With the possibility that a lockout eliminates a good portion, if not the entirety, of the 2011 NBA season, many of the top college prospects in the country elected to stay in school.
From Baylor's Perry Jones III to Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and UNC's Harrison Barnes, an almost unprecedented amount of college basketball's top talent decided not to make itself eligible for the draft.
This has left a huge void of talent at the top of draft boards, with many predicting that the 2011 draft will be the worst since 2001. That year, Kenyon Martin went No. 1 overall, Mike Miller won the Rookie of the Year award and none of the 57 players taken became a consistent All-Star.
Many lottery teams—from the L.A. Clippers to the New Jersey Nets were so unimpressed with this year's crop of players that they traded out of the first round entirely. For the teams that stayed, good scouting will be more important than ever, as there is little consensus amongst the experts about the top players in this year's draft.
Despite playing in only eight regular-season games as a freshman, Duke point guard Kyrie Irving made quite an impression on NBA talent evaluators.
The No. 1 overall pick in most mock drafts, from ESPN's Chad Ford to DraftExpress, as well as NBADraftInsider, Irving is "head and shoulders above the rest of this year's crop," according to Slam Magazine.
A 6'2", 180-pound point guard, Irving combines prototypical size for the point guard position with top-level speed and quickness, as well as excellent court vision, averaging 17.5 points on 53 percent shooting to go along with 3.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
Unlike most young point guards, he doesn't have many holes in his game; he's fairly comfortable running a team—with a respectable 1.74 assist-to-turnover ratio—and he can shoot consistently from beyond the arc—knocking down three-pointers at a 46 percent clip.
And while he is seen by many as the safest pick in the Draft, there are still a few questions about his ability to transition to the next level.
ESPN's Fran Fraschilla notes that he's "a high-lottery selection to his left hand and a late first-rounder to his right" and thinks he is more Stephen Curry and Mike Conley Jr. than Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
The consensus No. 2 player in the draft, Williams exploded onto the scene this year as a sophomore for Arizona, averaging 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds. In the Sweet 16, he sent Duke (and Kyrie Irving) home with an incredible display of athleticism, scoring 35 points, many of them on highlight-reel dunks.
At 6'8", 235 pounds, the biggest concern for the forward is what position he will play on the next level.
Draft Express worries that he is "not incredibly tall or long compared with some of the elite power forwards in the NBA, and is lacking the quickness or experience to guard the perimeter effectively, (so) NBA teams may struggle to project him as being anything more than an average defender at the next level."
But in the increasingly multi-positional world of the modern NBA, the dreaded "tweener" label may not concern teams as much as in the past, especially with his rare combination of outside shooting (going 57 percent from beyond the arc) and explosive athleticism.
While there are a few dissenting opinions on Williams and Irving, the reviews are much more mixed for the rest of the players at the top of the draft.
As a slight 6'1", 170-pound point guard, Walker's role at UConn makes it hard to project how he will transition to the next level. The only upperclassman in the Huskies starting five, he shouldered a huge offensive burden for much of the year, playing nearly the entire game (averaging 37.6 minutes) and scoring 23.5 points.
But while his ability to create his own shot off the dribble won many games for UConn and helped lead the Huskies to a national championship, he was not a particularly efficient player, shooting 42 percent from the field. Also, he often rested on defense to save himself for the offensive end.
In the NBA, he will be asked to take on a much more limited role offensively, and prove that he can run a team and distribute the ball without looking for his own shot.
The latest product of John Calipari's assembly line of one-and-done point guards, there are a lot more questions surrounding Brandon Knight than there were about his predecessors—Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall.
ESPN's David Thorpe is a huge fan, tweeting that "whomever is drafting in the top 3 will consider Brandon Knight. I think he can go number 1."
But at 6'3", 185 lbs., he isn't quite the All-World athlete Calipari's other point guards were, and he struggled running the team at Kentucky, averaging 4.2 assists on 3.2 turnovers.
As Aran Smith of NBADraft.net notes, Knight is "a bigtime (sic) shooter, but detractors point to his lack of passing ability/point guard skills."
There isn't a more controversial prospect than the reigning Naismith Award winner. Fredette, a 6'2", 185-pound scoring guard, wowed the nation this year with an incredible barrage of long-range shooting, averaging 29 points a game on 45 percent shooting while leading BYU to the Sweet 16.
