Each 2012 NBA 1st-Rounder's Defining Skill That Will Allow Them to Excel

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2012

Each 2012 NBA 1st-Rounder's Defining Skill That Will Allow Them to Excel

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    Despite a long-held regard as possibly one of the greatest draft classes in NBA history, the 2012 NBA draft eventually came down to a single-browed superstar and a myriad of question marks.

    But as the 2012 (strike-free) NBA season's debut nears, a glance at the 30 first-rounders suggests that it may take more than just having the most talked-about brow since wrestling's Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson for No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis to capture the Rookie of the Year award.

    These draft picks may no longer appear to be the locks that many scouts once tabbed them as, but the talent level is still evident up and down the draft board.

    Not all of these players will have the skill set (or opportunity) to challenge Davis for the hardware, but all 30 enter the league with a defining skill that they'll bring to their new franchise.

30. Festus Ezeli (GSW): Man in the Middle

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    Warrior fans bemoaned last season's signing of former draft-bust Kwame Brown, but Brown did manage to bring the team an intimidating presence at the rim before a January shoulder injury cost him the remainder of the season.

    With Brown now in Philadelphia (and new Warriors big man Andrew Bogut still rehabbing from offseason ankle surgery), Ezeli may be a much bigger factor in the team's early-season success than his draft position would indicate.

    Ezeli's offensive game is very a much a work in progress, but the 22-year-old is good enough defensively to protect an NBA interior.

29. Marquis Teague (CHI): DJ Quick

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    Like Ezeli, Teague may be thrust into action with former MVP Derrick Rose sidelined indefinitely after suffering a torn ACL in the 2011-12 postseason.

    But Teague's path to minutes appears a little more muddled given his competition at the 1 (namely free-agent signees Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson) and his inconsistency during his lone season at Kentucky.

    At his best, Teague is capable of taking NBA defenders off the dribble to create looks for himself and his teammates.

    But like many young point guards, he has struggled at times shooting the basketball and turning it over.

    Still, even Tom Thibodeau can't coach athleticism—and Teague has more than his fair share.

28. Perry Jones III (OKC): Freak of Nature

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    Thanks to a reported medical red flag during the grueling draft process, the former consensus No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA draft (had he come out) saw his draft stock slide all the way to the reigning Western Conference champion Thunder.

    However, this just might be a match made in heaven.

    Jones is a 6'11", 235-pound man-child who can do a little bit of everything on the basketball court.

    He shoots well, punishes smaller defenders on the inside, outruns bigger defenders on the outside and has the athleticism to challenge shots and rebound.

    But during two up-and-down seasons at Baylor, Jones failed to show the consistency that scouts were begging to see.

    It's hard to imagine a better scenario for the 20-year-old, who joins a loaded Thunder squad that doesn't need him to produce right away. A few seasons under his (ridiculously optimistic) NBA comparison, Kevin Durant, may allow Jones to tap into that oozing potential that he has shown flashes of in the past.

27. Arnett Moultrie (PHI): Above the Rim

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    If Philadelphia coach Doug Collins can harness Moultrie's raw ability and keep the big man's foot on the gas, the 76ers could have one of the league's more imposing front lines with former Laker Andrew Bynum in town.

    Moultrie's game needs some work—particularly on the block at both ends of the floor—but he has the strength and athleticism to stay between his man and the basket, finish over smaller defenders and be an effective glass-eater.

    He needs to add some bulk, but his 6'11", 233-pound frame appears capable of taking on some additional weight.

    Coach Collins has done a lot more with less talented players, so there's reason to get excited about more than just Bynum in Philadelphia.

26. Miles Plumlee (IND): UPSide

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    Perhaps the draft's biggest head-scratcher, Plumlee's four-year career at Duke hardly had NBA first-rounder written on it.

    While career highs of 6.6 points and 7.1 rebounds during his 2011-12 senior campaign may not have been spectacular, Plumlee gave Indiana 40 reasons to invest its draft pick in the former Blue Devil.

    40.5, actually.

    That would be the number of inches that the 7'0", 252-pound big man posted in the vertical jump at the NBA draft combine.

    Plumlee is hardly the first NBA prospect with a 40-plus-inch vertical, but he's one of few seven-footers to accomplish the feat.

