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College Basketball All-America Preview: Part One

Our CBB preview continues with the first installment of our All-America awards, with some help from Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com

Welcome to Grantland’s inaugural Preseason All-America extravaganza! Part one of this series will highlight the First and Second teams. Part two, which will run later this week, will include the Third team, the All-Freshman team, and some prognostications on postseason awards.

To help flesh out a fuller picture of each player, we’ve brought in our friends from DraftExpress.com, who will talk about each player’s NBA prospects.

No need for more throat-clearing. Let’s get right into it.

First Team

Jared Sullinger
Center, Sophomore
Ohio State

If he were so inclined, I have no doubt that Jared Sullinger could camp underneath the basket for the majority of the 2011-12 college basketball season and put up the same numbers as last year. Anyone with Sullinger’s knowledge of leverage, spin moves, and positioning will find success in college, especially in a conference that features exactly one big man (Trevor Mbakwe of Minnesota) who can give him any trouble. Last year, Sullinger bullied, posted, and rebounded his way to a first-team All-America selection, and although much of his game is predicated on effort, it often seemed that Sullinger was still searching for that second gear — not out of lack of trying, but more because he was a freshman and didn’t quite know what to do with his considerable skills.

According to our very own Mark Titus, who played and practiced with Sullinger last year, Sullinger possesses both a face-up game and a jump shot, but he hasn’t had to use them much so far in his career. This happens in college basketball, especially within tightly run systems where players are expected to stick to their roles. Sullinger has quick feet and a surprisingly effective handle, so it’s not too hard to picture him catching the ball ten feet from the hoop and driving by a defender. If he can shoot around 55 percent from the field, hit the defensive boards, and continue to develop his offensive repertoire, he will be the type of player who can single-handedly carry Ohio State to a no. 1 seed in March and a be a front-runner for Player of the Year.

Sullinger is a very good college rebounder, but 10.2 boards per game is a disappointing average. A deeper look into the stats is even more damning: Last year, Sullinger ranked 51st in the country in offensive rebound percentage (ORB%) and 20th in defensive rebound percentage (DRB%).1 These numbers can be skewed when a player shares the paint with a dominant rebounder, but Sullinger was not only the primary rebounder on his team, he was the primary rebounding force in his conference. With an average of 0.5 blocked shots per game, he also doesn’t protect the rim. If Sullinger wants to elevate himself above being the Super Marcus Fizer or Super Lonny Baxter — offensively polished big men who camped in the post but didn’t have much impact on defense — Sullinger’s rebounding totals have to be somewhere between 12 and 14 per game. That’s not easy in college — unless you’ve been “dunkin’ since a young’un like Kenneth Faried,” it’s difficult to grab boards at that high of a rate.

DraftExpress’ Take

Strengths: A dominant scoring presence. Capable of producing in the low post or facing the basket. Possesses excellent hands, touch, and scoring instincts. Rebounds, passes out of double teams, and has a very high basketball IQ. Has reportedly improved his conditioning considerably this offseason.

Needs Work: A bit undersized at 6-8. Just an average athlete. Not incredibly explosive around the basket. Struggles at times defensively, particularly on the perimeter.

Projection: Top-5 pick. Will be under immense pressure to show improvement and carry Ohio State after passing up a likely top-5 selection last year.

Best Case: Kevin Love
Worst Case: Luis Scola


Kendall Marshall
Guard, Sophomore
North Carolina

In my North Carolina preview, I argued that Kendall Marshall was the most important player in college basketball. Not because he’s the most skilled or dynamic or has the highest draft status, but because the Tar Heels would be crippled without him.

Harrison Barnes will probably be the Tar Heel who makes the AP First Team, especially if he can post a scoring average in the low 20s and hit a handful of game-winning shots, but the voters will be wrong. If high school scouting wasn’t a burgeoning media industry these days, and if Barnes hadn’t been hyped to death and then partially redeemed, the focus in Chapel Hill would rightfully be on their sophomore point guard.

