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With the NBA’s regular season drawing to a close, it’s time for the playoffs for the eight best teams in each conference. For the 14 other teams, it means full-scale preparation for the NBA Draft begins now.
While the NBA Draft Lottery will most likely shake up the order at the top of the draft, here are the top five prospects out there regardless which teams are slotted at the top:
Kyrie Irving is the cream of the crop in what might be the worst draft class since 2001. He only played in 11 games, but averaged 17.5 points per game and 4.3 assists per game. Three adjectives to describe Irving would be efficient, unselfish and exciting. He is not Derrick Rose or John Wall, but he has the potential to be an All-Star down the road. He did miss 26 games due to a toe injury, he returned for the NCAA tournament, where he averaged 17.6 points per game.
He has excellent court vision and a good jump shot, shooting 52.9% from the field and 46.2% from three. He is capable of making shots off the dribble and has a high basketball IQ. On the defensive side of the ball he has good size, speed and quickness to guard the top guards in the league. Kyrie Irving will have no problem transitioning into the NBA.
NBA comparison: Russell Westbrook
Many people consider Derrick Williams the top prospect in the draft. At 6-8” 235 lbs, I am not ready to say he is the top prospect. He had a terrific season in Tucson, where he averaged 19.5 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game. He may have been the most productive player in college basketball, but that does not mean it will translate to the NBA.
The problem is that he does not have a true position at the next level. At 6-8” he is undersized for a power forward and he cannot play at small forward because he is average off the dribble. He will not be able to post up at the same rate he can in college, but with that said he would still be able to create his own shot. He can shoot the three ball well at 56.8%, but he only attempted 27 threes all season.
NBA comparison: Michael Beasley
Touted as the next Kobe Bryant coming out of high school, Harrison Barnes struggled in the first half of the season. It wasn’t until Jan. 29 against NC State when Barnes scored 25 points that he showed people he deserved all the praise. He finished his freshman season averaging 15.7 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game, but over the final two months he averaged 19.7 points per game.
Barnes has showed that he has that rare clutch gene. At 6-8” his skill level translates perfectly to the NBA. He can shoot the three, create off the dribble and rebound. He is the most polished offensive player in this draft. The only knock on Harrison Barnes is that he does not have elite athleticism.
NBA comparison: Danny Granger
The NCAA ruled Enes Kanter ineligible at the beginning of the season for accepting illegal benefits while playing for a club team in Europe. That however does not stop me from loving his game. It’s hard to gauge Kanter due to the fact he never played a game at Kentucky, but at 6-10” 265lbs, he has an NBA-ready body.
In the 2009 FIBA U18 Championships, Kanter led Turkey to a bronze medal, while averaging 18.6 points and 16.4 rebounds. In the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit against Jared Sullinger, Kanter dropped 34 points and 13 rebounds. Kanter has the frame to rebound well; if he can continue to develop a offensive game Kanter could be a force at the next level.
NBA comparison: Al Horford
Jonas Valanciunas is the top-rated international player on almost everyone’s board and for good reason. At 6-10” Valanciunas has the size and rebounding ability to compete in the NBA. Against Kanter in U-18 Championships, he averaged 19.3 points per game, 10.6 rebounds per game and 2.6 blocks. This season he competed in the highest level of European basketball and averaged 21.8 points, 13.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
I love Valanciunas’ long arms; he has the ability to be a game changer on the defensive end. The question I have is did he already reach his peak? His offensive skill set is also bare. If he is going to succeed at the next level he will have to develop some low post moves.
NBA comparison: Andrea Bargnani