Ranking Top 25 NBA Players Who Could Still Be Balling in College

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterMarch 17, 2014

Ranking Top 25 NBA Players Who Could Still Be Balling in College

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    With all the recent chatter about new NBA commissioner Adam Silver's desire to raise the minimum age for draft eligibility and the annual bluster about the NCAA tournament, it's entirely reasonable to wonder what the 2014 edition of March Madness would look like if early declarations weren't a thing.

    Remember, there was a time when even the best and brightest talents in college basketball were forced to stay for four years. That status quo was crushed in 1970 when ABA Rookie of the Year and MVP Spencer Haywood and Seattle SuperSonics owner Sam Schulman launched an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA.

    The case (Haywood v. National Basketball Association) went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In March 1971, the presiding justices upheld a lower-court decision deeming that the league's four-year rule did, indeed, infringe upon Haywood's right to make a living playing basketball if a team would have him. 

    Imagine how much more different college basketball would be today if Haywood hadn't won and today's best players still had to spend four years in school. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would have sky-hooked everyone into oblivion for another couple of years while he was known as Lew Alcindor at UCLA.

    Mike Krzyzewski could count on Jabari Parker spending four years at Duke, Bill Self would build his program around the dynamic duo of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, and John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats might have the talent and experience to challenge the tank-tastic Philadelphia 76ers.

    Comb your way through the NBA's active rosters, and you'll find a wide swath of youngsters who'd be eligible to participate in this year's tourney if not for all those rules regarding "amateurism" and fraternizing with agents and whatnot.

    Leaving aside those who were never granted eligibility to play college ball (i.e. Enes Kanter) and those whose health would've precluded them from playing this season anyway (i.e. Nerlens Noel), let's have a look at the best of those whose age and Division I stints would suggest that they could be competing at a level below the Association right now.

    And, in a manner typical of college sports, we'll limit the list to 25 and rank those who made the cut.

25. Perry Jones III

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    Drafted: First Round, 28th Overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012

    What He Would Be Now: Senior at Baylor

    Perry Jones III was arguably the most tantalizingly talent of a group of highly touted prospects who passed on the 2011 NBA draft, perhaps out of fear that the then-impending lockout would cut into—if not wipe out—their rookie seasons.

    Jones returned to Waco, only to see his numbers stagnate as scouts questioned whether he had the proper disposition to become the sort of star his prodigious physical gifts and diverse skill set suggested he was destined to be.

    A problem with the meniscus in one of his knees sealed Jones' fate on draft day. Once projected as a surefire top-five pick, Jones was snapped up by the Thunder just before the start of the second round.

    As a rookie, Jones drifted between the big club, with whom he racked up just 38 appearances, and its D-League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers. He has carved out a slightly more substantial niche in OKC this season as a regular member of the team's bench mob. 

    Even so, one can't help but ponder what sort of havoc he'd be wreaking with Baylor, the No. 6 seed in the West Region, had he returned to school after leading the Bears to the Elite Eight in 2012.

24. Cory Joseph

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    Drafted: First Round, 29th Overall by the San Antonio Spurs in 2011

    What He Would Be Now: Senior at Texas

    Cory Joseph didn't venture far from UT after leaving the Longhorns behind as a freshman. The Spurs snapped him up at the end of the first round.

    Of course, playing time was always going to be scant in San Antonio. At that time, Tony Parker was at the peak of his prime—and is still thereabouts today. But with George Hill joining the Indiana Pacers by way of the draft-day trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the Alamo City, the Spurs were in need of some reinforcements at point guard.

    Joseph hardly ever saw the court for the Spurs as a rookie. He wound up no better than third on the depth chart behind Parker and Gary Neal and alongside Patty Mills. With so few minutes available with the big club, Joseph was shuttled off to the D-League, where he spent three stints with the Austin Toros.

    Had Joseph opted to stay in the Texas state capital as a collegian, he'd be a senior leader at guard for a squad that, as the No. 7 seed in the Midwest Region, is looking to make some noise after finishing last season well off the proverbial bubble for the first time in Rick Barnes' decorated tenure.

    Instead, Joseph has worked his way into a regular role in Gregg Popovich's rotation with 17 starts under his belt in 2013-14.

