Not all NBA draft picks are created equal. For every Kyrie Irving, the favorite for Rookie of the Year after going No. 1 overall to the Cavs, there’s a Marcus Morris, who spends nearly as much time in the D-League as he does in Houston, despite arriving as a lottery selection himself.
One player who can count on being closer to Irving’s end of that spectrum is North Carolina SF Harrison Barnes. There may be questions about his defense, but Barnes’ scoring punch and superlative athleticism will make sure he doesn’t spend his rookie season rotting on anyone’s bench.
Read on for a closer look at Barnes and nine other players in the 2012 draft with the best chances to make a statement in their first season in the NBA.
Without a doubt, John Henson is going to face a substantial culture shock in jumping to the next level. With just 220 lbs. on his 6’11” frame, he’s going to need a lot more muscle to hold his ground against NBA-caliber post players.
Nevertheless, Henson’s length and instincts will let him make an immediate splash in some areas.
He’s a quality rebounder (10 boards a night over his last two seasons in Chapel Hill), but his biggest contribution will be on the defensive end. After blocking around three shots a game for two consecutive years, he’s shown he’ll be a valuable help-side defender, even if he’s vulnerable to getting bodied up in the post.
Although he’s listed at just 6’4”, Bradley Beal’s strength and leaping ability let him play a lot bigger than his frame.
Beal racked up six double-doubles in his lone season at Florida, including one in the NCAA Tournament against the physical Virginia defense.
As an offensive player, Beal will need to work on his range (he shot just .339 from the college arc), but with his rebounding and toughness to compensate, he’ll still get his share of minutes.
Scoring won’t be a problem, as he’s a terrific finisher who will get plenty of points in transition as well as in the mid-range game.
UConn didn’t exactly shine in defending its 2011 NCAA title, but one player who did step up was Jeremy Lamb.
With floor leader Kemba Walker gone, Lamb took on the lion’s share of the scoring burden, raising his average from 11.1 points per game as a freshman to a team-high 17.7 points a night last year.
Lamb isn’t an overpowering defender, but at 6’5” with long arms, he’s certainly not a liability either.
As a rookie, he won’t be forced into the high-volume three-point shooting that sometimes hampered him last season (when his long-range attempts nearly doubled to 211), so look for his percentage to be a lot better than his .336 collegiate figure would suggest.
After two nondescript seasons at UTEP and a year off as a transfer, Arnett Moultrie wasn’t exactly at the top of preseason watch lists as a center.
In his one season with Mississippi State, though, the 6’11”, 230-lb. junior lit up a tough SEC to the tune of 16.4 points and 10.5 rebounds a night.
With Moultrie’s length and skills on the glass, he’s a serious contender to lead all rookies in rebounding. After all, he battled presumptive No. 1 pick Anthony Davis to a draw (13 points and 11 rebounds each) in their one head-to-head meeting last season.
If you’re looking for a great candidate to be this year’s MarShon Brooks, you could do a lot worse than Dion Waiters.
Like the impressive New Jersey rookie, Waiters has a good chance to fall to the latter part of the first round, but also like Brooks, the Syracuse standout knows how to score in bunches as soon as he steps on the floor.
Waiters served as a super-sub for Jim Boeheim last year, averaging 12.6 points per game (second on the team) while coming off the bench.
With his quick trigger and solid long-range game (.365 from beyond the arc), Waiters has a fine opportunity to step into a similar role off an NBA bench from the first game of his rookie season.
Terrence Ross is a high-flying, 6’6” shooting guard who’s sure to be among the rookie leaders in highlight-reel dunks next season. Fortunately for his future team, Ross’ performance at Washington showed that he has substance to go with his style.
After coming off the bench as a freshman, Ross doubled most of his season averages last year, finishing with 16.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
He also flashed enough of a long-range shot (.371 from beyond the arc) that he’ll have no trouble keeping NBA defenses honest as a rookie.
Harrison Barnes is the best pure athlete in the 2012 draft class. That’s not always enough to make for NBA success, but it’s a great place to start.
The 6’8”, 215-lb. SF scored 17.1 points a game for North Carolina last year, including .358 shooting from beyond the arc.
He still needs to step up his contributions at the defensive end of the floor, but he’s hardly the first player to have left Chapel Hill without anyone caring much about that particular deficiency (see Carter, Vince).
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a fine mid-range shooter and a terrific finisher who averaged 11.9 points a night last season. His offense, though, isn’t remotely the strongest aspect of the Kentucky freshman’s game.
Kidd-Gilchrist is the best perimeter defender in the draft, a long-limbed 6’7” small forward with outstanding quickness and instincts.
On top of that, he averaged more rebounds from the perimeter (7.4 per game) than most college power forwards did from the paint a season ago.
The lottery to determine what team will pick No. 1 overall is still weeks away, but there’s little suspense as to which player will go in that spot.
Anthony Davis just capped one of the greatest freshman seasons in history, anchoring an impenetrable defense that led Kentucky to the national title.
Davis, who led the nation with a jaw-dropping 4.7 blocks a night, is more than ready to make his mark as an NBA defender (despite his slender 6’10”, 220-lb. frame).
Even if his sometimes-erratic offense takes a while to catch up, Davis’ shot-blocking and rebounding (10.4 boards per game in Lexington) will be more than enough to make him a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Having ended his sophomore year at Kansas as the best backup in college basketball, Thomas Robinson wraps up his junior (and final) season as the most NBA-ready prospect in the draft.
The 6’10”, 237-lb. PF may not have the game-changing defensive ability that’s likely to make Anthony Davis the No. 1 pick, but he makes up for it with a far more developed offensive game.
Robinson posted eye-opening averages of 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds a night last season, not to mention 0.9 blocks and 1.1 steals per contest on defense.
Just as important, he’s got NBA athleticism that sets him apart from high-achieving (but low-jumping) college stars such as Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger.