The 2011 NBA Draft promises to be a unique one as it moves to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, but more importantly because a potential lockout looms over the ensuing 2011-12 NBA season.
Consequently, if little progress on a new collective bargaining agreement is made between the league owners and the players' association by draft time, then many of college basketball's best underclassmen, as well as some of the world's most promising young international players, may elect to refrain from entering their names into the draft.
And combining this possibility with the 2011's already-weak player projections, it seems as though the draft may end up being relatively insignificant.
Moreover, the draft may be further weakened by the fact that a number of the highly sought-after prospects have underperformed thus far, resulting in their draft stocks plummeting.
However, thus far in the 2010-11 NCAA basketball season, there have also been a handful of players whose performances have vastly exceeded their previous expectations.
So, as long as a lockout is avoided and talented players still decide to enter the draft, look for these rising NBA prospects to help lead the 2011 draft class in shattering their low expectations and making the draft relevant.
Jimmer Fredette has done more than pick up from where he left off last season as a standout scoring guard at Brigham Young University.
In fact, the 6'2", 198-pound senior has improved nearly across the board, leading his team to a 7-0 record, while averaging 23.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.0 turnovers, and 2.3 steals per game, all on 47.5-percent shooting from the field.
As an NBA Draft prospect, the most notable aspects of his season thus far have been his improved point-guard play, as he has shed nearly one turnover per game from his previous campaigns.
And his improved scoring total and efficiency certainly doesn't hurt either.
So as long as Fredette continues his strong play, he should find himself a spot in the end of the first round as a sharp-shooting NBA lead guard.
Heading into the 2010-11 NCAA basketball season, University of Georgia junior forward Trey Thompkins was expected to make short work of opposing collegiate big men.
However, after missing the first three games of the season due to an ankle injury (all wins), Thompkins returned for two consecutive losses, against Notre Dame and Temple.
Furthermore, he has seen his point (14.7) and rebound (7.3) averages significantly drop, his turnovers have spiked to 3.7 per game, and he only has put up a shooting percentage of 40.4, a three-point percentage of 16.7 and a free-throw percentage of 45.5.
So if the 6'10", 244-pound Thompkins doesn't begin to improve soon, he may even play his way out of the 2011 lottery—having to return to Georgia and reprove himself during the next college basketball season.
After putting in a solid freshman campaign in 2009-10, Derrick Williams has returned with no hint of a sophomore slump.
Rather, the 6'9", 221-pounder has added a three-point shot to his arsenal, while also improving his stats across the board, with per-game averages of 20.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks, and 0.9 assists, on only 1.4 turnovers and percentages of 67.1 (FG), 79.2 (FT), and 80 (three-point).
Furthermore, during his team's only loss, Williams put together an outstanding performance against Kansas, the No. 4 team in the country, with a line of 27 points (9-15 FG), eight rebounds, two steals, and a block.
So as of now, with Williams playing like one of the nation's elite, he can expect to find himself a place in the 2011 lottery.
North Carolina's Harrison Barnes entered the 2010-11 NCAA basketball season as a highly-touted freshman, considered by many to be the consensus No. 1 NBA draft prospect.
However, Barnes has underwhelmed coming out of the gate, averaging 11.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.7 turnovers, with a field-goal percentage of only 33.8.
Furthermore, his Tar Heels have compiled a measly 4-3 record, playing their way out of the national rankings.
And if the 6'8", 215-pound Barnes continues to struggle adjusting to the collegiate game, he too may play his way out of the spotlight, causing him to either slip down from the top few spots in the draft or return to UNC for a sophomore season.
After an under-the-radar freshman season, Jordan Hamilton of Texas has emerged as one of the nation's most prolific players.
In his short season, he has racked up an impressive stat line of 21.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists. 0.9 steals, 0.7 blocks, and 2.7 threes per game, all on shooting percentages of 47.2 from the field, 44.2 from three and 77.5 from the line.
Furthermore, the 6'7", 226-pound wing has performed at his best in the most important games, as evidenced by his 25-point, seven-rebound game in a win against then-No. 14 Illinois and his 28-point, eight-rebound outing at then-No. 5 Pittsburgh (his team's only loss).
So if his early season improvement is for real, then Hamilton can surely expect to hear his name called among the first 14.
Freshman Enes Kanter was supposed to come into Kentucky and help the Wildcats pick up the slack from all of the talent they lost to the 2010 NBA draft.
