2012 NBA Mock Draft: Which First-Rounders Could Be Huge Busts?
The NBA draft is just over two weeks away, and the one thing every team wants to avoid is wasting its pick on a player who can’t cut it in the NBA. For every Kyrie Irving who justifies a No. 1 selection with a stellar rookie season, there’s a Hasheem Thabeet—a former No. 2 overall draftee who still hasn’t totaled as many minutes in three seasons as Irving played last year.
One of the biggest question marks in this year's lottery is Weber State star Damian Lillard. There’s no denying Lillard’s college dominance, but the jump from playing against Sacramento State and Northern Colorado to facing the Thunder or the Bulls is a challenge even he might not be equipped to handle.
Herein, a look at how the entire first round’s worth of picks might shake out on June 28th, with some special attention paid to the players who run the biggest risk of imploding at the next level.
1. New Orleans: C Anthony Davis, Kentucky
The latest beneficiary of the vagaries of the lottery ping-pong balls, the Hornets landed the No. 1 overall pick for the first time since grabbing UNLV's Larry Johnson two decades ago.
There’s similarly little doubt about who will go at the top of this year’s draft after the overpowering performance of Kentucky center Anthony Davis.
The 6’10” Davis’ 186 blocks more than doubled the previous school record for a season and represented the fourth-best season mark in Division I history.
On top of that, the Wooden and Naismith Award winner averaged team highs of 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game while leading his team to the national title and a record 38 victories.
2. Charlotte: PF Thomas Robinson, Kansas
Denied the No. 1 pick after posting the worst winning percentage in NBA history, the Bobcats can at least take solace in getting an extraordinary consolation prize.
Kansas All-American Thomas Robinson was the country’s best player after Anthony Davis and brings a more polished all-around game to the table than the presumptive top pick.
Robinson stands 6’10”, 237 lbs, and he has the strength and agility to shine at the next level. He’s not in Davis’ league defensively, but he’s an appreciably better offensive weapon (17.9 points per game and .505 shooting) who’s also a devastating rebounder.
3. Washington: SG Bradley Beal, Florida
Washington might be better served to go with a big man at this spot, but having mortgaged the farm to acquire Nene Hilario, it’s unlikely the Wizards will take another center.
Instead, they'll look to replace the biggest departure from the Nene deal, high-scoring SG Nick Young.
Bradley Beal showed that he could score from anywhere on the court as a Florida freshman, knocking down treys (at a .339 clip) or throwing down dunks with equal aplomb.
He’s on the small side at 6’3”, but he makes up for it with quickness and leaping ability—witness his impressive 6.7 rebounds a game, which edged out 6’9” Patric Young for the Gators’ team lead last season.
4. Cleveland: SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky
Cleveland aced the lottery a year ago, grabbing star point guard Kyrie Irving and promising PF Tristan Thompson in the first four picks.
Looking to build around those two standouts, the Cavs pounce on a first-class perimeter defender to upgrade a dismal group of wing players.
The 6’7” Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a physical SF who averaged 7.4 rebounds a game for national champion Kentucky.
He’s not a three-point threat (.255 from long range last season), but he’s a solid mid-range shooter and has the athleticism to be a devastating finisher on the many fast breaks Irving will be leading over the next several years.
5. Sacramento: SF Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
Marcus Thornton had a terrific 2011-'12 season, leading the Kings in scoring, but the 6’4” guard isn’t an ideal solution at the small forward spot.
With its fifth top-ten pick in the last six drafts, Sacramento looks for a more permanent option with Harrison Barnes.
The 6’8” Barnes was the most dangerous scorer on the stacked 2011-'12 Tar Heels, averaging 17.4 points a night to go with 5.2 rebounds.
He’s a first-class athlete who will make for some terrifying fast breaks in conjunction with incumbent guards Isaiah Thomas and Tyreke Evans.
6. Portland: C Andre Drummond, UConn
Perpetually injured Greg Oden is off to look for a new start in a different uniform, leaving 37-year-old Marcus Camby as Portland’s de facto starting center yet again.
