Friday, June 19, 2009

Best NBA Draft Prospects of the Decade

The 2000s offered as much by way of draft intrigue as arguably any decade to come before, as high schoolers entering became a full-blown phenomenon, globalization led to the introduction of many game changing foreign prospects, and the notorious #15 talent on this list was drafted before Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade, successively. The lessons offered up by this decade in drafting are invaluable as the NBA embarks upon its eight decade in operation, but that is not what I am here to discuss.

Below are the top 30 prospects - think of it as a mock first round - of the past 9 drafts, and the one comping up later this month, in my opinion. In compiling this list the players were judged solely on their resume upon entering the draft, and not what they did, or did not accomplish in their NBA career.

1. LeBron James
Vitals: 6-8/245; High School Sr.; G/F
Stats: 31.6 ppg 9.6 rpg 4.6 apg 3.4 spg
Team: Saint Vincent-St. Mary's High School
Hook: What do you get when you combine Magic's basketball IQ, Larry Bird's killer instinct, MJ's athleticism, and Karl Malone's physique? A player that can never be passed up on, ever.

2. Yao Ming
Vitals: 7-6/296; 5-year veteran of Chinese Basketball Association; Center
Stats: 32.4 ppg 19 rpg 72.1% FG
Team: Shanghai Sharks
Hook: Most heavily hyped big men are raw, athletic specimens, some of whom can't hit a shot outside three feet...and some heavily hyped big men averaged 32 and 19 for one of the best teams in China. While Yao's mammoth frame is what initially attracted the hoards of scouts and GMs, it was his remarkably refined game, poise and experience that established him as the most talented super big man ever to enter the NBA draft.

3. Greg Oden
Vitals: 7-0/257; Freshman; Center
Stats: 15.7 ppg 9.6 3.3 bpg 61.6% FG
Team: Ohio State University
Hook: The first ever two-time Gatorade National Player of the Year in high school, Oden entered college with a reputation as not only a dominant force on both ends of the floor, but also as a hardened leader, and he delivered on that notion almost immediately, leading a young Ohio State team to a 35-4 record and National Championship Game birth. In an age where big men (Shaq, Tim Duncan, Ben Wallace, Kevin Garnett) supplanted guards (Jordan, Isaiah Thomas) as centerpieces of championship teams, Oden was arguably the most sought after center out of college since Lew Alcindor.

4. Shaun Livingston
Vitals: 6-7/186; HS Senior; Point Guard
Stats: 18 ppg 6.3 rpg 5.4 apg
Team: Peoria Central High School
Hook: Watching Livingston play in high school, fans swore they were witnessing a young Penny Hardaway, as he led Peoria to back-to-back state titles, and won MVP of the McDonald's High School All-American Game in his last high school contest. Livingston was the pinnacle of the almost unattainable vision GMs had of that towering guard who could see over the defense and make show-stopping plays in the vein of Magic Johnson, and the one most ready to accept the challenge of avenging Penny's fated career.

5. Carmelo Anthony
Vitals: 6-7/234; Freshman; Small Forward
Stats: 22.1 ppg 10 rpg
Team: Syracuse University
Hook: To witness Carmelo Anthony, with his million dollar pull-up J and matching million dollar smile, ravage the competition his freshman year at Syracuse was to witness the greatest one-and-done player in the history of the sport. Boasting an offensive repertoire as dynamic as that of any player in league, I can't think of another NCAA prospect whose NBA debut was so eagerly anticipated, for seeing what he had done in just one year in college had fans salivating to see just what he could do in a longer game with a 24-second shot clock.

6. Kevin Durant
Vitals: 6-10/215; Freshman; SG/SF
Stats: 25.8 ppg 11.1 rpg 1.9 bpg 1.9 spg
Team: University of Texas
Hook: The only freshman ever to win Player of the Year, Durant really frustrated fans - he frustrated them because there was no one to compare him to. A 6-10 shooting guard with range well beyond the three-point line and devastating moves in the paint, Durant was truly a unique prospect, a pro player in the college game, and one of the most unmistakably superior ballplayers in NCAA history.

