I've been watching the McDonald's game for years, which is a worthy investment because you can leave the game thinking something like, I gotta remember to watch that Amare Stoudemire guy next year; he looks great. By the end of their high school years, the players who will eventually be in the NBA are easy to spot and obviously talented. Nearly all have reached the apex of their height, and only need to throw on a few pounds of muscles to look as they will in their prime. Of course, there are always late-bloomers, but there are plenty of immensely explosive senior athletes to track in the game. An 18 year-old kid you see dunking now could be a hall of fame player years later.
The 2012 draft class is strong, and as such is the pattern next year's seems to be weaker. There are, however, two kids draft experts are excited to watch. Shabazz Muhammed (his older brother Shazam was less successful) is a wing who can be considered both the best athlete and the hardest worker on the floor. That's a good combination. Unfortunately, his competition as the best high school basketball prospect, Nerlens Noel, did not play because he was reclassified as a high school player too late to be eligible. Noel is a 6' 10" big man, sometimes called a center and sometimes a power forward, who's been called the best shotblocker in high school since Greg Oden and has drawn defensive comparisons to Bill Russell. While the latter is an exaggeration, experts genuinely think he's one of the best defensive high school players in years and even a better shot-blocker than Anthony Davis. See the video below for yourself. Notice how he collects blocks -- it's not by being taller than a smaller guard and getting an easy swat; he comes from all angles and can stuff everyone at the rim. His best attribute is his Gumby haircut.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/C1ruwvp07yI" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
Without Noel, it was the Shabazz show with only a small handful of other guys like Coleman and Austin noteworthy. However, it was a surprisingly competitive game at the end, and I swear they executed better in crunch time than a few NBA teams.
5 Kyle Anderson G/F 6-8 225 St. Anthony, NJ (North Bergen, NJ) UCLA
-He definitely has an NBA body. Does that sound like a basketball compliment or something else entirely? Anyway, he went through a recent growth spurt, and while that's a great thing for a basketball player it's made his previous position, point guard, questionable for the future, and he's moved to the wings accordingly. However, he could excel as a point forward in the mold of a pre-Kardashian Odom; he's one of the most intriguing players to track the next couple years.
15 DaJuan Coleman F/C 6-10 285 Jamesville-DeWitt, NY (DeWitt, NY) Syracuse
-He's the biggest guy in the draft at nearly 300 pounds. Outside of the aforementioned Noel, he's considered the best prospect at center, and he looks like a good frontcourt player in the mold of Al Jefferson.
3 Kris Dunn G 6-3 180 New London, CT (New London, CT) Providence
-I honestly don't remember seeing him play. The point guard class is very weak, and I think he's only in the game for that reason.
34 Perry Ellis F/C 6-8 220 Wichita Heights, KS (Wichita, KS) Kansas
-I've always wondered how Kansas usually had a strong team considering the state isn't exactly a top destination and they weren't exactly recruiting guys out of the corn fields, but here's a talented low-post player from Wichita. He was largely invisible because the all-star game showcases wing players more effectively, and there were too many great big men. Useless fact: Perry Ellis is also the name of a fashion designer.
2 William Goodwin F 6-8 250 Southwest DeKalb, GA (Decatur, GA) Memphis
-Goodwin nearly beat Shabazz in the dunk contest, and they two could play the wing positions together at Kentucky. He was alright, but next to Shabazz it's hard to be impressed.
40 Gary Harris G 6-4 195 Hamilton Southeast, IN (Fishers, IN) Michigan State
-A fairly disappointing guard who may not be big enough to play shooting guard at the pro level. Maybe he ought to try high heels.
25 Amile Jefferson F 6-9 205 Friends Central, PA (Philadelphia, PA) Undecided
-He had a nice up and under move during the game, and he could find success as a combo forward or maybe a full-time power forward in a system that doesn't mind smallball.
12 Tyler Lewis G 5-11 165 Oak Hill Academy, VA (Statesville, NC) NC State
-Lewis is the tiny white guy, if you watched the game or saw highlights. He's very skilled, but rarely do guys that size do well in the NBA unless they're exceptional athletes. Tyler is not that. Even Ridnour is 6' 2".
32 Tony Parker F/C 6-9 280 Miller Grove, GA (Lithonia, GA) Undecided
-Yes, he shares the name with the Spurs' guard. And no, he does not play like him at all. He's a low post bulldozer who scores in the paint using his strength. He showed some nice moves in the game, which is hard to do in an freewheeling, all-star setting.
22 Alex Poythress F 6-8 225 Northeast, TN (Clarksville, TN) Kentucky
-He fouled out, which is so weird for the all-star game that the announcers wondered if it had ever happened before. He did finish with 19 points though. The most I can comment on his game is that his name is awkward to pronounce.
