David Stern, gaudy suits, and bling—three hallmarks of the NBA draft.
We're still waiting for the figureheads to select Ping-Pong balls, but the April 26 declaration deadline has passed, giving us our first opportunity to rank the prospects.
For the first big board I am releasing the top 30 prospects.
A lot of talent stayed in school, so this list will see some movement as prospects establish themselves over the next two months.
1. Blake Griffin, F/C, Oklahoma
Griffin is an extremely productive big man who makes the most of his athletic ability with hustle and toughness. He needs to improve his free throws and on-ball defense, but he is a step above the rest of the Class of 2009.
2. Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain
Very experienced for his age (18), Rubio was a key contributor on Spain's Olympic team that included a handful of NBA players. He needs to get stronger and refine his shooting. Rubio has great size for a point and plays the game with style.
3. Hasheem Thabeet, C, Connecticut
Potentially the next Dikembe Mutombo, Thabeet is a skilled shot blocker who has developed acceptable offensive skills. Thabeet is determined and dedicated, rare for a gifted center, and although he needs to add strength he will not hold his team back while he develops.
4. James Harden, SG, Arizona State
The most deceptive player in the draft, Harden has a plethora of offensive moves, and he steals a lot of balls. Some contend that he's undersized for a SG, but players two inches shorter are successful scorers in the two-guard role. Harden will never be an elite athlete, which may hurt his stock.
5. Terrence Williams, G/F, Louisville
Absolutely the best athlete in the draft, Williams has four years of experience under Rick Pitino and will fill up every stat category. He can play point or either wing position, and his game is built for the NBA. Williams needs to develop consistency in his shooting, but his percentages saw constant growth in college.
6. Tyreke Evans, SG, Memphis
Evans slid over and played point for Memphis this year, displaying his ability to penetrate with the ball. Evans desperately needs to develop a three-point shot. Teams will fall in love with his length and ability to score in bursts.
7. Brandon Jennings, PG, USA
No player has a better feel for where his players are around him. Jennings challenges Rubio as the most skilled passer in the draft. He will never be physically imposing, but he is extremely quick and you cannot sit off of him. Jennings will be hungry to make a splash in the American hoops game after watching his peers earn of years' worth of hype.
8. Stephen Curry, G, Davidson
Although Curry has limited size and upside, he is the most polished prospect in the draft. Curry can play either guard position, which should be viewed as a positive. Curry provides great shooting and scoring ability, especially in the clutch. However, when teams dedicated themselves to shutting him down, they were successful.
9. James Johnson, F, Wake Forest
Johnson is flying under the radar. “Flying” is the right word. He runs the floor like a guard and can finish with the best of them. Johnson does have a three-point shot, and he is a 3-4 tweener like Thaddeus Young. Johnson will be best in an up-tempo offense where he can get in the flow and doesn't have to think.
10. Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina
Lawson is undersized but makes up for it with quickness and a strong finishing ability. He improved his threes to 47.2 percent this year. Lawson is a true floor general who always competes.
11. DeMar DeRozan, SG, USC
DeRozan was underutilized at USC, partially because his game translates better to the NBA. He’s a great athlete who constantly improved over the year. DeRozan really needs to improve his shooting all over the floor and pick up the intensity of D, so he's not just another athlete.
12. Jrue Holiday, G, UCLA
Holiday is a team player who looks for his teammates and can get his own. He didn't get the opportunities to lead the Bruins like he should have because of Darren Collison, but Holiday seemed to rise up toward the end of games when Collison couldn't compete.
13. Earl Clark, F, Louisville
Coming out as a junior, Clark is the most skilled big man in the draft. Clark will be a matchup problem in the one-on-one oriented NBA. Much like any rookie, he needs to work on his strength and jumper, but neither are of major concern.
14. Wayne Ellington, SG, North Carolina
One of the top three-point shooters in the draft, Ellington might fall to the playoff teams. He is ready to step in and contribute right now as an off-the-bench scorer. Ellington gets a premium on my list because he is a fighter and a winner.
15. Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona
The most overrated player in the draft, Hill is a good prospect but lacks versatility and depth in his game. Hill plays very athletic in the half-court and played with great intensity. Giant boost in production from sophomore to junior season is partially because the Pac-10 got weaker.
