An undersized power forward, Cunningham makes up for what he lacks in height with an incredible mid-range game. Cunningham is a prototypical pick-and-pop big man at the next level, with a deadly jumper and improving face-up skills. Right now, his jumper doesn’t extend too far beyond 15 feet, but Cunningham has great form and could easily extend that range out to at least 18 or 19 feet.
Cunningham has downfalls, too. For an undersized power forward, he does not possess a lot of athleticism to make up for his lack of size. Additionally, his lack of size and leaping ability keeps him from being a very good rebounder
Despite his fallbacks in the athleticism and size categories, Dante Cunningham’s lethal jumpshot should allow him to be a solid performer in the NBA. Most draft gurus have Cunningham a bit lower, but I find him to be so solid that he deserves a place in my top ten.
8. DeMarre Carroll, Missouri (Last year’s stats: 16.6 points, 7.2 rebounds)
From a skill standpoint, Carroll is not one of the most talented draft-eligible power forwards. He doesn’t have a great handle, can’t shoot very well, and doesn’t have much of a post game, either. He may also struggle defensively in the NBA, where he will have to gain weight to guard power forwards or gain quickness to guard small forwards.
What he lacks in skills, though, Carroll makes up for with energy and hustle. DeMarre has a constant motor, playing the game at full-speed at all times, making all the scrappy plays that help teams win ballgames. Because of his tough play, Carroll gets to the free throw line a lot, averaging five trips to the line per game.
Though Carroll is far from a finished product, I look for him to be a productive, active player off the bench in the NBA. He will probably never crack an NBA starting lineup, but Carroll should be a helpful NBA player along the lines of Renaldo Balkman.
7. Derrick Brown, Xavier (Last year’s stats: 13.7 points, 6.1 rebounds)
One of the least polished players in the draft, Derrick Brown relies almost solely on his outstanding athleticism for his production. Standing 6’8” with an outrageous 7’3” wingspan, Brown attacks the rim with reckless abandon, resulting in 73 dunks over last season.
Other than his athleticism, Brown has few skills that are ready for the NBA. His jump shot needs major work, only making 11 total three point shots last season and only attempting those shots when the defense left him no choice.
Defensively is where Derrick Brown is ready to make his greatest contributions. Because of his great physical attributes, Brown is a truly versatile defender, quick enough to stay in front of smaller players and strong enough to guard larger post players. Brown is not yet ready to make contributions at the NBA level, but his outstanding athleticism make him a very intriguing prospect looking into the future.
6. Jeff Pendergraph, Arizona State (Last year’s stats: 14.5 points, 8.2 rebounds)
Playing largely in James Harden’s shadow, Jeff Pendergraph was a solid player all year long, producing offensively and on the boards.
Pendergraph possesses decent offensive skills, with the ability to finish around the basket and a developing turnaround jumper from the post. Despite his developing skills on the offensive end of the floor, Pendergraph does not yet have a refined post game. He makes some nice moves, but is far from a finished product in the post. Because of his unrefined skills, Pendergraph right now remains a garbage man, capable of scoring on putbacks and open layups, utilizing his deceptive athleticism to get most of his points. Pendergraph is a consistent offensive performer, but not a go-to scorer by any stretch of the imagination.
Defensively, Pendergraph projects to be a solid positional defender and average rebounder. He probably will never become a defensive stopper, but won’t be a liability, either.
Pendergraph should be able to develop into a solid role player in the NBA, where he will continue to be a scrappy garbage man just like he was in college.
5. Taj Gibson, USC (Last year’s stats: 14.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.9 blocks)
Extremely effective in and around the paint, Taj Gibson possesses some physical skills that will be very attractive to NBA GMs. Super long, with above-average athleticism, Gibson will have prototypical athletic ability for a power forward if he can add some weight to his 6’9” frame.
Offensively, Gibson possesses the makings of a very nice post game. He has a good arsenal of back-to-the-basket moves, with the capability to turn to either shoulder and make plays. Gibson has also shown signs of a decent face-up game. If he can ever fully develop his face-up game to match the level of his post game, Gibson will be a very well-rounded offensive performer. Still, without a developed face-up game, Taj has been an incredibly efficient scorer throughout his college career, shooting a scorching 60.1% from the field this past year.
On the other end of the court, Gibson also displays his immense physical tools. With great timing while blocking shots and a long wingspan, Gibson averaged almost three blocks per game for the past season. Despite his great shot-blocking ability, Gibson could struggle guarding defenders in the post at the next level because of his frail frame. If Gibson can add weight, he should be able to develop into a game-changer defensively, and could be a very complete player.
