2013 NBA Draft: What Each of the Top Prospects Must Improve on

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterOctober 19, 2012

2013 NBA Draft: What Each of the Top Prospects Must Improve on

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    No NBA prospect is a finished product.

    Preparing for the college-to-pro transition process takes patience, dedication and, most importantly, recognition. Finding a role at the next level is largely dependent on one's ability to recognize their weaknesses and consequently maximize their strengths.

    Understanding your limitations, while recognizing what translates and what gets left behind plays a vital role in attracting NBA-attention. Teams want to know what a particular prospect is capable of contributing to their rotation, now and down the road. In order to find a niche at the pro-level, one must know what's necessary to fill it.

    The following list of players are considered top-of-the-class, yet all have flaws that need adjusting in order to maximize their draft-value as an NBA prospect.

Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: Offensive Post-Game, Adjust to Spacing

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    It's no secret that Nerlens Noel needs severe offensive polish. Even my grandma Rosalie says he's got awkward footwork in the post.

    But before he can become a weapon with the ball in his hands, he'll need to adjust to the speed of the game, spacing of the floor and size of his competition.

    It typically takes awhile for raw big men to get comfortable right away. Remember Fab Melo in his freshman year? He looked like a senile old man driving without his GPS navigation. But after a year, Melo adjusted and improved his timing, touch and found ways to contribute on the scoreboard.

    In order to solidify a spot in the lottery, or more realistically the top five, Noel has to prove that there is room for growth as a scorer in the post. He doesn't have to become Patrick Ewing overnight, and he won't.

    But showing glimpses of a jump-hook, or elbow jumper or back-to-the-basket spin move would show scouts what he's capable of adding into his arsenal over time.

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA: Perimeter Offense

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    Muhammad was such a physical mismatch at the high school level that I'm surprised there weren't any anti-bullying signs in the crowd at his games.

    At UCLA, he won't get the easy dunks in transition or off simple naked cuts like he did when he was 16 and 17 years old. Muhammad's to-do list includes creating perimeter-offense off the dribble, such as step-back and pull-up jumpers, or other ways for creating separation on his jump shot.

    Teams in the market for Shabazz, which is anyone with eyes, will be looking for him to produce half-court points. While he's an elite slasher and off-ball scorer, his draft stock and overall game would benefit from increasing his creativity and efficiency as a shooter.

    Becoming a go-to scorer should be Muhammad's long-term goal.

Cody Zeller, Indana: Post Defense, Rebounding and Shooting Range

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    Zeller is so advanced offensively that it's necessary to nitpick.

    While Zeller is extremely proficient from that high to low-post range, we haven't seen him face the rim much with the ball in his hands or without it. Extending his range would make him a multidimensional threat and a nightmare matchup for opposing centers.

    Zeller should study how the the Spurs run their offense through Tim Duncan from the elbow. Whether it's a face-up jumper out of the triple-threat position or a pick-and-pop at the high post, it's a huge offensive advantage when your center can draw his defender away from the rim.

    Zeller is fundamentally sound defensively, but just needs to continue adding bulk and building a stronger foundation. He got pushed around at times by stronger forwards and centers who used their butts and weight to earn position down low. This also affected him on the glass, where he only averaged four defensive rebounds a game.

    While there's no way he slips out of the top five due to his size, talent and scoring instincts, increasing his range and defensive post-presence would make him a strong candidate for the first overall pick.

Tony Mitchell, North Texas: Establish Offensive Identity

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    Don't let the conference fool you. Tony Mitchell is a bad, bad man.

    Mitchell is a devastating finisher above the rim, and he complements his strong inside presence with a 43-percent three-point stroke. He's a mean 6'8'' with a defined NBA body and powerful athleticism. I've coached high school kids the size of one of his legs.

    The only concern with Mitchell is the same one that plagues last year's No. 2 pick, Derrick Williams. Slightly stuck between a 3 and a 4, Williams struggled to get himself easy buckets as a rookie in Minnesota.

    Mitchell isn't much of a shot-creator on the perimeter, getting most of his baskets off spot-up jumpers, dunks or off-ball slashes. He'll need to establish an offensive identity by determining his core strengths and applying them appropriately.

    Developing an "in-between game," or creating offense off the dribble from the three-point line to foul-line should be his long-term goal with regard to becoming a more complete player.

    But Mitchell's immediate need is to master those core strengths that give him a direct advantage over the defense: stretching the floor as a spot-up shooter, and providing an explosive inside presence attacking from the elbow, above the rim or on the glass.

