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2012 NBA Draft: Top five players at each position

Sam Smith breaks down the five best players at each of the five positions in anticipation of Thursday’s NBA Draft. While Anthony Davis is almost certain to go No. 1 and has the best shot at becoming a star, others will likely emerge as well.
"The assumption this year is Anthony Davis is most likely to be the star," writes Sam Smith, who is high on Florida's Bradley Beal. "But there’ll be someone else, maybe a few more. The question is identifying them."
(Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

I’m guessing it’s not a scoop that Chicago’s Anthony Davis is going to be the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft. Davis, the 6-11 center/forward from Kentucky, is generally described as the player with the best chance from this 2012 draft to be a star.

And, after all, that is what the NBA Draft is mostly about. Yes, it’s about filling out a roster. But it’s mostly about finding the kind of star to help build a team. Sure, Miami did so in free agency. But more great teams are built from the draft. The Oklahoma City Thunder is the current example.

And an appropriate one that might give teams hope.

Their top player is Kevin Durant, the No. 2 pick behind Greg Oden in the 2007 draft. Their other two stars, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, were selected Westbrook No. 4 in 2008 and Harden No. 3 in 2009.

The obvious assumption is the higher the draft pick, the better chance for stardom. But it works that way perhaps half the time or less. Yes, Derrick Rose was a worthy No. 1 pick in 2008 and Blake Griffin in 2009.

But how about some of these overall No. 1 picks?

2006: Andrea Bargnani
2005: Andrew Bogut
2001: Kwame Browm
2000: Kenyon Martin
1999: Elton Brand
1998: Michael Olowokandi
1995: Joe Smith
1989: Pervis Ellison
1988: Danny Manning
1983: Ralph Sampson
1980: Joe Barry Carroll
1977: Kent Benson
1976: John Lucas
1972: LaRue Martin

In the last 40 years since Martin was drafted No. 1 overall, perhaps half those players were easily surpassed by players selected much lower in the same draft.

Kia NBA Draft 2012

How about Deron Williams and Chris Paul Nos. 3 and 4 in 2005? Danny Granger was No. 17 that year. Pau Gasol was No. 3 in 2001, Joe Johnson No. 10, Zach Randolph No. 19 and Tony Parker No. 28. Vince Carter was No. 5 in 1998 and Dirk Nowitzki No. 9.

Kevin Garnett was No. 5 in 1995, and the season before, Jason Kidd and Grant Hill came after Glenn Robinson. Clyde Drexler was No. 14 in 1983, Kevin McHale was No. 3 in 1980, Barnard King was No. 7 in 1977 and Robert Parish was No. 8 in 1976. And, of course, the greatest, Michael Jordan, was No. 3 in 1984, just before Charles Barkley at No. 5. Larry Bird was No. 6 in 1978. Joe Dumars was No. 18 in 1985, Karl Malone was No. 13 in 1985 and John Stockton No. 16 in 1984. Mark Jackson was No. 18 in 1987, while Reggie Miller was No. 11 in 1987. Dwyane Wade was No. 5 in 2003, Chris Mullin was No. 7 in 1985, Tracy McGrady was No. 9 in 1997, Amar’e Stoudemire was No. 9 in 2002, and Scottie Pippen was No. 5 in 1987.

So it can be done without the top few picks in the draft. Again, the assumption this year is Davis is most likely to be the star. But there’ll be someone else, maybe a few more. The question is identifying them. I happen to like Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Austin Rivers. Stars are more than what teams see in workouts. Look at Jordan and Bryant and Wade and Bird and there’s something there other than just the skills. There’s something to taking the responsibility in a big game, in a big moment, which is a lot of what sports is about. Yes, you need a certain skill to play in the NBA and it’s nice to have a defined position. But the trick to scouting is identifying that intangible of the man who is able and determined to make a play when no one else can or cares to. That often identifies the star. So who are those players in this draft?

Here’s a look at the top five players by position. Someone in there is going to be an NBA star. It would be easier if they could just raise their hand.

Point Guard

It’s probably the weakest position in the draft, which might elevate some of the better point guards since there’s so much demand now for the position. It’s going to be difficult to find five who’ll be in the first round, and thus put any at a disadvantage coming into the NBA with such strength at the position. It likely will be a boon for so many free agent point guards this summer.

