2011 NBA Draft: The Top College Prospects Who Shouldn't Go Pro
Let's be honest: After what happened this weekend, 99.9 percent of all brackets have been ripped up and thrown in the garbage. The vast majority of people have no teams in the Final Four and virtually no one has VCU or Butler in the championship game.
So, it's time to move on to the next big event in college basketball: figuring out who is leaving early to enter the NBA draft and who is staying.
This year, however, there's the uncertainty about whether there will even be an NBA season in 2011-12. Because of this, many players who would normally declare may elect to stay to improve their draft stock and ensure that they won't be sitting at home watching their college teammates do something they're not: playing.
Some top players, like Jared Sullinger and Tristan Thompson, have already made the promise they'll return to school.
With this uncertainty, I think players who are either automatic top-five players (such as Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams and Harrison Barnes) or players whose stock can't benefit much from staying another year (Kemba Walker) should declare, whereas everyone else has a legitimate argument to return to school for another season.
This list encompasses top prospects who are viewed as first-round picks, so they do have some incentive to come out early, but also some reasons to stay and improve their games. The numbers next to the players are the ranking given out by ESPN.
Patric Young, Florida (26)
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Freshman, 6'9", 245 pounds, 3.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 56% FG, 70% FT
At first glance, this kid is built like an NFL defensive end. He's one of the few players in the country who is physically ready to bang with the bigs in the NBA. Young has also shown flashes of the crazy athleticism scouts always love.
But that's the thing, they've only been flashes.
Coming off the bench for a veteran squad this season has prevented Young from really standing out. By staying another year, he would be the first option down low with the graduations of starters Alex Tyus, Vernon Macklin and Chandler Parsons. This would allow for his offense to improve (one of the things he needs to work on) and for his defensive prowess to be put on showcase.
Also, it's not like the team would be much worse next season, as the Gators will return starters Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton (both more than capable of delivering Young the ball) along with a top recruit in guard Bradley Beal.
Reggie Jackson, Boston College (25)
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Junior, 6'3", 210 pounds, 18.2 PPG, 4.5 APG, 4.3 RPG, 50% FG, 80% FT, 42% 3PT
Jackson has exploded onto the NBA draft scene this year, going from relatively unknown to a projected lottery pick. The numbers he put up for Boston College this season certainly indicate he's one of the better players in the ACC.
He's become a solid shooter and does more than just score, being the third-best rebounder and top assist man for the Eagles this season.
Jackson's benefit from returning for his final collegiate season would be to prove that he can play the point, as there are some skeptics. Also, I'm a believer in team success, and while BC had a good season, an appearance in the NCAA tournament would help Jackson's case as a floor leader.
If he's able to play the point, his size would be a big advantage at the next level.
Considering the kind of leap he made from his sophomore to junior season, half of that leap would put him in the top 10 next year.
Mason Plumlee, Duke (21)
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Sophomore, 6'10", 230 pounds, 7.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 59% FG, 44% FT
Plumlee greatly benefited from a healthy sophomore campaign, leading the Dukies in rebounding, blocks and field-goal percentage. He started most of the games and recorded six double-doubles on the year. Defensively, he's probably ready to play at the next level because of his instincts and solid athleticism.
The key word there was "probably."
Because of that word, Plumlee is not a top-10 pick, let alone top-five. Like Young, Mason showed flashes of being a dominant player, but there were also times when he disappeared on the court—like against Michigan in the NCAA tournament.
Duke will lose two, and most likely three of their top scorers, which would thrust Plumlee into more of a scoring role than he had this season. He could also use another year in the weight room because, while he has the athleticism to go up against the bigs in the NBA, his body wouldn't allow him to keep position on the block.
If Mason's able to average a double-double next season and be more consistent, he'll be a guaranteed lottery pick and a possible top-seven guy.
Also, it would be fun to see the three Plumlees (Miles, Mason and Marshall, who will be a freshman next year) on the floor at the same time.
Thomas Robinson, Kansas (20)
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Sophomore, 6'9", 237 pounds, 7.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 60% FG, 52% FT
We all know about the Morris twins at Kansas, but not everyone knows about their backup, Mr. Robinson.
They should, because he was the best pro prospect on the Jayhawks roster.
Robinson's numbers are pretty solid for a bench player, but when you throw in that he only played 15 minutes per game, it's incredible. Double those minutes and he's averaging 15 points and 13 rebounds per contest.
He already has the body for the NBA, along with the athleticism and defensive presence. Much like the previous two prospects, Robinson would probably be fine defensively in the NBA, but it would take him a while to crack the rotation.
Which is exactly why he, probably above everyone else on the list, needs to return to school.
The Morris twins, or at least one, will probably declare for the draft, putting Robinson into a starting role, which would allow him to gain more experience and more opportunities to put up big numbers. The kid has the talent to dominate the Big 12, and staying another year would allow him to do just that.
Alec Burks, Colorado (16)
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Sophomore, 6'6", 195 pounds, 20.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.9 APG, 47% FG, 82% FT
The fact that this kid and the Buffaloes weren't in the NCAA tournament will boggle my mind for a while (though I wouldn't take out VCU). Burks put up some of the best numbers for a guy few people are familiar with on the East Coast.
Currently, he's viewed as the top shooting guard prospect in the country. He has the size and is a flat-out scorer inside the three-point line. He can get to the lane better than most and is athletic enough to get above the rim and finish.
Now, I fully expect Burks to go pro. With him being the top prospect at his position and the fact that Colorado will be losing three starters (the second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers) to graduation makes the possibility for a better season unlikely.
However, if Burks is able to bring the team to the NCAA tournament next year, it would be one of the more impressive accomplishments of any player in the country.
He could also use another year to put on some weight and improve his long-range shooting (he shot 30 percent from three). Shooting guards that are no threat to make three-point shots are few in the NBA.
