Before the 2011 draft had even concluded, NBA talent evaluators were lamenting how strong it might have been had all of the NCAA's elite players been available. The 2012 draft will be loaded and American-centric, with the trade value of top-20 picks significantly higher than it was this June.
"If you redid [the 2011] draft with the top college kids who passed, they all would have gone in the lottery," one scout said. "But that doesn't mean we won't pick apart their games the more we see them."
With that in mind, we present a categorical breakdown of next year's draft pool, beginning with what scouts hope to see from four super sophomores:
1. Harrison Barnes, Soph., SF, North Carolina: Expect there to be a running debate next season over whether Barnes or Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis should be selected No. 1 overall. Scouts were pleased with the trajectory Barnes was on at the end of his freshman campaign, and mostly just want to see him continue that progress. "There was some serious worrying about him early on last year, with the way he lacked confidence and was tentative taking the ball the rim," one scout said, "but about three-fourths of the way through -- when [Kendall] Marshall finally took over the point -- I think he started to show his true self." Another scout said that he felt if Barnes could become a true, knockdown outside shooter -- hitting at least 40 percent of his threes, up from the 34.4 percent he shot in 2010-11 -- he would offer the complete small-forward package and be a more likely No. 1 pick.
2. Jared Sullinger, Soph., PF, Ohio State: "He made a good move staying in school," one scout said. "Without all those foreign forwards in the draft next year -- guys like [Jonas] Valanciunas, [Bismack] Biyombo, [Jan] Vesely, [Enes] Kanter -- Sullinger can probably lock down a spot in the top five." Evaluators will watch Sullinger's matchups with players who have NBA-level size and length with particular interest, as the jury is still out on whether he can be an elite power forward in the pros, or just a complementary piece who uses his bulk to battle for rebounds. "He's already a monster down low in college," another scout said. "I think he could help himself by playing a little lighter next season, because his body was a concern coming into his freshman year, and proving he can step out into the mid-post and free-throw area and knock down shots."
3. Perry Jones, Soph., PF, Baylor: He has the potential to vault to No. 1 overall with a huge sophomore season, but not every scout is enamored with his game. "I know why people love him, because he has the physical tools to be great, but I worry about whether he wants to bring it every night, effort-wise," one scout said. "I haven't seen that kind of consistent hustle from him yet." The fact that Jones had only one double-double in the Big 12, and only one 20-point game after Feb. 5, was somewhat disappointing. He'll have the freedom to take on a bigger offensive role with shot-happy guard LaceDarius Dunn gone. But will Jones seize that opportunity?
4. Terrence Jones, Soph., PF, Kentucky: "He started out on the opposite path as Barnes, playing great right away, and then his game dipped tremendously," one scout said of Jones. "He was out of sync on offense and his decision-making stopped being instinctive. Now we want to find out, 'Who is he?' " Jones is not as polished of a prospect as Barnes or Sullinger, but remains attractive as a potential "stretch four" in the NBA. Some of his early-season performances as a freshman -- like his 27-point, 17-rebound effort against Notre Dame in December -- were incredible, and if he can return to his aggressive, attacking ways, he'll establish himself as the college game's most versatile power forward.
1. Jeremy Lamb, Soph., SG, UConn: The 6-foot-5 wing with a 7-4 wingspan had a breakout NCAA tournament, playing well beyond his years on both ends of the floor. After the Huskies won the national title, coach Jim Calhoun said, "In the future, you're going to see Jeremy Lamb be one of the best players in college basketball." With All-America guard Kemba Walker gone to the NBA, Lamb (who averaged 11.1 points as a freshman) will get the chance to be UConn's No. 1 offensive option, and if he thrives in that role, he could reach lottery pick status.
2. Patric Young, Soph., PF, Florida: As a freshman, he was stuck at the back end of a Gators rotation that included three established senior forwards in Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin, and played 17.8 minutes per game. This season, Young will be expected to anchor Florida's D and clean up after its corps of scoring guards. "He's a tough guy who defends and won't take any [crap] from anybody, which is why I like him," one scout said. "His offensive skills are somewhat limited, but you know he'll compete."
3. Thomas Robinson, Jr., PF, Kansas: He was exceptionally productive coming off the bench last season, posting higher offensive and defensive rebounding rates (18.8 percent and 31.1 percent, respectively) than either of the Morris twins, and might have been a top-20 pick in this year's draft had he declared. Now scouts will be able to gauge Robinson's effectiveness over longer stretches. If his per-minute rates don't drop precipitously, he'll only be a more attractive NBA prospect.
