This is the time of year when college basketball games become more interesting. Teams will battle for spots in this year’s NCAA Tournament and players will try to impress NBA scouts who come to big games.
Earning a ticket to “The Big Dance” is very important for a player’s draft stock. The nation’s eyes are glued to those games and players become household names.
Almost 20 years ago, Wake Forest point guard Randolph Childress was only known by ACC basketball fans and no one expected him to be a high draft pick. Well, in 1995, Childress had an amazing tournament and was drafted #19 by the Detroit Pistons. He didn’t last very long in the NBA, but he’s an example of what a good showing in the tournament can do.
Here are our top 20 NBA Draft prospects for the 2013 NBA Draft…right now.
This list is compiled assuming everyone on this list will forego their college eligibility and enter the 2013 NBA Draft (a few of these players could wait to enter a later draft).
- Nerlens Noel – Center (Kentucky): Noel was the consensus #1 overall prospect going into his freshman year at Kentucky. He recently tore his ACL in his left knee, but I don’t see teams being that scared to take him this high in the draft. Kenyon Martin broke his leg during his Conference tournament in 2000 and was still taken #1 overall. Noel is an excellent shot blocker and is often compared to last year’s #1 overall pick Anthony Davis. Noel doesn’t have the offensive game as Davis yet, but has a better NBA body…and elite hair.
- Shabazz Muhammed – Shooting Guard (UCLA): Muhammed is the most polarizing prospect in college basketball. He had eligibility issues to start his college career and hasn’t shown much passion since he joined the team. Case in point, his teammate, Larry Drew II hit a game winner against Washington last week. As his teammates ran to celebrate with Drew, Muhammed just walked off thr court. This could be a red flag for teams, but his talent is unquestionable. Teams have always looked passed issues like this in the past.
- Ben McLemore – Shooting Guard (Kansas): Height and length have been the biggest issues for McLemore. He is 6’4 with shoes and only has a 6’7 wingspan. He will be an undersized shooting guard in the NBA, but so far, it has not stopped him at Kansas this year. It wouldn’t surprise me if McLemore drops in the NBA Draft because of his physical issues. He has definitely produced like a top-3 draft pick this season. If a team plans on playing small and fast, McLemore would be the perfect draft pick.
- Alex Len – Center (Maryland): The Ukrainian big man struggled during his freshman year last year, but he learned areas that needed improvement. After serving a ten-game suspension at the beginning of this year, in his first game back, he dominated against Kentucky. He looked like the better prospect against Noel early this season. European big men aren’t known for their physicality, but Len has shown the ability to battle in the low-post. If Orlando is near the top of the draft, Len would be a great fit next to Nikola Vucevic.
- Michael Carter-Williams – Point Guard (Syracuse): Many draft experts have Carter-Williams much lower than I do. I have watched quite a few Syracuse games this year and I like everything about him. He’s a 6’6 point guard with great court vision and the ability to get steals. His jump shot leaves a lot to be desired, but he fills up the box score with above average ability to grab rebounds as a point guard. I don’t want to compare him to Rajon Rondo, but he has a lot of Rondo-esque qualities. If he drops to late-Lottery, that team will have a steal.
- Mason Plumlee – Center (Duke): As a fan of the Indiana Pacers, I can tell you that Mason Plumlee will be a better NBA player than his older brother Miles. Mason is more athletic and is a better overall basketball player than Miles. Ma. Plumlee can score in the low-post, which is needed on many teams with potential lottery picks, Orlando, Phoenix and Oklahoma City (from Toronto).
- Anthony Bennett – Power Forward (UNLV): If a team wants the best pure power forward in the draft, they would pick Bennett. His low-post game is great and even has range (34% 3-point percentage). He is only 6’8, but at 240 lbs., he is a force inside. He is a player whose stock could rise after the NBA Draft Combine. The video below is a highlight reel of his early-season highlights.
- Isaiah Austin – Center (Baylor): Yes, another freshman has made my top-ten NBA Draft prospects. Austin is 7’1 with a 9’3 standing reach, but he looks like he could tip over. His upper body is almost where it needs to be, but he has a high-waist and bird legs. He must develop his lower body if he wants to have any success in the NBA. He would need some grooming if a team takes a gamble this early in the NBA Draft.
- Marcus Smart – Point Guard (Oklahoma State): While being evaluated by colleges, Smart was thought to be a combo-guard. At 6’4, he is an asset if he learns to play point guard. He has only played PG so far at OSU and he has looked good. I gave Carter-Williams a high slot, even though most draft experts think Smart is better, because of his pure point guard abilities. Smart isn’t even averaging five assists per game and has a tendency to pull up for a long jumper. He might benefit from another year in college…but if he’s a lottery pick, it’s hard to pass that up.
