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Ranking the top 20 NBA draft prospects

Ranking the players in the NBA draft (Thursday, 4 p.m., ESPN) is risky business. There aren’t a lot of stars, but there is depth. The player you’ll get at No. 10 might be no safer a bet than one chosen No. 22.

It says something that Kyrie Irving, who played about a dozen games at Duke, and Enes Kanter, who never gained eligibility in a year at Kentucky, are now considered among the safer picks in this draft. More than ever, you’re making guesses on potential, rather than assessing a body of work.

It’s reasonable to assume that Irving, Kanter, Arizona forward Derrick Williams and Kentucky guard Brandon Knight will be among the first names called. Here’s a look at the top 20 prospects, as ranked by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Oberserver.

1. Kyrie Irving, Duke, point guard: Irving might not have the star power of top picks of recent vintage, but he’s the safest bet at what’s become the NBA’s most important position. His explosive first step is key in a league where hand-checking the ballhandler is banned.

2. Derrick Williams, Arizona, forward: He has a Michael Beasley-like scoring game where he’s solid both in post-ups and away from the rim. He clearly has a big ego, and has said he expects to be a small forward (as opposed to a power forward) at the NBA level.

3. Enes Kanter, Turkey, center: Centers are always valuable and Kanter is one of the few safe bets at that position in this draft. He’s highly skilled both in the post and on the wing. He missed all last season while attempting to gain eligibility at Kentucky.

4. Brandon Knight, Kentucky, point guard: He doesn’t have Kyrie Irving’s first step or Kemba Walker’s ability to create his own shot, but Knight is a big and smart point guard with a reliable jump shot. His shot is solid enough that he might play some off the ball.

5. Jan Vesely, Czech, forward: He’s an oversized small forward; think Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko or how Boston’s Kevin Garnett played before his body filled out. At 6-11 he has the height advantage in almost any matchup, but he’s quick enough, with perimeter skills, to play small forward.

6. Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State, small forward: There’s a little bit of Gerald Wallace in this guy, in that he’s an explosive athlete, a strong defender and plays bigger than his 6-7 height (a 7-3 wingspan). He also has huge hands to control the basketball.

7. Jonas Valanciunas, Lithuania, center: He’s a huge guy who might not be done growing, so he’ll likely end up over 7 feet. Has plenty of post moves and range out to 12 feet. Drafting this guy assumes patience, because he needs time to build up strength.

8. Kemba Walker, Connecticut, point guard: He’s a smallish (6-1) guard with a knack for creating his own shot off screens. Walker says he’s more of a distributor than last season suggested, that scoring 20-plus each game came in reaction to the Huskies’ needs.

9. Chris Singleton, Florida State, small forward: Singleton’s defensive abilities really caught Bobcats coach Paul Silas’ eye, and he’s not alone. Coaching up his offense will be a bit more challenging.

10. Tristan Thompson, Texas, power forward: He played a single college season, and he’s pretty much a raw athlete right now, but scouts think he has big potential. He’s not quite 6-9, but has a 7-1 wingspan.

11. Alec Burks, Colorado, guard: More a scorer than a pure shooter, Burks has good size (6-6) and a creative approach to midrange basketball (lots of comparisons to former NBA player Larry Hughes). He’s slim and is known for showing little passion for playing defense.

12. Marcus Morris, Kansas, forward: The more offensively-skilled of the Morris twins, Marcus might play both small and power forward. He’s physically tough and competitive, but he’s not a great athlete as far as what it takes to guard along the NBA perimeter.

13. Jimmer Fredette, Brigham Young, guard: A great shooter, both in terms of range and the ability to use screens, Fredette will spread NBA defenses. The question is who can he guard; he certainly doesn’t look quick enough to stay in front of starting point guards.

14. Klay Thompson, Washington State, shooting guard: He has a classic 2-guard skill set – range and touch on his jump shot, good size (6-7 1/4) and some ability to dribble and pass.

15. Davis Bertans, Latvia, shooting guard: You haven’t heard much about him because he has contract issues, but he might be the best shooter in this draft. If you have the patience to wait, he’ll be a late-first round steal for a contender.

16. Bismack Biyombo, Congo, power forward/ center: For now at least, you’d be drafting a specialist – a gifted shot blocker with little to offer offensively. Check out YouTube of the Hoop Summit game in Portland to see how spectacular a shot blocker he is.

17. Marshon Brooks, Providence, shooting guard: He has good size at 6-5 and a stop-and-start dribble game that works to create separation from defenders. He’s been working to extend his shooting range beyond the NBA 3-point line.

18. Markieff Morris, Kansas, forward: Slightly bigger and heavier than twin brother Marcus, Markieff is more of a traditional power forward. He isn’t quite as skilled offensively, but he’ll have the toughness and intensity to make an NBA rotation.

19. Donatas Motiejunas, Lithuania, power forward: He is a classic product from the European coaching style, where big men are expected to learn the same skills as guards. That means he has real shooting range, and he also understands how to play with his back to the basket.

20. Nikola Vucevic, Southern Cal, forward: A big-time rebounder (a Pac-10 best 10.3 boards per game last season), Vucevic is also a solid shooter (50.9 percent from the field over a three-year college career).