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Going pro: Ranking the current roster on NBA potential

By Mark Strotman

While the Marquette basketball team is just under four days from tipping off its 2011-2012 season, it’s never too early to speculate about the distant future.

Since coach Buzz Williams took over at Marquette, Wesley Matthews, Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler have all joined NBA rosters, with Hayward and Butler being selected with the 30th pick in the first round each of the last two years, respectively.

Only Butler was a Williams recruit, with current Indiana coach Tom Crean recruiting Matthews and Hayward (we know who actually prepped them for the Association), but Williams’ recruiting trend over the past three years has been positive, bringing in highly athletic and talented prospects who could one day have a future in the pros.

So why not rank them?

Here’s a list, 1-12, of the top Marquette NBA prospects. First things first, these rankings are based off the POTENTIAL going forward, not current talent or situation. They are certainly subjective, as that is truly the only way to do a list like this, so feel free to debate these to no avail as we patiently wait for the season to begin.

It was very tough to rank all 12, considering that a best-case scenario makes all worthy of an NBA roster spot. Consider that a good problem to have.

1. Darius Johnson-Odom, senior, SG: Johnson-Odom could replicate his junior season and most likely be selected in next April’s draft, but the question is how high can he move up the draft boards? Improvement on defense would be a great place to start, where Johnson-Odom has been just average the last two seasons. Also, the lack of experience at point guard outside Junior Cadougan may push Johnson-Odom into ball handling situations at times, which could very well be his position at the next level.

Even if he doesn’t see substantial improvements defensively and at the point, he already has the size to play in the league and his quickness, athleticism, and outside shooting makes him the best NBA prospect on the current roster. He would have to learn the point guard position on the go, but every team could use a scoring threat off the bench, and we know all too well that Johnson-Odom can score from anywhere on the court. A spectacular season could push him into the Lottery.

Just how good can Darius Johnson-Odom be at the next level? (Marquette Tribune file photo)

2. Jamil Wilson, sophomore, SF: I have been one to temper expectations on the Oregon transfer, but since we are looking ahead to future NBA prospects, it’s tough not to go crazy. It seems as though Wilson has no true flaws in his game, and he still has three years left at Marquette (unless he declares early). Having last year off turned him into a physical specimen, and his body right now would allow him to play in the NBA.

He has the athleticism, the range to shoot outside and is quicker than most realize. It’s tough to compare him to Jimmy Butler or expect him to be that productive in 2011, but it’s not at all out of the question to think that in three years Wilson could be just as good, if not better, than Butler was a year ago. Wilson is already lightyears ahead of where Butler was at the same age.

Defense remains a question, as Wilson is still a “tweener” at the three and four. It would be great to see him be able to excel guarding the two or four spots, which would greatly improve his NBA stock. It’s difficult because he hasn’t played at Marquette yet, but there’s an easy argument to put him at No. 1.

3. Jae Crowder, senior, PF: Crowder and Lazar Hayward, a first round draft pick, have very similar skill sets offensively, with the only difference being the latter put the ball in the hoop more. A year ago, Crowder scored 28.9 percent of his points on three pointers (Hayward’s senior year: 31.6 percent) and 17.7 percent of his points on free throws (Hayward’s senior year: 17.3 percent), so the versatility is there.

Now he needs to do more of it. Crowder’s point total last year (11.7) was lower than Hayward’s sophomore year (12.8). It’s tough to see Crowder matching Hayward’s senior year numbers, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be productive. He is now the number two scorer behind DJO and will have the opportunity to average somewhere between 15 and 17 points per game. His versatility to play inside and out will serve him well at the next level, and he could certainly hear his name called by one of 30 teams on draft night.

4. Juan Anderson, freshman, SF: It’s always risky putting a player who hasn’t played a minute of college basketball this high up, but it’s tough not to love everything Anderson is about. He has the perfect length for an NBA small forward, he claims he may not be done growing, and he is already showing progression on the defensive end. It’s scary to think what three more years in the weight room with Todd Smith will do to his body, as he could very well turn into a Jimmy Butler, with the speed to defend a guard, and the strength and size to move inside with forwards. He will need to improve his jump shot to play at the next level, but that’s something repetitions in the gym over the summer will do.

