New York Knicks rookie shooting guard Landry Fields, who has started nearly every game this season, was selected 39th in last year's NBA draft. He was considered the league's second-best rookie in the first half of the regular season.
Philadelphia 76ers swingman Evan Turner, who has started only 13 games this season, was selected second in last year's NBA draft after being named the Naismith Player of the Year. He currently plays behind Jodie Meeks, selected 41st in the 2009 NBA draft.
NBA teams never know where they will find eventual starters coming out of college. They can be had in the high-quality first round or the crapshoot that is the second round. Players like Donatas Motiejunas may be selected in the lottery but will be stashed on the bench as their bodies and skill sets develop. Meanwhile, upperclassmen coming out of college whose ceilings are a little lower might sneak onto a starting lineup.
Here are 10 players, a mix of elite and slightly under-the-radar prospects, who will crack the starting lineup at some point next season should they all declare for the draft. They are ranked from the least likely to start right away to the most likely to start right away.
1. A completely shameless plug, but check out my top-50 NBA draft Big Board article if you want to learn even more about some of these players.
2. Marty Tirrell, an ESPN Radio host from Iowa, broke via Twitter that Harrison Barnes is coming back to school. If this is the case, I would like to know how he managed to break the news before anyone east of the Mississippi River did.
For now, though, I'm keeping Barnes off draft boards and lists until he says otherwise. He has not officially made a statement yet, but told the Daily Tar Heel that a decision is coming by mid-April.
Jan Vesely is not called the "Dunking Ninja" for nothing.
Unanimously chosen to be an NBA lottery pick this year, Vesely will start out on a team's bench next season, but he can enter a starting lineup later in the season with some polish and a better outside shot. You can't teach a player to turn on an Energizer Bunny motor on command, and Vesely does so every minute on the court. Look at the video. Every player looked like he is waddling in quicksand.
Vesely could eventually start for Sacramento, one of the fastest-paced teams in the league, by the end of next season. He may also crack the starting lineup in Golden State if Dorell Wright needed some time off for injury, or if Keith Smart wants to throw out an unorthodox lineup and put Vesely at power forward and David Lee at center. On second thought, that lineup may give up 150 points.
Kawhi Leonard led a basketball rejuvenation at San Diego State last season, leading the Aztecs to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and a Mountain West Conference title. He averaged 15.5 points and 10.6 rebounds and could ride that momentum to an NBA lottery selection.
I could see Leonard starting on the Charlotte Bobcats. Both Charlotte and San Diego State run slow-paced offenses, and Leonard could be the Bobcats' primary wing backup, eventually taking over a starter's role if the team continues to struggle next season. He could form a decent partnership with Stephen Jackson in the starting lineup.
Chris Singleton can come into the NBA right now and be a shutdown defender every night, though his offensive game still needs some work. Still, if an NBA team needs some defense from a guy who can defend nearly every position, it should look no further than Singleton.
The 6'9", 225-pounder would be a great fit on Golden State (although Dorell Wright and David Lee are clogging his positions), but he can go to Houston and be a starter there at small forward. The Knicks could find a spot for him too.
Hard to see Brandon Knight slipping out the lottery if he declares, but where could he start next season? Cleveland? Don't think he can bring more to the table than Baron Davis and Ramon Sessions right away. Minnesota? The T-Wolves are almost guaranteed to be picking in the top three, and taking Knight would be poor value. Knight would be a poor fit/value for Sacramento, and he won't start over Devin Harris in Utah.
Knight can be a starter for Toronto or Detroit, though. He has more skill and scoring ability than Jose Calderon and Will Bynum but looks to shoot too much from the point guard position. Still, for two teams in desperate need of leadership, Knight can be their guy.
I watched most of the Knicks' 133-118 win over Toronto last night. I say most because I switched to the Yankee game after the Knicks went up by 29...in the second quarter. The Raptors have some individual talent marred by apathy and zero effort on defense.
The Raptors also don't have a leader. Kemba Walker can be that leader. He can start for Toronto right away, and if he sneaks down to Detroit or Cleveland's second pick, he could even nudge their point guards out of the starting lineup.
Walker probably won't be ranked high enough on most NBA draft boards to be taken by the T-Wolves, who are harder to read than Sanskrit.
Perry Jones has less polish than most of the other lottery picks, but with the lack of star talent at the small forward position on most lottery teams, this world-class athlete can find a starting position...eventually.
I can see Jones steadily improving throughout the season via NBA tutelage and eventually taking over for a struggling, less athletic small forward later in the season. Seeing Jones start at the beginning of the season is a stretch, unless he is picked by Toronto or Sacramento.
We are in the golden age of NBA point guards, so Irving may actually start on the bench to begin the season if he officially declares.
Of the 13 current lottery teams (Cleveland has two picks), I see Irving starting immediately for only a minority. It's safe to say that Irving will be picked among the top three, and of the teams that have the best chance of making it there, many of them have a gluttony of people who can run the point.
Cleveland has Ramon Sessions and Baron Davis, Minnesota has Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio (maybe?), Washington has John Wall, etc. Toronto and Sacramento (Anaheim?) would immediately start Irving, and I could see Utah moving Devin Harris to shooting guard in favor of Irving. Regardless, Irving has many potential road blocks before starting for an NBA team.
Kind of a wild card here, but versatility plus polish plus size equals an NBA starting job for Marcus Morris.
Lost in the midst of VCU's shocking upset over Kansas in the Elite Eight was the fact that Marcus Morris had 20 points and 16 rebounds. He can be a very good power forward for a team that likes to stretch the floor, as he can do a little bit of everything.
This Knicks fan would love to see Morris in blue and orange next year if he somehow falls to the middle of the first round. He'd be a good fit in the D'Antoni system alongside Amar'e Stoudemire and would fill a huge gap left by Wilson Chandler after the Carmelo Anthony trade.
Morris could also start next season in Philadelphia (if Elton Brand is moved or gets hurt next year) or Milwaukee (Morris has more talent than Larry Sanders and Luc Richard Mbah Moute).
Hop aboard the Enes Kanter train now, or you're going to get left behind in the dust. He can be inserted into the starting lineup in Cleveland alongside Anderson Varejao, Minnesota alongside Kevin Love, Washington alongside JaVale McGee, Toronto alongside Andrea Bargnani, etc.
He is probably suited best at power forward in the NBA but could play center. In a league where quality size down low is scarce, Kanter brings great value.
Some see Derrick Williams' tweener nature as a curse. I see it as a blessing. He's going to be very difficult to handle in the NBA, and he can start for any NBA lottery team right now at either small forward or power forward...except Minnesota. How funny.
With Michael Beasley, Kevin Love and Darko Milicic in the frontcourt, Williams would have a hard time cracking that starting lineup unless Love moves to center, while Williams slots into power forward. I don't see that combination meshing very well though, as the T-Wolves would have an undersized center, two very similar players at small and power forward and the center of the future coming off the bench.