  1. Damian Lillard, Weber State, 6-3, 190 He’s more of a scoring point whose value has increased with the workouts. I never quite get that and often teams make big mistakes becoming enthralled with a player making shots without game conditions. Really can score, though. He’s been likened to Jason Terry and Jay Williams.
  2. Kendall Marshall, North Carolina, 6-4, 200 More a classic point guard though not with much of a shot or a scorer. Makes all the passes and runs the floor with good size. But so many points in the NBA now have to score.
  3. Marquis Teague, Kentucky, 6-2, 180 A kid with a lot of NBA skills to run the pick and roll and get into the paint. Has potential as a defender and shooter and in the long run could surpass Marshall.
  4. Tony Wroten, Washington, 6-6, 203 Very big point guard with a big personality to take over situations. An attacking player who gets into the paint like Tyreke Evans but with even a worse shot. Of course, they said that and still do about Rajon Rondo.
  5. Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas, 6-4, 180 A lot of teams have him as a second rounder with names like Scott Machado of Iona and Tu Holloway of Xavier maybe ahead. Taylor’s got good size and is an attacking guard, but considered a questionable decision maker. Of course, so are a lot of general managers.

Shooting Guard

This is probably the strongest position in the draft, which is good for a team like the Bulls who need backcourt help and pick No 29. There’s perhaps 10 shooting guards who can get into the first round and some in the second round who figure to be solid rotation players. Four or five should be in the lottery.

  1. Bradley Beal, Florida, 6-5, 202 You hate to hear of a shooting guard whom some scouts say doesn’t have a great looking shot. But he is to some one of the potential stars, taller than many figured and shooting well at his workouts. A solid player who isn’t that explosive but will make plays.
  2. Austin Rivers, Duke, 6-5, 205 He’s more of a combo guard and scorer likened at times to Gilbert Arenas in the All Star days. Most scouts have projected Jeremy Lamb ahead, though lately there have been (maybe faux) injury questions. I think Rivers has that “it” that teams love to have with a kid who’ll want to beat you any way he can.
  3. Terrence Ross, Washington, 6-7, 200 He’s someone whom teams generally rate in the high lottery to low 20’s. He’s been a bit of a wildcard given spectacular plays and then deferring at times. But he’s a potential big time talent.
  4. Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut, 6-5, 180 He’s the annual Reggie Miller type, the thin great shooter. I may be ranking him too low, and there were reports of a shoulder issue. Though there are many false reports around this time to try to get teams to pass on a player. Has a huge wingspan and is considered a pretty good ball handler.
  5. Dion Waiters, Syracuse, 6-4, 220 More thickly built and strong who’ll take contact and get to the line. He’s a decent shooter but not much of a defender and generally likened to someone like Rodney Stuckey without a true position and I’m never fond of those guys. Though he could jump into the top 10 on talent.

Also, watch out for guys like Will Barton, Doron Lamb, John Jenkins, Jared Cunningham and William Buford.

Small Forward

There’s some of the best talent here and then a drop off after the top two guys. It’s a tough position to come into the NBA young with some of the most explosive talent to defend and it’s generally the most difficult to find starting threes and fives as rookies.

  1. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky, 6-7 1/2, 230 and Harrison Barnes, North Carolina, 6-8, 230 You poll all the GMs and they’d probably be split on who to pick ahead. I like Kidd-Gilchrist for the athleticism, the finishing in traffic and defense. The problem is his shot, which is Barnes’ strength. Barnes hasn’t proven he can get to the basket, and certainly not like Kidd-Gilchrist. But Barnes can make shots and to some is regarded eventually higher than Luol Deng, with whom he’s drawn comparisons.
  2. Perry Jones, Baylor, 6-11, 235 Many list him as a power forward especially since he played it. But he clearly plays like he wants to be a small forward, which sounds like our old buddy Tyrus Thomas. Jones, like Tyrus, has jaw dropping skills but doesn’t always compete and draws comparisons as well to another underperforming Thomas, Tim. A big boom or bust guy.
  3. Moe Harkless, St. John’s, 6-9, 206 Someone who scores more inside will have to make the transition outside to the pro game. Lots of teams see him more into the 20’s as a role player even with those great athletic talents. Long reach and can attack rim though not a great shooter.
  4. Jeff Taylor, Vanderbilt, 6-7, 212 A good jumper and athlete who can be a lockdown defender type. Has come along with his shooting, though not that dependable, which is tough for that position. Not a great ballhandler whose been likened to Wilson Chandler.

