NBA Draft 2012: 20 Players Who Will Be the Best Pros in 3 Years
The NBA draft is one of the most nerve-wracking events of the offseason for one simple reason: nothing is assured. Every player comes with a risk and "bust potential," however small.
Of course, there are players who are much more likely to succeed. Guys like Thomas Robinson and Anthony Davis are "locks" in every way, save some untimely injury or horrid coaching. Robinson showed vast improvement in the past year and Davis was the most dominant defensive force in recent memory.
Needless to say, Robinson and Davis made this list. Other players on this list hold more uncertain professional futures, and some that are left off may be the most efficacious in the NBA. Only time will tell.
This is entirely based on who will be the best in three years.
Let's get started.
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
Before the 2011-12 college basketball season, Harrison Barnes was seen as a sure-fire top-five pick in the NBA draft.
Because of a woeful NCAA tournament, Barnes has seen his stock slip further than any other high-lottery pick, along with Perry Jones III.
So, what will Barnes be in the NBA? He boasts incredible shooting skill, but hasn't shown the killer instinct you would expect from such a highly touted prospect.
While I don't think Barnes will be a franchise-changing wing in the NBA, I do think he will have a sound career.
Will Barton, Memphis
Will Barton was quietly one of the most statistically improved players in all of college basketball last year.
In five more minutes per game, Barton added nearly six points (12.3 to 18.1), three rebounds (4.9 to 8.1), cut turnovers (2.5 to 2.1) and improved his shooting percentages across the board, making a 42.8 to 50 percent leap in field-goal accuracy, along with a 69.9 to 74.9 jump in free-throw shooting and a 26.5 to 34.6 percent improvement from behind the arc.
He'll need to add strength to his 6'5" frame, as well as improve his shot selection. But I expect him to be a steal for any team if he falls out of the lottery.
Bradley Beal, Florida
Who's the best shooting guard in the NBA draft class of 2012? Bradley Beal.
Who's going to be remembered as the best shooting guard from the class of 2012? Who knows.
It's safe to say, however, that Beal is in the driver's seat for that designation in three years. He's as solid a shooter as Harrison Barnes, rebounds better and is one year younger.
Beal will be a high-lottery pick this June.
Anthony Davis, Kentucky
National championship. Player of the year. Freshman of the year. Number one draft pick? All signs point to Anthony Davis sweeping all major categories that define who the best college basketball player was this past year.
If you don't pay attention to basketball at all, here is a quick rundown of why Davis is an incredible specimen:
At 6'10" with a wingspan of 7'4", Davis blocks an unworldly number of shots, collects a ludicrous number of alley-oops and can defend almost any position on the court.
Offensively, Davis improved throughout the year. He has great form on his outside jumper and can finish with either hand in the lane. He still needs to add strength, but his presence in the paint will be an immediate benefit to whichever team lands the No. 1 pick.
Evan Fournier, France
As the best international player in this draft, Evan Fournier may have some expectations to live up to. And at just 19 years of age, he may be a developmental prospect three years down the road.
However, if Fournier lands in the right situation, he could contribute immediately. He has size (6'7", 205) for a shooting guard and superb ball-handling ability for someone his size.
His production in Europe improved this year, his sophomore campaign. As a teenager, he averaged 14 points per game in 26 minutes (statistics via Draft Express).
While I don't expect him to replicate those numbers early in his NBA career, I do think he could have a Rudy Fernandez-like career in the NBA: solid, not spectacular.
Draymond Green, Michigan State
Players like Draymond Green will excel in almost any situation. Work ethic, hustle and a bevy of skills put Green on this list.
He'll be undersized as a power forward in the NBA, and he isn't quick enough to defend most small forwards.
But Green makes teammates better and brings valuable experience to any team. He's a proven winner and will make in immediate impact on the team that selects him.
Eric Griffin, Campbell
Every draft has a player who surprises more than any other, and I think Eric Griffin will be the 2012 surprise.
Griffin's game is immature, but the raw talent is there. Other players in this draft are just as talented, but Griffin has only played the game of basketball for five years. He burst onto the NBA draft scene with this incredible dunk.
With inexperience comes growing pains. Griffin may boast a solid shooting percentage (61 percent), but his free-throw shooting is atrocious (56.8 percent). He fouls too much (3.2 per game last year) and turns the ball over often for a power forward (2.7 per game). He'll have to fall into the correct situation (predecessor to Tim Duncan, anyone?) to succeed.
If a team is looking for length, incredible athleticism and huge upside, look no further than Griffin.
Moe Harkless, St. John's
Another player with prodigious upside is Moe Harkless. He didn't have overly impressive numbers in 36 minutes per game with St. John's, but he played well in big games.
His best game of his freshman year was against Duke on Jan. 28. Harkless had 30 points and 13 rebounds, showcasing his outstanding athletic ability and transition game.
Like Eric Griffin, Harkless will need to land in the right situation to succeed. His outside shooting needs the most work, but his motor and athleticism have him near the top of his class.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky
If we're speaking of motor and athleticism, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist takes the cake.
Like Draymond Green, Kidd-Gilchrist will be a great fit in any organization. He plays hard, is a natural leader and is explosive around the rim. He'll be an instant contributor, particularly on defense, to a lottery team.
The few negatives about MKG's game are on the offensive side of the ball. He isn't the best at staying under control in transition and his shooting from long range is below average.
He'll have time to iron out those kinks.
Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut
Jeremy Lamb is an interesting prospect. Connecticut was pegged to have a solid chance at repeating as national champions because of his return and another great recruiting class.
However, Lamb ceded the chance to take over as the alpha dog for the Huskies, and his stock has dropped accordingly.
