Top 10 NBA Prospects: 12/27

December 27th, 2006
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This is not a mock draft…

This is not based on projections or team needs…

No, the following list is comprised of the top ten prospects currently playing at the collegiate level. This list will evolve throughout the season as new information about each player becomes apparent. We will learn more and more about these elite talents as certain strengths are realized and even more weaknesses are exposed…

TOP TEN NBA PROSPECTS (previous rankings are in parentheses)

1. (1.) Greg Oden (Ohio State, C, 7-0, Fr.)
Why He’s Adam’s #1 Prospect:
He’s too good to be true. Oden isn’t just huge, he’s agile and explosive. And with his ever-developing left-hand, he’s surprisingly skilled on the low blocks. Forget college, right now there are only a handful of centers in the NBA who could hang with him.

What He’s Done Recently:
Oden shot 17-of-19 from the field in his first three games back from injury and looked dominant throughout. However, he looked lost against Florida’s frontline. Defensively, Oden was chasing his man out to the perimeter, where his lack of conditioning was clear. Offensively, he struggled to pass out of a double-team. But, to be fair, Joakim Noah and Al Horford comprise the most formidable low post duo in the college basketball.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Did Florida expose his weaknesses or is he just not fully back in game shape? His match-up against the Gators was significant. Noah and Horford were relentless, but they represent the type of talent and athletic ability Oden will face nightly in the pros. For the first time in his young basketball career, there are questions about Oden. But once his wrist fully recovers and he isn’t winded so easily, Oden will answer those questions in a big way.

2. (2.) Kevin Durant (Texas, SF, 6-9, Fr.)
Why He’s Adam’s #2 Prospect:
In almost any other year, Durant would surely be the consensus No. 1 overall selection. His length and athletic ability are impressive, but his remarkable skill set really stands out. Durant has the look of an NBA All-Star and has drawn comparisons to Carmelo Anthony, Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Garnett. Essentially no one knows who to compare Durant to because there’s no one like him.

What He’s Done Recently:
He scored just 21 points total against LSU and Texas State, but followed that up with 28 and 26 against Arkansas and Tennessee, respectively. Based upon the season he’s had and the competition he’s faced, Durant should be considered the frontrunner for National Player of the Year honors.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
How much is he worth trading up for? Durant has a tendency to stop working to get open during extended stretches of games, yet there’s no denying his overall package. Gems like Durant don’t come around often, meaning in June an NBA team will get the equivalent of a first overall pick at No. 2.

3. (3.) Joakim Noah (Florida, PF/C, 6-11, Jr.)
Why He’s Adam’s #3 Prospect:
For those who forget that Noah led the Gators on a thrilling NCAA title ride his driven performance against Greg Oden and Ohio State served as a reminder. He plays with great energy and enthusiasm and his defensive presence is impressive.

What He’s Done Recently:
Florida is loaded, but Noah has been almost too unselfish with his talented teammates. His scoring numbers have dropped and he’s already had single-digit scoring efforts in four games. His inconsistency on the boards has also been a killer of late. He only grabbed four rebounds against Kansas and four against Florida State. That shouldn’t happen to a college superstar, but then again, Noah isn’t the typical college superstar. His value lies in all the little things he provides for his team. He is, quite simply, the best teammate on the college level.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
His talent is unique, but is he a potential All-Star? Noah is an intriguing prospect because of his unusual gifts and unrelenting style of play. Still, he still needs to get stronger, develop a consistent jump shot, and start dominating once again as he did last March in order to prove that he can be more than just a great role player at the next level.

4. (8.) Chase Budinger (Arizona, SF, 6-7, Fr.)
Why He’s Adam’s #4 Prospect:
The athletic ability and shooting touch are top-notch, but his excellent balance really separates him from the other elite prospects. He is always in control.