4. Tyler Hansbrough, UNC (Last year’s stats: 20.7 points, 8.1 rebounds)
One of the most celebrated NCAA performers in recent history, Tyler Hansbrough had an absolutely marvelous college career, winning every award a college player can possibly win.
After three straight All-American years to start his storybook college career, Hansbrough could have easily rested on his laurels over the offseason. Instead, he took it upon himself to develop a dependable mid-range jumper to go along with his bruising low-post repertoire, making himself even more difficult to guard.
Because of his improving mid-range game, I am no longer as skeptical about Tyler Hansbrough’s professional prospects. Before, when his only means of scoring were bulling into or through his defender for either a layup or two free throws, I felt his NBA potential was very limited. Now, as his skill level increases, Hansbrough should be able to carve out a very solid career in the NBA.
Hansbrough will be able to score in the NBA, but his success at the next level will depend on how much he can improve defensively. Not possessing great quickness or leaping ability, Hansbrough will have to rely on his basketball IQ to make improvements defensively. If he can show the ability to defend NBA post players, Hansbrough should see a lot of playing time early on and throughout his NBA career.
3. Dejuan Blair, Pittsburgh (Last year’s stats: 15.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals)
An absolute beast at the college level, Dejuan Blair was a force of nature on the glass at both ends. Possessing great hands and an unbelievably long wingspan (7’2”) to go along with his preternatural strength, Blair carves out space in the lane like a Mack Truck, attacking the ball like a hawk attacks his prey.
Though he was a terrific rebounder in college, Blair still has to show he will be able to translate his game to the NBA, where he will be facing taller, stronger opponents than he’s ever faced on a nightly basis. In college, Blair showed the ability to perform against much taller players, thoroughly destroying the draft’s top center prospect, Hasheem Thabeet, in both of their matchups.
Still, standing only 6’6” tall, Blair will be up against much bigger players every night, and must prove that his rebounding, low-post scoring, great defensive footwork, and solid face-up game will translate to the NBA. I believe it will, and Blair should be a devil to keep off the NBA boards for a long time to come.
2. Jordan Hill, Arizona (Last year’s stats: 18.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.7 blocks)
Before this past season, I called Jordan Hill one of the more overrated players in college basketball. Boy, did he prove me wrong.
Possessing a solid array of post moves and a great motor around the basket, Hill was very productive during his junior season at Arizona. He is a very long, athletic player who can beat almost any big man down the floor.
Still, Hill has a long ways to go before he can become a great contributor on the NBA level. Right now, he reminds me a lot of Joakim Noah, a player who relies a lot on his superior athletic ability and outstanding hustle to make plays and produce for his team. Down the road, Hill has the potential to develop into a far better offensive player than Noah, and already has a decent jump hook with both hands.
If Hill can continue to improve, he could be a stud in the NBA, but he still has his work cut out for him. Even without improvement, he should be a good energy guy capable of providing hustle points and solid defense to go along with solid rebounding.
1. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma (Last year’s stats: 22.7 points, 14.4 rebounds)
The biggest sure thing the 2009 NBA Draft has to offer, Blake Griffin is an absolute freak of an athlete. 6’10” tall, built like an ox, and with a much smaller man’s quickness and coordination, Griffin was a man amongst boys in college basketball, attacking the rim with a ferocious fire and competitive nature which likens him to Amare Stoudemire and a young Shawn Kemp.
Offensively, Griffin has a lot more than merely his superb athleticism. He is far more skilled than most men his size, with a legit handle and the ability to go coast-to-coast after a defensive rebound. Additionally, Griffin has great court vision, allowing him to make passes that most big men wouldn’t even think of. Still, his best attribute on the offensive end remains his rim-shaking ability to finish. Griffin was by far the best finisher in the country, and should be able to be a terrific finisher in the NBA.
On the other side of the ball, Griffin still has a lot more work to go to become a polished defensive player. Griffin blamed his tendency to get scored on to not wanting to get in foul trouble but, whatever the reason for his defensive inadequacy, Griffin needs to get better. Despite being incredibly strong, Griffin somehow gives up tremendous position on the block, failing to keep his opponent away from the hoop.
However, it’s tough to nitpick the young beast’s game, as Griffin is both the best player in this draft and the player with the most potential to develop into a superstar. Look for Griffin to be a prime-time player from day one, and to take home the 2010 NBA Rookie of the Year.