NBA Sunday: 2012′s Strong Draft Class
Who’s Up For 2012?
If you were a college basketball player last season considering leaving your university to play in the NBA, a lot of things would’ve gone through your head as you decided whether to jump for The League or stick around another year in the NCAA. For 2011, however, a few of the top prospects in the draft were probably pushed over the edge for fear of a lockout.
That means that 2011 was one of the weaker drafts in recent history in terms of available star power, but it also means that 2012 is probably going to be absolutely loaded with talent. We know that guys like Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, both of whom probably would’ve gone in the top five picks in this year’s draft, will be back in the pool for next season, but who what other players are likely to throw their hats into what’s already shaping up to be an extremely strong draft class?
Here’s a look at some guys, other than Sullinger and Barnes, who NBA teams will be watching very closely over the next 11 months and 28 days (give or take):
Anthony Davis, PF, Kentucky – This is the Chicago kid who grew 8 inches between his junior and senior year of high school, and if he continues to develop and mature over the course of the next year, he’s a prime candidate for the top overall pick in the 2012 draft. The kid is ridiculously long, a shot-blocking prodigy, and only just now figuring out how to use the giant body he found himself in only a year ago. He came out of nowhere as a prospect, but now he’s got an undeniably bright future as a basketball player. Once he fills out a little and adjusts to life as a big man, he’s going to be something special.
Quincy Miller, SF, Baylor – Outside of Davis, Miller is the other upcoming college freshmen with a real shot at being the top pick in next year’s draft. Another product of Chicago, Miller’s combination of size (he’s 6’10″) and ability (he plays like a speedy small forward) make him one of the most intriguing prospects of the draft. He’s ridiculously athletic and has amazing range on the offensive floor considering how tall he is. Defensively he’s a hound on the glass and has a great nose for blocking shots. He’s literally all over the place and carries with him that special quality you see in top draft prospects. No one will ever be surprised if he’s a career All-Star. That’s the sort of promise this young man brings to the table.
James McAdoo, PF, North Carolina – Nephew of Basketball Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo, James a throwback forward in the style of a Kevin Love. He’s extremely smart and extremely mature—so much so that he actually had the option of graduating high school early and heading to Chapel Hill as a 17-year-old. He passed up the opportunity to eek the most out of his waning childhood, however, and now he’s headed to one of the top hoops programs in the country. Few of the NCAA’s incoming freshmen class have an NBA body already, but McAdoo is certainly one of them, with wide shoulders and plenty of muscle already on his 18-year-old frame. He figures to be a solid pro for many, many years.
Michael Gilchrist, SF, Kentucky – There are a lot of big personalities on the 2011-2012 Kentucky Wildcats, but Gilchrist isn’t one of them. He’s just a humble, hard-working kid looking to make his mark on the game. One of the more versatile prospects of the lot, Gilchrist is known for his defense (and he can defend a few different positions well), but he’s also very accomplished on the offensive end of the floor. He’s a quiet young man, but his game speaks very, very loudly.
Brad Beal, SG, Florida – Beal is a bit reminiscent of L.A. Clippers guard Eric Gordon. He’s got great range as a shooter and is very smart with the ball in his hands. Every draft class has that go-to offensive killer, and Beal could very well be considered that guy in this particular class. He’s fearless, if maybe a little undersized (only about 6’4″ or 6’5″, but maybe still growing), but he’s good enough to find a home somewhere in the lottery next year if everything plays out according to plan.
Austin Rivers, SG, Duke – Doc’s son came out of high school rated as the top prospect in the country by many scouts, and Duke certainly is accustomed to landing those kinds of top prospects. He’s a wrecking ball on the offensive end of the floor, and when he gets hot it’s easy to see why so many colleges vied to get him on their roster. He’s also a heck of lot like his father when it comes to dealing with the media, except it’s not often you see a kid that young handle himself that well in front of a bunch of microphones. Rivers is a very likeable kid with an even more likeable game, and his will be a name in contention for the a top ten pick as long as he makes the call to leave school early.
Adonis Thomas, SF, Memphis – At 6’6″, Thomas probably won’t be able to continue playing small forward on the NBA level, even though his basketball instincts really want him to be exactly that, but he’s very athletic and very fast which so far has helped him make up the difference. Offensively he can do a little bit of everything—spotting up, catching and shooting, posting up, and it’s that versatility that his him projected as an eventual lottery pick.
Myck Kabongo, PG, Texas – This little 6’1″ point guard has some of the sickest handles you’ve ever seen, and as far as pure point guards are concerned he’s probably the best in his class. He’s very, very quick on both ends of the floor and has a giant personality despite his relatively small stature. He’s exactly the sort of intelligent, charismatic player that NBA teams eventually are going to fall in love with.
Marquis Teague, PG, Kentucky – The younger brother of Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, Marquis is actually considered the better player. Looking at how well Jeff played in his team’s second round series against the Chicago Bulls, that’s actually saying quite a bit. He’s one of the more physically mature players in his class, but he’s also extremely quick. Scoring comes easily to him, especially when attacking the bucket, but he’s got great point guard instincts as well. It may end up being a tough call for some teams deciding between him and Kabongo.
All these players are going to be college freshmen, but there will be some college talent other than Sullinger and Barnes available, as well. Perry Jones, for example, is a likely top-five pick that will return to Baylor next year, somewhat surprisingly after receiving a suspension for his family having accepted illegal benefits. But there are others, as well, including any of a number of Plumlees from Duke. The other non-freshmen collegians include center Patric Young out of Florida, North Carolina forwards Tyler Zeller and John Henson, and Kentucky forward Terrence Jones. This gang plus the freshmen will be very much in the mix, creating what looks to be an extremely strong 2012 draft class. As far as potential All-Stars are concerned, this group has a ton.
Jonas Valanciunas Is Not Andrea Bargnani
Kyrie Irving was the clear-cut top pick in this year’s draft, but there are those who believe when this thing is all said and done, Jonas Valanciunas will be considered the best player from this class. Almost nobody had him pegged to end up in Toronto, but Bryan Colangelo must’ve been on the same wavelength as those who think so highly of the Lithuanian big man, even though on the surface they really don’t seem to need another center.
It’s not entirely surprising to hear that some Toronto fans are afraid that their team just drafted Bargnani 2.0, but that simply isn’t the case. Valanciunas is an entirely different player, setting up most often in the paint instead of floating around offensively like Bargnani tends to do. Valanciunas is also more of a banger, someone who compares himself to Pau Gasol (where Bargnani is more like a very poor man’s Dirk Nowitzki), and that’s something that should give heart to the Raptors faithful, not instill fear.
While it may be easy to question the pick, mostly because Toronto will not have a lottery pick this season to help them improve upon last year’s dismal season, long-term this could prove to be a genius move. If there’s a lockout-shortened season, Valanciunas will continue getting experience in Lithuania while every other rookie will be pumping iron at a Gold’s Gym somewhere.
And if the Raptors are frustrating for another season, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve already established how good the 2012 draft class is, and since the Raptors were pretty far from championship-caliber anyway, one more year of mediocrity towards the rebuilding process isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Valanciunas’s buyout is complete, and it means he’ll be a Raptor in 2012-2013, along with one other marquee rookie stud. Those are the foundations of legitimate rebuilding.
A question worth asking, though, is what will happen with Bargnani? Does Valanciunas and the rest of the team’s corps of banger power forwards signal the eventual end of the former #1 pick? That’s a tough call for another day, but in the meantime, fret not about the pick, Toronto fans. It was a good one, even if it means delayed gratification.