As the 2011 NCAA Tournament wanes, excitement builds for the next component of the college basketball calendar, the NBA Draft. One of the big questions surrounding this year's draft will be which of the Kentucky Wildcat star freshmen, PG Brandon Knight and PF Terrence Jones, will be drafted higher.
John Calipari's Wildcats just bowed out to the Connecticut Huskies after an inspired run through the Big Dance. His freshmen phenoms proved themselves by displaying elite talent and the leadership ability to match it.
Knight and Jones are almost certain to declare for the draft now that their season at Kentucky is finished, in which they both were exceptional. Both players have moved since my initial mock draft a few weeks ago. One is rising and the other falling, but which is which?
Which player are NBA scouts highest on right now? Find out in the latest NBA mock draft.
NBA teams are always on the lookout for mature and polished big men in the draft. Many times, the best big men, not long for the college ranks, come out before they are ready and get roughed up by NBA centers, sometimes for a few years.
What results is stunted player development for these young players, something that could have been avoided by staying another year or two in college.
Thompkins, a 6'10", 245-pound junior, is big and experienced. His stats were noticeably lower this season, which seems like a red flag. However, he used his extra year in school to improve his shot blocking and outside shooting, even though they were a drag on his numbers.
These improvements will shine through in the NBA for this potential late first-rounder.
The lithe 6'8" small forward is an NBA athlete. He isn't a complete player yet, but possesses the upside that makes NBA personnel types drool.
Ben Howland relied on Honeycutt for more offense this season, and it took a toll on his shooting percentage. Honeycutt shot nearly 10 percent worse from the field this season, which is a disturbing decline. To balance that, his three-point and free throw shooting both improved markedly over his freshman year.
Honeycutt, as stated before, is not a finished product, lacking the polish that separates NBA subs from All-Stars. He will need to work on his shooting, but his size, freakish athletic ability and versatility on the wing will be enough for scouts to look past and snatch in the first round as a project.
The beloved Duke Blue Devil senior saw his career end on an extremely sour note in a Sweet 16 meltdown against Arizona. In that game, Smith, who had been so strong all year, essentially disappeared when his team needed him most.
That is not how the story ends for the 6'2", 185-pounder, though. Smith's continual improvement in four years with Coach K was obvious. From gaining the quick first step into the lane, to shoring up his outside shot, to becoming one of the best finishers at the rim in college, to becoming a lockdown defender, Smith displayed the work ethic and skill level to succeed in the league.
With his experience and polish, I see no way that he falls out of the first round, and couple potentially be a steal this late. He doesn't have the potential that a lot of the younger guys who will go ahead of him do, but he more than makes up for it with other strengths.
There are a lot of exciting things about this 6'7", 248-pound forward from Congo. There are also some question marks.
All accounts of the 18 year-old tell of an explosive athlete who can guard multiple positions and defend the rim capably with shot-blocking prowess beyond his years. The video above also shows a potentially dominant rebounder who frequently changes shots in the paint. Tall players who can cover ground are at a premium in the NBA, and Biyombo embodies that in the Tayshaun Prince mold.
Just like Prince, his offense is a little ragged and strength is a weakness. These are certainly things that he will improve in once he gets to the league, and a patient team will be rewarded for spending a late first-rounder on him.
The 18 year-old Brazilian center will not be drafted for his immediate contributions to a team, but for what he can potentially do down the road.
His size at 7', shot blocking and rebounding intensity are NBA-caliber, though his offensive sophistication and physicality lag behind. These things could be expected from a skinny teenager still growing into his body and adjusting to a pro game.
He has already shown flashes of his potential by owning the FIBA U18 World Championships, where we tallied 27 blocks in just five games. His size and athleticism remind of Dikembe Mutombo, but with very little fanfare or attention.
Look for Nogueira to fall past most teams who haven't done their homework and land with one team that recognizes his rare assets.
The Florida freshman could probably be a lottery pick within the next two years, but he has chosen to prematurely enter the draft at 19 years of age.
The undersized 6'9" center has an NBA body and presence, but will be a complete liability on the offensive end. There is a lot of effort in his game on the glass and in defending the basket, but undersized centers who cannot score can only go so far in the NBA.
He will have to make an identity for himself as a Reggie Evans kind of rebounder while he rounds off the edges of his offensive game.
