Draft Watch: Rubio's hot, Collison's not
"Even if you assume everyone declares for the draft next June," one longtime NBA executive said, "you'll struggle to find much star power or depth next year. My scouts are walking around depressed already and it's September."
Sometimes things change over the course of the college basketball season, but scouts walked away from a number of summer events convinced that the NBA draft pool is in recession.
Still, a few players helped themselves this summer, whether it was playing for their national teams at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing or working as camp counselors at LeBron James' annual summer camp in Akron, Ohio.
Here's who's hot and who's not, according to a handful of NBA scouts:
Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain
Rubio's solid, and sometimes dazzling, play in Beijing had scouts buzzing. It's not everyday you see a 17-year-old play a critical role on the silver-medal team at the Olympics. His defensive presence was critical to Spain's success in the tournament. NBA players also raved about Rubio's poise and basketball IQ.
If he produces in the Euroleague this season, he seems like a lock for the top 5 and a possible candidate for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Jerome Jordan, C, Tulsa
Jordan was the hot name at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July. NBA scouts are always looking for big guys with a pulse, and Jordan showed scintillating potential here. Consistently matched up against potential lottery prospect Hasheem Thabeet, Jordan stole the show.
While his two-year numbers at Tulsa don't blow you away, Jordan did seem to turn it on late last season. He is still somewhat raw offensively, but he is a proven rebounder and shot-blocker. If he can continue to perfect the little jump hook he showed off at LeBron's camp, he could move into the top 10 this season -- the same way big-men projects seem to do every year.
James Harden, SG, Arizona State
Harden was the other player who seemed to really stand out at LeBron's camp. He didn't have the buzz of other Pac-10 freshmen like O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love last season, but he was named to the All-Pac-10 first team along with Mayo and Love.
Scouts have questioned his athleticism, but they are beginning to hedge a bit after Harden showed off some hops and quickness that they didn't see his freshman year.
Patrick Mills, PG, St. Mary's
Mills played for the Australian national team in the Olympics and gave Team USA fits with his quickness. Chris Paul and Deron Williams both had a difficult time guarding him. Mills ended up leading Australia with 20 points in its quarterfinal loss to Team USA. His performance was enough for scouts to start buzzing about his potential to be a mid-first-round pick.
B.J. Mullens, C, Ohio State
Mullens didn't play in the Olympics or at LeBron's camp, but as NBA scouts have scoured footage this summer, more and more are saying that the Buckeyes' freshman is the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft.
"You look at his size, his athleticism and his skill level and he's the guy, more than anyone else in this draft, that stands out," one NBA scout said. "If anyone in this draft has the potential to be a dominant NBA player, it's him. I'm not saying he'll get there. He's got a lot to work on. The NBA always has had a love affair with big guys and no big guy in the draft has the potential of Mullens. If I was a betting man, I'd say he goes No. 1."
I know it is ridiculously early to be talking about this, but I'm actually fairly persuaded by their arguments. If you look at the potential five worst teams in the league -- the Nets, Knicks, Thunder, Grizzlies and Timberwolves -- all of them need a prime-time center. Only two of them, the Knicks and Timberwolves, are really in the market for a point guard.
Blake Griffin will also get some love for the top spot, but the more you think about it, Mullens is the guy if he performs. Of course, that's a big if. Last year some scouts were saying similar things about DeAndre Jordan, who slipped into the second round on draft night.
Austin Daye, SF, Gonzaga
Daye got a huge scare when he hurt himself in LeBron's camp. Originally, reports were that he tore his ACL; however, ESPN.com's Andy Katz reported that Daye was told by doctors at UCLA that he had a bone bruise and a minor, low-grade tear that wouldn't require surgery.
While Gonzaga coaches are saying Daye is ready to start playing again, the loss of a summer to work on his game could have an impact on his development. Combine that with the lackluster performance he was having at the camp before the injury and scouts are no longer banking on him as a high lottery pick next year.
Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn
Thabeet has the combination of size and athleticism that NBA scouts dream about. He's also an elite shot-blocker who could step in immediately and change the game on the defensive end of the floor. But his development on the offensive end continues to be slow. Scouts thought he was outplayed, at times badly, by Jerome Jordan at LeBron's camp.
Given his size and his potential, along with the relative weakness of this year's draft class, Thabeet still projects as a top-10 prospect. However, more and more scouts are wondering aloud if he deserves to go that high.
Darren Collison, PG, UCLA
Collison's decision to skip the 2008 draft shocked practically everyone. At the time, he already had three years of college under his belt and UCLA was bringing in a loaded freshman class led by super stud Jrue Holiday and Malcolm Lee.
Now, heading into the college season, I'm hearing whispers out of UCLA that Holiday is so good that it won't be long before he, not Collison, is running the offense at UCLA. I'd expect them to get significant time together in the backcourt, but if Holiday is as good as advertised, Collison could suffer from the comparisons and slip in the draft -- the same way he did when compared to Russell Westbrook last season.
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.
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• Draft Watch: Rubio's hot, Collison's not
• Ford: Top 100 prospects
Watch: Draft Video• Brandon Jennings, Italy
• Earl Clark, Louisville
• Jrue Holiday, UCLA
• Hasheem Thabeet, UConn
• James Harden, Arizona State