College Basketball Nation: Path to the Draft 2013

In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we have been taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read my explanation of the series, which was featured in the Nation blog each morning as we counted down the programs from 20 to 1. You can read the entire series here.

Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989

  1. Vince Carter (1998)
  2. Antawn Jamison (1998)
  3. Rasheed Wallace (1995)
  4. Jerry Stackhouse (1995)
  5. Ty Lawson (2009)
Sixth man: Rick Fox (1991)

The rest: Danny Green, Raymond Felton, J.R. Reid, Ed Davis, Brendan Haywood, Marvin Williams, Scott Williams, George Lynch, Eric Montross, Wayne Ellington, Brandan Wright, Jeff McInnis, Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, Tyler Hansbrough, David Noel, Sean May, Rashad McCants, Joseph Forte, Shammond Williams, Makhtar N'Diaye, Serge Zwicker, Hubert Davis, Pete Chilcutt, Clifford Rozier, Kevin Salvadori, Derrick Phelps, Matt Wenstrom

Why they're ranked where they are: We're here. We made it. The end.

In a month's time, 19 teams have been ranked according to the quality of their former players' pro careers. Arguments were made. Arguments were hedged. The darkest, most gloriously distracting depths of Basketball-Reference.com were excavated. Comments were submitted. Retorts were fired. Laughs were shared. Tears were shed. Tweets were, um, tweeted.

There is but one final formality: crowning our Official 2013 Path to the Draft Highlander. There can be only one.

That's actually the wrong way to view these rankings, which is an important point, one we'll discuss in detail below. But first, we have some business to attend to. We have to talk about North Carolina, our selection for No. 1 overall in this exercise. To do so, we have to begin by with one of the most gifted NBA players of the past 25 years. We have to talk about one of the most productive NBA players of the past 25 years. And we have to talk about one of the most depressing basketball players of the past 25 years. The best part? They're all the same player! That player, of course, is Vince Carter.

[+] EnlargeAntawn Jamison
AP Photo/Mary Ann ChastainAntawn Jamison has had one of the more productive NBA careers of any UNC player.
First, let's run through the rest of UNC's case, which is much more straightforward. Antawn Jamison may not be anyone's idea of a Hall of Famer, but he has had a long and almost always productive career; at his peak, he was one of the most versatile (and quirky) small forwards in the game. Rasheed Wallace often got more attention for his inability to stop freaking out on officials all the time than his actual basketball ability, but during his prime he was one of the best interior defenders in the league, the best player on a handful of title-contending Trail Blazers teams and arguably the best player during Detroit's 2004 NBA title run despite being traded into that mix in the middle of the season.

Likewise, it's easy to forget how good Jerry Stackhouse was, but Stackhouse -- who is still residing on NBA benches in what is now his 18th season -- was, from age 21 to 28, one of the best scorers in the world. Ty Lawson is one of the best young point guards in the NBA, who overcomes his lack of size with blazing speed and intuitive decision-making. Rick Fox was a glue guy on three of the best teams in NBA history (2000, 2001 and 2002 Lakers), playing in all 82 games in each of those seasons). Danny Green is one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA and a huge reason the Spurs pushed LeBron James & Co. to Game 7 a week ago.

The rest of the case really relies on quantity. The Raymond Feltons, Brendan Haywoods, George Lynches, Eric Montrosses, J.R. Reids and Wayne Ellingtons of the world don't do much for me as NBA individuals, but in aggregate they represent a long-term trend of UNC products playing variably necessary roles, and making plenty of lucre while doing so.

With that out of the way, let's get back to the most fascinating -- and case-making, or breaking -- player on this list: Vince Carter.

Carter is an immensely frustrating player to put in a historical context, which makes sense, because he might be the most frustrating player of my lifetime. There are legitimate and equally vehement cases both for and against his "legacy," for lack of a better word.

The case for goes a little something like this: His raw individual accomplishments are undeniably impressive. In 14 seasons and 37,267 minutes (third most of any UNC player ever, and counting), Carter has pumped in 22,223 points, the most of any Tar Heel in NBA history not named Michael Jordan. Carter's career per-game averages of 20.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists make him arguably the second-most productive UNC product in NBA history. Carter was the rookie of the year in 1999; was voted to the All-Star Game eight straight times between 2000 and 2007; averaged 26, 7 and 6 from 1999-2002; and scored more than 20 points per game for 10 straight seasons.

Of course, Vinsanity (or Half-Man, Half-Amazing, if you're not into the whole brevity thing) wasn't a quietly productive, head-down kind of guy; he was responsible for some of the most memorable NBA moments of the past 15 years, and more face-melting highlights than I could possibly hope to count. Dunk contests don't factor into our rankings here, obviously, but still: Carter's dunk contest performance in 2000 might be the greatest of all time, or at least since Jordan and Dominique Wilkins. Either way, it hasn't been remotely approached since. In 30 years, no one will care that the U.S. won gold at the 2000 Olympics, but they will remember Carter's dunk over 7-foot-2 French center Frederic Weis. (The French press named it le dunk de la mort -- "the dunk of death." If it isn't the best dunk ever, it's certainly got the best name.)

[+] EnlargeVince Carter
AP Photo/Bob JordanVince Carter sits a top our list of players from North Carolina.
The other half of the Carter story is where the depression sinks in. Good as he was, Carter never led a team past the second round of the playoffs. Good as he was, in 2005 he blatantly tanked his way out of Toronto at the first hint of dissatisfaction, and then later, with the New Jersey Nets, openly admitted it. (Toronto fans rightfully revile Carter, which, seeing as he played a not-insignificant role in building that city's now-thriving basketball culture in the first place, is doubly sad.) Good as he was, Carter never played defense. Good as he was, Carter flopped and flailed like every bit of contact was a mortal wound, and zestily played up every minor injury. Good as he was -- and seriously, you guys, the dude was good -- Carter could have lurched toward this fall, in what will be his 15th NBA season, as a diminished but revered legend. Instead, he's practically a cautionary tale. Good as he was, he never seemed to care.

These two narratives collide in weird, revealing ways. The best example I can think of came from Grantland's Bill Simmons, who, in his 2009 "Book of Basketball," spent three pages and five footnotes tearing Carter to shreds. Carter, Simmons writes, is "the premier 'so talented, shoulda been so much better' guy of his generation" who "milked injuries and collisions like nobody we've ever seen" who became "one of the reasons [Simmons] wanted to write this book: fifty years from now, we wouldn't want an NBA fan to flip through some NBA guide and decide that Vince Carter was a worthy basketball star." It's an economical evisceration so convincing you almost forget that you're reading all of it in the context of Simmons' Hall of Fame Pyramid … where Carter is listed as the 83rd-best player in NBA history.

Simmons has since revised that list, but Carter remains, and he's hardly the only historical authority to place Vinsanity among the best 100 players of all time.

That, right there, is the Vince Carter Conundrum, and if you're wondering if there's a reason I just wrote way too many words about it, here you go: I'd be willing to bet your feelings on whether or not North Carolina should be ranked No. 1 overall on this list have a lot to do with your reaction to the words "Vince Carter." For me, there's also only so much credit we can subtract for what could have been.

Despite all that apathy, Carter was still one of the best 100 players in NBA history, and clearly one of the best drafted out of any college since 1989. That, combined with the Tar Heels' overall productivity, longevity and depth, is why they're ranked No. 1.

Why they could be ranked higher: This is the other reason I just spent so much time on Carter: the value for this field is null. Moving on!

Why they could be ranked lower: Above, I mentioned that the zero-sum, there-can-be-only-one style of looking at these rankings is probably the wrong way to approach it. Why? I'll tell you why.

Because we intentionally avoided strict criteria. I can't stress this point enough. If we wanted to, we could have tallied up All-Star Games, first-team All-NBA appearances, NBA titles, Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares, perfect scores in the dunk contest (kidding!) and as many other sets of quantifiable data about NBA players that we could get our hands on, which is a lot. I could have thrown these things into a spreadsheet and come back with a tidy, analytically driven system. There is plenty of data on NBA players in the world, and I hear computers are pretty good at compiling that data in rapid fashion. We could have gone this route.

Instead, we actively chose to keep our criteria -- "best collection of the best NBA careers," basically -- as simple and open to interpretation as possible.

NBA careers contain multitudes. They are more than the Arabic numerals that chart the parameters of a player's rise, peak and inevitable decline. They are epic human experiences, stories told over the span of decades. Understanding them means finding the sweet spot between the numbers, our eyes and what we know about a player outside of it all -- his personality, his work ethic, his status among his peers. That's the good stuff, the stuff that makes our attempts to understand this incredible game so rewarding in the first place. That's the part that's fun.

All of which is precisely why I don't think anyone should freak out too much about UNC being No. 1 over Georgetown, UConn, Kentucky, Duke or even Arizona. The overall distance between North Carolina and Georgetown is infinitesimal and endlessly debatable, not unlike the careers of Vince Carter and Allen Iverson. The difference between UNC and Arizona at No. 6 is relatively tiny to the difference between Arizona and, say, No. 13 UNLV. The closer we got to the top, the tighter -- and thus more fun -- things got.

So, yeah, Carolina could rank behind Georgetown. That Hoyas' group is smaller, sure, but sort of insane in its ratio of draft picks to Hall of Famers. Which do you value more? Is Iverson overrated by traditionalists? Underrated by analytics? Did we grant too much weight toward veterans or young studs, role players or stars? Is a long NBA career a credit in and of itself? Or is it better to burn out than fade away?

This is the start of the conversation, not the final word.

What’s ahead? Back to the Tar Heels themselves: More than any other young UNC product in the league, it is going to be very interesting to see what lies ahead for Harrison Barnes. Barnes went from much-hyped prospect to much-maligned bust to much-beshrugged NBA draftee in the matter of two mostly good years at North Carolina, and while his 2012-13 rookie season was decent, he punctuated it with some truly impressive performances in the Warriors' playoffs run. At minimum, Barnes is practically guaranteed a long NBA career. The question is whether it will be as a nice rotation piece or as something much more.

Final thoughts: I really hope you had as much fun reading these things as we had researching and writing them. If not, please direct all emails, tweets and Westerosi carrier ravens to Myron.

I guess that just about covers it, huh?

Path to the Draft: Top 25 players

June, 26, 2013
6/26/13
10:25
AM ET
With the College Basketball Nation blog having ranked college programs according to NBA pedigree in the Path to the Draft series, Eamonn Brennan takes a look at the top 25 college-produced NBA players since 1989 -- and the best pros who never went to college.

For Brennan's full ranking, click here.
In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989

  1. Allen Iverson (1996)
  2. Alonzo Mourning (1992)
  3. Dikembe Mutombo (1991)
  4. Roy Hibbert (2008)
  5. Greg Monroe (2010)
Sixth man: Jeff Green (2007)

The rest: Charles Edward Smith, Jaren Jackson, Robert Churchwell, Don Reid, Jerome Williams, Othella Harrington, Jahidi White, Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje, Mike Sweetney, Patrick Ewing Jr., DaJuan Summers, Chris Wright, Henry Sims

Why they’re ranked where they are: My barbershop -- all barbershops -- was buzzing after Allen Iverson embarrassed the Great One with a couple of crossovers that froze the legend.

“Did you see it?”

“I can’t believe he did that.”

“He fears no man.”

On March 12, 1997, Michael Jordan still ruled the NBA. That season culminated with Jordan and the Chicago Bulls winning their fifth NBA title.

But it was clear then that his reign would end soon. Superman would eventually age.

The NBA’s influx of young talent, however, boasted a fleet of potential successors.

When his Philadelphia 76ers faced the eventual champs that night, Iverson was an emerging candidate. He was a 6-foot ball of agility, speed, skill and explosiveness. And he met the hype that began building during the 1997 rookie of the year’s debut.

Iverson was one of the greatest players in NBA history.

That double-crossover against Jordan demonstrated the bravado Iverson exuded then. He wasn’t the first young cat to challenge MJ. But his audacity and success contributed to the notion that he was ready to seize the throne. The career-high 37 points that evening provided more proof that the Georgetown product could be NEXT in the NBA.

In his prime, Iverson wrestled with a variety of All-Stars for the “best in the NBA” title. The league MVP in 2001, Iverson carried the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals. They lost to the Los Angeles Lakers.

But the second-best player on that 76ers roster might have been Aaron McKie. Think about that.

Iverson averaged 31.1 PPG, 4.6 APG and 2.5 SPG in 2000-01. Few players throughout the history of the league have carried that much weight in a run to the Finals.

