It was well-noted that the 2011 NBA Draft was one of the weakest in recent memory, especially at the top. Top-to-bottom, there were very few players with star power, and a lot of that has to do with three of the top five players on our Big Board returning to school for at least one more year. Those three, along with several other underclassmen could be lottery-bound in a draft that should include most a spectacular incoming freshman class.
There are two unanimous choices atop our 2012 Big Board, but inching just behind them are underclassmen loaded with size, potential and athleticism.
Here are some highlights of next year's draft class:
1. Returning talent is key
Three of the top five players on our board from last season are returning to talented teams this year with national championship hopes. Small forward Harrison Barnes is the best of the bunch and ranks either No. 1 or 2 on everyone front office executive's board for 2012 that we've spoken to. Barnes got off to a slow-start in Chapel Hill but renewed confidence, along with some smooth athleticism and excellent scoring instincts had Barnes on fire in the second half of the season. Jared Sullinger could have been a top five pick but vowed to return to Ohio State after the Buckeyes were eliminated in the Elite Eight. Despite being a below-the-rim type of athlete, Sullinger has tremendous strength and physicality and a soft touch to complement his power game. This season, he will face the daunting task of leading the Buckeyes to do it all again without David Lighty and Jon Diebler on the wing. Last, but not least, Perry Jones is the final 2011 top-five pick that returning for his sophomore year; Jones has an unbelievable combination of size, length and athleticism at 6'11" with a 7'4" wingspan and an explosive vertical leap. He had a nice freshman season, but oozes with potential as he gets another year of seasoning under his belt.
Outside of the top five, there were several more lottery-bound underclassmen that spurned the NBA Draft for another year of collegiate basketball. Kentucky's Terrence Jones will be one of the veteran players on Kentucky this season that could see as many as four freshmen in the starting line, while North Carolina returns more talent in addition to Barnes in John Henson and Tyler Zeller. Fellow bigs Mason Plumlee from Duke and Patric Young of Florida also came back.
2. New kids on the block
The past few seasons, we've seen a gigantic drop off in the amount of freshmen selected in the lottery; 2009 to 2011 tallied nine first-year players going in the lottery. This year, even with the talented crop of returning players, we should expect a figure close to the ones we have seen in 2008, when seven freshmen alone were selected in the draft's 14 picks. Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist, a pair of Kentucky forwards, should be amongst the first names called on draft night. Fellow-SEC guards, Bradley Beal, a guard suited up for Florida, and Marquis Teague, another Wildcat, will hear their names early, in addition to Quincy Miller, another talented forward for Baylor. In the ACC, James McAdoo, a back-up forward for the Tar Heels will rival Duke guard Austin Rivers for the newcomer of the year and potentially a spot in the lottery as well. That's seven right there, while Texas point guard Myck Kabongo highlights a weak point guard crop and versatile-forward could hear his name if he continues to work on his perimeter game.
3. No mystery on the international scene
At the 2011 draft, the numbers of international prospects was record-breaking with four players (Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely and Bismack Biyombo) going in the top seven and two more went in the first round. 14 international prospects went in all in the 2011 NBA Draft. The 2012 class won't be terrible, but it won't possess the same depth of prospects, and certainly won't include the top-tier talent that this past one did. Shooting guard Tomas Satoransky of the Czech Republic is our highest rater foreign player with Brazilian center Lucas Nogueira right behind him. As of right now, both stand late first-round, early-second round- nothing like the four we saw go early-on this year.
4. Frontcourt heavy…again
If you checked our Big Board before the early-entry deadline in May, you would have noticed that nearly half of the prospects slated into the first round were power forwards and/or centers. This year? It's more of the same, but with even less point guards (Although last year, we started off with Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight and Josh Selby as our top point guard prospects. Jimmer Fredette, Kemba Walker, Reggie Jackson and Norris Cole improved their stock steadily as the year went on). Only four of our top 14 lottery picks are guards, while small forwards and power forwards or a combination thereof dominate. However, a value at center can be found in the mid-to-late first round where we have six prospects listed on our top 34.