2011 NBA Draft: Top 15 Players Who Should Have Come Back to School
Underclassmen are entering the 2011 NBA draft with reckless abandon. Despite a possible labor lockout in 2011-2012, many freshmen, sophomores and juniors are entering one of the weakest draft classes in recent memory.
The upside to such a weak draft class is more players can get picked. The downside is it creates uncertainty that will assuredly lead to young players not getting picked and being left out in the cold for next season.
If the NBA has a lockout next season, players might wish they stayed in school to stay fresh on the court. For some fringe players, however, and certain dominant players, their draft stock is far better in this draft than it would likely be in the future.
Nikola Vucevic (USC PF/C)
USC's leading scorer and rebounder from last season decided to go pro immediately after the season ended. Vucevic is a likely second-round pick despite his rebounding prowess.
A number of international big men figure to go high in this draft and will likely push down college stars like Vucevic.
Vucevic was first-team all-conference last season for USC and averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds. Although most of USC's top performers will not be returning next season, Vucevic would have been able to prove that he can carry the scoring and rebounding load more than this season, when he was helped by senior Alex Stepheson.
Jordan Williams (Maryland PF/C)
Jordan Williams was one of the most dominant big men in the country last season. He starred on a young Maryland team that won some games, but not enough to make a major tournament.
Williams would have returned to a team with potential for next season with two top recruits.
Although coach Gary Williams recently left, Williams could have proven that he can lead a team in NCAA tournament play next season. As it is, he figures to be a late first-round pick.
Tristan Thompson (Texas PF)
Tristan Thompson flashed as much potential as any player in the country but never showed he could perform consistently in big games, often struggling in key matchups against teams like Kansas and Arizona.
Thompson projects to go in the middle of the first round. With another year at Texas, he could have proven he was one of the best big men in the country and been a top-10 pick in 2012.
Thompson has all the tools and measurables NBA GMs look for. He's got eye-popping athleticism, the wingspan of an albatross and the always unteachable basketball skill: size.
Thompson won't get out of the top 20, but with more consistent in-season performances, Thompson could have made some more money on his first contract.
Greg Smith (Fresno State C)
Greg Smith averaged about 12 points and eight rebounds for the Fresno State Bulldogs last season. Now, he is entering the NBA draft.
6'10", 250 pounds is certainly NBA size, but if Smith has trouble dominating competition in a mid-major conference, he will struggle to adjust to the speed and strength of the NBA game.
Smith will have to get in better condition to become more consistent on both ends of the floor. He also tends to occasionally show poor effort, not always running on fast breaks.
Smith might go undrafted, but with his size and skills, some NBA team will give him an opportunity in the summer league.
DeAngelo Casto (Washington State F)
Unlike teammate Klay Thompson, who figures to be a top pick in the draft, DeAngelo Casto will be lucky for a team to choose him in the second round.
Casto averaged only 12 points and seven rebounds in his junior campaign. He played in Thompson's shadow. If Casto had returned for his senior season, he would have had the opportunity to lead the team and show he could be the go-to guy on a winning team.
Instead, he faces the prospect of going undrafted.
Mamadou Diarra (Chaminade PF/C)
During his first two seasons, Diarra struggled to get playing time on the USC Trojans. He transferred to Chaminade and became a starter.
Diarra is 24 years old already, partly from sitting out a season as a transfer and partly because of a late start to college.
Chaminade is a Division II team that plays Division I teams each season during the Maui Invitational. Diarra starred against Michigan State and Oklahoma, getting double-doubles in each game.
Chaminade graduates the majority of its contributors from this season, but for Diarra to get NBA looks, he needs to prove he can lead a team that plays against Division II teams.
Diarra would have been the unquestioned star and leader of next year's Chaminade team. As it is, he will be lucky to be chosen at any point in the 2011 NBA draft.
Josh Selby (Kansas G)
Josh Selby showed flashes of his basketball-playing ability throughout the 2010-2011 NCAA basketball season, but injuries and a suspension prevented him from consistently dominating.
