We are now in the heart of conference play, and prospects' ups and downs from week to week are beginning to flatten out a bit. No prospect is currently shooting up or down the charts.
However, here is a look at five players NBA GMs are talking about this week.
John Wall, PG, Kentucky
This is the John Wall draft. Period. There isn't another prospect who comes close to his potential right now, and for the most part, he's having a terrific freshman season at Kentucky.
However, you knew Wall would come back down to Earth a little at some point, and that's exactly what's happened in his past three games. Wall hasn't been awful. But he hasn't played like the No. 1 pick in the draft, either.
Kentucky blew out Arkansas on Jan. 23, but Wall committed seven turnovers in just 26 minutes. In Kentucky's loss to South Carolina last week, point guard Devan Downey dominated Kentucky, and Wall's game (19 points on 6-for-16 shooting, 2 assists and 4 turnovers) wasn't particularly strong. Against Vanderbilt this past Saturday, he went 4-for-12 from the field and had 7 more turnovers.
Wall has had turnover and shooting issues all season. They are the two biggest weaknesses in what otherwise is a very mature game for a 19-year-old. But he's always been able to mask those weaknesses by contributing in so many other ways.
What's going on now? Conference play is tough, and people are gunning for Wall. Every top prospect has a stretch when things don't go his way. The challenge for any star player is to handle the downs with a little grace and fight back.
Wall's approach has been a little more whiny than you'd like in a No. 1 pick, as evidenced by his recent remarks to a local television station about his strained relationship with coach John Calipari.
"He said I played awful," Wall said. "I didn't think I played that bad. I don't know what to expect. He's probably going to say I played bad today, too, so I don't know. I just try not to listen to him and go out and play basketball and try and help my team win."
Clearly he's not used to getting criticized.
"I think it's going to bother any player when he tells you that," Wall continued. "To be honest, I really haven't been having fun for the last two weeks. It's just being frustrated and things like that, so I just got to figure it out before we go further in league play."
Two days later, Wall backed off his tough comments about Calipari, citing frustration.
"When you are frustrated, you say things you don't mean," Wall said. "We sat down and talked about it, and I realized after I watched the film that I did play bad. I had a lot of turnovers and didn't lead the team like I was supposed to."
"The main thing is to listen to Coach. He knows what he is doing," Wall said. "Derrick and Tyreke are doing great in the NBA. He said for me to call those guys if I need some advice, since they have been through the same thing."
There's no need to blow this up to be bigger than it is. Players are sensitive. The best of them have had much larger issues with their coaches. Wall's recent troubles both on the court and with his coach won't jeopardize his status as the No. 1 pick in the draft. But if you were looking for chinks in Superman's armor ... here are the first signs we've seen.
Dexter Pittman, C, Texas
Texas has lost three of its past four since becoming the No. 1 team in the NCAA, and no one has been a bigger disappointment of late than Pittman. After the senior got off to a terrific start to the season, a number of NBA scouts wondered whether he might make a run at the lottery. Lately, it's hard to see why they'd consider him a first-rounder.
Pittman is averaging just 7.4 points per game and 3.8 rebounds per game in his past four games. In Saturday's loss to Baylor, Pittman grabbed just one rebound in 29 minutes. For someone of his size (6-foot-10) and strength, that's just unacceptable.
Pittman still has the raw talent that NBA teams look for in a big man, but his recent lack of production has scouts second-guessing whether he'd really be able to have the endurance to play in the NBA.
Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas
Aldrich plays the most coveted position in the draft, so he already has a huge leg up on every other prospect in the draft. After a stellar sophomore season, he started off his junior season in mediocre fashion. Aldrich wasn't as aggressive as we've seen in the past, disappeared for long stretches and just didn't dominate the way his talent suggested he could.
Some pointed the finger at KU's backcourt. With Sherron Collins, Xavier Henry and Tyshawn Taylor all hunting for shots, there wasn't much left for Aldrich. Others said the recent loss of his grandmother had put Aldrich, who had been very close to her, in a funk.
Lately, Aldrich has broken out of his early-season rut and has asserted himself, along with Collins, as an alpha dog for the No. 1 Jayhawks.
Aldrich has posted numbers in his past three games (16 PPG, 12.6 RPG and 4.3 BPG) that are well above his season averages. In particular, he's getting more aggressive on offense. Before the Iowa State game on Jan. 23, Aldrich hadn't taken more than 10 shots in a game all season. He took 11 in that game and a season-high 13 against Kansas State this past Saturday.
With so few big men challenging Aldrich's position as a mid-lottery pick, he seems like a lock at this point. Several mid-lottery teams, including the Wolves, Pistons, Sixers and Wizards, could use a legit center. It's hard to imagine he'd slip past all four teams.
Hassan Whiteside, C, Marshall
We've already written about Whiteside several times, but he continues to generate more buzz from NBA scouts than any other prospect in the draft. He is one of the few 7-footers in college basketball with real NBA potential.
