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College Basketball: Comparing the Top 10 Incoming Freshmen to NBA Players

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2012

College Basketball: Comparing the Top 10 Incoming Freshmen to NBA Players

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    In today’s world of college sports, we all want immediate results.

    Ever since David Stern instituted the "one-and-done" rule that requires NBA prospects to play at least one season in college (or overseas) before joining the NBA, superstar freshmen have certainly impacted college hoops.

    Whether it was Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. leading Ohio State to the national title game, Kevin Durant scoring at will against the rest of the Big 12 or Kentucky’s recent run of freshmen-oriented dominance, first-year players are no longer waiting a few years to make their mark.

    What about this year’s crop of dynamic freshmen? Will they lead their teams to glory, a la Kentucky, or perhaps not be heard from for a few seasons as they develop their games?

    Using the 10 highest rated prospects from the class of 2012 according to scout.com (as well as their scouting reports), here is an NBA comparison for each player.

    Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that I am merely suggesting these prospects have similar games to their NBA comparisons and am not guaranteeing that Shabazz Muhammad is going to be the next LeBron James.

No. 10: Brandon Ashley

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    Brandon Ashley is a 6’8” power forward who is one of three players on this list attending Arizona.

    He is extremely athletic, effectively runs the floor for his height and has soft hands that allow him to score inside. Don’t be surprised if he catches an alley-oop or two during his time in Tucson with those hands.

    The only real knock on Ashley, outside of his need to develop more strength in order to bang around a little down low, is a lack of a first-rate post game or effective post moves.

    So a power forward who is athletic, runs the floor, will finish alley-oop passes with soft hands and is subject to criticism for lack of a top-notch post game?

    That sounds a lot like Blake Griffin to me.

No. 9: Grant Jerrett

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    Grant Jerrett is another highly-rated power forward/center in the class of 2012. He is also another Arizona Wildcat.

    The 6’9” Jerrett has a number of strengths, including good hands, effective footwork and soft touch around the basket (he even mixes in a hook shot or two every now and then).

    If Jerrett needs to work on something, it is his overall strength to battle other bigs down in the paint. This is also something that Brandon Ashley needs to improve on, so hopefully there are some solid weight rooms in Arizona.

    Bear with me for a minute on this comparison, but Jerrett’s game reminds me of Pau Gasol.

    Gasol may not be the most explosive player, but he has impressive footwork and is a pretty good prototype when it comes to soft touch around the basket for power forwards and centers.

No. 8: Anthony Bennett

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    Anthony Bennett played basketball for the same high school program (Findlay Prep) as Brandon Ashley but will stay a bit closer to home.

    The 6’7” Bennett will primarily play power forward for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, although it can be argued that he is a bit undersized.

    Nevertheless, he is a terrific rebounder for his height, is noticeably athletic and has respectable three-point range. Despite his abilities behind the arc, he isn’t the best mid-range shooter and needs to develop somewhat of a post game if he hopes to play down low.

    His ball handling isn’t great either, but then again, how many power forwards do have good dribbling skills?

    Ultimately, thanks to Bennett’s three-point range and rebounding ability despite being somewhat undersized, his NBA comparison is Kevin Love.

    There may not be a better three-point shooting power forward in the association than the Timberwolves' star, something UNLV hopes it can say about Bennett at the end of the year.

No. 7: Alex Poythress

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    You didn’t think we would make it that far on a list like this without a Kentucky Wildcat did you?

    The 6’8” Alex Poythress is another explosive athlete that John Calipari will have at his disposal and possesses the versatility to score the ball inside the lane and from the outside. He even counts a three-point stroke among his assets.

    The only real knock on Poythress is his ball-handling skills and a lack of strength for a 6’8” player.

    This may be a bit ambitious, and again I am by no means suggesting Poythress will ever reach this level, but I am reminded of Kevin Durant when I look at Poythress’ game. Durant is a terrific three-point shooter and has as much versatility as anyone in the league.

    Furthermore, if there is ever any criticism of Durant, it is his lack of strength (which corresponds to his trouble with rebounding and guarding players like LeBron James).

No. 6: Kaleb Tarczewski

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    Clearly, Arizona was looking for size in 2012’s recruiting class. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, all three big men on this list lack the type of strength necessary to be a dominating force in the middle.

