Kentucky Basketball: Your Way Too Early 2012 NBA Draft Projections

The 2012 NBA Draft, assuming the NBA has resumed regular basketball operations by that time, is still roughly ten months away. Many of the projected top picks have yet to play even a second of basketball beyond the high school level. But if there's one thing the sports section of the Internet is good at, it's projecting.

DraftExpress.com, helmed by the always insightful Jonathan Givony, recently released their updated "Top Prospects" class listings. As you can imagine, they're littered with Kentucky players. With not much going on in the basketball off-season, I thought it could be a fun diversion from all the excellent football and Governor's Cup posts to talk a little hoops.

The site has an overall "Top 100" list as well as top prospects for each class--seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshmen. Given that there's but 60 spots in each year's draft, being ranked the 73rd best prospect in your class probably isn't saying much. Then again, where was Josh Harrellson ranked prior to his breakout senior year?

After the jump, an analysis on Kentucky's pro prospects.

Anthony Davis

DraftExpress Ranking: #1 freshman | #1 overall | #1 in 2012 Mock Draft

Why He's Ranked: As has been the trend for the past two years, Kentucky's best professional prospect is a true freshman. Like most freshmen, it's all about the potential, and Davis has that in spades. In the NBA, he could probably be an impact player defensively immediately, using his lanky frame as an effective shot-blocker and rebounder. On the offensive end, he's a freak that will only get freakier. Davis has shooting and ball-handling skills fit for an all-star 6'2" guard, let alone a 6'10" power forward. As he fills his body and picks up an array of post moves, he has a first-team All-NBA ceiling. Still don't believe me? Debate it with the ESPN gurus.

Best Draft Case: John Wall. Like Davis, Wall came to Kentucky as arguably the top prospect in his class. After one year, he was the freshman of the year, a player of the year finalist, and the #1 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Can Davis put together a freshman season in Wall's stratosphere? It's definitely possible.

Worst Draft Case: Perry Jones. Harrison Barnes could also apply here. Both had relatively successful first seasons (Barnes' much more so than Jones'), but both disappointed relative to expectations. Despite being lottery pick locks, both decided to return for their sophomore seasons. While Kentucky fans may selfishly want Davis back for "one more year," having him as Kentucky's second #1 draft pick in three years would be an outstanding feather in Big Blue Nation's cap.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

DraftExpress Ranking: #5 freshman | #9 overall | #8 in 2012 Mock Draft

Why He's Ranked: Before late surges from Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, Kidd-Gilchrist was considered the consensus #1 player in his high school class. Don't worry folks; he's still pretty freaking awesome. The jack-of-all-trades seemingly does everything well (Givony compares him to Scottie Pippen). He'll come in to Kentucky and get starter's minutes without needing the ball in his hands to shine.

Best Draft Case: Tristan Thompson. Big things were expected from the Canadian phenom, but a slight dip in Thompson's recruiting rankings during his senior year tempered Texas fans' expectations. But Thompson burst onto to the scene at Texas, and was a stud at everything except hitting his free throws. He parlayed that into getting drafted #4 in 2011, disappointing the Longhorns by not coming back for his sophomore season.

Worst Draft Case: Patrick Patterson. Patterson ended up with a nice little career arc. After a couple of lost years due to injury and ineffective coaching, Patterson posted a strong junior campaign and snagged the last spot in the lottery (#14 in 2010) and a bachelor's degree to boot. While I sincerely doubt Kidd-Gilchrist sticks around for three years, it's easy to see a little Patterson in Kidd-Gilchrist. They're both quiet collegiate superstars that make their team better, and that's not always what the NBA wants from five-star talents.

Terrence Jones

DraftExpress Ranking: #5 sophomore | #15 overall | #12 in 2012 Mock Draft

Why He's Ranked: At one point early in the 2010-11 season, Jones was dominant. His name was being bandied about as a potential top five pick in last year's draft. While his production and draft stock fell as the season progressed, he still could have squeezed into the late lottery had he declared. As things turned out, Jones decided to stay at Kentucky for year 2. The draft pool is deeper next year, but Jones will gain more skills and more experience. And hopefully, more draft buzz going into the green room.

Best Draft Case: Evan Turner. Evan Turner had a nice freshman season at Ohio State, but his sophomore year was out of this world. If not for Turner, John Wall is probably your 2010 player of the year. In the end, Turner ran roughshod through the Big 10 and vaulted all the way to #2 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. That would be a nice rise for the sophomore Jones.