Selby will be a borderline first-round pick in June's NBA draft. Selby is a far more talented player than a late first-rounder, and whichever team chooses him will have a high risk/high reward player.
Kansas coach Bill Self benched Selby late in the season. If Self didn't think Selby could help the Jayhawks, it doesn't look like he will help an NBA team next season.
Jereme Richmond (Illinois F)
Jereme Richmond might be a first-round pick in June's NBA draft. He might be a first-round pick after sporadic playing time and inconsistent play.
With three seniors in the starting five, Illinois had other places to turn in crunch time. If Richmond stayed next season, he could have been the best player on a decent team. If he put his talent together, he could have led Illinois on an NCAA tournament run that would have significantly improved his draft stock.
Even so, he was lured by a weaker draft and NBA riches, as were so many others in this class.
Trey Thompkins (Georgia PF)
Trey Thompkins is a Georgia junior who left early to a borderline first-round position.
Thompkins had a sensational sophomore season (17 points, eight rebounds per game) but didn't progress as much as coaches anticipated during his junior campaign, putting up a point less and rebound less per game.
Georgia has a number of key losses following last season, and Thompkins would have had the opportunity to truly star on next year's team. He also would be fully recovered from an ankle injury that some believe slowed his play last season.
With a dominant senior season, Thompkins could have solidified his place in the first round.
Isaiah Thomas (Washington G)
A poor man's Allen Iverson, Isaiah Thomas has been a star for the Washington Huskies for years. His draft stock might have been higher had he declared last year or the year before, but this year seems to be the wrong time.
Thomas would have been one of the top returning players in the country next season. He would have been a contender for a number of awards, and his Huskies would have been one of the country's top teams.
That kind of exposure might have helped scouts overlook his size and his sometimes suspect but improved passing skills.
Malcolm Lee (UCLA G)
6'5" players often have trouble finding spots on NBA rosters and are generally labeled as tweeners. UCLA's Malcolm Lee is attempting to be the exception.
Lee wants to be a point guard. Tall point guards don't have an incredible track record of success aside from Magic Johnson. If scouts were seeing Magic, Lee would be projected above his current spot in the mid to late second round.
Reggie Jackson (Boston College G)
Reggie Jackson was one of the top scorers in the Big East this past season. Unfortunately for him, he was overshadowed by one of the top players in the country: Kemba Walker.
Next season, Jackson would have been the top player on one of the top Big East teams, increasing his exposure to a possible top pick.
Jackson stands to be picked in the mid to late first round. His unique scoring ability against lesser Big East competition could have improved his chances of making the lottery next season.
Tyler Honeycutt (UCLA F)
Tyler Honeycutt has all the talent to be a successful NBA player, but his slight frame and lack of strength could prevent him from contributing immediately.
He will probably be picked in the late first round or early second round because of his versatility and unique blend of height and shooting ability, but to guard bigger NBA players, Honeycutt will need to hit the weights.
He also would have played more of a starring role on next year's Bruins team, increasing his national exposure.
Iman Shumpert (Georgia Tech G)
Iman Shumpert is another tall (6'5") potential NBA point guard. He figures to be a second-round pick.
Shumpert's scoring has improved each season at Georgia Tech, but his assists have gone down. Some NBA GMs question whether he is a point guard or shooting guard.
He also needs to work on his shot a bit to force opponents to cover him along the perimeter. Georgia Tech will struggle without Shumpert next season, and he is denying himself an opportunity to be among the ACC's star players.
Tobias Harris (Tennessee F)
Tobias Harris is another freshman who should have reconsidered his decision to go pro.
Harris had flashes of brilliance all season but was too inconsistent to prove he can play at that level against more athletic NBA defenders.
Harris averaged 15 points per game and pulled down seven rebounds per contest but didn't have a single other dominant statistic.
Granted, Harris will likely be a mid-first round pick, and granted, Tennessee will not have the talent it did this past season. Even so, Harris could have had the opportunity to lead a team on his own and increase his profile for next year's NBA draft.