UCLA commit and No. 2 freshman in the nation, Shabazz Muhammad
It's never too early to start looking ahead to the future. In the case of the incoming freshman that plan on making a dent in the collegiate ranks, it's never too early to start projecting these young guns as prospects in the 2013 NBA draft.
22 of the 60 athletes taken in the 2012 NBA draft were freshman or sophomores. That might not seem like a lot, but for these young guys to only spend a year in college and make it to the professional ranks is an accomplishment, indeed.
There are no certainties, and some of these freshman could very well end up liking college enough to stick around. But if history holds true, the cream of the crop will head to the NBA, where the talent level will even out for these potential college stars.
For this article, the teams and standings used aren't consistent with any ranking from the 2011-2012 season. I projected the finish of each team in the NBA. I did not take into account any outstanding trades that will affect draft position, so each of the 30 NBA squads are represented.
Is it possible to go from No. 1 overall recruit, to having eligibility problems on the way to John Calipari and Kentucky to being the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 draft?
There are no guarantees that Noel will be ready to play this season, after the NCAA chose to delve deeper into his eligibility status in late August. But if he does, you can bet that he'll make an impact with the same kind of effects as freshman phenom Anthony Davis did a year ago.
Though sophomore Cody Zeller is the more popular pick as both a center and in the top slot, could anyone blame the Magic for taking someone with the defensive prowess and potential that Noel has shown so far in high school?
The UCLA-bound guard and smooth-shooting lefty has drawn comparisons to James Harden. He'll join Harden in the NBA in less than a year, and he's the one prospect in this year's class who I think could play straight from high school if he was granted the opportunity.
But from a positive standpoint, playing at UCLA with a top recruiting class and national championship expectations will only help make or break his status as an elite prospect. There are concerns about his outside shot and turnover propensity, but all the tools are there to improve at the next level.
Add it all up, and Muhammad should hear David Stern call his name early next summer. Not many shooting guards currently starting at the college level are as accomplished as the Las Vegas, NV prospect, and watching him in the Pac-12 should be a treat all season long.
Yes, I think Atlanta has a down season. Too many shooting guards on the roster and Devin Harris has more surprising bad luck for another team he gets traded to.
But that step back could gain them one of the highest-heralded prospects that didn't declare last season in Cody Zeller.
The younger brother of current Cleveland Cavalier Tyler Zeller shows the same sort of hustle and defensive intensity as his sibling, and does it with a better offensive game. The sophomore was one of the reasons Indiana gained status as a resurgent program last year, and he'll be one of the reasons they'll be favored in the Big Ten this season.
With four starters exiting via the 2012 draft, McAdoo is set to be the lead dog inside for the Tar Heels, who will lean on big man for the inside scoring that John Henson and Tyler Zeller provided.
The sophomore, who is related to former league MVP Bob McAdoo, is a gifted athlete with the ability to play on the perimeter and inside with the big boys. His versatility will help North Carolina this season, and it will also help punch his ticket to the league.
The French seven-footer will be the highest-rated international product heading into the draft, and for good reason. He's one of the smoothest, but also lankiest, prospects in all of international play.
It figures to be a good draft for center prospects, and this one has some of the best defensive abilities, though he's still very raw. With Anderson Varejao's status moving forward up in the air, adding a player like Gobert to add with Kyrie Irving will be a major plus for this young team.
With Jeremy Lin and the helm and not much else behind him, the Rockets will need a point guard soon. Count me in for saying Brown is poised for a breakout year in ACC, after averaging 12 points, four rebounds and six assists as a sophomore.
He's a big guy (6'5") and possesses the skills to be a playmaker both as a scorer and for his teammates. There aren't many elite, true point guards at the top of the board, so Brown has a chance to cement his status in a big conference.
Pittsburgh went way out of town for their seven-foot recruit, traveling to New Zealand to court the big man for his freshman season. The rebound machine already has an NBA body, and playing in the Big East will help Jamie Dixon get him ready to go pro after one season.
Here's a look at some of his highlights from this summer. He might not have the upside of Noel or the polished play of Zeller, but he could turn out to be one of the more solid picks early in the draft.
