Commentary

Draft Watch: Looking back at 2008

Originally Published: January 2, 2009
By Chad Ford | ESPN.com

Blake GriffinNick Laham/Getty ImagesBlake Griffin's decision to return to school for another year is looking mighty wise.
With the new year upon us and a third of the college basketball season behind us, it's time to do an assessment of which NBA draft prospects helped or hurt their draft stock in 2008.

While there have been some adjustments to our 2009 NBA Draft Big Board since it debuted in late June, the adjustments have been subtle.

Here's how the Top 10 looked the day after the 2008 NBA Draft:

Top 10 Sleepers
Syracuse's Jonny Flynn heads our list of the top 10 sleepers who could make a big push up draft boards in 2009. Insider Insider

1. Blake Griffin
2. Ricky Rubio
3. DeMar DeRozan
4. Brandon Jennings
5. Austin Daye
6. B.J. Mullens
7. Hasheem Thabeet
8. James Harden
9. Jrue Holiday
10. Earl Clark

As of Jan. 1, seven of those players are still ranked in our Top 10. And nine of the original Top 10 are still ranked as lottery prospects. Only Gonzaga's Austin Daye has fallen out of the Top 14. Here's a look at our new Top 10:

1. Blake Griffin
2. Ricky Rubio
3. James Harden
4. Greg Monroe
5. Jordan Hill
6. Hasheem Thabeet
7. Jrue Holiday
8. DeMar DeRozan
9. Stephen Curry
10. Brandon Jennings

Of the group, Curry has risen the furthest. He was ranked as the 22nd prospect in our original rankings. Monroe was ranked as the 17th best prospect and Hill was ranked as the 13th best prospect coming into the season.

To ring in the new year, here's a prospect-by-prospect look at who has helped and who has hurt their stock this season. I spoke with a plethora of NBA scouts and several NBA GMs in the past week to get a feel for their draft boards at the moment. With college basketball now turning to conference play, there's still plenty of wiggle room in the rankings, so stay tuned for our weekly stock watches and Top 100 updates.

Also, play our Lottery + Mock Draft with over 2,000 scenarios.

2008 was a great year

Blake Griffin, PF, So., Oklahoma
Griffin shocked many when he opted out of the 2008 NBA Draft, despite being projected as a Top 5 pick. But his decision to return to school looks good so far. Griffin has been dominant on both ends of the floor and is the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft right now.

[+] EnlargeRicky Rubio
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesRicky Rubio turned heads with his play in the Beijing Olympics.

Ricky Rubio, PG, Spain
Rubio's performance in the Olympics convinced NBA scouts (and Team USA) that the Pistol Pete look-alike from Spain was for real. A wrist injury sidelined him early this season, but in the past few weeks, he has gotten back into form and looks like a lock for a Top 3 pick.

However, there are questions about whether or not Rubio will be able to afford a buyout from his team this year, which puts into question whether he'll enter this year's draft. One source close to the situation insists that the concerns are overblown and Rubio is in, but the situation is worth watching.

James Harden, SG, So., Arizona State
Harden was under the radar for much of 2008, but his play has been stellar this season. He does virtually everything well and reminds many scouts of Brandon Roy. Harden looks like one of those players who will be able to contribute immediately in the NBA and projects as a surefire Top 5 pick. Many scouts and executives have him as high as No. 2 on their draft boards.

Greg Monroe, F/C, Fr., Georgetown
Monroe has so many tools for a big man that the Chris Webber comparisons were inevitable. He can shoot, handle the ball, pass and get up and down the floor. While there were questions about his work ethic and drive in high school, his strong play for Georgetown has quieted those concerns.

His stellar game against UConn and lottery prospect Hasheem Thabeet Dec. 29 pushed him into the Top 5. A few scouts have him as high as No. 3. And one NBA exec has him as the No. 2 player on the board. If he continues to improve as the season goes on, he's the one guy on this list that could challenge Griffin for the No. 1 pick.

Jordan Hill, PF, Jr., Arizona
Hill has always been highly regarded by scouts and we had him as a potential lottery pick in June. But his dominant play for Arizona this season has bridged the gap between potential and production -- and he still hasn't reached his ceiling. As he gets stronger and figures things out on the offensive end, Hill has impressed. Right now he's No. 5 on our board.

Stephen Curry, PG, Jr., Davidson
Curry's stock took a big jump in the NCAA tournament and took another big leap with two 44-point outings against Oklahoma and North Carolina State early in the season. Now that he's playing point guard and racking up the assists as well as the points, more scouts are comfortable with his role in the NBA.

However, some scouts were turned off by poor showings against Purdue and West Virginia, where Curry struggled against big, athletic defenders. Some scouts feel he'll be more of a role player in the NBA like his father Dell Curry.

But at the end of the day, virtually all of the NBA scouts and execs I spoke with had Curry as a Top 10 pick. That's a big leap for him given where his stock started in January of 2008.

