NBA Draft 2012: Ranking the Top Prospects on the Rise

Haddon Anderson@HaddonAndersonAnalyst IApril 5, 2012

NBA Draft 2012: Ranking the Top Prospects on the Rise

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    Do you remember a couple years ago when Butler guard Gordon Hayward made a name for himself in the NCAA tournament?

    He directed the unheralded Butler Bulldogs to the NCAA title game, where they lost to Duke in a nail-biter. 

    Because of the eyebrows Hayward raised during March Madness, his NBA draft stock skyrocketed. He suddenly went from a solid mid-major player whose NBA hopes were far-fetched to a rising prospect projected as a lottery pick.

    The Utah Jazz ended up selecting him with the ninth overall pick.

    This is what happens late in the college hoops season. Players who hit their stride during the "shining" moments of the NCAA season quickly find their NBA stock rising.

    This year, whose draft stock ascended in the last few weeks?

    Here is a ranking of nine high-rising draft prospects.

    Before we turn there, a couple notes:

    Note No. 1: This slideshow does not rank the top draft candidates. Therefore, individuals such as Andre Drummond, Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger are not listed here. While they may wind up still being top-10 picks, they didn't help their draft stock in the season's final weeks.

    Note No. 2: You won't find the undisputed No. 1 prospect Anthony Davis in this rundown. Yes, his stock is off the charts, but barring a career-threatening injury prior to the draft, Davis is undoubtedly going to be the No. 1 pick (this has been a known fact for months now). Thus, his stock can't rise any farther.

    Enough notes—let's get to the fun.

9. C.J. McCollum, Shooting Guard, Lehigh

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    C.J. McCollum displayed his potent offensive abilities in Lehigh's unforgettable upset over Duke. He poured in 30 points and also tallied six assists and six boards.

    McCollum's played three productive years at Lehigh. He averaged 19.1 points per game as a freshman, 21.8 as a sophomore and 21.9 this past season.

    What's more, he also rebounds very well for a guard and is an active defender (stole 2.6 balls an outing this past year).

    McCollum vaulted himself into a first-round pick projection. While he does lack size (only 6'3") and surely has his off nights, he still has the potential to be a stellar contributor at the next level.

    Frankly, in the upset over Duke, McCollum was undoubtedly the best player on the floor, and hyped freshman Austin Rivers was out there as well. 

    Draft Projection: Late first round

    NBA Comparison: Lou Williams

8. Jeffery Taylor, Small Forward, Vanderbilt

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    Jeffery Taylor is a 6'7'' small forward who possesses superb defensive abilities and a vastly improved jump shot.

    His size and athleticism make him an intriguing prospect for the next level. These traits coupled with some impressive late-season performances (including an 18-point, 11-rebound performance in an SEC title game win over now-NCAA champion Kentucky) make him a rising name on NBA draft boards.

    Taylor, who was born in Sweden, still has areas to work on (i.e. ball-handling, creating his own shot), but he's made major strides and is ready to contribute on an NBA squad.

    Draft Projection: Mid-first round

    NBA Comparison: Arron Afflalo

7. Terrence Jones, Power Forward, Kentucky

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    Terrence Jones was an instrumental piece to Kentucky's national title run. The left-handed 6'8'' forward is remarkably versatile, as he has the ability to score in a handful of ways as well as rebound, defend and block shots.

    If Jones had been playing at a school where he was the only featured player, he could've averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds a game.

    At Kentucky, he still produced steady numbers (12.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 1.3 SPG) while also learning how to function as a member of a quality team.

    His maturity and consistent play have lofted him into a likely lottery pick.

    Draft Projection: Late lottery

    NBA Comparison: Josh Smith

6. Royce White, Small Forward, Iowa State

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    Royce White is one of the biggest question marks in the draft. His talent is undeniable, but he also has had some off-the-court issues and an anxiety disorder.