In the hopes of solving that problem, the Blazers gamble on the highest-risk, highest-reward prospect in the draft.
Andre Drummond is a 6’10”, 270-lb center who could develop into a Dwight Howard-level pro.
He’s got all the physical tools and showed flashes of dominating play in his lone season at UConn—notably his 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block effort in a win over West Virginia.
Unfortunately, Drummond also disappeared entirely from some games, including an NCAA tournament loss to Iowa State in which he fouled out in 26 minutes with just two points and three rebounds.
There’s no ignoring what Drummond could be, but there’s also no mistaking the possibility that he’ll be an absolute disaster at the NBA level.
7. Golden State: SG/SF Jeremy Lamb, UConn
With David Lee and (fingers crossed) a healthy Andrew Bogut down low, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson manning the backcourt, Golden State is well set up at four of its five starting spots.
Small forward, though, is an obvious concern after a disappointing season from Dorell Wright.
Jeremy Lamb played mostly SG at UConn, but he’s 6’5” with enough defensive ability to compete at the 3 spot. Lamb also adds yet another impressive scoring threat for the Warriors, having led UConn with 17.7 points per game.
8. Toronto: PF Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
The Raptors recorded more wins in 66 games last season than they had in 82 games the year before, so things might finally be moving in the right direction in Toronto.
One of the most obvious remaining holes for the Raptors to fill is at power forward, where the lackluster Amir Johnson continues to do a poor imitation of an NBA starter.
All-American Jared Sullinger, for his part, has looked an awful lot like an NBA starter in two seasons at Ohio State.
Sullinger led the Buckeyes to the Final Four this March with averages of 17.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per contest, and while he doesn’t have the athleticism to duplicate those numbers in the NBA, he’ll still be a distinct upgrade for Toronto.
9. Detroit: SG Dion Waiters, Syracuse
As so often in recent years, Detroit’s struggles last season had a lot to do with the Pistons’ inability to put points on the board. Even with Greg Monroe developing into a solid starting center, Detroit ranked just 27th in the league in scoring.
The cure for what ails the Pistons may come from Syracuse super-sub Dion Waiters, who averaged 12.6 points in just 24.1 minutes per game off the Orange bench.
Waiters is a solidly-built 6’4” guard who can also play some defense, but if he can give Detroit a reliable outside scoring option, he’ll be earning his keep right there.
10. New Orleans: PG Damian Lillard, Weber State
Adding Anthony Davis will do wonders for the Hornets’ defense, but Davis’ offensive game isn’t at the same level just yet.
For more help with their dismal scoring situation (29th in the league at 89.6 points per game), New Orleans turns to the second-leading scorer in the nation from 2011-12.
Damian Lillard dominated against iffy Big Sky Conference opponents at Weber State, averaging 24.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
Those numbers recall the last Big Sky player to make an NBA splash—Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey, also an athletic combo guard—though Lillard isn’t quite as big as his spiritual predecessor at 6’3” to Stuckey’s 6’5”.
Had Lillard faced more substantial competition in college, it would be easier to judge how well he’ll fare in the pros, but even his impressive numbers as a Wildcat have their downside.
Lillard had the best assist-to-turnover ratio of his career last year at just 1.7, and if he couldn’t get it up to the gold standard of 2.0 against the likes of Montana State, he’s going to have problems with turnovers as a pro—potentially serious problems if the Hornets are unlucky.
11. Portland: SG Terrence Ross, Washington
In their first full season without Brandon Roy, the Trail Blazers had ample reason to miss the prematurely retired All-Star.
The SG tandem of offense-only Jamal Crawford and defense-only Wesley Matthews didn’t add up to an effective complement to LaMarcus Aldridge’s stellar performance in the paint.
For a remedy, the Blazers look to Roy’s alma mater at Washington, where Terrence Ross lit up scoreboards for 16.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
The 6’6” Ross is an A+ athlete who’s sure to provide some highlight-reel dunks as a rookie, not to mention the occasional blocked shot.
