Nearly a month into the season the 2010 NBA Draft is starting to take shape, if we don't yet have a remotely complete picture of who will draft whom next June. What we do have, however, is a crop of 10 prospects who are distinctly ahead of their peers in terms of potential. I have not yet seen Lithuanian big man Donatas Motlejunas, a consensus top five pick, or any other foreigners for that matter, but have ingested a great deal of college ball and feel comfortable anointing these ten players the best the nation has to offer.
1. John Wall (6-4/195; PG; Freshman; Kentucky)
Pre-Season Rank: Freshman
The top-rated prospect in a loaded 2009 class, Wall has realized his extraordinary potential as quickly as any college point guard in memory. In leading Kentucky to its first 8-0 start in over 15 years and a top 5 ranking early on, Wall leads the Wildcats in scoring (18.1 points per game) and is second in the nation in assists (7.7 assists per game), while averaging 2.6 swipes per game and shooting a healthy 54.8% from the field. At 6-4, Wall boasts enviable size for the position, and is one of the quickest and most athletic players in the nation, an unmistakably gifted talent. Now here's an interesting question: Assuming the Nets retain their stranglehold on the #1 pick, and assuming that Wall is the can't miss prospect of this class, would New Jersey consider pairing him with Devin Harris in the backcourt?
2. Evan Turner (6-7/205; PG/SG/SF; Junior; Ohio State)
Pre-Season Rank: 2
In my pre-season ranking of the top ten NCAA talents I likened Turner to LeBron James in playing style and willingness to take over games. That might have seemed preposterous to some, but before he sustained an injury 7 minutes into a rout of Eastern Michigan, Turner, playing point guard for the Buckeyes, was averaging 20.6 points per game, 12.9 rebounds, and 6.6 assists while shooting 61.8% from the field, a ridiculous stat line that the King would surely smile upon. Though he looks to be out for about two months, Turner's presence will continue to weigh heavy on NBA general managers expecting to draft early in this year's lottery. Capable of dominating at any one of three positions, Turner's versatility, poise, and Oscar Robertson-like output should assure that he's among the first five prospects to hear his name called at MSG next June.
3. DeMarcus Cousins (6-11/260; PF/C; Freshman; Kentucky)
Pre-Seaosn Rank: Freshman
So much is made of lithe, versatile forwards with supposedly limitless upside, but what of the bruising yet nimble big men whose value will be forever underestimated? Enter Kentucky freshman DeMarcus Cousins, a 6-11/260 behemoth whose proven to be one of the most dominant players in the nation already; he is currently averaging 14.8 points per game, 8.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in just 19.4 minutes per game. That's right - essentially half a game. For the many teams mired in lottery land in need of a potentially dominant low post presence, Cousins could be one of the very most sought after prospects as the seasons wears on.
4. Ed Davis (6-10/225; PF; Sophomore; North Carolina)
Pre-Season Rank: 1
My odds-on favorite to be taken first in the draft before the season commenced, Davis has performed admirably per my lofty expectations. Touted as an unstoppable low-post scorer with amazing defensive instincts, the sophomore big man is averaging 13.3 points per game to pair with a healthy 9.4 boards, while blocking 2.4 shots per game. And as for him being unstoppable down low? How's 68.2% from the field sound to you? Though his current timidness prevents him from taking over games and he is in need of at least 15-20 more pounds, Davis remains a truly formidable talent with the potential to be a perennial All-Star once he become more comfortable out on the floor.
5. Derrick Favors (6-10/246; PF; Freshman; Georgia Tech)
Pre-Season Rank: Freshman
One hardly hears the name Derrick Favors without the name Amar'e Stoudemire mentioned immediately before or after. A bouncy, crafty big man with refined skill around the basket, Favors runs the floor like a guard and finishes with shattering force. Posting numbers similar to Davis - 13.4/8.3/2.1/67.9% - the Atlanta product is one of the catalysts of Georgia Tech's hot start, forming with future first round pick Gani Lawal one of the most lethal low post combos in the country. Should he add more range to his game, Favors will be all but unguardable, much like the superstar to whom he is incessantly compared.
