Kevin Durant

Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players from the Class of 2006?

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July’s live recruiting period is right around the corner, meaning that the Class of 2016 will have a chance to truly prove themselves to the recruiters and the recruitniks around the country. Scholarships will be earned and rankings will be justified over the course of those three weekends in July.

But scholarship offers and rankings don’t always tell us who the best players in a given class will end up being. Ask Steph Curry. Over the course of the coming weeks, we will be re-ranking eight recruiting classes, from 2004-2011, based on what they have done throughout their post-high school career. 

Here are the 25 best players from the Class of 2006, with their final Rivals Top 150 ranking in parentheses:

READ MOREThe complete Re-ranking the Classes series

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AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

1. Kevin Durant (2): This is an easy choice. After spending one season at Texas (25.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg), Durant has developed into one of the best players in all of basketball and won NBA MVP honors in 2014. Durant’s also won a scoring title (2010) and played in the NBA Finals for the Thunder.

2. Stephen Curry (NR): Curry was a mere afterthought in most recruiting circles, as much wasn’t made of his decision to attend Davidson. Three years later, however, the sharpshooter was a key figure in their Elite 8 run in 2008 and a lottery pick the following year. Now, there are questions as to whether or not the reigning NBA MVP is the greatest shooter of all time.

3. Russell Westbrook (NR): Westbrook went from being a late addition to UCLA’s 2006 recruiting class to be a lottery pick within the space of two seasons in Westwood. From there he’s paired up with Durant to form one of the NBA’s best tandems, and with the former MVP out due to injury this season Westbrook put together a stretch of four straight triple-doubles.

RELATED: Re-ranking the Class of 2004 | and the Class of 2005

4. Brook Lopez (10): Brook and twin Robin were both impact players at Stanford, helping to lead the Cardinal to the Sweet 16 in 2008. From there Lopez has been a quality center in the NBA, averaging 17.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game for the Nets. Lopez was an All-Star in 2013 (injury replacement for Rajon Rando).

5. Mike Conley Jr. (18): Conley spent just one season in college but it was a good one, as he helped lead Ohio State to the national title game where they lost to Florida. Since then Conley’s (13.4 ppg, 5.6 apg for his career) developed into one of the top point guards in all of basketball, and all that stopped him from being an All-Star with Memphis this past season was how loaded the West is at the point.

6. Ty Lawson (9): Lawson won a national title on a team led by Tyler Hansbrough in 2009, and during that season he was also named ACC Player of the Year and a second team all-American. Outside of a brief stint in Lithuania during the 2011-12 season due to the NBA lockout Lawson’s spent his entire career in Denver, where he averaged 15.2 points and 9.6 assists per game last season.

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7. Greivis Vasquez (46): Vasquez put together an excellent four-year run at Maryland, where he became the first player in ACC history to compile at least 2,000 points, 700 rebounds and 600 assists in a career. He’s played for four different franchises in the NBA since 2010, and thanks to a trade from Toronto to Milwaukee on draft night that number will grow to five next season.

8. Taj Gibson (32): Gibson put together a good three-year career at USC, earning Pac-10 All-Freshman Team honors in 2007 and winning the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2009. From there he was a first-round selection of the Chicago Bulls, and he’s carved out a nice career for himself in the Windy City. Gibson averaged 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this season.

9. Thaddeus Young (5): The Memphis native averaged 14.4 points per game in his lone season at Georgia Tech, and while he’s played for multiple teams in the NBA Young has been a solid pro. Wednesday morning it was reported that he’s re-upped with the Nets on a four-year, $50 million deal.

10. Gerald Henderson Jr. (11): Henderson played three seasons at Duke, earning first team All-ACC honors as a junior. From there it was off the Charlotte, where in six years as a pro he’s averaged 12.0 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.

11. Ryan Anderson (98): The 6-foot-10 forward led the Pac-10 in scoring as a sophomore (21.6 ppg), and he’s put together a solid career as a pro as well. In six seasons, Anderson’s averaging 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for three franchises.

12. D.J. Augustin (49): Augustin played two seasons at Texas, averaging 16.9 points and 6.2 assists per contest on the Forty Acres. In the NBA he’s been productive despite suiting up for five franchises after playing his first four seasons in Charlotte. Augustin’s averaging 10.0 points and 4.1 assists per contest in nine seasons as a professional.