Worst Draft Case: Ed Davis. There was nothing really wrong with Ed Davis the player. It's just that, whaddaya know, North Carolina fans expect their teams to be NCAA, not NIT-bound. Unfortunately, Davis wasn't quite ready for a starring role during his sophomore season after excelling in a sixth man-type role during his freshman year. Despite the disappointing season, Davis still managed to find himself drafted #13 in 2010. Ah, the intoxication of potential.

Marquis Teague

DraftExpress Ranking: #12 freshman | #24 overall | #18 in 2012 Mock Draft

Why He's Ranked: Say it with me now: "JOHN. CALIPARI. POINT. GUARD." Yeah, he cranks them out, NBA-style. Need more? Umm, Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight. Case argued.

Best Draft Case: Brandon Knight. The DraftExpress ranking may be a smidgeon low for Teague. That's OK; Brandon Knight wasn't hyped up early last year either. By April, after a fantastic second half of the season and a few clutch plays in the NCAA Tournament, Knight had NBA scouts turning heads. #8 overall in 2011 ain't too shabby.

Worst Draft Case: Willie Kemp. Question: who was Calipari's last point guard recruit to not completely kick some tail? That would be Willie Kemp, Calipari's point guard for the 2006-07 season (sharing ball-handling duties with his backcourt mates, sophomores Antonio Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts, in the earlier years of the DDMO). Kemp went on to play four undistinguished years at Memphis and spent last season in the NBDL. So, uhh, let's call this the very, very unlikely basement.

Doron Lamb

DraftExpress Ranking: #15 sophomore | #63 overall | #42 in 2012 Mock Draft

Why He's Ranked: There was some talk that Lamb could have thrown his name into last year's NBA Draft after a quietly excellent freshman season at Kentucky. Luckily for Wildcats fans, he and fellow freshman Terrence Jones chose to return. As Kentucky's starting 2 guard, Lamb hopes to follow in the footsteps of former Cat Eric Bledsoe. He'll get limited opportunities to run the offense as a backup 1, but if he can prove that he's a bulls-eye shooter and effective slasher, teams will believe those point guard skills will come in the Association.

Best Draft Case: Jimmer Fredette. Jimmer-mania swept Provo, Utah last season. After getting drafted #10 in the 2011 Draft, he's taking his talents to Milwaukee. Can we get a little Doron-mania in Lexington? John Calipari calls Lamb Kentucky's best player. And while that may be a little ego-stroking, it's not like Lamb is chopped liver. As mentioned, he won't get many chances to shine as a true point guard. But he will still be heavily involved in Kentucky's offense, and as the second-man in the DDMO, he can get buckets with the best of them.

Worst Draft Case: Willie Warren. Once upon a time, Warren had first round potential after a sizzling freshman year. Instead, he chose to return to school at Oklahoma. Big mistake. A combination of injuries and selfish teammates derailed Warren's season, and Oklahoma went nowhere but to the bottom of the Big 12 standings. Unlike Patrick Patterson, whom Calipari convinced to return for his junior season, Warren bolted Norman and settled for #54 in 2010.

Ryan Harrow

DraftExpress Ranking: #81 freshman | NR overall | #10 in 2013 Mock Draft

Why He's Ranked: Harrow won't suit up for Kentucky next year after transferring from NC State, but he's expected to take over at point guard come the 2012-13 season. Need more? See Teague, Marquis, above. Seriously, Harrow is just one year removed from being a 5* prospect. Yes, his one year at NC State was disappointing. But he will have two to learn from the point guard Yoda, John Calipari.

Best Draft Case: Ekpe Udoh. Udoh transferred from Michigan to Baylor and turned some heads. He led the Big 10 in blocked shots during his freshman year, then turned the same trick in the Big 12 as a junior. Call it talent maximization. Teaming with a fearsome backcourt (Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn), the defensive wizard created a Bear frenzy as Baylor charged to the Elite 8. Golden State was enamored, and picked him up at #6 in the 2010 Draft.

Worst Draft Case: Darnell Dodson. Kentucky fans remember Darnell Dodson, but not fondly. John Calipari was excited to bring on this highly touted junior college transfer in his first Kentucky class with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Dodson was expected to bring length and instant offense to the shooting guard spot. Instead, he never earned a starting spot, ceding the role to Eric Bledsoe. He could have had another chance last year, especially after Bledsoe declared for the draft, but transferred to Southern Miss instead (he's no longer there, either). Calipari has actively chosen not to recruit a point guard in the 2012 class, meaning if Teague declares as expected, the job is there for Harrow. Now he just has to go earn it.

