Top 10 NBA Prospects: 1/19/2007

January 19th, 2007
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TOP TEN NBA PROSPECTS: 1/19/2007 (previous rankings are in parentheses)

1. (1.) GREG ODEN (Ohio State, C, 7-0, Fr.)

Why He’s Adam’s #1 Prospect:
He’s too good to be true. Oden isn’t just huge, he’s agile and explosive. And with his ever-developing left-hand, he’s surprisingly skilled on the low blocks. Forget college, right now there are only a handful of centers in the NBA who could hang with him.

What He’s Done Recently:
Oden shot 17-of-19 from the field in his first three games back from injury and looked dominant throughout. However, he looked lost against Florida’s frontline and has lacked a demand for the ball in the low post. His inconsistency is common for a freshman – even one as potentially dominant as Oden – as seen by his back-to-back games against Tennessee (24 points, 15 rebounds) and Northwestern (5 points, 6 rebounds).

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
How much will his game improve when he gets fully healthy? Oden has certainly displayed flashes of greatness, but he hasn’t been overly dominant. If might only be a health issue (and, consequently, a stamina issue). However, for the first time in his young career, there are questions about whether or not he will be truly great. Let the record show that I am not among those asking.

2. (2.) KEVIN DURANT (Texas, SF, 6-9, Fr.)

Why He’s Adam’s #2 Prospect:
His length and athletic ability are impressive, but his remarkable skill set really stands out. Durant has the look of an NBA All-Star and has drawn comparisons to Carmelo Anthony, Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Garnett. Essentially no one knows who to compare Durant to because there’s no one like him. After Durant’s recent brilliance, he is mighty close to the unthinkable: Passing Greg Oden for the top spot on this list.

What He’s Done Recently:
In the eight games he played from December 28th through January 16th, Durant averaged 29.7 points and 14.3 rebounds. By comparison, Oden had 24 points and 15 rebounds in his best game this season. Based upon the season Durant’s had and the competition he’s faced, he should be considered the frontrunner for National Player of the Year honors (as you can read about right here).

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
How much is he worth trading up for? The only weakness is Durant’s game is that he has a tendency to stop working to get open during extended stretches of games. That’s nitpicking. There’s simply no denying his overall package. Gems like Durant don’t come around often, meaning some NBA team will get the equivalent of a first overall pick at No. 2.

3. BRANDAN WRIGHT (5.) (North Carolina, PF, 6-9, Fr.)

Why He’s Adam’s #3 Prospect:
He is another freshman with stunning potential. The Nashville-native has a breathtaking wingspan and great hops. He’s an efficient scorer who requires very few set plays run specifically for him, reminiscent of an equally quick Tar Heel from yesteryear, Antawn Jamison.

What He’s Done Recently:
While Wright can be quiet on occasion, he clearly possesses special talent. His consistency is frightening. He averaged 15.6 ppg in his first five January games and he’s averaging 15.7 ppg for the season. He’s also scored in double-figures in every game this season, despite rarely taking over ten shots in a game. Against Gonzaga, he put up 21 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocked shots. He followed that up with 19 points, 8 boards, and two blocks against Tennessee.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
What position will he play? Wright is athletic enough to play small forward, but he doesn’t yet have the ball skills. His height and wingspan are ideal for a power forward, but he doesn’t have the bulk or strength to adequately man the low post (he’s only had one double-figure rebounding effort). However, Wright has such rare ability that eventually he will likely become a power forward who plays with the technical prowess of a guard.

4. JOAKIM NOAH (3.) (Florida, PF/C, 6-11, Jr.)

Why He’s Adam’s #4 Prospect:
For those who forget that Noah led the Gators on a thrilling NCAA title ride his driven performance against Greg Oden and Ohio State served as a reminder. He plays with great energy and enthusiasm and his defensive presence is outstanding.

What He’s Done Recently:
Florida’s frontline is the best in the country, so while his numbers aren’t mind boggling (12.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg), keep in mind that he’s playing less than 25 minutes a game. Even more impressive is how he’s kept up his stellar play now that SEC play has begun.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
His talent is unique, but is he a potential All-Star? Noah is an intriguing prospect because of his unusual gifts and unrelenting style of play. Still, he still needs to get stronger, develop a consistent jump shot, and start dominating once again as he did last March in order to prove that he can be more than just a great role player at the next level. Also, two stats have scouts concerned: His free throw percentage (58.2%) and his turnovers (2.7 tpg).