13. Spencer Hawes (6): Like a few other players on this list Hawes played one season of college basketball (Washington) before moving on to the NBA. Picked tenth overall in the 2007 NBA Draft, Hawes (who was traded to Charlotte last month) is averaging 9.2 points and 6.0 rebounds as a pro.

14. Robin Lopez (28): While twin brother Brook has been the more polished offensive piece, Robin’s been a valuable defender at the NBA level. After his two seasons at Stanford, Lopez has bounced around some but his interior presence has made the Fresno native a valuable commodity on the free agent market (which opened at 12:01 am today).

15. Patrick Beverley (65): Beverley’s career at Arkansas ended after his sophomore season due to an academic issue, and since then he’s been a solid pro both overseas and now in the NBA. Currently a free agent, Beverley averaged 10.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in Houston before injuring his knee this past season.

16. Jodie Meeks (39): Meeks was a four-star recruit entering Kentucky, and by the time he left Lexington he made 177 three-pointers and held the school record for points in a game (54) and made three-pointers in a game (10). Since then Meeks has played for five NBA teams, averaging 9.9 points per game.

17. Jordan Hill (NR): In three seasons at Arizona, Hill went from being a three-star prospect to a lottery pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. His misfortune was being picked by the dysfunctional Knicks, where he languished on the bench before being traded to Houston in 2010. Hill’s best years have come with the Lakers, where he averaged 12.0 points and 7.9 rebounds per game this past season.

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18. Marreese Speights (51): Speights was a role player on Florida’s 2007 national title team, and as a sophomore he averaged 14.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest. From there it was on to the NBA, where he’s averaging 7.9 points and 4.3 rebounds in six seasons (he won the NBA title with Curry last month).

19. Wayne Ellington (8): A national champion as a junior, Ellington’s bounced around since playing his first three seasons in the NBA in Minnesota. Ellington averaged ten points per game this past season for the Lakers, his fourth team in the last four years.

20. Hasheem Thabeet (NR): Opinions on the 7-foot-3 Thabeet varied before he joined the UConn program. In three seasons in Storrs emerged as a dominant defensive presence and helped lead the team to the Final Four in 2009. Thabeet was picked second in the 2009 NBA Draft, and his pro career did not pan out.

21. Sherron Collins (21): Collins’ pass to Mario Chalmers led to the three-pointer that sent the 2008 national title game (which Kansas ultimately won) to overtime, and from there he enjoyed a productive career at KU. Collins was a two-time consensus all-american (second team in 2009, first team in 2010).

22. Luke Harangody (104): Now playing in Spain, Harangody was an outstanding player for Mike Brey at Notre Dame. After earning Big East All-Rookie Team honors as a freshman, Harangody was a first team All-Big East selection three straight years and Player of the Year as a sophomore. Also of note: he is the first (and only) player to lead the conference in both scoring and rebounding in consecutive years (2008 and 2009).

23. Da’Sean Butler (147): Butler put together a very good career at West Virginia, where he developed into a first-team All-Big East selection as a senior and helped lead the Mountaineers to the Final Four. Unfortunately a knee injury suffered in their loss to eventual champion Duke didn’t help his NBA prospects, and since being taken in the second round that year by the Heat he’s played most of his career overseas.

24. Trevor Booker (NR): Booker earned All-ACC honors in each of his last two seasons at Clemson, landing on the second team in 2009 and the first team in 2010. Since then he’s played four seasons in Washington and one in Utah, averaging 6.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

25. Greg Oden (1): This spot is going to take some heat due to Oden’s injury-plagued pro career. But that shouldn’t lead to forgetting just how dominant he was both as a high school player in Indianapolis and during his one season at Ohio State. Hopefully he can get back into the NBA and be a contributor in the near future.

Notables:

Brandan Wright (3)
Chase Budinger (4)
Javaris Crittenton (7)
Derrick Caracter (25)
Lance Thomas (42)
Quincy Pondexter (48)
Donald Sloan (55)
Trevon Hughes (58)
Jarvis Varnado (62)
Jon Scheyer (71)
Edger Sosa (74)
Scottie Reynolds (76)
Tweety Carter (91)
Nic Wise (120)
J.T. Tiller (136)
Lazar Hayward (NR)
Omar Samhan (NR)
Ishmael Smith (NR)

Kevin Durant on Marcus Smart: He ‘can play in the league right now’

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Marcus Smart put on a show last night.

