Commentary

Point guards lead the way for 2009 draft candidates

Originally Published: June 27, 2008
By Chad Ford | ESPN.com

Blake Griffin Peter G. Aiken/US PRESSWIRE A year before the 2009 draft, Oklahoma's Blake Griffin stands above the crowd as the No. 1 prospect.

The 2009 NBA draft doesn't appear to have the sex appeal of this year's draft. So far there are no Rose- or Beasley-type players. In fact, many NBA scouts are saying the upcoming draft could be the weakest in several years.

Still, there are some very good players in next year's draft.

The '09 draft should be richer in point guards than the '08 draft. Led by Arizona's Brandon Jennings and Spain's Ricky Rubio, 11 point guards are ranked in my top 30.

The crop of small forwards also seems enticing. Eight of the 30 slots in my first-round projections are occupied by small forwards, led by Gonzaga's Austin Daye.

But the center and power forward positions are terrible. I have only four power forwards and four centers in my top 30 at the moment.

To see how everyone stacks up, check out my 2009 Top 100.

Here's why the class appears to be weaker than usual:

1. There are fewer high-quality college holdovers

Hasheem Thabeet
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesUConn's Thabeet's defensive presence alone will get him drafted in the first round.
Thanks in part to the NBA's new eligibility rules, a record number of "one-and-done" freshman hit the draft this year.

Only a small handful of talented players decided to skip the draft this year and return to college. Only one of them -- Oklahoma's Blake Griffin -- could have been a lottery pick this year.

A few others, including UConn's Hasheem Thabeet, Gonzaga's Austin Daye and Arizona's Chase Budinger, likely would have been first-rounders had they decided to declare.

Had players such as DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Hickson, Kosta Koufos and Donte Greene stayed in school, next year's draft class would be much deeper.

Given the drain on this year's freshman class, there aren't a lot of other up-and-coming college players. But a few, like Louisville's Earl Clark, Arizona State's James Harden, Florida's Nick Calathes, Tulsa's Jerome Jordan, Arizona's Jordan Hill and Kansas center Cole Aldrich, look like they could make a splash.

In short, this class isn't brimming with returning college players who look destined to be great.

2. The incoming freshmen class is weaker

In 2007, a record six freshmen -- Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Mike Conley, Brandan Wright, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young -- were drafted in the lottery.

In 2008, seven freshmen -- Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon, Jerryd Bayless and Anthony Randolph -- went in the lottery.

This year I'm projecting only four high school prospects as lottery picks -- USC's Demar DeRozan, Ohio State's B.J. Mullens, Arizona's Brandon Jennings, and UCLA's Jrue Holiday.

One of those four, Jennings, is still trying to qualify academically. If he doesn't, he may have to skip college and head to Europe or the D-League. That would potentially hurt his stock and push him out of the lottery.

Several other freshmen, including Wake Forest's Al-Farouq Aminu, Memphis' Tyreke Evans, West Virginia's Devin Ebanks and Tennessee's Scotty Hopson, are possible first-rounders, but most scouts think they really need at least two years on the college level.

3. The international crop remains thin

Danilo Gallinari was the hot name in 2008, but the rest of the international class was subpar. In the end, only four international players went in the first round and only two -- Gallinari and probably Nicolas Batum -- are expected to play in the NBA in the upcoming season.

In 2009, the talent is even weaker. Spanish point guard sensation Ricky Rubio is widely seen as a top-10 pick, but no one else is a lock for the first round.

A few interesting international prospects, such as Spain's Victor Claver, Israel's Omri Casspi and Lithuania's Dontas Motiejunas, will get close looks. But they'll need big seasons with their clubs to move off the first-round bubble.

Overall, the draft class of 2009 will probably be better than it looks now. Some players that we're not talking about will rise -- they always do. Russell Westbrook, for example, wasn't in my top 50 a year ago. Ditto for Anthony Randolph.

As the Nike and ABCD camps and international tournaments get underway, look for further reports, including my stock watch.

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

Chad Ford

Senior Writer, NBA Insider