5. JAVARIS CRITTENTON (7.) (Georgia Tech, PG, 6-5, Fr.)

Why He’s Adam’s #6 Prospect:
The impressive size and fantastic ball handling ability are a rare combination. Crittenton could be a special point guard at the next level. Imagine a taller Rod Strickland with great touch.

What He’s Done Recently:
Crittenton has played against some stiff competition in his last three games – Clemson, Duke, and Florida State – and he torched them (18.7 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.3 rpg, and 1.7 spg). He’s still turning the ball over too much, though, which is worth monitoring as this season continues.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Can he lead a team? Pro point guards must be the leaders of their teams. Crittenton – who deferred to teammate Dwight Howard in high school – needs to come to the forefront during his short time in college. But based solely on pure ability, his upside is limitless. You can be sure that his recent play is pushing him way up draft boards.

6. CHASE BUDINGER (4.) (Arizona, SF, 6-7, Fr.)

Why He’s Adam’s #6 Prospect:
The athletic ability and shooting touch are top-notch, but his excellent balance really separates him from the other elite prospects. He is always in control.

What He’s Done Recently:
When Budinger struggled in early December against San Diego State (5 points on 2-9 FG), it appeared to be an aberration. When he averaged just 6.0 ppg in January losses against Washington State and Oregon, it opened up some questions about his game. Nonetheless, you can’t deny his 23 points against Washington or his 16 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals against Oregon State. And Budinger’s field goal percentage (54.7%) is a telling sign of just how steady he’s been on the season.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Was his recent poor play simply an issue of inexperience? Budinger excelled against Memphis, but – as stated above – has struggled as of late. He has limitless talent and a unique style. If he doesn’t get back on track soon, his stock will plummet.

7. AL HORFORD (NR) (Florida, PF, 6-10, Jr.)

Why He’s Adam’s #7 Prospect:
Horford’s combination of strength and power has always been intriguing, but now it is scary. His presence in the low post is undeniable. Even though he plays on the best frontline in the country, he still stands out as an intimidator. He is the prototypical NBA power forward.

What He’s Done Recently:
Horford has put up solid numbers on the season and his shooting percentage is through the roof, but has lacked consistency at times. He did, however, notch an 11 point, 11 rebound day on Ohio State, firmly reminding every scout just how much talent he possesses. The depth of scoring options on Florida makes it hard for any one player to put up a ton of points as Horford’s lackluster scoring average attests to. Despite starting the season with three straight games of at least 15 points, he hasn’t scored 15 in a game since December 6th.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Would he be a superstar if he got more touches? Playing alongside Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, and Chris Richard (one of the most underrated big men anywhere), Horford does not get the ball that often. So until he has a full game of utter dominance, it is hard to tell if he’s an unselfish superstar in waiting or just an outstanding role player. His performance against Ohio State has all NBA scouts on high alert, especially as the SEC competition heats up.

8. ALANDO TUCKER (NR) (Wisconsin, SG/SF, 6-6, Sr.)

Why He’s Adam’s #8 Prospect:
Tucker has been shooting up draft boards because of his toughness, infectious enthusiasm, and unreal scoring ability. He has impressive size, strength, and leaping ability for a shooting guard who can beat defenders off the dribble or in the post. His off-balance shooting style makes him extremely difficult to defend. He was a freshman in 2002-03 and now, because of a medical redshirt, he’s playing in his fifth college season. The experience has pushed his development beyond what anyone could have anticipated.

What He’s Done Recently:
More appropriately: What hasn’t he done? He’s probably the frontrunner for national player of the year honors. Tucker’s consistency is remarkable and he’s been exceptional in every big game the Badgers have played this season. He went for 28 against Marquette, 32 against Pitt, 29 at Georgia, and put up 17 on Ohio State. His performance against the Buckeyes showed just how much heart he has, as he repeatedly challenged Greg Oden on drives to the hoop.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Can he be an NBA 2-guard? Tucker is clearly the go-to-guy in the Wisconsin offense. He creates from the wing and scores off of his pull-up jumper and acrobatic drives to the hoop. While he will be able to score at the next level, he must also prove that he can handle the ball, distribute against elite defenders, and shoot with range. Currently he is a fairly poor three-point shooter.