23. Kelly Olynyk

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    Drafted: First Round, 13th Overall by the Dallas Mavericks (traded to the Boston Celtics) in 2013

    What He Would Be Now: Redshirt Senior at Gonzaga

    Kelly Olynyk isn't the first Canadian on this list, and he certainly won't be the last.

    The 7-foot Torontonian was wise to leave Gonzaga when he did. He'd become the best and most productive player on a Bulldogs squad that snagged the school's first No. 1 seed in 2013, just a year after spending what would've been his junior season redshirting to improve his game.

    As such, Olynyk could've returned to Spokane to help the 'Zags improve upon last year's disappointing exit from the Sweet 16. Instead, Mark Few's team will have to forge ahead as the No. 8 seed in the West Region with an opening matchup against Marcus Smart's Oklahoma State squad on tap.

    Surely, Olynyk's all-around skills would've come in handy, as they have for the rebuilding Boston Celtics this season. He's figured into 55 of Boston's 67 games this season, including six starts, while averaging 7.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 19.1 minutes therein.

22. Tony Wroten

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    Drafted: First Round, 25th Overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012

    What He Would Be Now: Junior at Washington

    Tony Wroten's lone season in Seattle was, by and large, forgettable. The homegrown guard was plenty productive, averaging 16 points, five rebounds and 3.7 assists as a freshman. But the kid couldn't shoot (16.1 percent from three, 58.3 percent from the line), which is problematic for someone who's supposed to have the ball in his hands as often as Wroten did.

    Moreover, the Huskies failed to qualify for the tourney for the first time in three years, despite winning the Pac-12 regular-season title. As a result, Wroten and company were relegated to the NIT, in which they advanced to the semifinals before losing to Minnesota in overtime.

    It's possible that Wroten would've helped U-Dub stave off what's become a three-year March Madness-less streak had he stayed in school.

    But, if that were the case, those few remaining Philadelphia 76ers fans wouldn't have been treated to Wroten's unlikely triple-double and 30-point game, both of which rank as the highlights in a season that's seen him average 13.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists, albeit for the worst team in the NBA.

21. Maurice Harkless

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    Drafted: First Round, 15th Overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2012

    What He Would Be Now: Junior at St. John's

    It's tough to blame Maurice "Moe" Harkless for leaving St. John's when he did. His freshman season in Queens saw the Red Storm win just 13 games while head coach Steve Lavin battled prostate cancer. With the future of the program obscured by the uncertainty surrounding Lavin's recovery, Harkless bolted for the surefire millions that awaited him in the NBA.

    A month and a half after the Sixers selected him in the first round of the 2012 draft, Harkless found himself shipped to the Orlando Magic as one small cog in the four-team machinery that transferred Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers. Harkless flashed some intriguing potential as a rookie, averaging 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds from mid-February on.

    Harkless has come back to Earth somewhat in year two. He's started just 26 times in 65 appearances, though he appears to have recovered some of his former mojo of late. During a recent seven-game stretch, Harkless chipped in 14.3 points and 4.9 rebounds while knocking down 41.9 percent of his threes.

20. Steven Adams

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    Drafted: First Round, 12th Overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2013

    What He Would Be Now: Sophomore at Pittsburgh

    For a player who averages all of 3.2 points and 4.1 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game, Steve Adams has done well to make a name for himself as a rookie. The 7-foot New Zealander came onto the scene as an enforcer off the bench for the Thunder and has transitioned into a starting role since Kendrick Perkins succumbed to another groin injury.

    Adams has done well to become such a pivotal part of a title contender in such a short time. He wasn't exactly a force of nature at Pitt where he averaged 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds as a freshman.

    His Panthers went a sturdy 24-9, including a 12-6 mark during their last go-around in the Big East before getting bounced in their opening game by eventual Final Four participant (and currently undefeated) Wichita State.

    Pitt's back in the tourney, but as a No. 9 seed matched up against Colorado, it isn't expected to go far, not with Florida likely waiting in the next round. Perhaps Adams' size and toughness would've come in handy for the Panthers, though he probably won't mind getting a taste of the NBA playoffs in his first season as a pro.

