The 2012 NBA Draft will be here before we know it, and several franchises will have the opportunity to improve their teams instantly with a draft class considered very deep and very talented.
However, for each sure thing, there are as many risky prospects.
In my latest mock draft, I highlight the riskier picks in this class, the players who have unlimited potential but could easily become busts. In the right situations, these gambles could pay off in a big way.
Let’s get right into it as the Charlotte Bobcats are on the clock.
1. Charlotte Bobcats: Anthony Davis, Kentucky
Davis and his 7’6” wingspan is a no-brainer for the Bobcats at No.1. Charlotte needs someone to make an impact, and Davis can do so without needing the ball in his hands.
He will block shots and rebound, and his presence alone will improve the Bobcats' interior defense.
2. Washington Wizards: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky
Kidd-Gilchrist is a fantastic athlete and will be a great running-mate alongside fellow former Wildcat John Wall.
He’s a high character guy with ability, not only on the offensive end of the floor, but on defense as well. Kidd-Gilchrist can guard multiple positions and has the ability to become a shutdown defender.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Bradley Beal, Florida
The Cavs need to get more athletic and could use some backcourt scoring. Pairing Beal with Kyrie Irving would give Cleveland a potentially lethal backcourt for years to come.
Beal is a guy with range on his jumper, which is a plus, but he’s not just a scorer. He’s one of the best rebounding guards (6.7 RPG) in the draft as well.
4. New Orleans Hornets: Thomas Robinson, Kansas
Who presents the biggest risk as a first round pick?
The Hornets are rebuilding and can’t go wrong by taking the best player on the board with both of their first round picks.
Robinson is of little risk as a high character guy with a non-stop motor. He can help New Orleans instantly as both a scorer and rebounder. He posted 27 double-doubles on the season at Kansas.
5. Sacramento Kings: Andre Drummond, Connecticut
The Kings need a big man to pair next to DeMarcus Cousins, and while Drummond is a risk, he’s a must for Sacramento because he has as much upside as anyone in the draft.
He wasn’t dominant during his freshman year at UConn, averaging only 10 points per game, but he’s got a good feel for the game and a solid back-to-the-basket game. He shot 53.8 percent from the floor last season.
He will need to develop some consistency though. Drummond had 16 games where he failed to score in double-digits and 13 games where he grabbed less than five rebounds. He’s also a brutal free-throw shooter, making only 29 percent of his attempts on the season.
But Drummond can make an impact on the defensive end immediately as the Kings allowed an NBA-worst 104.4 points per game on the season. Drummond pulled down 7.7 boards and blocked 2.9 shots per game, so I would expect him to be able to hold his own there while the rest of his game develops.
6. Portland Trail Blazers (via New Jersey Nets): Damian Lillard, Weber State
The Blazers need a quality floor general and a big man, and with the top big men off the board already, they can go with the top point guard on the board in Lillard.
He’s a volume scorer, averaging 24.5 points per game on the season and should be able to become a good facilitator at the NBA level.
7. Golden State Warriors: Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
The Warriors need some production from the 3 spot, and Barnes falling to them is a gift.
He’s got the ability to become a No. 1 scoring option in the NBA after averaging 17.7 points per game on the season. A potential starting lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Barnes, David Lee and Andrew Bogut could turn out to be a pretty good one.
8. Toronto Raptors: Perry Jones III, Baylor
The Raptors are in a similar situation, as they also need wing production. While Jones is a huge risk, he also has the skill set to become a star.
All Jones needs is someone to bring that talent out of him consistently, which didn’t happen in college. He only averaged 13.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, and even more concerning was that his numbers didn’t improve from his freshman season where Jones averaged 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds.
His field goal percentage even dipped from 54.9 percent to 50 percent but someone is going to gamble on his overall skills.
Jones runs like a deer and can jump through the gym. He can also play the 3 or the 4.
In the right situation the production should come consistently, and whoever takes a chance on Jones will have a steal.
9. Detroit Pistons: Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State
Moultrie is risky but I’m very high on him, especially for the Pistons, who need an athletic, big body as much as I need to win the Powerball.
He can play the 4 or the 5, but he is as athletic as a guard. He’s a tremendous rebounder (10.6 RPG) and can score from either the inside or outside. He shot 55 percent from the floor and 44 percent from behind the arc.
Moultrie is a risk simply because despite his 16.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game last season, he basically came out of nowhere after he never averaged more than 9.8 points and 8.2 boards in two seasons at UTEP.
