NBA teams will scour the Earth for a 7'0 with a pulse, but it's still easy for a 6'2-and-under college basketball player to slip through the cracks. There are over 300 Division-1 programs, almost all of whom have at least one guard who can rack up impressive statistics.
In his final season at Harvard, Jeremy Lin averaged 16.4 points on 52 percent shooting, 4.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists. In the ACC or the Big East, those statistics might have been enough to get Lin drafted, but they didn't move the needle all that much in the Ivy League.
While Lin became an international sensation in New York last season, he probably would never have received the opportunity if not for injuries to Baron Davis, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. For most perimeter players, that's how thin the line between Europe, the D-League and the NBA can be.
However, inferior competition isn't the only thing that can obscure a college player's true talent level. In many ways, it can be just as difficult to evaluate a big-conference player with several high-level teammates as a small-school star without any.
At a school like UNC, Duke and Kentucky, almost every rotation player is a McDonald's All-American. A defense can't game-plan against a third or a fourth option, who become the beneficiaries, rather than the targets, of double teams. College basketball can be pretty easy for a point guard surrounded by NBA-caliber teammates.
William Avery, an athletic 6'2 190-pound guard, was the fourth Duke player taken in the 1999 lottery, behind Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and Trajan Langdon. There were future NBA players up and down the roster of a team that lost the 1999 NCAA championship game: Chris Carrawell (a future first-round pick) was the Blue Devils' fifth starter; Shane Battier was their sixth man. Despite being a high first-round pick, Avery lasted only three seasons in the NBA, never playing more than 10 minutes a game.
Of course, for every William Avery there's a Ty Lawson, who became the best NBA player from UNC's 2009 championship team after slipping to the 18th pick. Lawson was one of 12 PGs taken in the first round that season, as the position has seen a huge influx of talent coming in the last few years, including the first overall pick in three of the last four drafts.
The 2012 NBA Draft, scheduled for June 28, is an exception to the trend, as there are significant questions surrounding all of the best available PGs. They either excelled at a small school and were rarely tested by elite competition, or they benefited from playing with elite teammates at a big school.
That could be an issue for the lottery teams who need a young point guard, as I don't think there's one worthy of a lottery selection in this draft. After all, there's no reason to use a lottery pick on a solid NBA point guard when teams can find undrafted rookies from Harvard off waivers who can do the job just as well.
No. 1: Damian Lillard, Weber State
Lillard has the best combination of speed and skill among this year's PGs. A long and athletic 6'2, 185-pound guard with an excellent three-point stroke (41 percent from beyond the arc), he averaged 24.5 points, five rebounds and four assists on 52 percent shooting as a senior.
He's a gifted scorer who didn't force the action on a comparatively untalented Big West team, but his assist to turnover ratio was only 1.7. While he can score, defend and pass from the point guard position, I'm not sure he's a natural playmaker, which would make him more of a Jeff Teague/Rodrigue Beaubois type.
No. 2: Scott Machado, Iona
The only other player in this draft with Machado's court vision and feel for the game is UNC's Kendall Marshall. Machado doesn't have any holes in his game: He's a decently athletic 6'1, 205-pound guard who shot 49 percent from the floor and 40 percent from behind the three-point arc, averaged 10 assists on 3.3 turnovers, five rebounds and 1.5 steals a game.
However, he's not big enough to slide over to shooting guard or explosive enough to be a combo guard off the bench. As a result, Machado doesn't offer a lot of versatility to an NBA team and may be best suited to a backup PG role.
No. 3: Kendall Marshall, UNC
Marshall has excellent size (6'4, 200 pounds) for a PG as well as a phenomenal 9.8 assist to 2.2 turnover ratio. But while UNC did fall apart after his season-ending wrist injury, that says as much about their other options at PG as it does about him.
He's a subpar athlete and an extremely limited scorer, and a lot of PGs (although not Larry Drew II or Stilman White) could have looked good on an uptempo Tar Heel team that featured Reggie Bullock, Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller. He reminds me of Jason Kidd ... the 37-year old version.
No.4: Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas
A long and athletic 6'3, 180-pound guard, Taylor is the best defensive PG in the draft. Capable of playing both backcourt positions, he could slide into several roles for an NBA team. However, he's an inconsistent shooter and ball-handler who averaged 3.5 turnovers a game as a senior, and he'll have to become a more reliable player on and off the court to stick in the NBA.
No. 5: Tony Wroten Jr., Washington
There's no denying Wroten's talent: A phenomenal ball-handler at 6'6, 205 pounds, it's almost impossible for defenders to stay in front of him. At the same time, he's an abysmal shooter (16 percent from three, 58 percent from the free throw line) and an average athlete who has a hard time finishing in the lane. Worst of all, the ball stuck way too much hands in his time at Washington, as there's a lot of Tyreke Evans in his game.
No. 6: Marquis Teague, Kentucky
Jeff Teague's younger brother was the starting PG on a national championship team, but it's hard to say his contribution was all that vital to one of the most talented collegiate squads in recent memory. His stats (10 points on 41 percent shooting, 4.8 assists on 2.7 turnovers) don't exactly jump of the page; he's got a long way to go to reach a ceiling which I don't think is that high to begin with.
No. 7: Terrell Stoglin, Maryland
A natural scorer at 6'0, 185 pounds, Stoglin is crafty, quick and has a lightning-quick release on his three-point shot (38 percent). While he's not a true point guard, he's a better decision-maker than his sophomore season (1.9 assists to 2.3 turnovers) indicated, as he had to carry a huge offensive burden on a relatively punchless Maryland team. As a freshman, with Jordan Williams on the inside, he had a more respectable 3.3 assists to 1.9 turnover ratio.
No. 8: Marcus Denmon, Missouri
Denmon is an exceptional athlete who can play suffocating defense (1.5 steals) and knock down three-pointers (40 percent). However, his size (6'2, 190 pounds) means he'll only be able to match up with PGs in the NBA, which is a problem as he's neither a playmaker nor a shot creator. As a result, Denmon only makes sense on a team who runs their offense through a 2 or a 3.
No. 9: Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
Taylor is a consummate floor general who quarterbacked Bo Ryan's deliberate half-court offense with a career ratio of 3.4 assists to 1.1 turnovers. At 6'1, 190 pounds, he's not athletic enough to get into the lane at the next level, but his outside shot (37 percent from long range) will force defenses to respect him. A savvy player who could carve out a career as a reserve PG.
No. 10: Tu Holloway, Xavier
Holloway had an illustrious college career, but unathletic 5'11, 190-pound point guards have no margin for error to make the NBA. He's a crafty scorer (17.5 points on 43 percent shooting) and a solid shooter from three (35 percent), but his 4.9 assist to 3.0 turnover ratio is pretty high for a player who won't be a difference maker defensively. He may be zipping up people in Europe next season.
Missed the cut: Darius Johnson-Odom (Marquette), Dee Bost (Mississippi State), J'Covan Brown (Texas), Jason Clark (Georgetown), Maalik Wayns (Villanova)
On Friday: top 10 shooting guards.