NBA Draft 2012: Hottest NBA Prospects You Haven't Heard Of
At this point in the NBA season, you've probably read quite a bit about Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson, Jared Sullinger and the rest of the most famous 2012 NBA draft prospects. Well, these are the ones you need to know about and probably don't.
I've identified 10 players who are a bit underrated (or in some cases very underrated) because of their lack of big-name status.
Four are international prospects, while six play for smaller colleges that don't consistently churn out NBA prospects.
This is your chance to gain the upper hand in draft conversations with your family and friends.
Position: Shooting guard
Vitals: 6'5", 190 pounds
2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 5.1 points, 1.2 rebounds, 0.3 assists (in ACB)
On March 11 this year, Alex Abrines dropped 31 points in an ACB game against Asefa Estudiantes, becoming the youngest player in the history of the top-tier European league to score 30 or more in a game.
The 19-year-old shooting guard is all about scoring, and he's quite good at it. There's a solid chance that he'll wait until the 2013 NBA draft to enter his name among the pool of players eligible to be brought in from overseas, but he has the smooth offensive game necessary to make an immediate transition.
Abrines has an impressive shot from downtown, but you can't respect it too much or else he'll use his explosiveness to get to the rim.
Position: Power forward
Vitals: 6'9", 220 pounds
2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 7.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists (in Turkish League)
Furkan Aldemir is one of the most impressive rebounders you'll find in this draft class. During this summer, while everyone in the American basketball world was focusing on the NBA lockout, Aldemir dominated for Turkey during the U-20 European Championship to the tune of 15.9 rebounds in 35 minutes per game.
During his 15 Euroleague games, Aldemir averaged 11.8 rebounds per 40 minutes, just 0.4 less than Zaza Pachulia did during his brief five-game stint with Galatasaray.
The 20-year-old isn't particularly athletic and will never participate in a slam dunk contest, but he plays tough enough to hold down the center position for Galatasary despite his 6'9" frame.
If Aldemir is going to justify the inevitable early second-round draft pick a team will spend on him, he'll have to learn to play outside the paint on offense and get a little tougher on defense.
School: Oregon State
Position: Shooting guard
Vitals: 6'4", 194 pounds
2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 17.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists
After earning a spot on the All-Pac-12 team following his junior season with Oregon State, Jared Cunningham is moving on to the next level.
Even though he's generously listed at 6'4" and doesn't appear to have much meat on his bones, Cunningham will be able to get by at shooting guard because of his ridiculous athleticism and ability to play well above the rim.
Although he doesn't hog the ball (unless you count the numerous requests for lobs from his teammates, all of which are appropriately timed), Cunningham is an incomplete offensive player because of his inability to balance out his turnovers with assists.
Despite those insane highlights he can produce with his leaping ability and foot speed, the turnovers and missed jump shots just make his defense stand out all the more. Cunningham has remarkably quick hands and pesters defenders enough that he can overcome his size deficit.
The single most impressive accolade Cunningham received during his junior season for the Beavers was being named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive First Team even though Oregon State's team defense was lackluster at best.
Position: Shooting guard/small forward
Vitals: 6'7", 206 pounds
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 13.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists (in Pro A France)
If there's any international prospect who has a chance at being drafted during the first round of the 2012 NBA draft, it's Evan Fournier.
We won't have an opportunity to see the swingman play at the Nike Hoops Summit this year because he's electing to continue to play for Poitiers and help the French team avoid the embarrassment of relegation from Pro A France.
The thing working most in Fournier's advantage is his size. His height may be listed a bit conservatively at 6'7", yet he still plays with the ball skills of an average point guard.
Ultra-aggressive in getting to the rim to make up for his lack of touch from downtown, Fournier just seems like a natural basketball player with the way he feels out the game and then makes the right decision in almost every situation.
With enough toughness to be a good defender, Fournier is a jump shot away from potential stardom.
Position: Power forward and center
Vitals: 6'11", 200 pounds
2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 4.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.1 assists (in Pro A France)
Now 19 years old, Rudy Gobert grew an additional inch since he was on draft radars last season, and that should be enough to convince NBA scouts that the athletic big man can line up at center and not be overmatched by the best the NBA has to offer.
Gobert is still adding strength to his frame, but that will come with time and hard work. For now, he has to be content with his size, humongous wingspan and guard-like agility in the paint.
While not a terrific shot-blocker, Gobert does have the instincts and tenacity on the defensive end to challenge opposing players and, at the very least, alter their shots. When he's on the offensive end of the court, though, it's tough to stop his athleticism from creating an easy dunk opportunity.
Gobert's upside is tremendous, and he may still be growing, but he needs to develop post moves and hit the weight room quickly.
Position: Power forward
Vitals: 6'8", 190 pounds
2011-2012 Per-Game Stats: 15.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists
It's amazing to consider just how impressive Eric Griffin's senior season for Campbell was, especially since he's only been playing organized basketball for five seasons. The power forward didn't make his high school team until he was a senior and then spent two seasons at junior college before transferring to Campbell.
Griffin gained steam in the minds of scouts when he threw down two incredible dunks earlier this year against North Carolina A&T, and he hasn't looked back since. As you can tell from watching those highlights, athleticism is not exactly an area he's lacking in.
Because he's still learning the game, Griffin hasn't reached his potential by any stretch of the imagination. He recently made and excelled at the difficult transition from playing on the perimeter to going to work in the paint the majority of the time he touched the ball.
