In college basketball this season, three names stand out above all others: Tyler Hansbrough, Stephen Curry and Blake Griffin. ESPN.com makes a case for each as the nation's best player, and predicts the NBA future of all three standouts.
The Case for Stephen Curry
It's a three-horse race right now for national player of the year in college basketball. Me? I am going to ride Davidson's Stephen Curry.
North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough will go down as one of the ACC's five greatest players of all time, and Oklahoma's Blake Griffin is the odds-on favorite to be the first player selected in June's NBA draft, but I like my chances.
In March, Curry took the 10th-seeded Wildcats and put them on his back in the NCAA tournament, almost single-handedly carrying them to an improbable Elite Eight appearance by averaging 32 points a game. But that was last season. This season, despite Davidson's loss of its Nos. 2-4 scorers to graduation, Curry has been even better.
It's actually easy to make the case for Curry with his numbers this season. He's averaging a national-best 30 points a game, even with the zero he put up against Loyola when he took himself out of the offense so his teammates could play 4-on-3 and win by 30 points. He has scored 30 or more six times already (and 29 twice), including 44 points versus both Oklahoma and NC State. In fact, the Wildcats are 8-1 when Curry scores 27 points or more.
I was at the Oklahoma game, along with 20 or more NBA scouts, and I think he could have scored 60 points if his jumper was on. If it's needed, I think he can get 50 points in a game this season.
Curry, however, is more than a great scorer. When the country's top playmaker, Jason Richards, graduated last spring, coach Bob McKillop asked Curry to take on the additional duties of running the Wildcats from the point guard position, and Curry has responded to the challenge, averaging almost seven assists a game and recording a career-high 13 assists against Winthrop. McKillop marvels at the adjustments Curry has made, saying, "Rarely can you find someone who can be an orchestra leader and the lead vocalist."
Maybe it's his slight frame, his baby face or the fact that he's a small guy in a big man's game, but there is something about Curry's basketball brilliance that resonates with college basketball fans. With all due respect to his teammates, he hasn't been surrounded by players who will end up in the NBA, and fans recognize that.
Curry's vast offensive accomplishments, given the defensive attention he gets every night from opponents, are startling. When was the last time you heard of a college coach employing a triangle-and-2 against one player, as Loyola's Jimmy Patsos did?
There is likely a bigger bull's-eye on Stephen Curry than on any player in college basketball this season. And yet, Curry's prolific scoring has become commonplace. When a very good defensive team like Purdue recently held Curry to his worst shooting game of the season, it was a bigger story than some of the 40-point games he has had this year. That in itself is the ultimate testament to his greatness.
Fraschilla: If Stephen Curry chooses to leave at the end of his junior season for the NBA, I believe he will be drafted in the mid-to-late lottery. It's a poor year in this year's draft for freshmen and international players, so someone with his three years of college basketball experience will become more valuable.
Despite some concerns about Curry's height (6-foot-3) and slight frame, he has a lot going for him. He has deep NBA range on his shot, a quick release and an ability to make creative shots, especially in the mid-range. In addition, he's got the countenance necessary to be an NBA player, considering he grew up around the league as Dell Curry's son.
Ultimately, I believe Curry will be a solid rotation player in the NBA when he does get the opportunity. However, if he returns for his senior season at Davidson, the Wildcats will be loaded and he'll have an opportunity, individually, to end up the as the NCAA's No. 2 all-time scorer behind Pete Maravich.
Jay Bilas: Curry has shot-making ability, and his range and quick release will make him a very good NBA player. He can move off of screens and spot up in transition, and he plays with great pace. If he plays with a good big man, Curry will find open opportunities.
Curry will be good. The only question: How good? Much of it depends upon his development as a point guard. Curry is small for a 2, and he does not excel in getting his own shot. Even if he does not develop beyond where he is as a point guard, his shooting ability will make him worth taking in the top half of the draft, and because this is a weak draft, he should go in the top 10.
Doug Gottlieb: First off, I'm not sold on him as a point guard. Obviously, he can score. He's a truly prolific shooter with a wide range of off-dribble moves. He has a quick release and can really stretch defenses with his range.
But does that translate to being a starting combo guard in the NBA? Good enough to be like, say, Ben Gordon? Some people have compared him to Kevin Martin, but Martin is 6-7. Curry is officially listed at 6-3, but I happen to believe he's 6-1½ at best.
So I think the jury is out on his pro potential. But like I said with Hansbrough, that should in no way diminish the greatness Curry has shown as a college player. He has a cult following -- and for good reason.