There are a lot of talented players in the 2011 NBA Draft, but many fewer have something else just as vital to a successful NBA career.
If talent and athleticism are a sports car, basketball IQ is the key. You can have as powerful and beautiful a car as you want, but without the key, you can't drive it.
The same goes for a basketball player. You can be the greatest athlete on the planet, but you'll fail in the NBA if you don't possess nuance, awareness and the ability to adjust/improvise.
Conversely, a less talented and athletic player has had many a successful NBA career because of basketball smarts.
In a world full of world-class athletes, brains and knowledge still rule. What sits between your ears is still more important than how high you can jump, how strong you are and how much range is on your jumpshot.
So who are the players that will separate themselves from their contemporaries as rookies in next year's NBA?
Let's find out with the 10 prospects possessing the highest basketball IQ.
The Cleveland State point guard is projected around the first/second round turn. The biggest reason he's down that far is that he played at a mid-major school without the exposure that big conference teams get.
He doesn't do any one thing at an elite level, but his 21.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.2 steals with 34 percent three point shooting provide an accurate representation of what he does on the court. Cole is a dependable true point guard who penetrates and shoots equally well. He displays leadership on the court and actively works to get his teammates involved in the game.
He understanding of the game and court awareness make up for any gap there will be in athleticism at the next level, which will be minimal.
The Montenegran 20-year-old is a case study in versatility.
The 6'10" Nikola Mirotic is an excellent shooter, but can put it on the deck to the basket very well. He can play the small or power forward interchangeably and loses none of his trademark aggressiveness when switching positions.
Aggressiveness without awareness is typically unfocused. When you've got the intelligence and basketball understanding that Mirotic does, your aggressiveness is intentional and can reap great rewards.
His intelligence is seen in the advancement of his fundamental skills, which extend from his deft passing for a player his size to his shooting. His understanding of both perimeter and interior defense allow him to guard equally well in those two places, which is a huge advantage in the NBA.
He'll have NBA growing pains just like every other newcomer. Because of his intelligence, however, his learning curve might be smaller than some other prospects.
To achieve what Jimmer Fredette achieved in college and be as physically ordinary as he is, you need something extra to make up the difference.
Jimmer doesn't possess great size, quickness or athleticism, but routinely undressed opponents on the court at BYU. Why? Because his fundamentals are sharply tuned and he knows how to play the game.
Though he turned the ball over a ton, it's hard to nitpick, since he usually had five defenders focused on him at all times. Also, with the amount of time he spent handling the ball, it's sort of impressive he didn't turn it over more than 3.5 times per game.
Jimmer has an uncanny ability to navigate when to pull the string or barrel to the rim. When he chooses to shoot, he uses such a mechanically strong and consistent release, the product of tons of practice and concentration.
When he gets to the basket, he knows he has to use what strength and body he has strategically to get off good shots. Few players in college this year used their body better than Jimmer Fredette.
He's a great leader, which showed in how he willed BYU to the Sweet 16 with an inferior roster, empowering his teammates all the way.
Scoring 28.9 points per game over a full season is not happenstance. Achieving such a high mark takes a scorer's mentality, fundamentals and fearlessness, the combination of which is very rare.
There are a lot of concerns about Tennessee freshman Tobias Harris' entry to the NBA Draft. Experts say he's undersized for power forward, that he's not strong enough and that he doesn't have the requisite athleticism. He had a good season at Tennessee, but the majority of scouts think he could improve his draft stock a lot in a year or two.
What no one questions about Harris' game is his IQ.
NBA people love Harris' perimeter skills and ability to handle the ball. He has honed his craft as a versatile forward who has the capacity to defend a few positions. He works hard, plays with effort and is unselfish on both offense and defense.
He might be able to play a point forward role in the NBA, which requires a quick mind to make decisions, an anticipation of teammate spacing and the court vision to distribute. Harris showed glimpses of his potential to fill that role at Tennessee, and his work ethic suggests that he'll continue to improve in that area and elsewhere.