Lamb will still be a first-round pick, simply for intangibles. He'll be a lanky shooting guard in the NBA and defends well. His mid-range game is well above the norm, but he is a streaky shooter from distance.
I see Lamb as a solid role player three years from now.
Damian Lillard, Weber State
Point guards are in short supply in the 2012 NBA draft, so it should come as no surprise that the best scorer of the bunch will be a lottery pick.
Enter Damian Lillard, arguably the best scorer in this year's draft. Lillard averaged 24.5 points per game last year at Weber State, backed by notable shooting percentages, 46.7 from the field, 88.7 from the line and 40.9 from three-point range.
Lillard isn't a pass-first point guard, but he can have an impact similar to what Isaiah Thomas had with the Sacramento Kings this year.
Kendall Marshall, North Carolina
The proverbial pass-first point guard is epitomized by Kendall Marshall. He has the best court vision of any player in this draft class, and his statistics reflect that. He averaged 9.7 assists per game last year for North Carolina.
What speaks volumes about Marshall's ability is the fact that the Tar Heels—a top-five team in terms of talent—struggled mightily when he was injured.
Marshall won't wow you with his athleticism or shooting ability, but he'll prosper right away in the right situation.
Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State
Arnett Moultrie has the exact size specifications you look for in an NBA power forward—6'11", 230 pounds. He's a great rebounder and can score in multiple ways down low.
Moultrie averaged 15.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game at Mississippi State last year. He was a double-double machine and has the frame to continue that trend in the NBA.
Unfortunately, Moultrie isn't a perfect power forward prospect. He tends to disappear on occasion, which is a definite concern.
A bit of coaching will have Moultrie among the most consistent power forwards in the league.
Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure
Four years at St. Bonaventure certainly helped Andrew Nicholson. Every year, Nicholson improved. He added a three-point shot to his arsenal on offense, and has played consistent defense throughout his college career.
ESPN's Chad Ford compares Nicholson to Indiana Pacers forward David West, and the comparison couldn't be more accurate.
Nicholson, like West, won't be a superstar. He'll turn 23 this year, which means his upside is limited. But he'll be a dependable post presence by his third year in the league.
Austin Rivers, Duke
There are so many words that can describe Austin Rivers: confident, selfish, skilled, promising, lacking, the list goes on and on.
The best description of Rivers can be condensed into one word: perplexing.
Rivers could be great. Rivals ranked Rivers higher than Anthony Davis in the 2011 class. There's no questioning his offensive talent. He handles the ball well and can score from anywhere on the court.
For Rivers to succeed, he'll need to join a team that needs a high-volume shooter. Teams like New Orleans, Phoenix and Toronto come to mind. But who will be willing to pull the trigger?
I don't see Rivers as a franchise player. If he lands in the right hands, however, he can be molded into an above-average scorer.
Thomas Robinson, Kansas
This time last year, Thomas Robinson was nowhere near his current status as a high-lottery NBA draft pick. Robinson was entrenched on the Kansas bench for his first two years in Lawrence, then exploded in the 2011-12 season.
Robinson scored double-digit points in every game but one last year. His 11.8 rebounds per game were second in the nation. His consistency, despite receiving double-teams on a consistent basis, make him a dependable player for years to come.
To put it simply, I'd be shocked if Robinson was a bust. He possesses an NBA frame and NBA skills.
Terrence Ross, Washington
Terrence Ross' two seasons at Washington weren't as fruitful as expected in the win column, but Ross showed improvement from his freshman-to-sophomore seasons.
Ross is one of the best shooting guards available. He doesn't have the smooth stroke of a John Jenkins or Doron Lamb, nor does he have the overwhelming athleticism of Bradley Beal or Jeremy Lamb—he's somewhere in between.
His improvement in the past year has him set to be a first-round draft pick. I see Ross as a valuable contributor on the wing three years from now.
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Jared Sullinger may not be as tall or explosive as we'd like him to be, but he's still one of the best low-post scorers in the 2012 class.
His size (6'9", 280 pounds) allows him to position himself deep in the lane. His height will be a factor when shooting over defenders, but it also gives him leverage that makes him extremely difficult to uproot.
Sullinger's second year in Columbus didn't show much improvement, but he did improve. He's an intelligent player with nifty footwork that may be best-in-class. Finishing through contact isn't a problem and he improved his face-up game this past year.
While his upside may be limited when compared to a player like Anthony Davis, he's a safe bet to be a top-20 player from this class in three years.
Dion Waiters, Syracuse
The best 6'4" athlete in this draft is Dion Waiters. He'll be undersized if he sticks to shooting guard, but that won't hinder Waiters from making an impact on both sides of the ball.
Waiters boasts exceptional length for a player his size, and his athleticism will allow him to stick with other players his size. He's a proverbial "slashing" guard—he can take almost anyone off the dribble and can finish above the rim.
His minutes at Syracuse (24.1 per game) hurt his statistics, but the talent is there. Three years from now, Waiters could be considered the best scoring guard from the 2012 draft.
Royce White, Iowa State
Iowa State gave the 2012 national champion Kentucky Wildcats all they could handle in their round of 32 matchup, and that was because of Royce White. White scored 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting and added nine rebounds and four assists.
His skills are on display in this highlight against Anthony Davis and the Wildcats. White dribbles like a guard and finishes with authority.
White has superb footwork, touch, passing, dribbling, rebounding, you name it. But teams are nervous about his ability to play at the next level because of his nerves. His anxiety disorder makes it near impossible for him to fly, something that is an everyday occurrence in the NBA.
Nevertheless, a team will take a chance on White. I am hopeful that White will overcome his disorder (or hire him someone to drive him across the country) and succeed in the NBA.
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