19. Ben McLemore

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    Drafted: First Round, Seventh Overall by the Sacramento Kings

    What He Would Be Now: Redshirt Sophomore at Kansas

    Last year, Ben McLemore left Lawrence as a raw but talented 20-year-old. This year, he's started 40 games for the Sacramento Kings as...a raw but talented 21-year-old.

    Not that anyone should begrudge him for leaving school as a redshirt freshman. He put up some solid numbers (15.9, five rebounds, two assists) and dropped 20 points in the Jayhawks' loss to Michigan in last year's Sweet 16.

    KU, for its part, is doing just fine without McLemore. The Jayhawks captured their 10th straight Big 12 regular-season title and yet another No. 1 seed this season with freshman phenoms Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid leading the way.

    Meanwhile, McLemore's Kings are well on their way to their eighth straight appearance in the draft lottery with the rookie swingman, once touted as a sharpshooter, hitting just 36.8 percent of his field goals.

18. Jeremy Lamb

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    Drafted: First Round, 12th Overall in 2012 by the Houston Rockets

    What He Would Be Now: Senior at Connecticut

    The fact that Jeremy Lamb is one of three members of OKC's bench who's still of college age should tell you everything you need to know about just how young the Thunder are.

    And, in turn, just how impressive their present performance and future ceiling truly are.

    Lamb, for one, has stepped up his game considerably in his second year as a pro. With Kevin Martin gone, Lamb has emerged as a key component among a consortium of contributors who've spread out the responsibilities once ascribed to a single sixth man in OKC.

    Granted, Lamb is a far cry from James Harden, for whom he was traded in October 2012. Impossible comparisons aside, Lamb's across-the-board improvement (9.0 points in 20.6 minutes) has been no less instrumental in the Thunder's smooth reorganization around Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

    The timing of Lamb's decision to leave school was certainly understandable, too. He won an NCAA title as a freshman at UConn and got out of dodge as soon as it became clear that legendary coach Jim Calhoun was calling it quits.

    However, current coach Kevin Ollie wouldn't complain if he had Lamb at his disposal to help the Huskies, the No. 7 seed in the East Region, embark on another Cinderella-ish run.

17. Kendall Marshall

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    Drafted: First Round, 13th Overall in 2012 by the Phoenix Suns

    What He Would Be Now: Senior at North Carolina

    It's seems strange (if not downright far-fetched) now, but Kendall Marshall was once the most important player in college basketball. His emergence as the starting point guard in Chapel Hill sparked UNC to back-to-back ACC regular-season titles, and his mid-tourney wrist injury in 2012 all but sealed the fate of a talented Tar Heels squad that had "national championship" written all over it.

    Marshall was never particularly quick or athletic, and his jump shot left much to be desired. But his court vision, his tight handles and his leadership were enough to convince the Suns that he was worthy of selection in the 2012 draft lottery.

    The following offseason, Marshall was dumped on the Washington Wizards, who subsequently cut him just prior to the start of the 2013-14 season. After a successful stint with the D-League's Delaware 87ers, Marshall was called up by the Los Angeles Lakers, who were in desperate need of help at the point.

    Since then, Marshall has averaged 8.4 points and 9.4 assists (second in the NBA behind only Chris Paul) while knocking down an astounding 43.3 percent of his threes.

    Granted, the Lakers squad with which Marshall is thriving is beyond terrible, but the kid's clearly shown he can play in the NBA—something he'd probably be doing in spades were he to suit up for Carolina, No. 6 in the East Region, this Friday.

16. Tim Hardaway Jr.

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    Drafted: First Round, 24th Overall in 2013 by the New York Knicks

    What He Would Be Now: Senior at Michigan

    In a season replete with captivating storylines driven by some of the biggest names in basketball, Tim Hardaway Jr. has managed to shine through as a bright spot on the court for the New York Knicks. The son of former franchise tormentor Tim Hardaway has averaged 10.2 points per game as a rookie with 20-plus-point performances off the bench in each of his last three appearances.

    The basketball world had a hunch that Hardaway could be a special player before he arrived in the NBA, and not just because of his bloodlines. He averaged 14.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists during his three years in Ann Arbor, the last of which ended with his Wolverines playing for the national championship.

    Surprisingly enough, Michigan actually managed to improve its seeding without him—from No. 4 in the South Region last year to No. 2 in the Midwest this time around. Still, his Maize and Blue would be hard-pressed to survive without him in a region that also features undefeated Wichita State, Duke and Louisville, to whom Hardaway lost the title, at the top.

