system.

8 Greg Monroe, 6-10, 234, Fr., Georgetown -- Skilled high-post player, but defers and/or coasts.

9 Willie Warren, 6-3, 207, Fr., Oklahoma -- Admirers see better Rodney Stuckey, or another Eric Gordon.

10 Al-Farouq Aminu, 6-9, 215, Fr., Wake Forest -- Admirers see Tyrus Thomas, with a head.

11 Stephen Curry, 6-3, 180, Jr., Davidson -- Best shooter in college, even if numbers don't show it with entire teams guarding him. Bob Knight called him best passer in college history, which isn't true, or close, but is still quite a compliment.

12 Cole Aldrich, 6-10, 250, Fr., Kansas -- Joel Przybilla with an offensive game.

13 DeMar DeRozan, 6-6, 210, Fr., USC -- Big finish for off-the-chart athlete. Admirers say he's more skilled than he shows, but defers too much. Now, says one GM, to see if he's Rudy Gay, Rodney Carney or Gerald Green.

14 Jonny Flynn, 6-0, 186, Soph., Syracuse -- Blew people away in the Big East Tournament. Even if he's 5-10, admirers see a lucid Nate Robinson.

15 Solomon Alabi, 7-1, 240, Fr., Florida State -- Not as big, as quick or as far along as Thabeet, but coming faster.

16 Earl Clark, 6-9, 230, Jr., Louisville -- Young Lamar Odom, in top three in talent, but doesn't always show it.

17 Brandon Jennings, 6-1, 170, Lottomatica Roma, Italy -- Once attended Dominguez High, once committed to USC, skipped college for a $1.6-million deal -- and sat the bench. Terrific athlete, still a major prospect.

18 Terrence Williams, 6-6, 220, Sr., Louisville -- Streaky shooter, but great athlete with a good feel.

19 Gerald Henderson, 6-4, 210, Jr., Duke -- Uber-athlete, improved shooter, really Ds it up.

20 DeJuan Blair, 6-6, 287, Jr., Pittsburgh -- Sawed-off big guys don't usually translate in the pro game, but this one is special enough to get a look.

21 Tyreke Evans, 6-6, 219, Fr., Memphis -- AAU chosen one -- meaning he has an entourage, but may not be as grounded as Vincent Chase. Not a shooter but picked up after switch to point guard.

22 B.J. Mullens, 7-0, 250, Fr., Ohio State -- Athletic, skilled, projected for top five before nothing debut, but at least he didn't shrink.

23 James Johnson, 6-8, 235, Soph., Wake Forest -- Eduardo Najera-level competitor but bigger with more game.

24 Ivan Shumpert, 6-5, 200, Fr., Georgia Tech -- Big point guard, not expected to leave, has many admirers.

25 Jrue Holiday, 6-3, 195, Fr., UCLA -- You had to see him as a prep to have him this high as a projected point guard -- but lots of pros did. As far behind Darren Collison as he is, has size and strength Collison never will.

26 Eric Maynor, 6-3, 180, Sr., Virginia Commonwealth -- Late bloomer, almost carried his little team past UCLA.

27 James Anderson, 6-6, 205, Soph., Oklahoma State -- Athletic power forward who can shoot, pros see him as a shooting guard.

28 Ty Lawson, 5-11, 195, Jr., North Carolina -- Little tank who was ACC player of year, making 47% of three-pointers.

29 Darren Collison, 6-0, 160, Sr., UCLA -- Pros already knew he couldn't carry a team. Quickness and career 43% on three-pointers will keep him in first round.

30 Devin Ebanks, 6-9, 205, Fr., West Virginia -- Long, athletic. Admirers see a young Tayshaun Prince.

Others: Patrick Mills, St. Mary's; Craig Brackins, Iowa State; Sherron Collins, Kansas; Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State; Jerome Jordan, Tulsa; Josh Heytvelt, Gonzaga; *Chase Budinger, Arizona; *Austin Daye, Gonzaga; *Damion James, Texas; Kyle Singler, Duke; Terrico White, Mississippi.

*In last year's top 30.

--

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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