The 2009 NBA draft pool may have been short on potential impact players, but at this early stage things are looking better for 2010. The combination of a stronger freshman class and some key players returning to school should give teams more interesting options, especially in the mid-to-late lottery.
These predictions are not written in stone by any stretch; things can change significantly. At this point last year BJ Mullens was considered a candidate for the number one pick and DeMar DeRozan was expected to go in the top five. This is merely a list of players to watch during the NCAA season next year based on early reports and the few times I have seen these guys.
John Wall, PG Kentucky- projected top five, current No. 1
John Calipari has another elite point guard to utilize in his dribble-drive-motion attack. Wall is already drawing comparisons to Derrick Rose because of his size, athleticism, and ability to drive. He doesn't appear to be as polished as Rose was when he declared and needs to improve his outside shot, but he has all of the tools to be an elite point guard in the NBA.
Ed Davis, PF UNC- projected top five
Despite limited opportunities playing for a loaded North Carolina team, Ed Davis may have been selected in the top 10 if he had declared for the draft this year. He certainly has more upside than virtually anyone in the 2009 class. His averages of 6.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks looks rather ordinary until you realize that he played less than 19 minutes per game. Davis will play considerably more now that Tyler Hansbrough has graduated.
Ed has great length and athleticism, and unlike many elite prospects plays hard with regularity. Beyond gaining experience, the main thing Davis needs to improve is his bulk and strength.
Derrick Favors, PF Georgia Tech- projected top five
Favors is another athletic power forward dripping with potential. He has explosive leaping ability and plays with aggression. He can finish well inside, rebound, and is a dangerous shot blocker.
Like most young big men he needs to add some polish to his offensive game down low. His frame is also a little less than ideal at about 6'9" and 215, though his freakish athleticism will quiet most of those concerns.
Greg Monroe, PF Georgetown- projected top five
Though Georgetown had a rough year, Monroe turned some heads and probably would have gone in the top five if he had declared for the draft this year. He's not the most athletic big man in this class, but he has an impressive skill set and isn't exactly a stiff. He can put the ball on the floor if he has a driving lane, has range on his jumper, is a good passer, and has some moves down low when he gets the chance to post up.
The biggest concern with Monroe is his strength and toughness. He doesn't rebound well, can be a liability on defense, and doesn't always fight to get position. However, the overall package is still pretty impressive and he has a chance to be a solid LaMarcus Aldridge or Chris Bosh style big man.
Donatas Motiejunas, PF Lithuania- projected top 10
I know a lot less about him than the rest of these guys. From all accounts he's a very skilled player that has the potential to be the next impact foreign prospect. He was also the star of the European squad in the Nike Hoop Summit.
He's a 7-footer that makes plays all over the court and draws comparisons to Toni Kukoc. By most reports he needs to bulk up a lot and he sounds like a bit of a tweener. I'm sure as the draft nears we'll hear a lot more about him.
John Henson, PF UNC- projected top 10
Are you noticing a trend here? This draft is loaded with intriguing big men, and UNC leads the way with another forward that has scouts drooling. He has amazing length and gets off the floor with ease. He is a better than average ball-handler for his size because he was a guard early in his career.
He will need to bulk up significantly though. Even in the McDonald's All-American game he struggled to get position inside against some of his peers. If he can work on his strength and develop a more physical style of play, he can be a star.
Al-Farouq Aminu, SF Wake Forest- projected top 10
Aminu probably would have been a lottery pick if he had entered the draft. He played a big role for the surprising Demon Deacons, but he was a major reason for their inconsistency. He doesn't really have a post game or outside shot at this point, so he can struggle to score at times.
That said, his length and athleticism allow him to make plays and give him an impressive upside. He filled up the stat sheet much like Earl Clark, but has yet to scratch the surface of his potential.
Willie Warren, PG Oklahoma- projected top 10
Oklahoma was more than a one-man show last season. Warren was arguably the best freshman in the country last year, giving the Sooners a major perimeter threat as well. Willie was effective on the drive as well as from outside and will get the chance to lead the team this season.
The main question with him is his position in the NBA: is he a scoring point guard or a true shooting guard? If it's the latter he's a little undersized for his position.
Cole Aldrich, PF/C Kansas- projected top 10
Cole was one of the most complete big men in the country last season. He was a go-to scorer inside for Kansas and made a major impact on the glass and defensively as well. So why is he still in college?
Most scouts believe that he has good but not great athleticism, limiting his upside. I personally would have gone pro if I were him since that's a hard impression to change by staying in school, but he has a chance to win a title at Kansas this year and still has a good chance of going in the top 10.
Xavier Henry, SG Kansas- projected late lottery pick
Kansas already had a deep and talented team, but adding Henry after he backed out of his commitment with Memphis made them the favorites. Xavier is a deadly shooter with great size that can finish inside. Right now scouts are concerned that he relies too much on his jumper and doesn't make enough plays off the dribble. That said, If he has a good season at Kansas, he could go even higher in the lottery.
Other potential lottery picks
Craig Brackins, PF Iowa State- Brackins has great size and can score inside and out, though he needs to work on his consistency.
Evan Turner, SF Ohio State- Turner carried the Buckeyes last year, showing a well-rounded skill set. If he can improve his range a bit and cut down on turnovers, teams will be fighting to draft him.
Devin Ebanks, SF West Virginia- Has good size and plays hard, but will have to develop his basketball skills and improve his consistency.
Solomon Alabi, C Florida State- He has excellent size and is a good athlete, but he will need to improve his production to crack the lottery.
Gani Lawal, PF Georgia Tech- Made great strides last year, but is still a bit rough around the edges. Improving his shooting ability would help a lot.
DeMarcus Cousins, PF Kentucky- Has a great frame and an impressive skill set, but his inconsistent effort has scouts worried.
Avery Bradley, PG/SG Texas- Great athlete that is lethal on the drive, but will need to improve his outside shot and/or prove he can play the point to crack the top 10.