He scored 24 of his 39 points in the first 12 minutes of the game, adding in five steals and two blocks for good measure.

Everyone was impressed.

Every sports website currently has some kind of column up about how good Smart was and the fact that a sophomore is finally — finally — gaining some traction in what is bound to be an epic Player of the Year race.

You know who else was impressed? Kevin Durant. He was court side at the game last night, and USA Today’s Eric Prisbell caught up with him afterwards.

“That is a tough shot to make, and that is a gutsy shot to shoot,” Durant told USA TODAY Sports. “But he earned the right to take those shots. Marcus can play in the league right now. Definitely.”

“He was just unbelievable for them tonight,” Durant continued. “He was doing it all for them, rebounding, blocking shots, passing, scoring. He led them. I knew he could do everything pretty well. But I like his demeanor. I like how he handles his teammates. A player like him, he always can burst out and get 30 or 40 points.”

The line that everyone is going to pick out of Prisbell’s column off of the game is that Durant said Smart “can play in the league right now. Definitely.”

The line that is more impressive to me is where Durant lauds his ability as a teammate. I think that is what makes him so special as a player. Look, there’s always going to be another talent coming down the pipeline, and as good as Smart is, he’s not LeBron. He’s not Jordan. He’s not a once-in-a-generation talent.

But he’s a very good basketball player that is willing to do whatever it will take to win, even if it means playing second or third fiddle on a title contender.

Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins talks LeBron James, Kevin Durant in GQ article

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Given the current state of basketball, with a player’s high school graduating class having to be one year removed from graduation in order to be eligible to enter the NBA Draft, the nation’s best freshmen tend to arrive on campus amid much fanfare. With the general feeling being that if not for the rule none of these players would ever set foot on a college campus, it’s almost as if the hype machine’s been sped up to warp speed in some cases.

Enter Kansas freshman wing Andrew Wiggins, the top-ranked player in the 2013 class and in the eyes of some a near lock to be the top pick in next June’s NBA Draft. Incredibly gifted, the Canadian is one player expected to make sure that Bill Self’s Jayhawks remain the class of the Big 12. And unlike many freshman phenoms, who tend to be the focus of sport-specific magazines, Wiggins is the subject of a feature story (link to a short photo gallery; the article hasn’t been posted online yet) in the November issue of GQ.

And for all the comparisons to one LeBron James, he isn’t the current pro Wiggins feels his game is most comparable to.

Unlike LeBron James, who weighed 240 pounds in high school, Wiggins is no monster; he’s a wraith. Which may be one of the reasons the kid from Toronto is loath to make the comparison.

“Aw, it’s not fair to even say my name in the same sentence as his,” says Wiggins during his first week of classes at Kansas. “I haven’t even played one game of college ball.” Is there another player who’s more comparable? “I like Kevin Durant’s game! Ain’t nothing he can’t do. Shoot. Has a handle. Plays D. Scores at will. Durant, man! Has that killer instinct.”

Durant spent one season in the Big 12, averaging 25.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game at Texas in 2006-07. Can Wiggins approach those numbers? While the talent is certainly there to do so, under Self the Jayhawks haven’t had a leading scorer average more than 20 points per game in a season since Wayne Simien averaged 20.2 ppg in 2004-05 (the next-highest average for a season was Sherron Collins’ 18.9 ppg in 2008-09).

Kansas has always had multiple offensive options, and while some may be more talented than others the Jayhawks tend to do a good job of finding multiple quality looks on a consistent basis. According to kenpom.com the lowest a Kansas team has been ranked in offensive efficiency is 45th (2006).

With the amount of talent at Self’s disposal heading into this season, Kansas won’t lack for options (but they will be young). With that (and the Jayhawks’ statistical history under Self) being the case, offensive balance may be a safer bet when forecasting the upcoming season for Kansas when it comes to their offense. And that could ultimately benefit Wiggins in the end.

Naismith Award watch list stretches from A(nderson) to Z(eller)

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The Naismith Men’s Player of the Year Award early season watch list has been published, and it’s loaded with the usual suspects.

The state of Kentucky fared well, with Louisville and Kentucky landing three players apiece on the list. Chane Behanan, Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng were the Cardinals honored. The Wildcats, unsurprisingly, were represented by an all-freshman troika of Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel.