John Henson, North Carolina (14)
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Sophomore, 6'10", 210 pounds, 11.9 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.3 BPG, 50% FG, 48% FT
We enter into projected lottery picks with John Henson, a guy who tapped into some of his potential this season to become one of the best defensive big men in the ACC, and arguably the country.
Henson put on 20-30 pounds during last offseason, and it paid off, as he was able to maintain position in the paint and take advantage of his elite athleticism to alter enough shots to put him in the top 10 in the country.
Despite adding on the extra weight and strength, Henson is still way too weak to play right away at the next level. He needs another offseason to put on another 20-30 pounds if he expects to make an NBA rotation.
By staying another year, Henson could do just that, and would put up even better offensive numbers, considering UNC's top two scorers, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes, will probably declare for the draft.
Should Henson stay and unearth more of that potential, he's a top-five pick next season.
Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State (13)
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Sophomore, 6'7", 225 pounds, 15.5 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 2.5 APG, 44% FG, 76% FT
With San Diego State's incredible success this season, Leonard went from an unknown star mid-major player to a national stud. He was the best player on a team that lost a total of three games this season.
Athletically, Leonard has plenty to compete at the next level. He's one of the better defenders and is probably the best rebounder for his size in the country. He's projected to be a small forward, but there are questions.
The principal reason Leonard needs to return is exposure. Yes, he got some this season, but it wasn't until their first game against BYU and Jimmer Fredette that the Aztecs really got noticed. If Leonard stays, he'll be covered nationally from Day 1, much like Jimmer was this season.
Leonard would also have to dominate offensively with the Aztecs losing three starters. He needs work on his perimeter game, anyways, so getting the ball more would only help that, especially if it results in an improved outside shot.
I could definitely see Leonard leaving for the NBA, and he'd probably make a rotation as a defensive stopper/rebounder on the second unit, but it would make sense for him to go back, get the national exposure and improve his offensive game so that instead of sitting the bench, he would start or be the sixth man right away.
Terrence Jones, Kentucky (11)
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Freshman, 6'8", 244 pounds, 15.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 44% FG, 67% FT
First off, this picture is awesome. It looks like he's showing off his guns in front of Ashley Judd.
Anyways, Jones had probably the best start of any freshman in the country this season (yes, including Kyrie Irving). He notched double-figures in 18 of his first 19 games. He tapered off a bit in the second half of the year, but Jones is still a projected lottery pick.
In terms of measures, he reminds me of a poor man's LeBron James. He can play multiple positions (projected as a small forward), is a scorer, has a similar build, is crazy athletic and is a much better ball-handler than people think.
He also has LeBron's primary weakness when he declared in that his jumper isn't the greatest and could use some work. His consistency is also a question mark, particularly on the defensive end.
By staying another season, Jones would be able to work on both aspects while playing with quite possibly the most talented team in the country, assuming Doron Lamb and the next guy on this list return as well.
The Wildcats have the top class in the country coming in, but Jones would still be the top option in the frontcourt, meaning his numbers could improve.
While I don't see him returning, it would be incredible to watch Kentucky next season with him back, considering they've made it to the Final Four.
Brandon Knight, Kentucky (10)
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Freshman, 6'3", 185 pounds, 17.2 PPG, 4.2 APG, 3.8 RPG, 43% FG, 80% FT, 38% 3PT
Nobody in the NCAA tournament has helped themselves more than Brandon Knight has. His clutch shooting has been incredible and it's probably guaranteed him a top-10 slot in the NBA draft if he declares.
Knight came in with massive expectations, and he's lived up to them, leading the Wildcats to the Final Four. He's one of the best pure scorers not named Walker or Fredette in the country, and can put the ball in the hoop by any method (except maybe blindfolded, but I wouldn't put it past him).
His will to win and competitiveness have been put on display in the tournament, something that scouts always look for.
Knight's biggest reason for coming back is similar to why Stephen Curry came back for his junior season: Scouts wonder if he's really a point guard.
At 6'3", Knight would be a seriously undersized shooting guard in the mold of a Ben Gordon. If Knight's able to prove doubters that he can run the point effectively with fewer mistakes (averages over three turnovers per game this season) as a sophomore, he would be the top point guard in the 2012 draft.
I'll admit that Knight, out of anyone on this list, has the least amount of reasons to return to school, and I'd expect him to declare after such a great tournament performance, but like with Terrence Jones, it would be incredible to watch the Wildcats next season should he return.
Perry Jones, Baylor (5)
Freshman, 6'11" 235 pounds, 13.9 PG, 7.2 RPG, 55% FG, 66% FT
Talent-wise, Jones has more than any player in the country. His ceiling is higher than anyone else's.
At Baylor, Jones suffered from a lack of a good point guard, which make his numbers a bad indicator of the amount of talent this kid possesses.
Jones is also one of the most versatile players in the country. There were arguments that Baylor should have let Jones run the point, as he was their best ball-handler. He's drawn comparisons to a taller version of Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett or Rashard Lewis.
Because the NBA drafts more on potential than actual numbers, Jones could be a top-five selection simply because if he ever lives up to his talent, he'd be an MVP candidate.
Can anyone guess the keyword in that last sentence? That "if" is a big one.
Jones is less likely to stay out of anyone on this list (he'll probably declare before this article is published), but he could certainly use it.
By returning, Jones would get yet another year to work on his skills and figure out how to best use them. The Baylor point guards, specifically A.J. Walton, would also have another year to get better and give Jones more opportunities to dominate.
There's also the fact that Baylor has a pair of highly touted recruits coming in (PF Quincy Miller and SG Deuce Bello), which would take pressure off Jones from being double-teamed and allow him more freedom with defenses not completely focusing him.