Over at Draft Express, Jonathan Givony is impressed with Fredette's "incredibly high" skill level and "his shooting ability, which borders on outrageous when it comes to the difficulty of shots he is capable of making."
And while few dispute that Fredette could become a perennial contestant in the three-point contest at All-Star weekends, there are plenty of questions around the rest of his game. NBADraft Insider has him at No. 21 in its latest mock, acidly remarking that "it would be a compliment to say Fredette is lacking on defense or could run a team."
There has been a lot of speculation that Utah will feel pressure from its largely Mormon fanbase to take the BYU graduate with one of its two lottery picks. He might be a good fit in the disciplined, half-court Jazz offense, with ESPN's David Thorpe noting that he shares similarities with Memphis backup point Greivis Vasquez, another player lacking athleticism but with "tremendous craft to get by people, along with advanced shot-making skills and excellent shooting range."
The other mid-major star in college basketball this year, Leonard was often overshadowed by Fredette, but nevertheless made a name for himself at San Diego State.
An athletic 6'7", 225-pound small forward, Leonard has impressed observers in pre-draft workouts, with ESPN's Chad Ford placing him at No. 5 on his Big Board. Ford says, "Not only is his physical profile impressive (huge hands, long wing span (sic), NBA body), but also he's much more skilled than your typical high-energy forward."
Leonard's athleticism is his calling card, as he has the foot speed to defend multiple perimeter positions and the strength to grab an impressive 10.6 rebounds a game as an Aztec.
The big concern about Leonard is his jump shot, as he shot an anemic 29 percent from the college three-point line. With floor spacing at a premium in the NBA, role players on the perimeter have to be able to shoot three-pointers consistently.
Slam Magazine comments that he needs "a little more polish on his wing skills." How much polishing he will need is the question NBA teams will be trying to figure out as the draft draws closer.
A somewhat surprising entry to the list, many figured that Thompson would stay at Texas after he emphatically declared that he would during the NCAA tournament. But the withdrawal of so many of the other top players may have changed his mind, as he has jumped from the middle of the first round to a likely lottery pick.
A 6'8", 225-pound post player, his great vertical and long wingspan make up for his somewhat smaller stature on the interior. ESPN's Doug Gottlieb has him at No. 3 in his pre-draft rankings, saying that he "has a spectacular combination of timing, skill, athleticism and feel as a shot-blocker/rebounder."
Thompson averaged eight rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game as a freshman in Austin, and played an integral role in shutting down fellow NBA prospects Keith Benson (Oakland) and Derrick Williams in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
But more than a few questions remain offensively, and not just about his remarkably poor 49 percent free-throw percentage.
After analyzing film on Thompson, Draft Express' Kyle Nelson describes his offensive game in the low post as lacking skill, with "very few post moves that take him towards the basket and very little resembling a countermove (sic)."
Burks was largely under the radar this season playing for an NIT-bound Colorado squad, but he's been a well-known commodity in draft circles since coming to Boulder as a freshman.
A 6'6", 195-pound guard who averaged 20.5 points a game on 47 percent shooting for the Buffaloes, he's seen by many as the top shooting guard available. NBADraft Insider compares him to Kevin Martin of the Houston Rockets and his him at No. 6 in its mock draft.
Dime Magazine was impressed by Burks' scoring ability, noting that he is "extremely athletic and can slash to the cup with ease."
However, there are still several flaws in his offensive game, as he shot only 29 percent from beyond the arc and averaged as many assists as he did turnovers. ESPN's Doug Gottlieb even suggested that he would need to spend some time in the D-League next year in order to improve his perimeter jumper.
Much like his former college rival Tristan Thompson, Morris has benefited greatly from the lack of talent at the top of this Draft.
Only the fourth option on Kansas two years ago, Morris developed into a star in Lawrence this year, leading the Jayhawks to the Elite Eight while averaging 17 points on 57% shooting while grabbing 7 rebounds a game.
An extremely skilled player for his size at 6'9", 235 lbs., Morris is, as Draft Express notes, "a fairly finished product at this point."
And while he's about the same size as Thompson and Derrick Williams, he lacks their athleticism and wingspan, making his ability to defend at the next level a huge question mark. In their mock draft, NBADraft.net says he has "T-Rex arms," a huge concern for NBA teams, especially considering his fairly low defensive rebound rate at Kansas.