    The other bigs who could reach that mark also don't come with four years of tutelage under coaching legend Mike Krzyzewski.

    Players like Plumlee don't grow on trees (even if Duke's media guide tends to suggest otherwise).

    Indiana turned heads with this pick—and Plumlee's hops should keep those heads turned all season.

25. Tony Wroten (MEM): Skywalking in Memphis

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    LeBron James has dominated the league as a trendsetting 6'8" point-forward.

    Wroten is hardly James, but he is a 6'6", 203-pound playmaking point guard.

    He has the slashing ability of many new-age point guards, but unlike most of the athletic specimens at the position, Wroten is a natural point guard.

    The 3.7 assists he managed during his lone season at Washington hardly do his passing prowess justice.

    If he finds enough playing time, he could easily surpass that mark. The Grizzlies certainly won't be looking for the 16.0 points he averaged in his collegiate career.

    He still has a tendency to play out of control at times and has no semblance of an outside shot, but the tools are in place for coach Lionel Hollins to make Wroten look like the steal of the draft.

24. Jared Cunningham (DAL): Legalized Theft

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    You know the age old question: Which is faster, the hand or the eye?

    Well, chances are, Cunningham's hands are much faster than your eyes.

    A thief in the most flattering sense, Cunningham amassed an impressive 2.2 steals per game over his three-year career at Oregon State.

    Add that to the fact that he's got Gerald Green-type athleticism, and Dallas may have found themselves a heck of a steal here.

    He has a quick first step and the athleticism to consistently finish his drives.

    His decision-making and creativity are both works in progress, but he managed nearly 18 points per game as a junior without those skills.

    Cunningham has a solid foundation on which to build, but he could remain hidden from the mainstream media during his rookie season. You know, on nights when he's not doing this, that is.

23. John Jenkins (ATL): "In the Gym" Range

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    All aspiring shooters should pay attention any time Jenkins takes the floor.

    His shooting form (starting with tremendous footwork and seemingly always finishing with a swish) is beyond mere muscle memory.

    For Jenkins, shooting his jumper coming off a screen is simply lather, rinse and repeat.

    He shot better than 40 percent from three-point land in each of his three seasons at Vanderbilt, and scouts love players that enter the league with an NBA-ready skill.

    With new teammates Anthony Morrow and Lou Williams already in Atlanta, Jenkins may have to prove he can do more than shoot to earn significant playing time.

    But then again, he could already be the Hawks' best long-range marksman.

22. Fab Melo (BOS): The Art of Rejection

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    The reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Melo will arrive in Boston far from a finished product.

    He needs plenty of work on the offensive end, although he showed flashes of a reliable hook shot under Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.

    Much like Perry Jones III, Melo should benefit from developing at his pace on a Boston team that has enough talent to ease him in to the fold.

    Unlike some rookie bigs, Melo already has NBA size (7'0", 255 lbs) so he should have ample time to devote to on-court development.

21. Jared Sullinger (BOS): Blue-Collar Worker

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    Medically red-flagged back? Stay as far away as possible, right?

    Well, not exactly. Not when the player with those reported back issues played in 74 games in two seasons at Ohio State while compiling one of the nation's most impressive stat lines: 17.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 53.0 percent shooting from the field.

    His offensive skill set is perhaps the most NBA-ready of all his draft peers. He can score in the post and away from the basket.

    Sullinger's back has held up to this point despite toting his lunch pail everyday.

    He's not the most talented defender by any stretch, but he attacks the glass with a purpose on both ends.

    The biggest challenge he'll face is whether his lack of athleticism and ideal size (6'9", 268 lbs) will hinder his ability to reach his potential.

20. Evan Fournier (DEN): Big-Time Scorer

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    The lone international player selected in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft, Fournier joins the Nuggets as a relatively unknown commodity.

    Touted by some as a poor man's Manu Ginobili, the Frenchman has patterned his game after the Argentinian's.

    His three-point shot has a ways to go to match Ginobili's, but he's displayed other aspects of the Spur's game.

    The 6'7", 204-pound wing has the handles and quickness to attack the basket, all while keeping an eye out for open teammates.

    Inconsistency has been his biggest issue to date, both in terms of a still-developing shooting form and a not-always-there defensive effort.

