Outside of attending some of the top high school basketball events in the country ranging from the NBPA Top 100 Camp to the ESPN RISE NHSI and Nike Global Challenge, this is one of my favorite times of the year — the release of the final updated prospect rankings for the senior class.
It’s practically impossible to avoid story lines as you go down our list of the 75 best prospects in the class of 2012. From the age-old question — who’s number one? — to the battle at the top of each position, this senior class doesn’t disappoint. I’ll take a look at those tough questions and give you an inside look at the process of ranking these players as we take one last crack at trying to break down the class of 2012.
The case for Shabazz Muhammad: The UCLA-bound wing is an athletic, impact-player who has a great motor and an unbelievable post and mid-range game. Inside the arc, he is nearly impossible to guard since he has a nice mid-range jumper and is a very good slasher. He also has an excellent post-game for a wing player which allows him to score on the low block. Another great quality about him is the fact that he uses his athleticism and quickness to stay in front of his man and to alter shots effectively. One thing I expect to see out of him in the future is for him to become a lock down defender.
The case for Nerlens Noel: The replacement of Kentucky superstar Anthony Davis, Noel is simply an amazing shot-blocker. You can use whatever adjective you want — phenomenal, astounding, breath-taking, ridiculous, remarkable — all of those words are accurate terms. His timing, ability to block shots with both hands equally, quickness off his feet and length all contribute to his shot-blocking skills. Noel is also a good rebounder who has good physical tools between his aforementioned length in addition to his quickness and athleticism.
The verdict: Believe it or not, this wasn’t that tough of a decision to make. I gave the edge to Muhammad sliding him into the top spot in part because of one thing: his work ethic. His desire to improve his game is simply unparalleled and he’s always developing his skills. Another thing that I find is underrated in this debate between Muhammad and Noel is Muhammad’s defense. As stated above, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Muhammad turn into a shut down defender. Noel is already a game-changer on defense, but I think we can all agree that Muhammad’s offensive talents are far above Noel’s.
Three battle for the number two point guard spot behind Kyle Anderson.
The case for Kevin Ferrell: The Indiana bound floor general has great quickness and does a great job of getting into the lane. Between his unbelievably quick first step and explosiveness, it’s tough for defenders to stay in front of him. Once he gets into the lane, he either utilizes his excellent mid-range game or makes nice passes to pick up the assist. Ferrell also has good ball-handling skills and is able to knock down the perimeter jumper.
The case for Marcus Paige: The future Tar Heel is a guy who does an unbelievable job of anticipating when his teammates will get open and he does an even better job getting them the ball. He has great court vision and is an intelligent player. In addition to creating opportunities for his teammates, he’s able to score himself too. He has a smooth shooting stroke that extends to the three-point line and is very good in the mid-range game.
The case for Kris Dunn: The Providence bound point guard has great physical tools and constantly gets into the lane because of his quickness and ball-handling skills. He’s good on defense and probably has the highest ceiling of this trio of point guards. Dunn is powerful, too, and has a respectable shot.
The verdict: This was easily the toughest trio to rank since there was very little that separated Ferrell (#21 — Indiana), Paige (#22 — North Carolina) and Dunn (#23 — Providence). As you can see, we decided to put the small speedster at the head of the pack followed by the most intelligent of three with the floor general with perhaps the highest ceiling bringing up the rear. I just love Ferrell’s first step and how he operates when he’s attacking the basket and when you combine that with his mid-range game, it’s tough to beat. However, I do think it would have been impossible for North Carolina head coach Roy Williams to find a better replacement for Kendall Marshall than Paige and Dunn will be one half of a formidable back court at Providence along side class of 2012 shooting guard Ricardo Ledo (#16).
Who’s number one — among the shooting guards?
The case for Rasheed Sulaimon: The future Blue Devil is a terrific player who is smart, savy and knows exactly what to do out on the court. He is a very good scorer who can score on all three levels although he’s at his best when he’s attacking the basket. Sulaimon also has a quick first step and has the ability to consistently get by his initial defender where he’s able to finish at the bucket or pull up and hit the mid-range jumper. He has improved his ball-handling skills too and has the ability to create scoring opportunities for his teammates.
The case for Marcus Smart: The Oklahoma State bound Smart is an extremely versatile, talented guard who can play all three perimeter positions and can excel at all of them on both ends of the court. He has good athleticism, strength, toughness and explosiveness. He’s a great on-ball defender and rebounds well for a guard. He’s also simply a winner. Smart is good in attacking the basket and finishes well at the rim.
The case for Gary Harris: The Michigan State bound Harris is an impressive prospect who I enjoy watching every time I see him play. He does a good job using his length and athleticism on the defensive end to keep his opponent out of the lane in addition to blocking and altering shots. He also has good explosiveness and is terrific in transition where he’s a force to be reckoned with. On the offensive end, he’s great in attacking the basket and gets into the lane seemingly at will. Harris is a very good finisher around the bucket too.
The case for Archie Goodwin: The future wildcat is a guy with good athleticism and length and is one of the most competitive guys in the class. He’s a smooth player with good aggressiveness and is excellent in getting to the basket. He also has the ability to hit pull-up jumpers in the mid-range game and is a good finisher at the bucket. Goodwin is a guy who excels on the defensive end as well and uses his physical tools to bother opponents. He’ll fit in well at Kentucky and will be very productive in transition.
The verdict: Although the shooting guards weren’t as tough to rank as the point guards, it was still difficult to determine the appropriate place for each guy. I ended up ranking these four with Sulaimon at the top with Smart right behind him, Harris a little lower than Smart and Goodwin rounding out the quartet. However, in reality Goodwin isn’t far behind Sulaimon and all four shooting guards are close together. In the end, Sulaimon’s combination of intelligence, skill set and physical tools are what sold me on him.
You may have been missed by others, but not by me (underrated).
The case for Justin Anderson: Justin Anderson is the most underrated player in my mind in recent history. His energy and motor are unparalleled, his athleticism is close to unparalleled, his work ethic is among the best in the class and oh yeah, he plays defense, rebounds, gets to the basket at will, is a great leader and is developing a better perimeter shot. It boggles my mind that people don’t have this kid ranked higher and some don’t even consider him a top-50 prospect.
The case for Gabe York: York is probably the second most undervalued prospect in the class of 2012 behind Anderson. York has a great all-around game and is a natural scorer. He is a terrific shooter with good range and consistency and does a good job of getting to the basket and finishing around the rim. However, he is also able to distribute the ball and is a good passer. He’s the least talked about Arizona commit but is a great get just like the other three class of 2012 prospects and will be a good player for the Wildcats.
The case for Tyler Lewis: Lewis is a very talented floor general who makes up for his lack of elite athleticism with his craftiness. He is a very smart player and one of the best passers in the country regardless of class. He has tremendous court vision and great anticipation of when his teammates will get open. He simply always finds a way to get the ball where he wants it to go and is an absolute gem for North Carolina State and head coach Mark Gottfried. Lewis is underrated and is a magician with the ball in his hands.
I know you think I messed something up, so here’s how you let me know.
To express your anger, outrage, happiness or dissatisfaction with my rankings, an evaluation of a player or whatever the case may be, fill out the contact form below to let me know your thoughts and I’ll respond in my post-rankings mailbag column. You can also leave comments on the individual player profiles, at the bottom of this post, contact me on Twitter, e-mail me, Facebook me or use a plethora of other mediums to reach me. I’ll respond no matter what tool you use, I promise.
*Pictures courtesy of National Recruiting Spotlight, ESPN and Ballislife.