Top 10 Draft Prospects: Big Ten

October 23, 2012

By Eriel Parra

Finishing up PBD's preview of the top draft prospects by each conference, we will take a look at the Big Ten Conference. Despite some elite players moving on, the Big Ten is still full of top level prospects. Here's a preview of the best draft prospects that the Big Ten has to offer.


1. Cody Zeller—SO—Indiana—C—7’0—240lbs.—10/05/1992

Last year’s Freshman All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year (Coaches) Cody Zeller will start his sophomore year as the best draft prospect in the Big Ten and a top draft prospect in the NCAA. After leading the conference in field goal percentage (.623) while scoring 15.5 points per game in the 2011-12 season, Zeller enters his sophomore year as a Preseason All-American and a candidate to be a National Player of the Year. Zeller’s relative quickness up and down the floor allows the Hoosiers to be a thread in transition even after the opponent team scores a basket. In fast break opportunities, he does a perfect job of beating the defense by running through different lanes, which makes it easier for him to convert plays as the trailer man or in catch-and-finish opportunities in the paint. As a post player, Zeller exhibits great footwork in the post and a deep understanding of the game as he is known for positioning himself in the best spot to succeed and come up with the easiest scoring opportunities off passes or offensive rebounds. Cody also shows a promising face up jumper and hook shot that still need more consistency but his knowledge as a post player made him a very efficient scorer as a freshman. His lack of strength can also be a factor for his low rebounding numbers (6.6rpg) as a 7’0 center. However, even with his strength disadvantage, Zeller is likely to dominate the Big Ten and lead the Hoosiers through the NCAA tournament this year.


2.     2. Trey Burke—SO—Michigan—PG—6’0—190lbs.—11/12/1992

 The first Point Guard in our Big Ten prospect ranking is Michigan’s Trey Burke. Last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year (media) and All-Big Ten Second Team selection possesses a great combination of speed and good ball handling in the open court that’s very hard to match. His willingness to score in transition is ferocious and he often fined the way to attack the basket or hit the open three point jump shot during the fast-break. Considered by many a shoot first point guard, due to his average of 14 ppg and 5 apg, Burke must involve his teammates more often in order to bring success to the Wolverines. Last year, most of his offensive opportunities came from pick-and-roll possessions in which Burke shot the ball at a high rate (42%) and at times, was able to create plays for his teammates. His effectiveness in pick-and-roll opportunities is mostly due to his ability to keep the dribble alive when attacking the basket; his good mid-range shot mechanics, and his inconsistent yet assertive three point shots. Burke’s mid-range shot is also one of his best attributes, as he made 52% of his attempts from the mid-range area during his freshman year. His size can be considered a disadvantage when entering the painted area but as his decision making gets better, he will have a better understanding of when to attack the basket and when to use his effective mid-range shot. If Burke improves his defense, three point shot effectiveness, and playmaking ability for others in his team, then he will stay on top of this Big Ten ranking throughout the year and will ultimately become a solid back-up point guard in the NBA.


3.     3. Brendan Dawson—SO—Michigan State—SG—6’6—230lbs.—02/01/1993

Big Ten All-Freshman Team honoree Brendan Dawson is the first Spartan in our conference draft prospect ranking. Coming back from a freshman year in which he averaged 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds in 20 minutes of play, and recovering from a season ending torn ACL injury in his left knee, Dawson is expected to get more playing time and have a bigger role on this year’s Michigan State team. Dawson is an extremely long and athletic wing man who uses his body frame and strength to play multiple positions in both the offensive and defensive side of the court. His length allows him to disrupt passing lanes, which leads to steals and easy transition opportunities where he can outrun his opponents and finish above the rim with highlight dunks. Dawson is also very effective when crashing the offensive boards and overpowering big men to finish upon contact in second chance opportunities. His quickness when playing without the basketball is a factor for his open opportunities of catching-and-finishing after cutting to the basket. Even after being ranked fourth in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage overall (.577) and knowing how effective he is around the basket, Brendan needs to increase his shooting consistency and attempts from beyond the painted area. If he is able to improve both his ball handling and shooting ability, then Dawson will have the tools to instantaneously become a thread from both inside and outside the paint, especially in isolation opportunities where he can use his athleticism to beat defenders. Physically, Dawson has the tools to play in the NBA; however is his offensive versatility what keeps him at the third spot in our list.


4.     4. Deshaun Thomas--JR—Ohio State—PF—6’7—215lbs.

