The 2008 NBA Draft ended late Thursday night, and while it seems that the 2009 Draft won’t feature as many star-studded, one-and-done freshman like Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo, the top prospects for next June are immensely talented and feature their own unique skill sets. More experienced college players like Darren Collison, Earl Clark, Ty Lawson and Stephen Curry will be featured, along with still a fair amount of freshman like Tyreke Evans, B.J. Mullens and Brandon Jennings.
I’ve narrowed down the expected class to my Top 10 players for the 2009 draft:
1. Demar DeRozan, SG, Southern Cal
Most experts have Blake Griffin pegged as their #1 prospect, but I’ll opt for DeRozan, an unbelievably athletic shooting guard from Compton projected to make an immediate impact as Southern Cal in his one year. He’s an explosive, quick scorer with NBA size and leaping ability that will make scouts drool, but has more of a complete repertoire than just highlight dunks. His shooting range and skilled rebounding also are very impressive and worth being the number one overall selection.
2. Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma
Griffin appears to be a Carlos Boozer clone, someone that will average 20 and 7 at the NBA level. His polished skill set around the rim is more developed than most professional players, and he’s extremely difficult to keep from scoring in the paint. The most impressive facet of Griffin’s game is his rebounding ability, both offensively and defensively. Defense needs to improve, but the toughness is there.
3. B.J. Mullens, C, Ohio State
As you’ll see soon enough at Ohio State, Mullens is an enigma that needs motivation and polish. Nobody possesses as much pure upside and potential to dominate as Mullens, but the seven footer can often lack discipline and motivation. He’s very athletic, the opposite of a usual stiff even given his size. Mullens is a gifted rebounded and finisher with a strong NBA frame. Defense also needs refining.
4. Brandon Jennings, PG, Arizona
The rumors are afloat that Jennings may opt to play in Europe. Regardless, his stock as an NBA stud will not decline with this decision. At Oak Hill Academy this past year, one of the most distinguished programs in the nation, Jennings averaged 35 points and 8 assists per game. He has top notch athleticism and quickness to the rim, an excellent jump shot and court vision similar to a young Chris Paul. If he decides to play in Tucson, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill will love to play with him.
5. Hasheem Thabeet, C, Connecticut
NBA scouts have been drooling over this kid’s potential for years now. His offensive game needs plenty of molding and development before he can become a threat on both ends of the floor at the next level, and even in the loaded Big East. But this kid is the best pure defender in the nation. His shot-blocking ability is off the charts and explosive leaping ability controls games in the paint.
6. Jrue Holiday, PG, UCLA
Many scouts believe Holiday is a more talented Russell Westbrook, the same Westbrook that just went fourth overall in the 2008 Draft. Holiday is versatile at both guard positions, but excels controlling the offense, both with his passing and court vision, and excellent motor to the basket. He’s also the most developed defender of the class at the guard position- his aggressiveness leads to steals and Holiday is committed equally on the defensive end.
7. James Harden, SG, Arizona State
If you asked a college basketball fan who the Freshman of the Year in the Pac-10 was last season, most would say O.J. Mayo, or Kevin Love, or Jerryd Bayless. They’d all be wrong. James Harden took the crown as a freshman in 2007-08, scoring 17.8 per contest while shooting 53% from the floor. Harden is a flat out scorer with an above average jumper and a knack of getting to the basket. His length and wingspan will undoubtedly impress NBA scouts.
8. Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina
Lawson is an example of someone who will shoot up draft boards because of his explosiveness and athleticism. He’s a Superman quick point guard who will lead the top team in college basketball, so scouts will know how he does playing with talent. Lawson is a blow-by scorer with plus court vision and strong finishing ability, but he badly needs to lessen the turnovers and strengthen perimeter shooting, or defenders will just play off of him.
9. Nick Calathes, SG, Florida
Calathes really flew under the radar as a freshman last season at Florida, not only for his shooting abilities (37% from 3, and he can even improve on that), but his passing ability (6.1 APG) and rebounding (5.3 RPG). Calathes is a complete player who can play three positions, possesses excellent ball handling and scouts will rave about his basketball IQ. The biggest part of his game is the three-point shooting, which has seemingly unlimited range.
10. Tyreke Evans, SG, Memphis
Evans, much like Jennings, is a super-recruit who excelled at a top high school program in the nation, scoring 33 PPG and grabbing nine boards. Evans is a flat out scorer, someone with a quick first step who nails mid-range jumpers at a consistent basis while also finishing at the rim. He’s a gifted ball handler, someone who will excel in John Calipari’s system. One negative: Evans can be a selfish player.