Last year, Marshall single-handedly turned a team headed to an eight seed and a 9-7 ACC record into a title contender. He accomplished this by doing exactly what a college point guard should do — by hitting guys in their spots and getting them easy baskets. There are a lot of extremely talented college players who will suit up this year — Marshall doesn’t have the physical gifts that Perry Jones, Terrence Jones, or Jeremy Lamb possess. But he might be the smartest and most creative player on the best team in the country. And that, in my book, is enough to warrant a first-team All-America selection.

DraftExpress’ Take
Strengths: Lefty with an ideal combination of size and court vision. Ranked tops amongst NCAA prospects in assists per-40 and pure point rating already as a freshman. Plays at his own unique pace and shows an extraordinary feel for the game. Made 38 percent of his 3-pointers.

Needs Work: Lacks significant quickness and explosiveness compared with most NBA point guards. May struggle to create his own shot and defend his position effectively at the professional level. Had a difficult time scoring efficiently inside the arc (43 percent on 2-pointers). Rarely gets to the free throw line. Likely a niche player in the NBA.

Projection: 20-40. May have more to gain by orchestrating an NCAA championship than any player in college basketball. An unforgettable March could propel him into the lottery.

Best Case: Jose Calderon
Worst Case: Jacque Vaughn


John Jenkins
Guard, Junior
Vanderbilt

John Jenkins plays a lot like Allan Houston played at Tennessee — he has a quick, smooth release, 30-foot range, and figures out ways to squirm into the lane for layups and quick turnaround jump shots. This is a very effective way to play college ball, especially on a team with a big man who commands a lot of attention. Like Sullinger, there’s very little risk of a downturn in Jenkins’ game. He’s the best pure shooter in the country and will be playing on the best Vanderbilt team in recent memory.

Vanderbilt played most of last season with converted shooting guard Brad Tinsley at the 1. Tinsley is not the classic pass-first point guard who looks to spread the court and set up his scorers, but his playmaking ability has shown signs of improvement. In the final ten games of last season, he totaled 47 assists to only 7 turnovers for an otherworldly 6.7:1 ratio.

If Tinsley and freshman point guard Kedren Johnson can push tempo, create something resembling a secondary break, and create more open jump shots from the wing, Jenkins could easily put up 22 a game and average 48/44/90, which should make him one of the best shooting guards in the country.

DraftExpress’ Take
Strengths: One of the best shooters in college basketball. Gets picture-perfect elevation on his jumper. Possesses a quick release, NBA range, and the ability to make shots coming off screens or off the dribble. Has improved his ability to score inside the arc.

Needs Work: Not particularly tall, long, strong, or athletic. Ball-handling skills lack refinement. Somewhat one-dimensional shooter/scorer. Projects as an average defender at best.

Projection: 20-40. May end up being the third-best prospect on his team after seniors Festus Ezeli and Jeffery Taylor, who both possess the physical attributes regularly associated with their NBA positions. Getting out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament will be paramount.

Best Case: Anthony Morrow
Worst Case: Wayne Ellington


Jeremy Lamb
Guard/Forward, Sophomore
Connecticut

What’s not to like? Lamb is long, quick, and finds his spots on the floor. Despite his Juan Dixon-like frame, he rebounds well and even has shown flashes of a post-up game. He’s the proverbial do-everything guy and the only player in this preview who could be the best player in the country without breaking 16 points per game.

It’s a bit of a strange comparison, but Luol Deng had a similar role on the 2003-2004 Duke team that ran up a 31-5 regular-season record and ultimately lost in the Final Four to Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, and the incandescent Josh Boone. Deng is a good deal bigger than Lamb, but that Duke team was at its best when Deng was active in all parts of the game — scoring, rebounding, driving-and-dishing, and disrupting passing lanes with his long arms. Lamb did all these things in last year’s NCAA tournament, when he became the perfect complement to Kemba Walker.

