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Evaluating the 2012 draft, Part II: High-risk, high-reward prospects

Now we're really rolling the dice.

After focusing Wednesday on the four prospects considered jackpot talents by NBA personnel men who spoke with, today we look at 15 players who qualify as high risk and possibly high reward. These players will be the most daunting to dissect, their upside high but the odds of an accurate projection of them as pros low. It's no coincidence that only two of them are upperclassmen, who have a larger sample size to evaluate.

This is the second of a three-part exercise offering a window into the world of the front-office types and scouts who are feverishly preparing for the June 28 draft. In an attempt to quantify the level of variance with the top prospects, I'm dividing 30 potential first-round picks into three risk-based categories and providing a brief breakdown of each player. Prospects are listed from top to bottom based on an inexact and subjective formula: perceived amount of risk coupled with talent and upside.

To review:

1. Hitting The Jackpot (four players): The talent is immense and the upside is as trustworthy as there is in the draft. Click here for Wednesday's story.

2. The Gambles: (15 players): In short, this is where the risk gets weighed against the reward. Questions about these players' games -- and, in some cases, their attitudes or off-court issues -- might give NBA decision makers cause for pause, but getting it right could result in a major payoff too. This story runs today.

3. The Safe Bets: (11 players): These players might not make any All-Star teams, but talent evaluators say they're the easiest to project. So if you like the skill set and don't want your bosses to be surprised, you feel comfortable picking from this pool. (Update:Click here for the story.)


Here's a look at The Gambles:

Andre Drummond, Connecticut, freshman center (6-foot-10, 270 pounds): While Kentucky power forward and consensus No. 1 pick Anthony Davis was the headliner of the "Jackpot" bunch, Drummond has that label in this group. His talent and size are worthy of Jackpot status, but the best center in the bunch lands here after being the poster boy for the Huskies' disappointing defense of their 2011 national title.

Drummond's unexpected decision last August to attend UConn was seen as the sort of recruiting coup that could keep the Huskies near the top of college basketball despite the loss of star guard Kemba Walker to the NBA. made Drummond the No. 2 recruit in the country as a senior at St. Thomas More High School in Oakdale, Conn., where he won a national prep title.

But the mix never worked, even as UConn returned a fellow pro prospect and a breakout player in its championship run, shooting guard Jeremy Lamb (more on him later). The Huskies were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Iowa State, finishing 20-14 overall and 8-10 in the Big East. Drummond had just two points and three rebounds in 26 minutes in that game, capping a season in which he averaged only 10 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 28.4 minutes while shooting 53.8 percent from the field and an embarrassing 29.5 percent from the free-throw line.

"He's a project," one front-office man said.

Still, he's about as promising a project as there is in this draft. The combination of his size and elite athleticism has teams wondering if he could become a hybrid of the Lakers' Andrew Bynum and the Magic's Dwight Howard. Like both players, he is a force on defense at a young age but has a long way to go offensively.

Drummond can run the floor like a guard, he's a natural passer and he can step out for mid-range jumpers. But the inconsistency and his penchant for playing while in third gear have raised concerns. His playing time was inconsistent as well, though, with six games of fewer than 20 minutes, and his ability to be a dependable rebounder when he played big minutes could be revealing. Attacking the glass is often an indicator of a player's motor, and Drummond averaged 9.6 rebounds in his 16 games of 30-plus minutes.

Perry Jones, Baylor, sophomore power forward (6-11, 235): Jones' decision to return to school for one more year added to the hype surrounding this draft class. Though he was viewed as a top five talent a year ago because of his incredible athleticism, size and versatility, his underwhelming season and continuing questions about his game have hurt his stock. Chief among them: Does he have what it takes to make the most of his talent?

"If you were going to define what a basketball player would look like, he'd probably be it," one front-office source said. "But there's a lot missing with him heart-wise. ... You just wonder if he's a soft kid."

Jones' scoring declined in his sophomore season (13.5 points from 13.9 as a freshman), and his unimpressive rebounding numbers increased a bit (7.2 to 7.6) in three more minutes per game. Even he has acknowledged his need to compete more consistently, and improvement in that vital area could -- doubts and all -- turn him into one of the most special players in this class.

Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut, sophomore shooting guard (6-5, 185): As is the case with Drummond, there's some guilt by association here when it comes to the Huskies and their weak title defense. Lamb's skill set, shot, athleticism and smooth scoring are still enough to ensure that he doesn't slide too far in the first round, but he didn't progress the way that many expected after Walker's departure. Four of his 10 games with at least 20 points last season came in the first five contests, and he averaged 17.7 points overall while shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 33.6 percent on three-pointers. Lamb's very skinny frame is an issue, too.

John Henson, North Carolina, junior power forward (6-11, 220): If not for concerns about Henson's thin frame and whether he can ever put on some serious weight, he might be a top five pick because of his potential as a defensive difference maker. His length, agility and athleticism allow him to guard both bigs and smalls as needed. Henson, who was just 183 pounds coming out of high school, averaged 9.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks last season for a Tar Heels team that finished 32-6 and fell to Kansas in the Elite Eight.

Henson's offensive game improved steadily throughout his college career, and he averaged 13.7 points on 50 percent shooting last season while playing second fiddle down low to fellow frontcourt prospect Tyler Zeller (who will be featured in Friday's "Safe Bets" category). At his best, one personnel man said, Henson could be similar to Marcus Camby in terms of his defensive impact. Or, the talent evaluator cautioned, Henson could be Brandan Wright, a slender power forward from North Carolina who has played for three teams and averaged 13.7 minutes since being drafted eighth in 2007.