James McAdoo, North Carolina: Expanding Offensive Repertoire

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    James McAdoo has the potential to be the ultimate role-player, and that's okay. Understanding one's limitations is a major aspect of finding a niche in the NBA.

    But to maximize his potential as a role player, McAdoo will need to become more of a threat with the ball in his hands. Whether it's taking one dribble and a jumper or spotting up from downtown, he doesn't want to limit himself to just finishing in transition and tip-in dunks.

    It wouldn't be unfair to say that close to 75 percent of McAdoo's made field goals come off one dribble or less. Expanding his offensive repertoire would allow him to play a larger role in a prospective team's offense.

Rudy Gobert, Chalet: Building Strength, Inside Presence

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    Gobert is a head-turner based primarily on his resemblance as a Whacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man you see at car washes and such.

    A 7'9'' wingspan is unprecedented to my knowledge, at least by a prospect with NBA-relevance. Throw those arms on a 7'1'' body that can get up and down the floor, and that my friends is an intriguing combination for any sport.

    At his size, Gobert must prove he can body up down low and be a factor on the glass. It would be in Gobert's best interest to set up a tent in a nearby weight room.

Alex Poythress, Kentucky: Creating off the Dribble, Creating a Mismatch

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    Poythress' label as an NBA prospect is combo-forward, because of his power forward size and small forward mobility as a perimeter threat.

    Taking advantage of this versatility will be Poythress' top priority in order to maximize his NBA draft value. He should draw slow-footed power forwards for defenders, which plays right into his strengths as a face-up mismatch. Against quintessential swingmen, or long, 6'7" small forwards, Poythress should overpower them inside and en route to the hole.

    In order for Poythress to sustain an advantage, creating offense off the dribble must be the catalyst driving the mismatch.

Isaiah Austin, Baylor: Strength, Interior Presence

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    Austin's unique offensive package includes a 7'1" body, 9'3'' standing reach and the skill set of a small forward.

    But what it doesn't include is a guarantee on the box saying, "Compatible with NBA-play."

    You don't have to be an NBA draft expert to assess Austin's physical stature as "skinny." Whether or not he can bang with the big boys at the pro-level remains to be seen, and it will be tough for him to prove that in his first year in college.

    Regardless, scouts are going to want to see if he's got the skill set to play on the perimeter, so showing off that impressive three-point stroke, mid-range touch off curls and finishing ability at the rim would increase his basement as a prospect (basement = "worst comes to worst" outcome).

    You don't want Austin to get caught in the same bubble as Anthony Randolph and Jared Jeffries, who couldn't find a position to save their lives. Providing a stronger interior presence and continuing to build his frame would maximize his draft stock as a potential lottery pick next June.

Ryan Harrow, Kentucky: Facilitating a Half-Court Set

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    Harrow's elusiveness off the bounce gets him open looks at will, which has led to his reputation as a shoot-first or scoring point guard instead of a pure one. And while that may be true, it's fairly evident that the NBA game is a better setting for Harrow's particular skill set.

    At Kentucky, he'll have the best possible opportunity to show scouts and evaluators that he's capable of running a half-court offense. Harrow must pick and choose his spots as a scorer and playmaker while protecting the ball and remaining efficient.

    Keeping the offense running in a cohesive manner is a responsibility Harrow should put on his shoulders. 

    He's got boatloads of talent as a ball-handler, athlete and scorer. Channeling this talent evenly and efficiently would ease the tension of executives who're looking for a point guard, not a combo.

Archie Goodwin, Kentucky: Shooting off Catch and Dribble

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    Goodwin's physical tools and scoring instincts match the requirements necessary for fulfilling NBA off-guard duties. At 6'5" with long arms and smooth athleticism, slashing off the ball and scoring with space ahead are two areas of the game where Goodwin excels.

    But in order to solidify his position with the game's top prospects, Goodwin will need to improve his consistency from the outside. While he's capable of knocking down threes and pull-up jumpers, he projects as a low-percentage scorer because of his streaky shooting tendencies.

    Right now his jumper isn't necessarily a weakness, however it's definitely not a strength. There are plenty of athletic slashers with only mid-level ceilings because of their inability to connect from the perimeter. A threatening stroke would separate Goodwin from the other talented off-guards who we've seen come and go over time.

C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State: Perimeter Effectiveness, Interior Defense

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    Leslie has crazy athleticism and trampoline-bounce that allow him to consistently make plays above the rim. With the agility and speed of a small forward, Leslie can play out on the perimeter, though his instincts serve best in the paint.