He can handle the ball, excels running the break, seems to have a positive attitude and is willing to learn. Ten minutes talking with Anderson will remind you of a Lazar Hayward/Jimmy Butler-like personality. He’s humble, well-spoken and is soaking in every moment of his college experience. Add that to his skill set and the fact that he’s just 18 years old? The sky is the limit for Anderson.

5. Vander Blue, sophomore, SG: Blue is fully aware that his freshman season was some of the worst basketball of his life, but it’s hard to deny his evident athleticism and energy on the defensive end. With potentially three years left at Marquette, Blue is going to gain confidence he didn’t have last year. That will do more good for him than any film session, weight room work out or individual practice could.

He has excellent size (he seems closer to 6-foot-5 in shoes), is an underrated passer and, again, gets after it on the defensive end. His jump shot clearly needs to improve, both in form and production, but he has time to make that adjustment. It will be interesting to see if Blue sees any time at point guard, which would help his NBA prospects considerably. The verdict is still out on where Blue winds up in three years, but he was a consensus top-40 recruit for a reason and there’s tons of potential still to be uncovered.

6. Jamail Jones, sophomore, SF: This rank may seem high for a player who played a total of 111 minutes his freshman season, but Jones has an exciting skill set, given his chiseled 6-foot-6 frame. He is already one of Marquette’s best outside shooters and played solid defense in his limited minutes, but the question now becomes if he can put it all together. Chances are that, over the next three years, he does.

He may not play it at Marquette, but much like Wesley Matthews, Jones is a shooting guard at the next level. But the time he sees guarding small forwards will help his defensive game as he readies for the next level. We have seen how much defending bigger players helped Matthews in the long run, and Jones could be the same. That being said, the jump shot is the biggest factor holding him back. If he gets that going, which he should, the NBA is within reach.

7. Todd Mayo, freshman, SG: Again, tough to gauge the freshman at this point, but it’s encouraging to hear that Mayo looks like a pure scorer early in his first year. There’s no point in comparing him to anyone this early, but if he can become the type of player Jerel McNeal was (OK, I just compared him to someone) with the ability to play the point, an NBA career wouldn’t be out of the question.

He needs to add bulk, which he will, and get after it on the defensive end, but he’s probably the best candidate of any of the freshmen to be a 20-point scorer with the Golden Eagles one day. If you can score at will, an NBA team can and will find a spot for you. Still, it’s very early. Let’s see him in on the court.

Who on Marquette's roster is the next Lazar Hayward or Wesley Matthews? (Photo: Aaron Ledesma/Marquette Tribune)

8. Davante Gardner, sophomore, PF: Gardner has to be the most intriguing player on this list. On one hand, he’s one of the most gifted sophomore, back-to-the-basket forwards in the nation offensively, and has shown early this pre-season he has range beyond the three-point line. But on the other side of the ball, Gardner was a liability and, because of it, was limited to just 9.0 minutes per game.

He’s always going to be a great scorer and should average double digit points his junior and senior year, but his conditioning and defense could make or break his NBA prospects. He has made an unbelievable effort to slim down this past offseason and is noticeably thinner. Now it’s time to see if better conditioning leads to better results on the defensive end. If it does, Gardner would move up considerably on this list.

9. Junior Cadougan, junior, PG: You may not find another media outlet as high on Cadougan as this one, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to the NBA. Through one year of true competition, we have learned that Cadougan has the best court vision of any Marquette player since Dominic James. He improved defensively over last year’s final month, but his lack of scoring will hurt him at the next level. He hasn’t shown much aggressiveness on the perimeter (just 2-for-13 from three last year), but part of that could be the offense he plays in and his supporting cast who made it so he didn’t need to shoot outside.

Cadougan admitted his confidence level is sky high entering the season, which is something that could dictate whether he can play at the next level. He isn’t super quick and is “only” 6-foot-1, but his passing skills may be good enough to make it at the next level if we see signs of life from his outside jumper.