19. Andrew Nicholson (ORL): Diverse Offensive Portfolio

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    Nicholson might not make Magic fans forget Dwight Howard, but that's more due to a different skill set than a lack of talent.

    Nicholson may be the most potent big man of the 2012 draft class.

    Around the basket, he's the complete package. He has good touch and great footwork and fights for rebounds.

    His offensive game also includes a reliable midrange jumper.

    Orlando wasn't aiming for the next Howard with this pick, but they'd be happy if the 6'9", 234-pounder becomes the next Paul Millsap.

18. Terrence Jones (HOU): Triple H—Hops, Handles, Hunger

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    The forgotten Wildcat, Jones would have been a lottery pick (but not a national champion) had he left school last year.

    His decision may have cost him a few million up front, but he has all the talent to recoup those lost wages and then some.

    Unlike most draft picks, Jones has had the opportunity to play alongside NBA talent for two seasons (nine of his teammates were drafted in 2011 or 2012), so he knows how to find touches with so many hands reaching into the pot.

    His picking and choosing of moments have led some scouts to question his motor, and Jones has often failed to dispel that knock.

    However, he has the versatility that league executives seek in a new-age big man. His biggest challenge may be finding the dominant area of his game.

17. Tyler Zeller (CLE): Old Reliable

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    Twenty-two-year-olds aren't considered old in many circles.

    But I don't have to tell you that the NBA isn't most circles.

    Zeller may not have the upside of some of his peers, but make no mistake, few players will enter the league making the impact that he'll have out of the gate.

    He's experienced, he understands when to take over a game and when to defer, and he's enjoyed one of the most productive stretches in college basketball over the past two seasons.

    Perhaps best of all, he fills an immediate need on an underwhelming Cleveland frontcourt.

    Now the question becomes: Is this as good of a basketball player as he will be?

16. Royce White (HOU): Mr. Do-It-All

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    Perhaps the most intriguing player of his draft class (thanks largely to a widely covered anxiety disorder), White enters the league with top-10 talent.

    He led his Iowa State team in points (13.4), rebounds (9.3), assists (5.0), steals (1.1) and blocks (.9) per game.

    Does this mean he's destined to be the most versatile player in league history? Of course not.

    But it does mean be careful calling him a jack of all trades and a master of none.

    He has the talent to play point forward with a 6'8", 261-pound frame to boot.

    It'll be interesting to see how White performs when he's not the most talented player on the roster (assuming, of course, that he's not). But he can beat teams in so many different ways that it's hard to imagine him not succeeding in any system.

15. Maurice Harkless (ORL): Getting Defensive

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    Arguably the biggest piece acquired by Orlando in the Howard trade, Harkless brings a contagious intensity to the defensive end of the floor.

    He's long (6'9" with a 7'0" wingspan) and uses his length and quickness to harass the opposition.

    He clogs passing lanes, bothers shots and forces the issue on rebounds.

    His offensive game lags behind his defense, but his athleticism awards him scoring opportunities.

    His passion for the sport has made him a renowned gym rat, which should only speed up his development.

    He'll need to improve his offensive repertoire significantly to compete for an All-Star spot down the road, but that's not out of the question.

14. John Henson (MIL): Gumby Length

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    Analysts dissected the absence of North Carolina teammate Kendall Marshall ad nauseum last season, but many failed to notice the sizable gap in the Tar Heels' interior when Henson was nursing a sprained wrist.

    His body is nowhere close to ready for the grown man's world of the NBA (6'11", 220 lbs) but his 7'4" wingspan is something for which these grown man will have to account. Henson can challenge shots and rebound with any double-browed player in this class.

    His athleticism isn't otherworldly, but he can get off the floor and runs well for a forward.

    He needs to add considerable bulk to handle life on the blocks, but he'll give coach Scott Skiles yet another imposing shot-blocker.

13. Kendall Marshall (PHX): True Visionary

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    Depending on the expert, Marshall is either the next Steve Nash or the next Rajon Rondo (minus the steals and rebounds).

    These comparisons translate to wildly different projections in terms of an NBA career, but they do share one common bond: Marshall's a tremendous passer.

    As previously mentioned, Marshall's departure effectively ended North Carolina's NCAA tournament run in 2011-12, as players were forced to find (or create) their own offensive looks.