9. MUSTAFA SHAKUR (NR) (Arizona, PG, 6-3, Sr.)

Why He’s Adam’s #9 Prospect:
There probably isn’t a more shocking name on this list, but Shakur is finally a legit NBA prospect. He spent three years trying to be like other brilliant Wildcat lead guards of the past, when all he really had to do was find his own rhythm. Shakur has good size for the point guard position and his ball skills are top-notch. He was always very good in transition and now he’s a dangerous distributor in the half-court game. His shot still isn’t pretty, but it is consistent. Consequently, he’s become more efficient offensively because his opportunities to drive the lane are more frequent.

What He’s Done Recently:
Shakur should be a 1st Team All-American. He’s clearly been the leader of an outstanding Arizona team and he’s among the nation’s top five in assists. His assist-to-turnover ratio is high and he’s been able to score on some of the best teams in the country. He dropped 23 on Memphis, 21 on Washington, 19 on Washington State, and 21 on Oregon. And – unlike in the past – when he doesn’t score, he’s still making an impact. He scored just 8 points against Cal, but also had 9 assists and 9 rebounds.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Can he keep up this stellar play against NBA competition? Shakur was tremendous at the high school level and ranked among the elite lead guards in his high school class. However, it took him four years to realize his potential on the college level. He was mired in mediocrity during his first three seasons on campus and few pro teams will be willing to wait an equally long time for his professional emergence. Most of the questions surround his jump shot and whether he can correct some of the issues with his awkward release.

10. JULIAN WRIGHT (8.) (Kansas, PF, 6-8, So.)

Why He’s Adam’s #10 Prospect:
Wright is remarkably athletic, agile, and intelligent. His court sense is impeccable, as his creative low post passes indicate. His jump shot isn’t fluid, but his shooting fundamentals shouldn’t be hard to correct.

What He’s Done Recently:
He’s only put together one truly special performance, but it came against the best frontline in college basketball. Wright amassed 21 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists against Florida in late November. The Jayhawks have also been on a tear as of late, but NBA folks have to be concerned about Wright’s recent play – failing to score in double-figures in five of his last six games. Plus, he’s too good of a decision maker to turn the ball over as much as he is prone to (including a 1 assist, 7 turnover performance against Iowa State).

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Can he be a go-to-guy? Wright has superstar talent and is always thinking two plays ahead, but he needs to show a killer instinct. If he starts scoring with more authority, Wright will be the draft’s most intriguing prospect. If not, he will have no choice, but to return to school.

Out of the Top 10:

TYLER HANSBROUGH (6.) (North Carolina, PF, 6-9, So.)

Why He Was A Top 10 Prospect:
Hansbrough entered this season as the pre-season favorite to win National Player of the Year honors and he’s since done nothing to disappoint. He works harder than any big man in the country and repeatedly frustrates his opponents. He consistently scores on put-backs and a variety of low post moves.

What He’s Done Recently:
Hansbrough’s consistency has been pretty impressive. His numbers from this season are eerily similar to last season’s (18.4 ppg and 8.1 rpg compared to 18.9 ppg and 7.8 rpg in ’05-’06), which is remarkable considering every defense the Tar Heels face is geared to stopping him. Despite all the talent on the Tar Heels, Hansbrough is clearly their go-to-guy, as evidenced by his games against Florida State (25 points, 13 rebounds) and Virginia Tech (19 points, 15 rebounds). His field goal percentage (52.6%) is better than average, but is down from last season (57.0%).

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Will his low-post scoring ability translate to the next level? He averaged just 8.0 ppg and 6.0 rpg against the likes of Gonzaga’s Josh Heytvelt and Randolph Morris of Kentucky. This could foreshadow trouble against much more intimidating post players at the next level. But, to be fair, last year at this time many were writing off his success as a fluke. No one is doubting him anymore. Hansbrough will have plenty of chances to prove himself on the big stage and if he tears up the competition in March (a la Joakim Noah), he will find himself firmly planted in the lottery.

DARRELL ARTHUR (9.) (Kansas, PF, 6-9, Fr.)

Why He Was A Top 10 Prospect:
Arthur has the frame and talent of the prototypical power forward at the next level. He also has great touch on his shot. By season’s end, he could be the best player on a stocked Kansas team.

