Going pro: Ranking the roster on NBA potential

Buzz Williams sent his second and third recruits to the NBA in June, as Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom joined Jimmy Butler at the next level.

In four seasons as head coach, Williams has had a player enter the NBA each year (Wes Matthews, Lazar Hayward), and an increasingly talented roster only should add to that list in the coming years.

So where do this year’s players stack up?

Here’s a look, based on both potential and production, at who has the best chance at one day having his name called in New York.

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

1. Jamil Wilson, redshirt junior SF (Last year: 2)

The Oregon transfer was No. 2 on our list last season, and is bursting with potential that should come to fruition in 2012 with the departure of Crowder. Wilson is a natural small forward, but he’ll have the chance to play against bigger forwards in the post when Marquette goes small. That will give him early training for the next level, but his perimeter play will dictate his pro potential.

Wilson made 10-of-29 3-pointers last year, but was relegated to the paint after injuries to Chris Otule and Davante Gardner. He should play see more time on the wing as a junior, but his benefit to Marquette inside will push him there at times. He’s an improving defender, but he needs to produce more on the glass (just a 10.8 percent rebounding rate last year). With Crowder gone, we fully expect him to do so. A big season may push him to test the NBA waters, as he’ll turn an NBA-ancient 22 years old in November.

2. Trent Lockett, senior SF (NR)

Arizona State’s slow tempo held Lockett back in terms of NBA potential, a problem he won’t have playing for Buzz Williams. Like Jimmy Butler, Lockett isn’t a big outside shooter but has good size and plays lock-down defense. Again, like Butler, Lockett will need to prove he can get to the free throw line and score in a variety of ways to make up for his lack of perimeter shooting. There’s potential here, but Lockett has questions to be answered before becoming a pro. He projects as a 2-guard, so that outside shooting will have to come around.

Jamil Wilson has the look of a pro, but he’ll need to improve on the perimeter to have a shot. (A. Martina Ibanez-Baldor)

3. Vander Blue, junior, SG (5)

Everyone’s got an opinion on Blue, and ours has been positive for quite a while. Blue has the length, athleticism, passing ability and rebounding skills to make it as a 2-guard at the next level. That’s not debatable  But, of course, the one skill holding him back is the key determinant in whether or not he can get there: perimeter shooting. His 3-point numbers have been abysmal through two seasons, and he doesn’t have much of a mid-range game, either. It won’t matter how good he can be defensively, how lethal he is on the break or how well he attacks the glass if he can’t make shots outside of lay-ups and floaters. Early returns show Blue has improved from outside this offseason, but time will tell if it’s good enough to make the jump to having pro potential.

4. Steve Taylor Jr., freshman, PF (NR)

It’s difficult to peg a freshman on this list. Last year we got excited about Juan Anderson’s prospects and ranked him fourth, admittedly far too high. So Taylor may be too high on this list, as well, but we’ve been high on the Simeon power forward since the day he committed. His inside-out game gives him the skill set to play at the next level. Right now he’s more comfortable in the paint, where it’s more difficult to improve one’s skills than it is the perimeter. Taylor already has the size to compete and could log serious minutes as a freshman, making him an intriguing prospect for NBA scouts.

5. Todd Mayo, sophomore, SG (7)

If Mayo were a “true” sophomore he’d likely be at the top of this list. But he’ll be 22 years old at the end of this season after taking the prep school route before arriving at Marquette. That’s a concern for an NBA getting younger every year, but Mayo still possesses a skill set scouts will be interested in. He’s sound fundamentally, has decent size and athleticism for a 2-guard and improved defensively as the year went on. With an increased role following the graduation of Darius Johnson-Odom, Mayo could make a big enough leap that he tests NBA waters. That best-case scenario would include consistency, cutting down on turnovers and proving he can handle the ball as a combo guard at the next level.

6. Davante Gardner, junior, PF (8)

Gardner has the potential to be an All-Big East member one day, but will that translate to a pro career? The NBA is transforming toward lanky forwards with inside-out games, as true post players are fading away. As it stands, Gardner likely can’t play as a 280-pound forward with a relatively short vertical leap. He has shown some talent with a jump shot from 15-feet out, but he won’t be able to use it (in college or potentially the NBA) if he can’t slim down to be more agile. Right now, Gardner isn’t an NBA talent, but he also has two years to improve his body and game. He’s as intriguing a prospect as there is on Williams’ roster.

7. Juan Anderson, sophomore, SF (4)

Impressive highlight reels from high school had us thinking big with Anderson, but the truth was he wasn’t ready for Big East competition. That hasn’t cooled our thoughts on his potential, but this is a more realistic ranking than his No. 4 spot a year ago. Anderson is booming with potential and could see an uptick in minutes as a sophomore, and his skill set gives hope that he could one day turn into an NBA prospect. As is always the example, especially with a 6-foot-6 forward, Anderson is farther along as a player than Jimmy Butler was when Butler arrived at Marquette as a sophomore.

8. Junior Cadougan, senior, PG (9)

It’s not every year you see a senior change his style of play as dramatically as Cadougan may change his in 2012. An almost-pure distributor his first three seasons at Marquette, the 6-foot-1 point guard said he’s looking to score more to help make up for the losses of Johnson-Odom and Crowder. To have a shot at the NBA, Cadougan must prove 1) he can be an above-average defender, and 2) he can shoot from the perimeter. Point guards in the NBA can all shoot, and thus far Cadougan hasn’t shown that trait. That easily could change as a senior, but as it stands the deck is stacked against the senior.

9. Jamal Ferguson, freshman, SG (NR)

Of Buzz Williams’ last two recruiting classes, the player flying most under the radar became the most successful player (Todd Mayo, Davante Gardner). Ferguson would fit that bill from the 2012 class. The 6-foot-4 slasher excels defensively, but his shooting is an admitted weak point that must improve before he sees playing time. The mystery of how good he can be has him up to No. 8 on this list, but there’s a long way to go here. He likely won’t have the chance to move up this list his freshman season.

Steve Taylor is bursting with potential. Could that one day translate to NBA success? (A. Martina Ibanez-Baldor)

10. Derrick Wilson, freshman, PG (11)

The running back-turned-lock down defender was excellent his freshman season, but didn’t have the chance to show off his offensive skills. That won’t change with Junior Cadougan back for his senior year, but that’s not to say those skills aren’t there. It’s too early to tell what the future holds for Wilson, but he started his college career in impressive fashion last year.

11. Chris Otule, redshirt senior, C (10)

There should be a nice spot in Europe for Otule, who will be 23 years old in early January. Barring a miracle, there’s no chance Otule will sniff an NBA roster. There’s even a chance he returns to Marquette for a sixth season. The Golden Eagles’ best interior defender is focused on staying healthy before making a decision at season’s end, but is a vital piece to Buzz Williams’ squad.

12. Jake Thomas, redshirt junior, SG (12)

The hype is starting to build on the sharpshooter, and it appears warranted. In two scrimmages open to the public (Marquette Madness, Haunted Hoops), Thomas has shot well but, more important, shown serious improvement on the defensive end. That won’t translate to an NBA career, but Thomas is proving to be much more than a transfer walk-on.

13. Garrett Swanson, redshirt sophomore (NR)

The Idaho State transfer will sit out the 2012-13 season and have three years left beginning next season. He has potential, but not NBA potential.

14. Dylan Flood, redshirt sophomore (NR)

Flood is majoring in marketing, and the fact that he made it through Boot Camp says something about his drive and work ethic. That should serve him well in whatever profession he chooses, but it won’t be the Association.

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