Royce White, who played for Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State, and Draymond Green of Michigan State generally are mentioned next.

Power Forward

Here’s where the man from Chicago comes, Davis. You wouldn’t have known a few years ago, and now he’s being compared with Bill Russell… OK, stop. Most teams consider him a power forward, though the way the game is played now and we saw with Miami I can see him playing a lot of center. Tim Duncan always called himself a power forward, but once David Robinson graduated he basically was the Spurs center for a decade. But I’ll play along.

  1. Anthony Davis, Kentucky, 6-11, 222 He’s the consensus top pick so much so that the NBA’s draft materials already list him that way. I didn’t even recall that with LeBron. He’s skinny and will have to bulk up. And he’s not much of a scorer yet. But he probably can step in immediately as one of the league’s best defensive big man with a Russell-like ability to direct blocks to teammates instead of into the stands to admire himself.
  2. Thomas Robinson, Kansas, 6-9, 245 He’s called the safe pick, which excites no one and why Charlotte still know what to do. That generally means a guy who’ll be a 10-year starter and not sniff an All-Star team. A strong, tough rebounder with an improved shot maybe a little like Kenyon Martin without the attitude.
  3. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State, 6-9, 270 It’s been popular of late to drop him with reports of a back problem (uncertain) and that he plays under the rim. But he’s a winning player who finds a way and I love those kinds of guys. He’s not going to jump over anyone, but he’ll get the ball.
  4. John Henson, North Carolina, 6-11, 215 More the defensive player and shot blocker, though skinny. Will make plays defensively, though is going to get pushed around in the NBA and those kinds of players often don’t see much playing time for a few years.
  5. Terence Jones, Kentucky, 6-9 1/2, 250 More today’s four in the stretch mold of a Shawn Marion, though somewhat bigger. He can make plays off the dribble and seems to want to play more like a small forward.

This also is a pretty deep position and one guy moving up among teams is St. Bonaventure’s Andrew Nicholson, who could move into this list. Arnett Moultrie from Mississippi State also is considered a first rounder.

Center

Again, I see Davis as a center often, though the Hornets with another first rounder supposedly want someone like center Tyler Zeller to play with him. I’m not sure that’s a great idea. But, hey, David Stern isn’t running the team now and they are on their own to make a bad move. Though pros love the big man, he’s a disappearing species in the NBA, and especially this era because they take so much longer to develop than at any other position. Generally you draft them for some other team or your successor. But the great big man remains the NBA’s buried treasure.

  1. Andre Drummond, Connecticut, 7-0, 280 He’s regarded as the big risk of the lottery and I always stay away from guys like him. Just a freshman, I know, but he averaged 10 points on a team that went nowhere. If you’re going to be a dominant NBA player, you should dominate the little college kids. Everyone gawks when they see him, but everyone agrees project. The NBA isn’t a patient place these days.
  2. Tyler Zeller, North Carolina, 7-1, 248 A huge guy who knows how to play and will not be a bust. He’ll play hard and is a skilled type player like Spencer Hawes but not a game changer.
  3. Myers Leonard, Illinois, 7-1, 250 Again a good prospect with size. An athletic big guy who can shoot and is something like B.J. Mullens with a bit more interior prospects.
  4. Fab Melo, Syracuse, 7-0, 255 Another raw talent whose skills are on the defensive end. Not much of anything on the offensive and he had some offensive moments in college which worry pros some. Really can jump, though.
  5. Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt, 6-11 1/2, 265 Your classic role playing big man in the Nazr Mohammed style. Not a great, talented athlete, but as they say in the NBA, you can’t teach size and everyone has to have one. A late starter to the game who’ll play hard. He’ll probably fall into the second round.

Seen some stars among them? They’re there somewhere, as Gertrude Stein might have said. If she were at the draft camp, anyway.

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