Commentary

Final exam: Grading the goners

With the initial withdrawal date passed, a rundown of players who signed with agents

Originally Published: April 25, 2011
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com

At the end of this weekend, the first truly crucial date on the NBA draft calendar officially passed us by. Sunday night marked the first NBA draft early entry deadline, as underclassmen wishing to enter the draft or test the waters must have officially done so by 11:59 p.m. ET on April 24.

Just like last year, when the NCAA shortened the final draft decision deadline to May 8, players dipping their toes into the draft waters without an agent have a mere 14 days to do so.

That means a couple of things. One, it means players have much less time than in years past -- when the deadline was five weeks later than it is now -- to measure their professional trajectories in advance of life-changing decisions. Two, it means we'll have another official wave of choices to chew on in a couple of weeks, and we won't quite know exactly what this draft class will look like until then.

We also don't know how the possibility of a lockout -- which has arguably kept some players out of the draft, and also arguably created a more attractive situation for once-marginal prospects -- will affect the current crop of pro hopefuls.

Still, there are plenty of players who have already jumped head-first into the stormy seas of the NBA selection process. As usual, those decisions run the gamut from baffling to blatantly obvious -- and everywhere in between. Who fits which description? And what does it mean for each departed player's team?

Let's try to answer those questions, shall we? In various order, what follows is a grouped analysis of every player who has officially entered the 2011 NBA draft. Ready, set, read:

[+] EnlargeBurks
AP Photo/Jack DempseyAlec Burks averaged 20.5 ppg last season and is listed as Chad Ford's top shooting guard.

The "No Surprises Here" Group

Alec Burks, G/F, So., Colorado
Likely draft position: Lottery

Breakdown: Like the rest of the decisions in this group, Burks' choice to forgo the final two years of his collegiate career is something of a no-brainer, even if it's not a Derrick Williams-level slam dunk. Burks emerged as a tantalizing pro prospect in his surprising freshman season, and he only built on that promise as a sophomore. The only thing keeping Burks from being a possible top-five pick is a shaky jump shot. But athletes this good, with Burks' innate feel for scoring around the rim, only come along so often.

What it means for his team: Thanks in large part to the consistently brilliant play of Burks and the solid tutelage of first-year coach Tad Boyle, the 2010-11 Buffaloes got closer to the NCAA tournament than at any time in the program's recent past. Problem is, Burks isn't the only player leaving. Colorado also waves farewell to seniors Cory Higgins, Levi Knutson and Marcus Relphorde, all of whom were double-digit scorers last season. In other words, the Buffs will enter their first year in the Pac-12 -- and the second year of the Boyle era -- in the midst of a full-on rebuild.

Kyrie Irving, PG, Fr., Duke
Likely draft position: Top three

Breakdown: Now this is a no-brainer. Sure, for much of the season, as Irving rehabbed his freakishly injured toe and missed all but 11 of his team's games, Duke faithful held out hope that their star point guard would return for another season and make good on the flashes of brilliance he displayed during his limited run in Durham. But few Blue Devils fans could begrudge Irving his decision. After all, he's still the likely favorite to be selected No. 1 overall in June. Frankly, Irving's stock has nowhere to go but down. When NBA scouts are drooling that much, you don't go back to school no matter how many games you play as a freshman.

What it means for his team: Hopeful Duke fans were salivating at the notion of Irving's return, which would have teamed the star with friend and fellow top point guard prospect Austin Rivers in 2011-12. The mere idea of that backcourt is enough to inspire nightmares among Coach K's ACC brethren. Fortunately for those coaches, it isn't happening. But with Rivers -- who could very well end up as the NBA's No. 1 overall pick next year -- arriving as part of an excellent recruiting class, Duke will again be one of the top teams in the country.

Kawhi Leonard, F, So., San Diego State
Likely draft position: Lottery

Breakdown: Much like his team -- which began the 2010-11 season as an intriguing Mountain West favorite and ended it as a No. 2 seed and Final Four contender -- Leonard spent his season going from relative national unknown to household name in a matter of five months. That status means it's time to get in the draft now, a decision made more appealing with the knowledge that fellow highly touted, versatile forwards Harrison Barnes and Perry Jones, who would have been ranked higher than Leonard on every NBA general manager's draft board, chose not to enter the draft. Leonard is an interesting NBA fit. His jumper isn't great and his offensive game can be shaky, but he is a truly gifted athlete and a great rebounder who could theoretically play at the 2, 3 or 4 spots in the NBA.

