There aren't many basketball players with the combination of skill, size and athleticism to be a high-level NBA wing. The ones who do often have more talent than they know what to do with, especially on the amateur level. A 6'4+ player with a vertical north of 35 inches, three-point range and the ball-handling ability to get through traffic can easily form bad habits coasting through the AAU circuit.
Talent wasn't the reason why the top shooting guards in the 2004 (J.R. Smith) and 2005 (Gerald Green) drafts have spent time overseas. Instead, poor defense and shot selection have prevented them from living up to the vast potential they showed in their high school days. Smith was rated No. 8 in the class of 2004, ahead of players like LaMarcus Aldridge and JR Smith, and Green was the No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2005.
Nick Young, the most talented shooting guard in the 2007 draft, seems destined for a similar career trajectory. Injuries, meanwhile, forced the top shooting guard in the 2006 draft (Brandon Roy) into an early medical retirement.
As a result, shooting guard is an incredibly thin position. With Dwyane Wade, Manu Ginobili and Kobe Bryant all over 30 years old, there is almost no one left for them to pass the torch too. The only young stars at the position come from the 2008 (Eric Gordon) and 2009 (James Harden) drafts.
That's why the 2012 draft is such a needed breath of fresh air, as there are at least four shooting guards with the potential to become All-Star caliber players. And while most analysts have Bradley Beal well ahead of the pack, I don't think there's much separation between him, Terrence Ross, Jeremy Lamb and Dion Waiters.
All four have had stretches where they've been nearly indefensible at the college level, but the ability to run point and effectively distribute the ball is what separates Harden and Gordon from players like Smith, Young and Monta Ellis. Five years from now, the player who emerges as the top shooting guard from this draft will be the one who can create easy shots not just for himself -- but for his teammates too.
1. Terrence Ross, Washington
Despite being the leading scorer on the Pac-12 regular season champion, Ross slipped under the radar for most of the season. The Pacific Northwest is far from the eyes of the national media, while Washington was hamstrung by a down season from the rest of the conference and Tony Wroten's refusal to pass the ball.
Ross, an explosive athlete at 6'6, 200 pounds, already has an NBA-ready offensive game, with deep range on his three-point shot (37 percent) plus the ability to knock down pull-up jumpers and finish at the rim. As a sophomore, he averaged 16.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.9 blocks on 46 percent shooting. The one knock against him was his inconsistency, but that had more to do with Wroten's inconsistent approach to running the point and sharing the basketball than anything Ross did.
2. Jeremy Lamb, UConn
After emerging as the second option on UConn's national championship team as a freshman, Lamb had to deal with questions about his consistency and leadership as a sophomore. The Huskies program was hit with a perfect storm of off-court problems last season, which shouldn't detract from how special a player Lamb is.
At 6'5, 180 pounds, Lamb has a freakish 6'11 wingspan which will allow him to get his shot off at will, as well as defend multiple perimeter positions at the next level. A smooth athlete with good ball-handling ability and an excellent outside shot (career 35 percent at UConn), he averaged 18 points, 5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals on 48 percent shooting as a sophomore.
3. Bradley Beal, Florida
At 6'4 and 200 pounds with a 6'8 wingspan, Beal has video game level athleticism a la Russell Westbrook. He's the rare young player who dedicates himself to the defensive side of the ball, and he should be an All-Defensive team level difference maker at both backcourt positions in the NBA. As a freshman, he averaged 14.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.8 blocks on 44 percent shooting.
However, on a veteran Florida team with two ball-dominant guards in Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker, Beal was rarely given the chance to create his own shot offensively. Most of his offense came from spotting up off the ball and hustle plays, and I'm not sure he'll ever be a primary offensive option at the next level. Beal will turn 19 right after the draft, so there's still a lot of time for him to develop, but he's still a gamble in the top 5.
4. Dion Waiters, Syracuse
Waiters has the body type of a combo guard (6'4, 220 pounds with a 6'7 wingspan) and played off the bench in his two seasons at Syracuse, but he has the most well-rounded game of any of the top shooting guards. There will be questions about his defensive ability after playing in Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone, but his offensive versatility will allow him to play next to many different types of defenders at the next level.
He averaged 12.6 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals on 48 percent shooting as a sophomore. Most impressively, he had an excellent 2.5 assist to 1.3 turnover ratio and was the player a deep Orange team turned to offensively at the end of games.
5. Will Barton, Memphis
There are two questions about Barton's game: his very thin frame (6'6 and 175 pounds w/a 6'10 wingspan) as well as an inconsistent outside shot. He'll need to put on some weight to survive forays into the paint in the NBA, but his three-point shot improved from 26 percent as a freshman to 35 percent as a sophomore.
If he can sustain that, he could put himself in the same discussion as the top 4 SG's in this draft. As a sophomore, he ably handled a huge offensive load for Memphis, averaging 18 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.4 steals on 51 percent shooting.
6. Doron Lamb, Kentucky
While he played on an obscenely talented Kentucky team, Lamb was the team's best shot-creator and main weapon to close out games. A smooth ball-handler (1.5 assists on 1.1 turnovers) and pure shooter (47 percent from deep) at 6'4, 200 pounds, he projects as an excellent NBA sixth man due to a lack of a clear defensive position.
7. Austin Rivers, Duke
Because of their connection to Calipari affiliated programs, Barton and Lamb have been unfairly labeled with the tag of "AAU player" even though Rivers, despite his NBA pedigree, is the quintessential shoot-first guard. While he is an excellent shooter, he has the tendency to hunt for his own shot far too much, which combined with his lack of a clear defensive position at 6'5 200, makes him more suited to coming off the bench at the next level.
8. Evan Fournier, France
The only film I've watched of him comes from the 2011 Nike Hoop Summit, so I'm not that up on him. He's a good athlete with excellent size at 6'7, 205 pounds, but two things concern me from his European stats: he's not a great outside shooter (27 percent) or playmaker (2.2 assists on 2.2 turnovers). That's not the skill-set you want in a shooting guard who isn't a primary offensive option.
9. Kim English, Missouri
While English is an excellent outside shooter (46 percent as a senior), he's a limited offensive player who wasn't able to create his own shot in college. His ability to stick at the next level will depend on his defense, as he's an excellent athlete at 6'5, 200 pounds with a 6'7 wingspan who had the smarts and toughness to defend four positions at Missouri.
10. Jared Cunningham, Oregon State
An elite athlete at 6'4 and 190 pounds who got to the front of the rim very easily in college, Cunningham is an NBA-caliber player, but he could have used a final season at Oregon State to fine-tune his game. He averaged 2.8 assists on 2.8 turnovers as a junior and his outside shot (34 percent) will need to be fine-tuned to stick in the NBA as a combo guard.
Missed the cut: William Buford (Ohio State), Kevin Murphy (Tennessee Tech), Alex Young (IUPUI), Kyle Kuric (Louisville), CJ Williams (NC State)