    Not that Hardaway has any time to worry about that. At 27-40, his Knicks are battling for their playoff lives in the East. The better Hardaway plays now, the bigger his role in New York may be once Phil Jackson officially takes over

15. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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    Drafted: First Round, Second Overall in 2012 by the Charlotte Bobcats

    What He Would Be Now: Junior at Kentucky

    Anthony Davis may have been the star on Kentucky's 2012 title-winning squad, but it was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who kept everything together as the "glue guy." The skinny, shutdown wing out of New Jersey contributed 11.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.9 combined blocks and steals in 31.1 minutes a game for John Calipari's 38-2 team.

    Kidd-Gilchrist has struggled to recapture even a modicum of that magic as a pro in Charlotte. His numbers have actually declined from those of his rookie campaign, in part because his jump shot is still an ugly, hitch-riddled mess.

    But MKG's value extends far beyond your average box score. His length and athleticism on the perimeter has helped to transform the Bobcats' once-moribund defense into a top-10 outfit this season.

    To be sure, Kidd-Gilchrist has had his fair share of hiccups to say the least. He was on the wrong end of Carmelo Anthony's 62-point explosion at the Garden and LeBron James' career-high 61-pointer.

    By and large, though, MKG has been a credit to his team's defensive prowess and the rise into playoff contention that it's sparked.

14. Jared Sullinger

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    Drafted: First Round, 21st Overall in 2012 by the Boston Celtics

    What He Would Be Now: Senior at Ohio State

    Like Perry Jones III, Jared Sullinger, a two-time All-American at Ohio State, saw his draft status victimized by an injury report.

    To be sure, that report proved correct in the end. The back problems over which scouts and general managers fretted in the spring of 2012 came back to bite Sully. He missed the final two-and-a-half months of his rookie season with the Celtics after undergoing surgery on his back.

    Even so, his late first-round selection has proven to be plenty fruitful for Boston. The frumpy forward has accounted for 12.9 points and 8.3 rebounds in year two of his pro career, albeit on a terrible team that affords him the freedom to shoot pretty much wherever and whenever he wants.

    As for the Buckeyes, they've held their own since Sullinger's departure. They cracked the Elite Eight in last year's tournament with Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas in starring roles. This year, Thad Matta's squad, the No. 6 seed in the South, will have its work cut out for it, especially with Syracuse lurking in the round of 32.

13. Terrence Ross

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    Drafted: First Round, Eighth Overall in 2012 by the Toronto Raptors

    What He Would Be Now: Senior at Washington

    Unless you're a Pac-12 devotee, you probably didn't know who Terrence Ross was until he arrived in Toronto in 2012.

    That is to say, you probably don't know who Terrence Ross is anyway. Maybe you caught him during his winning performance at the 2013 Slam Dunk Contest. Maybe you saw him make minced meat of the "Manimal."

    Whatever your level of familiarity with Ross, just know that this could be the real deal in relatively short order. Since assuming a starting role after Rudy Gay was traded away, Ross has averaged 12.7 points per game while nailing an eye-popping 43 percent of his threes. That includes a shocking 51-point explosion against the Los Angeles Clippers, during which Ross nailed 10-of-17 from beyond the arc.

    Ross wasn't exactly a force to be reckoned with at U-Dub. He failed to guide the Huskies into the NCAA tournament during either of his seasons in Seattle. That lack of success at the collegiate level helps to explain, in part, how perplexing Toronto's decision to take Ross in the 2012 draft seemed at the time.

    Well, that and the fact that the Raps still had DeMar DeRozan entrenched on the wing, but I digress.

12. Terrence Jones

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    Drafted: First Round, 18th Overall in 2012 by the Houston Rockets

    What He Would Be Now: Senior at Kentucky

    The connection between Terrence Ross and Terrence Jones runs far deeper than the coincidence of their names. They're both products of Portland, Ore., having played prep ball together at Jefferson High.

    Jones, though, has enjoyed the more successful path to and through the NBA between the two. Jones went to the Final Four as a freshman and returned to Kentucky to serve as a key cog on the squad that won the national title in 2012.