What it means for his team: San Diego State may not take as big a step back as you'd expect at first glance -- there is still some quality talent in Steve Fisher's stable -- but the loss of Leonard, in addition to the departures of seniors Malcolm Thomas and D.J. Gay, among others, will ensure the Aztecs look much different (and not nearly as scary) next season.

Kemba Walker, PG, Jr., UConn
Likely position: Lottery

Breakdown: In many ways, Walker's end-to-end stardom -- from his magic show in the Maui Invitational to his national championship coronation in Houston -- was the story of the 2010-11 college basketball season. It's no shock, then, that he'll cap it off by entering the NBA draft. Even though his ideal position is shooting guard, Walker is perhaps generously listed at 6-foot-1, which means he'll almost certainly have to play point guard in the NBA. In other words, he'll have to become a much better passer -- arguably the weakest part of Walker's game right now -- to be an impact player at the next level. Still, Walker is one of the best pure scorers and perimeter defenders in the draft, and he's striking while the iron is incredibly hot.

What it means for his team: The national champs will obviously miss their do-everything star, but Jim Calhoun does have his three best non-Kemba players -- Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi -- set to make even greater individual leaps next season. He also has promising freshman guard Ryan Boatright arriving in the fall. The Huskies might not have their star, but they'll be an intriguing force in the Big East all the same.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Williams
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelDerrick Williams transformed from a so-so recruit to a national player of the year candidate at Arizona.

Derrick Williams, F, So., Arizona
Likely position: Top three

Breakdown: Williams is the reason why your favorite school's low recruiting rankings might not necessarily be the worst news in the world. He wasn't listed among the top 150 recruits in the 2009 class, but by his sophomore year -- which included a monstrous performance in Arizona's Sweet 16 domination of top-seeded Duke -- Williams had morphed into one of the most ruthlessly efficient scorers and rebounders in the college game. He might be something of a tweener forward at the next level, but he already has an effective outside shot (he averaged 57 percent from beyond the arc in 2010-11) to pair with his low-post scoring. His prospective draft position as a possible No. 1 overall pick reflects that unique blend of skill.

What it means for his team: No one likes to lose a player as good as Williams, but it's a testament to the increasing strength of Sean Miller's program -- which will add the No. 7-ranked recruiting class in the country alongside MoMo Jones, Solomon Hill and others -- that many still see the Wildcats as a Pac-12 contender without their efficient forward.

The "Well, I Guess That Makes Sense" Group

Markieff Morris, PF, Jr., Kansas; Marcus Morris, F, Jr., Kansas
Likely draft positions: Mid-first round

Breakdown: The Morii aren't the exact same player, but they're similar enough in style and ability -- and in prospective draft position, no less -- that they can probably be addressed as a single entity. (Plus, it's fun to wonder where the twins would be drafted if an NBA team could get some sort of Little League-style "brother option" on both players. Top 10? Top five? Even higher?) In any case, both players expanded their games in major ways in their junior seasons, adding outside shots and increased versatility to their already-polished abilities in the pivot. The lottery is a stretch for either Marcus or Markieff, but it's likewise hard to argue either player would benefit from a draft prospective after another season in the college game.

What it means for their team: Bill Self doesn't rebuild. He reloads. That said, losing the Morii is a major blow to this team's frontcourt, where emerging star Thomas Robinson will have to shoulder much of the load in his junior season.

Chris Singleton, F, Jr., Florida State
Likely draft position: First round

Breakdown: NBA general managers might not be thrilled to draft Singleton in the first round, but they should be. Sure, he isn't a transcendent offensive talent, and he's not likely to change the face of your franchise anytime soon. But finding players like Singleton -- who has the ability to be a lockdown defender at a variety of positions the first minute he puts on his first NBA uniform -- is the difference between winning and losing in the Association. For his part, Singleton could probably use another year of offensive development at the college level, and it'd be nice to see him add a consistent shot to his arsenal as a complementary NBA piece, but there's nothing to say the athletic Florida State forward can't do that at the next level, too.