The first junior in our list is Ohio State’s power forward Deshaun Thomas. Named to the 2011-12 All-Big Ten Second Team (coaches) and this year’s Preseason All-American, Thiomas should become the main source of post-offense for the Buckeyes this year with the vacancy of Jared Sullinger. As an efficient scorer (15.9 ppg- 52% fg), Thomas has started to make the transition to become a small forward. During his sophomore year, as very efficient forward who can score from both the inside and the perimeter, Thomas relied on his spot up shots as his primary source of offensive output. As a spot-up shooter, Thomas shows good mechanics with a quick release and catch-and-shoot form that is effective at times. He also knows how to play without the ball in order to cut and get open looks from both inside and outside of the painted area. Even with the efficiency that Thomas has when attempting shots around the basket (62.4%), Thomas still needs to keep improving his perimeter game by becoming a better ball handler and developing a more consistent pull up mid-range shot. His lack of size for a power forward and quickness for a small forward are his weaknesses as a defender, and it is something he will need to improve at if he’s trying to become a small forward in the NBA. As a post player, he has the moves and strength to score around the basket, but his dependency on the perimeter shot can affect his effectiveness in the post. However, if Thomas focuses more in his speed, defense, and ball handling; then he will not have a problem leading the Buckeyes during his junior season.


5.     5. Rodney Williams—SR—Minnesota—SF—6’7—210lbs.—07/23/1991

 The first senior to be part of our Big Ten prospect ranking is Minnesota’s forward Rodney Williams. Rodney had a productive junior season that culminated with a spot in last year’s NIT All-Tournament Team.  After scoring 12.2 points per game in a very efficient manner (56%) during his junior year, Rodney Williams is expected to continue improving his numbers and overall game to become a better wingman, and improve his stock for next year’s draft. As an outstanding athlete, Williams is very good in transition where he runs the floor and finishes fast break with impressive dunks due to his leaping ability. For an undersized PF, Williams uses his athleticism and IQ to his advantage by playing without the ball and always being at the right spot.  He also can finish around the basket, but still needs a consistent face-up jumper, a reliable post-up game, and strength to finish through contact. It is also important that he becomes more consistent with his mid-range, perimeter shots, and ball handling if he wants to become a wingman in the NBA. Even though Williams affects the game by using his exceptional athletic abilities, it is imperative that he can develop the skills to become a better offensive perimeter player. This includes becoming a better player in isolation and improving his I.Q. or decision making as a wingman in the offensive side. His defense is perhaps one of his strengths as a forward because he can guard multiple positions; however, if he doesn’t improve his offensive game, Williams is likely to go down a couple of spots as a draft prospect in the Big Ten. 


6.     6. Keith Appling—JR—Michigan State—SG—6’1—190lbs.—02/13/1992

The second Spartan in our list is junior combo-guard Keith Appling. Appling was named to the All-Big Ten Third Team upon averaging 11.4 points and 3.9 assists per game, while ranking second in steals (43) for Michigan State. A guard with supernatural speed and explosiveness, Appling is ferocious when attacking the basket and nearly unstoppable in the fast break. He is also very consistent when using his floater, which makes-up for his lack of size as he puts the ball so high to the point where not many big men can elevate to block it. Even though he is relatively small for a combo guard (6’0 ft.), he has been able to attack the basket using his speed to get in the painted area and finish after physical contact. This happens mostly due to the fact that Appling is fearless when going up against bigger players as he attacks the basket and is often looking for contact in order to get to the free throw line. When controlling the half-court offense, Keith Appling shows perfect ball handling and protection which makes it very difficult for defenders to steal the ball and makes him a threat in isolation. His mid-range shot looks good mechanically but still needs some consistency in order to expand his offensive arsenal. Defensively, Appling puts constant pressure on his match-ups. He is very aggressive when playing perimeter defense as he has the ability to disrupt passing lanes, and steal the ball to begin the fast break. Also, if Keith manages to average more assists per game, he will be recognized as much for making plays for others as he is for his own aggressive scoring nature.


7.     7. Glenn Robinson—FR—Michigan—SF—6’6—210lbs.—01/08/1994

The only freshman to be part of our Big Ten prospect ranking this year is small forward Glenn Robinson.  As a freshman, Glenn Robinson can be considered as the best pure athlete in Michigan’s roster. Due to his overwhelming athleticism, Robinson is expected to contribute to Michigan’s rebounding success right from the start of this year’s season. He will also be a great addition to Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. as another player that can be major threats to other teams in fast break opportunities. Offensively, Glenn Robinson is an above average ball handler that can drive to the basket, get offensive rebounds due to his leaping ability, and shoot with effectiveness; especially when shooting the mid-range jumper off the dribble. Robinson’s physical attributes will also be an advantage for the Wolverines this season. His ability to play both in the post and in the perimeter can be an advantage in both the offensive and defensive size as he has the strength to play in the post and the athleticism to stop opponent wingmen. As a perimeter player, it is important that Robinson improves his ball handling and shooting from beyond the arc, as he should not only depend on his athleticism in order to score points. If he improves his ball handling, Robinson will become better at creating his own shot and he won’t have to depend on other players in order to produce offensively. His offensive post-game is another concern, but during his time on the court it will be easier to know what he can really do as a power forward. However, his development should continue to grow as a perimeter player because his size is one of a wingman and not a post-forward in the NBA.