The juxtaposition of experienced players like Taylor, a 6'7" junior, and the one-and-dones is startling late in the 2011 draft. He may not be the most talented or promising prospect in the pool, but Taylor has been through a lot that younger players haven't.
The frustration of not noticeably improving each year is a maturing experience that younger guys haven't gone through before. Pushing through rough patches and failures is an invaluable advantage for veterans, because they have the opportunity to learn resilience. When young players, who've never had to face adversity or difficulty in their games, finally hit a rough patch, they might not be equipped to react having never been there before.
Taylor's stats are unimpressive in three years at Vandy, but his athletic potential and ability to reach the rim are what make him worthy of the first round. Most of his shortcomings are on offense, which is a component that every player undergoes transition in anyway.
As he transitions into the league and new system, he'll learn his team's style as well as the basic offensive skills that remain undeveloped.
Another member of the Needs To Stay In School Club, the 6'10" sophomore has a lot going for him, but nothing that could not greatly improve with another college season.
His defensive stats are impressive for his thin body type, and he's shown a willingness to be physical on defense, though not consistently.
His offensive game is expanding and progressing, but will not suffice as is in the NBA. He needs one more year to become the focal point in Duke's offense and be groomed by the pros for Coach K.
Still, this won't stop a team thirsting for size from taking a skilled big in the late first round.
The bigger of the Morris twins, Markieff is regarded the less talented.
The 6'10" forward has great size and rebounding ability, though he is still emerging on offense. His 59 percent from the field is largely a product of playing on a strong team with better scoring options.
His rebounding took a big leap this year as Morris showed the capability to be a solid low-post contributor in the NBA.
He could make a living on put-backs and mismatches in the league as a secondary scorer and hustle player. Whether that is his ceiling or not will be determined by how his offense develops as he transitions into the NBA.
The 6'9" Jayhawks sophomore needs another year to develop before joining the NBA. Whether he takes that extra year or not is yet to be determined.
I'm sure that NBA people would love to see Robinson play for Kansas in a primary role after Tyshawn Taylor and the Morris twins have gone. It would be much easier to get a read on a high-potential player if able to get a read on a player in an important role on his team.
The body of work for Robinson is impressive, but incomplete. How will pro scouts evaluate a strong and athletic player with an NBA-ready physique who hasn't had enough minutes to really show his true colors?
You wouldn't believe how hard it was to find a picture of the 6'9", 235-pound forward without his twin brother in it.
The junior falls ahead of his brother because he is farther ahead on offense. His repertoire is regarded as special because of his equal ability to score with his back to the basket and from the perimeter.
His size is a problem for a lot of scouts who think he isn't big enough to play the NBA power forward and not quick enough to play the small forward. He doesn't have the standout athleticism to make up for a shortcoming at either spot, so the worry is legitimate.
He would be higher than 20 for all his polished strengths, but the lack of a position will hurt him in the draft a little bit, causing him to slide down.
The 20 year-old 7' has a grown up skillset, but might be lacking the maturity to couple with it.
The Lithuanian big is extremely skilled offensively and has an aggressive mindset that accentuates the skills. He has good touch at the basket, can score with either hand at the rim and can extend out to shoot mid range. He is a cerebral player, which suggests that he will learn quickly once in the NBA and can get creative with his adjustments to tough defense.
His size mandates that he'll play in the post, or at least have to guard centers or forwards. This is where his 222-pound frame and lack of strength could show up in being overpowered by bulky forwards. At this point, he seems like a less experienced Andrea Bargnani, which would be very useful as a baseline in a first-round pick.
Being one of the few international players in this draft, Montiejunas could be drafted and then stashed in Europe for a year or two while his body develops and strength arrives.
We've reached a prime draft sleeper. The 6'3", 208-pound junior has experience, size and a lot of functional skills spearheading his rise up draft boards.
He busted out this season as a result of hard work and overpowering physical gifts. His freakish seven-foot wingspan, length and explosiveness with the first step helped him jump from 12.9 to 18.2 points between the last two seasons while showing drastic improvement from the field.
He rebounds well and has excellent court vision as distributors should. He reached an impressive 42 percent from three-point land and notched a 1.88 assist to turnover ratio. Scouts love the talent this prospect oozes and his size. What they would like to see him work on is his shot selection and understanding of game situations.