16. Eric Maynor, PG, VCU
He earned plenty of experience at VCU and always seemed to elevate his game when he faced elite competition. Maynor is a pesky defender but he will really struggle against the more physical point guards in the NBA. He could develop into a very reliable three-point shooter.
17. Jonny Flynn, PG, Syracuse
Flynn displayed his will to win in the Big East Tournament, a characteristic that should not be underrated. Extremely quick, Flynn can rise above the rim to finish. He is an excellent set-up man and dangerous when in the lane.
18. Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky
Teams will appreciate Patterson's shot-blocking and hustle. On the short end for a post (6'8"), Patterson makes up for it with his strength and athleticism. May be better suited as a bench player early on until he develops more effective post moves.
19. Jeff Teague, G, Wake Forest
Early in the season Teague was considered a top-10 pick, until Wake Forest showed its true colors. His 1.1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is a major concern for teams looking to play him as a point guard. Teague can really score and has the athleticism to get above the rim. He finishes from the line and at the stripe. Teague is the perfect sixth man.
20. Sam Young, SF, Pittsburgh
Young is ready to play today. He should be, at 24 years of age. Young makes the most of his physical talents, and he is a consistent three-point shooter when open. He's a high flyer but more of the strong athletic type who can complete the and-one with a slam.
21. Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke
After a very good season at Duke, Henderson appears to be ready to take his dynamic game to the NBA. He needs to develop a true perimeter shot, but he is quick off the dribble and has an electrifying athleticism. His hustle on D has Coach K written all over it.
22. James Varnardo, F, Mississippi State
Varnardo will be the secret weapon for some team over the next few years. Possibly a better shot blocker than Thabeet, Varnado averaged 4.7 blocks per game while standing 6'9". His impressive wingspan allows him to snatch rebounds, and he's a hustler. Still raw offensively, he will never be a real scorer.
23. Austin Daye, G/F, Gonzaga
If Daye wasn't so soft he could be a lottery pick because he has a rare combination of size and shooting ability. Daye will rebound and block shots but he won't get physical—and he was never was "the man" at Gonzaga.
24. Gani Lawal, F, Georgia Tech
Lawal is one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft. His skills and IQ still need to come along, but he has very good size, strength, athleticism, and energy. Due to his rough edges Lawal has a low floor, though he should be a very productive role player, even early in his career.
25. DeJuan Blair, PF, Pittsburgh
Blair was a monster in college, though I really question how his game translates to the NBA. As a 6'7" post without explosive leaping ability or a consistent jumper he will be reduced to a screener and a rebounder capable of finishing around the rim. Blair is better suited as a tight end in the NFL.
26. Nick Calathes, G, Florida
Calathes would really benefit from a few more years in college because you're picking him based on what he has, not his potential. Calathes is a good outside shooter (.390 three-point percentage) but only average from the stripe (.707 FT percentage)—he needs to be deadly to earn PT in the NBA.
Good size and very smart, a combo guard with skills but lacks athleticism.
27. Chase Budinger, G/F, Arizona
A very talented athlete with great body control, Budinger seems to lack the drive that would make him a top prospect. Can score from outside and finish at the rim. Budinger is at his prime on the break. If Budinger doesn’t pick up his intensity he will get swallowed up by hungrier players at the next level.
28. Marcus Thornton, G, LSU
Instant offense, Thornton was the SEC Player of the Year because of his ability to score from anywhere on the court. Thornton always gives maximum effort on both ends of the court. He's an established player looking to land on a winner late in the first-round.
29. Tyler Hansbrough, F, North Carolina
Offensively, Hansbrough was very one dimensional, and he wasn't always pretty, but he was very effective. His shooting ability and athleticism are underrated. The biggest heart in the draft, Hansbrough will not be out-hustled and he is willing to hit the floor. Not much room between his ceiling and floor but he will be a much better pro than people think.
30. B.J. Mullens, C, Ohio State
A project in every sense of the word, Mullens is worthy of a first-round selection because of his size and athleticism, but he will have to really round out his game in the NBA. Mullens shows a promising jumper and good offensive skills, but he doesn't seem to have the eye of the tiger.
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