Kentucky's other freshman phenom sits higher than this in many mocks. Why not, right? Anthony Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist were drafted one-two, so it isn't crazy to think that Calipari's newest starters won't have a legitimate chance to go pro very early.
Poythress is in the mold of MKG, a gifted wing player who can play inside and shoot the three. He finishes well at the rim in both transition and in the half-court game, and his highlights are very impressive as Kentucky gears up to take on the SEC once again with young studs.
Porter is a unique wing prospect with a developing jump shot. He saw significant time down the stretch for the Hoyas, and should be a major contributor during his sophomore season, too. His athleticism and ability to run the floor are above average, while he's still very raw. This season should help in his development and still allow him to be a lottery pick.
I'll go ahead and call it—Brandon Jennings won't be returning to the Bucks. They'll need a shooting guard so Monta Ellis can return to his hybrid-guard role.
The Georgia sophomore has tons of athleticism and can shoot it a little bit, too. His shot selection and passing abilities are a little suspect so far in his career, but this second season should be a major improvement on his rookie campaign.
It won't take long for the lanky center to come off the board, and this kid might be the closest thing to Anthony Davis in his class. An elite athlete with the ability to shoot the three and defend three positions, Austin might be the most interesting prospect on the board.
At Baylor, he'll take over in the middle for Scott Drew, and there certainly are no guarantees he goes pro. But if he dominates like he's supposed to in the Big 12, then there will be no reason for him to continue his college career. The only way he comes out is if he's a lottery pick, so it should be fun to watch the big man next year.
Mitchell was a first-round talent this year, and he'll be one next summer, too. The sophomore was one of the reasons the Mean Green had a chance this year, as he will be the focal point of the offense.
The SF/PF tweener is a lot like Royce White from a status standpoint: he probably should have been playing at a more prestigious school but has emerged as his team's best in a smaller conference.
The Lehigh guard returns for his senior season, and in it his NBA fate hangs in the balance. Often stars of the NCAA should declare, even if it means losing eligibility, and often they make a better name for themselves during their final season.
McCollum could find himself on either side of the pendulum, as he is coming off of a strong tournament, but teams now know to game-plan for him across the country. He's still a very solid player, and right now he's in the first round, but will he be this high after another full season?
The explosive small forward is an outstanding leaper and is also a good defender. The always-athletic Tigers prove that again here with Thomas, who is one of the most solid and consistent that this draft will have to offer.
Somewhat undersized, he will have to adapt to playing against bigger competition down low or getting better on the perimeter to maximize his height.
The shot-blocking force should get more chances to play with his back to the basket this season after the departure of Thomas Robinson, but we all know his strong suit is protecting the rim and bringing down the house on dunks.
He's one of many centers, but he could end up being one of the ones with a high propensity to fall anywhere from the top 10 to the bottom of the first round, depending on his true upside and how he plays in a more staring role.
Nash is another of my breakout candidates for this season in college basketball. He has help with top-10 freshman Marcus Smart on the way to Stillwater, Oklahoma and he's got all the tools to score at will in the Big 12.
While guards at his school haven't panned out like many had hoped (James Anderson, JamesOn Curry), this guy has the height and the skill set to play above the rim when his jump shot isn't working. His motor has been an issue, but Smart and a few other returning players could vault him into the top rankings.
The Terps have a bright spot on their team with the Ukrainian seven-footer, who has the same kind of skills as Meyers Leonard, who went around this same time in the 2012 draft.
With some impressive athleticism and good shot-blocking ability, he'll be ready for the pros after this season, emerging from the ACC with some good game film against teams like Duke and North Carolina.
The Kentucky-bound freshman phenom is headed for a big year with the Wildcats. With 2-guard size, skills and a ridiculous above-the-rim ability, he's positioned himself to be a starter and scoring option on a team that will be favored to make a deep postseason run.
Aside from that, he'll have plenty of other talent to keep the pressure at bay. He, Poythress and Noel will be enough for defenses to worry about, so although he might not have great numbers, he will have games where the stat sheet is filled. Teams will notice, and if he chooses to leave he should be a first-round pick.
Bennett is a big boy who plays a big man's game. He will bully you inside and run the floor for the alley-oop, right after stepping back and hitting the jumper in your face from the three-point line.
