NBA Draft 2012: The Next 10 (21-30)
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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We’ve reached the end of our analysis of potential first round selections in the 2012 NBA Draft with picks 21-30. Our rankings of prospects 1-10 and 11-20 featured a lot of freshmen. As you’ll see below, first-year players are completely absent as we wanted to focus mainly on sophomores and upperclassmen. Freshmen on the first round borderline typically stick around school anyway, but we won’t know who is officially staying and going until the postseason deadline in mid April. For now, here is a look at the players we strongly believe will be a part of the 2012 draft class and picked somewhere towards the end of the first round:
21) Jeffery Taylor (Vanderbilt) – 6’7, 225 lbs. Small Forward
Most NBA prospects would have left school a long time ago if their stock was as high as Taylor’s has been for the past three years. Just staying around for the full four years is a rarity now and days, but the fact that Taylor’s biggest year has come this season makes him even more unique.
From a skills standpoint there’s nothing that Taylor is lacking. He’s the prototypical small forward who is mature and developed enough to step right in and contribute immediately. His shot from beyond the arc has improved more than any part of his game. In the first two years of his career he shot a putrid 22% and 9%. Now he’s a major threat from distance, hitting at a 44% clip.
As long as he continues to work on his game and shore up his ball handling, he’s going to make a team picking late in the first round very happy.
22) Doron Lamb (Kentucky) – 6’4, 210 lbs. Shooting Guard
The designated shooter on the Wildcats, Lamb has come through with a huge sophomore year. The freshmen are always the first thing that everyone talks about when Kentucky comes up, but Lamb is just as important as of the diaper dandies. His ability to shoot the long ball is critical in Coach Cal’s offense. He’s been lights out this year, knocking down 47% of his shots from the field and 46% from deep. He’s scored 20 or more on three different occasions, serving as the team’s most explosive offensive threat.
Lamb has also showed off some versatility this year, spending some time at point guard, which he did not do last year. That’s partially due to starting lead guard Marquis Teague’s disappointing collegiate debut. Down the stretch of close games Cal appears to be more comfortable with the ball in Lamb’s hands.
With another great recruiting class featuring some talented perimeter players on its way to Lexington, this is the right time for Lamb to leave.
23) William Buford (Ohio State) – 6’6, 220 lbs. Shooting Guard
One of the most productive players in the history of Ohio State basketball whose name can be found all over their record books, Buford has often been overshadowed over the past four years by prospects with a bigger name. His stock has never blown up like teammate Jared Sullinger’s or Philadelphia 76er Evan Turner, who was the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, but he’s been as steady as Buckeye head coach Thad Matta could ask for.
What’s kept Buford from shooting up the draft boards is the fact that he’s grown very little from year to year. However, he was already an impact player as a freshman. He’s never played less than 29 minutes a game throughout his career. So, while Buford may not have the perceived upside that a lot of younger prospects do, he is one of the most proven players available.
Buford is consistent and experienced with the ability to impact the game in multiple ways. He’s going to find a way to contribute, regardless of what his role is. While guys like that often get undervalued in the draft, there will be more than a few veteran head coaches who will welcome adding him.
24) Khris Middleton (Texas A&M) – 6’7, 210 lbs. Small Forward
Like Ezeli, Middleton suffered a knee injury in the preseason that required surgery and has kept him from having the year he was projected to so far this season. Middleton, whose stock increased greatly as a sophomore, is scoring just 12 points a game for the new look Aggies. That’s surprising considering the emphasis on offense that came with the hiring of Billy Kennedy as head coach.
The knee injury is probably the main cause behind Middleton’s offensive decline, but there is also the possibility that he was more comfortable in former Aggies head coach Mark Turgeon’s, who is now running the Maryland Terrapins men’s basketball program, halfcourt oriented system.
Either way, Middleton has the ideal size for a small forward and his defensive abilities are good enough to overlook his offensive struggles this year.
25) Mike Moser (UNLV) – 6’8, 195 lbs. Power Forward
UCLA Bruins head coach Ben Howland is one of the best in the nation, but to say that he isn’t easy to play for would be an understatement. There are some kids who don’t fit in his defense and discipline oriented system and Moser was one of those. Unhappy with the playing time he received as a freshman, he decided to join fellow UCLA transfer Chace Stanback at UNLV.
Moser has been a great addition to the Rebels, who have transitioned smoothly from Lon Kruger to Dave Rice as head coach. Moser is putting up 14 points and 11 rebounds a night. He’s a hybrid power forward, relying mainly on his face up game to get his points. He’s in need of some serious strength if he’s going to hang in the paint in the NBA, though.