7. Dwight Howard
Vitals: 6-10/240; HS Sr.; PF/C
Stats: 25 ppg 18 rpg 8 bpg 3.5 apg
Team: Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy
Hook: Will he play defense? Does he have the heart to defend the basket? Those are the questions most often posed about teenage big men, but nobody ever bothered with Dwight Howard, the awe-inspiring Atlanta talent who proved early in his high school career that he would almost immediately become a great defender at the next level. Howard's defensive tenacity, combined with his otherworldly athleticism and rapidly improving offensive game, established him as the can't-miss preps-to-pros big man of the past ten years.

8. Derrick Rose
Vitals: 6-3/196; Freshman; 19 years old
Stats: 14.9 ppg 4.7 apg 4.5 rpg
Team: University of Memphis
Hook: The point guard is the position by which NBA teams live and die, and when the #1 rated high school prospect, who just happens to be an exceptionally big and athletic point guard, leads his team to the National Championship Game, well, that's not a prospect most any team would conceivably let slip by.

9. Kwame Brown
Vitals: 6-11/240; HS Sr.;
Stats: 20.1 ppg 13.3 rpg 5.8 bpg
Team: Glynn Academy
Hook: The comparisons to Kevin Garnett abounded as Brown made his way up the national ranks, eventually prized by Wizards GM Michael Jordan as the future of the franchise. Extraordinarily athletic and coordinated with a versatile offensive game highlighted by a masterly 17-foot jumper and a variety of go-to post moves, the only question seemed to be whether he'd fit in better at PF or at center.

10. Blake Griffin
Vitals: 6-10/252; Sophomore; Power Forward
Stats: 22.7 ppg 14.4 rpg 65.4% FG
Team: University of Oklahoma
Hook: A fiery competitor bearing eerie resemblance to the greatest of all power forwards Karl Malone, he's considered as much a sure thing as any player to enter in the last many years. Boasting a prototypical PF frame and deceptive athleticism similar to Malone (who stood 6-9/255), Griffin not only has the physical tools to be a force at the next level, but was inarguably the most dominant player in all of college basketball his sophomore year, posting averages of 22.7 and 14.4 while shooting an inhuman 65.4% from the floor.

11. Yi Jianlian
Vitals: 7-0/242; 5-year veteran of Chinese Basketball Association; SG/SF/PF
Stats: 24.9 ppg 11.5 rpg
Team: Guangdong Tigers
Hook: A 7-footer with 25 ppg potential, and oh yeah, he can play the point, too. That was essentially the hook for Yi, whose NBA-tailored game, which he utilized to average 18.6 and 9.6 over a 5-year career in the Chinese Basketball Association that began at age 14, had scouts salivating, wondering just how many ways a player this skilled and versatile, at such an age, could change not just their team's losing ways, but the forward position as well.

12. Dwayne Wade
Vitals: 6-5/212; sophomore; Combo Guard
Stats: 21.5 ppg 6.3 rpg 4.4 apg
Team: Marquette University
Hook: Call him what you want: a combo guard, a power guard - either way, he's a bona fide stud. A tremendous scorer, athlete, stat-stuffer, and leader (taking an inferior Marquette team to the Final 4), Wade was the complete package.

13. Ricky Rubio
Vitals: 6-3/180; 4-year veteran of Spanish ACB League; Point Guard
Stats: 10 ppg 6.1 apg 2.2 spg
Team: DKV Joventut
Hook: Having graced magazine covers since age 15, when he memorably scored 51 points, grabbed 24 rebounds and dished out 12 assists in a FIBA Europe U16 tournament game, Rubio is ready to take his unapologetically Euro-style game to the states. Compared on numerous occasions to Pete Maravich, Rubio's ideal size for the point guard position, unprecedented maturity and refined all-around game have scouts the world over swearing by his potential.

14. Michael Beasley
Vitals: 6-8/239; Freshman; SF/PF
Stats: 26.2 ppg 12.4 rpg
Team: Kansas State University
Hook: The Rivals #1 recruit for the class of 2008 erased any doubts about his on court demeanor the moment he arrived in Manhattan, proving to be not only one of the best scorers in the country, but the top rebounder, as well. When you consider Beasley's dynamic offensive game, prototypical size, and game changing athleticism, it's not hard to see how he set 17 Big 12 records his freshman year.

