Like any draft, the 2012 NBA draft will not only feature its share of can’t-miss prospects but more than its share of surprises as well.
Almost everyone expects guys like Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to make an impact, but a successful draft could come down to finding that surprise in the first round.
In my latest mock draft, I focus in on those players that could surprise as rookies. Some could view these guys as projects or risks, but they just may pan out as well.
1. Charlotte Bobcats: Anthony Davis, Kentucky.
Davis is a no-brainer for Charlotte at No. 1. It needs someone to come in and make an impact, and Davis can be impactful on the defensive end immediately as a rookie.
His length and 7’6” wingspan will improve the Bobcats' interior defense, and after 23 consecutive losses to end the season, that’s a good starting place to rebuild.
2. Washington Wizards: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky.
Washington can go multiple ways with this pick, but can’t go wrong with a guy like Kidd-Gilchrist. He’s a leader and a high-character guy, and his athleticism will fit in nicely on the wing with John Wall running the offense.
His motor never stops and the biggest asset Kidd-Gilchrist brings to the table is his ability to be a shut-down defender.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Bradley Beal, Florida.
Cleveland is another team that could go multiple directions with this pick and while I’ve been leaning more toward size for the Cavs, Beal is still too good to pass on here.
He could be the best pure scorer in the draft and is a tremendous athlete, and the Cavs need to get more athletic in this draft. A future backcourt of Beal and Kyrie Irving is just too tempting to pass on.
4. New Orleans Hornets: Thomas Robinson, Kansas.
Robinson is a double-double machine, posting 27 of them at Kansas this season. The Hornets are rebuilding and a solid post player such as Robinson makes perfect sense.
He’s as tough as he is athletic and Robinson will help improve New Orleans in multiple ways. He can score (17.9 PPG) in multiple ways and is a relentless rebounder (11.8 RPG); the Hornets ranked near the bottom of the NBA in each category.
5. Sacramento Kings: Andre Drummond, Connecticut.
Drummond is a guy that many feel could use another season of college after a not-so-spectacular season where he only averaged 10.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. He also scored under double digits in 16 of UConn’s 32 games and grabbed five or less rebounds in 13 of those.
But he’s got as much upside as anyone in the draft and could be surprisingly good in the NBA, especially if the Kings think he can play the 4 next to DeMarcus Cousins.
Drummond has a great feel for the game and could make an impact right away defensively, but despite scoring only 10 points per game as a freshman, he’s got a solid back-to-the-basket game and a nice touch around the rim, shooting a solid 54 percent from the floor.
I wouldn’t rule out that Drummond won’t have an impact as a rookie as he could turn out to be a surprise.
6. Portland Trail Blazers (via New Jersey Nets): Damian Lillard, Weber State.
Lillard is the top point guard on the board, and the Blazers could fill a need here. If Drummond would drop to them, he’s a no-brainer, but with the top big men off the board, filling the need for a productive guard here is a must.
With Lillard the Blazers get a volume scorer who averaged 24.5 PPG on the season and a guy that can run an offense effectively.
Playing collegiately at Weber State could make him a surprise in the NBA right away, but Lillard has a high basketball IQ. Despite being a high-scoring point guard, he doesn’t force shots for himself as he gets everything within the natural flow of the offense, which is impressive.
7. Golden State Warriors: Harrison Barnes, North Carolina.
Barnes and the Warriors are a perfect match as long as Golden State ends up keeping this pick.
He could turn into the productive small forward it needs and eventually could make himself a No. 1 scoring option after averaging 17.7 PPG on the season.
8. Toronto Raptors: Perry Jones III, Baylor.
The Raptors would be hoping for Barnes, but rolling the dice on Jones makes sense here as well.
He only averaged 13.5 PPG and 7.9 RPG at Baylor, which suggests he played well below his skill set, but Jones may have more natural ability than anyone in this draft.
Jones projects as a 3 in the NBA but can also play the 4, and if he can learn to produce consistently, you could see the Baylor product out produce what he did in college right off the bat. He’s got all the tools to do so, now he needs to just get it done.
It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Jones became one of the more productive rookies in this class.
9. Detroit Pistons: Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State.
I’m very high on Moultrie as he’s a guy who has the size and the strength to play the 4 or the 5, but also has the agility of a guard.
