NBA Draft 2012: Damian Lillard and the Top 6 Mid-Major Players in the Draft

Mike WalshCorrespondent IJune 7, 2012

NBA Draft 2012: Damian Lillard and the Top 6 Mid-Major Players in the Draft

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    Occasionally you come across a star player who chooses a mid-major school, avoiding all the glitz and glamour that comes from playing on national television consistently. There is something to be said for players who are forced to choose small schools and then work hard to make a name for themselves and earn the payoff of draft day.

    These six players were largely ignored by the schools above the mid-majority's infamous "red line." This forced them to work twice as hard to get noticed, and ultimately they will get to hear their names called on June 28th.

    For some, the NCAA tournament was their coming-out party. For others, they toiled in obscurity for four years.

    These players do matter—just ask two time MVP Steve Nash (Santa Clara) or two-time NBA Champions Lamar Odom (URI) and James Posey (Xavier), or even Jeremy Lin (Harvard). There are a bunch of NBA stars and role players who come from small time schools.

    These six players have the best chance to be the next Gordon Hayward (Butler) or even David Robinson (Navy).

6. Scott Machado, Iona College

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    For four years, I watched Scott Machado torment my alma mater Marist College. From the time he was a freshmen, he had such control over everything that happened on the court for Iona. Machado is the most underrated point guard in the draft this year, and he will make some second-round team very happy.

    Machado led the nation in assists last season with 10 per game and, though he is not a high scorer, shot decent percentages, including 40 percent from three-point land. His court vision and passing abilities will make him a great option to back up a star point guard. Machado will take nothing off the table when he enters games. 

    The worry is obviously the competition he faced in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and how that will stack up to NBA defenses. I retain that someone with this much court awareness and control over a game can succeed at the next level. 

5. Kyle O'Quinn, Norfolk State

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    A face and name you were sure not to forget following this past March, Kyle O'Quinn turned many heads in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA tournament. He led 15-seed Norfolk State to an enormous upset over second-seeded Missouri.

    We were all witness to the great and the not-so great of O'Quinn at the tournament. In the first-round win he was immense, using all of his great physical attributes en route to a 26-point, 14-rebound performance.

    However, the ride ended abruptly in the next round when O'Quinn posted just four points in 24 minutes against Florida. He face foul trouble all game, and as quickly as the fame poured in two nights earlier, it flowed away.

    O'Quinn has continued to impress at workouts, and his freakish 7'5" wingspan has raised eyebrows throughout the league. Averaging a 16 and 10 during his senior season to go along with nearly three blocks per game was very impressive even in the MEAC.

    He will be able to rebound in the NBA, and a lot of quality role players have made careers with that one all-important skill.

    O'Quinn is a great story and a good player. He will be a valuable second-round pick.

4. Kevin Murphy, Tennessee Tech

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    There are few things harder to do than make a name for yourself coming out of the Ohio Valley Conference. However, that is just what Kevin Murphy has done the past couple seasons. 

    One of the most prolific scorers in the country, Murphy averaged over 20 points per game as a senior while posting a 42-percent clip from downtown. At 6'6", Murphy also has the size that NBA scouts look for in a wing-man.

    Those two items in particular lighten the fact that his competition has not been up to snuff in college. The consensus is that Murphy will be able to score at any level as he has proven in various combines and camps leading up to the draft.

    Murphy has upped his scoring, rebounding and shooting percentages in each of his four collegiate seasons, a good sign for his vast potential.

    Most players with statistics like Murphy fail professionally; however, I think a lot of that has to do with size. Murphy's height will allow him additional chances at the next level that a smaller scorer would not receive. It is up to him to take advantage.

3. Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure

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    At 6'9" and 250 pounds, Andrew Nicholson is a physical specimen. Scouts are attracted to the St. Bonaventure product due to his outstanding athleticism and 7'3" wingspan. 

    This past season, Nicholson was voted Player of the Year in the Atlantic 10 and took home tournament MVP honors as well.

    Nicholson has improved in each of his four seasons with the Bonnies and has even added decent range to his jump shot, hitting 57 percent of his shots as a junior and senior. In his final college season, Nicholson averaged 18 points and eight rebounds per game. 

    Nicholson can be a fantastic weapon on the pick-and-roll as he has the range as well as a dangerous face-up game. He is good enough with the dribble and has a few go-to post moves as well.

    Expect Nicholson to go late in the first round or be a steal early in the second. A team looking for value will pick him up. As a four-year college player, Nicholson has a high basketball IQ and will be ready to play immediately. 

2. Orlando Johnson, UC Santa Barbara

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    Hailing from the smaller sister to UCLA, Orlando Johnson has made a name for himself at a mid-major in California. The 2010 Big West Player of the Year averaged 21 points and six rebounds a game over his final two seasons at UC Santa Barbara. 

    Johnson has good size at 6'5" for an NBA shooting guard and all the scoring abilities to go along with it. He can fill up the basket in a variety of ways, including a 43-percent three-point game.

    Johnson is a wild card that could go late in the first round or not at all. His lack of competition could be his demise as he missed out on the NCAA tournament in his senior season, losing in the opening round of the CIT. 

    Working for Johnson is his experience as a four-year player. He withdrew from last year's draft to return to school, and that was vastly beneficial for him. Johnson has expanded his game both offensively and defensively in the past year. He can score in more ways now and also became more of a playmaker for the Gauchos. 

1. Damian Lillard, Weber State

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    Weber State's Damian Lillard is not only the top mid-major player in the 2012 NBA draft, he is also the best point guard available. Lillard is being rated higher than players like Kendall Marshall and Marquis Teague from the big-time programs. 

    His quickness is off the charts, and he will be able to score right away in the NBA. His jump shot is very good as he shot 40 percent from long range last season. Lillard finished his senior season ranked second in the NCAA in scoring with 24.7 points per game.

    He will need to improve his distribution abilities if he wishes to remain a point guard in the big leagues. Though he does not have the size of a NBA 2-guard, the way the league is right now, combo guards reign supreme. Lillard can have immediate impact on a lottery team needing a starting or platoon PG such as Portland or New Orleans.