Klay Thompson, the Washington State junior, has a pedigree that makes his basketball knowledge a given. His father, the 1979 No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, Mychal Thompson, has schooled him in the finer points of hoops from a very young age.
Dad's influence and his own experience have made Klay, at a still-developing 6'7", an incredibly cerebral player. He knows what his skills are and usually plays within them.
He is an excellent shooter and passer, though he was forced to handle the ball more often than he'd like last year, resulting in high turnovers.
He's not as athletic as some in this draft, but the time he's spent investing in his pure shooting stroke and passing will make him a threat as a bigger shooting guard or a guard-like swingman.
The 6'10" Jonas Valanciunas might be the top international player in the draft. The slight big man boasts a a low-post game characterized by a soft scoring touch and physical toughness.
Along with the other major Euro forwards in this draft, Jan Vesely and Donatas Motiejunas, Valanciunas breaks the stereotype of the soft, three-point shooting European. His game is all about cerebral toughness and skill.
Valanciunas knows that most big men don't want to run the court, which is why he burns his defenders over and over by doing it relentlessly.
It's learned lessons and fundamentals like running the floor that make separate lottery picks from late first-rounders.
Brandon Knight isn't known for his intelligence on the court, which is a compliment to his considerable skills, not a slight on his aptitude.
Among Knight's many exploits are athleticism, size, scoring, passing, leadership, maturity effort and defensive tenacity. Knight is like North Carolina's Harrison Barnes in the respect that both are book smart kids that aren't in a rush to make NBA millions.
Knight is in the draft, but it's the smart move for a guy who would have been moved out of position and inevitably seen his stock plummet at Kentucky in 2012.
Knight's maturity and in-season improvement shone in the NCAA Tournament, when he was the unquestioned best player for a team that surprised everyone by reaching the Final Four. When a freshman is the best player on the court, you know that guy is likely something special.
Now he takes his game to the pro level, where he will undoubtedly struggle to begin. As he brings his maturity to the court, though, we will start to see sound decision making and dynamic playmaking from Knight.
The book on the 19-year-old Turkish center is that he knows how to use his 260 pounds very well to score in the low post. He employs an advanced offensive arsenal that has allowed him to dominate his age group for years.
If his overseas game translates to the NBA, Enes Kanter is going to be a nightmare to guard. He is a savvy finisher at the basket, can shoot out to the three-point line and put the ball on the floor to get from the latter place to the former.
That Kanter can be so far along on the court at 19 years of age is a testament to his intelligence and attention detail. Because of this, it's no wonder why he's a consensus top three draft pick despite taking off the immediate season before being drafted.
Does anything think it's a coincidence that the most intelligent players in this draft, Knight, Kanter, Irving and the next guy, are also the best players in draft?
Kyrie Irving, the freshman point guard out of Duke, is likely the top pick overall, though Derrick Williams would be my pick. Irving is such because of his excellent court awareness and instincts. He's a great scorer, knowing when to shoot and when to penetrate.
One of the qualities that separates Irving is the delicate balance he strikes between scoring and passing. He knows that he must establish himself as a scorer, but only to the point that it begins to open up shots for his teammates. He does an excellent job of assessing what to do in each unique situation, which requires discretion and intelligence. Irving possesses these earlier than a lot of point guards do.
Finally, his defense will make him a starter right away. Not only does he do an excellent job on other ball handlers, he does great in help as well, possessing a knowledge of rotations that can only be accumulated through practice and repetition.
Derrick Williams is the most explosive and talented player in the 2011 NBA Draft. His size, explosion, shooting, rebounding, quickness and deft finish are several things that give him All-Star potential.
That's not all, though.
Williams has a sense for the game that turns him into an efficient machine. He's not a volume guy, knowing when his shot is good and when to pass it up. When he shoots, he often scores, as evidenced by his 60 percent shooting from the field and otherworldly 57 percent from the three-point line. If he takes that kind of accuracy to the NBA, he's got the potential to be a 20 point scorer.
Williams is thought to be undersized for a power forward, but with the athleticism and control that characterize his game, the Arizona forward can be successful just about anywhere you put him.