Cole Aldrich, C, So., Kansas
Aldrich was a role player in KU's 2008 title run, but this season he's the man in the middle for the Jayhawks. His combination of size, skill and solid athleticism have a lot of scouts keeping a close eye on him. This is a weak draft for big men and, while Aldrich could surely use another year at Kansas, more and more scouts and execs are talking about him as a potential lottery pick in 2009 if he declares.

Willie Warren, G, Fr., Oklahoma
Warren ranked in the Top 25 in June, but lately he's shown he may belong in the lottery alongside more touted freshmen. No freshman in the country has been more productive. Warren dropped 31 points on Rice and 35 points on Arkansas in December while shooting a red-hot 11-for-21 from the 3-point line in those two games combined. While some scouts remain concerned that Warren is more of a 2-guard than a point guard, his strong play may make his position irrelevant.

Jarvis Varnado, PF, Jr., Mississippi State
The best shot-blocker in the country, Varnado's combination of length, explosive leaping ability and hustle on the defensive end has a lot of scouts interested. Think Tyrus Thomas without the attitude concerns.

He'd be ranked higher if scouts were convinced he could produce on the offensive end; he's still raw in the paint, but he's improving. While Varnado is currently ranked in the 20s, a strong performance in SEC play could push him into the lottery conversation.

Evan Turner, G/F, So., Ohio State
Turner really flew under the radar for much of 2008, but this season he's stepped up as the leader of the Buckeyes. Turner is blessed with athleticism and is a presence on both ends of the floor -- he can play three positions at either end. He could have a Brandon Rush type of rise if he continues to produce in the second half of the season.


2008 wasn't so kind

[+] EnlargeAustin Daye
Liam Foley/Icon SMIAustin Daye has fallen out of our Top 10 after a slow start.

Austin Daye, F, So., Gonzaga
Daye has all the tools of a Top 5 pick, but none of the production. Yes, he plays on a stacked Gonzaga team, but the Zags' disappointing start, combined with Daye's lackluster play, have damaged his stock. He's a better shooter than his poor shooting percentages show, but he's got to start taking over games and packing on the pounds before NBA scouts seriously consider him as a Top 10 pick again.

B.J. Mullens, C, Fr., Ohio State
A number of scouts said over the summer that Mullens had a legit shot to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. With the exception of a 19-point, eight-rebound performance against UNC-Asheville, we haven't seen it. He's blessed with great size and athleticism and, at times, you see his potential shine through. But more often than not he's delivering the four-point, 0-rebound performances we saw against Iowa on Wednesday.

Obviously, if he blows up in the second half of the season, he'll soar up the board. But as of now, he looks so far away from being a legit NBA center that he may be forced to return to school for his sophomore year. That's a huge downgrade in his stock over the course of the past six months.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF, Sr., North Carolina
The guy is the best player in college basketball. He plays with great heart and toughness. And as Larry Brown would say, he plays the right way. Plus, he stayed for four years of college. Despite all of that, you still can't find an NBA scout or GM who's sold on Hansbrough's NBA potential. Most of them see him as a potential rotation player in the league, and almost no one sees him as a starter. To quote one executive, "Look at how Kevin Love is struggling. Love is bigger, more skilled and more athletic and it's been hard on him. What's going to happen to Hansbrough?"

We have him ranked in the 20s, which is basically where he's been for the last three years. Go figure.

Chase Budinger, G/F, Jr., Arizona
Budinger was once considered a Top 10 prospect, but when he declared for the draft last summer, he couldn't get a first-round guarantee and returned to Arizona. He got off to a scintillating start this season, but has since come back down to Earth. His averages are roughly the same as last season, although he is shooting better. If he doesn't dominate in Pac-10 play, his chances of ever returning to the lottery conversation seem slim.

Darren Collison, PG, Sr., UCLA
Collison was overshadowed by younger, more athletic teammates in 2008. Last season, Russell Westbrook moved from unknown to the No. 4 pick in the 2008 draft. And this season, freshman Jrue Holiday is widely considered a lottery prospect while Collison is still trying to stay in the first round. While Collison's play has been more than solid, it's hard to stay interested when you watch guys like Westbrook or Holiday playing next to him.

Tyreke Evans, G, Fr., Memphis
Evans came on to the college scene with a lot of hype. He had a mature game and was expected to be one of the few one-and-dones among this season's freshmen crop. He was even featured as one of ESPN the Magazine's NEXT athletes. The problem is, despite a solid scoring average, scouts haven't been impressed.

Evans' shot selection and high turnover rate, combined with Memphis' slow start, have many scouts and even more GMs wondering if he's a team player. He has slipped from a late lottery prospect to a guy who would probably get drafted in the 20s if he declared for the draft right now.

Nick Calathes, G, So., Florida
Calathes has a lot of talent, but scouts struggle to place him in a position in the pros. He's a point guard at heart, but on the defensive end, who does he guard? He might need individual NBA workouts to clarify what he can be in the pros. As it stands now, he's probably on the first-round bubble.