I admittedly think he might end up being a lottery pick, but for now, he's more towards the bottom until we see how he performs at UNLV.
The senior power forward is exactly the kind of player you want on your roster; he will do the dirty job for your team. What better place to potentially play than Boston, where Kevin Garnett runs the lecture circuit and has cornered the market on that kind of play.
In all seriousness, Mbakwe is a tough guy that draws comparisons to Ronny Turiaf. The Celtics look to be in need of youth and strength down low, and this is a guy that could help them fill that role.
Like Anthony Bennett, I think Kyle Anderson could go a lot higher than this, but he could also go undrafted or not choose to declare just as easy as the former.
He's a smooth, playmaking wingman that can handle the ball and pass it in traffic. On film, he reminds me of both Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. He has Durant's nice little mid-range jumper that won't get blocked and Curry's smooth handles on the perimeter.
UCLA is in town and close to the pro team, so the Clips take a close prospect with potential to fill it up every night.
He's still very raw, but Roberson possesses many attributes that make you think he can last in the league. His length, ability to play stifling defense and propensity to rebound are all great things to take to the next level.
He may not be ready by next June, but Andre Roberson will hear his name called one day soon. A good season at Colorado that finds his team in the middle or towards the top of the Pac-12 will certainly punch the ticket.
Texas' sophomore guard plays a little like Rajon Rondo, and looks a little bit like him, too. Kabongo's play made Texas more than a bottom feeder in the conference, and helped distill some of J'Covan Brown's bad decisions with the ball.
He's a playmaker, and will come out as one of the more explosive backup point guards in this class. He reminds me some of Darren Collison, and is often too passive when he should go ahead and take it to the rack.
Leslie had a great tournament and at times kept his team in the game single-handedly against better opponents. He's like the bigger version of Gerald Green, though he's more polished in the post than Green ever was from the perimeter.
Although he lacks elite decision-making and isn't a great technician, he can play with anyone on any team and is a competitor. With the ability to fly above the rim, he can make things happen in transition and get his team started on a momentum shift.
David West isn't getting any younger, and that goes for other teams with aging power forward who have a draft pick late in the first round next season, so drafting a power forward with so much potential is a huge value pick here.
Young reminds some of Brandon Bass with his explosive leaps and lack of offensive game. It's turning out OK for Bass in Boston, and the Pacers can afford to wait on his development with some good bigs in front of him.
Hairston helps bridge the gap to a new era for the Tar Heels, and he'll do so with more free reign than ever in Coach Williams' offense.
With a solid frame and a nice jump shot, he could be an outstanding under-the-radar prospect that will be solid, with the ability to get above the rim and finish hard, at the next level.
He only does one thing right now, but man he does that one thing well. The kid can straight send your shot into the ninth or 10th row if you let him get above the rim on the weak side.
There are some raw tools on offense, but the best bet is for this guy to be an off-the-ball shot-blocker, rebounder and occasional lob guy in the NBA. He isn't spectacular at all on offense, but his defense far outweighs those concerns.
Watford is another tweener who'll see time at both the 3 and the 4 if he makes the leap to the NBA successfully, like a smaller, less effective Derrick Williams.
He proved he was clutch when he beat Kentucky at the buzzer, and that will also help teams who think he's too small to play or too unathletic to play on the perimeter.
I like his defensive capabilities and the offensive problem he poses in smaller lineups, and he could end up sneaking into the first round if Indiana has a great season and he helps lead the charge once again.
Although not an elite passer and concerns of a mid-major conference still there for Canaan, he's an above average, scoring point guard with potential to have a Damian Lillard-type rise with a good season.
He could work on his passing, but the scoring and playmaking ability, even above the rim, is phenomenal. Since the Lakers will basically be hosting open tryouts for point guard when Steve Nash retires, why not?
Young played the scoring guard off-the-bench, Jason Terry-like role for the Razorbacks this past season, and he did it effectively, gaining the attention of the national media.
Questions about his ability to run the point guard are there, but he might not be suited for that role, either. We know he can score, and we know he needs the ball in his hands for Arkansas to be truly successful. The rest will come out after this season, when he decides whether or not to declare.