Iverson was an 11-time All-Star. He was named to the NBA’s all-first team three times. He won the scoring title four times. And he averaged 26.7 PPG, 6.2 APG and 2.2 SPG (78 percent free throw shooter) throughout a 14-year career.

His messy exit and disastrous post-NBA existence have made the memories of “AI” feel ancient. But he stood with the league’s kings for many years.

[+] EnlargeAllen Iverson
AP Photo/ Nick WassAllen Iverson averaged 25 points, 4.7 assists and 3.4 steals per game during his final year at Georgetown.
He is certainly the best player Georgetown has produced since the 1989 draft, the cutoff for this project.

For most of the schools that have cracked our “Path to the Draft” rankings, Iverson would represent an anomaly.

Multiple schools produced a single superstar who anchored their entire NBA legacies. But Georgetown is different.

Iverson is certainly the top performer within this group. But he’s not the only elite athlete representing the Hoyas.

Georgetown is No. 2 because the majority of the school’s draftees in the last 20-plus years are/were stars at the next level.

Iverson, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Greg Monroe, Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green anchor a group that’s second in our rankings because of its undeniable depth and talent. The numbers are modest: 19 draftees since 1989.

But Mutombo, Mourning, Hibbert and Iverson made a combined 26 All-Star appearances. And Green and Monroe could be All-Stars soon.

Othella Harrington played for 11 years. Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams was the consummate glue guy and a gritty rebounder.

Mourning’s career was interrupted by kidney issues. But he played most of his career as one of the league’s best bigs. He was a seven-time All-Star. In both 1999 and 2000, he was the defensive player of the year and the NBA’s blocks leader.

Mutombo was a four-time defensive player of the year. He led the NBA in rebounding twice and blocks three times. He was also vital for that 76ers team that lost to the Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals (11.7 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 2.5 BPG).

But the Hoyas also have three current NBA players who've emerged as future stars, too.

Hibbert was impressive throughout this season’s playoffs. He’s one of the top centers in the NBA right now.

The Boston Celtics are changing. Their new nucleus could revolve around Jeff Green, who revived his career in 2012-13 after missing significant time with a heart issue.

And the Detroit Pistons have a potent young big man in Greg Monroe.

That’s a hefty lineup.

My guess is that Georgetown in the No. 2 slot will draw boos from some folks who’ve followed our rankings. But the Hoyas deserve this position.

This is a stacked assembly that surpasses any group we’ve mentioned thus far.

Why they could be higher: It’s simple. Georgetown has arguably produced the most impressive collection of talent since the 1989 draft.

Mutombo, Mourning and Iverson were all great players during their respective stints in the league. All three could be in the Hall of Fame.

But the current reps have high ceilings.

Hibbert (2013 playoffs: 17.0 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 51.1 field goal percentage, 81 percent from the free throw line) was one of the most effective players in the postseason. He’s obviously on the rise. The Pacers will pay him a lot of money soon.

Monroe (16.0 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 49 field goal percentage in 2012-13) is a franchise player for the Pistons.

And Green (2013 playoffs: 20.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 84.4 percent of his free throws, 45.5 percent from the 3-point line in six playoff games in 2012-13) was a beast in a postseason loss to the New York Knicks.

Georgetown could make an argument for the No. 1 slot in our rankings because the Hoyas have a balance of past and current standouts that’s difficult to match. The program’s past is rich with players who were all considered elite, and its future is attached to multiple athletes who are considered some of the NBA’s top youngsters right now.

That’s why the Hoyas could be a potential No. 1 in these rankings.

Why they could be lower: This is not a quantitative project. But the 19 draft picks would be the only valid reason to demote Georgetown. Our rankings have featured teams that have sent dozens of players to the NBA since the 1989 draft.

Georgetown, however, has averaged less than one draftee per year throughout our eligibility period. Arizona, No. 4 in our rankings, has produced 32 draft picks since 1989. Kansas, No. 14, has sent 34 players to the league since that time.

But I think Georgetown’s concentration of talent overrides any debates about its numbers.

What’s ahead? Well, we’ve already discussed the new flag-bearers for Georgetown. Hibbert, Green and Monroe continue to evolve each year.

Three guys who’ve become anchors on NBA teams.

In a few days, Otto Porter Jr. will become Georgetown’s latest lottery pick and young prospect.

He’s an ideal pro small forward. He’s 6-foot-8. He’s comfortable as a ball handler. He has enough length to hurt opponents inside. He’s dangerous from the field, too (42.2 percent from the 3-point line last season). And he’s efficient (118.8 offensive rating in 2012-13 per KenPom.com).

He’s a top-five pick on many draft boards.

No guarantees that he’ll become a star. But he has the tools to perform at a high level once he arrives.

He was born to play the 3-spot in the NBA.

And Georgetown’s NBA legacy suggests that Porter will adjust well.

Final thoughts: I understand the arguments. But I don’t agree with them.

Yes, multiple teams could have been listed at No. 2.

Duke, Connecticut, Arizona and others are strong candidates.

But I’ll take Georgetown every day.

Iverson was the best guard in the league for a healthy stretch. Mutombo and Mourning were two of the greatest defensive players of all time. Hibbert? Identify a better center in the NBA today.

Green is a necessary component for a Boston Celtics team that’s rebuilding. And Monroe is the man in the Motor City.

That’s a special crew.

Only one team can top it.
In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989

  1. Ray Allen (1996)
  2. Richard Hamilton (1999)
  3. Clifford Robinson (1989)
  4. Rudy Gay (2006)
  5. Caron Butler (2002)
Sixth man: Ben Gordon (2005)

The rest: Donyell Marshall, Emeka Okafor, Kevin Ollie, Charlie Villanueva, Kemba Walker, Andre Drummond, A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, Jeff Adrien, Hasheem Thabeet, Josh Boone, Hilton Armstrong, Marcus Williams, Jake Voskuhl, Khalid El-Amin, Travis Knight, Donny Marshall, Scott Burrell, Chris Smith, Tate George

[+] EnlargeRay Allen
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesRay Allen is easily one of the best players any college has produced since the draft went to two rounds in 1989.
Why they're ranked where they are: Besides Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal, which players drafted since 1989 have had a better career than Ray Allen? There are a few worthy of argument, sure. Jason Kidd is up there. Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, too. But now that Allen has captured his second career NBA title at age 37 -- and not just won it, but hit the immediately legendary 3-pointer that saved the Miami Heat from elimination in Game 6 (and made a bunch of the Heat's highly mockable fan base look completely silly, which was beautiful) -- Allen has cemented his place among the best of the best players any college has produced since the draft went to two rounds in 1989.

How do you quantify such a thing? For starters, of course, there is Allen's shooting. Allen holds the NBA record for made 3-point field goals (2,857). Remarkably, he has taken the most 3s in the history of the game (7,120), while still maintaining a career average just above 40 percent. His mechanically invariable quick-twitch release, born of his maniacal workout habits, is a wonder that may never be replicated. He is the greatest shooter in the history of the game, period, and he has been doing it for 17 years.

But great shooting alone doesn't necessarily make you a Hall of Famer; were that the case, Steve Kerr would be a shoo-in. Though he has become more of a standstill shooter with age, Allen spent most of his career -- from the promising early years in Milwaukee to his four-year romp in Seattle to most of his time in Boston -- being much more than just a shooter. Allen could always put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. His size allowed him to finish in traffic, and his midrange touch was just as devastating as his perimeter marksmanship. Before the legs wore down in his mid-30s, Allen could just about do it all.

That's an awfully nice piece to have atop your school's list of NBA products, but of course with UConn it doesn't stop there. Richard Hamilton has had his own excellent run in the league, most of it spent in Detroit, where he averaged around 1,500 points per season and was a key piece in the Pistons ensemble that shocked Shaq and Kobe Bryant (and Karl Malone and Gary Payton) to win the NBA title in 2004. Hamilton was sort of a poor man's Allen. He did his scoring in similar ways -- tirelessly working off wing screen actions -- but weirdly enough his jump-shooting prowess never extended to the 3-point line. Had Hamilton ever added that piece to his game for more than a season or two, he'd be a surefire Hall of Famer. Though, "poor man's Ray Allen" still adds up to a hefty NBA career.

Figuring out just how good Rudy Gay is has been a subject of some controversy in the past year or so, after the newly analytics-obsessed Grizzlies traded Gay to the Toronto Raptors and never lost a step en route to the Western Conference finals. Offensive inefficiency is the main complaint about Gay's game -- sometimes he's just a little too happy to take that outside jumper. But even so, Gay is a super-tall wing player with guard skills in a league that prizes such things, and he already has cobbled together an impressive resume. One could say the same for Caron Butler, who has visited a couple of All-Star Games and averaged 15.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals in a very-much-above-average-if-not-totally-spectacular body of work.

And then there's Clifford Robinson. It might be easy to forget about old Cliff, not only because he's not the only NBA player to go by "Cliff Robinson" (the other, Clifford Trent Robinson, was drafted out of USC in 1979). Robinson was drafted in 1989, the first year eligible for this project, and when most people think of Jim Calhoun's trendsetting NBA pros they think of Allen, Donyell Marshall and Kevin Ollie before they ever think of Robinson. But in fact, Robinson's 17-year career is the longest of any pro UConn has produced. Nor does Robinson merely get points for longevity. While his final three seasons (from age 37-40) were just-hanging-on affairs, Robinson averaged in double figures every season from 1991 to 2004. His longevity also was marked by an unusual durability; Robinson played in at least 75 games every season until 2004 (save the strike-shortened 1999 year, when he tied for the league lead with 50 games played). In all, Robinson's 1,380 career games put him ninth on the all-time list. He played a ton of professional basketball, almost all of it at a high level.

Those five players alone would probably warrant a spot near the top five in our Path to the Draft rankings, but there is so much more. Ben Gordon has had a very productive career; Emeka Okafor has averaged a career double-double while playing for atrocious teams in Charlotte, New Orleans and Washington; Donyell Marshall and Kevin Ollie were tenured pros; and even Charlie Villanueva had a couple of really good seasons before falling off after Detroit signed him to a $40 million deal in 2009. The young blood -- particularly Kemba Walker and Andre Drummond, who looks as though he's going to be a beast -- should carry Calhoun's legacy of producing pros forward into the Ollie era. It's a solid, deep list, punctuated by singular brilliance at the top.

Why they could be ranked higher: The argument for ranking Connecticut higher will have a lot to do with the same dichotomy we've been dealing with for the last couple of weeks, the one that makes this whole conversation interesting in the first place*: quantity versus quality, and the nuances therein.

*Which is also why we didn't do something as simple as a points system to rank years played versus All-Star appearances vs. Win Shares or whatever other metric would have made this whole thing much more straightforward. Because it also would have been much more boring. Also, NBA careers are not simply quantifiable things.

For example: If you think a lengthy list of players that comprises its fair share of duds is more impressive than a handful draftees, a significant number of which are bona fide Hall of Famers, then your rankings might look a little bit different than ours. In this case, you might see UConn's combination of Allen (an elite all-timer) alongside this collection of top players and think there's no way the Huskies could rank behind the next two teams on the list. Or maybe you take the opposite view — that the Thabeets and Dysons and El-Amins of the world prove that UConn's pro bona fides are overrated. Our essential goal has been to balance those two concerns, which is why No. 3 feels about right to me.

Why they could be ranked lower: I don't think they could. No. 4 Kentucky and No. 5 Duke both have similar dynamics at work -- lots of products, plenty of solid pro careers, and their fair share of busts, too -- but neither group has a player with a career like Allen's. (Grant Hill comes closest, but those devastating injuries make it harder to put him on the mountaintop.) So, no. UConn might have an argument to move up; it's much harder to justify the opposite direction.

What’s ahead? Drummond is the one to watch. Despite seeming to rarely care about basketball as a collegian, the big man had an immensely promising rookie season in Detroit in 2012-13, averaging 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 20.7 minutes per game. Drummond still needs a great deal of polish in the low post, but there aren't many players in the league as athletic as he is, and none that possess his combination of size, strength and leaping ability. At the bare minimum, he should be a force on the glass for years to come. The ceiling is much higher than that.

It's almost hard to tell how good of a pro Kemba Walker is -- call it the curse of playing in Charlotte -- but things are trending in the right direction. After an anemic rookie season, Walker lifted his shooting percentage from 36.6 percent to 42.3 in his second year, scoring 17.7 points per game and adding 5.7 assists. He needs to develop his outside shot to make up for his lack of size, but his pure scoring and playmaking abilities give him value even as he sands off some of the rough edges.