What it means for his team: Singleton was the heart and soul of Florida State's steady improvement under coach Leonard Hamilton, and his individual play has characterized the Seminoles' overall defensive stinginess in the past three years. (FSU allowed the lowest opponent field goal percentage in college basketball for the past two seasons.) The good news, however, is that the Noles advanced to the Sweet 16 in March despite the fact that Singleton missed the final six games before the Big Dance and then averaged only 13 minutes in the two tourney victories. His loss will hurt, but Hamilton's team should be used to it by now.

Jordan Hamilton, G/F, So., Texas
Likely draft position: Lottery

Breakdown: Based on the quotes in his "I'm outta here" press release, Hamilton is the best example in this year's class of a player that looked at the decisions of his potential draft classmates -- specifically Harrison Barnes and Perry Jones, and perhaps even Jared Sullinger -- as a major boon to his own potential draft position in June. He's probably right. With all three players out of the draft, Hamilton is now a much more attractive small forward option; it's possible he became a lottery pick almost by default. That's why Hamilton, unlike teammates Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson, went ahead and hired an agent. Whether the rangy small forward turns that boosted draft stock into an impact career remains to be seen, but he made leaps in nearly every facet of his game as a sophomore. Hamilton still needs to improve in a few areas -- particularly defensive focus and shot selection -- but the timing here is hard to question.

What it means for his team: Texas will know much more about its chances in another two weeks, when Joseph and Thompson either return to school or stay in the draft for good. Thompson would be the team's biggest loss, because Texas lacks another proven big man -- Alexis Wangmene, who played nine minutes per game in 2010-11, is a likely starter in 2011-12. Still, Hamilton's loss is a major blow, particularly on the offensive end, where he created dreadful matchup problems with his size, strength and outside-in attack.

[+] EnlargeTyler Honeycutt
AP Photo/Dean HareTyler Honeycutt is one of several players who are bolting from what now will be the Pac-12.

Tyler Honeycutt, F, So., UCLA
Likely draft position: Late first round

Breakdown: Honeycutt is a traditional (and very interesting) small forward prospect, in that he is 6-foot-8, rangy, athletic, multitalented and pretty good at a handful of things without being truly great at any of them. Honeycutt can handle the ball and slash to the rim with innate skill, but he was occasionally overpowered in the low block; he still needs to get much stronger in the years to come to be a consistently productive player in the NBA. As it is, he's likely a late-first-round pick in this draft. But his decision to leave the Bruins and hire an agent, premature though it may have seemed, is hardly shocking given the longtime interest from scouts and the recent success even the most undervalued of UCLA prospects has experienced at the next level.

What it means for his team: After a one-year NCAA tournament hiatus, Ben Howland finally seemed to have his team on the right path, which ended the 2010-11 season playing its best basketball, beating Michigan State and pushing Florida in the tourney. Alas, the surprising losses of Honeycutt and teammate Malcolm Lee take much of the air out of that momentum. Another down year seems unlikely -- Howland has boosted the talent on his team dramatically in recent seasons, and forward Joshua Smith could have a breakout year -- but the Bruins will have to find capable replacements on the wing if they want to maintain their upward trajectory.

The "Brave Juniors (Who Probably Attended Georgia)" Group

Malcolm Lee, G, Jr., UCLA
Likely draft position: Second round

Breakdown: On March 29, Lee announced his decision to test the NBA draft waters without an agent. That was understandable. His decision to stay in the draft and hire an agent, which he revealed in early April, is less so. Lee is an interesting prospect thanks to his 6-5 frame and apparent desire to play point guard in the NBA. The question is whether he has the tools to make that transition. Worse yet, scouts seem as down on Lee as they ever have; the guard has been ranked as high as a mid-first-round pick in recent years, but his disappointing and uneven junior season has since downgraded him to the second round. Like Thompkins below, Lee is selling himself a bit short with this decision, and it's hard to argue that he wouldn't have been better off waiting another year to make the professional leap.

