Henson at No. 9?

Pistons could have pick of big men; Drummond still in play?

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NBA teams began pointing to the 2012 draft as soon as the early-entry deadline for 2011 came and went with several prospects considered lottery locks deciding to return to college basketball. Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Thomas Robinson, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones and Perry Jones III all would have been strong lottery candidates a year ago.

The 2012 draft is still considered relatively deep – the Pistons expect they’ll get somebody with the 39th pick who in the right circumstances can help them as a rookie – but it doesn’t seem quite as dripping with future stars as it appeared destined to have a year ago.

Even before Sullinger’s back produced red flags at the Chicago draft combine, more questions about his ability to score in the paint were emerging. Perry Jones III, after a sophomore season no more productive or consistent than the previous year, is viewed much differently. Barnes, once compared to Kobe Bryant, is now seen in a lesser stratosphere.

And so it goes.

That’s why there is very little clarity other than New Orleans taking Anthony Davis at No. 1.

Here’s a best guess as to what happens after that.

1. New Orleans – Anthony Davis. The sky’s the limit for Davis, who has the size, potential for improvement, record of production and high marks for character that has teams expecting him to make the biggest impact of any incoming rookie since Portland took Greg Oden five years ago. Only a string of horrific, Odenesque injuries could similarly derail Davis.

2. Charlotte – Thomas Robinson. The best bet here is that Charlotte takes the best offer to trade down. The Bobcats need to come away from this draft with at least two NBA-quality starters to start the hard climb back toward mediocre. Robinson is a fail-safe pick if the Bobcats stay put – tough, hard-working and athletic. He just won’t help the Bobcats score much more than they do now.

3. Washington – Bradley Beal. He didn’t quite have the freshman season expected of him at Florida, but Beal’s potential to be a big-time scorer has some thinking he’s the next best thing to Davis in this draft. He’s drawn comparisons to Ray Allen for his shooting and Eric Gordon for his strength and all-around game. The Wizards desperately need perimeter shooting, which gives Beal the edge over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist here.

4. Cleveland – Harrison Barnes. The buzz last year was that the Cavs, who had the first and fourth picks, were hoping to land Barnes with one of those picks. This year, they’re rumored to be looking to trade up to No. 2 for Beal to pair with Kyrie Irving. But they have a big hole at small forward, too, and Barnes would give them the shooter they need. This is also the first spot where Andre Drummond begins to come into play.

5. Sacramento – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist The Kings have defied logic over the years, so take your best guess here. Kidd-Gilchrist would easily be the consensus next best on the board if it plays out this way. But they could be tugged in any number of directions, including point guard Damien Lillard despite drafting Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas a year ago, and Drummond. Trading down is a distinct possibility.

6. Portland – Andre Drummond. The Trail Blazers haven’t tried very hard to camouflage their zeal for Lillard, which has to make you wonder if it’s a smoke screen. Drummond is the rare athletic 7-footer who could grow into the dominant defensive big man the Blazers thought they’d landed when they took Oden first in 2007.

7. Golden State – Dion Waiters. Nobody has had a better few months since the college season ended than Waiters, the Syracuse sixth man who is now drawing giddy comparisons to Dwyane Wade. The Warriors took a shooting guard last year, Klay Thompson, but their styles are so divergent that there really isn’t much concern about overlap here. Drummond, again, would be tough to pass if Portland grabs Lillard.

8. Toronto – Damien Lillard. The Raptors need a small forward desperately, but with Barnes and Kidd-Gilchrist gone, there isn’t one left that represents value at this pick. They could go with a shooting guard and move DeMar DeRozan to small forward, but Lillard – if he’s as dynamic as his workouts suggest – would fill a need at point guard, where Jose Calderon is entering the last year of his contract. The wild card is how the Raptors feel about their chances of landing Steve Nash in free agency.

9. Detroit – John Henson. Of the seven big men we profiled on Pistons.com – Henson, Tyler Zeller, Sullinger, Perry Jones, Terrence Jones, Arnett Moultrie and Meyers Leonard – all are still on the board in this scenario. Drummond, if he somehow slips all the way to No. 9, would be almost impossible to pass at this point. But assuming he’s gone, Henson seems the most logical fit next to Greg Monroe – though the two true centers, Zeller and Leonard, are very tempting.

10. New Orleans – Austin Rivers. One of the theories why Kyrie Irving was leaving Duke despite playing only a few handfuls of games due to injury as a freshman was concern that with Rivers arriving he wouldn’t have the ball in his and would see his draft stock plummet. Seems silly now, but Rivers has some strong admirers, and some equally strong critics, across the NBA. The Hornets, by all indications, line up with the former.

11. Portland – Jeremy Lamb. If the Blazers take Drummond at No. 6, they’ll be looking for backcourt help here. The reason some believe they’ll take Lillard at six is that the depth of the draft at 11 is in big men, so they’ll have to weigh Drummond-Lamb (or another perimeter player) vs. Lillard-Zeller (or Leonard, Moultrie, et al).

12. Milwaukee – Meyers Leonard. Probably the best-case scenario for the Bucks: having their choice of the two lottery-caliber centers, Zeller and Leonard. Flip a coin here.