With Walker gone, Lamb’s numbers should go up across the board, but Connecticut’s season depends on how their uber-talented sophomore handles the responsibility of leading the weirdest and perhaps most combustible team in the country. Alex Oriakhi will be the only upperclassman in Calhoun’s rotation and will play alongside three sophomores and freshman Andre Drummond, who comes into Storrs as the most hyped Husky since Rudy Gay. It’s mostly on Calhoun to figure out how all this will work (and, if recent history is any guide, Calhoun teams need some veteran leadership to make deep runs in the tournament), but it’s up to Lamb to get everyone to play as a cohesive, composed unit.

DraftExpress’ Take
Strengths: Smooth, talented scorer with terrific instincts and a gigantic wingspan. Possesses an advanced mid-range game. Prolific shooter with his feet set or particularly off the dribble. Length allows him to get in the passing lanes consistently. Has the look and swagger of an NBA player.

Needs Work: Has a frail frame that may not be capable of adding much weight. Struggles to get to the free throw line at a high rate. Avoids contact around the basket. Shows questionable decision making, body language, and fundamentals at times.

Projection: 10-25. Will undergo a significant role change on and off the court after flying completely under the radar most of last season. How he deals with the added scrutiny will define his draft stock.

Best Case: Jamal Crawford
Worst Case: Juan Dixon


Anthony Davis
Forward, Freshman
Kentucky

The NBA graveyard is littered with the corpses of 6-foot-9 superathletes, who, for whatever reason, didn’t quite pan out. Anthony Davis has been described with all the words usually reserved for these types of players,2 and while he seems deserving of the accolades, there’s no real way to know if he’ll be Kevin Durant, Michael Beasely, or, God forbid, Jonathan Bender.

On tape, Davis looks like what the same high school hoops prognosticators expected from Anthony Randolph. Like Randolph, Davis is rail-thin, mobile, and blocks shots with both hands. He moves exactly like what he is — a 6-foot-3 high school point guard who hit a very opportune growth spurt in high school to become a 6-11 (and growing) wing with a 7-4 (and growing) wingspan. As such, Davis doesn’t so much explode to the basket as he bounds towards the rim, taking big, surprisingly quick steps around his defenders. Against high school competition, he usually finished his drives with a variety of dunks — two-handed, left-handed, right-handed, tomahawk, or whatever suited his fancy at the time.

Again, it’s nearly impossible to tell if all these skills will transfer to the SEC. Davis played at a small school in a non-basketball conference. Most of the hype surrounding him came from AAU tournaments and summer camps, where he showcased the skills that warranted all the adjectives and superlatives listed above. And unlike Perry Jones, last year’s “freak of nature,” there are no questions surrounding Davis’ work ethic, his focus on basketball, or his competitiveness.

John Calipari is many things to many people, but he’s a friend to the one-and-done. It’s become almost reflexive to speculate about Cal’s politics, his sliminess (unfair, given the landscape of college athletics), and his recruiting tactics, but if you’re a super-freshman who is only planning to spend one year in college, you’d be silly to go anywhere but Kentucky, where you’ll be able to showcase your talents, make a run in the NCAA tournament, and get a crash course in what it’s like to play with a bunch of other guys who grew up in basketball incubators. As long as Coach Cal can do with Davis what he did with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, and Brandon Knight, I have no doubt Davis will develop into a dynamic and versatile matchup nightmare, especially in a conference that lacks quality defensive big men. (See a pattern here? There are about 10 good defensive big men in Division I this year: Davis (UK), Andre Drummond (UConn), Alex Oriakhi (UConn), John Henson (UNC), Festus Ezeli (Vandy), Trevor Mbakwe (Minn), Perry Jones (Baylor), Thomas Robinson (KU), Mason Plumlee (Duke), and Patric Young (Florida). Each one of those guys should be able to dominate.

As long as the offense goes through him — and all indications are that it will — Davis should fill every column of the stat sheet and carry Kentucky to a no. 1 seed and another SEC championship.

One last note: I say similar things every year about whatever NBA team Anthony Randolph ends up on, so there’s that …

DraftExpress’ Take
Strengths: Rare physical specimen. 6-10 with a 7-4 wingspan and exceptional athleticism. Intense competitor who runs the floor, contests shots, and finishes around the rim as well as any big man in the country. Intangibles, fundamentals, and touch leave plenty of room for optimism for the future. Upside is off the charts.