What scouts know is that those things come naturally as a player matures and that gifted players like Jackson are unique.
Some are talking Jackson up as rising all the way into the lottery, while he is still relatively unknown to others. My guess is that ends up right between the lottery and the end of the first round.
The 20 year-old currently plays for Real Madrid in the Spanish ACB, where he averages 8.2 points and 7.6 rebounds.
The 6'11" small forward is the prototypical European big man: long, skilled on the perimeter, averse to going inside, high basketball IQ and finesse in style.
Mirotic's main strengths are his outside shooting, size and ability to guard multiple positions, either down low or on the perimeter.
In size and style, he reminds of Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari.
Mirotic is relatively unknown as an international prospect and his contract with Real Madrid could keep him from moving over to the NBA. For these reasons, he could slide past teams that don't want to deal with the headache of getting their draft pick into the league.
We all saw Jimmer take college basketball by storm over the last two seasons with a scoring touch unparalleled by any player in college basketball. Player who shoot the ball a lot tend to score more points, but Jimmer's accurate volume shooting suggests that he really is that good of a shooter.
Of course, he did little else besides hold BYU on his shoulders by scoring. In the Mountain West, the 6'2", 195-pounder usually went unimpeded to around 30 per game, but turned the ball over almost three times per game and did not rebound or set teammates up especially well.
His scoring knack also managed to delude us all from the realization that he does not defend anyone, which is one of the reasons why the Cougars ranked 172nd in the country in scoring defense.
Jimmer's one strength is transcendent; his scoring variety and versatility can keep him afloat as a reliable bench scorer in the NBA, akin to Ben Gordon or Jamal Crawford.
However, he'll have to start playing defense at the next level (not an easy thing to start doing) to garner extended minutes. The Glens Falls, NY, native will need big minutes for his scoring to have an impact, so whoever drafts him will have to emphasize strong individual defense to a player who is certainly capable of improving.
The 6'6", 195-pound sophomore is a creative scorer, as evidenced by his 20.5 points per game. He is explosive in finishing at the rim and extremely athletic and long for a shooting guard.
The glaring problem with his game on the wing is the inability to shoot the three. Burks hit just 29 percent from beyond the arc last season, while shooting a respectable 47 percent overall from the field.
He will need to improve on that long-range jumper to have any prayer of staying afloat in the NBA. Thin two-guards who can't shoot threes have no place on NBA rosters, which have players who are bigger and stronger than he to do the slashing and penetrating to the rim.
Still, his scoring ability means that he will be a late lottery or mid-first round pick.
Scouts are saying that this year's class has a dearth in size, which means that Zeller, a 7', 250-pound junior, will be highly sought if he enters the draft.
He showed a very effective post game for the Heels this season, pouring in 15.2 points per game on 55 percent shooting. Scoring out to about 18 feet is counted among his strengths, as are his mobility and rebounding. He didn't grab a truckload of rebounds with John Henson around, but capably kept other teams off the glass with his size and soft hands.
Zeller could stand to add a little muscle to his 250-pound frame to prepare for the physicality of the NBA paint. Other than that, he's developing nicely, while having shown scouts enough to warrant a lottery pick.
The big question is whether he'll stay in school to make a run at the 2012 National Championship or jump to the league this year.
The knocks on the hyper-athletic 6'7" sophomore are that he can't shoot (only 44 percent), that he lacks lateral quickness for someone so athletic and that he fits somewhere between shooting guard and small forward.
Having played two years in the Mountain West, Leonard flashed plenty of potential, but is still incredibly raw by NBA standards. For a perimeter player who has made points by jumping over people or going around them to the rim, the physicality and strength of the NBA's perimeter are going to be a rude awakening. He is not ready to play in the NBA.
Leonard isn't without impressive positives. He has really long arms, which teams always love in a perimeter defender, he's a terrific rebounder (10.6 per game) from the perimeter and is tireless. His biggest weakness, offense, is also a developing strength, so a complete game might not be too far off for this lottery lock.
The 6'8", 225-pound senior has done all he can to accentuate his draft stock leading up to late June.
He collected 14.5 rebounds per game this year and finished one double-double behind Tim Duncan for first in career double-doubles. He is widely regarded as the best rebounder in the country, let alone the 2011 draft class.