Terrence Jones, Kentucky, sophomore forward (6-9, 252): Jones played a significant part in the Wildcats' national championship after deciding to return to school. But his draft stock took a hit in the process, in large part because of his lack of consistency but also because his style of play might not fit his role at the next level. He often plays like a stretch power forward -- a la Ryan Anderson of Orlando -- but his shot isn't nearly good enough to assume that role and it's not likely he'll be able to play much small forward in the NBA. But Jones is a good passer, defender and rebounder who averaged 12.3 points (on 50 percent shooting from the field and 32.7 percent from three-point range), 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals last season.

Terrence Ross, Washington, sophomore shooting guard (6-6, 195): Ross is a dynamic player and possible lottery selection. He became a starter late in his freshman season and showed an immediate ability to produce on both ends. In his sophomore season, he averaged 16.4 points and shot 45.7 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from three-point range for the Huskies, who went 24-11 and lost in the NIT semifinals.

"He's going to be pretty good," one front-office source said. "He has big upside because he's a really good athlete and shooter. He just needs to work on his handle. He has the ability to be a really good defender if he just puts his effort into it."

Austin Rivers, Duke, freshman shooting guard (6-4, 203): At a time when NBA decision makers are paying more attention to efficiency than ever, players like Rivers tend to split the room. Celtics coach Doc Rivers' son has all the talent and star power a team could want late in the lottery or in the middle of the first round, using his vast offensive repertoire to average 15.5 points for the Blue Devils while proving to be one of the most exciting players in the country. But he shot just 43.3 percent and dominated the ball in ways that he won't likely be able to in the NBA (at least not in his early years).

"He's an undersized 'two' [shooting guard] who is a high-volume, low-percentage shooter," one front-office critic said. "Those guys don't do well in the NBA."

Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State, junior power forward (6-11, 230): When Moultrie left UTEP after two seasons in 2010, he cited differences with coach Tim Floyd and a desire to improve his NBA standing as the main reasons. The plan, which forced him to sit out a season because of NCAA transfer rules, appears to have worked. Moultrie, who averaged 16.4 points (on 54.9 percent shooting) and 10.5 rebounds last season for a Bulldogs team that faded with seven losses in its last nine games after a 19-5 start, is a phenomenal athlete who can dominate in all the ways a big man should. He runs the floor well, is a strong finisher and has proved to be dominant for long stretches.

Royce White, Iowa State, sophomore power forward (6-8, 270): The risk might be unique in White's case, as the 21-year-old has an anxiety disorder (he has openly discussed his reliance on medication for treatment) and fear of flying that could wind up hurting his stock. (NBA teams also will take note of how he was charged with disorderly conduct and theft for a 2009 shoplifting incident during his freshman year at Minnesota, where he never played a game before transferring to Iowa State.)

If he can find a way to be comfortable with the NBA lifestyle and the charter planes that come with it, the reward might be great for whichever team takes him. White is the rarest of all-around players in this crop, a playmaking big man who led the Cyclones in scoring (13.4 points), rebounds (9.3), assists (5.0), steals (1.2) and blocks (0.9). He flourished on the biggest stage, averaging 19 points (on 71.4 percent shooting) and 10.5 rebounds in Iowa State's two NCAA tournament games.

Meyers Leonard, Illinois, sophomore center (7-foot, 240): The finished product isn't pretty just yet, but Leonard did more than enough in his sophomore season to put him near the top of most teams' big-man rankings (even if his team did not, as the Fighting Illini were 17-15 overall and 6-12 in the Big Ten and lost 12 of their last 14 games). He can be imposing on defense with his rare combination of athleticism, size and increasing strength. His offense is raw, but Leonard is capable of hitting the mid-range shot and his post game has improved. He averaged 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks for Illinois after a freshman season in which he barely played.

Fab Melo, Syracuse, sophomore center (7-foot, 244): His size and shot-blocking (2.9 per game) have turned him into a likely mid-to-late first-round pick. Otherwise, his rebounding is not what it could be and his offensive game is incredibly raw. Big men tend to crawl up the board as draft day nears, and some see Melo as a possible lottery pick.

Tony Wroten, Washington, freshman guard (6-5, 208): He has the speed, athleticism, aggressive scorer's mentality, passing skills and physicality to be a top talent. But Wroten also struggles mightily with his shot and ability to play under control. Wroten, who averaged 16 points (on 44.3 percent shooting overall and 16.1 percent from three-point range), 5.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.9 steals, could go anywhere from the lottery to the late first round.

Quincy Miller, Baylor, freshman small forward (6-9, 210): The athleticism, offensive versatility and strong two-way play could have him gone by the middle of the first round, but Miller is likely to be a project wherever he goes. He averaged just 10.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 24.4 minutes in his one season at Baylor, playing in Perry Jones' shadow while offering only glimpses of what he might become.

Will Barton, Memphis, sophomore shooting guard (6-6, 175): If you're looking for a natural scorer with a high ceiling in his all-around game who plays hard, Barton may be your man. He averaged 18 points (on 50.9 percent shooting and 34.6 percent from three-point range), 8.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals for Memphis, which finished 26-9 and lost to Saint Louis in the second round of the NCAAs. His accuracy improved greatly from his freshman season, when he shot 42.8 percent overall and 26.5 percent from beyond the arc.

Evan Fournier, France, shooting guard (6-7, 206): The 19-year-old Fournier may be the only international player to be taken in the first round, and it will be almost entirely because of his size and an offensive skill set that has improved this season while playing for Poitiers in the French League. He is a slasher with some playmaking skills, though his shot is mostly suspect.