    A feeling-out period with his new teammates should be expected, but it won't take long for Marshall to discover where his 'mates are most effective.

    Marshall's a better-than-advertised shooter (36.6 percent from three for his career), but he has plenty of work to do to become a consistent threat.

12. Jeremy Lamb (HOU): Game Comes Easy

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    Lamb is so smooth when making plays that it sometimes looks as if he's not even trying.

    Some scouts, of course, say that is because sometimes he's not trying.

    He never dominated Connecticut after Kemba Walker's departure the way that scouts thought (or hoped) he would.

    But regardless of what did or didn't happen during his collegiate career, it's hard not to be excited about Lamb's potential.

    He's close to ideal size at the shooting guard position (6'5", 179 lbs), although he could stand to add some weight.

    Outside of an inconsistent shot, Lamb displayed everything that scouts hope to see in an NBA prospect. He's effective in the pick-and-roll as well as in isolation, and he can create his own shot when he wants.

11. Meyers Leonard (POR): Pick-and-Score

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    No matter what grade you assign to the Trail Blazers' draft picks, you can't say that they didn't fill positions of need.

    Leonard is as raw as any sophomore taken in the first round, but the agile seven-footer has a tantalizing physical profile.

    He doesn't have Plumlee's ups, but he did post a max vertical of 32.5 inches at the draft combine.

    In addition, he likes to get out and run the floor, and he has the athleticism to finish those breaks.

    His post game needs work on both ends, but his physical tools help mask those deficiencies.

    Portland is banking on new coach Terry Stotts' ability to continue Leonard's development, and if that pans out, he would establish a formidable duo with LaMarcus Aldridge.

10. Austin Rivers (N.O.): Understands How Talented He Is

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    Is that another way of calling him arrogant? Perhaps.

    But that's not dismissing the importance of that cockiness for any NBA rookie.

    Fans may not appreciate his on-court bravado, but Rivers has no doubt that he belongs in the NBA.

    And that could take him a long way.

    He's NBA-ready in terms of his pick-and-roll attacks and his plus handles.

    His shot needs some work (43.3 FG%, 36.5 3FG%, 65.8 FT%), but that's not to say that he'll have trouble finding ways to score.

    At 6'4" and 200 pounds (and keeping Eric Gordon's max contract in mind), Rivers' future may be as a point guard, which would require serious development in terms of his decision-making and ability to create for his teammates.

9. Andre Drummond (DET): Mr. Biggs

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    Perhaps Royce White's slide should have read "most intriguing player under 7'0"."

    No rookie will be more scrutinized than Drummond, who still managed to sneak his way into the top 10 despite a very underwhelming season at Connecticut.

    He's either a borderline Hall of Famer or he'll be out of the league after his rookie contract expires.

    There is no in-between with the big (as in 280 pounds big) man.

    He might be sushi raw, but his combination of size and athleticism (33.5-inch max vertical) kept him near the top of draft boards despite posting a lackluster 10.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in college.

    If Drummond reaches half of his potential, the Pistons will be in the discussion of best young frontcourt in the NBA.

8. Terrence Ross (TOR): Respect the Shooter

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    Ross is so much more than just a shooter, but his shooting stroke may be the most defining element of his game.

    Ross has the potency (and streakiness) of a J.R. Smith or a Nick Young, but get this: The guy is an elite defender.

    At 6'6" and 195 pounds, he could stand to add some weight, but his body suggests room for growth.

    Ross is an upper-level athlete who uses his quickness and strength to affect the game on both ends of the floor.

    His isolation game needs to improve, and he could use a boost in his basketball IQ, but he has ample time to improve.

7. Harrison Barnes (GSW): The Natural

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    The Warriors aren't panicking because Barnes' tenure on Chapel Hill wasn't one for the record books (16.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in his career).

    Had Barnes entered the school minus the incredible hype, scouts would have been ogling over his two seasons.

    Instead, analysts have centered around the disappointments of what was supposed to be the next great North Carolina star.

    Barnes is another player who plays the game with a grace that borders on not trying.

    With a stroke that suggests a future as a shooting coach and an NBA-designed build (6'8", 228 lbs), he has nearly everything a coach would want in a player.

    But he still needs to prove that he can consistently create his own shot in the isolation-heavy world of the NBA.