12. Milwaukee: C Tyler Zeller, North Carolina
Trading Andrew Bogut to land Monta Ellis left a rather large hole at the center position in Milwaukee. Fortunately for the Bucks, the 2012 draft class has a surprisingly large supply of seven-footers available.
North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller is the most polished of the bunch, having racked up 16.3 points and 9.6 rebounds a game as a senior.
He’s not a game-changing defender like Anthony Davis, but he’s solid on that end as well—and at 250 lbs, he won’t be easily pushed around, even by NBA bigs.
13. Phoenix: SG Austin Rivers, Duke
Steve Nash’s likely free-agent departure will be the end of an era in Phoenix, but point guard isn’t the only position of concern for the Suns.
Grant Hill is an unrestricted free agent as well, leaving the 2-guard position he’d been shoehorned into as another probable vacancy.
Austin Rivers isn’t likely to make the splash that Kyrie Irving (another one-and-done Blue Devil) did in the NBA, but he’s a go-to scoring option for a team that doesn’t have nearly as many of those as it used to.
The 6’4” Rivers shot a solid .365 from long range in leading Duke with 15.5 points a game in his lone collegiate season.
14. Houston: PG Kendall Marshall, North Carolina
Goran Dragic is a free agent, and Kyle Lowry is very publicly unhappy with coach Kevin McHale. In the increasingly point guard-driven NBA, that’s not a recipe for success, so the Rockets pounce on the best floor general available in Kendall Marshall.
Before a wrist fracture ended his season in the Round of 32, Marshall had led North Carolina to a regular-season ACC title and a No. 1 seed.
He finished second in the country last season with 9.7 assists per game in the same fast-paced Roy Williams offense that produced Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson.
However, Marshall is also an outright liability as a scorer, having averaged a mere 8.1 points a night last season.
It’s possible to succeed as an NBA point guard without being a scoring threat (see Rondo, Rajon), but it’s also possible that Marshall will turn out to be a flop when pro defenses cut off his passing angles and ignore his own minimal chance of putting points on the board.
15. Philadelphia: PF John Henson, North Carolina
Elton Brand isn’t quite done yet, but at age 32, the former All-Star is coming off the worst scoring (and second-worst rebounding) performance of his career.
The Sixers don’t have an obvious understudy for Brand, but the draft provides a promising option in John Henson.
Physically, the willowy 6’11” Henson is a near-exact opposite to the squat, powerful Brand, but both share a knack for collecting rebounds—Henson grabbed 9.9 a game as a Tar Heels junior.
Henson—who averaged 2.9 rejections a game last year—would be the draft’s best shot blocker if it weren’t for Anthony Davis, and he’ll provide a welcome boost for Philly in that department.
16. Houston: C Meyers Leonard, Illinois
Luis Scola has held his own at power forward, but the Rockets haven’t had a viable center since Yao Ming’s brief spurts of good health finally ran out. In a draft deep in big men, they look for their center of the future in Illinois’ Meyers Leonard.
Highly regarded out of high school, the 7’1”, 245-lb Leonard barely played as a freshman. Last year, he burst onto the national scene with 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
For all Leonard’s progress, he had a worrisome tendency to disappear while Illinois was struggling in Big Ten play (five points against Michigan, nine points and five boards against lowly Nebraska).
If he keeps developing at the rate he did in the summer of 2011, he’ll be a terrific NBA player, but he’s far from ready to make an impact for the Rockets yet, and one strong year is hardly a guarantee that he’ll reach that level.
17. Dallas: SG Doron Lamb, Kentucky
Beyond aging Dirk Nowitzki, there are few certainties in Dallas anymore. After Vince Carter’s subpar performance at age 35, shooting guard definitely qualifies as one of the Mavs’ concerns heading into the offseason.
Kentucky was loaded with mid-range jump shooters last season, but only Doron Lamb gave the national champs a serious three-point threat.
