LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 07: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates during the exhibition game against the Morehouse Maroon Tigers at Rupp Arena on November 7, 2011 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
A few small forwards in the 2012 NBA Draft have lots of hype, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist stands out from the pack.
Two years ago, Evan Turner was the clear cut No. 1 small forward in the 2010 Draft. He was a do everything 6'7 point forward who won the National Player of the Year Award at Ohio State, but a closer examination of his game would have revealed the holes that have become apparent in his first two seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers.
While he is an excellent rebounder and passer for a wing player, he's an average athlete with a subpar perimeter shot. Without the ability to space the floor, he's only effective with the ball in his hands, but he's not a dynamic enough athlete to be a primary offensive option or a defensive difference-maker in the NBA.
The Indiana Pacers took Fresno State SF Paul George eight spots after Turner, but they wouldn't agree to swap the two players now. George, an extremely athletic 6'9, 215 pound forward with a 6'11 wingspan, can defend all three perimeter positions at a high level while spreading the floor (38.5 percent) offensively.
In college, where both were the best players on their respective teams, Turner was more valuable. But in the NBA, while both are role players, George's skill-set is more useful.
If we put the top small forwards in the 2012 draft under a similar microscope, UNC's Harrison Barnes comes up short. Many mock drafts have the Cleveland Cavaliers taking Barnes with the No. 4 overall pick, but he's only the fourth best small forward in this draft in my mind.
At 6'8 and 220 pounds, he has prototypical size for a small forward, but he's an average athlete without a dynamic first step. As a result, he rarely ventured into the lane in college, preferring to take pull-up jumpers off the dribble. It's no coincidence his offensive statistics plunged without Kendall Marshall on the floor.
Nor does he offer much to a team besides scoring. He's an average rebounder and subpar passer who racked up a paltry 0.68 assist-to-turnover ratio despite playing with at least four other first-round picks in Chapel Hill. On the other end of the floor, he doesn't have the foot-speed to defend shooting guards or the size to defend power forwards.
Barnes could still be a ten-year starter at the small forward position in the NBA, but I'd have a hard time taking a 6'8 jump-shooter who can only defend one position in the top five. In contrast, Vanderbilt's Jeffrey Taylor, one of the most underrated prospects in the draft, has the athleticism to defend all three perimeter positions at the next level and will be equally as effective as Barnes as a spot-up shooter and secondary shot-creator offensively.
Neither player will be a star, but why take a small forward at No. 4 in a draft as deep as 2012 when you can get one just as good at No. 24.
1. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky
An athletic 6'7 and 235-pound small forward with a 7'0 wingspan, MKG is one of the most intriguing defensive prospects in some time. With his combination of size, length and foot-speed, he could defend positions 1-4 in the NBA. He's also an underrated offensive player with the ball-handling ability to get to the rim, run the fast break and find the open man; the only hole in his game is his shaky perimeter jumper (25 percent from long-range as a freshman).
2. Quincy Miller, Baylor
Miller is one of the most talented players in the draft, but an exceedingly poor coaching job by the Baylor staff as well as his recovery from a high school knee injury harmed his production as a freshman and sent him plummeting down draft boards. A 6'10 and 220-pound forward with a 7'1 wingspan and a maximum vertical of 36', Miller has a rare combination of size, length and shooting ability (35 percent from three, 82 percent from the free-throw line).
Most importantly, he knows how to use his high release point to get his shot off. Check out the effortless way he scored against San Diego State when the Bears ran their offense through him during Perry Jones' suspension. His thin frame and knee injury make future injuries a concern, but if he can stay healthy, his floor is Danny Granger.
3. Jeffrey Taylor, Vanderbilt
A consummate role player in college, Taylor's game should translate well into a similar role at the next level. An athletic 6'7 and 215-pound wing, he averaged 16 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 49 percent from the floor and 42 percent from three. He provides value at both ends of the floor as a versatile defender and a secondary option offensively.
4. Harrison Barnes, UNC
Barnes, in many ways, is a prototype NBA small forward at 6'8 and 230 pounds with a 6'11 wingspan and an excellent perimeter shot (36 percent from three). While that's enough for him to become an effective starter, he can't get to the rim, make plays for others or defend multiple positions. Players with his skill-set have a pretty firm ceiling, regardless of how much hype accompanies them.
5. Moe Harkless, St. John's
Harkless played as a center on a thin St. John's team as a freshman, and his combination of skill and athleticism at 6'8 and 205 pounds was too much for most college big men. He was extremely versatile, averaging 15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals, assists and blocks on 45 percent shooting. If he had a jumper (25 percent from three), he'd be a lottery pick, but without one, he's a small-ball 4 who may be best suited to a reserve forward role.
6. Khris Middleton, Texas A&M
Middleton injured his knee before the season and never looked like the player who would have been a first-round pick in 2011. As a sophomore, he averaged 14 points, five rebounds, three assists and one steal on 45 percent shooting while carrying Texas A&M to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. His draft stock will ultimately be determined by what team doctors make of his knee.
7. Orlando Johnson, UCSB
While he played as a SG in college, I don't think he has the foot-speed to defend the position in the NBA. But despite being only 6'5, his strong 225-pound frame and 6'11 wingspan should allow him to survive as a SF. He's an extremely skilled player who did everything for UCSB: scoring (19.7 points on 45 percent shooting), shooting (43 percent from three), rebounding (5.8) and passing (three assists on 2.5 turnovers). Think James Harden with no quickness.
8. Darius Miller, Kentucky
Miller was the glue guy and senior leader for an incredibly talented Kentucky team. However, at 6'8 and 235 pounds, he may be a "3.5" in the NBA: too slow to defend small forwards and too small to defend power forwards. He's got the skills (37 percent from three, 2.1 assists on 1.5 turnovers) and intangibles to carve out a spot at the next level, but he could just as easily end up in Europe.
9. Hollis Thompson, Georgetown
Thompson is the definition of a replacement-level SF: a reasonably athletic 6'8 and 205-pound wing whose best asset is his outside shooting ability (43 percent from three). He'll probably need to convince a team he can be a James Jones-level shooter to stick in the NBA.
10. Tony Mitchell, Alabama
At 6'6 and 215 pounds, Mitchell is a jaw-dropping athlete who can fly around the court and finish with authority way above the rim. However, he's not a very skilled player, and he was dismissed from Alabama for off-the-court issues, a huge red flag for a marginal prospect. He may be better off putting on weight and seeing if his athleticism could translate to the football field.
Missed the cut: Wesley Witherspoon (Memphis), Terrance Henry (Ole Miss), Kris Joseph (Syracuse), Jae Crowder (Marquette), Chace Stanback (UNLV)