    Nevertheless, Kaleb Tarczewski is an athletic shot-blocker who will provide solid rebounding for Sean Miller. After all, there is a noticeable difference in the physicality between the Pac-12 and conferences such as the Big Ten, so Arizona shouldn’t have much of an issue.

    Tarczewski isn’t bad from mid-range but, according to Scout, doesn’t have 100-percent confidence in his post moves.

    Tarczewski’s NBA comparison—thanks to his outstanding athleticism for his size, solid rebounding ability and his lack of a true offensive post game—is Chris Bosh.

No. 5: Steven Adams

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    Scout’s fifth ranked recruit, the 6’11” Steven Adams, will be taking his talents to Pittsburgh this season.

    He is an athletic shot-blocker who has a formidable mid-range jump shot and rebounds everything in sight. The only concern with Adams is his lack of a go-to move. In other words, he is good at a lot of things, but not superb at one particular aspect when it comes to his offensive game.

    Is it a stretch to say Dwight Howard is Steven Adams’ NBA comparison when Adams has a good mid-range shot? Probably, but I’m going to make the comparison anyway.

    I think these two players parallel each other primarily because of Adams’ shot-blocking abilities and tremendous rebounding skills.

    Hopefully for Pittsburgh, Adams doesn't complete the analogy by holding the program hostage for two seasons and bolting for UCLA afterwards.

No. 4: Kyle Anderson

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    There is a lot of optimism surrounding the UCLA basketball program this season. That is, if the star freshmen that the Bruins are bringing in are eligible to play.

    Kyle Anderson is one of those freshmen, and the 6’8” small forward will bring superb passing skills, a formidable mid-range game and the versatility to stuff the stat sheet in the Pac-12.

    While his three-point range is lackluster, as well as his overall athleticism, there is no reason Anderson shouldn’t have a solid year in Westwood.

    The fundamental passing abilities and lethal mid-range stroke that Anderson brings reminds me of a young Tim Duncan.

    While they play different positions, they are similar heights, and there was (is?) nothing more automatic than Duncan off the glass from mid-range. That is what UCLA will be looking for from Anderson this year.

No. 3: Isaiah Austin

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    Isaiah Austin is a lot of things.

    He is a tremendous shot-blocker, handles the ball very effectively for his size and has soft hands that catch almost anything thrown his way.

    One thing he is not, however, is strong. After all, he is 7' tall and only 200 pounds. I’m not sure why that fascinates me so much, but it does.

    Perhaps as a direct result of his low weight for his size, Austin is not the best low block scorer, something that may come into play in the Big 12 for the Baylor freshman.

    Austin—a defensive monster who has good handles and a decent mid-range shot—possesses many of the same attributes as Anthony Davis.

    While it has become common to read comparisons between Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel, I believe Austin’s game more closely resembles the ex-Kentucky star’s.

No. 2: Shabazz Muhammad

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    Depending on who you talk to, Shabazz Muhammad may be the best player in this year’s freshman class.

    Of course, if you were asking Kentucky fans (or Scout) you would get a different answer.

    Either way, Muhammad, who will attend UCLA this season, is an aggressive scorer who has a formidable mid-range shot. He is also lethal in the post, especially for his 6’5” frame.

    Muhammad is not the best three-point shooter, although he is capable of making them, but other than that his game has few holes.

    Here’s where I embrace hyperbole a bit. When I hear the words aggressive scorer, solid mid-range game, great post offense (especially for his size) and not the best three-point shot, I immediately think of LeBron James.

    As I said before, this does not mean I think Muhammad will be the next LeBron. But their games appear to be very similar.

    No pressure or anything Muhammad.

No. 1: Nerlens Noel

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    Nerlens Noel is the crowned jewel of the 2012 recruiting class.

    But that doesn’t mean he is without his shortcomings. Noel is not the strongest for his 6’10” frame and struggles to consistently score in the low block with his back to the basket.

    However, there’s a reason he is the top recruit. He has an impressive defensive presence, is incredibly lengthy, is mobile for his size and is a solid passer.

    When making the NBA comparison, the defensive prowess is what sticks out to me.

    Serge Ibaka is perhaps the best low block defender in the association and possesses many of the same attributes that Noel does, including a somewhat inconsistent offensive game in the low post.

    Ibaka may not be the explosive offensive player Kentucky fans are looking for Noel to be, but it doesn’t get much better than that defensively.

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