HONOLULU -- The Christmas holidays are usually not the best time to watch or scout college basketball. But there was one notable exception last week -- the Diamond Head Classic.
I attended the tournament along with around 20 NBA scouts last week. Baylor, Florida State, Butler, Washington State and Mississippi State headlined the event. Butler walked away with the tournament title, but it was several players from other teams that really shined.
Here's a look at what NBA scouts are saying about 10 guys who played in the tournament:
Klay Thompson, G, Jr., Washington State
Top 100 Rank: 25
Only one player had a truly breakout performance in Honolulu and it was Thompson. The son of former No. 1 pick Mychal Thompson was terrific for Washington State, averaging 26 points and shooting 13-for-26 from behind the arc in the tournament.
Thompson has been flying a bit under the radar the past two seasons and a number of scouts in attendance admitted that this was their first time scouting him live. All of them walked away impressed.
Everyone knew coming into the tournament that Thompson was a terrific scorer with deep range on his jump shot. But concerns about his lack of elite athleticism and an inconsistent sophomore year have tempered enthusiasm from scouts. What we saw in Honolulu should help his draft stock tremendously. As a shooter, Thompson lived up to expectations. Not only did he sink 13 3s in three days, many from NBA range, but he also hit several clutch ones with the game on the line.
But what turned heads was Thompson's other abilities on the floor. He often is the team's primary ball handler this season and shows the ability to read the floor and get his teammates involved. He's averaging 4.3 assists, good for a scoring guard who is his team's primary weapon on offense. Thompson also is showing some diversity in his game. He is doing a better job of taking players off the dribble and showed surprising quickness. He's never going to be an elite athlete (nor an elite defender), but he's quicker and faster than we expected him to be. Factor in a high basketball IQ, leadership ability and toughness, and most of the scouts at the event said they believed Thompson was a first-round pick, with some even comparing him to a bigger version of Stephen Curry.
If Thompson continues to play well, you can expect him to test the waters this spring and stay in the draft if he can land somewhere in the first round.
Chris Singleton, F, Jr., Florida State
Top 100 Rank: 17
We've already written about Singleton extensively this year. There isn't a lot to add to the evaluation. He remains the best and most versatile defender in the country. Singleton was repeatedly called upon to guard the opposing team's best player and showed again that he's equally comfortable covering perimeter and post players. His size, quickness and athleticism should all transfer to the next level. Someone's going to take him high based purely on his ability to impact the game defensively.
As an offensive player, Singleton showed us areas where he's improved, as well as some weaknesses. In the opening game against Hawaii, he was 2-for-12 from the field and couldn't get anything going. However, against Butler, Singleton was on fire. He dropped in 28 points and went 6-for-12 from behind the arc. In Saturday's win over Baylor, he had 17 points and went 2-for-4 from 3.
To put it succinctly, Singleton is still very much a work in progress on the offensive end. But he has drastically improved his jumper this season. He's not a marksman by any stretch of the imagination, but if he keeps putting the work into his game, he can become a passable shooter and perhaps have a James Posey-like pro career. Scouts are largely high on Singleton. Everyone I spoke to had him ranked somewhere between 10 and 20 on their boards.
Quincy Acy, F, Jr., Baylor
Top 100 Rank: 31
We've also discussed Acy here previously and there isn't much more to add. He's undersized and lacks a lot of skills offensively, but he's so long, explosive and relentless in the paint that you quickly forget his deficiencies. Sitting courtside and watching him live, it's hard not to come away in love with his motor. He truly tries to go after every ball and can dominate the game at both ends. If his teammate Perry Jones had that motor, he'd be far and away the clear favorite for the No. 1 pick.
Acy's small stature (he's probably 6-foot-7 at best) will limit his ceiling somewhat. But all of the scouts I spoke with in Honolulu loved him and see him as a potential mid to late first-round pick.
Renardo Sidney, F/C, Fr., Mississippi State
Top 100 Rank: 66
Sidney can play basketball. That has never been the question. He's as skilled a big man as you'll see. He can score from anywhere, can handle and see the floor like a guard, has deep range on his jumper and can dominate a game on the offensive end.
But off the court? The kid is a mess. After sitting out an entire season because of NCAA infractions, Sidney was finally reinstated nine games into this season. After a so-so debut in Puerto Rico, Sidney and the Bulldogs were off to Hawaii, where he quickly got suspended from the team for insubordination in practice.
Sidney was sitting on the sideline for Mississippi State's first game against Washington State. Given that a number of NBA scouts had traveled here just to see him, the suspension certainly didn't help his stock. He was back in action Thursday against San Diego and was terrific. He's still out of shape and needs to lose another 25 pounds. But in pure basketball terms, he didn't look like a player who hadn't played much in a year and a half. He was having fun. His teammates were jacked up. It looked like Sidney was finally putting his past behind him.
Then came the fight. Thursday night Sidney and teammate Elgin Bailey got into a rollicking fist fight in the stands -- most of it caught on camera for a national audience to see. While there are various explanations floating around from people who were next to both players when the fight broke out, including one that says Sidney did not start the fight and was trying to back away in the beginning, the team suspended both players indefinitely and sent them home.
