I know, I know, we all hoped we could have a little closure by this point; either we'd have a deal, or the season would be cancelled. Despite this, we are another six hours away from the resumption of meetings. But I said the hiatus would be over, and so it is. Given that the college season is the only thing we can count on these days, let's have a bit of a draft flavour for this one, and take a look at my top 5 prospects for next season, and those that are over- and underrated.
5. Quincy Miller: I know, I know, he missed his entire senior season with a torn ACL, but from all accounts, he's well and truly healthy now, and his combination of size, length, skill and swagger make him a potential franchise player. They don't call him Baby KD for nothing, and people are sleeping on him majorly if they don't think he's a top 5 prospect.
4. Jared Sullinger: Yes, he lacks elite athleticism, but that hardly stopped Kevin Love from becoming an All-Star (although I still take issue with this), and Sullinger's wide frame and strength make his post-up repertoire a deadly weapon. He isn't the sort to carry a franchise, but he's one of the most reliable prospects out there; you really know what you're getting with Sullinger. At the very least he's a scoring option on the block with leadership qualities and no misconceptions of being a perimeter player.
3. Perry Jones III: This ranking has probably surprised a lot of people, because it means either Davis, Barnes or Drummond isn't making my top 5. However, when I look at Jones, I see a more physically developed, equally skilled version of Anthony Davis. He possesses the same knack for the perimeter game, but with a year of college experience under his belt and ridiculous physical tools thrown into the mix. Yes, he had a bit of an up and down season as a freshman, but so did Barnes, and people are willing to give him another chance too. He made the right decision to come back to college after being ruled ineligible, showing signs of increased maturity. Literally the only thing holding him back is his own desire to dominate, and perhaps his inability to compete in the tail end of last season will light that fire. Bottom line, he remains the prospect with the second highest ceiling in this draft, and that alone makes him worthy of a top-three pick.
2. Harrison Barnes: I really wanted to put Barnes number one. For my regular readers, you know I've been high on him all throughout last season, and with an increased focus on ball-handling and creating his own shot, the favourite for the Wooden award cannot be overlooked as a potential first overall pick. While he had his freshman struggles, after he was fed the rock more consistently I defy you to find a player who delivered quite so well in the final moments of big games as Barnes. While the early signs aren't great (his numbers weren't eye-popping in UNC exhibition games), Barnes is first and foremost a shooter, and it's likely to take him a little time to find his rhythm, to shake off the rust. Then you have to factor in his mature demeanour, incredible work ethic and defensive acumen. While he isn't an athlete on the level of a Lebron James, he has just the right amount to get the job done when combined with his prototypical small-forward frame and skill-set. I'd be hard-pressed to find a player who is deadlier once he's found a rhythm, and nothing keeps a player in rhythm like the grind of an 82-game season. Mark my words, this kid will be a star.
1. Andre Drummond: Reading the glowing review I'd just given Barnes, you'd have to double-check if I was crazy to only have him second in any other draft. But this draft will more than likely have Andre Drummond. Remember when I said Perry Jones III had the second-highest ceiling in this draft? Well this guy's ceiling is the sky. He combines prototypical NBA center size with amazing athleticism. Oh, and that's before you've seen the guy dribble the ball. If you look back on his high school career you'll see images of Andre picking the pocket of guards to start his own break, or going to coast to coast and throwing it down, splitting defenders along the way. That's not all, he can pass too. While he might be a little flashy, you have to love a big man who makes the right passes, even if there are a few wrong ones thrown in. Offensively, he can face up, and will learn how to dominate inside from Jim Calhoun at UCONN. Drummond had the option to forgo a year of college and jump straight to pros, but made the decision to join the defending champions and test himself against stronger competition. His only problem has been a question of motor, but it's hard to be motivated when you're literally head and shoulders above the competition. Being challenged in the NCAA should raise his ire, and people will forget about his "motor problems". For too long Dwight Howard has been the undisputed top dog at the C position... well he'd better watch his back, because there's a husky nipping at his heels. Sic 'im Dre.
1. Anthony Davis: I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid on this kid. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think people are making too big a deal about his sudden growth spurt. Yes, he's very athletic, but not enough to play the small forward at the next level in my opinion, and his post-up game is too raw for a player who will be a power forward at the next level. His high motor will serve him well, but at best I see him as an elite defender who won't be able to carry a team to any great success as the 1st option, which his unimpressive high school record demonstrates.
2. James McAdoo: McAdoo is certainly a physical specimen, but while he has a great post-up game he simply doesn't have the height to use it effectively against NBA power forwards, and doesn't have the perimeter skills to make it at the 3. This is all just personal opinion, but undersized PFs don't do it for me. If you put McAdoo's offensive game in Anthony Davis' body, you'd have a great prospect, but you can't have it all.
Dishonourable mentions; Josiah Turner, Austin Rivers
1. Terrence Jones: Somehow, in all the commotion of Barnes, Sullinger and the other Jones returning to the NCAA, people forgot about Terrence Jones. He burst out of the gate as a freshman on a Kentucky team trying to live up to the John Wall-led Wildcats of a year before, and almost succeeded. Until things started to go downhill, and the freshman struggles set in. However, he had the chance to be a lottery pick and turned it down to return to Coach Cal and be one of the best players in college. From all accounts he has whipped his body into shape so that he can shed the "tweener" tag and be a legitimate combo-forward, with the quickness to play both ends on the perimeter, and the size and length to operate on the low block. Given his 52 points in the Blue-White scrimmage, early signs indicate he succeeded. A lot of people are sleeping on Jones, but something tells me he'll eclipse every player in the new group of vaunted Kentucky recruits and might just crack the top 5 in the 2012 draft.
2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: Lock-down defender, non-stop motor and a freak athlete. These are the ways you could describe Kidd-Gilchrist. But look beyond his funky shooting style, or his elite handle (or lack thereof) and see the player who simply energizes his team when he's on the court. The only word which can truly capture Michael is winner. Simply put, whatever you need, he'll get it done. He might not have eye-popping statistics as a freshman at Kentucky, with the amount scoring already present, but he'll make it count with the Ws. The kid has been in the spotlight since his freshman year, and survived to remain one of the top prospects coming out of high school. He never stopped working, and never stopped winning. I believe in Kidd-Gilchrist, and whichever team he falls to will be pleasantly surprised at the immediate impact he'll have on their culture.
Honourable mentions; Tony Wroten, Myck Kabongo
Feels good to be posting about basketball again without a cloud of gloom over my head, so I hope you'll forgive me if things are a little sloppy. Like Barnes, I just need a little time to shake off the rust.