With the 2008 NBA Draft a short six weeks away, let's take a look at some potential 2009 entrees and the impact they may have in the NBA.
1. Earl Clark, SF, Louisville
Clark really made a name for himself in the NCAA Tournament, particularly while in Charlotte outplaying other potential draftees from Tennessee and North Carolina. Clark wasn't even a starter, but he showed that potential that could make teams choose him in next year's lottery, based on raw potential and the buzzword: "upside."
Clark is an excellent driver, rebounder, and can shoot okay. His athleticism is off the charts and he made a very smart move by declaring, and then withdrawing. His name is not "out there," and with a solid season next year, he will have no problem being a lottery pick. If he can develop a solid jump shot, look for him to be a Rashard Lewis-type NBA player.
2. Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky
Patterson was UK's best player before his devastating injury, and barring complications from this injury, 2008-09 will be Patrick's last in Lexington. He can score and rebound with the best of the SEC, which equates to a lottery selection in the 2009 NBA Draft.
Patterson has also had a flair for the dramatic, holding off his college selection until the last possible moment, not to mention his famous (or infamous) high school teammate O.J. Mayo. Patterson should average 22 and 10 next season, and barring another injury, UK will have a successful season, and in the best case scenario he becomes an Elton Brand type NBA power forward, probably picked in the 6-10 range.
3. Tyler Smith, SF, Tennessee
Smith is an interesting case on several fronts. He was an outstanding freshman at Iowa, transferred to Tennessee and was granted immediate eligibility due to medical issues with his father. Tennessee was already pretty darn good, but Smith became a focal point in their offense, which to Tennessee fans was somewhat odd considering Chris Lofton was still around.
Now that we know Lofton was battling cancer and strength issues all season, the emergence of Smith as a go-to guy on offense makes sense. Smith made the biggest difference on the defensive end. He made key blocks every game, could rebound, and his toughness was unparalleled. He has the look of a guy you don't want to mess with, and his game should equate interestingly to a Joakim Noah-type player.
I don't think Smith will be a great NBA scorer, but I think he will go in the late lottery next season and become a solid NBA sixth man. For a more established comparison, I'm thinking in the mold of Quentin Richardson, minus the long-range distance. All three players are athletic and can rebound well. Richardson became a good shooter, something that will never happen for Smith, but Smith could become a hybrid of both players.
4. Darren Collison, PG, UCLA
Collison is a VERY interesting case. As of today, he is projected (I feel incorrectly) as a very early second-round pick for 2009. But let's consider this for a minute. He would have pushed Jordan Farmar for minutes had Farmar returned for another season, and until his last game this season, Collison was a game changer.
Yes, the Bruins had Love and Westbrook doing well, but Collison hit clutch shots all season, ran the point very well, and was an outstanding defender. UCLA is well-coached, and with their incoming recruiting class, I expect them to return to a fourth consecutive Final Four.
I think Collison will be the 2009 Pac-10 Player of the Year, and should be the first PG taken in next season's draft. There is obviously Brandon Jennings coming to Arizona, but Collison has the tools to become a solid NBA starter in the mold of Earl Boykins or Mike Bibby. Bibby can shoot a little better, but Collison has more athleticism and is a good floor general.
5. Wayne Ellington, SG, North Carolina
Ellington is coming back to UNC, you can be sure of that. I would be shocked if he doesn't. If he decides to stay in, all I can say is Joe Forte. Watching Ellington in person, he was very impressive. However, he could benefit from another year under Roy Williams. His shot and release are okay, but the aspects of his game that need work are defense, ball handling and penetration.
These three tools are what will separate him from a dominating SG like Joe Johnson, and a benchwarmer like JJ Redick. Ellington needs another season (or two) and he will become a player much like Johnson in Atlanta. He is athletic, very sleek in transition, but I can't say it enough: he needs another year in Chapel Hill. Follow the lead of your teammate and NCAA Player of the Year, Wayne!