- Cody Zeller – Center (Indiana): If Zeller entered the 2012 NBA Draft, he was projected to be a possible top-eight pick. He went back to school and scouts have started to pick his game apart. He was expected to dominate, but has struggled at times. His numbers are roughly on par with his freshman year numbers, which is not what NBA teams want to see. It doesn’t help that he didn’t pick up a defender in a game against Illinois, which lead to a last-second layup. Indiana lost the game and the blunder below was seen all over the country.
- Alex Poythress – Small Forward (Kentucky): If Kentucky purposely made a recruiting goal to find a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist clone, they came pretty close with Poythress. He is projected to be a long small forward in the NBA…or a face-up power forward, if he can add muscle. If he’s available when Detroit is on the clock, he would fill a need left when they traded Tayshaun Prince.
- Victor Oladipo – Shooting Guard (Indiana): At this point last year, Oladipo looked like a second-round pick for a team needing a perimeter defender. His offense has improved and is one of the most improved players in college basketball this season. He is benefiting from Zeller’s average year. If Oladipo keeps improving at this rate, he could move up these rankings by March Madness.
- Rudy Gobert – Center (France): Gobert is 7’2 with a 7’9 wingspan…wow! Why do I him so far down in the rankings? Well, he only weighs around 230 and with the poor play of Evan Fournier, who came from the same French league as Gobert, he’s very risky. Some reports have said he might wait to enter the 2014 NBA Draft instead of coming out this year. The trend of young European players making the jump to the NBA is not good right now. Teams like San Antonio know that doing a “draft and stash” strategy pays off in the long run. The player would be in Europe for a year or two, but by the time he arrives in the NBA, he’s ready to contribute. A Gobert highlight video is embedded below.
- Archie Goodwin – Shooting Guard (Kentucky): Goodwin is one of the youngest players in his freshman class (he turned 18 in August). He’s a shooting guard, but is better suited as a small forward. He looks more comfortable on the fast break. Goodwin needs to get better in his half-court offense, especially when he plays against a team who slows the game down. He would benefit staying another year in college, but if a lottery team guarantees he’ll be drafted, it’s hard to pass that up.
- Trey Burke – Point Guard (Michigan): Burke has turned into one of the most explosive point guards in the entire NCAA. He flirted with entering the 2012 NBA Draft, but got cold feet and pulled out. He would have been a late-first round pick if he entered, but is projected to be a late-Lottery pick if he enters this year. Michigan’s new found success has all eyes on Burke. He has good court vision and is developing some range on his jumper. If the Bobcats or Jazz can get him, those two teams are in need of a player like Burke.
- Jeff Withey – Center (Kansas): If a team is looking for a blocking machine, they should draft Withey. If a team is looking for offense from the center position, draft Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk. Withey has added strength since last year, but his offensive game leaves a lot to be desired. He’ll be a better pro than Hasheem Thabeet, because I believe he can grow into having average offense. Because of his size and excellent ability to block shots, he will be drafted a few spots higher than projected.
- Otto Porter – Small Forward (Georgetown): Porter is a box score filler, but there’s something about his physique that may not translate to the NBA. He’s not an elite athlete, but as a 6’8 small forward, he has an improved 3-point shot. He’s shooting over 45% this year. He is also above average for his position in rebounds, steals and blocks.
- Kelly Olynyk – Center (Gonzaga): Gonzaga has a knack for recruiting players who defy their athletic limitations. Mark Few maximizes the talent they have, thus his players get long looks from NBA scouts. Olynyk won’t wow anyone physically, but he is one of the most efficient big men in this draft. He takes high percentage shots and doesn’t need a lot of looks. One aspect of his game is not up to par with other players at least 7’0. Olynyk’s rebounding skills will need to improve if he hopes to excel in the NBA.
- C.J. McCollom – Shooting Guard (Lehigh): McCollom was having an amazing season, scoring 23.9 points per game, until he broke a bone in his left foot. He is likely out the reminder of the season and may not have another moment in the NCAA Tournament. In 2009’s tournament, he had a breakout game against Kansas and had an even better game last year, when he scored 30 points against Duke. I have him this far down because the late-season injury may make him an after-thought when many new players emerge during the NCAA Tournament.
- C.J. Leslie – Small Forward (N.C. State): I didn’t have Leslie in the top-20 until his team knocked off then #1 ranked Duke. In the NBA, he can be a scorer off the bench immediately. He likes to play faced up the basket and he can rebound well for his size. He needs to bulk up. At 6’9. he hovers around 200 lbs…he won’t surpass a bench role if he doesn’t add muscle.