Other than that, senior Shabazz Napier is probably the clearest NBA prospect on the Huskies' roster right now, but Omar Calhoun is an interesting look down the line, and in 2014 Daniel Hamilton, the No. 4-ranked shooting guard in his class, should give Ollie the kind of talent that will have NBA scouts spending the traditional amount of time in Storrs, Conn.

Final thoughts: Calhoun did plenty of things in his nearly three decades at UConn. He brought an old Yankee Conference power into the Big East. He made that old Yankee Conference power into a competitive Division I program. Then he turned it into a Big East power. Then he started winning national titles. His legacy of success doesn't stop in Storrs, though; Calhoun also created one of the most consistent NBA talent factories in the modern college game. The results are plain to see.
In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989:

  1. Rajon Rondo (2006)
  2. Antoine Walker (1996)
  3. Jamal Mashburn (1993)
  4. DeMarcus Cousins (2010)
  5. John Wall (2010)
Sixth man: Tayshaun Prince (2002)

The rest: Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb, Darius Miller, Marquis Teague, Josh Harrellson, Enes Kanter, Brandon Knight, DeAndre Liggins, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, Patrick Patterson, Jodie Meeks, Joe Crawford, Kelenna Azubuike, Chuck Hayes, Randolph Morris, Erik Daniels, Gerald Fitch, Keith Bogans, Michael Bradley, Jamaal Magloire, Scott Padgett, Wayne Turner, Nazr Mohammed, Jeff Sheppard, Derek Anderson, Ron Mercer, Rodrick Rhodes, Tony Delk, Walter McCarty, Mark Pope, LeRon Ellis and Reggie Hanson.

Why they’re ranked where they are: In 2012, Kentucky went to New Orleans and changed perceptions about the value of freshmen in college basketball.

By then, many first-year studs had already proved their collective worth. Magic Johnson led Michigan State to the national title in 1979 a year after guiding the program to the Elite Eight. Pervis Ellison was a star for Louisville’s national championship team in 1986. He earned most outstanding player honors that year.

[+] EnlargeRajon Rondo
AP Photo/Bill FeigKentucky has sent 41 players to the NBA since 1989, but Rajon Rondo is its only true superstar.
The Fab Five pushed Michigan to consecutive national title games. And multiple freshman performers have excelled since then.

But the 2011-12 Kentucky squad was unique. No squad anchored by freshmen to that degree had ever won a national title. The Wildcats had come close in the past (Elite Eight in 2010, Final Four in 2011). But winning the crown signaled a shift in old notions about the dangers of relying on freshmen.

Now, teams still win without Kentucky’s philosophy. Louisville had a veteran team when it won the national championship in Atlanta.

But assembling a group of elite freshmen on one team has worked for John Calipari. Lexington possesses a true NBA talent manufacturer. Experience has been an overlooked factor in the team’s success. The youth, however, has been a prominent component in the program’s recent history.

Six players from that championship team were selected in that summer’s draft. That was a record, which could be shattered next season by Kentucky again. Calipari has signed one of the greatest recruiting classes in NCAA history. So the pattern will continue: go to Kentucky, turn pro a year later.

Kentucky since Calipari arrived is an important piece of its current standing in our “Path to the Draft” rankings.

But there was plenty of life at Kentucky before Calipari.

Antoine Walker was a three-time All-Star who averaged 17.5 PPG and 7.7 RPG in 12 seasons in the NBA. Plus he had that little shake move that was mimicked on playgrounds around the country.

Remember Jamal Mashburn in his prime? Somehow, he made just one All-Star team after averaging 19.0 PPG and connecting on 35 percent of his 3-pointers in a 13-year career.

Tayshaun Prince hasn’t added one ounce of fat to his frame during a 10-year career. But he has been consistent. He’s averaged 12.6 PPG and hit 37 percent of his 3-pointers throughout his time in the league. He has also been a member of the NBA’s all-defensive second team. And he won a championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.

And Rajon Rondo, a four-time All-Star in six seasons with the Celtics, is one of the league’s elite point guards. The 2007-08 Boston Celtics would not have won the NBA title without him.

Ron Mercer, Derek Anderson, Tony Delk and other former Kentucky players were admirable contributors at the next level, too.

If we stop right there, we have a strong case for Kentucky’s inclusion in our rankings, perhaps the top 10.

But it’s the recent surge during Calipari’s tenure that has pushed Kentucky to the No. 4 slot.

DeMarcus Cousins, who is just 22, is already one of the best big men in the NBA three years into his career. Consider these ridiculous career numbers: 16.3 PPG, 9.8 RPG and 1.3 SPG. He can certainly improve. And he has had some struggles with the whole “team player” thing. But he’s going to be worth a max contract soon.

John Wall plays for the Washington Wizards. That will change at some point. And when he switches teams, I think he’ll earn more praise for the strides he has made during his three years in the league. He averaged 18.5 PPG, 7.6 APG and 1.3 SPG in 2012-13. He also made 80 percent of his free throws. His jump shot needs work. But he has the foundation of a future perennial All-Star.

Brandon Knight, who led the Wildcats to the Final Four in 2011, is off to a strong start in Detroit (13.1 PPG, 3.9 APG, 37 percent from beyond the arc in two seasons with the Pistons). Michael Kidd-Gilchrist averaged 9.0 PPG in his rookie season with the Charlotte Bobcats.

And Anthony Davis met most of the hype in his first season. He averaged 13.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.2 SPG and 1.7 BPG. A knee injury interrupted his progress this season. But the New Orleans Hornets can -- and will -- build around him in the coming years.

Talent, consistency, substance, depth and longevity. Kentucky has it all.

That’s why the Wildcats are No. 4 in our “Path to the Draft” rankings.

Why they could be ranked higher: Look at the list again and pretend that every player, regardless of era, is eligible. Here’s the lineup as I see it. Rondo running point. Mercer on the wing. Mashburn on the other wing. Cousins at the 4. Davis inside. Now, Kentucky would also have Prince, Knight, Kidd-Gilchrist, Walker, Wall, Anderson and Delk coming off the bench. Wow.

I don’t care who we’ve ranked No. 1, 2, 3. Good luck finding a school that could produce a team that would outplay the group I just mentioned.

Kentucky has sent 41 players to the NBA since 1989. Forty-one! Think about that. And then look at the best players within that group.

There’s certainly an argument to be made that might elevate Kentucky into a higher slot.

Why they could be ranked lower: Where are the superstars? Yes, Kentucky produces NBA talent with ease. Dozens of prospects have made millions after attending the university for one season or more.

The pipeline is healthy.

But Rondo is the only guy who has approached true superstar status on this list. Walker and Mashburn were very good during their tenures. If Wall and Cousins maintain their early progress, they could be all-NBA first-team guys. Consistently. Davis, too.

They’re not in that that “top-10 player in the league” conversation though.

There’s a lot of debate about the teams that have earned the top five or six slots in our standings. The argument for Kentucky’s demotion would probably center on the idea that this list boils down to Rondo, a couple of talented veterans who were good but not great and a bunch of players who are too young to truly assess. I’m not saying I agree with that. But that would be the stance that someone might take if they argued against Kentucky as the No. 4 team in our rankings.

What’s ahead?: Paradise, if you believe the NBA’s prognosticators. Next year alone, Kentucky could have four or five lottery picks in the 2014 draft. Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee make up one of the top recruiting classes in NBA history. Randle could be a top-three pick next season. Young and Andrew Harrison shouldn’t be too far behind him. Plus, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein could be high draft picks in a year, too.

So the future is beyond bright for Kentucky. Calipari will continue to send multiple players to the NBA each year. That’s the system and it works for him.

If that trend continues and the young Kentucky reps in the league now continue to improve, then Kentucky could be the unanimous No. 1 team if we decide to reassess these rankings in a few years.

Final thoughts: This is an incredible list. There’s so much talent.

I remember when Anderson, Walker and Mashburn were all young studs in the league. And it’s amazing that one program has managed to maintain that legacy since that time.

That’s not easy, especially with the challenges that college basketball has experienced throughout our allotted time frame.

But Kentucky has stayed the course. And that’s a profound accomplishment.

Still, there’s so much potential in the future. The sheer volume is mind-boggling.

Stay tuned.

Path to the Draft: No. 5 Duke

June, 20, 2013
6/20/13
11:30
AM ET
In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989

  1. Grant Hill (1994)
  2. Elton Brand (1999)
  3. Carlos Boozer (2002)
  4. Kyrie Irving (2011)
  5. Luol Deng (2004)
Sixth man: Corey Maggette (1999)

[+] EnlargeChristian Laettner
AP Photo/Amy SancettaFair or not, Duke has a reputation for producing players like Christian Laettner, college stars whose NBA careers fell short of expectations.
The rest: Shane Battier, Christian Laettner, Mike Dunleavy, Dahntay Jones, J.J. Redick, Chris Duhon, Jay Williams, Cherokee Parks, Josh McRoberts, Shelden Williams, Shavlik Randolph, Antonio Lang, Bobby Hurley, Alaa Abdelnaby, Gerald Henderson, Trajan Langdon, William Avery, Roshown McLeod, Daniel Ewing, Lance Thomas, Nolan Smith, Brian Davis, DeMarcus Nelson, Kyle Singler, Miles Plumlee, Austin Rivers

Why they're ranked where they are: It's hard to shake a reputation. At some point, Duke developed a reputation that seemed to seep into the consciousness of every casual NBA fan: Duke players weren't good in the pros. It was that simple. Great college players? Absolutely. Winners in Coach K's system? Sure. But great NBA players? North Carolina was the Tobacco Road school with the reliable pro pipeline; Duke was the quintessential college outfit whose players couldn't hack it at the next level.

Maybe it started with Johnny Dawkins all the way back in 1986. Maybe it was codified in the early 1990s, when Christian Laettner -- one of the great college players of all-time, full stop -- ended up being just another pro journeyman. Danny Ferry, Bobby Hurley and Cherokee Parks all played a role. There was surely some inherent bias involved here, some coded notions about Duke's players being scrappy Ecksteinian overachievers. Whatever the reasons, the reputation -- fuzzy though it might be -- took hold.

What's the reality, then? Are Duke's players deserving of the bust rap? Or has their collective success in the NBA put the lie to all the old jokes about Laettner?

The answer lies somewhere in between. No, all of Duke's players haven't been NBA busts; that much is plain. But for the past quarter-century, Duke has been college basketball's marquee outfit, and for a program that has not only been so successful, but sent so many players to the draft, the overall pro pedigree you see above does leave a little bit to be desired.

Which is not to say Duke hasn't had good NBA players, or that it isn't still pumping them out. Kyrie Irving, for example, has played just two seasons in the league, and he's already pushing the upper echelons of point guard play. He was the Rookie of the Year in 2011-12 and an All-Star in 2012-13 season, when he averaged 22.9 points and 5.9 assists per game. He also breathed life into Uncle Drew, which was really funny the first time I saw it. Other than LeBron James and Kevin Durant, there aren't many players in the NBA for whom the Cavaliers would trade Irving. Barring injury or some other unforeseen circumstance, he's going to be a stud for the next decade.

Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng are likewise above-average pros -- or, in Boozer's case, they have been. Boozer has been the butt of constant amnesty jokes in Chicago, but the money and/or accentuated defensive struggles shouldn't obscure the fact that he's had a very good overall pro career, particularly when healthy, particularly in Utah, but also at varying times in Chicago (his best season as a Bull came in 2012-13). Deng has been a model of solidity: He's never averaged more than 20 points, but he's never dipped into single figures; his career averages of 16.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.0 steals do a good job of outlining his versatility, and he's been an excellent defender while playing an average of 36 minutes per game.

If you're a young person just getting into the NBA now, it must be hard to imagine a time when Elton Brand was the truth; if you've reached the wizened old age of 27, as I have, it might make you feel old to realize that Brand just tucked in his 13th NBA season. Rest assured, the Brand of 2012-13 looks nothing like the Brand that existed from 2000 to 2007, when he averaged 20.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Injuries (an Achilles tear and a shoulder separation, specifically) have derailed the back half of his career, robbing Brand of the athleticism and runaway-freight-train quality that allowed him to overcompensate for his relative lack of height in the early years. But even with an amnesty on his CV, Brand was good enough in his early days to force folks to reconsider their Duke draft stereotypes almost on his own.