What He’s Done Recently:
Budinger faced his first real offensive struggle on the collegiate level against San Diego State (5 points on 2-9 FG). However, he bounced back against Houston with 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting and had 18 points, six rebounds, and two steals in a win over Memphis.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
How will he respond to a brutal stretch of competition? Budinger excelled against Memphis and must now face Cal and Stanford at home before traveling to Washington to take on the Huskies. Additionally, Budinger has just three assists total in his last four games and must prove that he can take over a game when his shot isn’t falling.

5. (7.) Brandan Wright (North Carolina, PF, 6-9, Fr.)
Why He’s Adam’s #5 Prospect:
He is another freshman with stunning potential. The Nashville-native has a breathtaking wingspan and great hops. He’s an efficient scorer who requires very few set plays run specifically for him, reminiscent of an equally quick Tar Heel from yesteryear, Antawn Jamison.

What He’s Done Recently:
While Wright can be quiet on occasion, he clearly possesses special talent. He’s scored in double-figures in every game this season, despite rarely taking over ten shots in a game.Against Gonzaga, he put up 21 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocked shots. He followed that up with 19 points, 8 boards, and two blocks against Tennessee. Throughout December he seemed to produce regardless of how many minutes he played.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
What position will he play? Wright is athletic enough to play small forward, but he doesn’t yet have the ball skills. His height and wingspan are ideal for a power forward, but he doesn’t have the bulk or strength to adequately man the low post. However, Wright has such rare ability that he will most likely become a power forward who plays with the technical prowess of a guard.

6. (6.) Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina, PF, 6-9, So.)
Why He’s Adam’s #6 Prospect:
Hansbrough entered this season as the pre-season favorite to win National Player of the Year honors and he’s since done nothing to disappoint. He works harder than any big man in the country and repeatedly frustrates his opponents. He consistently scores on put-backs and a variety of low post moves.

What He’s Done Recently:
Hansbrough’s consistency has been pretty impressive. His numbers from this season are eerily similar to last season’s (18.6 ppg and 8.1 rpg compared to 18.9 ppg and 7.8 rpg in ’05-’06), which is remarkable considering every defense the Tar Heels face is geared to stopping him. The Tar Heels haven’t played a close game in December, so Hansbrough’s had no one challenge him for quite a while. However, in games against teams with formidable bigs – Kentucky and Gonzaga – Hansbrough averaged just 8.0 ppg and 6.0 rpg.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Will his low-post scoring ability translate to the next level? His less-than-daunting stats against the likes of Josh Heytvelt and Randolph Morris could foreshadow trouble against much more intimidating post players at the next level. But, to be fair, last year at this time many were writing off his success as a fluke. No one is doubting him anymore. Hansbrough will have plenty of chances to prove himself on the big stage and if he tears up the competition in March (a la Joakim Noah), he will find himself firmly planted in the lottery.

7. (5.) Javaris Crittenton (Georgia Tech, PG, 6-5, Fr.)
Why He’s Adam’s #7 Prospect:
The impressive size and fantastic ball handling ability are a rare combination. Crittenton could be a special point guard at the next level. Imagine a taller Rod Strickland with great touch.

What He’s Done Recently:
After beating Memphis on November 21st, the Yellow Jackets dropped games to UCLA, Miami, and Vanderbilt. During that stretch, Crittenton still played fairly well. And, just before Christmas, he helped Georgia Tech knock off Georgia. Most impressive is his remarkable three-point shooting percentage, which is hovering just under 50-percent. However, he’s been turning the ball over far too much in his last four games (16 assists, compared to 21 turnovers).

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Can he lead a team? Pro point guards must be the leaders of their teams. Crittenton – who deferred to teammate Dwight Howard in high school – needs to come to the forefront during his short time in college. Still, based on pure ability alone, his upside is limitless. Scouts will find out almost everything they need to know him in January when Georgia Tech faces Clemson, Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, and Maryland in succession.