Whether Sidney is kicked off the team or merely has to sit out a few more games doesn't matter much from the NBA's standpoint. Before the incident, a number of scouts told me that they were deeply concerned with Sidney's immaturity and that the Mississippi State staff had been struggling to coach him. Whether he started the fight or not doesn't change the fact that it was a stupid thing to do. A mature Sidney would've walked away.
The NBA always has tolerance for troubled-but-talented teens. But Sidney has developed a rep that will be hard to shake. If he's allowed back on the team, he'll not only have to play well, he'll also have to show he's finally learning from the incident and is starting to grow up. If the draft were held today, Sidney -- who has lived most of his life in a consequence-free bubble -- likely wouldn't be picked. But the fact that he's just 21 years old means there's still time for him to change. We'll all be watching closely to see if it happens. It will be a massive waste of talent if it doesn't.
Xavier Gibson, F/C, Jr., Florida State
Top 100 Rank: 67
Gibson has long been a favorite of NBA scouts who love his combination of size, athleticism and skills. The problem has been that Gibson has only shown flashes of putting it all together on the court. In Honolulu, he showed promise both around the basket and on the perimeter before misfortune struck. Against Butler in Florida State's second game, Gibson broke his hand and strained his left knee in two places.
With Gibson likely out 6-8 weeks, it's a pretty big blow to his draft stock. What Gibson needs more than anything right now is time on the floor. If he misses more than six weeks with this injury, his season is basically over and we may be forced to wait another year to figure out whether he's really going to turn into the real deal.
Ravern Johnson, G/F, Sr., Mississippi State
Top 100 Rank: 65
Johnson has been terrific early for Mississippi State but slammed into a major roadblock in Hawaii. You could blame it on all the distractions surrounding Sidney, but either way, he couldn't hit a shot (he went 12-for-45 from the field, including 3-for-20 from 3 for the tournament), got to the line only six times and didn't look like an elite draft prospect. Johnson's been shooting much better this season, but Mississippi State hasn't really played anyone. Honolulu was a pretty big setback to his draft stock.
Perry Jones, F, Fr., Baylor
Top 100 Rank: 2
I could've legitimately included Jones in either the Good or the Bad list. He was the main attraction in Hawaii and, with a strong performance against Baylor's best competition to date, could've moved into the No. 1 position on our Big Board. Alas, Jones struggled to make an impact. After a solid outing against a pretty weak San Diego team, Baylor lost its next two and Jones didn't do much in either game.
However, you can't watch him play for long and not love his potential. Jones is one of the most skilled, athletic big men I've scouted. He has a lot of Tracy McGrady and Lamar Odom to his game. The problem for Jones has more to do with how Baylor uses him than his actual skill set. Jones is a 6-11 guard being forced to play center. He looks comfortable bringing the ball up the floor and playing on the perimeter. But he doesn't have much of a low post game at this point and often is left just standing around looking for offensive boards.
I understand the dilemma for coach Scott Drew. Jones is a terrific rebounder and is Baylor's biggest player. But the Bears struggle in part because they don't have a point guard to set up players like Jones. If I were Drew, I'd scrap convention and let Jones run the point. He's the team's best and most willing passer. He's got a nice touch on his jump shot and is quick enough to get into the lane. It's unconventional, but Jones is an unconventional player.
On the right NBA team, with a coach who accepts him for who he is, he'll be a monster. It's rare to find his athletic gifts in a player his size. If a coach tries to force him into the middle in the NBA, he'll struggle. Said one scout in Hawaii, "Players are who they think they are, not who you think they are. Perry Jones thinks like a point guard, not a big man. That's where his heart is. Embrace that and he's going to be amazing. Fight it and he could be a huge disappointment."
A number of NBA teams still have Jones ranked No. 1 on their boards. No one I spoke with in Hawaii or on the phone has him ranked lower than No. 3.
Shelvin Mack, G, Sr., Butler
Top 100 Rank: 47
Mack is an undersized scoring guard who's trying to show some leadership at the point. The 6-2 senior struggled against Utah before catching fire in Butler's two big games, against Florida State and Washington State. Mack had struggled with his jump shot all season but finally started connecting in the last two games, going 7-for-14 from behind the arc. Mack is going to have to show some ability to run the point if he wants to crack the first round.
LaceDarius Dunn, G, Sr., Baylor
Top 100 Rank: 90
Dunn is in a similar position to Mack. He, too, is a high-volume scorer with deep range who struggles to fit in when the ball isn't going through him. He's trying to take on more of the role of a point guard and leader this season, but it's a work in progress. His assists are up slightly, but so are his turnovers. When he's looking to score, he can be really good. When he's looking to set up his teammates, things haven't been going so well for him or his team. Like Mack, as an undersized 2, he's a second-round pick. If he can improve his point guard credentials as the season goes on, he could move up.
Jon Kreft, C, Jr., Florida State
Top 100 Rank: 99
Kreft didn't play big minutes in the tournament, nor did he put up significant numbers. But scouts generally think he has potential as a first-round prospect. With Gibson out for a while with injuries, it could come sooner than later.
Kreft has had some well-publicized problems off the court, but scouts think he's gotten that behind him and is getting grounded again. In practices, he's doing things worthy of a first-round pick. He runs the floor, is aggressive attacking the basket and has the athleticism that scouts covet in a 7-footer. In games, he's more hesitant and is still forcing things. He's just five games into his college career, though, so there's plenty of time for him to iron out the wrinkles. If he does, he could be a sleeper first-round pick.