Detroit needs to get more athletic up front, and if Moultrie was paired next to Greg Monroe, he can become a big surprise. Moultrie is a scorer who averaged 16.4 PPG with the ability to score from both the inside (.549 field-goal percentage) or outside (.444 three-point percentage), but is also a very good rebounder, pulling down 10.6 boards per night.
He’s athletic enough and possess the skills to make an impact as a rookie and could turn into one of the pure surprises in the draft.
10. New Orleans Hornets (via Minnesota Timberwolves): Kendall Marshall, North Carolina.
Marshall is the best pure floor general in the draft, and if the Hornets can add him and Robinson in the first 10 picks, it will be a very good draft for New Orleans.
He’s a leader who makes everyone better and is a great decision-maker, putting up a 3.48 assist-to-turnover ratio on the season.
11. Portland Trail Blazers: Tyler Zeller, North Carolina.
Zeller may not be an All-Star, but he will be productive and can fill Portland’s need for a productive big man.
He’s good fundamentally and has a soft touch around the rim, shooting .555 from the floor, but Zeller is also a good athlete who has great leaping skills and can attack the glass, pulling down 9.6 RPG. He will fill a need for the Blazers.
12. Milwaukee Bucks: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State.
Sullinger will give Milwaukee a solid post presence and he comes with a very advanced post game. He’s shot an impressive 52 percent from the floor while leading the Buckeyes to the Final Four.
He may have an adjustment period, competing against longer and more athletic NBA defenders, but down the road Sullinger could turn into a solid NBA power forward.
13. Phoenix Suns: Austin Rivers, Duke.
Rivers will need to learn to play without the ball better and learn to use his teammates. He also must develop a consistent jumper to be an NBA star.
But he has star potential and a scorer’s mentality, so Rivers is a solid pick here for Phoenix. He’s got all the talent in the world to make himself a very good shooting guard.
14. Houston Rockets: Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut.
I like the ability of Lamb to become a star a little more than Rivers and he’s a good fit for the Rockets, who need backcourt depth.
Lamb is a scorer who averaged 17.7 PPG on the season and while his mid-range game could become lethal, he also has range on his jumper, shooting 35 percent from behind the arc throughout his two-year career at UConn.
He has the chance to become a very good NBA player and could turn into a surprise as a rookie. Kevin Martin will be in the final year of his deal in 2013 and Lamb could possibly force Martin out of Houston sooner rather than later.
15. Philadelphia 76ers: John Henson, North Carolina
Henson is a tremendous athlete who will go a long way to improving the Sixers' interior defense.
His offensive game is raw, but Henson is a tremendous rebounder (10.1 RPG) and outstanding shot-blocker (2.9 BPG) with great court coverage. Henson is a very solid pick here for Philadelphia.
16. Houston Rockets (via New York Knicks): Meyers Leonard, Illinois
After grabbing Lamb already, the Rockets can look to add a solid big man for the future in Leonard.
He’s got some developing to do, but he showed that he’s got a solid skill set while at Illinois this year. The numbers weren’t bad either, averaging 13.6 PPG while shooting .584 from the floor while showing a nice soft touch around the basket, along with the athleticism to get around defenders as well.
17. Dallas Mavericks: Terrence Jones, Kentucky.
The other Kentucky players get a lot of love, but Jones could become a star within a short period of time.
Dallas needs to get younger and more athletic in the process, and Jones can become a surprise right of the bat. He has size at 6’9” and the ability to both rebound (7.2 RPG) and score in traffic (12.3 PPG).
He’s also a guy who can score at all three levels, shooting 50 percent from the floor on the season, including 33 percent from behind the arc. Jones has all the ability to become a surprise during his rookie season.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Utah Jazz): Terrence Ross, Washington
The Wolves need to upgrade the 2-guard spot and Ross is a very good one with tremendous upside.
He’s got ideal size for the position at 6’6” and is a scorer, averaging 16.4 PPG on the season, but more importantly he has range on his jumper, shooting 37 percent from three-point range on the season.
19. Orlando Magic: Dion Waiters, Syracuse
Orlando has many holes to fill, so going with the top guy left on the board makes sense.
