We all know the NBA draft is more about "tomorrow" than today. The league is filled with great players with below-average (or worse) rookie seasons. Dirk Nowitzki averaged eight points per game on 40 percent shooting and 20 percent from 3-point range. Al Jefferson couldn't beat outRaef LaFrentz and Mark Blount in the Celtics' rotation and averaged eight points and four rebounds per game. Even an experienced college player like Steve Nash did not enter the league and get an immediate chance to help his team, as he played just 10 minutes and averaged three points and two assists per game. However, there are rookies ready to make a difference today, and it often does not matter how many years of college they have played. So let's examine the 10 most NBA-ready players in the draft.
1. John Wall
What do these guys all have in common -- Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Brandon Jennings,Ty Lawson, and Darren Collison? They all play the point, had huge rookie seasons and are blazingly fast. Speed is perhaps the most important physical advantage a player can have in this league, and Wall is loaded with it. Players who can play super fast with the ball in their hands are even more dynamic. Think LeBron James, Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade, the three fastest guys at their respective positions in the league. Wall will certainly have growing pains, for lots of reasons. But his talent with the ball is evident, and often his pure speed will allow him to dominate parts of games no matter whom he is playing against.
2. Patrick Patterson
Patterson ranks second because of the intangibles he possesses, along with his better-than-expected size and talent. Defensively, he should make huge strides due to his college experience, as well as his quickness and maturity. He'll learn to lock in from day one. Want to know how important defense is in the NBA? Of the 16 playoff teams this season, 15 of them ranked in the top 16 in defensive efficiency (Phoenix was the outlier). Patterson will be able to defend most 4s and many 5s, and flourish in any defensive scheme. He also has an excellent offensive game, so earning playing time -- and trust -- from his coach should be easy.
3. Evan Turner
Speed might be the ultimate weapon in the NBA, but "craft" takes a close second. Turner is often compared to Brandon Roy, and fairly so. Both guys excel at a position where many guys are tremendous athletes. Neither Roy nor Turner is that type of player, though, and neither guy is anything more than slightly above average in height or length for their position. But Turner, like Roy, finds ways to impact games thanks to his mind and skill level. One big advantage that crafty guys have over pure speed guys is their ability to adjust and figure things out on the fly. Turner can expect some rough outings initially, and he'll get overwhelmed by some matchups, but he'll bounce back and find ways to succeed at a very high level, just like he did in college.
4. DeMarcus Cousins
Cousins is the hardest guy to project, for a variety of reasons. He could have topped this list or he could have dropped out altogether. Which team drafts him will tell a part of the story, as some franchises and coaches are better than others at developing young talent. A team would make a mistake by treating Cousins like most other players, coaching him for a few hours a day and then leaving him alone. Cousins needs more than that, and if he gets it, he could be the NBA Rookie of the Month in November. He has all the tools to be an impact guy right away; that much is certain. Hands, feel, skill, size -- all are huge pluses for him over many of his more experienced future opponents.
5. Gordon Hayward
Before anyone gets alarmed that two of my top five guys are projected to be picked outside the top five draft picks, let me remind you that last year's top 10 picks produced only three guys who finished in the top 10 in player efficiency rating (Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Jordan Hill). Remember, this is not a five-year projection, but a look at who can play best right away. That leads us to Hayward, who, despite some suspect shooting numbers, has the game to earn serious minutes at the start of the season. We love scorers, but NBA coaches have to play guys who can fit into their system on both sides of the court and help out with the tougher parts of the game like rebounding and hustle. Even if Hayward struggles as a perimeter shooter, he performs so well at other parts of the game that it will be hard to keep him off the court. Think of him as the perimeter version of Jonas Jerebko, only better.
6. Dominique Jones
The draft seems to always produce guys outside of the top 20 candidates who end up as top-tier rookies. Anthony Morrow, Marcus Thornton, Wesley Matthews, Chase Budinger and many more are among them. Jones is my top guy for this category, as he has the requisite scoring talent and crazy confidence to pound his way into a team's rotation. I'm a little worried about his shooting from 3, but I think he'll get more open looks than he got at USF and he'll still be a very effective driver. The lane opens up in the NBA far more than it does in college, and he'll use his excellent length to hurt people in the paint.
7. Derrick Favors
Favors has a great combination of size, athleticism and hands. That alone earns him favor here. We can ignore his somewhat pedestrian numbers in college to some extent, as he'll no doubt get a lot more dunks in the pros thanks to the added space he'll have to play with (the college game is a scrum inside). Favors can play center some next season, which makes his progress even tougher to realize, though the fact that he can play both spots in the post will make him more valuable over time. If Favors can lock in as a rebounder and become a top player in that category next year, he'll shoot up my rookie report rankings.
8. Ekpe Udoh
Udoh is likely a low-risk pick, provided he plays with passion and purpose (which is not a given). He should be able to defend most centers, but what makes him potentially special is that he'll likely also be able to guard perimeter-based 4s. He moves fluidly for a guy his size, so his coach can find all sorts of places for him in a rotation. I also think he's going to be a better shooter in the pros, enabling him to play in the pick-and-pop game right away.
9. James Anderson
Anderson is another guy who seems ready to score at the NBA level. Like Turner, he's been an extremely productive player without tremendous physical talents, always something I look for in players. He can be utilized as a spark off the bench, where his size and length work in his favor against second-unit shooting guards.
10. Damion James
James has the one talent that every NBA coach covets possibly more than any other -- a super hot motor. You can't win with five such guys if they lack skill, but you also can't win without at least a few of these guys flying around and making plays. Early in the season, when coaches are handing out rotation spots to the guys who worked the hardest in the preseason, James will no doubt get his chance to shine. Keeping his job might be another matter, but he'll get a look before a lot of the guys drafted ahead of him.