"Jimmy went that way. Maybe you can follow him."
Faithful readers will recall that your friends at Anonymous Eagle were the first to boldly predict that Marquette forward Jimmy Butler would play his way into the National Basketball Association (provided there's a season next year, of course), a prediction which came true when the Chicago Bulls boldly snagged Butler with the final pick in the first round of the 2011 draft.
And now, faithful reader, you ask: being the excellent evaluator of NBA talent that you are, which player on Marquette's 2011-'12 squad stands the best chance of boldly going where Jimmy hath gone before? Presented with our standard, CRUSH-YOUR-MAN money-back guarantee, here are the early odds on the three Golden Eagles who could boldly play their way into the Association:
Darius Johnson-Odom: After a strong debut to his Marquette career in 2009-'10, DJO's numbers in 2010-'11, while not eye-popping, were impressive: 15.9 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game, 2.4 assists, and 2.0 turnovers per game in 30.0 minutes of action per contest. But the lefty's shooting percentages took a big-time dip this past year: he plummeted from a .455 overall and .476 three-point mark in '09-'10 to .433 and .376 (respectively) this year. He also ran hot and cold for extended, frustrating stretches of several games (especially in the early part of the season), and when his shot wasn't falling, he was largely invisible on the court, shot-faking while never looking for his shot and/or immediately swinging the ball around the perimeter. He had a strong finish to the year, though, scoring in double digits in his last 12 contests before a seven-point effort against UNC in the Sweet Sixteen, and hitting for 21, 29, 20, 20, and 25 in a seven-game stretch in January.
DJO probably has the measureables to earn a spot in the Association -- he's 6'2" and well built at 215 pounds, and, according to this release from Marquette Athletics, he had the best vertical jump -- 35 inches -- on the team last year (which has apparently been confirmed by Kevin Durant) and was the leader in the bench press at 315 pounds -- and he's definitely got the outside shot, but he might fall into the Tweener Trap that's claimed so many victims before him: he's not tall enough to be an NBA shooting guard, and, up to this point, he hasn't shown the ability to run point, either.
If he's going to make the leap necessary to become a legitimate NBA prospect, then, DJO will need to show he can serve as a primary ballhandler and playmaker, and with Dwight Buycks and Jimmy out of the lineup next year, you'd expect some of that responsibility is going to fall on his shoulders. Provided he proves up to that task, and if he can take the bull by the horns and make this team his own, he's got the best shot of any Marquette player to make it to the NBA.
Professional Basketball Prognosticator Rubie Q's Odds: 10-1
Vander Blue: If I was writing this after Vander Blue's debut last season, I might have given Vander the best odds on this list. Vander was a whirling dervish in his first game in a Marquette uniform, scoring seven points, grabbing seven boards, dishing out five assists, and notching five steals. Unfortunately for Blue and for me: that game was against a comically overmatched Prairie View A&M squad, and, in hindsight, it might not have provided the most accurate measure of Vander's abilities or development. Vander struggled mightily in the Big East conference season, hitting double digits just once (12 points against DePaul) and totaling just 11 points in his last nine games. If you followed the team at all this year, you already know the issues: a spotty (at best) jumper, far too many reckless drives to the hole, and, by the end of the year, doubt in his ability to create on the offensive end.
That said: the kid was a five-star recruit for a reason, and there were just enough flashes of his playmaking ability -- especially on the defensive end -- to make you say: "Y'know, if he ever figures this out, he's got the natural ability to be really good." Now, there's no guarantee that happens, of course, and it seems to me that if Vander's going to find his way onto an NBA team, he's going to have to become really, really good at One Particular Thing, and that's probably defense. He's got the size -- 6-foot-4, though he needs to pack some pounds onto his 190-lb frame -- to guard a one or a two (or a three in a pinch), he's not afraid to stick his nose in the lane to grab a board or six, and he can be an in-your-pest shorts if he wants to. It might not seem like much, but it seems to have worked for Jimmy, and it might be VB's best hope of earning a spot in the NBA.
Professional Basketball Prognosticator Rubie Q's Odds: 50-1
Jae Crowder: Could the man who so capably replaced Lazar Hayward for (most of) the 2010-'11 season follow 'Zar to the NBA? Crowder was a revelation last season, from his 29-point, 8-rebound, 5-assist coming out party against West Virginia to his 16-point effort and huge gut-check three-pointer against Syracuse in the second (er, third) round of the NCAA Tournament. A late season tailspin sent Jae's averages down to 11.6 points and 6.8 boards per, but The Absolut Weapon still managed to shoot 48.5% overall for the year and 36% from three-point range, displaying the kind of inside-outside offensive game that made Hayward such a force at MU.
Now, the problem: like DJO, Crowder might get lumped in with the tweeners: he's listed as 6'6", but that might be a tad generous, as it always appeared to me that Jimmy stood a few inches taller than Jae, and Jimmy measured out as 6'7" in pre-draft workouts and is listed as a guard on the Bulls roster. Though he's capable from distance, Crowder can't play the two, and he didn't show much in the way of low post moves last year. Throw in the fact that he's shaky from the line -- just .616 last year -- and isn't on the level that 'Zar was defensively, and this starts to look more and more like a long shot.
Professional Basketball Prognosticator Rubie Q's Odds: 80-1