His lure is not an advanced offensive game, though he can score. He will be drafted for his strong defense and rebounding. Tab Faried as a more athletic Ronny Turiaf.
What might hurt him is his asthma. He is a high-energy player, so an inability to breathe deeply during games puts him at a major disadvantage.
Otherwise, he is a strong lottery candidate and will bolster some team's front line immediately.
What makes the 6'10", 210-pound sophomore stand out is how long his arms are. I mean, look at that picture and think, "Yeah, I'm not surprised that he blocks over three shots a game."
Henson is super-athletic and long, which are ingredients for very probable NBA success around the rim. Even if he doesn't develop into a viable post scorer, he will be highly valuable to his team on the defensive end.
What he does need to do is fill out that his shocking 210-pound frame. He is currently rail thin after growing six inches in his senior year of high school two years ago. Because of that, he is still making the transition from guard to forward, and will need time to feel comfortable in his body and add 20-30 pounds.
Even without that necessary 20-30 pounds of muscle, Henson is a sure thing in the lottery for his promising abilities.
The 6'8', 245-pound freshman has plenty going for him: versatility to play three or four positions, left-handed, enormous wingspan and great guard skills.
Jones got off to a scorching start this season and looked like a top five pick during the Maui Invitational. He inevitably cooled down and struggled in the middle of the year, hoping to emerge and really separate himself during March.
That did not happen in the tournament, though making a few upsets to the Final Four kept him at the forefront of scouts' minds. Nevertheless, there is a ton to like about Jones as a face-up penetrator in the post, or shooter on the perimeter, or passer on the kick out. There are a ton of things he can do because of his athleticism and length that other players are unable to.
Jones is likely to jump to the lottery even though he could greatly benefit from another year with Coach Cal. His maturity level, which manifests itself in shot selection, inconsistency and bad body language, is lacking. This is a caution flag for NBA scouts who have the utmost concern for chemistry and cohesion in the locker room.
Jones is a top 10 pick now, but could be top five next year if he would stay at Kentucky and take over the role as top dog in the absence of Brandon Knight.
Scouts mostly agree that the 6'11", 240-pounder from Czech Republic could use more time playing for Partizan before entering the draft, but those same scouts also wouldn't pass on him in the lottery, either.
The soon-to-be 21 year-old displays an athletic, high-flying game that looks more familiar to the American basketball fan than it would to the European counterpart. He certainly does possess the traits of a prototypical Euro big man with his long-range jumper, good ball-handling and finesse, but he also has a little Vince Carter/Russell Westbrook/Blake Griffin in him with the way he attacks the rim.
He needs to get stronger to play in the NBA post, which is where he will likely end up. To go with that, he'll need to develop a traditional back-to-the-basket game, which he lacks now.
Overall, Vesely is a promising athlete who could help out a lottery team in a variety of ways.
The 18 year-old is extremely smooth and agile for someone who stands at 6'11".
Though he lacks strength at just 230 pounds, he possesses a motor that negates the advantage that most bulky bigs will have on him in the league. His expansive wingspan means that he is able block or alter a lot of shots, even if he's out of position.
That same wingspan allows him to use a low-post game developed beyond his years. He could use some improvement on the perimeter, but has a solid foundation for an effective NBA game already.
Jones has the most upside of any player in the draft this season. At 6'11", the freshman possesses rare ball-handling, shooting, and quickness that sometimes make you think he's a point guard.
He also does big man things well, though his block and rebound averages don't suggest it. He has elite leaping ability, which, at 6'11", means that getting a clean look at the basket against him is highly unlikely.
This is lower than a lot of scouts have him, but the play of Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight have moved the two guards ahead of Jones in my mind. Once Jones gets some polish on his game at both ends of the court, he will be every bit as valuable as Walker and Knight.
He has a ton of potential to live up to, and he did not dominate the way his talent demanded that he should, but what he has today is enough to put him this high, or even higher.
Of all the highlight videos you can find for players in this draft, the 6'10", 255-pound Kanter's might be the most impressive.
His awareness and control in the paint are equaled by his deft touch and scoring ability. He is a heady player and knows how to use his body to his advantage in the paint. That is something many NBA players do not figure out how to do until the middle of their careers, while Kanter has it down at 18.