13. Phoenix – Kendall Marshall. The Suns have been linked to Waiters, Rivers and Lamb … but if they’re all gone, they might be fine grabbing North Carolina’s playmaking point guard in the event (likelihood?) that Nash departs as a free agent.

14. Houston – Tyler Zeller. Tough to predict what the Rockets are going to do when their end game appears to be convincing Orlando to trade Dwight Howard to them. But loading up on size might appeal to the Magic if they’re convinced Howard is leaving. And Zeller represents strong value at this pick.

15. Philadelphia – Arnett Moultrie. A long, athletic rebounder would fit the profile in Philadelphia. If the 76ers use the amnesty provision on Elton Brand, somebody will need to eat up his minutes at power forward. Moultrie is a logical candidate.

16. Houston – Terrence Jones. There’s a hit-or-miss element to Jones, but he passes the eye test and had enough big games at Kentucky that inspires teams to believe that with maturity and proper coaching that level of play can become the norm.

17. Dallas – Moe Harkless. Nobody would have believed a year ago that Harkless, not considered a can’t-miss recruit when he signed with St. John’s, would leave after his freshman season and be taken ahead of Sullinger and Perry Jones. But there’s a good chance that happens with this rangy, offensively skilled small forward.

18. Houston – Perry Jones III. At some point, a virtual 7-footer with perimeter skills and an ideal NBA frame becomes too much of a value to pass up, even given all the legitimate questions about his toughness and makeup. If the Rockets keep all three picks, rolling the dice on the third of them makes sense.

19. Orlando – Fab Melo. There’s a whole new management team in place in Orlando, including recently departed Pistons vice president Scotty Perry as assistant GM, so the tea leaves are hard to read. But the reality is they have to be preparing for life after Dwight Howard. Grabbing the best true center left is a solid first step.

20. Denver – Andrew Nicholson. The Nuggets have done well picking in this range of late, grabbing players like Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried. Nicholson produced big numbers at St. Bonaventure and brings the size and scoring ability that would nicely complement Denver’s frontcourt.

21. Boston – Jared Sullinger. If you’re looking for a soft landing spot for Sullinger, look for the teams with multiple first-rounders – Houston, Boston, Cleveland foremost. With back-to-back picks, the Celtics will be looking for at least one frontcourt piece.

22. Boston – Terrence Ross. There might not be a better value pick in the first round if it plays out this way. Some think Ross is right there with Waiters, Lamb and Rivers as the best shooting guard after Beal. With Ray Allen poised to leave in free agency, Ross could give the Celtics a nice piece behind third-year replacement Avery Bradley.

23. Atlanta – Royce White. White is a wildly intriguing talent who scares some teams after being booted out of Minnesota for a shoplifting/assault incident and then playing only one year at Iowa State, where his anxiety disorder often saw him drive to road games instead of fly. He’s a thickly built power forward with point guard vision – they don’t come around every day.

24. Cleveland – Draymond Green. If Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, a Michigan State man, exercises his influence in the draft room, you have to think he’ll put in a vote for one of Tom Izzo’s all-time favorite Spartans. Some teams aren’t sure Green has an NBA position, but many more love his intangibles. He’s going somewhere around this area, most likely.

25. Memphis – Evan Fournier. He’s a fine prospect, a 19-year-old from France who has terrific wing athletic skills. But Fournier might appeal to the Grizzlies as much for the fact they can leave him in Europe for a year or two and not have to absorb his contract. The financially challenged franchise, looking for a new owner, can’t afford to flirt with luxury tax territory.

26. Indiana – Jeff Taylor. With Paul George emerging and perhaps Danny Granger being dangled as trade bait, a small forward who can immediately come in and play NBA-caliber defense would hold obvious appeal to a playoff team that believes it can challenge for the East title next season.

27. Miami – Festus Ezeli. The Heat have searched tirelessly the past two years for someone to play capable minutes in the middle. Their best lineup in the playoffs had Chris Bosh at center and LeBron James at power forward. But they don’t want that to be an 82-game staple for fear of wearing their stars out. Ezeli, who would make it two Vanderbilt players in a row, wouldn’t give them much on offense, but he’s an athletic big man – exactly what the Heat need.

28. Oklahoma City – Quincy Miller. A perfect project for OKC and a great landing spot for Miller. He was a top-five recruit a year ago, but coming off an ACL tear that hindered his play as a Baylor freshman. Playing behind Kevin Durant would give him all the time he needs to develop. If he’d returned to college, many believe he would be a top-10 pick next year.

29. Chicago – Tyshawn Taylor. With Derrick Rose poised to miss at least the majority of next season, a rookie who can give the Bulls immediate minutes at point guard would be an attractive option. Taylor, a good athlete who isn’t an instinctive playmaker, would come to Chicago with four years of high-level competition at Kansas under his belt.

30. Golden State – Marquis Teague. The younger brother of Hawks starter Jeff Teague, the Kentucky freshman came to college the more touted of the two and has a chance to develop into a similar player. But not many think he’s ready to play just yet.