And then there's Grant Hill. By this point, everyone knows Hill's story, so there's not much use in rehashing it, but it's an even more extreme version of Brand's: In his first six seasons in the league, Hill was a dominant force for the Detroit Pistons, and a unique one at that -- not quite a full-fledged scorer in the Jordan mold, Hill put up his fair share of points while also racking up rebounds, assists, and steals, and never shooting worse than 45 percent from the field. He went to six All-Star Games in his first seven seasons, was a 1997 All NBA first team selection and holds the distinction of being the first rookie ever to lead the NBA All-Star voting. In his first six seasons, Hill racked up 9,393 points, 3,417 rebounds and 2,720 assists. Only Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and LeBron James had a better first six NBA seasons.

Hill wasn't just a good pro. He was a generational talent. Then, of course, it fell apart. A seemingly benign 1999 ankle sprain transformed into a career-changing injury, keeping Hill from playing almost all of his first four seasons with Orlando. In 2003, Hill underwent insane-sounding "re-fracture" surgery, after which he was diagnosed with a potentially fatal bacterial infection. By 2006, Hill was openly contemplating retirement.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending -- Hill signed with the Phoenix Suns (and their crack training staff), eventually recovered, and played seven more seasons in the league as a role player and universally beloved teammate. Hill persevered where many others would have understandably quit. But even so, the fact remains that Duke's best pro player of the past two decades missed almost all of his prime because of injury, and was never the same again. What does that say about the overall list?

Why they could be ranked higher: The Blue Devils might not have a Tim Duncan figure looming atop their list of pro products, but there is no downplaying the depth involved here. Corey Maggette has been a totally frustrating pro, a guy with a tweener skill set who seemed to engage only when his next contract was at stake. But he has averaged 16.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and a couple assists per game over a 13-year career, which is hardly worth sneezing at. Likewise, Mike Dunleavy has carved out a role as a reliable wing shooter with size. J.J. Redick -- widely considered the classic Duke bust archetype -- is one of the best shooters in the league, a valuable and capable piece plenty of teams would love to have. Shane Battier's numbers don't look great on paper, but that's never what Battier's been about, and he's had a solid career (and will play huge minutes in Game 7 of the NBA Finals tonight) as a result. Dahntay Jones has had plenty of moments.

Even Christian Laettner, so derided as a bust for so long, averaged double-figure points in six of his first seven seasons, and finished his 12-year NBA career with per-game averages of 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds. He could never shake the echoes of his excellence at Duke -- or his inclusion on the 1992 Dream Team -- and he rarely played for good teams. But it's not like he fell off the face of the earth.

In all, if Duke could go higher on this list, the argument is about solidity and depth over singular, legendary NBA talent.

Why they could be ranked lower: As Myron wrote Wednesday, there are really strong cases for each of the teams in the top five or six; some of them might be interchangeable, depending on how you feel about individual players' careers. (For example, I think Andre Iguodala is vastly underrated because his defensive value is so much harder to spot on the stat sheet, but I don't know, maybe that's just me?)

There are a few very good players on this list, combined with a handful of solid career veterans. But there are a lot of busts here, too. There's no value judgment there -- whether a player is a bust in the pros or not can either be a compliment to his college coach or an insult, depending on your perspective -- but the list is the list.

What’s ahead? If Irving continues to develop into one of the best guards in the league, this placement could look much different in five years' time. Unfortunately, Duke's follow-up to the short-lived Irving show, Austin Rivers, just posted one of the worst rookie seasons in recent NBA history; statistically, he wasn't even replacement-level. It will be interesting to track Mason Plumlee's career going forward. And Jabari Parker, who arrives this summer and will almost certainly be in the draft in a year's time, is a uniquely gifted player with the potential to be Carmelo Anthony Redux. If he lives up to even a fraction of his potential, the Irving-Parker duo alone should keep the Blue Devils in the NBA picture for another generation.

Final thoughts: No, not all of Duke's NBA products have been busts. Some of them have been very good, including some (Boozer specifically) that have shocked the world in doing so. Painting all of Coach K's products with the same brush is far too simple.

And yet, though Duke has been the defining college program of the past two decades, it sits just No. 5 on this list. And No. 5 feels right. That's a little surprising, isn't it?
No college basketball conference in the country is currently as well-represented in the NBA as the ACC -- especially when it comes to elite talent. All 10 of the ACC's top NBA players in the modern draft era were on a pro roster in 2012-13.

Here’s a look at the ACC products who have enjoyed the most successful NBA careers since 1989, the year the draft was whittled down to two rounds.

[+] EnlargeTim Duncan
US PresswireNearing the end of his career, Wake Forest's Tim Duncan has been one of the ACC's top players in the NBA.
1. Tim Duncan, Wake Forest -- The 37-year-old legend, who is likely nearing retirement, will almost certainly be remembered as one of the top 10 players of all time -- and possibly the greatest power forward ever. Duncan has spent his entire 16-year career with San Antonio. He’s led the Spurs to four NBA titles (and it could be five by Thursday night) and was named to the All-NBA and All-Defensive team in each of his first 13 seasons. Duncan has averaged 20.2 points and 11.2 rebounds in the regular season and 21.9 points and 12 rebounds in the playoffs. He was named NBA MVP in 2002 and 2003.

2. Chris Paul, Wake Forest -- Paul is arguably the top point guard in the NBA. He’s a three-time first team all-NBA selection (2008, 2012, 2013) and a six-time All-Star. Paul is averaging 18.6 points and 9.8 assists for his career along with 2.4 steals. He’s been named to the All-Defensive first team each of the past two seasons and won gold medals with the United States Olympic team in 2008 and 2012. Paul led the once-lowly Los Angeles Clippers to the playoffs in 2012 and 2013.

3. Vince Carter, North Carolina -- Carter has averaged 20.8 points and five rebounds across 15 NBA seasons. He has spent time with five teams: Toronto, New Jersey, Orlando, Phoenix and Dallas. His leaping and dunking ability has made him one of the most popular players in the NBA, as he's joined Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Julius Erving as the only players to lead the All-Star fan voting more than three times. Carter is an eight-time All-Star, with his best season coming in 2001, when he averaged a career-high 27.6 points.

4. Grant Hill, Duke -- Hill retired this month after 18 years of NBA service. He averaged 16.7 points, six rebounds and 4.1 assists in 1,026 career games. Hill was the 1995 NBA Rookie of the Year, a seven-time All-Star and a five-team all-league selection. Hill averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists in his first six seasons with the Detroit Pistons, but his next 12 years in the NBA were injury-plagued. Hill was a member of the 1996 Olympic team.

5. Chris Bosh, Georgia Tech -- As a member of the “Big Three” along with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Bosh has helped spark Miami to the NBA Finals in three straight seasons. The Heat won the title in 2012 and are one win away from a repeat in 2013. Before that, Bosh was a standout forward for the Toronto Raptors from 2003-2010. He averaged more than 22 points for five straight seasons with the Raptors. In 2009-10, he posted career-high averages in points (24.0) and rebounds (10.8).

6. Antawn Jamison, North Carolina -- The fourth overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft has averaged 18.8 points and 7.6 rebounds in 15 NBA seasons. He was the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2004 and made the All-Star team in 2005 and 2008. He’s averaging 17.2 points in 46 playoff games. Jamison’s best season came in 2000-01, when he averaged a career-high 24.9 points and 8.7 rebounds for Golden State. He spent five seasons with the Warriors and has also played for Dallas, Washington, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers.

7. Elton Brand, Duke -- Although he has tapered off in recent years, Brand was one of the NBA’s top post players in the early-to-mid-2000s. He averaged 20 or more points in five of his first eight seasons. His best performance came in 2005-06, when he averaged 24.7 points and 10 rebounds. Brand earned second-team All-NBA honors that season and was also selected to the All-Star Game. He has averaged less than 14 points in each of his past five seasons. He scored just 7.2 points per game for Dallas in 2012-13.

8. Carlos Boozer, Duke -- Boozer has averaged more than 15 points in each of the past 10 seasons and boasts career averages of 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds. A two-time All-Star, Boozer was named third-team All-NBA in 2008 after scoring a career-high 21.1 points per contest. Boozer has averaged 17.8 points and 11.3 rebounds in 76 playoff games with the Jazz and Bulls. He played for the Olympic team in 2004 and 2008. Not bad for a player who was selected in the second round of the 2002 NBA draft.

9. Jerry Stackhouse, North Carolina -- Stackhouse has averaged less than nine points per game in each of his past five seasons, but that shouldn’t diminish his overall accomplishments in a standout career. He averaged a career-high 29.8 points for the Pistons in 2000-01 and set a franchise record by scoring 57 points in one game. Knee problems began to hamper Stackhouse a few years later. He hasn’t averaged more than 29 minutes per game since 2003, but still boasts a career scoring average of 16.9 PPG.

10. Rasheed Wallace, North Carolina -- Wallace announced his retirement in April after 16 seasons. He averaged 14.4 points and 6.7 rebounds during that span. His best season came in 2001-02, when he posted career-highs in both points (19.3) and rebounds (8.2). A four-time NBA All-Star, Wallace appeared in 177 playoff games and averaged 13.5 points and 6.3 boards -- helping the Pistons win the 2004 NBA title. He was the fourth overall pick in the 1995 NBA draft.

Ten more notables: All of these players have excelled in the NBA, including a few who almost cracked the top 10 (names in alphabetical order).

Kenny Anderson, Georgia Tech
Shane Battier, Duke
Sam Cassell, Florida State
Luol Deng, Duke
Raymond Felton, North Carolina
Steve Francis, Maryland
Tom Gugliotta, North Carolina State
Josh Howard, Wake Forest
Corey Maggette, Duke
Stephon Marbury, Georgia Tech

Too soon to tell: These guys haven’t been in the league long enough to make the top 10, but all appear to have bright futures (names in alphabetical order).

Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
Ed Davis, North Carolina
Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech
John Henson, North Carolina
Kyrie Irving, Duke
Austin Rivers, Duke
Iman Shumpert, Georgia Tech
Kyle Singler, Duke
Tyler Zeller, North Carolina

*Note: Of the 30 names on these lists, nine are from North Carolina, nine are from Duke, five are from Georgia Tech and four are from Wake Forest. Maryland, North Carolina State and Florida State have one representative each.
The Pac-12’s reputation has taken a bit of a hit the past few seasons. Overall, though, the league has been a mecca for topflight NBA talent. Need proof? Just skim some NBA rosters and you’ll find a former Pac-12 star on almost every team.

Here’s a look at the Pac-12 products who have enjoyed the most successful pro careers since 1989, the year the NBA draft was whittled to two rounds.

[+] EnlargeJason Kidd
Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY SportsCal product Jason Kidd Kidd played in 10 All-Star Games and was first-team All-NBA five times.
1. Jason Kidd, Cal: One of the greatest point guards of all time retired this spring as the NBA’s second all-time leader in assists and steals and third all time in 3-pointers. He averaged 8.7 assists in his 18-year career and led the league in that category five times. Kidd played in 10 NBA All-Star games and earned first-team All-NBA honors five times. In 2011 he won an NBA title as a member of the Dallas Mavericks. He also was named to the NBA’s first- or second-team all-defensive squad nine times. Kidd helped Team USA win a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. He was named head coach of the Brooklyn Nets this month.

2. Gary Payton, Oregon State: Nicknamed “The Glove” for his defensive prowess, Payton is the only point guard to be named NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He was selected to the league’s all-defensive first team nine times and was a nine-time All-Star. Payton won an NBA title with the Miami Heat in 2006, but he’s best remembered for his 13-year stint with the Seattle SuperSonics. He holds franchise records for points, assists and steals. Payton’s menacing defense was hardly the only thing that made him valuable: He averaged 19 or more points for 10 straight seasons in a career that included 15 playoff seasons. He was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.

3. Kevin Love, UCLA: Since leaving UCLA after just one season in 2008, Love has blossomed into one of the most dominant power forwards in recent NBA history. He recorded 53 straight double-doubles with Minnesota in 2010-11, the longest streak since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. He averaged a career-high 15.2 rebounds that season and 26 points and 13.3 boards the following season. Love won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award in 2011 and was named second-team all-league the following season. He was also a member of the 2012 Olympic team. An injury to his shooting hand limited Love to 18 games in 2012-13. He’s averaging 17.3 points and 12.2 rebounds for his career.

4. Russell Westbrook, UCLA: He’s played in the NBA just five seasons, yet already Westbrook is a three-time All-Star and a three-time second-team All-NBA selection. He’s averaged more than 21 points for Oklahoma City in each of the past three seasons, along with 5.5 or more assists. In 2012-13 he ranked sixth in the league in scoring (23.2 points) and seventh in assists (7.4). He suffered a knee injury in the first round of the playoffs and was forced to miss the remainder of the season. Westbrook was also a member of the 2012 Olympic squad that won the gold medal. After five NBA seasons, Westbrook is averaging 19.9 points and 6.9 assists.