Already showing a diverse array of post moves, Griffin made 64 percent of his attempts from the field as a senior. He has the quickness to get around bigger defenders and the size and athleticism to go over the top of smaller ones. Add to that a combination of three-point range, shot-blocking skills and defensive ability and you've got one hell of a sleeper in this year's draft class.
As is always the case with players from smaller schools, questions about the level of competition are going to rain down.
School: St. John's
Position: Shooting guard/small forward
Vitals: 6'8", 208 pounds
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists
Even though Moe Harkless' name doesn't sound too familiar to the ears of most people discussing the 2012 NBA draft (yet), he's all but guaranteed to go in the first round of the draft, with serious potential to move up near the lottery. Right now, I can see him going around No. 20 and can't see the Atlanta Hawks passing on him with their first-round pick.
Harkless isn't a particularly skilled offensive player at this point in his young basketball career though. He struggles to knock down shots from behind the three-point arc and hit only 67.8 percent of his free throws during his freshman season at St. John's.
What he does have, though, is size and athleticism. Harkless has elite levels of quickness and leaping ability, plus fantastic body control when he's in the area. The combination of those three skills allows him to become deadly in transition and when slashing to the basket, either with the ball in his hands or on an off-ball cut.
Harkless also possesses quite the knack for rebounding on both ends of the court. You'll rarely find a player who can capably line up at shooting guard who pulls down 8.6 boards a game as a freshman.
Although his defensive abilities are through the roof thanks to his particular set of skills, I do have to downgrade him a little bit due to the fact that he's fifth on his own team in one category: God'sgift Achiuwa, Sir'Dominic Pointer, Anteh Ayree and Boris Brakalov all have better names.
School: UC Santa Barbara
Position: Shooting guard
Vitals: 6'5", 205 pounds
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 19.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists
I'm not even going to attempt to hide it. I absolutely loved Orlando Johnson's offensive game.
If you see that he went to UC Santa Barbara and question his ability to produce against top-tier competition, think again. During the Gauchos' non-conference games against San Diego State, Washington, BYU, Cal and UNLV, Johnson managed to up his game and average 23.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.
Johnson has Kobe Bryant-level confidence in his ability to hoist up shots at any time and oftentimes suffers from poor shot selection. But when he's on, he's on. His ball-handling and long-distance shooting improved during his senior year as he developed into more of a complete offensive player and not just a potent spot-up shooter.
While all of this might seem impressive, it does need to be taken with a grain of salt because it may not translate to the next level, which is why you may have noticed that I wrote, "I absolutely loved..." in the past tense back in the opening paragraph of this slide.
Although he rarely turns the ball over, keeping in mind how heavily he's used, his upside is limited by his lack of quickness. It's going to be a constant struggle for this shooting guard to create his own shot at the next level, and NBA players recover to guard spot-up shots much more effectively than collegiate ones do.
That same lack of quickness is also going to make Johnson into a defensive liability, as his 7'0" wingspan simply won't be enough to help out when opposing guards blow around him and into the weak parts of the defense.
Johnson should have a niche as a second-unit scorer, but he lacks the upside necessary to push him any higher than the early portion of the second round in the 2012 NBA draft.
Position: Point guard
Vitals: 6'1", 180 pounds
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 13.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 9.9 assists
It wouldn't surprise me at all if many of you have heard of Scott Machado. You should have. But I'm including him here because he needs to be universally known.
Machado's one major weakness on offense is his inability to drive to the right, but he makes up for it with his other skills. Even though there's this guy named Kendall Marshall, Machado may very well be the best passer in the nation.
It's a lot easier to rack up the dimes when you're passing to Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and company. Machado didn't have that luxury, yet he still managed to average 9.9 assists, no doubt aided a bit by Iona's extremely up-tempo offense.
The point guard also made 49 percent of his shots, indicating that he has good shooting ability. But that number is a little gaudier than it should be because Machado sometimes plays too passively and will decline to fire an open shot in favor of passing the ball to a teammate, who may or may not be able to immediately take an even higher percentage look at the basket.
If Machado's defensive limitations don't hold him back, there's no reason why he can't become a starting point guard at the NBA level down the road. You don't find court vision like Machado possesses all that often.
School: Tennessee Tech
Position: Shooting guard
Vitals: 6'6", 185 pounds
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 21.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists
Questions about his academic abilities led to a lack of recruitment by major college programs, but Kevin Murphy made the best of his four-year career at Tennessee Tech. He upped his scoring average during each of his seasons with the Golden Eagles, culminating in a senior campaign in which he averaged 21.1 points per game.
His 6'6" frame helps him overcome a lack of strength and shoot over the top of smaller defenders, aiding an already potent perimeter game. Nearly 71 percent of his field-goal attempts came on jumpers, some from Jimmer range. He can create in one-on-one situations, spot up and await passes from teammates or stop on a dime after barreling down the court at full speed in transition.
This deadliness from long range enabled Murphy to use pump fakes and drive into the lane, overcoming his lack of ball-handling skills and explosiveness. It remains to be seen if defenders will give his jump shot as much respect at the next level.
Now from the amount of text I've devoted to Murphy's offensive game, you might expect the "Oh, he can't play defense" punch line to be coming soon. It isn't. The shooting guard isn't a lockdown defender, but he's a capable one who plays within his team's system very nicely.
Now as for the elite competition question, Murphy is currently proving at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament that he can score against some of the best prospects that the NCAA has to offer. On the first day, Murphy dropped 27 points and added six rebounds while missing only three shots from the field.
It wasn't quite as special as his 50-point performance against Southern Illinois this year, but what could be?