For all of the teams that have been losing games at an alarming rate, there is a prize awaiting them once the disappointment of a lousy campaign subsides: Kentucky freshman center Anthony Davis. The NBA has become a point-guard-driven league in recent years, but the lure of a potential franchise-altering big man remains too appealing to pass up, making the 6-foot-11 Davis the consensus No. 1 overall pick on June 28.
“I mean he’s the most dominating player in college basketball,” an Eastern Conference scouting executive said on condition of anonymity because of league rules prohibiting comments about underclassmen. “He’s one of the few guys that’s ready to come in and start and play right away. He can impact games in a variety of ways, in terms of dunking, playing above the rim and shot blocking. There’s been no holes, no darts to throw at him. He’s pulled off a year where, it’s not perfection, but there is not a lot to criticize him on. He can get stronger, but he’s fine at the weight he’s at.”
The separation between Davis – who will likely join John Wall as the only Wildcats to go first overall – and the rest of the class is more extensive than his wingspan, but that doesn’t mean that the teams that fail to win the lottery should be overly upset because the upcoming draft is shaping up to be the deepest in many years. In a surprising move, at least five players slated to go in the lottery last season elected to return for another year as amateurs, either because of the threat of an NBA lockout or extra seasoning.
Either way, when North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones, Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb and Baylor’s Perry Jones chose to spend their sophomore years on campus – and join other potential one-and-done candidates such as Connecticut’s Andre Drummond, Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Florida’s Bradley Beal and Baylor’s Quincy Miller – it created a situation in which teams on the back end of the lottery could still pluck quality talent.
That is, of course, if all of those players declare for the draft.
“It’s a good year to be in the lottery because it’s one of the safer lotteries,” the scouting director said. “If you have a pick around the top 14 or 15, you might get a top five or top seven talent, just because of the amount of guys who went back. Some people make the argument that some of those guys might’ve contended for one. You’re going to get a higher quality player in whatever range you’re picking in the first round than you normally would.”
With the NCAA tournament less than two weeks away, players will have more opportunities to distinguish themselves. But several NBA talent evaluators are also high on juniors Thomas Robinson of Kansas and North Carolina big men John Henson and Tyler Zeller. The draft may be deeper, but one Eastern conference general manager doesn’t expect many to become franchise players. “I don’t see Wades and LeBrons and Boshes. I don’t see those guys – I don’t see a James Harden,” the general manager said. “I see impact players, but I don’t see four or five.”
It might not be on the level of the 2003 NBA draft, which produced several stars in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, it could at least be the best draft since then. “That draft only comes around every 20 years,” the Eastern Conference scouting director said. “There may not be a LeBron James or Dwyane Wade in it, but what it does have — whatever one notch below that is — there’s a lot of that. I think most people would be happy with that.”