Waiters is a combo guard with excellent speed who will excel in transition and make a living getting into the paint. Getting younger and more athletic is a priority for the Magic and they can add a playmaker in Waiters.
20. Denver Nuggets: Quincy Miller, Baylor.
Miller is a tremendous athlete and has an NBA future, but it might not be right now.
The Nuggets fortunately don’t have a pressing need at the moment so they can afford to gamble on Miller and be patient. He has the ability to become a very good scorer in the NBA, but it may take some time to develop.
21. Boston Celtics: Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure.
If you are looking for surprise players, Nicholson can become the biggest surprise of all.
Boston needs young big bodies for the future and Nicholson not only fits that bill but he could be surprisingly productive immediately. He got better all four years at St. Bonaventure and finished his senior year by getting the Bonnies to the NCAA tournament.
Nicholson’s numbers were very solid as a senior (18.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG and 2.0 BPG) but did so shooting 57 percent from the floor and 43 percent from behind the arc. This guy is a player who can make an immediate impact.
22. Boston Celtics (via Los Angeles Clippers): Royce White, Iowa State.
White is another guy who can surprise as a rookie. He will be playing behind Paul Pierce initially, but can still be very productive.
He’s a complete player, averaging 13.4 points per game, while shooting .534 from the floor and .333 from behind the arc. But White just isn’t about scoring as he’s a good rebounder (9.3 RPG) and serves as a floor general as well.
White is 6’9” but served as a facilitator as well, averaging 5.1 APG that lead the Iowa State team and ranked him fifth in the Big 12 Conference. He’s another guy that will be selected late in the first round but has lottery-type talent.
23. Atlanta Hawks: Doron Lamb, Kentucky.
Atlanta can add a productive backcourt player in Lamb, which gives the Hawks the option to leave Joe Johnson at the 3.
Lamb is very athletic and can be lethal with his jumper, knocking down 47 percent of his attempts from behind the arc.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Moe Harkless, St. John's.
Cleveland gets more athletic with the addition of Harkless, who has the potential to be a very good NBA scorer and defender.
The Cavs need some production off the win with Antawn Jamison an unrestricted free agent, and this seems like a good fit on both sides as Harkless will have an opportunity to produce. He may not average the 15.3 PPG he did during his freshman season at St. John's, but he’s got the talent to do so down the road.
25. Memphis Grizzlies: Tony Wroten, Washington.
Wroten has the natural talent to be the best point guard in this draft class before long, but he needs to develop.
Memphis can allow that to happen as it has Mike Conley in place. If Wroten makes an impact as a rookie, it will be by adding some scoring punch (16.0 PPG) off the bench.
26. Indiana Pacers: Marquis Teague, Kentucky.
Teague is explosive and evolving as a player. He may need to develop some still, but he has a world of upside.
He’s a smart pick for the Pacers as they can look for a legitimate point guard for the future here. Teague will be a good one in time. He’s lightning quick and sees the floor very well.
27. Miami Heat: Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt.
Ezeli gives the Heat a big body who has the chance to be a productive player down the road.
He’s raw offensively but has some talent. He averaged 10.0 PPG and shot 60 percent from the floor on the season. Ezeli has a nice baby hook that he can shoot with either hand and decent footwork for a guy who hasn’t been playing basketball that long.
28. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jeff Taylor, Vanderbilt.
The Thunder just need depth and Taylor gives them an outstanding athlete who is a very good perimeter defender.
Taylor has the talent to get to the basket, averaging 16.1 PPG while shooting .496 from the floor. He will be a nice bench piece in Oklahoma City.
29. Chicago Bulls: John Jenkins, Vanderbilt.
The Bulls need a second scoring option to go along side Derrick Rose, and Jenkins is a guy who makes a good deal of sense here for Chicago.
He’s a lights-out shooter who knocked down 44 percent of his attempts from behind the arc. Jenkins has unlimited range, and teams can never have too much shooting.
30. Golden State Warriors (via San Antonio Spurs): Fab Melo, Syracuse.
Golden State can add more size by drafting Melo, who’s a very good shot-blocker (2.9 BPG).
He’s raw offensively but has a good deal of talent and within time could become a decent NBA center.