Moser has to decide whether or not he’s going to play the four spot in the NBA. As of right now it doesn’t look like UNLV is going to have room to groom him into a small forward. His decision to stay or go is going to be quite interesting, because the Rebels just landed transfer Khem Birch and are in the mix for top-ranked recruit Shabazz Mohammed. If he sticks around, UNLV could be title contenders as soon as next year.
26) Darius Johnson-Odom (Marquette) – 6’2, 215 lbs. Point Guard
Largely overlooked in his career up to this point, Johnson-Odom is finally getting the respect he deserves thanks to a stellar senior campaign. Johnson-Odom is the catalyst behind the Golden Eagles’ high-octane offense for the second straight year, averaging a team best 18 points a contest on 45% shooting from the field. He’s still striving for the consistency with the long ball that he had as a sophomore, but he still demands respect as a shooter.
Due to the style of basketball that Marquette plays, there’s always some doubt about how their players are going to translate in the league. Their guys often get over analyzed. Say what you want about Johnson-Odom, though, the fact is that the guy can play. He may not have the size of a shooting guard or the game of a true point guard, but he can help any team score points and win games. He’s good enough to justify picking in the first round and would be a real steal in the second if he slips.
27)Damian Lillard (Weber State) – 6’3, 195 lbs. Point Guard
Every year there is a player from a small school who plays at a level high enough to where he demands respect and attention from NBA teams. Last year it was Cleveland State’s Norris Cole, who the Miami HEAT selected late in the first round. This year it appears to be Lillard, who is leading the nation in scoring at 26 points a contest.
Lillard’s been so fantastic this year that a lot of people are underselling how good he was the first three years of his career. Although Lillard is just now getting national recognition, he’s been one of the nation’s premier scorers for three years. He’s not just a scorer either, he does a nice job rebound the basketball and distributing.
Coming from Weber State Lillard will be questioned throughout the draft process; taking it to a high majors in the NCAA tournament would go a long way in erasing that doubt.
28) Alex Young (IUPUI) – 6’6, 212 lbs. Shooting Guard
On the verge of becoming the Jaguars’ second NBA player is Young, a four year player who has been quite underrated over the last three years. Young is putting up 20 points, six rebounds and two assists a contest for the Jaguars, who sorely lack talent outside of him.
The lack of offensive options outside of Young allow opposing defenses to really key in on him. Few are able to slow him down, though. Louisville limited him nine points, which shouldn’t be held against him much as they’re on one of the best defensive teams in the country. He was so upset with his performance against them that he took his anger out against Western Kentucky in the following game to the tune of 43 points.
Young has all of the necessary skills to play the shooting guard position at the next level. If he slips to the second it’ll only be because a lot of underclassmen opted to leave early.
29) Festus Ezeli (Vanderbilt) – 6’11, 255 lbs. Center
This was supposed to be the best year of Ezeli’s career yet as he was coming off of a breakout junior campaign in which he averaged 13 points, six rebounds and 2.6 blocks a game. Unfortunately for Ezeli and the Commodores, he suffered a left knee injury prior to the start of the season that has greatly hindered him here in 2011-2012.
The injury didn’t stop Ezeli from breaking the school’s all-time block record recently, but it has kept him from playing at the level he was expecting to. Ezeli is contributing just five points and five rebounds a night while averaging nearly a full block less than he did last year, obviously hampered by his left knee that kept him out for 10 of Vandy’s first 12 games.
As long as Ezeli can prove by season’s end that he’s fully healthy, he should remain a first round pick. He’s got size and length that cannot be taught. Plus, it’s widely believed that his best days are still ahead of him.
30) Kris Joseph (Syracuse) – 6’7, 210 lbs. Small Forward
It would be a crime to not have at least one member of the undefeated and top-ranked Syracuse Orange as a part of our top 30. They’re a team littered with intriguing prospects, but Joseph is the best of the bunch right now. The senior is leading the team offensively with 13 points a night, but makes his impact felt in different ways as well.
Joseph has been a solid contributor for Orange head coach Jim Boeheim for three years now. His biggest improvements have come as a three-point shooter. He’s upped his average every year, from 26% as a freshman to 40% now. If the Orange continue on their current pace, his status as a first round pick will be undeniable.
On the outside looking in: Andrew Nicholson (St. Bonaventure), John Jenkins (Vanderbilt), Tomas Satoransky (International), John Jenkings (Vanderbilt), C.J. Leslie (North Carolina State) and Tu Holloway (Xavier).