Needs Work: Raw player who is still coming into his own physically and skill-wise. Struggles to create his own offense consistently. Lacks experience and polish.

Projection: Top 3 pick. Won’t be asked to be more than a solid cog on a loaded Kentucky team, which is likely in his favor. A solid, productive season with some occasional fireworks will likely suffice for him to be drafted very early. He’ll need to do more, however, to go no. 1.

Best Case: Kevin Garnett
Worst Case: Amir Johnson


Second Team

Harrison Barnes
Forward, Sophomore
North Carolina

I received a lot of response from Carolina fans about my comments on Barnes from last week’s column (see footnote no. 3), including the following e-mail from Andrew Sharp:

The points about his ability to create and rebound are well taken, but I think the biggest problem he faced last year was this paradigm for superstar freshmen that John Wall and Kevin Durant created. Obviously the expectations were high because of those guys, but even deeper than that, we expected a player who needed polish but could/would dominate on raw talent alone.

Except with Harrison, the polish IS the talent. Long term, what will make him special in college and the NBA is less doing one thing better than anyone — like Wall’s speed or Durant’s shooting — than being pretty great at just about everything. If Tim Duncan were a wing player, maybe. Or if Grant Hill hadn’t gotten hurt.

It’s much harder to dominate with a well-rounded repertoire than one radioactive skill that renders everyone else helpless. Barnes doesn’t have that skill, and other freshmen have in the past few years, so he looked like a disappointment next to those guys. But especially toward the end of the year, we started to see him take over games for 5, 10, and 15 minutes-at-a-time where it all just looked easy for him and everyone was helpless. He couldn’t necessarily sustain it, but that’ll come as he gets more comfortable. Maybe I’m just being a homer, but as he gets smarter, stronger, and better off the dribble, those 10-minute stretches will turn into 20 and 25-minute stretches, and there’s a good chance we’re be talking about the most talented player Carolina’s had since the 90s.

I agree with much of what Andrew wrote — everything about Barnes is polished and camera-ready. Remember, this is the same dude who pulled off one of the more outrageous Signing Day stunts in recent history when he Skyped Roy Williams and the entire Carolina team into his press conference. Every report out of Chapel Hill and from people who spend a considerable amount of time around the team says the same thing: Barnes is a perfectionist who tirelessly works to improve every facet of his game, and the pressure of living up to the hype was what derailed the first half of his freshman season. Once he became comfortable, and once Kendall Marshall started getting him the ball in opportune spots, he regained his confidence and elevated his play to an All-American level.

But even if all that is true, I’m not completely sold on Barnes. Sharp is right — Barnes doesn’t possess any elite-level skills. Grant Hill, the player to whom he’s most often compared, had a lightning-quick first step that he used to get into the lane for easy dunks and layups. Both Barnes and Hill have the ability to stop on a dime, elevate, and shoot over defenders (known forever as “the Jamal Crawford”), but he has trouble getting into the lane and hasn’t developed much of a post game. Until he does either of those things, he’ll be a very good shooter on a very good team. That’s not bad, but it’s not great, either.

All that being said, if he can get three to four buckets in the post, slash to the basket for layups, and shoot like he did in the second half of last year, he’ll probably win the Naismith. This is certainly possible, but I’m fairly certain that the impediments to Barnes playing this sort of a complete offensive game go beyond freshman jitters. Not every player will develop every part of his game, even if the potential is there. Barnes, for now, is a shooter who occasionally has the ability to rev himself up to take over games.

DraftExpress’ Take
Strengths: Excellent size at 6-8, to go along with a mature frame. Polished player with a versatile skill set and a high basketball IQ. Prolific shooter with unlimited confidence. Intense, fundamentally sound defender who guarded up to three positions (2/3/4) for UNC. Work ethic, maturity, leadership appear to be ideal.

