NBA draft may not be so bad, after all

North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes. Baylor’s Perry Jones. Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger.

All were expected to be taken in the top 10 of the NBA draft (and maybe top six). All have decided to return to their respective college programs instead.

But the draft might not be as bad as you expect. Or at least not as weak as a lot of experts are predicting.

And that comes straight from NBA scouts and general managers, many of whom expect this draft class to be loaded with guys who can help their teams.

No, there aren’t many superstars expected to emerge from this draft. No, there are no Kobe Bryants or Kevin Durants. But yes, there are still a lot of prospects whom NBA types can’t wait to see — even without Barnes, Jones and Sullinger.

“Every year, we know one thing: We know there are 12-15 good players (in the draft),” said Cavs GM Chris Grant. “Our job is to figure out who those guys are.”

The Cavs have two lottery picks, and just like every team in the top 15, they are hopeful of finding players who can contribute — if not right away, then very soon.

“The tricky part is finding those guys in this draft, especially with Barnes and a few of the others staying in school,” said another Eastern Conference talent evaluator. “It just means doing your homework, maybe a little more than usual. But those guys exist, and I think all the way through the second round.”

That particular executive also said he’s especially impressed with the available seniors, mentioning names such as Duke forward Kyle Singler, Providence guard Marshon Brooks and Florida big man Vernon Macklin.

“Will these players be NBA stars? Probably not,” said the executive, who is prohibited by NBA rules from going on record when discussing specific prospects. “Can they help a team, or develop into guys who can help someone down the road? I would say yes, they certainly have that potential.”

It’s also good to keep in mind that every season, a rookie seemingly comes out of nowhere to become a steal. In fact, it often happens more than once a season.

The best recent example is New York guard Landry Fields. He played in all 82 regular-season games, starting all but one of them, and averaged 31 minutes. He’s a definite member of the all-rookie first team, and aside from LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin and Washington guard John Wall, had the best first year of anyone.

Yes Fields was drafted with the ninth pick — of the second round (39th overall).

Other draft finds who come to mind are San Antonio guards Tony Parker (No. 28 overall) and Manu Ginobili (No. 57), Indiana forward Danny Granger (No. 17) and Boston guard Rajon Rondo (No. 21). Each has at least one All-Star appearance, and Parker, Ginobili and Rondo have been key players on championship-winning teams.

“Players like that will be there late,” a Western Conference scout said, “And I am confident in saying it, because they always are. I have a gut feeling it could be the case more this year than most, too. A lot of seniors who aren’t getting enough credit seem to have a pretty good feel for the game, and abilities that will transfer well to the pros.”

Another Eastern Conference executive seemed agitated by the lack of respect this potential class is receiving.

“I don’t know why people keep saying this won’t be a good draft,” he said. “I think there are anywhere from 35-50 prospects out there who can help you in some capacity. You can’t really say that in most years.”

College underclassmen have until Sunday to declare. They must decide whether they are going to remain in the draft by May 8. The lottery will be held May 17, with the actual draft taking place June 23.

Between now and then, there will be lots of individual workouts and combines — and all will be huge when it comes to determining who stays and who returns to school.

“It’s not something we can control,” Grant said of who ends up declaring. “What we can control is the guys who are ultimately in the draft. From our standpoint, we know we’re going to add two new players to our team . . . so I feel like we’re in a good spot regardless of who enters the draft.”

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter: @SamAmicoFSO