    Despite being aerodynamic and explosive, Leslie is a pretty lanky dude for an interior player. We've seen athletes with similar builds, like Hakim Warrick, struggle to translate college success to the pros because of the inability to compete physically inside.

    Defensively, he'd have a target on his head if forced to defend stronger power forwards like Carlos Boozer. Adding muscle could diminish some of the fear GMs might have viewing Leslie as a defensive liability.

    Offensively, becoming more effective on the perimeter, by either putting the ball on the floor or spotting up, could be the difference between be labeled a tweener or versatile asset.

C.J. McCollum, Lehigh: Playmaking, Creating for Teammates

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    McCollum will be in a similar position as Damian Lillard was last year. Two elite scorers given lottery-consideration despite doing most of their damage in a mid-major conference.

    We've seen McCollum score against inferior opponents, and we've seen him take over again superior competition. He's averaged 20 points per game over his three-year career, dominating the ball and illustrating elite scoring instincts.

    But at 6'3", McCollum doesn't project as a 20-point NBA scorer.

    His focus as a senior should be to continue growing as a floor general, and work on setting up his teammates. While his scoring instincts are attractive, blending that with playmaking abilities as a distributor and quarterback will lead to higher-profile job opportunities.

LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State: Perimeter Efficiency, Catch and Shoot Consistency

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    Nash is a scoring wing with an NBA skill set and a strong basketball body.

    However if you're applying for a job as a scorer, 39 percent from the floor and 23 percent from downtown are poor numbers to have on a resume.

    Nash will continue working on his resume as a sophomore by improving in two specific areas: his efficiency as a perimeter scorer and showing he can play off the ball.

    Though he's capable of getting to the rim, he's going to have to start making jump shots. Nash can create separation before rising and firing, but hasn't been able to consistently convert.

    Returning to school was the right move for Nash, who has a good chance to improve his shooting percentages and show off his upside. There's no reason he can't score 17 points per game and generate lottery buzz in the process.

Steven Adams, Pittsburgh: Expanding Offensive Post-Game, Adding Strength

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    Seven-foot tall athletes who have the agility of Kristi Yamaguchi usually don't go unnoticed. Adams can be considered a lottery-prospect regardless of college production.

    Adams is a project, and not one that will be finished by the time his college days are over. He's shown a good feel for the rim inside, and a high activity level defensively. But creating his own offense is not considered his forte. Like Nerlens Noel, he'll have to show flashes of self-generated offense and room for growth as a post-scorer.

    He's shown a nice touch facing up from about 10 feet away, and must look to use that in order to set up the one-dribble drive. Expanding his post-up game while adding strength will be his top two priorities as a freshman.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Remain Efficient Yet Productive

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    Smart is a legitimate combo-guard with playmaking instincts and reliable scoring tools. 

    Unfortunately, he's undersized for a natural shooting guard and lacks the overall makeup for a pure quarterback. Smart's biggest asset as an NBA prospect is his complete game and overall efficiency, which are the strengths he should play to as a freshman at Oklahoma State.

    Smart should look to set up teammates when the time calls, attack the rim when the lane is available and knock down shots when open.

    As a proven winner on multiple levels, Smart's decision-making, intangibles and versatility have made him the sought-out prospect he is today. Wins at Oklahoma State will translate to added NBA appeal.

Alex Len, Maryland: Creating Offense

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    Regardless of what your girlfriend says, size does matter. Even if the size overshadows the performance.

    It's difficult to replicate his physical stature, which means if he learns the game he'll be tough to stop. With Terrell Stoglin's 16 shot attempts per game out of the picture in Maryland, Len will need to become more aggressive and look for his shot as a larger focus of the offense.

    Right now he's just a body. Len will need to show some type of promise as an offensive weapon with the ball in his hands.

    Teams looking at Len should be on the five-year plan, so a gradual improvement is all we can ask for.

Mason Plumlee, Duke: Low-Post Game

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    Understanding limitations plays a role in Plumlee's development.

    He's a guy that's going to do 90 percent of his damage at or above the rim. Whether it's tip-ins, alley-oops or catch-and-finishes, Plumlee's size, athleticism and hops will be his go-to contribution.

    But if Plumlee can establish position down low, he's shown effective footwork and a soft touch over the shoulder. Becoming a consistent threat on the low block and reliable offensive option would raise his ceiling from eighth man to potential starter.