What it means for his team: Along with the departure of teammate Tyler Honeycutt, Lee's loss means the Bruins will be retooling two-thirds of their backcourt in 2011-12, and while UCLA's consistently improving forwards (Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith, to be joined by the Wear twins) will still be in the fold, Howland will have to get Jerime Anderson, Tyler Lamb and a host of other guards ready to play major roles earlier than he could have expected.

Travis Leslie, SG, Jr., Georgia
Likely draft position: Late first or early second round

Breakdown: Yes, two of the five players in this group -- which can be generously described as those who have enough (arguably misplaced) faith in their ability to audition their way into in a first-round selection and a guaranteed contract this summer -- will be leaving Athens, Ga., when they do so. The first is Leslie, who, thanks to his supreme athleticism and finishing ability, likely drew your attention to YouTube for one of his ridiculous trademark dunks the past couple of seasons. Leslie is a potential perennial dunk contest candidate, but he has to stick in the league first. To do so, he has to convince NBA GMs that he isn't too small to play shooting guard. An improved jumper would also be nice. As it stands, Leslie is projected as a marginal first-round selection. As such, he would have done better to return to Georgia for another summer of constant shooting drills. He could also have worked on his distribution and playmaking abilities, at least enough to plausibly convince NBA scouts he's worth a look as a combo or point guard at the next level.

What it means for his team: After two years of steady improvement and increased profile, Leslie's departure (coupled with that of forward Trey Thompkins, listed below) moves third-year Georgia coach Mark Fox almost back to square one. With both players back, the Bulldogs could have given Kentucky a run in the SEC. With both players gone, Fox will have to hope incoming McDonald's All-American Kentavious Caldwell lives up to his considerable hype. Even if he does, the Bulldogs are likely to be stuck in rebuilding mode for at least one season.

Isaiah Thomas, PG, Jr., Washington
Likely draft position: Second round

Breakdown: Thomas is a unique inclusion here. He hasn't officially hired an agent (that we know of), but when he discussed the decision with reporters, he said his announcement was a "goodbye," and every single sign points to an official departure in the weeks to come. Thomas cited the lack of quality point guards in this year's draft class as one of his reasons for leaving, and in many ways, he's right: Next year's class is likely to be much deeper at the guard spots, and Thomas was one of the most effective point guards in college hoops during his junior season in Seattle. But NBA scouts didn't seem too impressed. At the very least, they're a bit troubled by Thomas' size -- he's listed at 5-foot-9, which might be a little generous -- and whether he can prove to be as skilled a distributor as he was a scorer during his time with the Huskies. Another season spent showcasing those skills in the college game -- and another year spent making a run at national accolades -- might have greatly boosted his stock. Instead, Thomas will have to be extremely lucky, extremely impressive, or both, to get himself a guaranteed contract in June.

What it means for his team: There's no other way to say this: Losing Thomas could be devastating to Lorenzo Romar's program next season. The words "heart and soul" get tossed around quite a bit in college basketball, but when used to describe Thomas -- his team's most important scorer, ball handler and leader -- they're totally fitting. The good news for Romar and company is the return of junior point guard Abdul Gaddy from an ACL tear that forced Thomas into an even bigger role in his team's offense. Gaddy has plenty of improvements to make, but he is already experienced (not to mention talented) enough to lessen the Thomas-inflicted blow.

[+] EnlargeTrey Thompkins
Paul Abell/US PresswireThe SEC's preseason POY, Thompkins had a somewhat disappointing 2010-11.

Trey Thompkins, PF, Jr., Georgia
Likely draft position: Late first or early second round

Breakdown: A 6-foot-10 forward who does a little bit of everything, Thompkins is one of the most versatile players in this year's draft class. That's why his decision is more justifiable than his teammate's; it's not hard to imagine NBA scouts salivating over Thompkins' combination of size, ballhandling ability and long-range shooting as the big man navigates folding chairs over the next two months. (If Thompkins was a Lithuanian named Algirdas Sutrinaitis, he might already be a lottery pick.) The problem? Thompkins is selling himself to NBA general managers at too low a price. The forward set himself up for a big year after a breakout sophomore season, but he never truly recovered from an offseason ankle injury, and his performance and production suffered as a result. If Thompkins was willing to wait another season, he'd face a deeper draft class in 2012, but he'd also have the chance to reclaim his swagger and maybe, just maybe, play himself all the way into the lottery.