Whiteside is a terrific athlete with a pterodactyl-like wingspan who has been causing havoc in the lane with his shot-blocking and rebounding abilities. He's also showing some raw talent on the offensive end lately.
Every scout we've talked to in the past eight weeks has loved him. But virtually every GM we spoke to hadn't actually seen him play. That has begun to change given Marshall's recent high-profile games against West Virginia and Memphis.
Whiteside didn't blow anyone away in the West Virginia game. He had 18 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks, and although the execs and scouts who saw him play liked what they saw, they weren't wowed, either. That changed a bit in the Memphis game. Whiteside was terrific, scoring 22 points, grabbing 8 boards and blocking 7 shots.
One NBA executive compared Whiteside to a young Marcus Camby. Here was his scouting report after the Memphis game:
"Think a young, skinny Camby with a jumper. He doesn't board as well as Camby, but he has his shot-blocking ability, build and a tendency to spend time away from the paint. He needs another 20 pounds of strength and has to play harder. He can run but rarely does."
It's still difficult to find a place to put Whiteside on our Big Board. As more NBA decision-makers see him, we'll have a better feel. But I've heard a pretty wide range of anywhere from top-five to late in the first round. We have him in the late lottery on our latest Big Board. Obviously, he has plenty of room to move up or down before the draft. But if he really is the second coming of Camby, he's more likely to move up than down.
Dominique Jones, G, South Florida
Jones is far from a household name, but during the course of the past few weeks, no scorer has dominated more. His past three games have been, in a word, amazing. He had 46 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals against Providence. He followed that up with a 28-point effort against Seton Hall. And then he scored 37 points and grabbed 8 rebounds against Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Lately, Jones has been making his living as a slasher who finds a way to get to the line. He averaged 15 free throws in those aforementioned three games. Jones is clever, using angles, basketball IQ and a sweet little floater to make up for what is just average athletic ability and size for his position.
Most of the NBA scouts I spoke with have him ranked as a second-round prospect at the moment. But if he keeps tearing through the Big East this way, they may have to reassess.
James Anderson, SG, Oklahoma State
Anderson continues to be one of the more underrated guards in the game. For a third straight season he has put up big numbers in one of the best conferences in college basketball, but I struggle to find GMs who will definitively say he's a lottery pick.
There's no question Anderson can score. He's been on a tear lately, dropping 30 on Kansas State, 31 on Missouri and 28 on Texas on Monday night.
Anderson's 3-point shot hasn't been falling this season, but he's been getting to the line more often, and if you look historically at what he's done from behind the arc, he's not too shabby. He has some limitations, however. He's not an elite athlete and his ball handling could use improvement, but it's hard to argue with his production.
Anderson may not have that one thing that sets him apart from other players, but he continues to climb back up our Big Board in part because the draft will be really devoid of terrific, proven 2-guards. It's not out of the question that he'll end up somewhere in the late lottery or middle of the first round on draft night.
The midrange game
It may be a little early to start talking about which underclassmen will and won't declare for the 2010 draft, but the rumblings are beginning to appear already.
Kentucky coach John Calipari confirmed what everyone in the NBA already believes -- John Wall will be a one-and-done.
"If he came to me and said he was the No. 1 pick in the draft, and he wanted to come back, we'd probably be wrestling around on the floor because there's no reason other than me trying to win more games that he should come back," Calipari said.
Wall, obviously agrees.
His backcourt mate, Eric Bledsoe, also told reporters he'd consider declaring for the draft if he was projected as a lottery pick.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga forward Elias Harris looks like he will return to Gonzaga for his sophomore season.
"I try to ignore all the NBA hype and all the rankings stuff because I don't think it's important for me right now," Harris told The Spokesman Review of Spokane, Wash. "I could probably go right now and I could probably make it, but I don't think it's the right time yet. Let's put it that way."
I continue to field more questions about Georgetown big man Greg Monroe than any other prospect in the draft not named John Wall. The questions all ask why Monroe could've been ranked in the top 10 last season but not ranked in the lottery this season. Monroe is a year older and is having a very good sophomore season. Plus, unlike last year, his team is winning.
Monroe's supporters point to a series of strong games of late, including a 29-point, 16-rebound, 4-block performance against Villanova, a 21-point, 14-rebound, 7-assist game against Rutgers and, most recently, a 21-point, 5-rebound, 5-assist game versus Duke.
How can a 6-10 big man with this many skills not be in the lottery? I sometimes ask the same question. All I can say is that NBA scouts aren't sold. They think Monroe isn't athletic enough, and they question his motor.
In between the aforementioned games we just spoke of, he had some rocky outings, including eight-point performances against both Seton Hall and Syracuse. He also went 4-for-14 from the field against Pittsburgh.
Still, I wonder whether teams will change their tune as we get closer to the draft. Monroe has the size to be a center in the NBA. He is a terrific passer. He's very skilled, and when he's playing hard, he can dominate. We'll continue to watch his stock closely. Be patient, Monroe fans. His stock may improve soon enough.