6. Wesley Johnson (6-7/205; SG/SF; Junior; Syracuse)
Pre-Season Rank: NR
After playing his first two years of college ball at Iowa State, then taking a mandatory year off after transferring to Syracuse, a plethora of questions surrounded the unquestionably talented swingman whose rocky career incurred worry in scouts who thought him an incomplete prospect. Now, has there been a more impressive player in the nation thus far this season? The focus of an 8-0 Syracuse team that looks to contend for a national championship despite losing the likes of Johnny Flynn, Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf, Wes is stuffing the stat sheet like Andrei Kirilenko in his prime, averaging 17 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals, and and 2.1 blocks while proving to be exceptionally unselfish. Boasting ideal size for the swing position in the L, and top-notch athleticism - in fact, he's probably the most athletic player in the country - concern surrounding Johnson's upside (he's 22) is all that might prevent him from being taken in the top 5.
7. Willie Warren (6-4/199; SG; Sophomore; Oklahoma)
Pre-Season Rank: 4
Very similar to, if certainly the not the equal of, a certain Miami Heat shooting guard, Oklahoma standout Willie Warren has capitalized nicely on a great freshman campaign, upping his scoring averaging from 14.6 to 19.2 points per game, and his assists from 3.1 to 5.7 dimes a night. The Sooners have struggled in the wake of losing consensus player of the year Blake Griffin, but Warren has been nothing short of outstanding, demonstrating why he's been likened to combo guards such as Wade, Ben Gordon, and O.J. Mayo. Warren has as refined an offensive game as you will see in a guard on the college level, one that should translate very nicely to the next level.
8. Al-Farouq Aminu (6-9/215; SF/PF; Sophomore; Wake Forest)
Pre-Season Rank: 8
A pathetic performance against Cleveland State in the first round of the NCAA tournament motivated Aminu to return to school, a decision that should prove to be very wise. Utilizing his size and athleticism as scouts expected him to last season, the big, versatile forward is averaging a double-double (16.4 and 10.1) and looking to dominate games, where he coasted for long stretches last season. The prototypical swingman with awesome upside that has GM's salivating, Aminu just needs prove that he can produce against real competition to assure a spot in the lottery.
9. Cole Aldrich (6-11/245; C/PF; Junior; Kansas)
Pre-Season Rank: 5
The anchor of the top-ranked Jayhawks, Aldrich is certainly the biggest enigma in this year's class. Playing 5 less minutes per game this year assumedly due to the fact that Kansas wins every game by about 35 points, Aldrich's scoring and rebounding numbers have both dropped dramatically, though he's blocking shots at an astonishing rate (3.7 per game). The Aldrich enigma lies more in his game, however. Though he's big enough to play center and appears to have the tools necessary to succeed, Aldrich is occasionally very awkward and does not look near ready dominate in the NBA, averaging just 11.2 ppg as a junior, which begs the question, is he destined to be merely a strong defensive presence? Is he Brook Lopez or Hasheem Thabeet? Either way, Aldrich's defensive prowess is very rare, and should he improve his low post game, Aldrich will surely be of tremendous value to a number of teams in need of a dependable presence down low.
10. Jarvis Varnado (6-9/230; PF/C; Mississippi State; Senior)
Pre-Season Rank: NR
How long can a player fly under the radar before he's allotted the attention he deserves? In his sophomore and junior seasons, the 6-9 Varnado, who may well be the greatest shot blocker in NCAA history, averaged 4.6 blocks per game and 4.7 blocks per game, respectively, besting the 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet in both campaigns; this year he's off to a fittingly decent start, averaging 5.3 blocks a night through seven games. Lest one assume that Varnado is entirely one-dimensional, know that he's averaging a solid 14.4 points per game this season on inhuman 67.3% shooting, while also pulling down 9.7 boards a contest. He isn't the flashiest player the country, but I can't think of one that I'd rather have playing for me.