One major drawback is that no one has seen the Kentucky commit play in over a year; the NCAA submarined his 2011 season at Kentucky by ruling him permanently ineligible for being paid to play in Europe above the allowed amount. His injury history is the only other glaring problem with a littered past of knee issues that put him in jeopardy of not passing NBA physicals.
Kanter would have put Kentucky over the top this season, and there is no doubt in my mind that the Wildcats would have been the favorite all year to win the national title with him starting at center. He is the best center prospect in the draft despite never playing a college game, and he'll be drafted as such.
Walker has shot up my draft board with his team's berth in the National Championship. Most impressive of his strengths has been the way he's stepped up to lead his team and find a way to win. The skills are elite and NBA-caliber, but the winner's mentality, which he has clearly developed, separates certain prospects from those of equal talent who lack that mentality.
He has put this on full display over the last month, leading his Huskies to five wins in five days to win the epic Big East from the nine seed, then reeling off five more to reach the National Championship game.
NBA scouts need not look at his stats, which are impressive enough, to find his true value. His heart and toughness are qualities that make him a top five NBA pick regardless of how many points he scores or defenders he blows by off the dribble.
It's hard to believe, but the intangibles are more important with Walker than the tangibles, of which there are many.
I have the freshman Barnes, who came on very strong to end his season, falling below Brandon Knight by virtue of North Carolina losing to Kentucky in the East regional final.
Barnes, if he comes out, will be the top small forward in the draft, and possesses the tools to be an effective player in all facets of the NBA game. He can score from anywhere on the floor, getting to the rim equally as well as hitting a three. He is smooth and composed. He is a fundamental player, which sometimes gets overlooked by scouts who fall in love with athleticism.
He isn't an exceptional athlete, which hurts a lot of players at his position who are less fundamental and don't have the intelligence that Barnes does.
His maturity level means that his game will continue to develop and that he is a stable investment for whoever is lucky enough to draft him.
If he comes out, he's a lock for the top five. If he stays in school, he'll be the lead candidate for Player of the Year in 2012.
Knight has qualities that are present in a lot of NBA floor generals. He is a fierce competitor, finishes magnificently at the basket, can burst by anyone and is intelligent with the ball. However, there's something more important about the 6'4" freshman that just recently emerged.
His lead role in Kentucky's Final Four run is the most impressive aspect of Brandon Knight's profile at this point. He showed a leadership previously unseen in upsetting Ohio State, North Carolina and then nearly taking Connecticut down. Without Knight, the Wildcats would have gotten nowhere near Houston.
He looks more like a Tyreke Evans-type combo guard, but his passing ability could lead a coach to hand him the ball all the time. He's a bit turnover-prone and shaky with some decisions, but as he matures further and learns the NBA game, he'll likely improve in those categories to yield a highly-effective big guard.
As a Duke fan, it gives me great pain to know that our freshman phenom is likely out the door, never to return.
How do I know that he's sure to jump to the draft instead of return for a sophomore season in Durham?
It was the perfect last shot of his fantastic last game that did it. My thought when he hit the late three in a decided loss to Arizona was that he had showcased himself brilliantly in that game to the NBA. Drilling that three was like the nail in the coffin of his college career, as if to say when seeing it go through the net, "I just showed them I can do everything. What more can I do to show the NBA that I'm ready? This loss leaves a real bad taste in my mouth, I'm outta here."
He is a pure point guard with exceptional quickness and basketball IQ. He can shoot as well from the outside as he can finish at the rim, or he can pull-up to utilize an advanced mid-range game.
He's as good as any player in the draft, but some worry that he does no one thing great, though he does many well.
Williams' performance against Duke, and in the Dance at large, was so utterly dominant that he is the favorite to go No. 1 overall.
Just when you want to peg him as just a polished back-to-the-basket scorer, penetrator and finisher at the rim, he'll step outside to drill a three. He did that at a staggering 57 percent this season, by the way.
No player is more complete in the draft than Williams, a hulking 6'8", 240-pound sophomore. He is strong and quick and shows no tendencies, making him very difficult to defend.
Wherever he ends up on the court, Williams is developed and equipped to adapt his game to thrive. He's only a sophomore, but there is no reason for him to go back to school, nothing left to prove and no higher to rise up the draft board.
His head-to-head upset win over Kyrie Irving's Duke team vaults him above Irving in the draft.