The 2011 draft was widely viewed as underwhelming and "weak" compared to past prospect classes, but heavy optimism surround the upcoming 2012 draft class, even with it almost a year on the horizon. There were no stars at the top of this past June’s draft and that was a cause for concern despite the depth it offered, but that is no issue this next time around.
Having already seen a strong majority of these guys play live in high school and some in the NCAA, we have a very good feel for how they have improved, what to expect from them this upcoming season in college, trends and future topics to expect being discussed as it approaches next season, assuming all eligible and likely to declare will.
Note: On most players, you can click their name or country to take you to a more detailed profile for an extensive scouting report and highlights on the respective prospect.
His early season struggles were well documented by this site, but he played his way out of it in the second half of the season and became an absolute NCAA star in the process. Despite his struggles last season, he was the early season favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick and would have been all but guaranteed as a top three choice this past season, if not getting strong consideration for the top choice.
Harrison Barnes has the skill-set, natural gifts, instincts and the great potential to be a legit NBA scoring guard for years to come. Towards the end of last season he displayed his great potential and clutch play by shooting the ball much better down the stretch and regaining confidence that was absent upon him entering NCAA play.
Expect him to break out even further and be the "go to" guy on a loaded UNC roster next season and prove himself worthy of the consideration and ultimate distinction of that top choice in 2012 for a franchise in need.
To see some “experts” have Jared Sullinger projected as low as he is by some projections is almost laughable. Sully is a proven NCAA star who flat out dominated the Big 10 as a freshman and commandeered the No. 1 ranked team in the nation the majority of the year.
He gets knocked for being undersized and unathletic for a post player, but the facts are he can overcome it in other ways to excel in the league. 6’9” isn’t terrible size, as there are numerous players in the league who are that size or smaller who can still "bang" like Sullinger will be able to with his strength, big body and great length (7’2” wingspan).
He is a very skilled player with a high basketball IQ who will make it work in the league, and whoever thinks he can’t should look at the successes of similar type players in Kevin Love, DeJuan Blair and Glen Davis.
Perry Jones is an absolutely intriguing player with his combination of size, length, and athleticism, but will he ever be more than that.
He made the smart move of staying at Baylor for another season to hone his skills and develop post-play, for which Scott Drew runs the perfect program and system to help him learn. Never lived up to that elite prospect rating, broke out, or even flashed that great potential, but it could have been worse.
He’s certainly no Jonathan Bender at this point in his career, but he’s clearly no NBA mega star like some seem to expect him to be based on how they rank him with that potential.
Jones has a lot to learn in terms of playing the game, understanding his role and developing his skill-set—otherwise he ends up being another Tyrus Thomas with "ridiculous upside potential’" that never becomes more than a big athlete in the league. Basically too raw for my tastes at this point for an "elite" draft pick.
The big prizes in 2011 were Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams and Enes Kanter, but few in the basketball community considered them more than fringe All-Star caliber players at best. This year, there are a number of young talents who could be much better than that moving forward and provide big impact to franchises moving forward.
Even at the tier just under that, consisting of players like Austin Rivers, James McAdoo, Quincy Miller, Bradley Beal and Marquis Teague to name a few, are tremendous assets who can be franchise building blocks for a team with their steady, improving play.
We will get into the other players who fit into that instant impact in addition to long-term potential class later on, but there is plenty of star power to go around in this draft that is likely to leave no lottery or first round drafting team disappointed this time around.
Calipari has recruited some elite classes over his past few years in Lexington, but this one really takes the cake for 5-star players who have a great shot at being lottery picks. Anthony Davis is a complete, dynamic, savvy and very skilled post threat who can be a special player in the NBA when he fills out his frame, and should be in contention for the top overall pick.
Michael Gilchrist offers a great deal of athleticism, defensive play and upside at the small forward that could make him a force on the perimeter as a more talented Trevor Ariza type player.
Marquis Teague is an ultra explosive point that is a developing distributor and scorer, but much further ahead than his older brother, Atlanta Hawk’s PG Jeff Teague, was at this point.
Don’t forget about Terrence Jones, who more than held his own in the SEC as a freshman, but still has a great deal of developing and learning to go in the basketball IQ department before he’s "there" as a player. Scoring guard Doron Lamb also has a fair shot at being a first round pick with his ability to shoot and fill it up on the perimeter.
