Big-12 Conference: Top NBA Prospects

Wed, 10/29/2008 - 7:48pm


By Michael DeStefano

The defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks lost its entire starting five; Texas lost their 1st team All-American; Texas A&M lost their best players, Kansas State lost the best freshman to come through college basketball in recent memory. Sounds like a down year for the Big 12? Think again.

Blake Griffin is ready to put Oklahoma on his back in his pursuit of going #1 in 2009; Texas will show that they were a lot more than DJ Augustin last year; Kansas has retooled with a stellar recruiting class; and Baylor has enough talent to do some damage in one of the best conferences in the country. They may not have as many quality teams as does the Big East, but the Big 12 is right there.

Talent-wise, this conference is very interesting. It is stacked in the frontcourt (including the best NBA prospect in the country) and weak in the backcourt (although a few honorable mentions could be poised for breakout seasons).

Top 5 Prospects:


    Blake Griffin
  1. Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) – Griffin would have been a top 5 pick had he come out last year. This year, he’s the favorite to be the #1 pick. He’s got the body: strong, long, and super athletic, helping him match up against bigger power forwards. He’s got the attitude and work ethic, the result of being a coach’s son. He can face up and take his man off the dribble on offense, and he’s a relentless rebounder (9.1 per game) on defense. The scary part? He still has a ton of room to grow. He needs to do more defensively (less than 1 block per game) and expand his range (only attempted 2 threes). Most importantly, he needs to improve his mid-range game to become the match up nightmare scouts expect him to be at the next level. He’s shown the ability to take huge strides in his game, and he’s nowhere near a finished product. His ceiling is as high as anyone’s. The fight for the #1 spot will likely be a yearlong battle between Griffin and BJ Mullens. Griffin is clearly the favorite. If he can take Oklahoma deep into the tournament while exhibiting improved mid-range and defensive skills, he’ll be too good to pass up.

  2. Damion James (Texas) – James quietly had a great season last year playing in the shadow of DJ Augustin, averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds per game in the rugged Big 12. The biggest concern for pro scouts is his ability to play small forward in the NBA; at 6’7, he is too small to play power forward. He shot 41% from 3 last year, which is a good sign, but his ball-handling skills at this point aren’t good enough to make plays from the perimeter. He can’t take his man one-on-one, getting most of his points on rebounds, open shots, and moving without the ball. He’s strong enough to guard bigger guys and quick enough to defend guards. He’s an interesting prospect and will most likely be a lottery pick in the upcoming draft despite lacking great skills for the small forward position. Showing NBA scouts that he can play outside will help him secure a spot in the upper half of the lottery.

  3. Connor Atchley (Texas) – Atchley possesses many of the tools that James needs. At 6’10, Atchley fits the mold of the modern power forward in the NBA: he can play close to the basket but also has the ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter. He shot 54% from the field and 41% from 3 last year; he scored almost 10 points per game (up from 5 as a sophomore) as the 4th option behind Augustin, James, and AJ Abrams; and he blocked more than two shots per game, showing aggressive play in the paint. He’s lacks a power game, visible in the fact that he shot almost twice as many threes (104) as free throws (58). Adding muscle would help him in this area. With a good year as a legitimate #2 option, Atchley will be a nice pick for a team looking to add size and shooting in the first round.

  4. Craig Brackens (Iowa State) – Speaking of the modern power forward, Brackins is it. Still relatively unknown, he had a solid freshman season, averaging 11 points per game and showing off a wide range of skills. At 6’10, he can step out and shoot, put the ball on the floor against slower bigs, and score in the post using turnaround jumpers and hooks with either hand. Not yet ready for the draft, Brackins has a lot to improve on. His shot selection is poor, resulting in bad percentages (43% from the field, 28% from 3). His defense leaves much to be desired; 5 rebounds and 1 block per game are not enough from a player possessing the physical tools that Brackins does. He’d likely be wise to stay for his junior season, a potential lottery pick in 2010.

  5. Cole Aldrich (Kansas) – Playing time was scarce last year for Aldrich playing behind Sasha Kaun, Darrell Arthur, and Darnell Jackson, but they’re gone; Cole’s time is now. When he got time, he showed flashes of brilliance: In March, he had a double-double against Texas Tech in only seventeen minutes of playing time. Then, against North Carolina in the Final Four, he scored 8 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, and blocked 4 shots to help the Jayhawks knock off the Tar Heels. The former McDonald’s All-American has a soft touch and does a great job of getting post position, which is good considering his skills outside of ten feet aren’t there yet. Although Bill Self was able to bring in a great recruiting class, Aldrich will be the focal point, and after a year of riding the bench, you can bet he’ll be ready to take advantage of his increased playing time.

Others receiving consideration: Curtis Jerrells (Baylor), LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor), Henry Dugat (Baylor), James Anderson (Oklahoma State) , Sherron Collins (Kansas)

Top Newcomer: Willie Warren (Oklahoma) - Blake Griffin needs help. Enter Willie Warren. One of the top guards in the class of 2008, Warren is a highly explosive, big-time player who can score in every way possible. He’s got a beautiful jump shot with NBA range, the quickness to get by his man, and the length, strength, and athleticism to finish at the basket. Last year’s high school Player of the Year in Texas, Warren is more than just a scorer; he has the vision and passing to make those around him better. Unlike a lot of young players, he knows when to take the shot and when to be unselfish. He’s got a great attitude and doesn’t shy away from stepping up in big moments or taking shots in the clutch. He’ll be one of the leaders of this team from Day 1 and should take a lot of pressure off Griffin; defenses will not be able to collapse on the big man with Warren on the perimeter. At 6’3, Warren will need to show that he has the ability to run a team and become a full-time point guard at the next level. He should be a first-round pick come 2010.


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