15. Darko Milicic
Vitals: 7-1/253; 3-year veteran of Serbian League;
Stats: 9.5 ppg 4.6 rpg
Team: Hemofarm
Hook: Starring on the Serbian national team as a teenager got him noticed, but it was his play against recent lottery pick and future All-Star Pau Gasol, against whom he scored 18 points and grabbed 15 boards, that led to his stature in the eyes of scouts and NBA brass. With his fluid game and 7-foot frame, Milicic was arguably the most coveted European big man of his time.

16. and 17. Deron Williams and Chris Paul
Williams: 6-3/202; Junior; Point Guard
Paul: 6-1/178; Sophomore; Point Guard
Williams: 12.5 ppg 6.8 apg 3.6 rpg
Paul: 15.3 ppg 6.6 apg 4.5 rpg
Williams: University of Illinois
Paul: Wake Forest University
Hooks: These two floor generals, who could not have been less alike in terms of style and appearance, would become relentlessly compared for years and years to come. Paul, the flashy Wake Forest product, put up sterling numbers the moment he arrived at school, and stunned with his flashy, yet controlled, offensive game and defensive tenacity; Williams, the rock solid team anchor, made less headlines, but proved to be an irreplacable leader, as he helmed an Illinois team that started 29-0, eventually losing to North Carolina in the National Championship Game. Both were prized for their size for different reasons, as Paul was touted as one of the quickest players in the coutnry, and Williams the nation's strongest, most phyisically imposing PG prospect. Compare them against each other, and you might never be able to pick the better of the pair; compare them against the field, and you have two totally superior point guards head and shoulders above the competiton.

18. DaJuan Wagner
Vitals: 6-2/200; Freshman; Combo Guard
Stats: 21.2 ppg 3.6 apg
Team: University of Memphis
Hook: How does a bigger, stronger Allen Iverson sound to you? Something of a phenomenon by the time he arrived at Memphis, having scored 100 points in a high school game and having averaged 42.5 ppg average his senior year, Wagner more than delivered his freshman year in college, as he led the Tigers to a 27-9 record (a 6-win improvement over the previous year) while averaging a healthy 21.2 ppg. A scorer in every sense of the word, Wagner seemed destined to one day dethrone Iverson as the league's best scorer.

19. Tyson Chandler
Vitals: 7-0/220; HS Sr.; PF/C
Stats: 26 ppg 15 rpg 8 bpg
Team: Dominguez High School
Hook: An explosive 7-footer with a rapidly developing offensive game, Chandler immediately established himself as one of the nation's elite prospects, having appeared on 60 Minutes his freshman year, when he stood a mere 6-11. Though he dominated on the high school level, scouts were even more enticed by the fact that Chandler hadn't even tapped his extraordinary potential, and had still been one of the absolute best players in the country.

20. Andrea Bargnani
Vitals: 6-11/240; 4-year Euroleague veteran; SF/PF
Stats: 10.9 ppg 4.1 rpg
Team: Benetton Treviso
Hook: Deemed less of a risk than Darko Milicic due to his experience and unselfishness, Bargnani might have been the epitome of what legendary basketball Bloggers FreeDarko describe as the Myth of the Next Dirk Nowitzki. Extraordinarily nible and agile for a near 7-footer even by NBA terms, "Il Mago" ("The Magician") wowed with his maturity, advanced offensive repertoire and versatility.

21. Darius Miles
Vitals: 6-9/200; HS Sr.; SG/SF
Stats: 22.1 ppg 12.4 rpg 7.2 bpg 3.4 apg 2.4 spg
Team: Lincoln High School
Hook: A stat-stuffer with the ability to play four position with equal ease, Miles' fluid game led to his being hailed as one of the most complete players to enter the draft straight out of high school. A legitimate threat to compile a triple-double on any given night, Miles' had the potential to aid a team in near every aspect of the game, a la Grant Hill.

22. Pau Gasol
Vitals: 7-1/220; 1-year veteran of Euroleague experience; SF/PF/C
Stats: 10.9 ppg 5.2 rpg
Team: FC Barcelona
Hook: Here's something rare: a young big man from Europe that really loves to play down low. A true 7-footer with a masterly post game, Pau impressed with his Spanish League Finals MVP honors and ability to make NBA centers seem like, well, your average European big man on the block.

