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 Blake Griffin
If you have watched college basketball transform itself over the past 10 years, it should be obvious that point-guard play has become the essential ingredient in teams that achieve greatness, both in their conferences and in the NCAA tournament.
That's part of the reason I believe Blake Griffin should be the player of the year in college basketball. Griffin is not a point guard. In fact, his team's biggest weakness is its lack of solid point-guard play, and yet Griffin still so thoroughly dominates a game that Oklahoma's ongoing poor performance at the 1 seems moot.
Griffin has extended his shooting range to 18 feet. He also defends, rebounds and blocks shots with passion and is a ferocious low-post scorer capable of going for 40 if not double-teamed.
Unlike Hansbrough, Griffin isn't playing with a future NBA point guard. Unlike Curry, he's not taking the majority of his team's shots. But man, is he good.
How good is Griffin? The fans in his hometown of Oklahoma City (he is from nearby Edmond) are not nearly as down on their woeful NBA Thunder as they could be, since the worse the Thunder play, the more likely Griffin will stay home.
While he is not Kevin Durant or Michael Beasley as a scorer, Griffin's ability changes the game at both ends and on the boards; thus, he actually has a greater overall effect on the outcome than the previous two players of the year (Durant and Hansbrough).
But hey, let's just let Griffin's numbers speak for themselves:
• Averages 22.8 ppg, which is third among major-conference players
• Leads the nation in rebounding (14.0) and is fifth in field goal percentage (66.9)
• Leads the nation in double-doubles (10)
• Already has five 20-point, 15-rebound games (Beasley had seven all of last season)
Now here's the most impressive one of all. I mentioned that Griffin is averaging 22.8 ppg and 14.0 rpg. Do you know the last player to average 20 points and 14 rebounds in a season? A young kid at Wake Forest by the name of Tim Duncan did it during the 1996-97 season.
Gottlieb: In terms of an NBA player, Griffin appears to be the prototypical power forward who will last 15 years in the NBA.
He has a good-looking stroke. Griffin could shoot free throws better, but there is nothing mechanically wrong with the shot. He can be an immediate scoring threat on the low block at the next level.
Griffin runs and jumps like a pro, and barring a measurement of 6-foot-7, he is virtually assured of being a top-3 pick in the upcoming draft. As a side note, Griffin's dad still plays in tournaments in the over-50 age bracket, suggesting a longevity that scouts die for.
Jay Bilas: Griffin will be a top-5 pick and is the leading candidate to be the first overall selection in the 2009 NBA Draft. He a strong, explosive athlete with good length and very good skills.
Griffin is still developing his overall game, but he is already highly productive as a scorer and rebounder. He can be a dominant scorer in the NBA, and there is no player in the draft pool whom I would consider selecting over Griffin.
Fran Fraschilla: He is the most athletic college big man this decade, and it should culminate in his being selected the No. 1 pick in June's NBA draft. While Griffin is a more powerful player, he should have the same type of impact early in his career as Chris Bosh, the No. 4 selection in the 2003 draft. Griffin possesses a rare combination of size, strength, quickness and agility.
A relentless rebounder because of his quick first- and second-jump ability, Griffin can get above-the-rim and out-of-his-area rebounds better than any player in the country. He has an improving shooting touch from 15 feet and in. And he handles and passes the ball in the open court extremely well for a player who is 6-foot-10 and 260 pounds. Finally, the young Sooner has a disposition to dominate, which should come handy in the "man's world" of the NBA.