2009 NBA Draft Preview: Blake Griffin Leads the Way

Joe SlowikCorrespondent IFebruary 5, 2009

The 2008 draft was full of promising players, many of which are already producing at a high level.

Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook are trying to change the common belief that rookie point guards struggle to produce. OJ Mayo and Eric Gordon are lighting up scoreboards. Michael Beasley is averaging 13 points and five rebounds in under 25 MPG, and Brook Lopez and Kevin Love are starting to make an impact inside.

The lottery picks aren't the only ones getting in on the act either, with Mario Chalmers and George Hill playing surprisingly well.

That kind of early production doesn't appear likely for next year's draft class. The high school class on 2008 hasn't had the same kind of success, and many of the younger prospects that were on the fence declared for the 2008 draft. Because of that, general managers may have a harder time filling out their draft boards than normal. That said, there are some talented players that may be available, and this quick guide will give you an idea of what to expect.


The One Sure Thing

Despite the relatively weak draft, fans of the teams that are struggling can at least get their hopes up for Blake Griffin, the outstanding power forward from Oklahoma. Blake was one of the few legitimate NBA prospects that decided to stay in school.

Griffin would have been a top-5 lock if he declared last year, and he's only helped his cause with another year playing for the Sooners. He has been a dominant scorer and rebounder, leading Oklahoma to the No. 2 spot in the polls. Griffin is an excellent prospect with explosive leaping ability and a power oriented game that is brutally efficient.

He also displays unusual quickness and ball-handling ability for a 6'10" forward, which has made him extremely difficult to stop. He should be putting up double-doubles relatively early in his career, which is exactly what most of the high lottery teams need.


The Second Tier

There's a fairly sizeable drop off after Griffin, though that doesn't mean these guys can't help an NBA team. That said, someone like Anthony Randolph or Donte Greene easily could have been in this tier if they had stayed in school for another year.

Most people consider Spanish PG Ricky Rubio to be the next most promising prospect. He made a significant impression on a lot of people with his performance in the Olympics. Rubio is easily the best pure PG in the draft because of his passing ability and court vision.

The major question is exactly how good he'll be playing against NBA level athletes on a nightly basis. There are also some questions about his buyout status with his European club, so he may not even be in this draft.

James Harden has also jumped to the top of the draft board thanks to his dominate performance this year for ASU. He doesn't have the athleticism teams typically look for in a shooting guard, but his skill set will remind some of Brandon Roy. Harden can flat out score, he has a lethal jumper and is adept at getting to the basket. Even if he can't get by defenders with the same ease in the NBA, his jumper makes him dangerous.

Three big men at varying stages of development round out this group.

Jordan Hill (Arizona) appears to be the most promising. He's put in considerable work to develop his offensive repertoire, which now features a solid low post game and a consistent mid-range jumper. If he can add some muscle without affecting his quickness, he could be a difference maker.

Greg Monroe (Georgetown) is another post player that's drawing a lot of interest. His play away from the basket is very good. He can handle the ball well enough to drive at times as well as hit the open cutter and flash the occasional pull-up jumper. Greg has the potential to be one of the more skilled big men in the league, though he really needs to play with more toughness and aggression to maximize his potential.

I'm personally not a big fan, but Hasheem Thabeet (UConn) is another popular big man. He has freakish size and athleticism, but often struggles to utilize those talents. He doesn't have much of an offensive game and often struggles to produce anything, but blocks against elite teams. He has the potential to be an elite defender, but he may need even more polish at the NBA level.


The Productive Veterans

It may seem weird to those that follow college basketball, but Stephen Curry (Davidson) likely fits in somewhere after the previous group. He's been highly productive in college, but a lot of people still aren't convinced he's a difference maker in the NBA. Few players with his size and athletic profile have been successful at the NBA level. However, he is an elite shooter and someone will take a chance on him fitting into their system. He'll improve his chances of making an impact if he keeps developing his point guard skills.

Technically Jeff Teague is only a sophomore, but he counts as a veteran on Wake Forest's team. Jeff's stock has improved considerably since his breakout performance against North Carolina. He's another guy that isn't a prototypical NBA shooting guard because of his size, but he has been as deadly as any scorer in college basketball. If he can convince at least one team he can play the point he'll crack the top-10.

DaJuan Summers and Earl Clark are both highly skilled forwards that will intrigue some teams. Summers is often compared to former teammate Jeff Green, but DaJuan has been more one dimensional. He can be a dangerous scorer and has improved his jumper, but is really only decent in other aspects of the game. The recent slide of Georgetown isn't helping his case. 

Clark (Louisville) is a bit of an enigma. He's a very good athlete with great size and a diverse skill set, but he doesn't always put it together and dominate the way he should. He also is a bit of a tweener, lacking the jumper to live on the perimeter and the bulk to live in the post. If he does figure it out he can be a solid player, but he could also get lost without a defined role.

For lack of a better place, I'll throw Cole Aldrich (Kansas) in this category. He's not exactly a veteran, but he's also probably not going to crack the top-8 and doesn't quite fit the next group. He has good size and length and can score, so he won't hang around too long. However, he doesn't have the quickness or explosiveness that makes GM's salivate. He's the kind of relatively safe but not dominant big man that typically goes in the late lottery.


The Multitude of High Ceiling Youngsters

There are A LOT of guys that fit this profile, and they could make up the middle portion of the draft. I'll fly through these pretty quickly...

BJ Mullens has the highest upside of anyone in this group. He's an athletic sever-footer that has good touch around the basket. He's not a finished product though, he needs to work on bringing consistent energy and playing with toughness. He should probably stay at OSU, but if he comes out someone will probably take him in the top-10.

Another high-upside prospect is DeMar DeRozan (USC). He has great leaping ability and quickness, but the rest of his game still needs work. His ball-handling and driving ability will need to improve, and his jumper is inconsistent. That said, he is one of the few wing players in this draft that can be a star.

Probably the safest player in this group is Jrue Holliday. Much like Russell Westbrook before him, Holliday gives UCLA a well-rounded combo guard that can make an impact on both ends of the floor. He's not as explosive as Russell, but he can definitely bolster a teams' backcourt, especially if he develops as a point guard.

Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest) is another potentially interesting wing player. He has great size and length and is pretty athletic. That alone could get him a rotation spot, though to really make a difference he'll need to build on his offensive repertoire.

Probably the most well-known freshman is Memphis' Tyreke Evans. Opinions will differ on him greatly. On the one hand, he's clearly an NBA-level athlete and at times can be a lethal scorer. On the other hand, he suffers from poor shot selection and will often try to force a shot up in traffic rather than pass to an open teammate. His jumper is also pretty streaky. He may want to stay in school another year, because he has significant upward mobility if he can prove he's more of a team player.


That wraps up my quick rundown of the early portion of the upcoming NBA draft class. There are plenty of other intriguing prospects that I didn't touch on, but I never meant for this to be a definitive guide. This was simply my own compilation of what appears to be the general consensus with some of my thoughts thrown in. 

Obviously things can still change quite a bit between now and the draft, especially around tournament time. If nothing else, it gives some NBA fans an idea of what guys may be a good fit for their team.