23. Adam Morrison
Vitals: 6-8/198; Junior; SG/SF;
Stats: 28.1 ppg 5.5 rpg
Team: Gonzaga University
Hook: It's the most tired cliche in sports: the hottest new white guy on the national basketball scene is touted as the next Larry Bird, usually soley on the basis of his standing 6-9 and ability to known down a jump shot. But in the case of Adam Morrison, that comparison was not so far-fetched, as he not only averaged 28.1 ppg his junior year, but reflected Bird's passion for the game and will dominate as well.

24. Kenyon Martin
Vitals: 6-9/230; Senior; Power Forward
Stats: 18.9 ppg 9.7 rpg 3.5 bpg
Team: University of Cincinatti
Hook: Most elite prospects are extremely athletic, skilled, and physically gifted, but few are downright ferocious. K-Mart earned National Player of the Year honors due as much to his tenacious play on the defensive end as his offensive game, as his tremendous hops and ideal size allowed him to shut down three poistions on D and score with ease over and around most any defender he came across.

25. O.J. Mayo
Vitals: 6-4/200; Freshman; Shooting Guard
Stats: 20.7 ppg 4.5 rpg 3.3 apg 1.5 spg
Team: University of Southern California
Hook: A staple on the scene since age 14, when he averaged 23.1 ppg on the high school varsity team as a 7th-grader,
Mayo brough his uninhibited swagger to sunny Southern California, where he proceeded to dominate as the basketball gods projected he would. Were it not for his occasionally lackadaiscial atitdue on defense, reluctance to pass and perpetual off-court issues, he's top 10.

26. Sebastian Telfair
Vitals: 6-0/170; HS Sr.; PG
Team: Lincoln High School
Hook: Hailed as the next great New York City point guard, Telfair was two years of college experience short of being a perfect prospect. A great scorer but still a pass-first point guard, Telfair shattered all kinds of records in high school while garnering attention as perhaps the best amateur in the country.

Vitals: 6-11/300; HS Sr.; Center
Stats: 22 ppg 9 rpg 6 bpg
Team: Thornwood High School
Hook: A venerable force of nature, the mammoth Curry was compared to Shaq due to his nimble footwork and agility despite his 300-pound frame, which he always used to his advantage. Considered utterly unguardable on every level at which he had played due to his size and skill, scouts had no doubt Curry would dominate at the highest level in basketball for many years, too.

28. Andrew Bogut
Vitals: 7-0/251; Sophomore; Center
Stats: 20.4 ppg 12.2 rpg
Team: University of Utah
Hook: The 2005 NCAA Player of the
year, Bogut was arguably the most skilled American center of the past ten years to enter the L. Though he spent just two years at Utah, Bogut cultivated a dynamic offensive attack, shooting 62% from the floor his senior year. Scouts were duly intrigued by Bogut's prototypical size and 7-5 wingspan, and were confident that he was as safe a top pick as had come along out of college in quite a while.

29. Amare Stoudemire
Vitals: 6-10/240; HS Sr.; Power Forward
Stats: 29.1 ppg 15 rpg 6.1 bpg
Team: Cypress Creek
Hook: The word 'athlete' doesn't remotely desribe Amare Stoudenmire; it's too human sounding. One of the bounciest, most explosive players many scouts and fans had yet laid eyes on, Amare's athleticism - coupled with his intensity and thirst for the rim - allowed to guard players as small as 6-4 and as tall as 7-4, because no matter how big you are, he's just not letting you go over him, and basketball types loved that about a kid fresh off graduation.

30. Andrew Bynum
Vitals: 7-0/280; HS Sr.; Center
Stats: 21 ppg 12 rpg 5 bpg
Team: St. Joseph High School
Hook: Ready to take the NBA by storm at age 17, the baby-faced Bynum parlayed his tremendous size and lethal post game into standing as the best big man in the high school ranks. A nightmare down low, Bynum manuevered his giant frame around the block like a seasoned veteran, ensuring that when the cnofidence to compete against the NBA's elite came, he would be unstoppable in the paint.

1 comment:

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