8. (4.) Julian Wright (Kansas, PF, 6-8, So.)
Why He’s Adam’s #8 Prospect:
Wright is remarkably athletic, agile, and intelligent. His court sense is impeccable, as his creative low post passes indicate. His jump shot isn’t fluid, but his shooting fundamentals shouldn’t be hard to correct.

What He’s Done Recently:
He’s only put together one truly special performance, but it came against the best frontline in college basketball. Wright amassed 21 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists against Florida in late November. Still, he’s struggled with his shot in three of his last four games.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Can he be a go-to-guy? Wright has superstar talent and is always thinking two plays ahead, but he needs to show a killer instinct. If he starts taking over games and becomes the Jayhawks’ offensive leader, Wright will be the draft’s most intriguing prospect.

9. (9.) Darrell Arthur (Kansas, PF, 6-9, Fr.)
Why He’s Adam’s #9 Prospect:
Arthur has the frame and talent of the prototypical power forward at the next level. He also has great touch on his shot. By season’s end, he could be the best player on a stocked Kansas team.

What He’s Done Recently:
Despite playing just 16 minutes against Florida, his 19-point, 9-rebound outburst was ridiculous. However, Arthur is sliding off the radar screen for some NBA folks because he’s in the midst of an uninspired stretch. Lackluster games against USC and Toledo, plus a 1-of-7 shooting effort against Boston College definitely did not go unnoticed.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Can he handle being the center of defensive attention? Arthur has shown flashes of excellence and clearly has all the tools needed to be successful at the next level. He’s easily been the most surprising of all the top freshmen and now he must prove capable of stringing together consistent games, despite facing defenses designed to stop him.

10. (10.) Dominic James (Marquette, PG, 5-11, So.)
Why He’s Adam’s #10 Prospect:
James combines phenomenal athletic ability with unmatched toughness. He often wills his way to the basket, but always manages to keep his teammates. Picture Allen Iverson at Georgetown, if only Iverson was a tad bit shorter and looked more often to get his teammates involved.

What He’s Done Recently:
Marquette will go as far as James takes them, as evidenced by his masterful 25-point, 7-assist performance in an upset over Duke in the championship game of the CBE Classic or his 8-point effort in a loss to North Dakota State. James played decently in a loss to Wisconsin, but had just seven points, three assists and six turnovers against Morgan State.

What NBA Scouts Will Be Asking:
Can he continue to keep his teammates involved? James is the best pure point guard prospect in this draft, yet he often seems frustrated when teammates struggle to finish off his sweet passes. Consequently, he forces shots and takes on greater offensive responsibilities than he should. James is most effective when he’s scoring and distributing with equal proficiency.

Oh-so-close (listed alphabetically):
Morris Almond (Rice, SF, 6-6, Sr.)
Corey Brewer (Florida, SG/SF, 6-9, Jr.)
Mike Conley (Ohio State, PG, 6-1, Fr.)
Daequan Cook (Ohio State, SG, 6-5, Fr.)
Glen Davis (LSU, PF, 6-9, Jr.)
Nick Fazekas (Nevada, SF, 6-11, Sr.)
Aaron Gray (Pittsburgh, C, 7-0, Sr.)
Jeff Green (Georgetown, SF, 6-9, Jr.)
Josh Heytvelt (Gonzaga, PF, 6-11, So.)
Al Horford (Florida, PF, 6-10, Jr.)
Ty Lawson (North Carolina, PG, 5-11, Fr.)
Josh McRoberts (Duke, PF, 6-10, So.)
Brandon Rush (Kansas, SG, 6-6, So.)
Jason Smith (Colorado State, PF, 7-0, Jr.)
Ronald Steele (Alabama, PG, 6-3, Jr.)
Rodney Stuckey (Eastern Washington, SG, 6-5, So.)
Al Thornton (Florida State, PF, 6-8, Sr.)
Alando Tucker (Wisconsin, SG/SF, 6-6, Sr.)
Bill Walker (Kansas State, SG, 6-6, Fr.)
Sean Williams (Boston College, C, 6-10, Jr.)