Darius Miller

DraftExpress Ranking: #27 senior | NR overall | UD in 2012 Mock Draft

Why He's Ranked: Miller has been a strong contributor to the Kentucky program in each of his first three years. But here's the deal: his time is running out. He has one more year to prove to NBA evaluators that he has the chops to make it in the league. Miller has prototypical size for an NBA swingman. He can shoot, pass, and defend. The question is, can he do all three well enough to get drafted? Some more confidence might help.

Best Draft Case: Terrence Williams. It is Louisville Hate Week, after all. Like so many of the Fightin' Pitinos, Williams was an all-world talent with a questionable head between his shoulders. He got his act together during his senior year, though, becoming a more efficient scorer and a load on the defensive end. As a result, he was drafted #11 in 2009. If the same thing is going to happen for Miller, it has to happen this year.

Worst Draft Case: Edgar Sosa. There may not be a recent ex-Cardinal that Wildcats fans hate more than Edgar Sosa (although Marvin Stone and Francisco Garcia present strong cases). Cut from a long lineage of cocky, NYC playground point guards, Sosa burst onto the scene as a freshman scoring spark. His play was often best described as out of control, and he never really did learn how to lead a team. Louisville went 31-6 and made it to the Elite 8 during Williams' senior season. Sosa's? 20-13, one-and-done. Would it surprise you to know that Sosa wasn't drafted?

Kyle Wiltjer

DraftExpress Ranking: #26 freshman | NR overall | NR in Mock Drafts

Why He's Ranked: Wiltjer is the least heralded of Kentucky's fantastic four freshmen, but he's still a 5 star talent. His lanky frame and smooth stroke may remind Kentucky fans of Tayshaun Prince, but Wiltjer is no one-trick pony. He's a fundamental big man, with a Swiss army knife array of post moves, the most exciting of which is a running jump hook. Some of those in Big Blue Nation think he'll burst on the scene and surprise, so don't be taken aback if (when?) that happens.

Best Draft Case: Eric Bledsoe. When Bledsoe first committed to Kentucky, some recruitniks scoffed. How would he shine playing off the ball with the best recruit in the class, John Wall? Well, Bledsoe did what all great ballers do. He redefined his game. Freed from leading an offense, he became a deadly shooter and a stout on-ball defender, earning a starting job in the process. When Bledsoe declared for the draft after one year, some draftniks scoffed. Well, he showed critics up again, getting drafted #18 overall and putting together a nice rookie campaign with the Clippers.

Worst Draft Case: Stacey Poole. Poole was Kentucky's first commitment in the 2010 recruiting class, and like Bledsoe and Wiltjer, was overshadowed by other recruits with more accolades. Unlike Bledsoe, Poole's freshman year was not kind to him. Poole hardly ever got off the bench, and played just 45 minutes on the season. He considered transferring, but chose to stay. It could turn out to be a wise decision, as he's slated to be the backup 2-guard to Doron Lamb.

Stacey Poole

DraftExpress Ranking: #56 sophomore | NR overall | NR in Mock Drafts

Why He's Ranked: Speak of the devil. Despite having not shown anything at the collegiate level, Poole checks in on the DraftExpress sophomore board. It's not like Poole is devoid of talent. Had he gone to, say, Western Kentucky, he'd probably have sprouted a pretty good stat line last year. As it stands, it's an uphill road for Poole to prove he belongs at the high major level. The former four star will get his chance starting this year as a backup swingman. Baby steps, Stacey. If he proves himself, there's a starting job waiting during his junior year. Then we can start talking draft potential.

Best Draft Case: Josh Harrellson. Hey, remember how Harrellson played only 88 minutes during his junior season? Thanks to the travesty that is the NCAA, Kentucky fans never got to see Turkish delight Enes Kanter play a game. But when the NCAA closes a door, Calipari opens a window. Harrellson barreled through, lighting up Jared Sullinger in the process. Seriously, that fine performance against the uber-freshman proved to many that Harrellson had NBA potential. The Knicks certainly thought so, taking a second-round flyer on him in 2011 at #45.

Worst Draft Case: AJ Stewart. I'll be honest. I was excited to see what AJ Stewart would become as a Wildcat. When he was first recruited by Tubby Smith, I saw a scrappy, junkyard dog type player in the mold of Gerald Fitch or Erik Daniels. Unfortunately, Stewart struggled on the court, and exhibited more of an immature and tempermental attitude. When Calipari came, he sorted the wheat from the chaff. Harrellson stayed. Stewart didn't. So far, Poole's still here, so that's a good sign.

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