At this point, just about everything discussed for the 2012 NBA Draft is speculation and best case scenario planning for if every top prospect declares. This upcoming years draft is projected to be loaded from top to bottom in the first round, assuming no one pulls out leading up to it next May. It’s compiled of a fair share of talent at every position, ranging from some tenured NCAA players to unpolished incoming freshman with incredible upside. This class has everything you could ask for in a Draft and is expected to make up for the ‘weakness’ of the 2011 Draft Class.
The top projected players expected to contend for the top spot are Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis, Jared Sullinger and Michael Gilchrist. There’s no consensus for who should be number one at this point, as many are split on who they think gets the honorary pre-season accolade. Having seen all four of these prospects play at the prep level already in the 2010 and 2011 Nike Hoop Summit against reputable competition, I think that I have a pretty good frame of reference for who at least should be favored for the distinction. Regardless, I’m going to try and make a fair case for why they should and should not be worthy of the distinction, and then present my personal verdict. If you want even greater detail on the prospects, feel free to click on their names or check out our library of 2012 prospects.
Michael Gilchrist is an incredible natural talent who could by in the league right now just based on defensive tenacity, instincts and raw athleticism. He’s an explosive athlete who can really play above the rim and thrive with his tremendous quickness on the floor. Has a prototypical forward build at 6’7” and incredible length with a wingspan. Makes a tremendous impact as a defender and is a very active rebounder who can crash and board up at a great rate. Mike is a creator with the ball in his hands, using that explosive athleticism to get to the rack and create for teammates with an unselfish style. He’s young, but he’s a guy with a high basketball IQ and “gets it” as far as playing within the team game. He has as much upside as any player in the 2012 class and brings a great combination of immediate impact coupled with long term potential.
On the flip side of that argument, Michael Gilchrist's offensive game is largely unpolished and a work in progress. While he can handle the rock pretty well for a forward, he is fairly right handed and tends to favor going right 90 percent of the time. His offensive game is almost exclusively predicated on attacking the basket to draw the attention of the D so he can either dish it off or try to finish at the rack. Doesn’t have a very reliable pull up jumper to turn to and is streaky at best from beyond the arc. Not much of a threat from 15 feet and out, but he’s a competitor who can knock down the open look. You play him as a driver, give him some space on the perimeter and contest his shots, you won’t have much to worry about. He’s still very dependent on his athleticism to get by during games and it shows. While he has the potential to be a great player, I don’t see him being much more than a Trevor Ariza type guy who brings it on the defensive end and can make offensive plays down the road with his athleticism and added work on his jumper. Don’t see him being a premier player and reliable scoring threat in the league, but undoubtedly has all the tools to be an impact player in the league.
You would be hard pressed to find a more talented or refined true post player than Jared Sullinger in this draft that presents immediate impact like he does. Sully is a big body banger who can throw his weight around, play physical in the paint and do virtually everything you would want from an NBA power forward. He’s a strong finisher at the rim who finish through contact and gets to the free throw line at a high rate. His post game is becoming a weapon, as he is rapidly learning how to play with his back to the basket and put the moves on the D. He has excellent perimeter shooting touch and will have no problem facing up if the defense plays off him from 17 feet or in. Does a great job of using that body to get into position himself deep in the paint, box out and secure the ball. While he’s ‘undersized,’ I’m of the opinion that he’s skilled, big enough and has a strong enough motor to be effective, not to mention his 7’2” wingspan that allows him to play bigger. Reportedly dropped some lb.s and is looking much more svelte as he’s committed to getting in better condition to play quicker. He’s the complete package who reminds me a lot of Kevin Love; and I would know, as I watched Love all four years in high school at Lake Oswego in Portland. Very NBA ready prospect that already understands how to play at his young age and fills an instant need at starting power forward when he hits the league.
Conversely, Jared Sullinger gets criticized (almost unfairly) for lacking a lot of “assets” that make NBA scouts drool. He’s only 6’9”, which is a shade below ideal power forward but is no way inhibiting to his play or effectiveness. His length makes up for it considerably and his body allows him to eat up space in the paint. To me, it’s a little concerning to cut his weight down to any further below 260 lb.s, as it’s his biggest asset on the floor and his game plays to it with his physical style. Its fine to trim some baby weight to increase quickness, but its critical he doesn’t give up any of that strength or width. He’s not an above the rim athlete to begin with, so all that it offers him is a little more quickness and stamina on the floor. When I saw him in the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit against Enes Kanter, he got dominated on the matchup on D as it was Kanter who looked like the aggressor, stronger and more energetic of the two. Granted Kanter is a tremendous talent who is more than worthy of being drafted third overall, but Sullinger is still learning how to body up, play post defense, be an imposing shot changer and hone his instincts. Offensively his game is coming along nicely, but he still will just throw his body into his man hoping to get fouled at times instead of making a move to outmaneuver and score. Nonetheless, he’s a tremendously underrated talent who I think gets discounted because he’s not a “sexy” prospect with crazy upside, but he’s much more than solid. Would be stunned if he declared in 2012 and was anything less than a top five choice.
When you mention unique prospects that present a dynamic skill set, Anthony Davis is a one of a kind player who can do it all. He has incredible length at 6’10” with a crazy 7’4” wingspan that makes him super imposing on the floor and even appears much longer in person. He’s an incredibly mobile post player who gets around the floor like a perimeter forward would and is very coordinated with his size, unlike a lot of young big men. His skill set is incredibly impressive as well, as he shows off post moves in the paint with his back to the basket and a crisp face up jumper that extends to the three on the perimeter. He can flat out rebound with his combination of length, athleticism, high-energy motor and great post positioning. Davis is a shot changer who shows great anticipation, timing and instincts as he uses his length to turn away numerous attempts around the basket. Perhaps his greatest asset on the floor is his feel for the game, high basketball IQ and versatile play that allows him to fulfill nearly any need or role on the court. He’s a late bloomer in terms of learning how to play with his size and being in the national spot light, but its is almost crazy to think of how good he could be when he gets more experience and really learns how to utilize and exploit his talents.