10. New Orleans Hornets (via Minnesota Timberwolves): Kendall Marshall, North Carolina
The Hornets fill a need here with their point guard of the future in Marshall.
He’s a guy with some questions surrounding him, but there’s no doubting that Marshall is the best pure floor general in the draft. He’s an effortless passer and a fantastic decision maker, posting a 3.48 assist-to-turnover ratio on the season.
11. Portland Trail Blazers: Tyler Zeller, North Carolina.
Zeller fills the need for a quality center that Portland desperately needs.
He won’t be an All-Star, but he can be productive with time. Zeller is athletic and very good fundamentally. He has good leaping skills and can rebound (9.6 RPG). He also has a nice touch around the rim, helping him shoot 55.5 percent from the field.
Zeller got better in each of his four seasons at North Carolina, and I would expect similar results in the NBA.
12. Milwaukee Bucks: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Sullinger is a big risk as he can either become a Charles Barkley-type power forward or a guy whose lack of athleticism holds him back at the NBA level.
Personally I’d go with somewhere in between, as Sullinger has a very good post-game and is a solid finisher, shooting 52 percent from the floor on the season.
The Bucks need a productive post presence, especially since they could lose Ersan Ilyasova as a free agent. I don’t know if Sullinger will ever average the 17.3 points and 9.7 rebounds that he did during his two seasons at Ohio State, but he will be productive nonetheless. He's also would be a good fit in Milwaukee.
His upside is definitely worth the risk.
13. Phoenix Suns: Austin Rivers, Duke
Rivers is good for the Suns here. If they lose point guard Steve Nash, they need someone with potential star power and Rivers has that quality.
He’s a natural scorer, averaging 15.5 points per game during his freshman season at Duke, and isn’t just a shooter but also a creative finisher around the rim.
However, he has a long way to go to become a good NBA 2-guard. He doesn’t play well without the ball and must learn to use his teammates more. Rivers must also develop a more consistent jumper as he tends to live off isolation way too much and can shoot his team right out of games.
But the talent is there and Rivers is definitely worth the gamble at this point in the draft.
14. Houston Rockets: Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut
I love Lamb for the Rockets here, as Houston badly needs backcourt depth.
Lamb’s got a potentially devastating mid-range game and an improving long-range attack. He averaged a solid 17.7 points per game on the season and could become a top scoring option down the road.
15. Philadelphia 76ers: John Henson, North Carolina
Henson is a nice grab for the Sixers here, as he will go a long way to improving their interior defense.
He’s very athletic and runs the floor great so he will be a weapon in transition. And while his post-game is raw, Henson’s immediate impact will be as a rebounder (10.1 RPG) and as a shot-blocker (2.9 BPG).
16. Houston Rockets (via New York Knicks): Meyers Leonard, Illinois
Houston is still looking for a replacement in the middle for Yao Ming, and Leonard could end up being that guy.
He’s another player that won’t likely be a star, but he has the skills to be productive in the NBA. Leonard is a true 7-footer and has a decent back-to-the-basket game, as well as the athleticism to put the ball on the deck and attack the rim.
He’s got some developing to do but put up solid numbers at Illinois, averaging 13.6 points per game while shooting 58.4 percent from the floor. He also showed the ability to be a solid rebounder (8.2 RPG) and shot-blocker (1.9 BPG).
It may take time, but Leonard definitely has the talent and skill set to be a productive NBA big man.
17. Dallas Mavericks: Terrence Jones, Kentucky
Dallas has to get younger and more athletic, and Jones will go a long way to starting that transition.
He’s got ideal size for a small forward at 6’9” and can score at all three levels, shooting 50 percent from the floor and 33 percent from behind the arc.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Utah Jazz): Terrence Ross, Washington
Ross could be the perimeter shooter the Wolves need, and this late in the draft, he could be a steal for Minnesota.
He’s a guy who averaged 16.6 points per game and shot 37 percent from behind the arc. He could be the perfect fit on the improving Timberwolves.
19. Orlando Magic: Dion Waiters, Syracuse
Waiters is a combo-guard with excellent playmaking skills and the ability to get into the paint at will.
Orlando needs to fill plenty of holes for the future, and taking a talent like Waiters, who can make a big impact down the road, makes a lot of sense.