Lamb—a rangy 6’4” guard who’s a capable defender—scored 13.2 points per game, second on the team to Anthony Davis, while shooting a scorching .466 from beyond the arc.
18. Minnesota: SF Perry Jones III, Baylor
Minnesota hasn’t shown much reluctance lately in rolling the dice on players of questionable toughness (Michael Beasley) or in drafting at a position where they already have plenty of bodies (Derrick Williams).
Both trends continue as the Timberwolves gamble on the massive potential of Perry Jones III.
With Jones’ 6’11” frame and extraordinary agility, he could be a game-changing player if everything clicks.
As it stands, he’s coming off a pair of respectable college seasons (13.5 points and 7.6 rebounds a game as a very soft PF last year) capped by a Sweet 16 trip, but he’s hardly the star his athleticism might predict.
If Jones goes much higher than No. 18, he’ll certainly belong among the biggest potential busts, but the reduced expectations of being picked lower will balance the likelihood that he’ll only be a competent, not dominant, pro.
19. Orlando: SF/PF Moe Harkless, St. John’s
Obviously, if Orlando opts to trade Dwight Howard, the needs of their revamped roster would drastically affect their draft decision.
In the (probable) event that no decision on Howard is made in the next two weeks, look for Orlando to pounce on one of the outstanding small forward options likely to be available at this spot in the draft, represented here by Moe Harkless.
A lesser-known one-and-done, Harkless carried a middling St. John’s team last season with 15.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per game.
He’s a sensational athlete at 6’8”, 208 lbs, and his ceiling is high enough that he could turn out to be a real steal at No. 19.
20. Denver: C/PF Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State
Denver’s toughness up front improved a great deal in 2011-'12, thanks to the additions of Kenneth Faried in the draft and JaVale McGee via trade.
Of course, the Nuggets still wound up ranked second-to-last in the NBA in points allowed, so more help appears to be in order.
Arnett Moultrie blew up after transferring from UTEP to Mississippi State, averaging 16.4 points and 10.5 rebounds a night in Starkville.
There are bulkier big men out there—he carries a modest 230 lbs on his 6’11” frame—but Moultrie’s heart is second to none, and his length will be a big asset off the Denver bench.
21. Boston: SF/PF Terrence Jones, Kentucky
With Boston’s core starters—excepting Rajon Rondo—in varying stages of decline, new blood is needed at almost every position on the Celtics roster.
Boston adds athleticism to its suspect bench, and a possible heir apparent to Paul Pierce, by bringing in Terrence Jones.
Jones struggled in the early going during Kentucky’s national title run, but he still finished with averages of 12.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest.
He’s a very mobile 6’9” with a solid mid-range jumper, giving him the potential to play either forward spot as the situation demands.
22. Boston: PF Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure
Boston landed a couple of reserve big men in last year’s draft, but neither Greg Stiemsma nor JaJuan Johnson poses much of a scoring threat.
In the interest of adding some offense for the second unit, the Celtics pick up the prolific Andrew Nicholson.
Nicholson, a 6’9” PF with range out to the college three-point line, nearly led his 14th-seeded Bonnies to an NCAA tournament upset of No. 3 seed Florida State. He averaged 18.5 points, two blocks and a career-best 8.4 rebounds a game as a senior.
23. Atlanta: SF Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt
Adding Tracy McGrady and his 5.3 points per game didn’t exactly fill Atlanta’s need for more scoring punch off the bench. The Hawks try again in the draft and land a dangerous sleeper option in Jeffery Taylor.
The 6’7” Taylor was the best pure athlete on a Vanderbilt team that won 25 games and beat Kentucky for the SEC tournament title.
He’s a terrific offensive weapon—16.4 points per game on .423 three-point shooting—but he’s also a solid rebounder and defender.
24. Cleveland: SG/PG Tony Wroten, Washington
Kyrie Irving is the future of the Cavaliers, but the Cleveland backcourt is an otherwise forgettable bunch.