Anthony Davis' game is so well rounded and refined for a young player of his talents, that it’s hard to knock any specific aspect or dimension of his skill set other than say its developing, as it should at this point. Clearly his biggest need is filling out that frame with muscle, but at 220 lb.s, he’s 10-15 lb.s away from being close to NBA ready in terms of build. He doesn’t have the greatest strength, but he plays physical and shows a lot of will battling in the paint. In the 2011 Nike Hoop Summit he did get pushed around and bullied a little by the stronger Bismack Biyombo, but that’s a unique case he probably won’t face in the NCAA this year. Nonetheless, he held his own against the Bobcats seventh overall pick and was a fighter down low. His game down the line reminds me a lot of Chris Bosh down the ling in terms of how he’s built, plays and contributes in the paint, except not as “soft.” He’s an intriguing talent who I’ve had pegged as the potential number one for close to a year now after seeing him in the 2010 Nike Global Challenge, as other publications have just started to realize his NBA talent and potential. No doubt in my mind he can be a star for an NBA the team in a few years.
Despite there being no consensus for number one overall currently in 2012, Harrison Barnes was the closest thing to it before the NCAA season started last season for the 2011 NBA Draft. At 6’8”, Barnes has an NBA swingman’s build with his frame and great size for a perimeter player. His biggest asset is that textbook jumper that makes him a threat anywhere on the floor. His form and shooting mechanics are crisp and succinct, making his range and accuracy a product of polished muscle memory out to NBA 3-point range. He has the ability to stare down the D off the triple threat and make a quick move to either create space for a pull up jumper or make a quick move to the rim. When he does pull up though, his jumper and touch from midrange are money, making him very tough to guard with his size, body control and accuracy. He made a number of big shots in pressure situations as a freshman for North Carolina last season and was a very reliable “go to” player down the stretch. His clutch factor is no fluke, as I saw him take over the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit in the fourth quarter, knocking down a series of jumpers in the closing minutes to carry the U.S. Team to victory. He’s not a selfish player, but he knows when to take over and keep the ball in his hands, as he is a unique talent who can create, get his own shot and convert at a great rate. He crashes the boards well for a perimeter player, effectively utilizing his athleticism, length and smarts to board up. Barnes reminds me a lot of Joe Johnson and has the NBA skill set to become every bit the player the current Atlanta Hawks star is.
Harrison Barnes had very high expectations place upon him entering the 2010-11 NCAA season, and didn’t perform well during the first half of the season. That said, you have to wonder how long it could take him to adjust and acclimate to the NBA style after a not so smooth transition to the NCAA from high school. He struggled mightily with his confidence shooting the ball early, putting him a lengthy shooting slump and consequently lowered his effectiveness. If his shot isn’t dropping, how long will it take him to rebound and get out of a funk? If you take him with the first pick, you have every reason to believe he should be a star on your team in a few years based on his potential and promising play, but how long will it take him to realize and reach that level? He’s a solid athlete but not an elite one for a projected swingman, which is a disadvantage on the offensive end for being able to beat defenders. He didn’t display the greatest ball handling as a freshman, tending to gravitate his game around his jumper and settling for some tougher perimeter looks. He’s complacent right now with taking a quick dribble or two in from the perimeter then pulling up. A team could just as easily play tight defense on him on the perimeter to tempt him into a tough jumper from deep or force him to give it up before he could do anything. He’s very good shooting the ball off spot ups and coming off ball screens, but doesn’t capitalize on isolation opportunities like you would want from a player of his caliber. The common denominator that’s hindering his game is ball handling, but he will develop some moves that will make him a tough match up to keep up with and throw off the D with his ability to change pace, direction and pull up quickly.
Harrison Barnes is my pick for the favorite to be the top choice in the Draft. Had he declared for the 2011 NBA Draft, he would have gotten very strong consideration for the top pick from Cleveland. Even with the potential stacked 2012 Draft class, I don’t see how player of his talent and potential fall to any players who have yet to prove themselves less ideal situations than his.
He will be surrounded by talent at North Carolina this season with Kendall Marshall handling point and getting him the ball, Tyler Zeller and John Henson being reliable low post scoring options, James McAdoo won’t command the ball and that allows PJ Hairston and Reggie Bullock to come off the bench as scoring options when needed. Harrison is a talent worthy of drawing NCAA double teams, but he likely won’t next season because of the talent that surrounds him. With how much pressure will be taken off him by the surrounding talent, Barnes will be allowed him to thrive, shine and show what he needs to be that top pick. He’s guaranteed to have the ball in his hands down the stretch during in crucial moments of games and will want it with his clutch shot making history. He really hit his stride in the second half of his freshman year and looked like a whole different player, confidently carrying his team and even had a 40-point scoring performance.
In addition, North Carolina is expected to go on a deep tournament run with that loaded roster and probably contend for a title, enabling scouts to get a good hard look at his talents over a good number of games. Barnes was a winner in high school, carrying his team to a 53-0 record of two seasons in addition to two Iowa state prep titles, and he will be a winner in the NCAA. He’s a unique talent who can be given the ball to create his own shot eventually in isolations and be counted on to convert at a high rate. For that, Barnes is a unique talent and team star who shows the look, style and potential of a legitimate NBA scoring guard worthy of being the top choice, assuming he delivers this next season in NCAA play.