Needs Work: A good, not exceptional athlete. Ball-handling skills are improvable. Struggled to score efficiently inside the arc (47 percent on 2-pointers) as a freshman, and was unable to get to the line at a high rate to compensate.

Projection: Top-5 pick. Barnes started off slowly as a freshman, not really showing his best stuff until the last two months of the season. There are still some question marks regarding just how high his ceiling as a prospect is — does he project as a go-to guy and bona fide NBA star? This year should shed some serious insight on that.

Best Case: Paul Pierce
Worst Case: Michael Finley


Jordan Taylor
Guard, Senior
Wisconsin

Taylor is the latest in the proud tradition of Wisconsin point guards who walk the ball up the court, slow down the game, spread the floor, and figure out how to get themselves open 3-point shots. Like most Wisconsin guards, Taylor rebounds well for his size, cuts down on turnovers, and plays an efficient game on both sides of the court. He’s the best player on a Sweet 16-caliber squad.

The one downside is that Taylor’s shooting percentages from last year were so drastically better than his sophomore and freshman seasons that there’s a big risk for regression. He has an unorthodox jump shot where he swivels his hips and kind of shot-puts the ball at the basket with two hands. Taylor will get a lot of open jump shots off of Wisconsin’s ball movement, but he’s not the sort of guy who can shoot over anyone, really. If teams in the Big 10 stick a bigger, faster defender on him at all times, it’s hard to imagine Taylor putting up the same numbers.

DraftExpress’ Take
Strengths: Arguably the most improved player in college basketball last season. Led all collegiate prospects in assist to turnover ratio by a wide margin and shot a blistering 43 percent from beyond the arc on a large number of attempts. Intelligent, poised player who turns the ball over at a shockingly low rate and orchestrated plenty of wins last year.

Needs Work: Only 6-1 and just an average athlete. Not very quick or explosive, which may limit his potential at the NBA level on both ends of the floor. Struggles to score efficiently inside the arc if he can’t overpower his defender. Upside appears limited and Taylor looks better suited to play a backup role.

Projection: Second-round pick. Taylor will be facing far more scrutiny on and off the court this season, something that he struggled to cope with last March after seemingly coming out of nowhere. How he deals with this pressure will play a major role in the evolution of his draft stock.

Best Case: Chris Duhon
Worst Case: Aaron Miles


Ashton Gibbs
Guard, Senior
Pittsburgh

Like Jordan Taylor, Ashton Gibbs saw his value rise in his junior year thanks to a drastic improvement in his shooting percentages. He shot 46 percent from the floor, 49 percent from three, and 89 percent from the free throw line in 2009-10, good for 7.1 percent, 10.0 percent, and 0.5 percent increases, respectively. He accomplished these gains while shooting almost the exact same number of jump shots as he did in his sophomore season.

Gibbs is officially Pittsburgh’s point guard, but his assist-to-turnover ratio last season was 1.7, which, while not terrible, leaves him far removed from elite territory.

Pittsburgh is a weird team, and it has always been difficult to judge their guards by stats. Dating back to the Howland era, Panthers point guards have never really put up gaudy assist numbers. But in the Big East, a tough, senior leader can still inspire his team to play at beyond their talent level. And those players should be commended for their contributions to the game, even if they don’t translate on a statistical or mock draft level. College basketball would be far more diminished by a lack of Carl Krausers, Khalid El-Amins, Tyrell McIntyres, Jarrett Jacks, Gerry Macs, and Nolan Smiths than it would be if all the one-and-dones just went to the NBA after high school.

If leadership still means anything in college basketball (and it should), Ashton Gibbs, who never takes a play off, hits big shots, and plays with, as Dicky V would say, “energy and passion,” deserves All-American accolades. He’s a wonderful college basketball player and a reminder of why it’s sometimes okay to just evaluate college basketball as an end to itself, not only as a meat market for the NBA.

DraftExpress’ Take
Strengths: Arguably the best shooter in college basketball this season. Converted 49 percent of his 3-point attempts last year. Plays a confined, highly specialized role and excels at it. Doesn’t make many mistakes. Smart, intense competitor on both ends of the floor. Proven at highest level of college basketball. Has a long 6-foot-6 ½ wingspan.