6. Damian Lillard (POR): A Pro's Pro

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    Lillard is the prototypical scoring point guard of today's NBA—capable of running pick-and-rolls, scoring out of isolations and creating offensive opportunities.

    He played the role of scoring point guard at Weber State, but that was more out of necessity (given the talent of his teammates) than it was due to any lack of ability to run an offense.

    The co-MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League, Lillard amassed impressive averages of 26 points and five assists in his first taste of professional basketball.

    He'll never be a pass-first point guard, but the Trail Blazers won't ask him to be one. After all, they'd be wasting the production of the 2012 draft class' most talented scorer.

    It will be worth watching how Lillard adapts to playing with teammates who can match (or better) his talent level, but there's always room in today's NBA for a point guard capable of putting up points in bunches.

5. Thomas Robinson (SAC): Heart of Gold

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    Robinson grabbed national attention thanks to an emotional story that played out in front of our eyes.

    But he grabbed the attention of the basketball world thanks to an impressive junior campaign that saw him carry his Kansas Jayhawks to the national championship game.

    He's not the most fundamentally sound player in the draft, but he's a coach's dream.

    With his chiseled 6'9", 237-pound stature, Robinson has earned our attention (and our respect) for outworking the opposition on a nightly basis.

    He may not ever appear in the NBA All-Star Game (although the 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds he put up as a junior did earn a first-team All-American spot), but he'll enjoy a lengthy, productive career in the league.

4. Dion Waiters (CLE): Points in Bunches

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    Cleveland has no problem making a splash with the fourth selection, following up 2011's puzzler (Tristan Thompson) with another (debatable) reach in Syracuse sixth man Dion Waiters.

    Waiters' draft stock rose not because of statistics (12.6 points per game in 2011-12), but because of his NBA style of play.

    He can attack the rim thanks to an impressive build (6'4", 215 lbs) that allows him to finish plays at the basket and has drawn comparisons to Dwyane Wade.

    Waiters also plays with a toughness befitting of a Philadelphia native, as he'll never walk away from a challenge.

    It's unclear how he'll fit alongside Kyrie Irving (both are at their best with the ball in their hands), but the post-LeBron Cavaliers are simply focused on stockpiling talent.

3. Bradley Beal (WAS): BB Gun

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    The NBA collectively realized that Beal is a much better shooter than his 33.9 three-point percentage at Florida would indicate.

    With a fluid shooting motion that's repeated on both pull-up jumpers and catch-and-shoot opportunities, Beal won't be the most popular player to guard when he makes his NBA debut.

    There's more to his offensive repertoire than just that outside stroke, though. He was an effective scorer out of isolation sets and commanded the basketball on fast-break opportunities at Florida.

    He's not a great athlete, but he's not hurting for athleticism either.

    As Washington continues to change the culture of their organization, the high-character, talented wing is a welcome addition to the Wizards organization.

2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (CHA): Hustles Hard

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    Standing 6'7" with a 7'0" wingspan, Kidd-Gilchrist heavily relied on his effort and athleticism to impact games during his lone season under coach John Calipari.

    The results? Good enough to make him the second overall selection.

    Being known as a hustler in the NBA is not always the most endearing term. The label is often bestowed upon players that compensate for a lack of talent with nearly unmatched work ethics (think Brian Cardinal, Nick Collison or Reggie Evans).

    Kidd-Gilchrist does not fall into that group. He could work as hard as any of those players, but he has a much more well-rounded game.

    MKG's shooting and decision-making are in need of major improvement, but he defends well, rebounds well and finishes plays at (or above) the rim.

1. Anthony Davis (N.O.) Olympic-Level Ability

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    The unquestioned leader of the draft class, Davis is a 6'10" shot-blocking machine with point guard handles and a shooting stroke that extends to the three-point line.

    If it wasn't for his slight (220-lb) frame, he'd be a lock for multiple All-Star appearances.

    With a national championship and Olympic gold both coming his way in 2012, Davis had a better year of basketball than anyone not named LeBron James.

    The gazelles surrounding Davis at Kentucky both emphasized his ability to run the floor and masked an apparent lack of a true post game.

    He may very well be effective on the block, but with just 13.5 percent of his possessions coming on post-ups, the jury is still out on this aspect of his game.