In fact, there were plenty of first-year players on the list, with UCLA’s Kyle Anderson coming first alphabetically, joined by the Kentucky recruits, Ben McLemore (Kansas), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) and his own currently ineligible teammate Shabazz Muhammad.

Non-BCS programs were well represented, as they have been in All-America lists across the land. South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters is on the list, as are Isaiah Canaan (Murray State), Rotnei Clarke (Butler), CJ McCollum (Lehigh), DJ Cooper (Ohio), Doug McDermott (Creighton) and several players from the WCC and Mountain West conferences.

The power shift in the ACC was plainly evident, as well. Duke is represented by lone ranger Mason Plumlee, while traditional rival UNC had just James Michael McAdoo to carry the standard. Florida State has Michael Snaer. Resurgent NC State, on the other hand, will be repped by two players: Lorenzo Brown and CJ Leslie.

The Atlanta Tipoff club has sponsored the Naismith Award since 1969, when UCLA’s Lew Alcindor claimed the first trophy. Other winners have included Bill Walton, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant and, most recently, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis.

Report: 2013 small forward Ishmail Wainright commits to Baylor

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Baylor picked up its second commitment in the 2013 class at small forward Ishmail Wainright verbally committed to the school (subscription required) as first reported by Alex Kline of The Recruit Scoop.

Wainright, a native of Kansas City who plays at Montrose Christian School (MD), chose the Bears over schools such as Ohio State, St. John’s and Texas.

Wainright is a 6-5 wing with long arms and a solid build, and his skills made Wainright a popular player in recruiting circles according to Montrose Christian head coach Stu Vetter.

“Ishmail is probably the most highly-recruited player we’ve had since Kevin Durant,” Montrose coach Stu Vetter said. “He has offers from all over the country – some of the biggest names in basketball – and deservedly so; he’s one of the best players in the country. He’s a facilitator and makes everybody else around him better, and he’s going to be an outstanding player for us.“

He joins center Jonathan Motley in Baylor’s 2013 class, and Wainright is skilled enough to crack Baylor’s rotation next year.

The Bears lose guards Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton and forward/center Jamison Morgan after the 2012-13 season, and could also be early draft entries to consider.

With Justin Anderson (Virginia) and Michael Carrera (South Carolina) now in college, Wainright should be one of the leaders for Montrose Christian in his senior season.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Georgetown’s versatility best way to counteract youth

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Since John Thompson III took over the Georgetown program back in 2004, his most successful teams have had two things in common: a steady, veteran presence in the back court to lead the team and versatile, playmaking big men who can dissect a defense by throwing that backdoor bounce-pass that has become a staple of the Hoya offense under JT III.

Think about it. When Georgetown made the Final Four in 2007 and won their second straight Big East title in 2008, their back court was made up of Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp. When those two graduated, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman took the reins. That paved the way for Jason Clark last season. In the front court, Jeff Green made way for Roy Hibbert, who graduated just in time for Greg Monroe to step in and take over. Last season, Henry Sims finally lived up to his potential, becoming one of the better big men in the Big East and finding his way onto the roster for the New York Knicks this season.

Heading into the 2012-2013 season, those roles are two of the biggest question marks for the Hoyas.

After starting 25 games as a sophomore last season, Starks is the obvious choice to take on a bigger role in the back court. As the elder statesmen in the back court — Georgetown has no seniors, making Starks, a junior, the longest-tenured guard on the roster — it is a role that Starks knows he needs to fulfill, although he does understand the difficulties involved.

“It’s a challenge,” he told reporters at Georgetown’s Media Day. “You’re surrounded by a lot of alpha males, so you have to set an example. It’s not so much who can talk the best or who can bench the most, it’s about who can show the best. I think on gameday, I’ll have to bring that. I have had leaders like Jason Clark and Chris Wright to kind of show me the ropes. It’s just like the torch has been passed.”

Not only is Starks is lone upperclassmen in Georgetown’s perimeter attack, he also happens to be the only point guard on the roster that’s not a walk-on. In other words, he’s going to have the ball in his hands quite a bit, which would normally be a concern considering that he was fourth on the team in assists last year.

