The 2008 freshmen class may go down in history as one of the most talented classes of all-time. They breathed life into dormant programs (Kansas State), filled holes for dominant teams (UCLA, Memphis), and filled highlight reels (USC). In many case, they lived up to their extraordinary hype, and benefited not only their schools, but themselves, in their time on campus.
But with the season over, and the NBA lottery picks becoming clearer by the day, many of them are facing a tough decision right now: stay or go? The money is hard to turn down, but more than a few of these kids could use at least another year of college seasoning before they bound off to the pros. Here’s a list of who should be in and should be out of this year’s draft…although I doubt any of them will ask be asking my advice.
- Michael Beasley, F Kansas State: This one is a no-brainer. Beasley’s combination of size, athleticism and ball-skills have all but assured him of being the #1 pick in June. Beasley dominated the paint for the Wildcats, leading them to their first NCAA Tournament win since 1988. He finished third in the country in scoring at 26.5 points per game and first in rebounding with 12.5 boards per game. Better yet, paired next a to a solid big man in the NBA, Beasley will be able to showcase even more of his highlight-reel athleticism, as he won’t be confined to the paint as much. He hasn’t declared his intentions yet, but everyone knows he’s as good as gone. With his talent, Beasley has the chance to be a very special NBA player for a very long time. Latest Word: Going
- Derrick Rose, G Memphis: Again, practically a no-brainer. Rose has terrific size and athletic ability for a point guard, and his understanding of how to run a team has improved throughout the season. On an explosive team, Rose has learned when to look for teammates and when to look for his own shot, not as easy when it sounds when that team is also eyeing a national title. Rose has been at his best in the NCAA Tournament, being named the South Region’s MVP, while averaging just over 20 points and 6 assists per game. He is likely to declare, and shouldn’t fall out of the top three, possible even challenging Beasley for the top spot overall depending on the draft order. Latest Word: Going
- Kevin Love, F/C, UCLA: Love is slightly different than Beasley and Rose in that his stock is all over the board right now. While everyone loves his basketball IQ and toughness, others still say his lack of athleticism will hurt in the NBA. However, he’s shown tremendous leadership in the NCAA Tournament, putting the Bruins on his back and doing whatever is needed for the win. Another year in college isn’t going to give him a 40-inch vertical, and the risk of injury is always a concern. Love provides great intangibles, and with his post-season play fresh in scouts’ minds, he could become a high lottery pick, despite the doubts. Latest Word: Going
Hard to blame them
- Jerryd Bayless, G, Arizona: Bayless is an undersized shooting guard in the mold of Monta Ellis or Ben Gordon, so he’s definitely skilled enough to play in the league next season. However, as with all undersized shooting guards, scouts questions his play-making ability and willingness to set up his teammates for shots. With Coach Lute Olson scheduled to return next year, meaning the return to an up-tempo game, Bayless should get more of an opportunity to showcase some point guard skills, even with talented freshman Brandon Jennings coming in. However, if Bayless does declare, he shouldn’t fall out of the lottery, and could go top-10, due his lethal scoring ability. Latest Word: Going
- OJ Mayo, G USC: Mayo’s game has been picked apart more than anyone’s in this class, probably because he has been a national name since he was a 7th-grader averaging 24 points a game for the varsity team at Rose Hill Christian in Ashland, Ky. At his best, Mayo is a terrific athlete capable of carrying a team on his back with his scoring ability. However, he still struggles with shot selection and decision-making, although these improved throughout the season. A bit undersized for the “2” in the NBA, Mayo likely needs to show some improved decision-making with the ball before jumping into the draft, but he’ll still be a high pick should he declare. His game could use another year of seasoning in college, but it’s hard to fault him if he does leave. On the right team with some veteran teammates, Mayo has the potential to develop into a great NBA player. Latest Word: Going
- Eric Gordon, G Indiana : For much of the year, Gordon showcased the explosiveness and scoring ability that made him one of the most highly-sought after recruits in the country. However, his play noticeably tailed off late in the year, as he struggled with shot selection and defense. The Hoosiers’ play mirrored Gordon’s, as a promising season ended with a whimper in a first round loss to Arkansas in the tournament, no doubt some of due to the Kelvin Sampson fiasco in February. Like Bayless, Gordon likely needs to show more point-guard skills, but he’ll still be a high lottery pick, so it’s hard to tell him to stay. Considering the uncertainty regarding the sanctions at IU, Gordon might be better served to make the leap and spend a couple years developing with an NBA team instead of on a depleted Indiana roster. Latest Word: Going
Need to come back
- DeAndre Jordan, C Texas A&M: Let’s see…7.9 points per game, 6 rebounds per game. Does that sound like a lottery pick to you? Me neither. Jordan undoubtedly has the potential to be a very good pro, given his size and athleticism. But no one can argue that has plenty of work to do before he gets to that point. Projected to go somewhere in the 6-12 range, Jordan is likely to leave, but I have a hard time believing he wouldn’t be better served spending another year in College Station honing his game and his work ethic than spending two or three years on the bench in Seattle or Memphis. Jordan will need plenty of coaching at the next level, and there’s no guarantee he’ll ever develop to his full potential if he leaves early. Jordan has virtually no offensive moves, and relies solely on his athletic ability to score points. With the right coach, he could follow the Andrew Bynum path to success in the league. However, he’s just as likely to become another Stromile Swift if he leaves now – a talented athlete who bounces around teams because his skills never developed. Latest Word: Going
- Bill Walker, G/F, Kansas State: Walker’s biggest problem to date seems to be between his ears. A ridiculous athlete, Walker could play right now in the NBA based on his hops and speed. However, a quick temper has hurt him this season, as he grows visibly frustrated when things don’t go his way, and he takes himself out of the game mentally when that happens. When focused, Walker has a developing perimeter shot and lethal slashing ability, evidenced by his 22 points against Kansas, 31 against Xavier, and 30 against California. However, he also took himself out of games by losing his temper, notably with one point against Texas and nine in a rematch with Kansas. One more year would certainly help Walker mature a little, and he could raise his stock to become a guaranteed first-round and possible lottery pick. Latest Word: Probably
- Anthony Randolph, F LSU: Randolph has the skill level to compete right now, but he is painfully thin and needs to add strength before trying to bang down low. Randolph, who is listed at 6’11” and 220 pounds, has solid post moves and the quickness to beat defenders off the dribble. He also has a solid jumper, and plays with a high intensity level. He’s an intriguing prospect right now, and some mock drafts have him going as high as the top seven. There’s no guarantee another year on campus will dramatically improve his size either, but like with Jordan, I’d like to see him spend another year on campus improving and playing than hunkered down at the end of an NBA bench. Randolph would be wise to look at the minutes Brandan Wright has received this year for Golden State instead of vying for a championship ring with UNC before he makes his decision. Latest Word: Going
- Blake Griffin, F Okalahoma: Griffin has a solid game right now, and there’s no question he’ll eventually be a good pro. But with some nagging injuries this year, as well as some erratic play at times, another year of school could help Griffin improve his consistency. Griffin is a tremendous athlete who has his motor running at all times, but his game could use a little polish before he heads off to the pros. Some have compared Griffin to Carlos Boozer for his physical style of play, not a bad comparison, but still a little premature. One more year to fine-tune his game, and Griffin could find himself as a top-5 pick in the 2009 draft. Latest Word: Staying