However, after being ruled permanently ineligible because of payments he received while playing in his native Turkey, Kanter has been left at a crossroads.
The 6'11", 261-pound forward-center has filed an appeal and went before an NCAA committee seeking reinstatement, but he currently finds himself in a state of basketball limbo.
Kanter's international performances have been impressive to this point, especially his breaking of Dirk Nowitzki's Nike Hoops Summit scoring record. But not playing competitively could seriously damage his draft stock.
Furthermore, due to his issues with the NCAA, some teams may wrongly tag him as an individual with character questions.
Nevertheless, the jury is still out on Kanter, as we still may see him suit up in 2010-11, thereby giving him the opportunity to play his draft stock back up.
Georgetown senior shooting-guard Austin Freeman has done everything necessary to cause him to be seriously considered as a late first-round shooting guard prospect.
By scoring in a number of ways, he has bumped up his average over five points to 21.7 per game, allowing Freeman to have his Hoya squad sitting pretty at 7-0, fresh off of a win over No. 9 Missouri.
Furthermore, in that game Freeman scored 31 points on 10-of-17 shooting, which actually lowered his season field-goal percentage to a blistering 59.6.
In addition to that, the 6'3", 227-pound guard has been outrageously efficient from three, shooting 56.8 percent, while he has also managed a solid 84 percent from the line.
And his shooting numbers are even more impressive considering he is missing the inside presence, Greg Monroe, who often set him up with open looks.
So although it's a long season, and Freeman's scoring efficiency will undoubtedly drop somewhat, he will still likely continue to score in bunches, racking up enough points to hear David Stern call his name in Newark.
Gonzaga's Elias Harris is currently feeling the full effects of a sophomore slump.
So far in 2010-11, Harris has witnessed his scoring average drop over five points per game and his shooting percentage drop nearly 12 percentage points, while also experiencing declines in rebounding, steals and blocks.
Furthermore, through the five games which he has played, the Bulldogs only managed to accumulate three wins.
And now, with the 6'8", 225-pound forward sitting out about a week with an achilles injury, things are looking even worse.
So basically, after last year's promising campaign, Harris's early struggles and subsequent injury may be too much to overcome, as he will face an uphill battle for the rest of the season as he tries to recover his lost draft stock.
Terrence Jones has come out firing in the 2010-11 NCAA basketball season, leading a new-look Kentucky squad to a 5-1 record and a No. 10 ranking.
Furthermore, he has put up ridiculous number so far, with averages of 20.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 threes, 1.5 steals, and 2.5 blocks, on 51.2-percent shooting from the field and 43.8 percent from three.
And these numbers are even more impressive when one considers that Jones in only a freshman.
So now it seems like Jones may have become the freshman of his class, outplaying others who have failed to perform at previously projected levels.
Therefore, as long as the 6'8", 244-pound forward continues to produce at even remotely near his current rate, he will certainly hear his name called within the first few spots of the the 2011 NBA draft.
Syracuse's Fab Melo is another freshman who had hefty expectations heading into 2010-11.
However, the 7'0", 265-pound center has had trouble finding his way off of the bench thus far, only logging averages of 2.3 points, 2.6 assists, and a block, in 13.4 minutes per game.
And considering Melo was considered a potential 2011 first-rounder before the season, his struggle for playing time has certainly been an unpleasant surprise.
But as NBADraft.net points out, this isn't unusual for big men, who usually take longer to develop.
So barring any unforeseen circumstances, expect Melo to remain with the Orange for the next few years as he seeks to develop into a solid NBA player.
University of Connecticut junior point guard Kemba Walker has been the biggest out-of-nowhere player so far in the 2010-11 NCAA basketball season.
After more than doubling his scoring average from last year, Walker now leads the nation in scoring at 30 points per game.
Additionally, the 6'1", 172-pounder is shooting 51.4 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from three, and 88.3 percent from the line, while also averaging 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.3 steals, and 2.5 threes per game.
What's more, Walker has led his Huskies to a 6-0 record, including wins over then-No. 2 Michigan State and then-No. 8 Kentucky
As a result, UConn, which was unranked to begin the season, is now the No. 7 team in the nation.
And by continuing to lead his team and score in bunches, Kemba Walker could certainly play his way into the 2011 NBA draft lottery.