Next Thursday’s NBA Draft is projected to be a stinker, with somewhere between very few and zero likely All-Stars in the bunch. This marks the second year in a row that fans are expecting a weak draft class – keep in mind that it’s easily arguable that the best rookie from the 2010 Draft was second rounder Landry Fields, who averaged 9.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for a non-contender. When will the string of bad luck end for the non-playoff teams who expect to get something good in the lottery? Next summer, actually.
The class of 2012 will be made up of a solid group of one-and-dones, some talented collegians who could have been in this lottery but opted to spend another year in school, and a few other NCAA players who should truly come into their own next season. It’s no guarantee that all of these players will make themselves available next summer, but most of them will. For the record, I’m projecting this group to produce at least five All-Stars (Sullinger, Barnes, Davis, McAdoo, Gilchrist, Rivers, Beal, Kabongo, and Robinson all look reasonably possible), which hasn’t happened since the great 2003 draft. Here’s what the Raptors and Clippers (who also hold Minnesota’s first rounder next year – bad move again, David Kahn [correction: this trade was made in 2005 under Kevin McHale's leadership in order to acquire Marco Jaric; the pick was protected for six consecutive drafts, but next year they'll have to pay up]) have to look forward to in the lottery of the loaded 2012 Draft.
Could Have Been In The 2011 Lottery
Jared Sullinger (PF, Ohio St, will be a sophomore)
Sullinger bullied his way to 17 ppg (54% FG) and 10 rpg as a freshman for the #1 Buckeyes. The undersized but hyper-competitive big man bangs the hell out of whoever gets in his way in the paint, and he used his strength and smarts to regularly establish great position near the hoop and to get to the free throw line very very often (7.2 FTA). His jumper is looking good, plus his character and leadership are top-notch. Position if in this draft: top 3
Harrison Barnes (SF, North Carolina, will be a sophomore)
How’s this for buzz coming into college? Barnes was the first ever freshman pre-season All American. Although the uber-smart, uber-talented, uber-driven SF came out flat and was quickly forgotten about by Xmas, he kept his chin up, got a new PG (Kendall Marshall), and ended up looking absolutely money as a scorer—especially in the clutch—by the end of the season. Barnes creates his own shot, can stroke it from deep, and is a great defender. As possibly the most coachable star in America, look for Barnes to further increase his free throw opportunities and improve his passing by the 2012 draft. Position if in this draft: 2-5
Terrence Jones (PF/SF, Kentucky, will be a sophomore)
Jones combines the power and athleticism to dominate most defenders from a variety of places on the court. He’s a bruising rebounder, is a very good dribbler for his size, can shoot the 3, and has the natural skills to play decent defense against PF’s. Jones must improve his consistency and feel for the game (still far too reliant on natural attributes) before finally declaring for the league. Position if in this draft: 6-10
Perry Jones (PF, Baylor, will be a sophomore)
I’m not sold on Jones being a productive pro who helps a franchise win for many reasons, but a lot of scouts are absolutely in love with his combination of size (6-feet-11), elite athleticism, and SF-like handles and mid-range jumper. He is regularly compared to Amar’e Stoudemire, both good (creating own shot off the dribble, fast break attack mentality) and bad (defense, sub-par rebounding). There are a lot of questions about why every team he’s ever been on has underperformed, his lacking fundamentals, and his work ethic, but his potential is ridiculously high. Position if in this draft: 2-8
John Henson (PF, North Carolina, will be a junior)
Henson’s tremendous quickness, long arms and strides, and go-get-it attitude have made him one of the top shot blockers and rebounders in the NCAA (10.1 rpg, 3.2 bpg). While his skinny build (6-feet-10, 200 pounds) and overall scoring ability need to improve, Henson is a freak athlete with pterodactyl wingspan, so expect a team searching for a true interior defender to call his name next summer. Position if in this draft: 8-15
Anthony Davis (PF/C, Kentucky, will be a freshman)
Davis is a guard who grew into a center’s body over the past three years, so he’s the do-everything big man with a superb shooting touch out to 3, great mobility and speed, strong fundamentals and drive, very good shot blocking ability due to his athleticism and long arms (7-feet-4 wingspan), and high activity on the boards. He’s still adding the muscle to go with his new-found height (6-feet-11, 210 pounds), and his all-around polish is still a work in progress, especially down low on offense, but his potential coupled with the hard work he’s displayed makes it likely he’ll be the #1 pick in one of the best drafts in years.
