- Chad Ford, Senior Writer, NBA Insider
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We're two full weeks into the college basketball season, and NBA scouts are out in force, filling their databases with every detail about every top player in the country.
Early on, the sentiment remains the same as it was all summer -- much like the U.S. economy, the overall quality of NBA draft prospects is in a recession this year.
Part of the blame lies with the inordinate number of young players who bolted for the NBA last season. Another big part has to do with an incoming freshman class that is just so-so. Finally, there are only a few international hotshots who warrant much attention this year. Put that all together, and very few teams are expressing much excitement about the draft class of 2009.
Still, some bright spots are beginning to emerge.
Here's the first of what will be a weekly look at the top prospects in the draft. For a more complete picture of the draft, check out our updated 2009 Top 100.
Blake Griffin, PF, Oklahoma
We began our 2009 Top 100 in July with Griffin atop the list. From the look of things, he's staying there the rest of the year.
He has absolutely dominated on both ends of the court -- putting up a Michael Beasley-esque performance in the pre-Big 12 schedule this season. Griffin's combination of size, strength and athleticism, along with his growing offensive prowess, makes him the overwhelming favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. Right now, there isn't a close second.
Stephen Curry, G, Davidson
Although Blake Griffin is the best big-man prospect in the country, Curry is quickly emerging as the best guard prospect.
Everyone knew he was one of the top scorers in the country. But since being moved to point guard, he has shown he can be an excellent passer and floor leader while still dropping 30 a night on an opponent. And when teams double-team him the whole game (as Loyola, Md., did), he's content to stay out of the way and let the rest of his team play 4-on-3.
His lack of size and athleticism is the only thing keeping him from being mentioned as a possible No. 1 pick. As it stands right now, Curry looks like a lock for the top 10 and could even crack the top 5.
James Harden, SG, Arizona State
Stephen Curry's biggest competition for the title of best guard prospect comes from Harden. Harden had as good a freshman season as Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo, but he didn't get any of the hype. With Love and Mayo plying their wares in the NBA, the stage was set for Harden, and he has delivered.
We all knew Harden was an amazing scorer, but his improvements at rebounding, playing tough defense and dishing out assists have scouts calling him the most complete guard in the country. Think the second coming of Brandon Roy.
Hasheem Thabeet, C, UConn
I've been among Thabeet's biggest skeptics, but I'm quickly running out of allies. More and more scouts appear convinced that the big man from UConn is finally able to deliver. We always knew Thabeet could block shots and run the floor. But his improved rebounding and confidence on the offensive end have more scouts calling him a top-5 lock.
In fact, with a few more supporters, he could become the consensus No. 2 pick in the draft. I'm still skeptical of the Dikembe Mutombo comparisons, but there's no doubt he made the right move skipping the draft the past two years. Thabeet finally is learning how to play basketball, and at 7-foot-3, he has a chance to make a real impact now.
Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona
Hill dropped a double-double in five of his first six games. He finally seems to be living up to the potential we saw in him as a freshman. NBA scouts still worry about his lack of strength, but his intensity around the basket, his improved shot-blocking and his bigger role in the offense are giving him a great shot at landing somewhere in the lottery this coming summer.
Greg Monroe, F/C, Georgetown
The freshman class has largely been a disappointment out of the gate, but Monroe hasn't. Knocked by scouts coming into the season because of his lack of fire, Monroe has played a critical role for Georgetown in the early going. More importantly, he has shown an excellent motor and passion for the game. If he continues to improve, he has a chance to be the first freshman off the board on draft night.
Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina
Lawson already has his fair share of fans in the NBA. But the consensus last season was that his game just wouldn't translate well to the league. However, after he had a series of good workouts for NBA teams leading up to the draft, scouts are giving him a second look, and they like what they see.
Lawson was the MVP of the Maui Classic, and he deserved it. He has cut down on turnovers (sporting a ridiculous 6-1 assist-to-turnover ratio), and he has improved his outside jumper. If he can lead UNC to an NCAA title, he'll have a shot at getting back into the lottery.
Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas
There's nothing sexy about Aldrich's game. But he's big, skilled and a better athlete than you might think. He has gotten better with every game he has played for Kansas. Given his size and skill set, he looks like a lock to be off the board in the first round, and he has a real shot at the lottery if he keeps improving throughout the season.
Gani Lawal, PF, Georgia Tech
Lawal had a lackluster freshman year at Georgia Tech. This year, however, the sophomore is starting to play up to his potential. His long arms, uber-athleticism and motor have always made him a favorite of scouts. But it has been his surprising success on the offensive end that has scouts talking about him as a potential lottery pick in June.
Victor Claver, F, Spain
Not all the news out of the international camp is bad right now. Claver has been on the radar for a couple of years after a standout performance in the Reebok Eurocamp in 2007. But a so-so 2008 year saw him fall out of the picture. He's back this season, putting up impressive numbers for a 20-year-old at Parmesa Valencia. Given his athleticism and versatility, he has the chance to be the second international player taken in the draft next year.
UPDATE: Claver suffered a left leg fracture on Thursday and is expected to be out until April. This injury will obviously have a major impact on his draft stock. Before the injury, scouts saw him as a potential mid-to-late first-round pick. Now, it's likely he won't enter the draft.
Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain
Rubio turned a lot of heads in the Olympics, but he has begun the season with a whimper. A wrist injury kept him out the first month of the season in Spain. In the long run, the injury is not a big deal, but with players such as Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry and James Harden dominating in the U.S., his position as a potential No. 1 pick in the draft seems to be slipping by the day. In the long run, that might be a good thing for Rubio. But in the short term, his draft stock is taking a hit.
UPDATE: Rubio played his first game of the season on Thursday, going scoreless in three minutes. But he did have two assists, one rebound and one steal.
B.J. Mullens, C, Ohio State
On potential, Mullens might have been the most intriguing name in the draft coming into the season. However, after his first three games at Ohio State, you wonder whether he has what it takes to deliver in a big way as a freshman. Mullens has great athletic ability, but it's clear he's still learning the game and not ready to be playing 30-40 minutes a night.
Thad Matta seems to be willing to be patient with Mullens. It looks as though NBA scouts will have to be, too. By September, some scouts were projecting him as a potential No. 1 pick. Right now, it looks as though the best-case scenario would be his returning for his sophomore season.
Brandon Jennings, PG, Lottomatica Roma
Jennings isn't exactly lighting it up in Europe. He's averaging 4.9 ppg and 3 apg with 28 percent shooting in 17.3 mpg in his first eight games for Lottomatica Roma. It's too early to be harsh. When you factor in all the difficulties he faces (new environment, new system, intense scrutiny), he has held up fairly well. But he hasn't helped his stock much by making the move. While plenty of his college counterparts are dominating, we're still stuck talking about potential with Jennings.
Demar DeRozan, G/F, USC
It's tough to find a young player more disappointing in the early going. On paper, he has all the tools to be a breakout star. He has an NBA body, is an explosive scorer and landed on a team in desperate need of a star. But through the first six games of the year, DeRozan has looked very ordinary, as have the Trojans.
Gerald Henderson, SG, Duke
Henderson has been on the radar since he was a high school senior. But why hasn't he taken his game to the next level? Although a few scouts blame Duke's system, most are beginning to write him off.
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.
The 2009 draft class looks about as strong as the current economy, but there are some bright spots, writes Chad Ford.