5. Jason Terry, Arizona: The guard known as JET won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 2009 before sparking the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA title two seasons later in 2011. That same year he tied an NBA playoff record by making nine 3-pointers in a game. He is known for performing his best in clutch situations. Terry has averaged double figures in all but one of his 14 NBA seasons and has a career mark of 15.7 points. He shoots 38 percent from beyond the arc. Terry recently completed his first season with the Boston Celtics after spending eight years with Dallas and five with Atlanta.

6. Gilbert Arenas, Arizona: A three-time All-Star, Arenas averaged 20.6 points in 11 NBA seasons, eight of which were spent with Washington. His best year came in 2005-06, when he averaged a career-high 29.3 points and 6.1 assists. He twice earned second-team All-NBA honors, and he was named the league’s Most Improved Player in 2003. Arenas was suspended for more than half of the 2009-10 season after it was discovered that he was storing firearms in his locker. He was traded to Orlando the following season. His NBA career ended the following year after he played just 17 games for Memphis. Arenas played the 2012-13 season in China.

7. James Harden, Arizona State: Harden recently completed the best season of his young career, averaging 25.9 points in his first season with the Houston Rockets. His efforts earned him third-team All-NBA honors and an appearance in the All-Star Game for the first time. The previous season he was named NBA Sixth Man of the Year after scoring 16.8 points per game for Oklahoma City. As good as he has been, Harden’s future appears even brighter, especially considering he’s a focal point in Houston’s offense instead of a secondary player like he was behind Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City.

8. Baron Davis, UCLA: The third overall pick in the 1999 NBA draft averaged double figures in all but two of his 13 NBA seasons. His best season came in 2003-04, when he averaged a career-high 22.9 points for New Orleans. He earned a spot on the All-Star team that season and was named third-team All-NBA. For his career, Davis averaged 16.1 points and 7.2 assists, and he averaged 18.8 points in 50 playoff games. In 2006-07, he led No. 8 seed Golden State to a playoff series upset of No. 1 seed Dallas.

9. Andre Iguodala, Arizona: Currently one of the NBA’s most versatile players, Iguodala has averaged 15.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 4.9 assists in his first nine years in the league. He played eight seasons with Philadelphia before being traded to Denver before last season. Iguodala was named to the NBA’s second-team all-defensive squad in 2011. His best season came in 2007-08, when he averaged career highs in points (19.9) and steals (2.1).

10. Sean Elliott, Arizona: Elliott averaged 14.2 points in 12 NBA seasons, all but one of which were spent with the San Antonio Spurs. His best season came in 1995-96, when he averaged a career-high 20 points per game. Elliott was an integral part of the Spurs’ 1999 NBA championship squad, averaging 11.2 points that season. The No. 3 overall pick in the 1989 draft, Elliott made the All-Star team in 1993 and 1996. He is the only Spurs player to rank among the franchise’s top 10 in six statistical categories. In 2000 he became the first player to return to the court after a kidney transplant. San Antonio retired Elliott’s number in 2005.

Ten more notables: All of these players have excelled in the NBA, including a few who almost cracked the top 10 (names in alphabetical order).

Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Cal
Arron Afflalo, UCLA
Mike Bibby, Arizona
Terrell Brandon, Oregon
Richard Jefferson, Arizona
Brook Lopez, Stanford
O.J. Mayo, USC
Nate Robinson, Washington
Brandon Roy, Washington
Damon Stoudamire, Arizona

Too soon to tell: These guys haven’t been in the league long enough to make the top 10, but all appear to have bright futures (names in alphabetical order).

Quincy Pondexter, Washington
Terrence Ross, Washington
Isaiah Thomas, Washington
Klay Thompson, Washington State
Nikola Vucevic, USC
Derrick Williams, Arizona

*Note: Of the 26 players on these lists, eight are from Arizona, five are from Washington and four are from UCLA. Cal and USC boast two players each. Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford, Oregon and Washington State each have one representative.

Path to the Draft: No. 6 Arizona

June, 19, 2013
6/19/13
10:30
AM ET
In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989

  1. Gilbert Arenas (2001)
  2. Jason Terry (1999)
  3. Mike Bibby (1998)
  4. Sean Elliott (1989)
  5. Richard Jefferson (2001)
Sixth man: Andre Iguodala (2004)

The rest: Hassan Adams, Jerryd Bayless, A.J. Bramlett, Chase Budinger, Jud Buechler, Jordan Hill, Marcus Williams, Mustafa Shakur, Channing Frye, Salim Stoudamire, Luke Walton, Loren Woods, Michael Dickerson, Miles Simon, Ben Davis, Reggie Geary, Damon Stoudamire, Ray Owes, Khalid Reeves, Chris Mills, Ed Stokes, Sean Rooks, Matt Othick, Bison Dele, Anthony Cook, Derrick Williams

Why they’re ranked where they are: In 1997, 4-seed Arizona upset Kentucky in the national championship game. America fell in love with those Wildcats.

That team was stacked. Proof? Jason Terry came off the bench.

Mike Bibby, the star of that team, had a productive NBA career. Terry has had an impressive tenure, too. Injuries interrupted Michael Dickerson’s progress, but he could have been an elite NBA wing. A.J. Bramlett and Miles Simon were both drafted.

That’s just a slice of the Arizona collective that warranted the No. 6 slot in our “Path to the Draft” rankings. Since the 1989 draft -- our cutoff for the rankings -- Sean Elliott, Damon Stoudamire, Andre Iguodala, Gilbert Arenas and other standouts who weren’t members of Arizona's national championship team have excelled in the NBA as well.

Arizona is in this position based on its overall depth and quality. The Wildcats have produced an assortment of impactful players, past and present.

Elliott (14.2 PPG and 38 percent from the 3-point line in 12 seasons) helped the San Antonio Spurs secure a title in 1999 (11.9 PPG and 40 percent from the 3-point line in the playoffs that year). He was also a two-time All-Star even though he endured kidney disease.

[+] EnlargeAndre Iguodala
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsMight Andre Iguodala become what Arizona's NBA contingent is missing -- an undisputed superstar?
Chris Mills (11.2 PPG in 11 seasons) had solid years in Cleveland and Golden State. Stoudamire, the 1996 NBA Rookie of the Year, never matched those early years in Toronto, but 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per game over 13 seasons is certainly a solid stint in the league. Bison Dele had some good years with the Los Angeles Clippers and the Detroit Pistons.

Dickerson was hindered by injuries. But he averaged 10.9, 18.2, 16.2 and 10.8 PPG in his first four years in the league. He certainly had a promising future.

Bibby never cracked an All-Star roster. And he faded in his final seasons in the league. But he was one of the NBA’s most dependable point guards throughout his 14-year career. The latter included averages of 14.7 PPG, 5.5 APG and a 38 percent clip from the 3-point line. He also controlled the floor for a bunch of Sacramento Kings teams that were only outplayed in the postseason by the Shaq-Kobe Los Angeles Lakers and Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili-Tim Duncan Spurs. But those were good Kings teams. And Bibby was vital for the franchise.

Somehow, Terry is still playing. The 2009 sixth man of the year has played forever. Well, not forever. Just feels that way. The 14-year veteran (15.8 PPG career average) won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. He’s also reliable in clutch situations (38 percent from the 3-point line).

You could stop right there and make a case for Arizona’s inclusion in our Top 20. But it gets better. The Wildcats are responsible for multiple players who’ve made more recent contributions in the NBA.

Knee injuries and bizarre off-court events derailed Arenas’ career. So he’s playing in China right now. But few players personified the phrase “chip on his shoulder” the way Arenas did. He promised to make the league’s execs pay for picking him in the second round. And that’s what he did.

He averaged 20.7 PPG during his 11-year career. He also made three All-Star appearances. Again, he was often criticized for his off-court antics, but he put together a run that few second-round picks have ever matched.

Iguodala, a former All-Star, will be one of the most coveted free agents on the market this summer. He has hit 46 percent of his field goals, collected 1.7 steals per game and averaged 15.1 PPG since he arrived in 2004. Richard Jefferson has struggled in recent years but he had a stretch in the 2000s with the New Jersey Nets as one of the elite wings in the NBA.

Jerryd Bayless, Chase Budinger, Channing Frye and Derrick Williams are solid young players, too. Frye’s future, however, is uncertain following surgery to correct a heart disorder.

But Arizona clearly has an abundance of talent. That’s undeniable. And that’s why the Wildcats deserve the No. 6 slot in our rankings.

Why they could be ranked higher: This Wildcats have produced 32 pros since 1989. That’s an impressive number on its own. But that assembly includes a multitude of athletes who were high-level players at the next level.

That’s the start of Arizona’s argument for elevation. But the Wildcats have been consistent in their production of NBA talent. It started with Elliott -- for the purposes of these rankings -- in 1989. And you won’t find any gaps or droughts in the timeline. Over a period of 20-plus seasons, Arizona has been a reliable source of talent for NBA franchises.

And the school has historically sent players to the league who’ve earned meaningful roles in the rotations of their respective teams. That’s not common.

Why they could be ranked lower: Few reasons to justify a lower ranking, in my opinion. But the one thing that this list is missing is a superstar. Even a borderline superstar would suffice.

Arizona has certainly produced some players who’ve flirted with that status since 1989 -- see Arenas, Bibby and Jefferson. But there aren't any Hall of Famers within this group.

That’s obviously not the only factor in our rankings. But the lack of a perennial All-Star might justify a slight demotion.

What’s ahead? In the right situation, Iguodala could be that guy. He’s a talented player who has time to enhance his personal NBA legacy.

Budinger, Frye, Williams and Bayless are good players now. And one or two of them could blossom in the coming years.

And the Arizona pipeline is fertile. Grant Jerrett is a 6-foot-10 big man with range. He’ll be drafted this summer because there’s never a shortage of NBA teams that desire a tall sharpshooter. Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Aaron Gordon should all turn pro in the next one or two years.

So Arizona’s NBA legacy will remain strong.

Final thoughts: It’s not easy to separate the top five or six teams here. They all have strong cases.

But Arizona embodies everything we established at the outset of this series. We were searching for teams that produced quality players in the modern draft era -- and the Wildcats have done that for decades. It just never stops.

There’s always NBA talent in Tucson, it seems. So much depth and character. So much player development. And more prospects are on the current roster.

We’ve found multiple teams that possess rich college basketball traditions but lukewarm reputations for producing NBA talent. Arizona is not among them.

The Cats are a powerhouse in the college game and have a powerhouse presence in the pro game.

Path to the Draft: No. 7 UCLA

June, 18, 2013
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In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989

  1. Kevin Love (2008)
  2. Russell Westbrook (2008)
  3. Baron Davis (1999)
  4. Arron Afflalo (2007)
  5. Jrue Holiday (2009)
Sixth man: Trevor Ariza (2004)

The rest: Matt Barnes, Darren Collison, Luc Mbah a Moute, Jordan Farmar, Ryan Hollins, Malcolm Lee, Tyler Honeycutt, Jason Kapono, Dan Gadzuric, Earl Watson, Cedric Bozeman, Dijon Thompson, Jerome Moiso, Toby Bailey, Jelani McCoy, J.R. Henderson, Charles O'Bannon, George Zidek, Ed O'Bannon, Tyus Edney, Mitchell Butler, Richard Petruska, Darrick Martin, Tracy Murray, Don MacLean, Gerald Madkins, Keith Owens, Greg Foster, Trevor Wilson, Pooh Richardson

Why they're ranked where they are: Because Ben Howland did a few things right.

Many things can be said about the Howland era at UCLA, many of them unflattering; his final season in Westwood felt like one long postmortem. After Sports Illustrated's George Dohrmann made public a litany of stories about Howland's penchant to coddle stars, it took a last-gasp recruiting class just to keep Howland around for that final 2012-13 season. For most of his UCLA tenure, he was the guy who resurrected Bruins basketball with three straight Final Four runs. At this point, he's more likely remembered as the guy who gave Reeves Nelson license to torment teammates, student managers, his roommate and pretty much everyone else.

[+] EnlargeBaron Davis
John McDonough/SI/Icon SMIWhere you think UCLA belongs on this list likely hinges on your opinion of Baron Davis.
This is the prevailing narrative of Howland's final years, and deservedly so. But it shouldn't be the only thing we remember about his tenure, because no UCLA coach since John Wooden has done more to add to the storied ranks of UCLA products in the NBA.