Needs Work: Possesses underwhelming physical tools. Measured 6 feet without shoes and is a below-average athlete by NBA standards. Somewhat one-dimensional. Nearly 90 percent of his offense comes on jumpers. Struggles to create and convert shots efficiently in transition and inside the arc. Rarely gets to the free throw line.

Projection: 45-undrafted. With Brad Wanamaker out of the picture, Gibbs will be given far more opportunities to show off his playmaking and creativity, something we saw very little of last year. Considering the way most NBA point guards are expected to operate, Gibbs has perhaps as much to gain as any player by returning for his senior season.

Best Case: Mario Chalmers
Worst Case: Damon Jones


Austin Rivers
Guard, Freshman
Duke

Ughhh …

If you’re a lover of truth, beauty, and the American way, the best possible outcome for the 2011-12 college basketball season would be if Austin Rivers “pulls a Joe Forte,”3 hogs the ball, doesn’t play much defense (or, at least, just plays Tracy McGrady-in-the-playoffs defense), and treats his freshman season at Duke like a competition between himself, Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, and Harrison Barnes for who will be the no. 1 pick in next June’s draft. And while a lot of the early reports on Rivers indicate that this might be a possibility, let’s all take a deep breath and remember that he’s playing for a coach who doesn’t give two shits about who is Doc’s son and who was the top high school player in the country and who should be getting what numbers, et cetera. If Austin Rivers doesn’t bust his ass on defense and play within Duke’s offense, he’ll get buried on the bench.

Duke, which has only recently gotten in the business of one-and-dones, is actually the perfect place for Rivers — if he can learn to play within a team and mature a bit, he’ll be the most dynamic offensive player in the country — maybe not as polished and efficient as Barnes, but certainly more able to take over stretches of the season with his scoring. He’s the most frighteningly instinctive and fluid 18-year-old since … shit … okay, since Kobe Bryant. Whether he fulfills that potential is up to Rivers and the Duke coaching staff. But mostly, to Rivers.

Rivers will be taking over Kyrie Irving’s role as the best athlete on the court, the player who pushes tempo, drives to the basket, and sets up his teammates for open 3-point shots. That last part — his willingness to drive-and-dish — will be the key to Rivers’, and by extension Duke’s, season. Will he go full-Kobe and shoot off-balance, difficult leaners, try too hard to get to the rack, and bog down his team’s offense? Or will he play within himself and embrace his role as the combo guard who adds an extra dimension to Duke’s offense?

DraftExpress’ Take
Strengths: Smooth, fluid, ultra-talented guard who displays advanced scoring instincts for a player his age and an extremely natural shooting stroke. Aggressive, innovative shot-creator with a deadly pull-up jumper, deep range, and unlimited confidence. Changes speeds and utilizes shifty crossovers and hesitation moves masterfully. Shows excellent anticipation skills and a solid feel for the game.

Needs Work: Somewhat undersized for a shooting guard at 6-foot-4 with a lanky frame. Shot selection, decision making, body language can leave something to be desired. Overly aggressive at times looking for his own offense. Must continue to gain experience and add bulk to improve on defense.

Projection: 8-20. Rivers could have played for any coach in America, but he decided to commit to Mike Krzyzewski, who will undoubtedly give him plenty of tough love. Long-term, this could be the best decision Rivers ever made, but short-term there are bound to be some growing pains as he adapts to a completely new style of basketball. It will be very interesting to see what kind of leash he’ll be on and how things evolve over the course of the season.