Depending on who Roy Williams opts to start, its very possible the entire North Carolina starting five could end up going in the first round in 2012. We’ve already explored the potential for Harrison Barnes as a franchise guard/forward in the league, and his play will only be lifted having talented players around him who can take off the pressure from him.
John Henson showed incredible progression this past season and a low post scorer and defender, he just needs to keep refining and adding strength to go in the lottery. Incoming freshman James McAdoo has a great chance to shine as a rebounding forward and defensive playmaker for the Heels, and will only look better without needing to command the ball on offense.
Tyler Zeller is one of the most underrated big men in college basketball who consistently produced in his real first full season at UNC and could potentially play his way into the late lottery. Kendall Marshall was an offensive spark plug and a real throttle for a team that needed a true distributor, and he has nowhere to go but up.
Freshman shooting guard PJ Hairston can flat out score and establish himself as their sixth man while reserve players Reggie Bullock and Leslie McDonald have NBA potential as well off the bench.
Every year you hear about scouts drooling over a guy because of his perceived upside, natural talent and the type of player they could be down the road. This year, there are a number of those kinds of guys who will be talked about for one reason or another.
Size, length, athleticism, basketball IQ, shooting, creating, post moves and all-around play are attributes that are abundant and will draw in teams depending on need.
More than ever, there will be attractive players that will get strong consideration because of the type of talents they could become, but teams can’t fall too much for a player that "could be" more than "will be" for their teams.
The mid-late first round offers some great gets that can be great in the own right down the road. John Henson and Tyler Zeller are the striking names in the post that can become immediate contributors for a team, but are becoming yet significantly better.
Jeremy Lamb was a proven asset as a freshman for UConn and a huge boost to their title run. Vanderbilt’s Jeff Taylor, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli have a good chance to go in the first round for what they do well and are really starting to improve their play.
The prized big men we already discussed who will be available this year are Anthony Davis, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones, John Henson and Tyler Zeller for their combination of the above attributes and unique skill.
The "others" in this class have a lot to offer as well and have a great chance to go in the first round. Florida’s Patric Young and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson are gritty big men with great strength, toughness, a strong motor and athleticism that have the make up of NBA post "bangers."
Duke’s Mason Plumlee is an intriguing player because of his length, athleticism, motor and defensive instincts in the post, and considered to be the better of the brothers, including Miles and Marshall Plumlee who are on the NBA radar.
Big East incoming freshman Khem Birch and Rakeem Christmas are outstanding natural talents with great athleticism, rebounding ability and defensive instincts who can terrorize the paint. Festus Ezeli is another name to watch out for, Lucas Nogueira should be available, and if Fab Melo can get his personal problems on and off the court together, then he could be a solid option.
At the top, you have the pure floor generals with high upside like Marquis Teague, Kendall Marshall and Texas point guard Myck Kabongo, who is an absolute wizard with the ball in his hands as a ball handler and passer.
Outside of that, things start to thin out a bit with combo guards and project point guards. There are talented creators like Tu Holloway and Tony Wroten, but they are better at creating offense for themselves and teammates as opposed to running the show, managing the game and directing traffic at the point.
Detroit’s Ray McCallum, Kansas PG Tyshawn Taylor and Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor are respectable guards as well, but don’t have that coveted pure point guard skill-set either.
The 2011 draft class had much more to offer in the way of pure point guards and project players with Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight, Reggie Jackson, Darius Morris and multiple others that filled out the depth at the position this past year. You won’t find an ideal franchise point guard outside the lottery, but there are plenty of other high-caliber players who can help out and operate as secondary ball handlers.
There’s a lot to be excited about in college basketball this season with most of the top "one and dones" sticking around another year, raising the level of play in the NCAA, developing their skill sets and in effect, boosting the quality of players to choose from in the NBA draft.
Its easy to see why a team like Charlotte traded away their top proven players to get worse before they get better, as 2012 is a great year to be among the top choices.
The star power is there, a variety of attributes and specializations can be had, and there is strong balance on immediate impact with long term potential available in the majority of the picks. The 1984, 1985, 1996 and 2003 NBA drafts are mentioned as some of the strongest classes in NBA history, and it's very possible 2012 could be next on that list; it’s that good!