8.     8. Brandon Paul—SR—Illinois—SG—6’4—200lbs.—04/30/1991

Brandon Paul is the only player from Illinois to be part of our list this year. Known for scoring a career-high 43 points against Ohio State, Paul’s offensive output is ranked as the third-most in a game in school history and tied for the fifth-highest single game total in the NCAA during the season. So upon averaging 14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds per game and having nearly 40% field goal percentage, Paul was named to the All-Big Ten Third-team (coaches). It also helped that Paul was ranked third in Big Ten scoring during conference play (17.7 ppg). Therefore, one can’t help but notice how effective Brandon Paul can be as a perimeter scorer. At 6’4, Paul is a pure shooting guard with an offensive arsenal that lets him score at will. His good ball handling skills and athleticism help Brandon create his own shot. Even thou he has shown he can be an all-around player; Paul has been more reluctant to shoot from beyond the arc. His spot-up shot still has room for improvement and his ability to create players for others is still in development. Paul has shown improvement when coming off the screens and shooting the mid-range jumper, this will help him as he makes the transition back to his natural shooting guard position this year. Gaining some strength will definitely help Paul as he becomes more trustworthy of his driving skills, this will help him absorb contact and get to the free throw line more often. As a defender, Paul has a great understanding of the team defense concept, but he is prone to let his defenders blow by him. With an improvement in his ball handling, one-to –one defense and increased efficiency from beyond the arc, Paul will have an opportunity to have a breakout season that can increase his draft stock as the year goes by.


9.      9. Victor Oladipo—JR—Indiana—SG—6’5—214lbs.—05/04/1992

Victor Oladipo is the second Hoosier to be part of our list this year. Named to Last year’s Big Ten’s All-Defensive team, Oladipo enters his junior year as the main defender and the starting shooting guard for the Hoosiers. Victor Oladipo is known for using his athleticism to succeed in most areas of the game. Victor’s main source of offense comes from transition opportunities where he uses his speed to his advantage. Another way for him to score is through fast cuts to the basket where he beats the defenders and gets open looks at the basket. As a slashing wingman, Oladipo is at his best when driving to the basket; his first step allows him to blow by defenders and he does a great job finishing around the basket (60%). However, his jump shot and ball handling skills are still in need of improvement. After shooting a poor 20% from beyond the three point line last year, it is clear that Victor needs to become a better shooter if he wants to have a solid career as a shooting guard at the next level. His inability to shoot jumpers of the dribble and handle the ball effectively when under pressure have negatively affect his game and his place on next year’s draft.   But it is his defensive game what stands out the most. His combination of length, quickness, and strength are factors for his ability to shut down other guards in many occasions. His consistency when shooting the ball will be a key for a higher place on next year’s draft. However, if he keeps his defensive intensity and makes better decisions when having the ball in his hands, Oladipo will keep being one of the most important pieces to an improved Indiana Hoosiers squad.


10.  10. LaQuinton Ross—SO—Ohio State—SF—6’8—220lbs.

LaQuinton Ross is the second Buckeye and 10th prospect in our Big Ten rankings. After being academically ineligible for the majority of last year’s season, Ross enters his sophomore year as one of the key wingmen in Ohio State’s squad. Being both a very good outside and inside scorer, Ross is likely to use his length and height as an advantage when going up against smaller wing players. For a player his size, Ross is a very good ball handler with the ability to create his own shot by shooting efficient mid-range shots off the dribble. However, he still lacks the strength and necessary will to attack the basket more often. Defensively, Ross still lack fundamentals, but as his college career progresses it is likely that he will become a way better defender.  His lack of aggressiveness is a disadvantage in rebounding situations as it is in the defensive side of the court. Even when showing athleticism, it is his smooth play what characterizes him. The ability to shoot the ball consistently is very rare in a player his size during the early stages of their college career. So he shows some skills that can easily translate to the next level. However, his lack of strength, rebounding, and post presence will be important factors that will determine his playing time in Ohio State and his status as a top 10 Big Ten draft prospect.


Honorable Mention: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (Michigan), Adreian Payne (Michigan State), Aaron Craft (Ohio State), Christian Watford (Indiana), Andre Hollins (Minnesota), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Drew Crawford (Northwestern), Mitch McGary (Michigan), Austin Hollins (Minnesota).