James McAdoo (PF, North Carolina, will be a freshman)
McAdoo far and away has the best fundamentals, basketball IQ, and polished skills of the big men. He’s team-oriented all the way and is the least likely to become a bust of everyone on this list – it just isn’t possible based on what he brings and his attitude. He’s only going to get stronger (6-feet-9, 220 pounds), and his rebounding and defense will only improve. Even though he’s joining a Barnes-Henson-Zeller frontcourt at UNC next year, McAdoo is still considered a top-5 pick in 2012.
Michael Gilchrist (SF, Kentucky, will be a freshman)
Mental issues aside, Gilchrist looks to be the next Ron Artest. He’s 6-feet-7, 220 pounds, and can be penciled in as an elite defensive stopper of the highest magnitude. He’s hyper-competitive and is aggressive to the ball whether it’s in his man’s hands or not. Beyond simply being big and agile, Gilchrist has a great basketball IQ and will battle for everything he gets. He goes hard for rebounds, to the hoop, and is skilled offensively.
Quincy Miller (SF, Baylor, will be a freshman)
Miller is a terror to defend with the ball in his hands, using great handles and aggression to fly to the rim for buckets or to create space for himself to shoot a jumper. He absolutely needs to get stronger (6-feet-9, 210 pounds) and improve his jumper (terrible mechanics), but the comparisons to Kevin Durant have been made early and often.
Austin Rivers (SG, Duke, will be a freshman)
Often billed as a possible PG, Rivers is a scorer on offense, plain and simple. He’s a phenomenal shooter, has a great first step to blow by his man, and goes to the basket looking to score. His willingness to be a passer, his left hand, and his commitment to defense are all question marks at this point, but the Rivers bandwagon is plenty full of supporters.
Bradley Beal (SG, Florida, will be a freshman)
Beal is a significantly more sophisticated SG than Rivers right now but with a lower ceiling down the road if both were to maximize their potentials. Beal is also a good shooter and brings more of a craftiness in creating shots for himself, but he rarely looks like he’s forcing the issue just to get himself points while doing so. Not only that, his effort on defense is far better. Watch the two go off on each other’s teams a year ago.
Myck Kabongo (PG, Texas, will be a freshman)
Kabongo is the top pure PG in this group, showing he’s got all the tools and the right mentality to unselfishly run a team. His unbelievable dribbling, supreme court vision/hoops IQ, and highlight reel passing are all top notch. He stays focused and active on defense, but his explosiveness and jump shot are less than ideal at this point.
Thomas Robinson (PF, Kansas, will be a junior)
Playing behind the Morris twins at Kansas and only getting 15 minutes of burn a game, the strong sophomore still posted the Elite Eight team’s top shooting percentage (60% FG), rebounding rate (6.4 rpg in 14.6 minutes) and blocks rate (0.7 bpg in 14.6 mins). Robinson’s athleticism and explosiveness go well with his size (6-feet-9, 240 pounds), allowing for some ridiculously fast double-doubles on the year (12-14 in 16 minutes in third round of Tournament vs. Richmond, 15-13 in 17 minutes vs. Missouri, and a 10-10 in 15 minutes vs. Memphis). He has a lot of work to do on his offensive skills, but he has a year as “the man” to work on those.
Jeremy Lamb (SG, UConn, will be a sophomore)
Playing second fiddle to Kemba Walker, Lamb still averaged 15 ppg in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments while shooting 55% over those 11 games (way higher than Walker). He hit 17 threes in that epic stretch, and he proved to be a very good outside shooter and an extremely smooth dribbler while attacking the paint. His 6-feet-5 frame contains some monster long arms (supposedly a 7-feet-1 wingspan) that make him very intriguing on the defensive end. If Lamb can add weight/strength (only 185 pounds) and prove to be a capable creator as the Huskies’ #1 option, he’ll move up the draft boards next year. Even if he’s only projected as a big-time spot-up shooter who plays smothering D, his NBA potential trumps many of 2011’s shooting guards.
Patric Young (C/PF, Florida, will be a sophomore)
Young combines a chiseled body, excellent athleticism, high energy motor, and strong work ethic to have a lunch pail-type game that earns a lot of kudos on the defensive end. His rebounding totals don’t always show it, but he’s very active in the paint and forces his opponents to stay alert. Young doesn’t force the action and is a team-first player, but his post game and shooting need to improve significantly so he can be more of an offensive force.
Tyler Zeller (PF/C, North Carolina, will be a senior)
Zeller has the size (7-feet-0, 250 pounds), mobility, and skills to become a decent NBA center. His scoring got a lot of notice last year (team leading 16 ppg, 55% FG), and he puts good effort into his defense and rebounding. Although he currently lacks the strength you want in a center and the overall upside of many of the other bigs on this list, Zeller’s understanding of his limitations and ability to operate within them as a team player are intriguing if he adds more muscle before 2012.