Thursday night is the 2014 NBA draft, and it figures to have a greater presence of Pac-12 talent than in perhaps five years, when the 2009 version produced six first-round prospects. The year before that, marking the era of unprecedented strength of the conference, the Pac-12 had seven first-rounders and another five players taken in the second round.
Some thoughts on a few of the Pac-12 prospects, both first- and second-round:
* Aaron Gordon, Arizona. Guys who unfailingly play hard are always beguiling, and Gordon does that, in addition to being uncommonly springy and rebounding with gusto. His free throw shooting is a wreck, but that can be fixed. An NBA scout I talked to thinks he can be a much better outside shooter than he’s shown.
* Zach LaVine, UCLA. What a wild card, and exhibit A on how the NBA drafts on upside, not college production. He’s crazy-athletic and projected by some a point guard. I didn’t see a lot of those skills in his only year with the Bruins, but maybe that’s part of the upside.
* Kyle Anderson, UCLA. Be interesting to see how his slow-motion game translates to the NBA. In any case, he needs to get stronger; that’s a pretty lean frame he carries.
* Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado. Dinwiddie made a bold move, declaring for the league after tearing an ACL at Washington in January. I’m guessing somehow he lands on his feet — that would mean first round — because 6-6 lead guards are a pretty premium commodity.
* Jahii Carson, Arizona State. Always interesting to see where (or if) a small guy gets taken. He’s a dynamic player, but I’m not sure how well what he did at ASU translates to the NBA. Patty Mills of the Spurs isn’t a lot bigger, and he flourished in the NBA finals, but he’s a better shooter than Carson, who is (generously) 5-11.
* Nick Johnson, Arizona. Johnson is a superior athlete (so was his dad Joey) who had a terrifically productive college career. The temptation is to say the upside isn’t that great in the NBA, but if he can increase his shooting range, he can be good at that level because he also defends.
* Eric Moreland, Oregon State. The buzz was always that pro scouts were intrigued by his length and athleticism. But he’ll need to develop an offensive game, which was almost non-existent at OSU.
* Dwight Powell, Stanford. I’m not alone in wondering about his toughness. But I think he might have enough game to sneak into the last couple of picks in the first round.
Meanwhile, here’s the recent history of the Pac-12’s first-round picks, with the slot taken overall:
2013: Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA (14); Solomon Hill, Arizona (23); Andre Roberson, Colorado (26); four went in second round.
2012: Terrence Ross, Washington (8); Jared Cunningham, Oregon State (24); Tony Wroten Jr., Washington (25); none in second round.
2011: Derrick Williams, Arizona (2); Klay Thompson, Washington State (11); three in second round.
2010: Quincy Pondexter, Washington (26); none in second round.
2009: James Harden, Arizona State (3); Jordan Hill, Arizona (8), Demar Derozan, USC (9); Jrue Holiday, UCLA (17); Darren Collison, UCLA (21); Taj Gibson, USC (26); three in second round.
2008: O.J. Mayo, USC (3), Russell Westbrook, UCLA (4), Kevin Love, UCLA (5); Brook Lopez, Stanford (10); Jerryd Bayless, Arizona (11); Robin Lopez, Stanford (15); Ryan Anderson, Cal (21); five in second round.