The beauty of the Georgetown attack, however, is that having a point guard that struggles to create off the dribble isn’t a concern. The Hoyas rarely run isolation plays. In a half-court setting, when the offense is functioning efficiently, Georgetown gets the majority of their open looks off of crisp passing, pick-and-rolls disguised as handoffs, and correctly taking advantage of the way the defense is playing. In other words, it’s all about reading and understanding where the next cut needs to be made and who has to get the ball at a certain time.

That’s where Thompson’s biggest concern with the youth on his roster lies heading into the new season.

“I’m not going into it thinking that we’re going to need Markel to go from X points-per-game to X-plus-six points-per-game. I think it will happen. I think we’ve got guys that can score,” he said. “We lost a lot of understanding with the group that left last year. We lost a lot of passing with the group that left last year. I think it’s easy, because we’re all programmed to look at stats, to think scoring. But a lot of the intangibles that I’m more concerned with losing in Henry, Hollis [Thompson] and Jason, that we’re going to miss.”

“I’m worried about understanding, stuff that comes along with being a senior, with being around and being with the program for a while.”

It wouldn’t come as a shock to anyone if the Hoya offense took a step back this season. Not only will they have a new look back court, but they’ll be dealing with a different presence in the middle. One of the things that makes Georgetown unique and difficult to prepare for is that their offense runs through their big men, who are quite often the team’s best play-makers. Nate Lubick changed his body during the offseason and is mentally prepared for an expanded role offensively, but nothing about his first two seasons on the Hilltop provide reason to believe he’s the next in the pipeline of future pros under JT III.

That title belongs to sophomore forward Otto Porter, who is a perfect example of the versatility of this year’s Georgetown team. He averaged 9.7 points and 6.8 boards in his first season with the Hoyas, numbers that Thompson — and just about every college hoops pundit across the country — believe will spike this year.

“Otto Porter is a worker. He is one of the guys that understands, as good as he is, that he can get better,” Thompson said of the guy currently projected as the 24th pick in the 2013 draft by DraftExpress.com (http://www.draftexpress.com/). “Otto takes pride in every aspect of the game. Then there’s the realization that, ‘Hey, I can get better at every aspect of the game’. It’s not just, ‘Can I get my shot off? Let me work on my midrange game.’ He really worked on all aspects of the game.”

Offensively, Porter appears to be improved. A natural small forward, Porter went to both the Kevin Durant and LeBron James Nike camps over the summer, where he worked on things like his three-point stroke (he shot just 22.6% from distance last year), his mid-range game and his ability to dribble and pass the ball. The early returns are positive, as he looks much smoother and more confident shooting the ball. During media day, Georgetown ran through some shooting drills while Thompson spoke, and at one point Porter his 12 out of 13 threes. Hard-workers with the skills and physical tools to be elite defenders are almost always going to be considered high-level prospects.

“Otto knows what’s out there. We won’t try to hide from him what’s out there. I think he’s dealing with it fine. Otto’s as grounded as they come,” Thompson said. “He just shows up, he brings his lunch pail and he works. Whatever happens, happens. I think the reason that a lot of good things have happened and will continue to happen to him is that he doesn’t get engrossed in all of that.”

Where Porter will make the biggest impact next season is on the defensive end of the floor. In fact, Georgetown’s strength next season will be on the defensive end. According to Kenpom’s rankings, the Hoyas were the nation’s seventh-most efficient defense a season ago. The reason for that was the number of players they have that can defend multiple positions, and the Hoyas return many of those guys. Porter can defend anyone on the floor, from point guards to centers. Another 6-foot-8 sophomore, Greg Whittington, can do the same. Sophomores Jabril Trawick and Aaron Bowen and freshman Stephen Domingo are big wings with long wingspans, and Trawick and Bowen have as much raw athleticism as anyone in the country. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, the prize of Thompson’s 2012 recruiting class, is a physical, 6-foot-3 combo-guard who is lauded as one of the more intelligent and well-rounded players at his position.

Last season, what made Georgetown so effective defensively was that Thompson was able to mix up defenses from game-to-game and from possession-to-possession. The length available allowed him to play a 2-3 zone, while the ability of his forwards to defend out on the perimeter made a switching man-to-man and a matchup zone options, as well.

That’s great news for Hoya fans.

The easiest way for a program to deal with youth and expanded roles offensively is to excel on the defensive end of the floor.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.