Kansas Basketball: Ranking the Jayhawks' NBA Prospects

Andrew DoughtyCorrespondent IIDecember 30, 2012

Kansas Basketball: Ranking the Jayhawks' NBA Prospects

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    Kansas head coach Bill Self is likely on the speed dial of scouts from all 30 NBA teams as he is regularly bombarded with potential-seeking decision-makers at Allen Fieldhouse.

    Self has produced 24 future NBA players in his 10 years at the helm in Lawrence, 33 overall with previous stops at Illinois and Tulsa, and therefore, is no stranger to fielding these scouting calls.

    He will likely add at least another four to that number in 2013, and potentially 10 total, by the time his current Jayhawks depart the Phog.

    The current KU roster features those 10 possible future NBA players, and despite substantially different roles, they each have been ranked by NBA potential regardless of predicted draft year. 

10. Rio Adams

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    Freshman guard Rio Adams appears to have the skill set to play either the 1 or 2-guard, but due to limited playing time during his rookie campaign (4.8 minutes per game), his athleticism has not yet been showcased.

    That small sample size reveals a poor shooting clip of 31.8 percent for a guard known for his length, facilitating a dynamic ability to penetrate the lane.

    Despite the anticipated departure of Ben McLemore and graduation of Elijah Johnson, Adams will continue to battle a flurry of guards for playing time in 2013-14.

    The Seattle native currently projects as a late second-round pick, if not undrafted, in 2016 but those 4.8 MPG are far too small to properly evaluate him this year.

9. Naadir Tharpe

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    As expected, point guard Naadir Tharpe's minutes increased as a sophomore (5.5 in 2011-12 to 17.2 in 2012-13), but his potential as a true floor leader remains untapped.

    Tharpe easily produced his best month of consistent basketball in December, when he averaged over four assists per game, including a 12-assist outing in a win against American.

    A much-improved shooting percentage has stabilized an adequately desirable clip for a true point guard, turning heads of NBA scouts in doing so.

    Another likely four-year Jayhawk, Tharpe has the potential of former Kansas guard Russell Robinson, with an additional hint of athleticism, giving him value as a future second-round selection in the 2016 NBA draft.

8. Landen Lucas

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    Another Pacific Northwest prospect from the class of 2012, Landen Lucas joined Kansas as a light-footed and versatile 6'10" power forward.

    He remains on schedule for a redshirt season in 2012-13, giving him four full seasons following the departure of incumbent big man Jeff Withey along with a valuable observing period to pick up Bill Self's high-low offense.

    Without a college game under his belt, the savvy Lucas remains the most raw and unproven NBA prospect on the Kansas roster, but four years of consistently comprehensive improvement may have him on track for a professional career.

    Today, his projections will range anywhere from early second-round selection in 2016 or 2017 to undrafted.

7. Travis Releford

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    Fifth-year senior small forward Travis Releford appeared destined for a career as a role player on title-contending Kansas teams, but an improved offensive game late last season and a red-hot start to 2012-13 finally has Releford on the radar of NBA teams.

    Already as one of the best defenders in the country, the former Bishop Miege standout is shooting a staggering 61.7 percent from the floor, including a 44.4 percent mark from the three-point line.

    Oftentimes knocked for his lack of a dynamic penetration game and inability to produce his own opportunities, Travis Releford has proven doubters wrong and might be the most improved player in the Big 12 this season.

    Consistent offensive production for the remainder of the season could help Releford slide into the second round, but regardless, he should have no problem locking up an undrafted free-agent opportunity by next fall.

6. Elijah Johnson

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    Elijah Johnson arrived in Lawrence as a 5-star Top 25 recruit (via Rivals.com), with NBA scouts already drooling over his combination of athleticism and potential as a combo guard.

    His role remained undefined for two years in averaging less than 4.0 points per game, but as expected, he exploded onto the Big 12 scene as an upper-tier shooting guard, fully hitting his stride in March with clutch shooting and timely penetration.

    Despite being slightly undersized at 6'4" for an NBA shooting guard and critiqued similarly to former Jayhawk Kirk Hinrich, he remains a 2-guard prospect.

    He has struggled to fully grasp the floor general role in his first season as full-time point guard, subsequently hurting his NBA stock. He will likely be taken in the second round, but could rise, a la Tyshawn Taylor, with consistent late-season performances.

5. Jamari Traylor

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    Jamari Traylor is not on the high priority radar of many NBA teams this season but if he develops similarly to former Kansas power forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris, he will begin shooting up draft boards with increased opportunities in the next two years.

    Aside from a handful of highlight-reel put-backs and a dozen hustle plays, the 6'8" redshirt freshman has offered little insight into the powerful inside game he could develop under Bill Self's staff.

    With the likely departure of Kansas' starting five after the 2012-13 season, Traylor will receive ample opportunities to prove he can become of the country's most versatile all-around power forwards, potentially sliding into the first round in doing so.

4. Perry Ellis

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    As the most highly touted in-state recruit since Wayne Simien, freshman forward and Wichita native Perry Ellis was welcomed with high expectations.

    An excellent shooting percentage (50 percent) and timely rebounding combined with occasional power moves down low has scouts intrigued by the quick big man.

    However, an inability to consistently abuse undersized defenders or lack of the correct slide step inside the lane has proven Ellis remains a very raw prospect.

    He will likely need all four years under Self to fully develop his versatile game, one that would greatly be improved with an adequately intimidating perimeter game in order to shoot into the first round of the 2014 or 2015 NBA draft.

3. Andrew White III

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    Andrew White III appeared to have opened the door to an increased role following a 15-point outburst on 6-of-8 shooting in the Jayhawks' blowout win over Belmont.

    However, an 0-of-5 shooting game four days later that included three foolish fouls may have prompted Self to keep the freshman shooting guard on the bench in Columbus.

    White arrived at KU as arguably one of the most underrated recruits in the entire 2012 class, with great size, quickness and athleticism to become an elite 2-guard. 

    A future first-round pick seems like a bit of a stretch for the Chester, Virginia native averaging a mere 4.4 points per game in under nine minutes, but gives White two additional years in a key role to prove he can be a big-time NBA prospect.

2. Jeff Withey

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    Upon finally proving he can perform at a high level consistently, the 7'0" senior center has solidified his future as a traditional NBA center prospect, with projections anywhere between mid-lottery pick to late first round.

    As already the most imposing defensive force in the 2013 NBA draft, he must continue to prove he can hit a good clip from the field (58.2 percent in 2012-13).

    His defensive fouls are few and far between, even when in poor position, albeit rarely, under the glass and can effortlessly alter high-percentage shots without drawing contact.

1. Ben McLemore

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    Is it a stretch to propose Ben McLemore is the best NBA prospect in Kansas basketball's storied 115-year history?

    With the potential to become a top three selection in next year's NBA draft, the do-it-all freshman shooting guard has had little trouble abusing out-of-position defenders, evident by his 48.9 shooting percentage and routine high-flying dunks that had Aaron Craft, amongst others, baffled.

    Two early fouls on Saturday in the Jayhawks' 89-57 win over American reminded fans and scouts of one or maybe two flaws in redshirt freshman Ben McLemore's game.

    By slightly improving his defensive communication and avoiding lazy reach-ins, he can further convince the Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards or Cleveland Cavaliers why he should be the No.1 overall selection in the 2013 NBA draft.