The funniest thing about this? There was a time not too long ago when Howland was considered anathema to NBA prospects. While Coach K was returning from the 2008 Olympics with a new Suns-style up-tempo offense and John Calipari was touting the benefits of the dribble-drive to every talented high school basketball player in the Virgo Supercluster, Howland was taking talented guys and cramming them into his slow, grinding man-to-man style. With the occasional exception of a jaw-dropping Kevin Love outlet pass, UCLA's best teams embodied this style, which to many NBA types had the alleged adverse effect of "hiding" the abilities of some of Howland's best players, causing them to be drafted lower than their eventual NBA performance deserved. Other coaches began using this against Howland. That may not have been as important as the recruiting bridges Howland burned within California, but it was one piece in the larger puzzle.

And yet, for all the theoretical back-and-forth here, at the end of the day Howland sent some top-notch talent the NBA's way. (This exercise doesn't care where a player was drafted; it judges only his career after the fact.)

We can start with Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, two of the best young players in the NBA at any position. Westbrook's brilliance has at times been overshadowed by his role alongside Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, but there are few scoring guards in the league better at creating points than Westbrook, and no players -- with the possible exception of LeBron James and Derrick Rose -- who harness more speed and fast-twitch athleticism when attacking the rim. Westbrook is a sight to behold.

Love, meanwhile, has a legitimate chance at the Hall of Fame. Saying that about a guy who has played just five seasons for one of the worst teams in the league feels like hyperbole, but it really isn't: When healthy in 2010-11 and 2011-12 (his 2012-13 season was limited to 18 games due to injury), Love averaged 23 points and 14.3 rebounds per game. In 2011, he broke Moses Malone's record for most consecutive double-doubles (51) and led the league in offensive and overall rebounds; in 2012, he averaged 26.0 points and 13.3 rebounds. When Love entered the league, he was regarded as a generational passer with a decent outside shot who had to figure out whether he was a small forward or a power forward. Instead, he's become a stretch 4 who makes 3s (he shot 39 percent in 2011 and 2012) while also somehow managing to be the best rebounder in the league. There aren't any players in the league -- and few in NBA history -- who have combined these disparate skills so successfully. The best part? Like Westbrook, Love is still just 24 years old.

But the noteworthy Howland-era NBA draft products don't stop there. Arron Afflalo has morphed into one of the league's best shooting guards on both ends of the floor (the shooting guard position is in drastic straits in the NBA these days, so that feels like faint praise, but it really isn't -- he's genuinely good). Jrue Holiday struggled in 2013 but has otherwise looked like a very promising young scoring point guard, promising enough to get an adidas deal and an appearance in those weird A$AP ads. In each of his four seasons, Darren Collison has averaged double-digit points and at least five assists. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has turned into a readier player than anyone expected and Trevor Ariza has carved out a nice brand at small forward. Jordan Farmar and Ryan Hollins are ... well, they're in the league. Let's give them that much.

And that's just the Howland-era haul. There is also the matter of Baron Davis, plus the rest of the veteran/glue/specialist guys on the list (Jason Kapono, Earl Watson, Tracy Murray, Greg Foster, even Dan Gadzuric). Put it all together -- recent star power combined with sheer strength in numbers -- and this No. 7 slot feels just about right.

Why they could be ranked higher: I don't think they could, honestly, not above the teams we still have on our list. If you were someone who did think they belonged higher it's probably because you think Davis is underrated at No. 3 here and that he deserves more credit than he is being given. So let's talk about Baron Davis. After two seasons and arguably the greatest behind-the-back fake in the history of college basketball (just Google it, you'll see what I mean), Davis was drafted third overall by the Charlotte Hornets in 1999. In 2002, he averaged 18.1 points, 8.5 assists and 2.1 steals; in 2004, he went for 22.9, 7.5 and 2.4 steals. He was an All-Star both seasons.

In 2005, Davis was traded by the Hornets to the Golden State Warriors for (wait for it) Dale Davis and Speedy Claxton. The 2007 playoffs brought arguably his finest moments as a pro, when Golden State shocked No. 1-seeded Dallas and the reigning MVP in one of the most entertaining upsets in the history of pro hoops. (Mavs fans prepped for a redemptive title run after the brutal 2006 loss to the Dwyane Wade Foul Machine did not find it so entertaining.) That was the same year Davis destroyed Andrei Kirilenko with a one-handed dunk which, again, just Google it.

And then, at 29, with plenty of basketball left in the tank, Davis signed a five-year, $65 million deal with his hometown L.A. Clippers and just ... fell off. Not only did he not play well, he didn't even play hard. The team was always bad (the Elton Brand opt-out just killed it), but Davis was also frequently out of shape, and by the time the team started to get exciting with Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, he had worn out his welcome. The Clippers had to throw Cleveland a first-round pick (which would eventually become Kyrie Irving) to get Mo Williams and Jamario Moon in return.

Nothing grates on NBA fans (or maybe it's just me) more than wasted potential. At the very least, everyone can work hard, right? In Davis' case, work ethic and clashes with management almost constantly undercut his performance and value around the league. He was talented enough to be Chris Paul before there was a Chris Paul, but he squandered too many valuable years. When he did pop up and flash that talent -- as in 2007 -- it was only more frustrating. Why couldn't Davis do this all the time?

That's why, despite the differences in tenure, I've got Westbrook and Love above Davis. Has either of them had a better individual career than Davis? Not quite yet. But both are almost guaranteed to, and not because they're more talented. Sad, but true.

Why they could be ranked lower: If you are even lower on Davis' career than I am, you could make this argument. You could also argue that for all of UCLA's many picks since 1989, only Love and Westbrook are blue-chippers, and the rest are just mediocre. I don't agree -- there are some solid players in that group, Afflalo, Holiday, Collison and Ariza especially -- and actually, based on where we are in the list right now, I think the Bruins' combination of young players and long-term depth fits in perfectly here.

What’s ahead? Tyler Honeycutt's and Malcolm Lee's decisions to leave UCLA in 2011 were widely panned at the time, and they've panned out about as well as anyone expected. There is a bit more hope for the future, though. Not only are the Bruins' top current players in the league all very young, but Shabazz Muhammad is a likely lottery pick in this year's draft, and his future looks like Cuttino Mobley Part Deux at the bare minimum. Kyle Anderson is a wildly intriguing talent back at UCLA for another season under new coach Steve Alford; if Alford can figure out how to best meld his unique talents, there's no reason he can't play in the league.

Final thoughts: Before 2004, any accounting of UCLA's pro products was bound to be disappointing. Even the best years under Jim Harrick were led by players (the O'Bannons, Tyus Edney) who never panned out in the NBA, and Davis was the only non-role player in the group. But 2004 was the first year under Howland. For everything else his tenure at UCLA will be remembered for -- from the three straight Final Fours to Nelson missing his plane to the Maui Invitational, and all that followed -- Howland should also be remembered for putting a large number of players into the NBA draft, a couple of whom are already among the best of their generation.
The Big Ten ranks last among the six power conferences in active NBA players (25) and first-round NBA draft picks (28) since 2000 -- the last year a Big Ten team won an NCAA title.

Still, a large chunk of Big Ten standouts who have entered the professional ranks have fared quite well.

Here’s a look at the 10 Big Ten products who have enjoyed the most successful pro careers since 1989, the year the NBA draft was whittled down to two rounds.

[+] EnlargeChris Webber
US PresswireEx-Michigan star Chris Webber used his power around the rim to average over 20 points per game in his 14-year NBA career.
1. Chris Webber, Michigan: Webber played 14 full seasons in the NBA and averaged more than 17 points in all but one of them. For his career, he averaged 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest, earning first-team All-NBA honors after scoring 27.1 points and grabbing 11.1 rebounds in 2000-01. Webber, who led Michigan to the NCAA title game in 1992 and 1993, was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 NBA draft and went on to earn NBA Rookie of the Year honors. A five-time All-Star, Webber retired in 2008.

2. Deron Williams, Illinois: Currently one of the NBA’s top point guards, Williams has averaged a double-double in four of his seven NBA seasons and boasts career marks of 17.8 points and nine assists per contest. His numbers are even more impressive in the postseason, when he has stepped up to average 21 points and 9.4 assists in 51 playoff games with Utah and Brooklyn. Williams has been on three All-Star squads and was named second-team all-league in 2008 and 2010. He also was a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic squad that won a gold medal.

3. Zach Randolph, Michigan State: With career averages of 17.2 points and 9.3 rebounds, Randolph is currently one of the top power forwards in the NBA. This season, he led Memphis to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. Randolph was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2004 and was named third-team All-NBA in 2011. Randolph has averaged a double-double in seven of his 11 NBA seasons, and he’s averaged more than 20 points five times. In his one season at Michigan State in 2000-01, Randolph led the Spartans to the Final Four.

4. Glenn Robinson, Purdue: In his junior year at Purdue, “The Big Dog” averaged 30.3 points and 11.2 rebounds, making him the first Big Ten player since 1978 to lead the league in both categories. The No. 1 pick in the 1994 NBA draft averaged 20.7 points and 6.1 rebounds in 11 NBA seasons. He made the All-Star team in 2000 and 2001 and made four playoff appearances with Milwaukee (three times) and San Antonio (once). Robinson’s best year came in 1997-98 when he averaged 23.4 points for the Bucks. He played his last NBA game in 2005.

5. Glen Rice, Michigan: By the time he retired in 2004, Rice had played 846 games for six teams in 15 NBA seasons. The forward averaged 18.9 points during that span and shot 85 percent from the foul stripe. The fourth overall pick in the 1989 draft played in three All-Star games and earned the game's MVP honors in 1997 -- the same year that he was named second-team All-NBA. That was also the year Rice averaged a career-high 26.8 points. Known for his long-range prowess, Rice was a 40 percent career 3-point shooter.

6. Michael Redd, Ohio State: After proving himself against top players such as Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson in practice, Redd became a star for the Milwaukee Bucks. He averaged more than 21 points for six straight seasons (2003-2009) and was a third-team all-league selection in 2004. Redd also was a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team. He’s currently the NBA record holder for 3-pointers made in one quarter (eight). Redd averaged 19 points in 12 NBA seasons.

7. Juwan Howard, Michigan: Howard has had the longest career of any member of “The Fab Five.” He’s played in 1,257 games in 18 NBA seasons and boasts career averages of 13.4 points and 6.1 rebounds. Howard’s best season came in 1995-96 when he averaged 22.2 points and 8.1 boards. Following that season, he was named third-team All-NBA. Last season, as a seldom-used reserve, he earned an NBA title as a member of the Miami Heat.

8. Jason Richardson, Michigan State: The current Philadelphia 76er has posted a double-digit scoring average in each of his 12 NBA seasons. His best year came in 2005-06 when he scored 23.2 points a game for Golden State. Richardson is averaging 17.3 points for his career and 17.1 points in the playoffs. Known as one of the NBA’s top high-flyers, Richardson won the NBA Slam Dunk title in 2002 and 2003. Richardson was the fifth overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft.

9. Michael Finley, Wisconsin: A small forward, Finley averaged 15.7 points during his 15 NBA seasons. Nine of those were spent with the Dallas Mavericks, including his best season in 1999-2000 when posted career highs in both scoring (22.6) and rebounding (6.3). Finley was selected to the NBA All-Star team in 2000 and 2001, and he won an NBA title in 2007 as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. He averaged 11.2 points in the playoffs that season. Finley retired in 2010.

10. Steve Smith, Michigan State: The standout guard averaged 14.3 points in 14 NBA seasons, including 20.1 points in both 1996-97 and 1997-98. He was strong in the postseason, where he averaged 14.9 points in 90 games. Smith played in the 1998 All-Star game and was a member of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team. He won an NBA title with the Spurs in 2003, though he received little playing time that season. He is one of just three players in league history to drain seven 3-pointers in a single quarter.

Ten more notables: All of these players have excelled in the NBA, including a few who almost cracked the top 10 and/or could be there soon (names in alphabetical order).

Nick Anderson, Illinois
Mike Conley, Ohio State
Jamal Crawford, Michigan
Ricky Davis, Iowa
Kendall Gill, Illinois
Eric Gordon, Indiana
Devin Harris, Wisconsin
Jim Jackson, Ohio State
Brad Miller, Purdue
Jalen Rose, Michigan

Too soon to tell: These guys haven’t been in the league long enough to make the top 10, but all appear to have bright futures (names in alphabetical order).