What it means for his team: As above, the twin departures of Thompkins and Leslie mark a significant loss of the two most important factors in college basketball success: talent and experience. Georgia's returning frontcourt pieces -- Marcus Thornton, Donte Williams and Connor Nolte -- averaged a combined 25.8 minutes per game in 2010-11. No matter how good Caldwell proves to be on the perimeter, that inexperience and lack of depth will be difficult for the Bulldogs to overcome.

Nikola Vucevic, F, Jr., USC
Likely draft position: Early second round

Breakdown: According to ESPN.com's Chad Ford, few players climbed NBA scouts' draft boards during the season like Vucevic. This isn't a huge shock, given how the big-bodied Montenegrin's improvement mirrored his team's surprising late-season run to the NCAA tournament. Vucevic has the frame -- he's listed at 6-foot-10, 260 pounds -- to be a dominating interior player, and his strong shot-blocking anchored USC's stingy defense throughout the season. The problem? If you start in the low second round, even a meteoric rise up the draft board might not be enough to earn you a guaranteed contract. Likewise, the main knock on Vucevic as an overall NBA prospect is his lack of any outside game, particularly that crucial 15-foot jump shot that feels like a requirement for high-level NBA power forwards. Vucevic may continue to develop and expand his game in the league, but a year spent refining his touch before the draft could have seriously boosted his draft stock well into the first round.

What it means for his team: Vucevic will be difficult to replace; no Trojan posted near the production his 17 points and 10 rebounds per game represented. Nor does it help that fellow 6-foot-10 forward Alex Stepheson graduates this spring. But the 2010-11 Trojans didn't truly begin to jell until guard Jio Fontan was inserted in the lineup in December, and Fontan's availability for a full season should help stanch the bleeding in the frontcourt.

The "One And … Wait, What?!" Group

Jereme Richmond, F, Fr., Illinois
Likely draft position: First round

Breakdown: Richmond was one of the first players to officially declare for the NBA draft earlier this month. In doing so, he not only managed to incite even greater discontent among Illinois fans for ever-beleaguered Bruce Weber; he also managed to genuinely surprise pretty much anyone associated with college or professional basketball. Why leave so early after a promising but inconsistent freshman season? Why turn down the chance to be his team's de facto star as a sophomore? Did Richmond have bad grades or a poor relationship with his coaches, as the Illinois message boards seem to believe? In the end, Richmond's decision is a questionable one, because his draft stock is far from its peak, and a year as the Illini's leading scorer could have been a ticket straight to the NBA draft lottery. But the weakness of this draft and Richmond's unique combination of playmaking ability and size -- at 6-foot-7, the man was born to play small forward in the NBA -- have made him a likely first-round pick despite the sudden, questionable nature of his decision.

What it means for his team: Richmond could have been a force in his sophomore year; the Illini only hinted at his ability in sporadic but steadily increased minutes in 2010-11. Without him -- and without the senior trio of Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis -- Illinois will have to get immediate interior contributions from promising forward Meyers Leonard, not to mention quality guard play from juniors D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul. Still, Illinois fans will always wonder just how good a team built around Richmond could have been.

[+] EnlargeJosh Selby
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesJosh Selby dealt with several setbacks during his freshman season and his draft prospects suffered as a result.

Josh Selby, G, Fr., Kansas
Likely draft position: First round

Breakdown: Selby's might be the most hotly debated entry of any in the 2011 NBA draft, and that includes the player you just read about. Most scouts and Kansas fans are convinced Selby should have stayed in the draft for another season, and in many ways, they're correct: The highly touted guard's freshman season was beset by injuries, disappointing play and an NCAA-related suspension, and he never lived up to his billing as the best point guard (and arguably the best player) in the 2010 recruiting class. But Selby's decision is likewise understandable, and not just because he's eager to wave farewell to the hard upbringing he experienced as the product of a single-parent home in a brutal area of Baltimore. Bottom line: Selby has talent. If he displays that to scouts and general managers in the next two months, plenty of teams will take a chance on landing a potential impact combo guard somewhere in the first round. There's more to this decision than meets the eye. But that doesn't mean it wasn't hugely surprising, and that doesn't make it any less obvious to say Selby could have been drafted much, much higher next summer had he stayed in school long enough to perform in proportion to his immense talents.