    He worked his way into just 19 games as a rookie with the Rockets but quickly established himself as Houston's best option at power forward this season. In 56 starts, Jones has averaged 12.1 points and 7.5 rebounds while helping to spread the floor for Dwight Howard's post-ups and James Harden's drives to the basket.

11. Tristan Thompson

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    Drafted: First Round, Fourth Overall in 2012 by the Cleveland Cavaliers

    What He Would Be Now: Senior at Texas

    Tristan Thompson's one year in Austin was largely uneventful. Thompson contributed 13.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks to UT's cause but couldn't propel the Longhorns past the second round of the 2011 NCAA tournament.

    That didn't stop Thompson from leaving school to become the first Canadian ever drafted so early; Anthony Bennett has since surpassed Thompson in that regard, much to the chagrin of Cavs fans everywhere.

    Hindsight being what it is, Cleveland has been bashed time and again for using its No. 4 pick that year on Thompson. It's easy to argue that the Cavs would've been better off taking Jonas Valanciunas, even though he would've spent the following season overseas. Those truly intent on beating the Cavs over the head could point to Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Kenneth Faried coming off the board later on.

    But that's not entirely fair to Thompson. For all the flak he's caught, Thompson's production as a pro (11.9 points and 9.3 rebounds this season) is nothing to scoff at. He may not have been the ideal choice for Cleveland at that spot, but it's not his fault the team took him as early as it did.

10. Trey Burke

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    Drafted: First Round, Ninth Overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves (traded to the Utah Jazz)

    What He Would Be Now: Junior at Michigan

    From National Player of the Year and consensus first-team All-American to starting point guard on a rebuilding squad, Trey Burke has seen his fair share of highs and lows over the past year. He missed the first few weeks of his rookie season with a broken finger but has been a steady presence for the Utah Jazz ever since.

    Burke will garner plenty of attention for Rookie of the Year honors, and rightfully so. He's averaged 12.7 points and 5.3 assists while starting 53 of the 55 games in which he's played for the Jazz.

    And, considering that the other two front-runners (Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo) also play for terrible teams, those casting their ballots can't really penalize Burke for the futility through which he's come up.

    Neither could anyone blame Burke for falling into a fit of nostalgia right about now. The excitement of his Wolverines snagging the No. 2 seed in the Midwest dwarfs whatever reward might come from keeping the Jazz out of the absolute cellar in the Western Conference.

9. Brandon Knight

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    Drafted: First Round, Eighth Overall in 2011 by the Detroit Pistons

    What He Would Be Now: Senior at Kentucky

    Brandon Knight's basketball career—at least since he was named Gatorade's Player of the Year back in high school—has been forgettable, though by no fault of his own.

    He was the one who succeeded John Wall and preceded Anthony Davis as the star recruit at Kentucky. Being thrust into the impossible spot of being a 20-year-old point guard for the pitiful Pistons didn't help matters any, either.

    Nowadays, Knight's game is blossoming. He's posted career highs in points (17.4), rebounds (3.4), assists (4.9) and field-goal percentage (.422) while starting 55 of the 58 games in which he's played.

    It's only fitting, though, that Knight's growth has taken place on a Milwaukee Bucks squad that's been burdened with the NBA's worst record from the get-go. Detroit sent Knight to Brew City this past summer as part of a sign-and-trade that made Brandon Jennings a Piston.

    With the way things are developing with those two guards, it seems fair to ask whether Pistons GM Joe Dumars would rather have kept Knight instead.

8. Victor Oladipo

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Drafted: First Round, Second Overall in 2013 by the Orlando Magic

    What He Would Be Now: Senior at Indiana

    The Hoosiers have fallen on hard times since Victor Oladipo left Bloomington. IU went from advancing to the Sweet 16 as the Big 10's regular-season champ last year to falling well short of an invitation to the Big Dance in 2014.

    Not that Oladipo's new team is doing much better. The Orlando Magic carry the third-worst record in the NBA with a five-game losing streak that could exacerbate the situation further before it's over.

    Oladipo, though, has opened some eyes during his brief time in the Association. His shooting percentages aren't exactly sparkling, though his across-the-board production (13.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, four assists and 1.6 steals in 31.8 minutes per game) points to a player with occasional All-Star potential.

