Mar 25, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Baylor Bears forward Perry Jones III (1) is defended by Kentucky Wildcats forward Anthony Davis (23) and Kentucky Wildcats forward Terrence Jones (3) in the first half during the finals of the south region of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE
The NBA Draft is always full of dice rolls, but the bets will come quite high in 2012 as top-10 picks Andre Drummond and Perry Jones III represent two of the biggest gambles.
Players considered good enough to be drafted by NBA teams usually have either high-level statistical production or high-level physical tools. Ones with both, like Anthony Davis, are usually selected at the very top of the lottery.
The rest, lacking in one of the two categories, are obviously more difficult to evaluate. But the ones that end up haunting GMs the most are high-upside players who weren't able to consistently dominate in college, either because they ended up taking a guy who didn't develop or passing on a guy who did.
Front offices can be burned either way. The Atlanta Hawks took Marvin Williams, an athletic 6'9, 230-pound forward with a 7'3 wingspan, No. 2 in 2005 despite him never even starting at UNC. Gambling on Williams instead of taking one of two excellent collegiate point guards (Deron Williams and Chris Paul) is the biggest reason why this version of the Hawks has never reached a conference finals.
The converse can be just as damaging. In 2010, the Philadelphia 76ers passed on Derrick Favors to take Evan Turner, a collegiate All-American who didn't have the quickness or jump-shot of a top-level NBA small forward. Favors, meanwhile, was hardly a can't miss prospect, averaging 12 points and eight rebounds for a Georgia Tech team who lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
At 18, he was young for a college freshman, and his teammates on the Yellow Jackets didn't really complement his game. He shared the front-court with Gani Lawal, another big man without much of an outside game, while his point guard was Iman Shumpert, a shoot-first player without much of a jump shot. As a result, there wasn't much room in the paint for him to operate.
In drafting Favors, the Nets were believing a young player would reach his potential without seeing much proof of it on the court. It looks like a good decision now, but you could have said many of the same things about Williams. While he didn't dominate in college, he was a sixth man behind five future NBA players on a UNC team that won a national title.
There are several players in the 2012 draft with upsides at least as high as Williams and Favors; how they end up developing could make or break the fortunes of the teams that draft them -- as well as the teams that don't.
Andre Drummond, Connecticut
The talent: There isn't a player in the NBA with Drummond's unreal physical tools: he's a 6'10, 270-pound big man with athleticism of a dunk contest winner. In a league where size is everything, he'll always be the biggest and fastest player on the court, even against Dwight Howard. Even more intriguingly, he's already far more natural and smooth with the ball in his hands than the robotic Howard.
The production: Drummond averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game for a UConn team that stumbled badly after winning the 2011 championship, going 20-14 and losing in the first round.
Mitigating factors: The Huskies entire program imploded last season, with Ryan Boatright dealing with NCAA investigations and suspensions, Jim Calhoun missing more than a month with health issues and the school ultimately banned from the 2013 postseason for subpar academics. Combine that with shaky point guard play (Shabazz Napier) and a returning big man (Alex Oriakhi) whose strengths and weaknesses mirrored Drummond's, and it was a perfect storm few freshmen could overcome.
Perry Jones III, Baylor
The talent: An athletic 6'11, 235-pound forward, Jones has as much pure talent as Anthony Davis. Not only does he have the tools to match-up with all three front-line positions at the next level, he has the ball-handling and passing ability of a guard and a very respectable three-point shooting form (he shot 30.3 percent as a sophomore).
The production: There wasn't a more disappointing player in college last season than Jones, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year who finished on the All Big-12 third team. He averaged 14 points and 7.7 rebounds a game while often disappearing in Baylor's biggest games.
Mitigating factors: It's hard to overstate how poor a coaching job Scott Drew did last season. Instead of running his offense through two McDonald's All-Americans (Jones and Miller), he let a 5'10 junior college transfer (Pierre Jackson) dominate the ball. He brought in three transfers to his backcourt, but still couldn't unearth a legitimate point guard.
Defensively, despite having one of the most athletic teams in the country, he used a gimmick 1-3-1 zone that consistently gave up good shots and put his players in terrible position to rebound the ball. Even after the game-plan to beat it spread far throughout the Big 12, he stuck with the zone right up until he abandoned it completely in the Bears' Elite Eight loss to Kentucky.
Quincy Miller, Baylor
The talent: An athletic 6'9, 200-pound forward with a preposterous 7'4 wingspan, Miller is a decent ball-handler and excellent shooter who's capable of effortlessly exploding for points, most notably a 29-point game against Missouri. With three-point range (35 percent as a freshman) as well as excellent footwork in the mid to high-post and a soft floater, he has the potential to be completely indefensible.
The production: Miller averaged 11.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists with 44.7 percent shooting for a Baylor team that underachieved most of the season before making a run to the Elite Eight while defeating 14, 11 and 10 seeds. There were many games where Miller disappeared completely and made almost no impact on the floor.
Mitigating factors: Everything said about Jones goes double for Miller, who averaged 15 points a game during Jones' five-game suspension to start the season. When Jones returned, Miller was almost never featured offensively again, as Scott Drew decided he would rather have Pierre Jackson fire up fade-away three-pointers over double teams.
Even more intriguingly for his NBA future, Miller was only nine months removed from tearing his ACL in high school, an injury which typically takes 12-18 months to fully recover from. He'll need to add weight to his frame to survive in the NBA, but in three years, if he's regained his explosiveness as a 22-year-old 6'9, 220-pound forward ... whoa.
Meyers Leonard, Illinois
The talent: An athletic 7'1, 245-pound center who can play above the rim, Leonard has the potential to be an impact defender on the level of Tyson Chandler. And while he's not a shot-creator offensively, he made 73 percent of his free-throw attempts as a sophomore and can be a devastating finisher on the pick-and-roll while also spreading the court as a pick-and-pop player.
The production: Leonard averaged 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game with 58 percent shooting for an Illinois team that collapsed at the end of the season, slipping from the Top 25 to out of the NCAA Tournament entirely with a 17-15 record. While he would have benefited from an extra year in school, his difficult family situation almost forced him to declare for the draft.
Mitigating factors: Big men typically take longer to develop than guards, especially on the defensive side of the ball. When Chandler was Leonard's age, he averaged 9.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 24 minutes for the Chicago Bulls. Leonard will have to brought along slowly, which will be tough for whoever drafts him, especially if they have to pass on several far more NBA-ready prospects.
Royce White, Iowa State
The talent: White, an athletic 6'8, 270-pound point forward, is one of the most unique players to enter the draft in some time. While he doesn't have a perimeter jumper, he still led the Cyclones in points (13.1), rebounds (9.2), assists (5.1), steals (1.2) and blocks (0.9). He also helped his school make its first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years.
Mitigating factors: The biggest concerns for White come off-the-court. He left Minnesota as a freshman after two separate legal incidents and considered quitting the sport altogether. He's also struggled with a severe anxiety disorder and battled panic attacks as well as a fear of flying that led to him driving nine hours to Iowa State's NCAA Tournament game rather than taking the team's charter. This will obviously not work in the NBA.