Gerald Henderson, SG, Jr., Duke
Henderson came to Duke with a great reputation and was projected by many to be a late lottery pick at best, or a first rounder at worst. So far, scouts have yet to see him live up to his potential. Time is running out for Henderson and, at this point, it's highly unlikely that he ends up as a first-round pick unless he really starts turning it on.

Jeremy Pargo, PG, Sr., Gonzaga
Pargo has been an intriguing player for many NBA scouts and this was supposed to be his breakout year. So far, his performance has been underwhelming. He's cut down his turnovers, but in key moments he seems to lack the makeup to be a lead guard in the NBA. Given his poor shooting numbers, not sure what else he can do in the league.

John Riek, C
No one fell farther than Riek did in 2008. At one point, many scouts saw him as a potential lottery pick given his size, athleticism and toughness on the defensive end, which was on display at a LeBron James camp in the summer of 2007. But he bombed in prep school, got injured and ended up pulling out of the draft after being unable to really work out. He committed to Cincinnati in the summer but hasn't played a game yet. Mention his name to scouts now and you get a familiar response: "Who?"


The jury is still out

[+] EnlargeHasheem Thabeet
AP Photo/Fred BeckhamHasheem Thabeet's shot-blocking skills remind many of Mutombo.

Hasheem Thabeet, C, Jr., UConn
Thabeet continues to draw Dikembe Mutombo comparisons, and as a shot-blocker, he fits the bill. As a rebounder, he has the potential. On the offensive end, however, it's still a big question whether Thabeet can put up the numbers that Mutombo did in the pros. Combine that with his tendency to disappear in big games and you wonder just how high Thabeet will go. Scouts continue to insist he's a Top 5 pick, but I'm skeptical he's worth that high of a pick.

Jrue Holiday, G, Fr., UCLA
Holiday's numbers won't wow you, but scouts love him just as much as they loved Westbrook last season. His defensive presence is fantastic, as is his versatility. Holiday needs to work on his jump shot and prove to scouts he can handle the point. If he can overcome those questions the way Westbrook did, Holiday could be a Top 5 pick too.

DeMar DeRozan, Fr., USC
DeRozan is a freakish athlete. He has an NBA body and can finish when he's out in the open floor. But his shooting woes, combined with a lack of a killer instinct, have muted expectations. In the last few weeks, he's started to produce, but given the early expectations as a potential No. 1 overall pick, he's been a disappointment. Still, in a weak draft, he's still projected as a Top 10 pick.

Brandon Jennings, Italy
When scouts watch video of him in high school, or watch him in practice in Italy, Jennings looks like a Top 5 pick. He's blessed with great athleticism and virtually every skill you want in a point guard. But he's been a disappointment when he's on the floor in Europe. Chalk a lot of that up to a difficult transition from high school to Euro ball. But some of that uncertainty is starting to weigh on his stock. Jennings still looks like a Top 10 pick at the moment, but there isn't a consensus like there was in June.

Al-Farouq Aminu, F, Fr., Wake Forest
I could have easily put Aminu in the good category. He was projected as the 11th best prospect in the country in June and he's still in that slot. His production for Wake Forest has been solid and lately he's been stellar. He's got all the physical tools to be a dominant player. His jump shot could use a little work, but he's likely a Top 10 pick if he declares for the draft.

Earl Clark, F, Jr., Louisville
Clark drives scouts nuts. One night he looks like a Top 5 pick. The next night ... ugh. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Julian Wright, a player without a clear position who dominates when he finds the right matchups but looks lost other times. He's still considered a lottery prospect, but he's not playing up to his talent level right now.

Gani Lawal, PF, So., Georgia Tech
Lawal shot up draft boards early in early December with a series of dominating performances. He's come back down to Earth after struggling at USC and Pepperdine. He has the potential to be a late lottery pick given his athleticism and rebounding ability, but as an offensive player, the jury is still out.

Ty Lawson, PG, Jr., North Carolina
Lawson has always been a divisive name. Some scouts love him and see him as a lottery pick. Others aren't sold, saying he benefits largely from Roy Williams' system. Lawson has been great early on. If he helps lead UNC to a NCAA title, he's got a chance to go in the late lottery. If he struggles, he's probably going somewhere in the 20s.

Jerome Jordan, C, Jr., Tulsa
On potential, Jordan is a lottery pick. But as far as actual production goes, he's been a mixed bag. His rebounding and scoring numbers are up a bit, but his shot-blocking is down. He's coming off, perhaps, his best game of the year versus BYU, where he had 13 points and 14 rebounds. If he can build on that in the second half of the season, Jordan still has a chance to rise into the lottery. Remember, scouts are hungry for big men and there just aren't many quality ones in this year's draft.

Damion James, F, Jr., Texas
Scouts love James' toughness and motor, but he still is a player without a position. He's a natural power forward, but he lacks the size to play that position in the pros. So he's projected as more of a James Posey-type player. He hasn't dominated the way many scouts thought he might as a junior, but he has been solid. A big second half in the Big 12 would move him up the board.

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

Chad Ford

Senior Writer, NBA Insider