The other half of the twin brother duo affectionately dubbed "the Morrii" by Kansas fans, Markieff stepped out of his brother's shadow this year and became a legitimate first-round prospect of his own.
And while he's taken a backseat to Marcus throughout their careers, he's displayed a few intriguing qualities that might make him a better NBA player than his twin brother. He's slightly bigger at 6'10", 240 lbs., which helps him on the defensive glass, and he's a more efficient three-point shooter, which makes him more of a threat spotting up off the ball.
ESPN's Chad Ford remarks that Markieff "takes a more cerebral approach to the game" and "if you want a pure post player, rebounding or defense, Markieff looks like the better prospect."
There isn't any more clarity on the foreign side of the draft than there is for the Americans.
Topping the international list for many is Enes Kanter, who broke Dirk Nowitzki's scoring record at the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit. But just as his stock was rising, he ran afoul of the NCAA's eligibility committee, who ruled him permanently ineligible for accepting benefits as a teenager in Turkey.
As a result, Kanter hasn't played in a competitive game for over a year, making pre-draft workouts even more crucial for him.
Slam Magazine reports that "scouts are (high) on the Turkish big man, who is strong yet skilled, with a plethora of post moves as well as the ability to hit jumpers, plus has a good work ethic and attitude to boot."
Not everyone has Kanter first on their list of international prospects, and Lithuania's Jonas Valanciunas is the reason why.
A 6'11", 240-pound post player, Valanciunas has been a rival of Kanter for years, as the two have often competed in European competitions for their countries.
And while Kanter has languished in an NCAA-imposed exile, Valanciunas has competed in the highest levels of the Euroleague, ranking near the top in many 40-minute statistical categories, including points, rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage.
Draft Express has him at No. 4 in its latest mock draft, commenting that he is an "incredibly intense competitor, a boundlessly energetic player who never stops working for a moment and whose presence is constantly felt on the court."
A player whose stock varies widely amongst talent evaluators, Vesely does not fit the profile of your typical European prospect.
An athletic 6'11", 240-pound forward, Vesely plays primarily on the perimeter for his European team and has become well known internationally for his ability to finish plays well above the rim.
However, according to Sports Illustrated's Jonathan Givony, "Others worry about his slight frame, inconsistent ball-handling skills and perimeter shooting (he's averaging 33 percent from deep this season), and his quickness when guarding the NBA's athletic swingmen."
In many ways the polar opposite of Vesely, Motiejunas fits the European archetype perfectly—a skilled seven-footer with a great outside shot but significant concerns about his athleticism and toughness.
Much like fellow Benetton Treviso alum Andrea Bargnani, Motiejunas prefers to play on the perimeter, where he can showcase his fundamentally sound jumper.
ESPN's Doug Gottlieb observes that he is "not a rebounder out of his zone and will struggle to defend NBA quickness if he matches up with a better athlete or on a ball screen." That might be an understatement, as Motiejunas had the lowest defensive rebounding percentage in the Italian League among big men this season.
Similarly, ESPN's Fran Fraschilla doesn't see "his ceiling being as high as the other three Europeans who could go in the lottery," but on the plus side, he notes that "his game experience...in Europe will get him on an NBA floor as soon as any international player in this draft."
No player is a better example of the intrigue and uncertainty surrounding this draft than Bismack Biyombo, a native of the Congo who has exploded onto the scene in the last few months after a dominating performance in this year's Nike Hoop Summit.
ESPN's Fran Fraschilla wryly comments that "no more than three NBA teams knew the name Biyombo before January of this year."
What excites scouts most about Biyombo is his unique combination of size and athleticism. He's 6'9", 245 lbs. with a 7'7" wingspan and a vertical well over 30 inches, which would make him one of the best interior athletes in the NBA, on par with guys like Serge Ibaka and Blake Griffin.
Mark Haubner of the Painted Area, after watching Biyombo's defensive prowess in person at the Hoop Summit, even suggested that "he should be in the mix for the top 3-4 picks," ahead of guys like Walker and Knight.
And with the draft in flux outside of Irving and Williams, Haubner could be proven right by the time mid-June rolls around.