    And until 'Dipo reaches that level, we'll just have to settle for enjoying his thunderous jams.

7. Dion Waiters

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    Drafted: First Round, Fourth Overall in 2012 by the Cleveland Cavaliers

    What He Would Be Now: Senior at Syracuse

    Perhaps Oladipo could've saved the Cavs from the embarrassment of drafting Anthony Bennett No. 1 overall in 2013 if not for Dion Waiters' presence in Cleveland. 

    As toxic as Waiters may have been (and may continue to be) to what little chemistry remains in the Cavs' locker room, his talent is undeniable. He's often been compared to a "poor man's Dwyane Wade" for his size, strength, athleticism and fearlessness, though his improving perimeter shot (.374 from three this season) suggests that he might be much more than a flash off the bench.

    Then again, that's what he was at Syracuse, where he came off the bench as Jim Boeheim's scorer extraordinaire. Waiters certainly has the talent to start, but his disposition as a free-wheeling "gunner" makes him a better match as a future Sixth Man of the Year.

6. Michael Carter-Williams

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    Drafted: First Round, 11th Pick in 2013 by the Philadelphia 76ers

    What He Would Be Now: Junior at Syracuse

    Rookie of the Year honors have been bestowed upon first-year players on terrible teams before. The last decade alone has seen Emeka Okafor, Kevin Durant, Tyreke Evans and Kyrie Irving win the award while playing for franchises that jumped right back to the top of the lottery.

    That being said, the Philadelphia 76ers' epic run of futility has downgraded Michael Carter-Williams' ROY candidacy from outright lock to narrow front-runner, even if he's not entirely to blame for his team's downfall. After all, it wasn't MCW's decision to slough off Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes at the trade deadline.

    But Carter-Williams has lapsed into some bad habits amid the incessant losing. His shot selection has left much to be desired (.398 from the field, .273 from three), as has his ball security (3.8 turnovers).

    By and large, though, there's no arguing with his production. He's one of four players in the NBA who's averaged at least 16 points, five rebounds and five assists this season, per Basketball-Reference.com.

    The other three? Russell Westbrook, Durant and LeBron James.

    MCW has a long way to go before he's on their level, though he has the all-around talent to be an impact player at the point guard position for years to come. At the very least, he's proving to be much more than a product of Boeheim's structured system at Syracuse.

5. Harrison Barnes

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    Drafted: First Round, Seventh Overall in 2012 by the Golden State Warriors

    What He Would Be Now: Senior at North Carolina

    Now deep into his second year with the Warriors, Harrison Barnes can still be described in much the same way that he was during his two seasons in Chapel Hill.

    That is, the tools and the talent are all there. It's only a matter of time until he puts it all together.

    How much time Barnes requires to reach his ceiling and under what circumstances he might do so remain the mysteries of the day. The knock on Barnes has always been he seems to coast when he's not in the thick of the action; he needs to be the center of attention in order to thrive at the level that all the indicators suggest he can.

    That was the case in last year's playoffs, when Barnes' production (16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds) far outpaced his regular-season output (9.2 points, 4.1 rebounds). The opposition, particularly the San Antonio Spurs, baited Warriors coach Mark Jackson into letting Barnes be the focal point of the offense, and for the most part, the rookie delivered.

    Barnes has struggled to carry that success into this season, amid injuries and a shift from his previous starting role into one off Golden State's bench. If the Dubs are going to make some serious noise in the Western Conference playoffs again, they'll need Barnes to play more like the confident scorer he was last spring and less like the hesitant wing who fumbled his way through his two games as a Tar Heel in 2012.

4. Bradley Beal

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    Drafted: First Round, Third Overall in 2012 by the Washington Wizards

    What He Would Be Now: Junior at Florida

    What makes the Gators' success over the last two seasons all the more remarkable is that they've continued to win at such an impressive clip, despite losing Bradley Beal to the NBA after just one season in Gainesville.

    The Washington Wizards rank right at the top among those who don't (and shouldn't) feel sorry for Billy Donovan's squad. Beal's burgeoning partnership with All-Star point guard John Wall has been the biggest catalyst behind the Wizards' impending return to the postseason for the first time since 2008.