4. Elijah Johnson, Jr., PG, Kansas: Three of the guards who limited Johnson's playing time to 13.7 minutes per game as a sophomore -- Josh Selby, Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar -- have moved on, freeing up a chance for him to split point-guard duties with Tyshawn Taylor. Johnson isn't a lock to be drafted, or even declare after his junior year. But as a 6-4 floor general with high-level athleticism, he has the attention of NBA scouts, who are curious to see how well he'll run an offense in a major role.
1. Tony Mitchell, Fr., PF, North Texas: Mitchell lost what was supposed to be his freshman year at Missouri when he failed to qualify academically. He enrolled at UNT in January and could be eligible in mid-December if he completes the necessary credits. Despite his extended layoff, the former No. 12 overall prospect in Rivals' Class of 2010 remains intriguing to scouts, who are eager to watch him in this summer's FIBA U19 World Championships. Mitchell has the size (6-8) and explosiveness to be a standout player in the Sun Belt -- if he ever gets on the floor in college.
2. Elias Harris, Jr., PF, Gonzaga: At this time last offseason, Harris was regarded as a potential first-round pick. Now, the German hybrid forward is trying to play his way back onto the draft board after a sophomore campaign in which he was hampered by Achilles and shoulder injuries, and saw his stock take a significant hit. If he can regain the shooting form that saw him hit 45 percent of his threes as a freshman (rather than 35 percent as a sophomore), and get back to attacking the basket aggressively off the dribble, he'll be in a position to be picked next June.
3. Arsalan Kazemi, Jr., SF, Rice: He was initially known for being the first native Iranian to compete in Division I hoops, but has played his way onto the NBA's radar in two years with the Owls. He impressed as a member of Iran's senior team in last summer's FIBA World Championships, and has been a relentless rebounder in college, logging the nation's second-best defensive rebounding rate (30.8 percent) and 15th-best offensive rebounding rate (15.2 percent). His quick first step and explosive leaping ability also helped him post the nation's second-highest free-throw rate (97.5), as Conference USA defenders struggled to contain him without fouling.
4. Andrew Nicholson, Sr., PF, St. Bonaventure: The Atlantic 10's leader in field-goal percentage -- and the league's most athletic, long post prospect -- has drawn scouts' attention for a few years after emerging as an unheralded recruit from the Toronto area. His less-than-stellar rebounding numbers and lack of aggression defending the paint have depressed his stock to a degree, but he could still climb into the first round by putting together a complete senior season.
1. Anthony Davis, Fr., PF, Kentucky: He may be too raw to dominate in college hoops from Day 1, and isn't likely to put up numbers on par with Barnes and Sullinger, but that won't stop scouts from viewing Davis as the best prospect in the 2012 draft pool. He's far from filling out his 6-10 frame -- his late growth spurt was what pushed him from anonymity to five-star recruit -- but he'll make athletic plays around the rim, and will have no trouble keeping up with speedy freshman point guard Marquis Teague (also a one-and-done candidate) in transition.
2. Michael Gilchrist, Fr., SF, Kentucky: Gilchrist is the rare blue-chip recruit who's famous for his defense, and he's expected to be one of college basketball's most feared, tenacious defenders in '11-12. At 6-7, with a 6-11 wingspan, he could feasibly guard four positions for the Wildcats, and make a huge impact on a team that should contend for the national title. Scouts love his aggressiveness, and while he's unlikely to be selected ahead of Davis in next year's draft, Gilchrist won't have to wait long to hear his name called by an NBA team.
3. James Michael McAdoo, Fr., PF, North Carolina: The Tar Heels' abundance of first-round-caliber forwards (Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Barnes) will keep McAdoo from starting, but he'll see the floor enough to show off his offensive polish in the post. He's far more advanced, skill-wise, than Henson was as a freshman, and could have a long career in the pros as a back-to-the-basket power forward.
4. Brad Beal, Fr., SG, Florida: The Gators' backcourt is stocked with scorers, but Beal is the best pro prospect on their roster. He will stand out because of his shooting range and the overall smoothness of his game. At 6-4, he's a few inches shorter than the first shooting guards who went off the board in 2011 (Washington State's Klay Thompson and Colorado's Alec Burks), but his body looks NBA-ready even at the age of 18.