Though it’s about 11 months away, the 2011 NBA Draft watch has already begun. Plus after two months without any basketball I find myself watching mediocrity like Mets baseball and The Bachelorette. Anyways, I’ll be the guy covering the stock watch of all the eligible college prospects looking to make their move to the big leagues, as well as checking in on the NBA rookies who were just drafted this past June. With 3 of the top 5 picks this past year being one and done college players, look for the popular freshman theme to continue into this year.
Throughout the next couple of days I’ll be handpicking some of the top freshman looking to make a name for themselves in their first year as a college athlete. With more and more GMs and scouts looking to draft based on potential, these incoming freshman should be salivating at the opportunity to show what they can bring to the table. That being said, here’s the first portion of the top 2010-2011 freshmen report:
Harrison Barnes, SF North Carolina
The consensus number 1 rated freshman in the country, Harrison Barnes will look to put North Carolina back on the map after a down year from the Heels, as they danced all the way to the finals of the NIT before losing to Dayton. Barnes is an athletic wingman with size, who has the ability to shoot off the dribble, slash to the hoop and get to the line. He reminds me of an early Grant Hill with ankles that actually work, while having the same basketball IQ and work ethic. He was the Co-MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic game at the Garden a few months ago, and will kick off the 2010-2011 season as my pick to finish as the top prize in next year’s draft.
Kyrie Irving, PG Duke
Entering his freshman year at Duke as one of the top 2 freshman point guards, I expect Kyrie Irving to be the first guard selected in the 2011 NBA Draft. He was named Co-MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic, and generated more ohhhs and ahhhs from the crowd than a Siegfried and Roy show in Vegas. He’s got that Barry Sanders-like quickness and elusiveness, with the ability to make defenders miss as if a ghost entered the court and tied everyone’s shoelaces together. Imagine the roadrunner with a mean cross-over and a reliable pull-up jumper. After losing senior lead guard Jon Scheyer, Irving will add a completely new dimension to Duke basketball. He can create shots for others, and should form a dangerous tandem with Kyle Singler in the drive and dish game. Expect the Blue Devils to run a little bit more than they have in the past, as Duke should be atop the ranks once again throughout the year. His only knock in high school was his control or lack there of, although with Coach K on the sidelines, it should be like adding some cool milk to hot coffee to make the perfect balanced beverage… or point guard.
Jared Sullinger, PF Ohio State
A physical, strong bully in the paint, Sullinger is one of the top big men entering his freshman year. With last year’s second overall pick Evan Turner headed to Philadelphia, Sullinger will look to add a new dimension to the Ohio State basketball program. He has nice touch around the basket, with impressive footwork in the post that allows him to get off the shot that he desires. Most young big men are raw, however JS is a skilled 6’9 forward with some post moves that will throw him in the lottery discussion early on. He has a decent midrange game that should only improve, and while he’s not the most athletic big man, his combination of skill and strength should make him a force in the post.
Brandon Knight, PG Kentucky
Following in the same steps as Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall, Brandon Knight will look to be another top point guard under the watch of Coach John Calipari. Knight is lightning quick, and virtually unguardable one on one off the dribble. He has that razzle dazzle/flare to his game, and will pull off some passes that will make you think he has about 8 sets of eyes scattered all over his body. He has the ability to shoot off the dribble, and will have the Wildcats pushing the tempo with his great speed and high energy. With Kentucky losing 5 players to the NBA, expect Knight to have the ball in his hands for a majority of the game, a good thing if your not a fan of mechanical, half court basketball. He’s got good size and length, and when you combine that with his high IQ and lateral quickness, he becomes a hounding defensive presence on the ball. Look for Knight to be in lottery talks all season as another one and done candidate.
Josh Selby, PG/SG Kansas
A combo guard who can score and distribute, Selby has a game that’s better suited for an off ball guard. His best asset is his ability to create his own shot, a must for any scoring guard looking to make it at the next level. He has an advanced mid-range game that NBA scouts love to see at an early age, along with 3 point range and an ability to handle the ball. Selby is quick and has an impressive touch in the paint, showing the ability to hit off balanced shots while maintaining his body control. His biggest obstacle moving forward will be his 6’3 height, which is considered undersized for a 2 guard. A tough competitor who can get to the rack at will, he’ll need to show coaches and scouts that he can quarterback a team from the point throughout stretches of a game. He currently has eligibility issues due to an advisor he wasn’t supposed to have, but hopefully he will be wearing a Kansas uniform next season to help fill the void left by former one and done guard Xavier Henry.
CJ Leslie, PF/C North Carolina State
Leslie is a tremendous athlete who throws down dunks like he’s in a video game. He’s long, explosive and versatile, and despite his somewhat lanky frame he can shake and bake like Ricky Bobby. He’s one of those players who would thrive with a talented point guard, as he tends to try and do too much with the ball in his hands, however his upside is just wild. He can run the floor like a guard, and if you throw it anywhere near the basket he’ll find a way to grab it at its highest point and finish with hostility. With some added bulk and improved discipline, I expect CJ Leslie to make a big splash on the national scene in the near future.
Perry Jones, PF Baylor
One of the top rated forwards in his class, Jones will provide Baylor and Sportscenter fans with plenty of jaw-dropping highlights throughout the year. He’s 6’11 with the skills of a 2, 3, 4 and 5. He has a bag full of different talents, and can beat you with every one of them. On the break he’s like Randy Moss running a deep route requiring double coverage to slow him down. He can jump out of the gym and if you missed the McDonald’s All American Dunk Contest you might want to youtube it. Forwards with his size and length usually don’t possess his type of perimeter skills. His arsenal consists of 3 point range, a smooth pull-up game, and the ability to beat his man off the dribble where he can score in every way possible in the paint. Jones shouldn’t be at Baylor for long, as his upside and potential will have NBA scouts drooling like 1990′s teenagers watching Baywatch. You can pencil his name in for a top 10 pick, with the likelihood of going over it with a sharpie mid season.
Part 2 to come…
About the Author
Written by Jonathan Wasserman
Jonathan Wasserman is a Syracuse University graduate, and contributor to NBADraft.net and Hoopsdaily.com. A Manhattan, New York resident, he is a long time New York Knicks season ticket holder. Feel free to email him at Jonathan.Wass@gmail.com