NBA summer league

Through three games of the Vegas summer league, Leon Powe is Boston’s leading scorer (16.3 ppg) and rebounder (8.7 rpg). Last night, Powe had 23 points and 12 rebounds as the Celtics routed Team China. Powe thoroughly outplayed China’s Yi Jianlian, this year’s No. 6 overall draft pick to the Milwaukee Bucks. Yi had seven points, five rebounds and eight fouls in 22 minutes.
It will be interesting to see how the Celtics’ roster shakes down as the summer progresses. Powe got a lot of playing time near the end of last season, but some of that was because Boston was hit hard by injuries. Still, Powe made an impression on Celtics management and appears to solidly be in their plans. But Boston also drafted Glen Davis out of LSU with its second-round pick, which could give the team a bigger logjam inside.

An update on Ayinde Ubaka, who is playing for the Charlotte Bobcats: He has played 18 minutes in three games, with two points and one assist. Ubaka missed Tuesday’s game against Chicago with a sprained left ankle.


Ayinde update

For those who didn’t see it, Ayinde Ubaka scored two points in five minutes in his summer league debut Monday night. Ubaka is playing for the Charlotte Bobcats in the summer league in Orlando. The Bobcats play again tonight, against the Chicago Bulls.


A prognosis with Hardin

Now that DeVon Hardin has returned to Cal, just how good will the Bears be next season? Probably pretty good. The only problem is they will be playing in arguably the toughest conference in the nation.

Six Pac-10 teams went to the NCAA Tournament last season, and all six of those teams are almost locks to return next season. UCLA, Washington State, Oregon and USC all likely will be preseason top 25 teams. Stanford and Arizona very well could be also.

Washington lost Spencer Hawes to the NBA draft but still has a strong nucleus of young talent, so the Huskies should be more relevant once again. And although Arizona State finished in last place, it lost several close games and has a strong recruiting class coming in for 2007-08. Really, it looks as though Oregon State is the only team that won’t be much of a threat.

If the Pac-10 can get more than six teams into next year’s NCAA Tournament, Cal could be a strong contender. No player will benefit more from Hardin’s return than sophomore Ryan Anderson, who was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season despite getting absolutely no help inside. With Jordan Wilkes and Jamal Boykin coming off the bench, the Bears will have one of the deepest front courts on the West Coast.

Hardin’s presence should alleviate some of the suffocating double-teams Anderson was subjected to last season. Anderson exhibited a variety of ways to score as a freshman and could have a huge year. Pac-10 Player of the Year honors wouldn’t be a stretch.

Another thing Cal has going for them is sophomore wing Patrick Christopher, who played well at the end of last season and should enter this year with a lot of confidence. He should assume the starting role at shooting guard in light of the departure of Omar Wilkes.

Cal’s biggest question will be at point guard, where either Nikola Knezevic or Jerome Randle will replace four-year starter Ayinde Ubaka. Randle was hot and cold last year as a freshman while Knezevic, also a sophomore, sat out the season with a knee injury.


DeVon Hardin

The reason DeVon Hardin made the right decision to come back to Cal isn’t because he didn’t feel like he could be guaranteed a first-round pick. It’s because it’s the best thing for the long-term prognosis of his professional career.

The truth is, there is a good chance Hardin would have been a first-round pick, and earn the guaranteed money that comes along with it. But he is far from making a meaningful contribution to an NBA team. Teams are in love with his combination of strength and athleticism, but chances are he would have been viewed as a project and languished on the bench or sent to the developmental league early on.

How many times have we seen players in that position never make anything of their NBA career? Yes, Jamal Sampson has been able to hang around the league and probably is living a nice life even if he’s making the minimum salary, but the guess here is he would have made much more of an impact in the NBA had he stayed at Cal a little longer.

During the first two years of his Cal career, Hardin’s strengths were always his physical gifts. As a sophomore, he had to defer to Leon Powe so we didn’t get to see what he could truly do, especially on the offensive end. Last season was supposed to be the year we really saw what Hardin was capable of, but a foot injury limited him to just 11 games.

Truth be told, even in those 11 games, Hardin didn’t demonstrate the skill level required to make an impact in the NBA right away. He had his moments, just like he did earlier in his career, but never showed that he could consistently be productive. Despite that, he may have been a top-20 pick in this year’s draft.

Now imagine if Hardin is able to produce this season. He’ll be teamed up with a deep corps of big men, including returning leading scorer and rebounder Ryan Anderson, 7-foot center Jordan Wilkes and Duke transfer Jamal Boykin. If Hardin can demonstrate he’s NBA-ready, who knows how high he may go in the 2008 draft? Just moving into the lottery might be an understatement.


A mystery

I see that ESPN.com’s Chad Ford now has Cal center DeVon Hardin projected to go late in the first round to Detroit in his latest mock draft. I’d be surprised if that actually happens. Actually, not so much surprised but in disagreement with it.

Hardin clearly has the combination of size, strength and athleticism that NBA scouts drool over, but his game still needs a lot of work. A lot of NBA teams don’t worry about that — they believe as long a a player has the measurables and potential, they can turn him into a legitimate pro. But as athletically gifted as Hardin is, he is yet to demonstrate any consistency on the collegiate level. If I were an NBA general manager, I’d like to at least see Hardin show he can consistently score, stay out of foul trouble and make good decisions throughout one full college season.

I think Hardin will get it, eventually. He’s an incredibly bright kid off the court. So far, that hasn’t translated to a high basketball IQ or good feel for the game. Assuming he returns to Cal for his senior season, he should be able to excel with all the help he will get inside from Ryan Anderson, Jordan Wilkes and Jamaal Boykin. A strong showing next season and he could legitimately be a lottery pick in 2008.