If you ask any 4 year old kid holding a basketball what he wants to be when he grows up, chances are you'll hear that he wants to be a professional basketball player. For many of us, that turns out to be a far fetched dream that's given up once we grow up.
Though, for some, everything falls together and through hard work and dedication, they find themselves on the stage with the NBA commissioner on draft day with a hat and a jersey. The NBA is littered with talent from every conference, power 5 or mid-major. The Big Ten is no exception, some of the best at their position come from our conference.
Let's take a look at some of the best performers this year from the Big Ten conference (in no particular order):
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Zach Randolph, Michigan State Spartans, Memphis Grizzlies: There are few more physically imposing players on a basketball floor than Zach Randolph. At 6'9" and 260 pounds of pure strength, Randolph simply dominates the physical aspect of the game. He's in total control of post position when he's on the floor, both in terms of where he wants to post up and where he lets the man he's guarding post up.
By his standards, Randolph is having a statistical down year, averaging 13.9 points with his 8.1 rebounds, which is down from his career marks of 17 points and 9.4 rebounds. By most standards, however, Z-Bo is still a force to be reckoned with in the NBA. His ability to play an athletically dominated game without impressive athletic ability for so long has been remarkable. Randolph plays the game his way, and it sure fits in with the way Memphis wants to play.
Mike Conley, Ohio State Buckeyes, Memphis Grizzlies: For years now, Mike Conley has been one of the most underrated point guards in the world. He's often overshadowed because the Grizzlies don't score 110 points per game, he doesn't shoot pull-up threes from 30 feet, and doesn't show off crossovers that send defenders to the floor on a nightly basis. What he does do, however, is run their system to perfection.
He's averaging 15 points, 5.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He's one of the best defenders at his position, and it's a toss up between him and Marc Gasol for their best late shot clock option. And, as is well documented with their style of offense, there are plenty of late shot clock opportunities.
Jamal Crawford, Michigan Wolverines, LA Clippers: Jamal Crawford has always been able to strike utter fear into the hearts of opposing coaches. Coming off the bench for the Clippers, the former Wolverine is a constant threat to pop open and make three or four threes in just as many trips down the floor. Wide open, good defense or great defense, Crawford is one of those guys that if he's got it going, it simply doesn't matter how well you guard him.
One of the best sixth men in the past decade, winning the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2010 and 2014, Crawford provides the classic idea of instant offense. He's only averaging 12.3 points to go with his 2 assists and 1.7 rebounds, but the defensive attention that he draws is hard to put a statistic on.
Victor Oladipo, Indiana Hoosiers, Orlando Magic: Oladipo has made a nice career for himself already in the NBA, and in his third season he's trying to help the Magic make the playoffs in a much better Eastern Conference. Though the team is 20-24, Oladipo has done some very good things all year.
Starting about half of the games for the Magic this season, Oladipo has averaged 13.8 points per game, 4.8 rebounds and 4 assists and has often drawn the most difficult defensive assignment while he's on the floor. They've got a lot of good young players to build around in Orlando for the future, and Oladipo seems to be near the top of that list for the future.
Deron Williams, Illinois Fighting Illini, Dallas Mavericks: The drama that unraveled in Brooklyn the past few years with the massive payroll they put together along with failure to meet some unrealistic expectations left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people when it came to Deron Williams. Now that he's in a better situation in Dallas, his game and reputation have returned to a level close to where they both once were.
Williams has went through the year averaging 14.1 points, 5.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds a game while also being matched up with some of the top players in the world at point guard in the Western Conference. He's facing guys like Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Tony Parker every time he turns around. Despite rigid competition, he's done a great job throughout the course of the year, rebounding from a few tough personal years in Brooklyn and the Mavs are 26-21 and at 6th place in the West.
Draymond Green, Michigan State Spartans, Golden State Warriors: Was I the only one who felt like this list was lacking a 6'7", 230 pound do everything power forward with 8 triple doubles this year? Not only is Draymond Green all of those things, he's on a team that is on a historically torrid pace, with a record of 41-4 and with an eye for history as they chase the Chicago Bulls 72-10 season.
While everyone loves Steph Curry coming down the court and pulling up from what seems like 800 feet away, Green might actually be the most important player on their team. Not the best, but the most important. His ability to be so highly versatile is what allows Golden State to play their deadly small ball lineup with him at the center. He's certainly one of the front runners for Most Improved Player, and while his averages seem lackluster for an MVP candidate at 14.6 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists, the conversation has been had. He leads the league by a wide margin in triple doubles, and has absolutely flourished in the association.
As was mentioned, the Big Ten has littered the NBA with talent in the past. These are 6 of the best performers the league has from the conference this season, but there are plenty more. Guys like Gary Harris, Nik Stauskas and Jared Sullinger among others have made great names for themselves in the NBA. While others try to come to the surface of the NBA's pool of talent, these are 6 of the biggest examples of guys who have made their name already.