10. Chris Otule, junior, C: Otule has two factors working against him. Number one is that his offensive game is still a glaring weakness. Bigs can make it without an offensive game if they are elite defenders, and while Otule has transformed into one of the best interior defenders in the Big East, it’s tough to classify him as “elite.” It’s tough to see him ever scoring in double figures consistently, which hurts him.

Second, and maybe more important, is that he’s already a junior. The new trend taking over the NBA is drafting young, talented big men projects. In last year’s draft, Purdue’s JuJuan Johnson was the only senior over 6-foot-10 to be taken in the first round. In the second round, Richmond’s Justin Harper, Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer, Kentucky’s Josh Harrelson, Oakland’s Keith Benson and Florida’s Vernon Macklin fit that description. Harrelson was the only one in that group not to average double-digit points.

He doesn’t have the best hands and, through no fault of his own, the blindness in his left eye may give NBA teams concerns. He’s one of the best stories on the team, given his progressions since arriving in 2008, but it just may not translate to the NBA.

11. Derrick Wilson, freshman, PG: Part of the reason he is listed so low is because not much is known of him. Early reports and a small sample size from Marquette Madness and Haunted Hoops show that Wilson does lock down on the defensive end, but there are questions as to how much he can contribute on the offensive end. Will he always be a pass-first point guard as long as Williams continues to recruit great scorers on the wing? Incoming 2012 sophomore recruit T.J. Taylor is more of a scoring point guard which means Wilson, while talented, may be a stopper off the bench  until his senior year. At just 6-foot-1, Wilson would be undersized in the NBA. However, like all freshman, this is nearly impossible to project before they have played a minute of college basketball.

12. Jake Thomas, junior, SG: He could go all Jimmer Fredette on the Big East, but at this point Thomas is a sharp shooter and not much else. He will begin next year with two years of eligibility, not leaving much time to improve on his game enough to gain serious NBA consideration. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Thomas starting in a Marquette uniform in 2013, but the NBA would be a stretch, more so than any player on the current roster.

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6 Comments on “Going pro: Ranking the current roster on NBA potential”

  1. November 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    I can’t quibble too much with this, but I think Otule is down a bit too far. There’s always a need for big men with shot blocking ability. Definitely goes in front of Gardner, who will only ever make a roster if he morphs into Barkley on the glass.

    Also, I’m just not sold on Crowder as a prospect. He’s in the Lazar mold, but not better than him in any category.

    Good topic though.

  2. November 8, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    DJO does not have ideal size for the NBA. He is about 3″ too short for ideal SG size.

    • November 8, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

      That was meant as build and body (size), not height.

  3. November 9, 2011 at 6:50 am #

    I see great potential for a few of the guys on the team that would make them better Pro prospects then college players as there are going to be a few late bloomers here. #1 is Jamail Jones if he can find his niche’ and gain some playing time. Jamil Wilson as well and Juan down the road. DJO might be NBDL material for the most part and Vander might get a look because he is big and can really guard but will have a tough time if he can’t hit a jumper and find a position. Every one of these cats are dreaded ‘tweeners.’ It is not always advantageous to have multi-positional players all the time because you want defined guys but…all have a shot in this system. But the comp in the Big East and the team shifts will hurt alot of these guys as far as being recognizable but Buzz and MU have agreat track record and rep now for turning out hard working kids…we’ll see.

  4. November 9, 2011 at 8:12 am #

    Waaaaaaaay too optimistic. DJO lottery? Don’t forget that about a half-dozen sure-fire lottery picks stayed in school because of the lockout. He has to have a Kemba or D-Wade type year to even get into the first round.

    Wilson looks like an NBA player provided he has the work ethic. Right now, Crowder, Vander, and Jamail all look like NBADL at best. Need to show a lot more to get drafted even in the second. Too early to say on Juan, Mayo, or DW.

    Either way, great talking points!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Going pro: Ranking the roster on NBA potential | Paint Touches - October 30, 2012

    […] Also, a look back at last year’s rankings. […]

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