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Get to know your prospect better: DeVon Hardin

With the Finals (for all intensive purposes) over and done with, Draft coverage is about to kick into high gear (less than two weeks away!) and more and more and names are going to be thrown out there as players who might end up in Washington at the end of the month.  Scouting reports and highlight reels can help you get a feel for a player, but nothing can replace the knowledge and insight that you get from watching a player on a night-in, night-out basis.

In order to get that kind of feel, you really need to talk to someone that's a true fan of the team.  And if you want a more informed feeling for who you're looking at, it always helps if you can find a couple of bloggers who follow the university's athletic program.  With that in mind, we're going to enlist the help of some of SB Nation's college bloggers to help us get a better feel for some of players out there.

With the first installment, we're going to take a look at Cal's DeVon Hardin.  Most mocks have him being drafted early-to-mid second round so he could be one of Ernie's targets with the #47 pick.  As of yet, he hasn't had a workout with the Wizards, but that could be because he worked out with the team last year, before he decided to return to school.  Because DeVon's a senior, CBKWit and Ragnarok of California Golden Blogs have had lots of time to watch and analyze Hardin over the last four years.  After the jump, we'll engage in some Q&A about one of the players that Ernie Grunfeld might be taking a long, hard look at with pick #47.


In what parts of the game do you think DeVon contributed the most during his years at Cal?

CBKWit: The beginnings, because at the end he was fouled out.  Seriously though, he's really only effective within 8-10 feet of the cup on offense, and marginally so there.  His post moves and free throw shooting have improved a lot since his freshman year, but they started at nothing.  He's was leading the country in rebounding early last year but really fell off after he was destroyed by Beasley.

Ragnarok:  Yeah, I saw that stat a lot, but I think he built that total while facing some pretty mediocre competition.  Really, he always contributed most with his defense, and has the potential to be a beast down low.  DeVon is tall, long, strong, and has a great leaping ability; his presence alters how you can go about getting to the basket, and his shot-blocking ability alters what sort of shots you can take.

CBKWit:  You know, you would think he'd be a strong interior defender, but his lower body isn't great and his technique is poor, so he has terrible positioning down low.  He is a decent shot blocker, both straight up and from the weak side.  Honestly, though, I'd say the best part of his game is defending wings.  He's very quick for his size, so he's a pretty effective defender on the perimeter. 

Ragnarok:  True.  For a guy his size, it'll sometimes look odd that he'll be defending a ball handler so far from the basket, but he knows what he's doing out there, and with his length and quickness, he'll knock a few balls loose and turn them into easy breakaway buckets.

What style of play do you think he's better suited for?  Is he more of an up-tempo player, or is he better in the half-court?

Ragnarok: That's hard to say, given that I've never really seen him run very much.  Cal's teams under Braun have always been about plodding, methodical half-court sets, so that's pretty much what I'm used to seeing from DeVon.  That said, he's a pretty high-energy guy, and an outstanding athlete, so I think he could thrive playing an up-tempo style of basketball.

CBKWit: I would say up-tempo because of his quickness and athleticism.  A half court game (both offensively and defensively) magnifies his flaws, and an open court game lets him get up and down the floor.  Then again, we've never really seen him play a true up-tempo game because of our style of play.

A quick check of his stats show that his production declined in several areas including points per game, rebounds per game, free throw %, and perhaps most alarmingly, minutes per game.  Would you say that's just a case of underachieving or was there something else going on?

Ragnarok:  Alas, Hardin's achilles' heel is foul trouble, and it was all that time on the bench this year that really caused his stats to nosedive.  I think as a senior, he felt more pressure to do too much, and he got out of his game.  Either he'd be too aggressive and pick up a couple stupid fouls early, or he'd back off too much and not be aggressive enough, which in my opinion was worse, because then he was just taking up space on the floor.

CBKWit:  Yeah, a lot of Cal fans seem to share that opinion.  I think it has some validity, but there are a couple of other factors at play.

By all accounts, DeVon is a pretty smart guy (at least academically), but for whatever reason, he just does not "get it" on the court.  He looks lost, a lot.  Maybe he's over-thinking, maybe he just doesn't understand the game, or maybe he's just academically gifted, a professor trapped in a 6'11, 245 lb body.

For all his athleticism (and his leaping ability, agility, quickness and speed are all excellent), he is sorely lacking in hand-eye coordination.  I can't count the number of times passes or potential rebounds have bounced of his hands and fallen out of bounds.