    Despite the concerns, White's array of gifts, size and late-season performances have hiked him up the draft boards. Against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, White notched 23 points (9-12 FG), nine rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block.

    White stands 6'8'' and weighs 270 pounds, but he's interestingly not merely a bruiser in the low post. He averaged five assists a game this year, as well as 13.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 0.9 steals. That's production across the board.

    If the concerns don't creep up, White could develop into a potent NBA player in all aspects.

    Draft Projection: Mid-first round

    NBA Comparison: Lamar Odom

5. Terrence Ross, Shooting Guard, Washington

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    Terrence Ross didn't play in the NCAA tournament, but he did impress in the NIT. In Washington's four NIT games, he tallied 23, 32, 24 and 21 points.

    On the year, the sophomore Ross averaged 16.4 points and also hauled in 6.4 rebounds per game. At 6'6'', Ross is the perfect height to transition to the NBA, and he's also shown the ability to contribute on both ends of the floor.

    His late-season impact has not only lifted him into the first round, but also likely situated him as a slated mid-first-rounder.

    Draft Projection: Mid-first round

    NBA Comparison: Somewhere in between John Salmons and Joe Johnson

4. Cody Zeller, Center, Indiana

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    It's still unclear if Cody Zeller will return to Indiana for his sophomore season.

    He has a tough decision to make. If he returns, the Hoosiers will likely begin the year in the Top Five and have a legitimate chance to make a run at a national title.

    But if he goes pro, his stock has risen so quickly that he'll almost surely be taken in the top 10.

    In a sense, it's a win-win, because he's undoubtedly wanted.

    Zeller produced an outstanding freshman campaign, averaging 15.6 points (on a lofty 62.3 percent from the field), 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. Moreover, he leaped further up the draft boards after an impressive showing against Kentucky in the NCAA tourney (20 points on 9-of-14 shooting with seven boards). 

    Zeller has all the tools to develop into a solid big man in the NBA, especially if he can add some muscle.

    It will be an interesting to see what decision he makes in the coming days.

    Draft Projection: Top 10

    NBA Comparison: Brook Lopez 

3. Thomas Robinson, Power Forward, Kansas

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    Thomas Robinson enjoyed a memorable season with the Kansas Jayhawks. After backing up Marcus and Markieff Morris his freshman and sophomore seasons, he was handed the reins to the team as a junior and didn't disappoint.

    Robinson impressed throughout the year, particularly in the season's final stages. He was the centerpiece that guided Kansas to the national title game. Despite their loss to Kentucky, Robinson accumulated 18 points and 17 rebounds.

    He has the potential to be a double-double machine in the NBA and could be a very high pick.

    Draft Projection: Top five

    NBA Comparison: Greg Monroe

2. Bradley Beal, Shooting Guard, Florida

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    Bradley Beal has all the tools to become an elite shooting guard in the NBA.

    His 6'5'' frame, agile defense, smooth shooting stroke, ability to penetrate, surprising rebounding abilities and ball-handling make him an all-around superb prospect.

    He vaulted himself up the draft boards even further after he led the seventh-seeded Florida Gators to the Elite Eight, where they came up just short of the Final Four by losing to Louisville.

    There's nothing not to like about Beal, and his increased draft stock should prove to be warranted over the next decade.

    Draft Projection: Top five

    NBA Comparison: Eric Gordon

1. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Small Forward, Kentucky

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    Michael Kidd-GIlchrist, or MKG, has propelled himself up the draft boards further than anyone.

    His production on the court is certainly clear. He's a 6'7'' wing who can score, rebound, defend and even lead the transition break.

    But it's the intangibles that set MKG apart. His toughness and competitiveness make him a lock to find success in the NBA. 

    Because of this, Kidd-Gilchrist will most likely be taken No. 2, after his Kentucky teammate Anthony Davis.

    Draft Projection: Top three

    NBA Comparison: The skills of Rudy Gay with the competitiveness of Kevin Garnett