44 Rodney Purvis G 6-3 192 Upper Room Christian, NC (Raleigh, NC) NC State
-He showed range near the NBA three point line, but his name reminds me too much of nervous Pervis Ellison.
24 T.J. Warren G/F 6-7 205 Brewster Academy, NH (Durham, NC) NC State
-He's a good all-around player with enough size for the wing positions and plenty of skill at a young age. His father played college ball and he could become a top scorer in college right away.
10 Brandon Ashley F 6-9 215 Findlay Prep, NV (San Francisco, CA) Arizona
-I can't imagine a player named Ashley in the NBA, but stranger things have happened.
33 Isaiah Austin F/C 7-0 210 Grace Prep, TX (Arlington, TX) Baylor
-His body looks like JaVale McGee; let's hope his basketball IQ is better than what you could call mildly retardation. He was 6' 3" just a couple years ago until a huge growth spurt, and like Anthony Davis who underwent the same type of growth has perimeter skills. If he works hard on his game and his head is on straight he could be a good center for a long time.
22 Anthony Bennett F 6-7 230 Findlay Prep, NV (Brampton, Ontario) Undecided
-An athletic and strong Canadian forward, Bennett in the dunk contest had a sweet rock-the-cradle dunk. He's an excellent rebounder, but what's keeping him from a higher status is that he's a power forward with the size of a small forward. I think with the recent success of undersized power forwards from Carl Landry to Millsap Bennett's athleticism will lend him success at least when he's young and spry.
1 Kevin Ferrell G 5-11 160 Park Tudor, IN (Indianapolis, IN) Indiana
-He's insanely quick, and with his small stature he looks like the next Darren Collison or Ty Lawson. One thing about those guys is that they're also excellent shooters. Ferrell's only decent in that respect and needs to work on his game there. He is, however, known by Yogi Ferrell more often, which along with Shabazz is one of the coolest names of the young prospects.
24 Archie Goodwin G/F 6-5 195 Sylvan Hills, AR (Little Rock, AR) Kentucky
-Missed an open dunk in the game while losing his shoe, but he made up for it a minute later by connecting on two in a span of a few seconds. Like most of the guys here, he definitely is athletic. When you're scouting these really young guys it is important to evaluate whether or not the NBA will leave them over-matched physically. Obviously, they need skills and a solid work ethic, but without the athleticism the climb to the top of basketball is much harder. He finished with 14 points.
11 Grant Jerrett F/C 6-9 220 Lutheran, CA (Chino Hills, CA) Arizona
-Didn't notice him too much, but as a stretch four he could have a valuable role for a good team someday.
15 Shabazz Muhammad G 6-6 215 Bishop Gorman, NV (Las Vegas, NV) Undecided
-Right now he's the consensus number one pick in 2013. He won the dunk contest easily, even though his dunks weren't necessarily the best. In the first round he had a nice reverse two hand dunk off a bounce ... but Smart had the same dunk except it was a 360. Arguably, Archie Goodwin should have won, but Shabazz did dunk from a pass off the side of the backboard, which is very hard to complete. Showed a nice tear-drop shot too.
5 Marcus Paige G 6-1 165 Linn-Marr, IA (Marion, IA) North Carolina
-He's a good passer, definitely, but he'll probably just be one of those guards who has a nice college career but never finds much playing time in the NBA.
21 Devonta Pollard F 6-7 200 Kemper County, MS (Porterville, MS) Undecided
-Didn't play because of an errant elbow to the head. I just hope he's better than Scott Pollard.
55 Cameron Ridley C 6-10 260 George Bush, TX (Houston, TX) Texas
-He's yet another good big man. This draft class is heavy on talented centers and power forwards. Also, some of the best prospects not in this game include the F/C Noel and two seven foot true centers in the Kiwi Steven Adams and Tarczewski. Ridley didn't really stand out, but it's hard to in this game when you're a center with lots of competition.
3 Marcus Smart G/F 6-4 200 Marcus, TX (Flower Mound, TX) Oklahoma State
-In the dunk contest he unleashed a powerful 360 off a bounce. He may be a little too small for a shooting guard, but, hey, height doesn't matter when you can jump like that.
35 Rasheed Sulaimon G 6-4 185 Strake Jesuit (Houston, TX) Duke
-Won the three point contest. There was even a special round against the woman's winner, and he barely beat her. There are always only a couple great shooters in the McDonald's game, and they definitely do not lose their ability over time. He was skilled enough to throw in 18 points in a game along with clutch shots against the best athletes of his age in the country. As long as he can defend competently, expect him to find time on an NBA roster for a while in a couple years.
Overall, not the strongest class, but two players seem like they'll be superstars -- Noel and Shabazz. It's a shame that Noel couldn't play because he could be competing with Anthony Davis for a few defensive player of the year trophies in the future. There are some other players who could good, but no one in their class ... as least yet. Time is the ultimate judge.