The move from high school to college is a ballplayer’s most dramatic change. Growing up, they were the best players on the court, hyped as the best anyone had ever seen. The expectations entering college are through the roof.
Once they finally enter the gym for a first-team practice or meeting, they are starring eye-to-eye with 14 other stars of their caliber, sometimes more talented players. Only the best can survive in college and the best of the best get to the NBA. Normally, it’s those who stand out in front of Dick Vitale who do the same in front of David Stern. But in a few instances, good players may struggle or get stuck in limited roles in college before exploding in the NBA. Think Zach Randolph, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and Gerald Wallace.
Earlier this week, some of our readers got into it in Smack about whom in this year’s draft could be those guys, the ones who will make the biggest jump as pros. With the lottery going down tonight (8:30 p.m. ET), here are the 10 guys we think can do it this year:
*** *** ***
Iman Shumpert â€“ 6-5 PG, Georgia Tech
He may be the least talented player on this list, but Shumpert has incredible size and strength at the point guard position that will allow him to thrive going forward. His poor shot selection and limitations on offense are not a burden if he can maximize his ability to play game-changing defense.
Terrence Jennings â€“ 6-9 PF, Louisville
Being misused and misunderstood plagued Jennings throughout his college career. One thing is certain about Jennings: when he enters the NBA, no more excuses. He has a great combination of athleticism and skill that will flourish in the wide-open NBA setting if a team will take a chance on him.
Cory Joseph â€“ 6-3 PG, Texas
While at Texas, Joseph seemed very passive and willing to let others take the reins and run the show. Either he was not ready for that responsibility, or perhaps he wasn’t in a setting where his skills were highlighted. No matter the competition, with the ball in his hands, Joseph can be the best point guard on the court. Joseph is quick and crafty, and can make shots. But he wasn’t able to show that early on in college. That might’ve led to the premature decision to enter the 2011 NBA Draft instead of waiting untill next year when he had a chance to be a lock for the first round.
Travis Leslie â€“ 6-4 SG, Georgia
If you want an athlete, you won’t find one better than Leslie in any draft. In transition, Leslie will be filling a wing as one of the most exciting players in the league, so look for him to make numerous appearances on SportsCenter and in the dunk contest. More impressively this past season, he rounded out his game to become a more complete player and will have an instant impact at the next level.
Tobias Harris â€“ 6-8 SF/PF, Tennessee
In sports, short memories are the norm, the “what have you done for me lately” rule. That’s the case with Harris. Very few remember him as the seventh-ranked 2010 recruit (according to Scout.com) or that he was the most consistent player on a mentally unprepared team. Harris played in 34 games this year, scoring in double digits 31 times and snagging at least five rebounds 27 times. As a small forward, he is skilled enough to run offense from the high post and strong enough to get a double-double nightly.
Kawhi Leonard â€“ 6-7 SF, San Diego State
He’s already showing people how underrated he is in workouts and the combines. Leonard was probably the best prospect no one talked about all season. That shouldn’t come as a shock; The East Coast bias is always in effect. From an athletic standpoint as a rebounder/defender, Leonard is ready to play in the NBA today. In workouts, he’s also displaying the ability to knock down shots from the perimeter. His “developing” offensive game may be a lot closer than people think.
Malcolm Lee â€“ 6-4 PG, UCLA
When you watch Lee and think of his predecessors, you have to feel confident in him turning it on in the NBA. Jrue Holiday (76ers), Darren Collison (Pacers) and Westbrook (Thunder) are all playing at an elite level after their tour with UCLA and the slowed down, passive offense the Bruins run. Talent-wise, Lee may not be in the same league as those three, but he is a talent nonetheless that has a chance to make an impact.
Reggie Jackson â€“ 6-3 PG, Boston College
Becoming a better player in the NBA will be a challenge for Jackson. He was already terrific in college with the best combination of size, athleticism and skill of any PG in the country. With his frame and skill set, it’s easy to start making the comparison to the Thunder’s current All-Star point guard. They aren’t far off from each other. The difference between the two: Jackson is light years ahead of Westbrook at this stage in their careers.
Jereme Richmond â€“ 6-7 SF, Illinois
He may not be ready for the NBA after his short stint in Illinois, but Richmond is a top prospect in any class. In his one year on campus, he was a terrific athlete and a fierce competitor. He was also a solid rebounder for his position. Richmond was projected as a 2012 Lottery pick. Instead, personal choices and behind-the-scenes issues at Illinois accelerated his decision to leave early for the NBA. Make no mistake, Richmond is more talented than half the prospects going ahead of him in the upcoming draft. But, they didn’t have the same off-the-court issues. He likely won’t make an instant impact next season, but with his athleticism and motor, Richmond will be a vastly better player in the NBA.
Josh Selby â€“ 6-2 PG, Kansas
Once Selby came back from his early season suspension he had the world of college basketball buzzing by scoring 21, 18 and 18 points in three of his first four games with the team. All wins. What he did after those games left everyone puzzled. He basically became a spot-up shooter and played a very limited role in the Jayhawks’ season. Selby just did not fit into the “team” system. In 26 games, he managed to have more assists than turnovers only 10 times all season and more than five assists in only three games.
That’s the thing about Selby â€“ and most athletes these days â€“ if you confide them to a box, they will shut down and lose effectiveness. Selby is built to play in a system that allows freedom. His ability to score in the open court and one-on-one is the best in this entire class. Nobody can match the skill of Selby in that setting, but when asked to run offense and sacrifice shots, he can look lost. Luckily the NBA is structured to let guards create offense and rewards players for athletic prowess. In that role, Selby can get wherever he wants. He’ll thrive in a bench role, immediately providing instant offense to any stagnant team. Down the road, he could be a 20+ PPG scorer and every defender’s nightmare.
Which player from this draft will make the biggest leap in the NBA?
Follow Kristofer on Twitter at @NBADraftInsider.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.