20. Denver Nuggets: Quincy Miller, Baylor
Miller is a tremendous athlete and has an NBA future, but it won’t be right off the bat.
Denver doesn’t have any immediate holes to fill, so going with the upside of Miller could pay dividends down the road.
Miller was one of the top high school prospects in 2011 before tearing his ACL during his senior season. During his freshman season at Baylor, he was a key component to a good Baylor team, but was also very inconsistent, going scoreless in one game then dropping 29 points the next.
Despite averaging only 10.6 points per game on the season, he’s an incredibly skilled prospect with ideal size and a ridiculously lengthy 7'3" wingspan for a scoring small forward. Miller is a crafty shot-creator on the perimeter, doing most of his offensive damage with his mid-range game.
He’s got a ton of developing to do, but based on talent alone, Miller could become one of the top players in this draft class.
21. Boston Celtics: Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure
Nicholson is a guy that can come in and fill a need as a young, athletic big man who can become very productive at the NBA level.
He’s a player who was very productive throughout his college career, averaging, 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game, but did so shooting 57 percent from the floor and 43 percent from behind the arc during his senior season.
22. Boston Celtics (via Los Angeles Clippers): Royce White, Iowa State
White is a risk mostly due to some off the court issues, which include an anxiety disorder and a fear of flying.
But he’s an extremely gifted player who averaged 13.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in leading Iowa State to a nice NCAA Tournament run. White could be the eventual long-term replacement for Paul Pierce and won’t just make an impact as a scorer and rebounder.
He’s got the size of a small forward at 6’9”, but he also possesses the court vision and decision-making skills of a guard. He averaged 5.1 assists last season, which not only led the Iowa State team, but also was fifth in the entire Big 12 Conference.
23. Atlanta Hawks: Doron Lamb, Kentucky
Lamb is a scorer and the hawks can use some additional scoring punch from their backcourt.
He’s a guy that shot 47 percent from behind the arc and averaged 13.9 points per game for the national champions. Lamb could turn out to be a tremendous fit in Atlanta.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers): Moe Harkless, St. Johns
The Cavs could add another exceptional athlete here with Harkless, who has a ton of upside and could become the productive small forward Cleveland hasn’t had since LeBron James skipped town.
He’s a guy who has scoring ability (15.3 PPG) and could become a very good rebounder and defender as well.
25. Memphis Grizzlies: Tony Wroten, Washington
On talent alone, Wroten has the skills to become the top guard in this draft class, but he has a long way to go before he reaches his potential.
He’s worth the risk for the Grizzlies as Memphis already has a solid core and can afford to be patient waiting for him to develop.
Wroten averaged 16 points per game on the season had no perimeter shot to speak of, shooting only 16 percent from behind the arc. He also must learn to take care of the ball as he turned it over 3.8 times per game as a freshman while dishing out 3.7 assists per game.
But the all-around talent of Wroten is well worth the risk as a pick for the future, especially this late in the first round.
26. Indiana Pacers: Marquis Teague, Kentucky
Teague is a smart pick as for the Pacers as they may have their point guard for the future.
He’s got some developing to do as well, but Teague is extremely athletic and explosive. Down the road, he could become a very good NBA point guard.
27. Miami Heat: Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt
Ezeli is raw offensively, but he’s almost the perfect pick for the Heat as he could turn into the big body that they need.
He hasn’t been playing the game long, but averaged 10 points and two blocks per game while shooting 60 percent from the floor. Ezeli is definitely a guy with talent, and the Heat can afford to bring him along slowly.
28. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jeff Taylor, Vanderbilt
Taylor is a guy who averaged 16.1 points per game and is a very good perimeter defender.
The Thunder need to add good, young pieces to help their depth, and the Vanderbilt product will be a very nice fit in Oklahoma City.
29. Chicago Bulls: John Jenkins, Vanderbilt
The Bulls need a second scoring option to go alongside Derrick Rose, and Jenkins could be a guy that eventually replaces Richard Hamilton as the Bulls 2-guard.
Jenkins is the best pure shooter in the college game and has unlimited range, shooting 44 percent from behind the arc on the season.
30. Golden State Warriors (via San Antonio Spurs): Fab Melo, Syracuse
Melo is very raw offensively but has a good deal of talent. Within time, he could become a decent NBA center.
Golden State can add the additional size they need and while Melo is a project, he’s got a good feel for the game and is a very good shot-blocker (2.9 BPG), which Mark Jackson will love.