I also think that as this year went on he got really down, which affected his performance.  Think about it: you're a mid-1st round pick but you decide to come back to school for your senior year and team up with another elite player (Ryan Anderson) for one of the best front courts on the west coast.  After you and your team start the season on a tear (undefeated, leading the country in rebounding), you challenge the #2 rebounder in the country (Beasley) in the papers.  He destroys you, your team loses, and things start to go downhill.  The team starts playing better without you (witness a road win over a top 10 WSU team when he stayed home sick in Berkeley) and your minutes decline.  Your stats, minutes, and team sink further down, and you think about how you could have been a first round pick last year.  That wouldn't be easy to cope with.

What's tough is that he was playing well his junior year when he was lost for the year with a knee injury.  If he has all that time to play instead of sitting and watching, who knows?

Ragnarok:  That's true, he did miss some development time.  In many ways, despite being a senior, DeVon is still pretty raw.  The upside of that, of course, is that there's still a lot of room for improvement.

I think Hardin can be a useful NBA player, but only in the right situation.  Don't make him a focus of your team, and don't have him worry about foul trouble.  Run him out on the court for 15-20 minutes per game, tell him you don't care if he fouls out, and let him be aggressive.  Eventually, perhaps, he'll learn to play within himself, and he can play heavy minutes without consequence, but he's not there yet.  You don't use a lottery pick on a player like Hardin, but the NBA will definitely have a use for him, and there are worse things to be.

Cal has had quite a few good low-post players in the last few years including Leon Powe, Rod Benson, and Francisco Elson.  How well does DeVon compare with those three?

Ragnarok:  Physically, Hardin compares favorably to any of them, even Leon Powe.  He's taller than Powe, and has a better reach.  However, Powe has far better hands and a much more developed offensive game, and honestly, I don't see Hardin ever being as productive as Powe (that's not a knock on Hardin, as I know how good Powe can be, and his 21-point outburst against the Lakers in Game 2 was only surprising in that Doc Rivers finally(!) gave him significant some playing time).

CBKWit:  Powe is a very different (and much better) player than DeVon.  Powe is strong, has great hand eye coordination and a polished low post game.  What holds him back are his lack of size and athleticism, which was hindered by consecutive surgeries on his left knee.  This inherently makes him a better college player than a pro (since you go up against smaller and weaker athletes in college), and Leon was spectacular from the beginning at Cal.  DeVon, on the other hand, is held back by everything that Powe does well.  His size and athleticism are his strengths (Powe's weaknesses), so his game is much more appropriate for the NBA.  I'm not sure if he'll be a better pro than Leon (especially after game 2!), but if he ever "gets it", he should be.

Benson is an interesting comparison, because he suffered from the same fumbilitis during his senior year that DeVon has battled his entire career.  Benson now leads the D League in rebounding (I think), so he has obviously worked on and improved upon his hands and positioning.  If DeVon can experience the same type of growth that Benson has, he'll be a much better player because of his superior body and and athleticism.

Ragnarok:  Definitely.  You could certainly think of Benson as 'Hardin Lite', but further along in his development.  Both have had problems with 'hands of stone', but Benson, a volleyball player in high school who, early on, sometimes looked as if he was trying to spike the basketball, has figured it out, so I have hope that Hardin can do the same.

I confess to being too young to really know Francisco Elson (I was still in high school when he was drafted), but I think Hardin also compares favorably to another former Cal post player in the NBA, Jamal Sampson, who's made a good bit of money sitting at the end of NBA benches for the past 5 years.  Physically, they're a lot alike, but Hardin does have more skills than Sampson (like a midrange jumper that he uses sparingly), and should do more in the NBA than simply backup the backup center.

Finally, since were talking Cal basketball and the Wizards, I might as well bring up Dominic McGuire, who spent two years at Cal before transferring to Fresno State where he got drafted by the Wizards.  What was Dominic like during his two years there?

CBKWit:  I actually really liked McGuire when he was at Cal.  His offensive game was pretty raw (much less so than DeVon's, for comparison's sake), but he was a long, quick, and athletic wing who could rebound and defend.  He seemed to always lead our team in rebounds/minute, but he didn't get a ton of minutes.  Cal's player retention under Braun was terrible (McGuire and Powe were actually in the same 4 person class; two transferred and only Ayinde Ubaka stayed more than 2 years), but I was sad in particular to see McGuire go.

Ragnarok:  Honestly, I'm a bit surprised that McGuire made it to the NBA.  Not that he wasn't talented, but out of his highly-touted recruiting class, I though McGuire was maybe the third-best player.  He was obviously a very good basketball player, but he never struck me as having the kind of outstanding talent required to make the NBA; I thought he'd end up as another in the long line of guys who starred in college only to be ignored by the pros.  I can see now that his talents simply weren't being showcased at Cal, which was probably a big factor in why he transferred.  It was a good move for him, and I'm glad I was wrong about him.

Many, many, many thanks to CBKWit and Ragnarok for their fantastic insight and answers for this Q&A.  Make sure you get your Beast Mode on and check them out at California Golden Blogs.