Looking Ahead to 2009
With the 2008 draft in the books, it's time to look ahead to next year's class of draft hopefuls. While 2009 lacks the overall talent and depth of 2008, there's sure to be some late bloomers that come out of the woodworks to help bolster this group.
[img_assist|nid=1365|title=Blake Griffin|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=438] NBADraft.net's top-rated prospect, Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, is a specimen. He's not the typical highly-rated power forward, in that he's not a 6-foot-11 Kevin Garnett clone. But the 6-foot-9 Griffin plays bigger than his listed height and his athleticism is absolutely astounding. He is just so strong and quick that he is a complete mismatch for any college-level defender. His ball handling and passing ability are also extremely underrated, with the ability to break the press on his own and his passing makes double teaming him perilous. One more year should allow him to harness his natural aggressiveness and good understanding of the game into one of the best players in the nation.
Ohio State's third elite center in three years, BJ Mullens has a tremendous combination of strength and athleticism. At 7-1 260 lbs, he's expected to come in and instantly be a force. The incoming freshman needs to develop more consistency but has solid intensity and is the top center coming into the college game.
While the incoming freshman class lacks a great deal of talent, don't tell that to the class's top wing player. Demar DeRozan is a freakish athlete in the mold of Vince Carter, he's become an elite level prospect as his offensive skill level has begun to catch up with his phenomenal athletic ability. He'll do his best to make USC fans forget about #3 pick OJ Mayo. Derozan is sure to make numerous highlight reels and very well could be the most explosive player in the country the instant he steps foot on the court.
It's an understatement to say that Arizona State guard James Harden can do a little bit of everything. The Sun Devil sensation was one of the top players in the top conference in America last season, and he might be the league's top returnee this year. About as close as you will see to Manu Ginobili on the college level, he's polished and well-rounded and a great combination of NBA-readiness and potential.
There weren't too many bigger surprises than the decision of Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet to not enter the 2008 NBA Draft. The Tanzanian native is enormous (7-foot-3, 263 pounds) and athletic (running with guards at times). Last season he displayed a significantly improved sense of the game, and it is only logical that his progression will continue with a third season as a Husky. Thabeet could work his way to the top of the draft.
With James Johnson already there, it will be interesting to see the role that Al-Farouq Aminu assumes in his freshman season. He will obviously have to fight for playing time. He's a freakish athlete with a high offensive skill level in the mold of a Luol Deng. His length and ability to shoot off the dribble as well as attack the rim make him an elite level prospect.
An ankle injury cut last season short for Kentucky power forward Patrick Patterson. That was a good thing for Wildcat Nation - it meant another year with the beast in blue. Patterson displayed every prerequisite skill one could ask for in a power forward as a freshman, and then some. His potential isn't as through-the-roof as someone like Griffin, but he is an absolute force inside and could contribute sooner rather than later at the NBA level. Though just 6'8, Patterson makes up for his lack of height with long arms, explosivenss and heart.
Despite flying under the radar for much of last season, Oklahoma State's James Anderson quietly was one of the best freshman wings in the country. Anderson has great athleticism and strength to go along with a knack for scoring. He's still a bit raw and he tailed off at the end of last season, but he has every tool an NBA GM could want in a shooting guard.
Six-foot-10 shooting guards aren't easy to find. So Gonzaga's Austin Daye is a bit of a hot commodity. With a skill set resembling (albeit not at the same level as) Kevin Durant, Daye has the potential to rock the college basketball world. Daye struggled to get minutes last season for the Bulldogs, but Mark Few can't ignore his outstanding potential and the great efficiency he displayed last season.
[img_assist|nid=1366|title=Ricky Rubio|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=382] What position does Earl Clark play? Maybe the better question is what position DOESN'T Earl Clark play? The Louisville do-everything man rebounded and ran the point, he shot jumpers and dunked. Clark is long and athletic with all the tools to do whatever a coach asks him. He should fit in naturally as an NBA small forward, even if he's playing nearly every position for Rick Pitino.
Europe's highest rated prospect Ricky Rubio has been moved to the 2010 mock draft., at the number one slot. While he would figure to be a top 3-5 pick in 2009, there's a good chance he will wait an extra year to insure that he is better prepared to succeed in the NBA once he heads over. Rubio is a natural with an incredible basketball IQ whose exploits have been well documented. He's already reached legendary status in Spain, and is considered the future of Spanish basketball. With teammate at Joventut, Rudy Fernandez, leaving for the Portland Trailblazers next season, more of the offensive load will shift into his hands.
Another elite level European prospect is Lithuania's Donatas Motiejunas. The 7-footer has an excellent shooting touch and is developing solid offensive skills both on the block and facing the basket. He's strong and athletic and just needs to get a little nastier to truly ring the bell. He's not expected to get much playing time next year with Zalgiris, so look for him to enter in 2010 and be a possible top 5-10 pick.
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Teammates Malik Hairston and Maarty Luenen unexpectedly heard their names called but Taylor didn’t.
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Taylor was arguably Oregon’s best player last season, but his 6-foot-4 frame makes him a undersized at the next level. Nonetheless, his scoring ability, length and athleticism give him a chance to make in in the league.