Draymond Green, Michigan State
Meyers Leonard, Illinois
E’Twaun Moore, Purdue
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Evan Turner, Ohio State

*Note: Of the 25 names on these lists, five are from Michigan, five are from Ohio State, four are from Illinois, four are from Michigan State, three are from Purdue and two are from Wisconsin. Indiana and Iowa boast one player each.
In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top five NBA draftees since 1989

  1. Chris Webber (1993)
  2. Glen Rice (1989)
  3. Juwan Howard (1994)
  4. Jamal Crawford (2000)
  5. Jalen Rose (1994)
Sixth man: Mo Taylor (1997)

The rest: Darius Morris, Manny Harris, Ekpe Udoh, Courtney Sims, Chris Hunter, Bernard Robinson, Robert Traylor, Maceo Baston, Tariq Abdul-Wahad, Jimmy King, Eric Riley, Demetrius Calip, Terry Mills, Loy Vaught, Rumeal Robinson, Sean Higgins

[+] EnlargeJimmy King, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Ray Jackson
AP PhotoMichigan's players have had some success at the NBA level.
Why they’re ranked where they are: By the early 1990s, hip-hop had permeated all facets of American society. It was apparent then that the music had gone beyond the audio element and evolved into a burgeoning culture that enveloped the songs that defined the genre.

Within this new domain, athletes became expressions of the art.

Enter the Fab Five.

The baggy shorts, the high-top fades and the overall swagger personified the music. It all magnified their arrival.

Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King reached back-to-back national championship games in 1992 and 1993. But they fell short of the immense hype, in the eyes of some, because they didn’t win a title.

The NBA legacy of this group -- and Michigan as a whole -- is also criticized because the quintet did not make the splash many had anticipated when they all left the program.

Jackson never earned a spot on an NBA roster. King played just 64 games at the next level. Rose, Webber and Howard all had impressive NBA careers. But there is not one first-ballot Hall of Famer among them.

That general assessment of the Fab Five’s (and Michigan’s) NBA success masks this reality: The Wolverines have produced one of the most talented collections of pros since the 1989 draft, the cutoff for our “Path to the Draft” rankings.

Sure, King and Jackson couldn’t match their teammates.

But Rose pushed the Indiana Pacers to the 2000 NBA Finals and averaged 25.0 PPG during that series against the Los Angeles Lakers. He also put together this four-season stretch that somehow failed to warrant one All-Star appearance for the Detroit native: 18.2 PPG, 4.0 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 39.3 percent from the 3-point line in 1999-2000; 20.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, 5.0 RPG in 2000-2001; 20.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, 36.2 from the 3-point line in 2001-02; 22.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.8 APG and 37 percent from the 3-point line in 2002-03. Rose hit more than 80 percent of his free throws during that stretch, too.

Howard, somehow, is still on a pro roster. Yes, he’s the grizzly veteran who seems to play a fatherly role for the Miami Heat more than anything else. It’s not easy to play 18 seasons in the NBA, though. Howard has just one All-Star appearance on his résumé. But he’s averaged 13.4 PPG and 6.1 RPG throughout his career (and shot 47 percent) and was a legit star in the 1990s with Washington.

And then there’s Webber, who some consider a future Hall of Famer. He doesn’t have a title, but the former NBA rookie of the year (1994) was a five-time All-Star.

He never quite achieved “best power forward in the game” status because Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Karl Malone and others were all making their cases for that title during his tenure. But let’s reconsider C-Webb’s numbers: 20.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 48 percent from the field over a 15-year NBA career. Wow.

Webber is arguably the best the player that the Big Ten has produced since 1989. And he was definitely one of the best power forwards in the NBA when he played. The only guys you’d want over Webber -- in his prime -- were perennial All-Stars and future Hall of Famers.

Rose, Webber and Howard have enough street cred to place Michigan in the top-20 conversation.

But there’s also Glen Rice, the sharpshooter who led the program to the 1989 national title. The three-time NBA All-Star hit 40.4 percent of his 3-pointers over his 15-year career. He also averaged 18.8 PPG and hit 85 percent of his free throws. Plus, he won a title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000.

Jamal Crawford, the 2010 sixth man of the year, averaged 16.5 PPG for the Los Angeles Clippers this season. For the last 12 seasons, Crawford has been a critical player for multiple teams. Mo Taylor had a few big years with the Clippers. Terry Mills hit 38 percent of his 3-pointers over 11 years. Loy Vaught was a beast for a short time with the Clippers in the mid-1990s.

Michigan stands at No. 8 in our “Path to the Draft” rankings because the Wolverines have produced substantive pros who’ve played for 10 or more years in the league.

The Wolverines have one of the most balanced nucleuses among our top 20. Michigan is responsible for a variety of fruitful careers.

The players mentioned throughout our rankings prove that it’s far easier to get into the NBA than it is to stay there. Michigan’s best pros -- the school has produced 22 overall since 1989 -- enjoyed lengthy terms in the NBA. That’s why we’ve given them so much credit.

Why they could be ranked higher: The longevity within this group is impressive. That would be the top criteria to elevate Michigan. Vaught, Taylor and Mills all played for more than a decade in the NBA. The top five were all high-level starters in the league.

We’ve listed other programs that produced more pros. But most of their draftees missed the five-year mark. Production, longevity and overall impact have all been considered throughout these subjective rankings. Michigan has all three.

Why they could be ranked lower: Well, Michigan hasn’t sent many prospects to the NBA over the past decade-plus. That’s a serious drought. The Wolverines are ranked over programs that established strong NBA legacies based on what they accomplished in the past and what they can accomplish in the future with current players in the NBA and other prospects in the pipeline.

Michigan is relying on the past because that’s really all it has to justify its placement in our rankings. Its current rocky stretch might demand a lower ranking. You can’t earn credit for “production” if you’re not consistently “producing,” right?

What’s ahead? The good news is that the future seems bright. Trey Burke, the Wooden Award winner in 2012-13, might crack the top five in this summer’s NBA draft. He has the talent to excel at the next level for many years. Tim Hardaway Jr. could be a first-round pick, too.

And Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary could ultimately crack the lottery in the 2014 NBA draft. Both players had pro potential last season but opted to return to school for another season. John Beilein’s program could give the school’s overall NBA legacy a push in the coming years.

Final thoughts: The Fab Five was a polarizing group. And I think the mixed reviews of its overall impact have fueled negative commentary about the group’s -- and the school’s -- ability to develop future pros. Again, that’s not a fair assessment. First, it neglects the other pros Michigan has produced over the last 20-plus years. And it misjudges the collective careers of three players (Howard, Rose and Webber). The latter trio was far above average. Add Rice, Crawford and a few guys who were standouts for stretches and it’s easy to see why Michigan is No. 8 in our rankings.
In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989

  1. Tim Duncan (1997)
  2. Chris Paul (2005)
  3. Josh Howard (2003)
  4. Rodney Rogers (1993)
  5. Jeff Teague (2009)
Sixth man: Darius Songalia (2002)

The rest: Al-Farouq Aminu, James Johnson, Loren Woods, Ish Smith, Chris King, Rusty LaRue, Anthony Tucker, Randolph Childress

Why they're ranked where they are: At this point, you really shouldn't need me to explain just how good Tim Duncan has been over these past two decades. (If you do, I highly recommend Bill Simmons's epic accounting of Duncan's career published over on Grantland this week. It has a lot of words. You've been warned.)

[+] EnlargeTim Duncan
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)Wake Forest product Tim Duncan is arguably among the best five or six NBA players ever.
Really, Duncan's immensity is self-evident: 23,785 career points, 13,219 rebounds, career 20.2/11.2./3.1/2.2 splits on 50.7 percent shooting, 14 All-Star appearances, four NBA championships. If the Spurs beat the Miami Heat in the next 10 days, Duncan and his coach, Gregg Popovich, will have won five titles in a span of 14 seasons -- a sustained run of success unlike any in recent sports history.

To gaze upon his Basketball Reference page is to look upon a lasting work of art, and I'm really not being tongue-in-cheek. If Duncan's career had gone the way Larry Johnson's did -- if he had shown a world-bending talent before losing it to injury around Year 6 -- he would still have won three NBA titles and two MVPs. He'd still be a Hall of Famer. But Duncan didn't burn fast and hot for a short period of time. His legacy is not secured by mere longevity. Instead, Duncan has managed to be both incandescent and reliable for nigh on two decades. Imagine an alternate world in which the Beatles stayed together as long and made as many records as the Rolling Stones -- only all of those records were at least as good as "Rubber Soul," and more often than not they were "Revolver."

That's Tim Duncan. He is widely regarded as the best power forward of all time, and among the best five or six players in the history of the game. Those points are always fun to debate, but I do know one thing for sure: Duncan is the best NBA product any school has produced since 1989, and it's honestly not even that close.

As such, Duncan's presence alone would have been enough to get Wake Forest into our top 20. He's that far ahead of the rest of the field. But Wake has more than Duncan to offer, much more.

Chris Paul is arguably the best point guard in the league today. Whether you agree with that statement -- Tony Parker might not -- at the very least Paul exists in that rarified territory so few NBA players reach: He changes franchises. He also works games. As good as he's been in L.A., some of my favorite moments to this effect came during his days in New Orleans. There was 2007-08, when he led the league in both assists and steals and turned a previously lost Tyson Chandler into one of the most efficient players in the game. Or Game 1 of the Hornets' 2011 playoff series against the Lakers, when he went for 33/14/7/4 and so thoroughly silenced the Staples Center that by the end of the game the TV microphones picked up his trash talk. Paul has always been the most cerebral player on the floor; his court instincts and vision are second to none. It's almost hard to believe he's only 27, with tons of productive basketball left in the tank.

Wake Forest's list takes a pretty significant dive from there; Rodney Rogers was a nice pro but nothing more, and Jeff Teague is carving out a solid career as a starting point guard, even though he'll probably never be a star. But let's not forget Josh Howard. Before multiple ACL injuries sent his career careening off a cliff, Howard submitted some really strong seasons, particularly in his 2006-07 All-Star campaign, when he averaged 18.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game for a Mavericks team that finished 67-15 in the regular season. Then he averaged 21 and 10 in the playoffs and followed up with 20 and 9 in the 2007-08 regular season. Don't forget Josh Howard.

Really, though, this list is about Duncan and Paul: the first, a Hall of Famer had he retired 10 years ago; the latter, on his way to inclusion 10 years in the future. That would be quite a leading duo for any school. For Wake Forest, a small private school with an undergraduate enrollment of less than 5,000 students, it's something like a miracle.

Why they could be ranked higher: It really comes down to the same dynamic we've been confronting throughout these rankings. Which do you value more: a deep group of solid if unspectacular NBA regulars? Or singular stardom? As singular stardom goes, well, you know … Tim Duncan. And Chris Paul. We've already placed a noticeable premium on legend-level talent, but we've done our best to temper it against the rest of each team's résumés. I think this is just about the right spot for Wake, but if you think the Duncan trump card is worth even more, I could dig it.

Why they could be ranked lower: I might be willing to push Wake up on the list; I'm not willing to push them down. Just below sits Texas, which is likewise a two-stars-and-then-some-other-guys entity, except that Texas' two stars are Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge. Don't get me wrong; those guys are awesome. Durant has a chance to leave the NBA as the best scorer of all time. But he is still at the dawn of his own era; Duncan has been in this game since honeys was wearin' sassoons. No NBA GM would trade Paul for Aldridge. And the rest of Texas' group doesn't stand up to Howard, Rogers and Teague, solid inclusions all. Wake can go no lower.

What’s ahead? Not a whole heck of a lot. Teague, for all his strengths as a ball handler and penetrator, has probably hit something close to a ceiling. Fourth-year man James Johnson is still trying to find a productive NBA role. The program that produced Duncan and Paul in less than eight years has since fallen into severe disrepair, and with the possible exception of rising senior Travis McKie, there are no pro prospects in the pipeline.

Final thoughts: It was really fun to dig into Tim Duncan's numbers, and I recommend you spend the rest of your morning doing the same. Oh, you meant about Wake Forest. Right. There may be no program with a wider gap between what a list of its NBA products since 1989 implies it is (a powerhouse) and the reality (a bit of a mess). If you're wondering why Demon Deacons fans are so ticked off, it's because they remember when one of the greatest players in the history of basketball played four years at the Joel. They remember Howard's career, and they remember Paul, and why not? It wasn't so long ago.

Path to the Draft: No. 10 Texas

June, 13, 2013
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In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five Draftees Since 1989

  1. Kevin Durant (2007)
  2. LaMarcus Aldridge (2006)
  3. T.J. Ford (2003)
  4. Tristan Thompson (2011)
  5. D.J. Augustin (2008)
Sixth man: Avery Bradley (2010)

The rest: Daniel Gibson, Dexter Pittman, Damion James, Royal Ivey, Jordan Hamilton, Cory Joseph, P.J. Tucker, Chris Owens, Chris Mihm, Alvin Heggs, Lance Blanks, Travis Mays, Dexter Cambridge, B.J. Tyler, Terrence Rencher, James Thomas, Maurice Evans

Why they’re ranked where they are: Kevin. Durant. LaMarcus. Aldridge.