    Beal's ace perimeter shooting has opened up driving lanes for the speedy Wall while giving him someone to whom he can kick the ball for a good look whenever he draws defensive attention in the lane.

    At the tender age of 20, Beal's already averaging a sturdy 17 points per game while shooting 41.6 percent from three. Those abilities would come in handy for Florida, the No. 1 seed in the South, though the Gators should have more than enough firepower to get to the Final Four anyway.

    Compare that to D.C., where Beal's contributions could propel the Wizards to their first playoff series victory in nearly a decade.

3. Andre Drummond

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    Drafted: First Round, Ninth Overall in 2012 by the Detroit Pistons

    What He Would Be Now: Junior at Connecticut

    Andre Drummond's freshman year at UConn was as nondescript as the season itself in Storrs. Jim Calhoun's last go-around saw the Huskies sneak into the NCAA tournament with a record of 18-12, only to get handled by Royce White's Iowa State squad in their opening game.

    Drummond didn't do much to boost the Huskies' hopes that year. For all of his obvious gifts—namely, his 6'10", 270-pound frame and the athleticism that came with it—the mild-mannered 18-year-old was still exceedingly raw, without a clue as to how best to put said gifts to use.

    He spent most of his short stint in college, hovering around the court, racking up 10 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game more as a matter of happenstance than as the result of focused effort.

    That apparent sloth was used as a knock against him on draft day, when he "slid" to the Pistons at No. 9. All Drummond's done since is become a double-double machine, a "Dwight Howard Lite"—even though he's bigger than Howard and converts his free throws at a far worse clip.

    If Drummond had stuck around to develop at UConn the way he has in Detroit, the Huskies would almost assuredly be stepping into this year's March Madness as something significantly more substantial than the No. 7 seed in the East Region.

2. Kyrie Irving

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    Drafted: First Round, First Overall in 2011 by the Cleveland Cavaliers

    What He Would Be Now: Senior at Duke

    Brittle as he may be and as infrequent as the wins have been for him in the NBA, Kyrie Irving remains one of the best young talents in basketball.

    So young, in fact, that he's yet to turn 22. 

    Irving's decision to turn pro after his freshman year at Duke caused a smidgen of confusion. After all, how could a kid who played in just 11 games in college due to a foot injury be ready to make the leap?

    Irving proved to be plenty ready, winning Rookie of the Year before cracking the All-Star Game in year two and taking home All-Star MVP honors the next year.

    Surely, though, the Cameron Crazies would've gladly welcomed Irving back to Durham, even more so if it meant avoiding the misery of Austin Rivers' uneven season for Krzyzewski in 2011-12. 

    Then again, it's not as though the oft-maligned Blue Devils need any help winning. They advanced to the Elite Eight last year and, as the No. 3 seed in the Midwest, should get at least that far this year with Jabari Parker in tow.

    Irving's Cleveland Cavaliers, meanwhile, can only hope to stay competitive during the two weeks spent waiting until Irving's strained tendon in his left biceps is re-evaluated by team doctors, per NBA.com's David Aldridge.

1. Anthony Davis

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    Drafted: First Round, First Overall in 2012 by the New Orleans Hornets

    What He Would Be Now: Junior at Kentucky

    Think Kentucky would be strapped in as the No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region, a year after getting knocked out of the first round of the NIT by Robert Morris (!), if Anthony Davis were still around?

    Davis led the Wildcats to an impressive 38-2 record and their first national championship since 1998 during his lone season in Lexington.

    Along the way, Davis picked up honors as the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, the SEC Player of the Year and the NABC Defensive Player of the Year, in addition to being chosen by consensus as a first-team All-American and National Player of the Year in college basketball.

    In other words, Davis scaled nearly every possible mountaintop at UK, all while averaging 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and a whopping 4.7 blocks per game.

    And to think, his game has grown by leaps and bounds since then. Simply put, Davis has been a force to be reckoned with of late. Over his last six games, he's averaged 32.3 points, 14.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and three blocks while shooting 57.9 percent from the field, including a career-best 40-point, 21-rebound performance against the Celtics in his last outing.

    Oh, and he just turned 21. 

    Davis' extraordinary efforts may be wasted on the injury-riddled New Orleans Pelicans, but you can bet John Calipari's club would be staring down its third straight national title if Davis still called Rupp Arena home.

     

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