With their second pick in the opening round, the Cavs add another scorer for Irving to feed…who can also help out with the ballhandling duties when Irving is off the floor.
In his one season at Washington, Tony Wroten led the Huskies with 16 points per game as a scoring point guard.
At 6’5” and with solid defensive ability (1.9 steals per game), he shouldn’t have much trouble holding up at the 2 alongside Irving or sliding over to the point when needed.
25. Memphis: SF Royce White, Iowa State
The Grizzlies may have a hole to fill at shooting guard—O.J. Mayo is a restricted free agent—but the prediction here is that they’ll look for a veteran replacement if Mayo departs.
With their first-round draft pick, they’ll probably opt for the best available player, which in this case turns out to be Royce White.
White was one of the most versatile weapons in the country in 2011-12, leading Iowa State in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks while carrying them to a second-round NCAA Tournament win over UConn.
The 6’8” White is likely to wind up at SF in the pros, but the Grizzlies could do a lot worse than a highly skilled backup to Rudy Gay who can also play power forward in a pinch.
26. Indiana: C Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt
Although Tyler Hansbrough is well on his way to giving the Pacers an outstanding second-unit frontcourt, he needs some help to make it happen. In particular, the Pacers have plenty of PF options but no real centers behind talented starter Roy Hibbert.
Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli didn’t have the senior year he was hoping for, largely because of a knee injury that cost him the first month of the season, but he’s a fearsome defender who swatted 2.0 shots per game.
He’s built for the NBA already at 6’11”, 255 lbs, and he’s a respectable rebounder to boot (5.9 boards a night last season).
27. Miami: PF Drew Gordon, New Mexico
Norris Cole looks like a keeper in the Miami backcourt, but the Heat bench still needs plenty of help up front. With their first-round pick, they look to bolster a mediocre group of reserve forwards with New Mexico’s versatile Drew Gordon.
Gordon is an outstanding rebounder (10.5 and 11.1 rebounds per game in his two seasons after transferring from UCLA) and a hard-working defender.
He’s not a highlight-reel scorer, but that’s not really what the Heat need from their reserves, and at 6’9”, 245 lbs, he can help out at either PF or C without being overmatched.
28. Oklahoma City: PG Marquis Teague, Kentucky
Oklahoma City has one of the best benches in the league, but it’s safe to say that 37-year-old Laker import Derek Fisher is not the long-term solution behind Russell Westbrook.
With no glaring holes to fill, the Western Conference champs can afford to pick up a promising candidate for the backup PG spot.
Marquis Teague has plenty of experience distributing the shots in a star-studded lineup, having run the floor for national champion Kentucky last year.
Teague is a fine athlete with winning experience in the postseason, qualities which should help make up for his middling offensive production (4.8 assists per game, .325 shooting from the college three-point arc).
29. Chicago: SG John Jenkins, Vanderbilt
The Rip Hamilton experiment wasn’t exactly a rousing success in Chicago, as Hamilton played just 28 games and averaged a pedestrian 11.6 points per contest.
The door is still very much open for a bona-fide scorer to take over the 2-guard role, and Chicago gets a shot here at one of the nation’s best.
John Jenkins led the SEC in scoring each of the last two seasons, pouring in 19.9 points a night (including .439 three-point shooting) last year.
He’s only 6’4”, and he’s never going to be more than a competent defender, but he could be just the kind of catch-and-shoot option Derrick Rose needs.
30. Golden State: C Fab Melo, Syracuse
Andrew Bogut is just short of being an All Star-caliber center…when he stays healthy.
The Aussie seven-footer has suffered two debilitating injuries in his last four seasons, so adding an insurance policy is far from a bad idea for Golden State with its second pick in Round 1.
Fab Melo is still a work in progress, but he’s a legitimate seven-footer himself, and he’s already shown impressive defensive chops (at least when he wasn't being suspended for his academic shortcomings).
He averaged 2.9 blocks per game last year in the middle of Syracuse’s zone while also grabbing 5.8 rebounds a night and shooting .566 from the field.