What He’s Done Recently:
Despite playing just 16 minutes against Florida, his 19-point, 9-rebound outburst was ridiculous. However, Arthur is sliding off the radar screen for some NBA folks because he has struggled to play well now that he’s facing defenses designed to shut him down. Arthur has scored in double-figures just once in his last seven games and hasn’t pulled more than five rebounds in a game since November. He will one day have a place in the league, but first rounders just don’t put up those kinds of numbers.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Can he handle being the center of defensive attention? Arthur has shown flashes of excellence and clearly has all the tools needed to be successful at the next level. He’s easily been the most surprising of all the top freshmen, but his poor play of late has really hurt his draft prospects.

DOMINIC JAMES (10.) (Marquette, PG, 5-11, So.)

Why He Was A Top 10 Prospect:
James combines phenomenal athletic ability with unmatched toughness. He often wills his way to the basket, but always manages to keep his teammates. Picture Allen Iverson at Georgetown, if only Iverson was a tad bit shorter and looked more often to get his teammates involved.

What He’s Done Recently:
James couldn’t have shot much worse during January losses to Providence and Syracuse. He shot 1-for-15 (6.7%) from three-point land, 5-for-10 (50.0%) from the free throw line, and 6-for-23 (26.1%) overall from the field. However, he averaged 18.7 ppg and 5.0 apg in three impressive wins (UConn, West Virginia, Louisville) following the back-to-back losses. James is phenomenal when he’s on and must continue to play with consistency.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Can he continue to keep his teammates involved? James is the best pure point guard prospect in this draft, yet he often seems frustrated when teammates struggle to finish off his sweet passes. Consequently, he forces shots and takes on greater offensive responsibilities than he should. James is most effective when he’s scoring and distributing with equal proficiency.

Oh-so-close (listed alphabetically):

MORRIS ALMOND (Rice, SF, 6-6, Sr.)
Quite possibly the best scorer in college basketball.

COREY BREWER (Florida, SG/SF, 6-9, Jr.)
All-around game is terrific. There’s really nothing he can’t do.

MIKE CONLEY (Ohio State, PG, 6-1, Fr.)
Might just be the premiere lead guard in the nation.

DAEQUAN COOK (Ohio State, SG, 6-5, Fr.)
Can score efficiently and will become more of a game-changer in time.

GLEN DAVIS (LSU, PF, 6-9, Jr.)
Wonderful college player, but his height will be a concern on Draft day.

NICK FAZEKAS (Nevada, SF, 6-11, Sr.)
Most hyped mid-major player has improved his skills all four years.

AARON GRAY (Pittsburgh, C, 7-0, Sr.)
Size alone will get him in the first round, but his lack of explosiveness hurts.

JEFF GREEN (Georgetown, SF, 6-9, Jr.)
Hasn’t taken the leap to college superstar, yet the skills and length are undeniable.

JOSH HEYVELT (Gonzaga, PF, 6-11, So.)
0 point, 0-for-6 effort against Virginia really stings for this impressive big man.

TY LAWSON (North Carolina, PG, 5-11, Fr.)
Insane assist-to-turnover ratio (5.2apg, 1.9tpg), but just isn’t a very good scorer yet.

JOSH MCROBERTS (Duke, PF, 6-10, So.)
Wonderful all-around game, yet needs to be much more dominant.

BRANDON RUSH (Kansas, SG, 6-6, So.)
Will be an impact player at the next level based on his defense alone.

JASON SMITH (Colorado State, PF, 7-0, Jr.)
Improving every year, he’s quietly putting up superb numbers.

RONALD STEELE (Alabama, PG, 6-3, Jr.)
Has talent, but injuries have contributed to disappointed season.

RODNEY STUCKEY (Eastern Washington, SG, 6-5, So.)
Lit up Washington (31 pts), but back spasms stole his chance to make statement against Oregon.

AL THORNTON (Florida State, PF, 6-8, Sr.)
Fine athlete who put up 29 points, 12 rebounds on UNC despite losing 84-58.

BILL WALKER (Kansas State, SG, 6-6, Fr.)
Second career ACL injury has him out for the season, but he’s still a prospect.

MARCUS WILLIAMS (Arizona, SF, 6-7, So.)
Prototypical NBA small forward, but his passing and shooting range are question marks.

SEAN WILLIAMS (N/A, C, 6-10, Jr.)
Shockingly athletic shot blocker, but his dismissal from Boston College could be a career death sentence.