What it means for his team: No wonder Kansas fans want Selby to come back. Without him, the Jayhawks backcourt will lose four guards (Selby, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Mario Little) who all played significant minutes in last season's 35-win campaign. The good news, besides Robinson's aforementioned return, is that junior point guard Tyshawn Taylor will be back for another year, as will emerging sophomores Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford.

The "There Are Worse Fates Than Playing In Europe" Group

DeAngelo Casto, PF, Jr., Washington State
Likely draft position: Late second round to undrafted

Breakdown: Casto did not end his Washington State career on a high note. The junior forward announced his draft decision amid drug charges that were dropped last week after a judge ruled the police had seized the relevant evidence -- a small bag of marijuana and a partially rolled cigarette -- without a search warrant. Either way, Casto has developed a reputation for "character issues," the most-dreaded phrase you'll find in any NBA prospect's scouting file. To overcome them, Casto will have to convince NBA scouts his talent is worth the risk. Problem is, it might not be. The undersized power forward needed another year in school to develop his game, which is heavy on athleticism and explosion and light on refinement and nuance, in advance of a shot at the pros. But his recent issues in Pullman have made that an untenable option. In other words, Casto shouldn't be in this draft, and his eventual position -- if he's even drafted in the first place -- is likely to reflect that fact.

What it means for his team: Casto's loss will hurt Ken Bone's Cougars, but not nearly as much as would the loss of star Klay Thompson, who will test the draft waters this spring without hiring an agent. Regardless of Thompson's decision, however, Casto's defection does leave Washington State without a true low-post player and without an obvious replacement waiting in the wings.

Greg Smith, C, So., Fresno State
Likely draft position: Second round to undrafted

Breakdown: If you watch film of Fresno State forward Greg Smith, you'll immediately see why NBA scouts would be mildly intrigued. You'll also get the same sinking feeling -- that for all his athleticism and size, Smith should be a much, much more productive player -- that could cause the gifted sophomore to go undrafted this summer. Smith has natural gifts in spades, but he's developed a reputation for being aloof, difficult to coach and less than eager to work on his game, and that's the sort of reputation that can scare away even the most potential-obsessed NBA GM. The best way for Smith to disprove those notions would have been to hit the gym hard this summer, come back renewed and improved in the fall, and have a monster junior season commensurate to his physical talent. Instead, he chose to enter the draft. This was probably not the best of decisions.

What it means for his team: Fresno State has made a recent habit of developing NBA-ready athletes (see: Indiana Pacers rookie Paul George) without experiencing the requisite success on the court. That was the case last year, when Smith and intriguing freshman guard Kevin Olekaibe were drawing the eye of NBA scouts even as Fresno was limping its way to a 14-17 record. In other words, don't expect the Bulldogs to take a huge step backward in 2011-12. But don't expect them to improve much, either.

Mamadou Diarra, C, Jr., Chaminade
Likely draft position: Late second round to undrafted

Breakdown: Never heard of Mamadou Diarra? Don't feel bad. With the exception of their annual appearance in the Maui Invitational, the Silverswords don't get too many chances to bask in the national spotlight. Fortunately, first impressions are everything to NBA scouts, which is a big reason Diarra, who began his career at USC before landing at Chaminade and who notched double-doubles in Maui games against Michigan State and Oklahoma, is getting looks from NBA scouts. Of course, there's a Pacific Ocean-sized gap between "getting looks" and "With the next pick in the NBA draft, the Wizards select …" -- which is why Diarra would do well to bring his 7-foot frame and shot-blocking ability to the immediate attention of general managers this spring.

What it means for his team: With the loss of five seniors, the Silverswords are already taking a major hit this offseason. With Diarra gone, Chaminade will lose its top two scorers (the other, Steven Bennett, is one of the aforementioned seniors) from a team that finished 20-9 and 13-3 as co-champs of the Division II Pacific West league. And now you're caught up on the Chaminade Silverswords just in time for next year's Maui Invitational. You're welcome.

Eamonn Brennan covers college basketball for ESPN.com. You can see his work every Monday through Friday in the College Basketball Nation blog.