Best Case: Ben Gordon
Worst Case: Jerryd Bayless


John Henson
Forward, Junior
North Carolina

Early on in his freshman year at Carolina, it felt like John Henson — a spindly, defensive maestro and ultra-efficient rebounder — was always trying to be somebody else. He would catch the ball on the wing and attack the basket with giant, loping, awkward steps. More often than not, these possessions would end up in a turnover. He would try behind-the-back passes, and these would inevitably lead to more turnovers. He even shot a few 3-pointers and rarely drew iron. He was also the thinnest freshman anyone had ever seen in Chapel Hill, and it was difficult to see how that body would ever bulk up enough to bang in the paint. Before the season, draft experts were pegging Henson as a one-and-done. After five games, it wasn’t even clear if he’d develop into an effective college player, or what role he’d play on his team. Was he a wing? Was he a mutant power forward? Was he a center who needed to put on 100-plus pounds? Only one thing was clear: Henson was a project, and one who might not develop until his junior year.

The project came to fruition much quicker than expected. Henson carried himself through that rough Tar Heel season with grace and humor (his weight-gain updates via Twitter were one of the only moments of levity in an otherwise depressing year for the Tar Heels), and by the end of the season, most of the groundwork had been laid. Henson was to be a long, defensive-minded big man who blocked shots, grabbed every available rebound, and threw down alley-oops.

Last season he was among the best defensive big men in the country. He was third in blocked shots and sixth in total rebounds. Before his catastrophic performance in the Elite 8 against Kentucky, Henson had recorded 15 straight double-digit rebound games. In 13 of those games, he also scored in double digits.

Henson changes every possession by hovering in the lane, daring the other team to throw the ball in the post. Despite being baby-faced and rail-thin, he’s an intimidating force on the inside, mainly because he’s mobile enough to follow the ball as it travels in and out of the post. He blocks layups, floaters, jump shots, and dunks with both hands.

His offensive game has shown signs of improvement over the past year. There’s nothing pretty about a John Henson post move, but he’s become effective at catching the ball on the block and throwing his body up at the basket. This maneuver — which looks like what would happen if Stretch Armstrong drank a fifth of Wild Turkey and started imitating Patrick Ewing — is surprisingly effective. Although Henson will probably never be thought of as an efficient scorer (due, in no small part, to his atrocious free throw shooting; I didn’t think it was possible to look worse than a 48 percent free throw percentage, but Henson somehow pulls it off), if he can replicate last year’s 50 percent field goal percentage and play the same level of defense, he’s easily one of the ten most valuable players in the country.

DraftExpress’ Take
Strengths: A physical specimen. 6-10 with a 7-4 wingspan and excellent mobility. Ranked as the second best rebounder and shot blocker among all prospects last season on a per-minute basis. Has the potential to anchor a team’s defense. Finishes extremely well around the basket thanks to his length and explosiveness. Nowhere near a finished product who still has significant upside.

Weaknesses: Possesses a narrow frame which could hinder his NBA production in the short term and make him more susceptible to injuries in the long term. Lacks a great deal of polish offensively — doesn’t have any real post game and struggles to score outside the paint.

Projection: 7-17. Players in Henson’s mold are incredibly rare, and thus highly coveted. Most of the question marks regarding his NBA potential revolve around his body and whether he’ll be able to compete as effectively against more physically developed big men. If he comes back significantly stronger and is able to string together a consistent season, his value will likely skyrocket deep into the lottery.

Best Case: Tyson Chandler
Worst Case: Steven Hunter

Check back later in the week for part two of the All-America preview.

Jay Caspian Kang is an editor at Grantland. His debut novel, The Dead Do Not Improve, will be published by Hogarth/Random House in Summer 2012. Follow him on Twitter at @jaycaspiankang.

Jonathan Givony is the founder of DraftExpress.com, a website providing scouting information and analytics on the top basketball prospects in the world outside of the NBA. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo! Sports and NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DraftExpress


Previously from Jay Caspian Kang:
The X Factor Preview: In Defense of TV Singing Competitions
Why the North Carolina Tar Heels Will Win the National Championship
Why the NFL Needs Tim Tebow
Red Sox Nation: F@#$ These Guys
We Need a Renegade Basketball League
Mayweather-Ortiz: What the Sucker Punch Just Happened?
Immigrants and the importance of Ichiro

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Jay Caspian Kang is a Grantland contributor. His debut novel, The Dead Do Not Improve, is on sale now.

Archive @ jaycaspiankang