It’s not that simple. But the duo carries the most weight and responsibility for the program’s NBA legacy and standing in our “Path to the Draft” rankings.

In Durant, Texas is tied to a player who could end his career as one of the top 10 players in NBA history. And with Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett likely retiring soon, the next great NBA power forward very well may be Aldridge, who has averaged at least 21 points and 8 rebounds in each of the past three seasons. He’s made the last two All-Star games and has evolved into one of the premier players in the NBA.

And he’s only 27. Durant is just 24. So the Longhorns’ stock will probably rise in the coming years.

It’s necessary to mention Durant and Aldridge because the rest of this list is not necessarily pristine when compared to the other teams we’ve ranked thus far and those we’ll unveil in the coming days.

T.J. Ford played eight years but a spinal cord injury interrupted a promising career. Still, he averaged 11.2 points and 5.8 assists per game.

Avery Bradley (9.2 PPG, 1.3 steals per game in 2012-13) could take on a larger role with the Boston Celtics or another NBA team in the future.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are building a strong post-LeBron James lineup. It certainly helps that second-year big man Tristan Thompson (11.7 PPG, 9.4 RPG) looked like a future All-Star this season.

Cavaliers guard Daniel Gibson hasn’t been the same player since James left town. But he’s just 27, so there’s still time to regain that old swagger.

Cory Joseph might have a future with the San Antonio Spurs, but it’s too early to know. There aren’t many 21-year-old point guards logging minutes in the postseason, though.

D.J. Augustin struggled with the Indiana Pacers this season, but he had three good years with the Charlotte Bobcats. Just five seasons into his career, it wouldn’t be prudent to pass judgment on his career yet.

Chris Mihm had a few solid years with the Los Angeles Lakers. Maurice Evans gets credit for longevity (nine years).

[+] EnlargeKevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)Ex-Longhorns Kevin Durant, right, and LaMarcus Aldridge should be NBA stars for years to come.
But Durant and Aldridge clearly anchor this list.

James became the youngest player in NBA history to score 20,000 points (28 years old, 17 days) earlier this year. That record could be shattered soon. He has scored 12,258 points and won’t turn 25 until September.

The 6-foot-9 wing averaged 28.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.3 BPG and 1.4 SPG this season. He shot 51 percent from the field. And he made 91 percent of his free throws.

Through six seasons, Durant established his place next to James on the game’s Mount Rushmore of future Hall of Famers and legends. He commands an Oklahoma City Thunder franchise that should remain in the NBA title picture for many years.

There are a lot of lists that utilize a variety of criteria.

We’re all about quality. And in our eyes, Durant, Aldridge and a few other noteworthy players are collectively worth more than a team such as Kansas that has produced dozens of NBA products but only one legitimate star since the 1989 NBA draft -- the cutoff for our rankings.

Texas is also top-10 because its best players have a lot of time left. We’ve already discussed Durant. Aldridge will earn more national recognition for his skills in the coming years. He’s a beast. Bradley and Thompson could rise in the next two or three seasons, too.

Yep, the Longhorns belong here.

Why they could be ranked higher: Durant is a superstar. His presence alone would justify a move up the rankings.

We’re measuring teams according to their abilities to produce NBA talent. And Durant has already had an NBA career that tops the pro achievements of entire programs.

And there’s so much potential with this group. Aldridge is a young star. Thompson will be.

If these were actual teams that competed against one another, it would be easier to make Texas’ case for a higher ranking.

Aldridge and Thompson inside. A bunch of solid guards in the backcourt. And Durant destroying defenders inside and outside.

Makes more sense now, right?

Why they could be ranked lower: So what’s the real difference between Texas (No. 10) and Syracuse (No. 20) and Kansas (No. 14)? The programs owe their rankings, in part, to the presence of superstars. But there was little substance among their respective squads’ overall pro legacies.

Durant is a stud. Aldridge could be an All-Star for the next decade.

But Thompson still has a lot to prove.

And this list features multiple players who fizzled once they reached the next level. J'Covan Brown, who left Texas prior to his senior season, isn’t even mentioned because he wasn’t drafted.

What else can Texas stand on -- other than Aldridge and Durant -- to justify its top-10 status?

What’s ahead?: There’s a bright future ahead for Texas. Durant could win a few titles. Aldridge might be the next great NBA power forward. Thompson could be the franchise star along with Kyrie Irving in Cleveland. Bradley could blossom, too.

Even guys such as Augustin could improve.

Myck Kabongo entered this summer’s draft. It will be interesting to see how he transitions to the NBA after limited playing time last season due to an NCAA investigation.

Texas is No. 10 right now, but a few years from now, the Longhorns might be even higher.

Final thoughts: There’s intrigue with this group because it features a multitude of current players. Its NBA rep could change soon.

Texas has produced one of the greatest players of this generation and another All-Star who’s matured into one of the league’s best power forwards. And Thompson, Bradley and others could boost the team’s profile soon.

Texas doesn’t have dozens of successful NBA players. But the ones who made it are some of the game’s most successful performers. We feel like if you have two of the league's top 15 players, you have to be right in the mix.

And there’s still room for this program to elevate its NBA profile, too.
FloridaAP Photo/Mark HumphreyJoakim Noah (13), Al Horford (42) and Corey Brewer (2) won back-to-back national titles.
In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989

  1. Joakim Noah (2007)
  2. David Lee (2005)
  3. Mike Miller (2000)
  4. Al Horford (2007)
  5. Jason Williams (1998)
Sixth man: Udonis Haslem

The rest: Chandler Parsons, Matt Bonner, Corey Brewer, Bradley Beal, Marreese Speights, Dwayne Schintzius, Andrew DeClercq, Donnell Harvey, Orien Greene, Anthony Roberson, Matt Walsh, James White, Chris Richard, Taurean Green, Vernon Macklin

Why they're ranked where they are: Seventeen years ago, the University of Florida took a chance.

It was time. Florida basketball -- a program that from 1933 to 1980 finished higher than fourth in the SEC exactly twice -- had finally experienced some success under Lon Kruger, who in 1994 led the Gators to their first-ever Final Four. In 1996, Kruger left Gainesville to take over at Illinois, just one more step toward fulfilling his destiny as the Sufjan Stevens of college basketball coaching, and Florida was left at a crossroads. It could slowly tilt toward respectability with a proven coaching entity, or it could seize the opportunity to do something bold. The Gators walked through door No. 2, hiring a 31-year-old former Providence star and Rick Pitino protégé with five years as an assistant and two as a head coach on his résumé. The rest, as they say, is history.

Before Billy Donovan arrived at Florida in 1996, the Gators had just four NCAA tournament appearances in school history. The first came in 1987, when Vernon Maxwell (who left Florida as the second-leading scorer in SEC history behind only Pete Maravich) pushed through to the Sweet 16. Since Donovan's arrival at Florida, the Gators have gone to the tournament 13 times, advanced to the Elite Eight in six seasons (including each of the last three) and won two national titles, in 2006 and 2007. Seventeen years after the Gators took a chance on the hotshot 31-year-old with the Pitino pedigree, Florida is now something close to a basketball power.

Nothing illustrates this point quite as well as the list you see above.

Florida has produced a staggering number of NBA players in the post-1989 era, almost all of whom were recruited, developed and shipped under Donovan. The Gators have 10 active players on current NBA rosters, and three (the San Antonio Spurs' Matt Bonner and the Miami Heat's Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem) facing off in the 2013 NBA Finals. The breadth of Donovan's success is evident here. Some schools in our rankings derived most of their draft pedigree from one dominant team, or a singularly brilliant player -- think UNLV, Syracuse, LSU.

You might expect the only program in college hoops history to win back-to-back national titles with the same starting lineup to draw most (if not all) of their draft attractiveness from that memorable 2006-07 run. Not so. Joakim Noah and Al Horford are among the best Florida products, sure, and Corey Brewer is still a nice rotation player for the Nuggets, but David Lee was drafted in 2005, Matt Bonner in 2003, Jason Williams in 1998 and Udonis Haslem came into the league in 2003 after going undrafted. Others have come since: Marreese Speights in 2008, Chandler Parsons in 2011, Bradley Beal in 2013.

Even more impressive: All of these players I just named have made some varying impact on the NBA. The best of them -- Noah -- has morphed from the gangly, goofy kid with the crazy hair into arguably the NBA's best defensive big man, the spiritual and physical anchor in Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau's ruthless defensive scheme. Lee is a two-time All-Star who scores and rebounds at a double-double rate when healthy. Horford is a very solid NBA big man, if not more. Miller is a 12-year veteran who has shot above 40 percent from 3 for his career, and has been key in Miami's title chases the past three seasons. Williams, better known as White Chocolate, was lauded and derided in equal measure for his flashy style, but he did more than get '90s kids like me to make our AAU coaches angry when we attempted the elbow-pass in a game; he racked up 4,611 career assists and essentially defined the open-air style of the Chris Webber-era Sacramento Kings.

Go down the list: Bonner has been a spot-shooting matchup nightmare and a Gregg Popovich favorite for years, Haslem is a multiple title winner and a pro's pro, Brewer is a solid piece and Speights is a decent backup big man. Meanwhile, Parsons has been fantastic in his first two seasons in Houston, and Beal looks like one of the best young 2-guards in a league that badly needs good young 2-guards.

This is a deep group of NBA veterans, with a tiny dash of exciting young talent. In fact, that's what this list lacks, and the only thing keeping it outside the top 10 -- an elite, franchise-changing, face-melting NBA talent. Everything else is here.

Why they could be ranked higher: If you're pitching a 15-year-old with NBA dreams on your basketball program's NBA draft pedigree, it always helps to have a truly elite young NBA star on your side. Most kids don't grow up dreaming of being a 10-year NBA rotation journeyman; they grow up wanting to be Kevin Durant. But the adults among us can recognize the attractiveness of a stable, well-paying career, and Florida has lots of those type of players -- they might not pop up on "SportsCenter" all that often, but they are playing consistent minutes and stacking consistent NBA paper, and there's something especially impressive about a school that consistently produces that kind of guys.

Why they could be ranked lower: Some might quibble with my choice to rank Noah higher than Lee, given the difference in their statistics (Lee averages five more points and one more rebound per game for his career) and Lee's advantage in All-Star appearances (two to Noah's one). I was tempted to put Lee at the top, too, but there's this thing called defense, and you have to play it about 50 percent of the time you're on the floor, and while Noah is one of the best defenders in the game, Lee is one of the worst. Which gets me around to my point: You could argue that Lee has been overrated thanks to his impressive scoring and rebounding numbers, a status that is beginning to unwind in the analytics era. That might cause you to lower Florida's ranking slightly, I suppose. You could also argue that we shouldn't project Parsons and Beal too aggressively. Or maybe none of these guys do all that much for you, NBA-wise. I would disagree. But I'd also understand.

What’s ahead? Beal and Parsons are the two young Gators to keep an eye on, because you don't even have to give them the hilariously generous NBA2K13-level development curve to think both could be All-Stars one day very soon. (Parsons especially has been a revelation in Houston -- he's perfect for its uptempo scheme, but more malleable and versatile than anyone previously guessed.) But you could also argue that more is in store for Noah, who just went to his first All-Star Game this season, and Horford, who still seems to add incrementally to his game each season.

Stretch 4 Erik Murphy is the most likely player to be drafted this summer; Kenny Boynton isn't drawing much attention from scouts. Next June, senior forward Patric Young will be too big and too athletic (and, if 2012-13 is any indication, too good a defender) to not be selected somewhere on draft night. The Gators also have two elite five-star freshmen -- No. 2-ranked PG Kasey Hill and No. 4-ranked power forward Chris Walker -- arriving in Gainesville this summer. Expect the steady churn of quality players to continue.

Final thoughts: A couple of decades ago, Florida's basketball program woke up. Norm Sloan, Vernon Maxwell and Lon Kruger all played a part in its rebirth, but the true departure from a remarkably ineffectual past came when Donovan was hired. Since then, he's been as successful as any coach in the country, and in the process has elevated the Gators from a laughingstock to a program with as many solid current NBA players as any in the country. It's been a remarkable run, and at age 48, with his own NBA wanderlust seemingly behind him, Donovan is going to be at this for quite some time.

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