One thing was clear coming into this season of college hoops: the excitement was at a high not seen in about five years. For the first time since the 2006-2007 season, college basketball has a collection of talent that rivals nearly any other time before it. That season, talents like Greg Oden, Kevin Durant and Mike Conley all played their obligatory one year of college basketball before entering the NBA.
This year we have an impressive group of freshmen starting that same journey and numerous key figures from last year all returning for another year on campus. All of this talent has scouts flooding gyms across the country to see who is going to be the right guy for their team in the upcoming draft.
Another thing becoming clear is that the top pick for the 2012 NBA Draft – even after we debated this just a week ago – has become a consensus opinion at this point.
University of Kentucky freshman phenom Anthony Davis has already won the hearts of NBA General Managers and scouts alike. He has earned this place as the leader in the clubhouse with his freakish athleticism and physical tools, stuff that hasn’t been seen or heard since 1995.
Back in 1995 another freak of nature emerged out of high school. His senior year, he averaged 25.2 points, 17.9 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 6.5 blocks per game as a 6-11 guard/forward. Flash-forward to today and you have Davis coming off his senior year in high school averaging 32 points, 22 rebounds and seven blocks per game as a 6-10, 220-pound still-emerging talent.
A few similarities are there between the talented 2012 Draft prospect and a future Hall of Famer and perenial All-Star Kevin Garnett.
The real compelling race now is for the spots after Davis in the upcoming draft. The options are vast.
Another freshman who could be slotted at that spot is Connecticut’s Andre Drummond. Based on talent and size alone, Drummond is the best player to come out in years at his position. He is an absolute beast (already averaging three blocks in barely 23 minutes a night, and the dude turned 18 just a few months ago). The question has always been effort for Drummond as he often looked bored in high school, but at the college level he will find the next challenge (which for him right now is staying out of foul trouble). Watch out for him, because if he gets inspired to be an elite center, the debate could stop here.
Fellow freshman Brad Beal out in Florida has the total package as a shooting guard, which makes him an interesting choice (He’s already leading the team in minutes, and averaging 16 and six even as his three-point shot hasn’t yet heated up). Beal has an NBA body today and plays with great poise for his age. It also doesn’t hurt that he has been showered with Ray Allen comparisons and is being tabbed as the next Eric Gordon (he’s around 6-3). That is not bad company.
Last season’s compelling up-and-down story was North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and he’s still a strong candidate to go high in the upcoming draft. Barnes struggled in his first 17 games in Chapel Hill, but has come on strong in his last 26 games (including the tournament and this season), averaging 18.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and shooting 45.7% from the field per game. He plays his role well, but the pattern is starting to show that Barnes does not create his own shot and struggles when he attempts to.
After that, you have a litany of power forwards to choose from in Thomas Robinson (Kansas), Jared Sullinger (Ohio State) and Perry Jones (Baylor). The best bet of these three has to be Robinson with his combination of production, athleticism and strength. Everything Robinson does this season will be earned on this Kansas team that offers little to no help from double and triple-teams.
Jones and Sullinger are polar opposites in everyway.
With Jones you get a super athletic forward that is inconsistent and has the potential to be either great or transparent. Then you have Sullinger, who is polished, grounded (literally) and is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get prospect. What you get is still probably good enough to go very high in any draft.
Check out who may or may not go this high in the draft on NDI over the course of the season. Who knows, maybe a sleeper will leapfrog all of these prospects and rise to the top just like Derrick Williams of Arizona (No. 2 overall pick, Minnesota) did last season.
Who’s in your top five for this draft class? Any sleepers out there that may find their way into the top half of the lottery?
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