College Basketball: Breaking Down How Top 10 Players Will Transition to the NBA
The NBA draft will probably never catch up to its football counterpart in terms of popularity, but it is entertaining to read over mock drafts, projections and opinions as a new basketball season approaches.
However, the draft can also be somewhat confusing to college hoops fans, as it seems that factors such as height, leaping ability and wingspan sometimes have more of an impact on who is selected where than actual college production.
For this article I am going to give a nod to those college fans instead of writing up a mock draft filled with international players and seven-footers who rarely contribute.
Therefore, read on to see how the top 10 college basketball players (according to CBS Sports’ list of the nation’s top 100 players) will eventually transition to the NBA.
No. 10 Deshaun Thomas
Draft Express lists Deshaun Thomas as the 52nd best prospect for the 2013 NBA draft, but that may be a bit higher by the time March rolls around.
That is because Thomas will be the primary option in the Ohio State attack this year, thanks to the departures of Jared Sullinger and William Buford. If he can prove he is capable of handling that responsibility, NBA teams will take notice.
If and when Thomas makes the Association, he will in all likelihood be a 6’7” small forward who is capable of facing up against taller defenders or posting up smaller ones. Furthermore, Thomas’ formidable mid-range shot would fit in nicely with a team that has a penetrating point guard like the Bulls or Thunder.
However, Draft Express highlights the concerns regarding Thomas as an NBA player perfectly.
The biggest question-mark for Thomas heading into this season is whether he will come into his own on the defensive end. Lacking great size for the power forward position and the lateral quickness to deny dribble penetration against quicker wings on the perimeter, Thomas doesn't have great physical tools and was often maligned for the intensity he showed on that end of the floor.
No. 9 Trey Burke
Trey Burke surprised a number of people with his decision to forgo the NBA draft after his freshman season. Michigan is much better off because of it.
Assuming Burke can avoid a sophomore slump, don’t be shocked if he enters the draft this time around as Draft Express’ 29th highest prospect.
His height may be an issue at the next level, but Burke has the athleticism to run an NBA team. He is lethal on the break, is an excellent ball-handler, has the ability to blow past defenders, has a smooth jumper and can effectively set up his teammates.
Unless he can improve on them as a sophomore, Burke’s two biggest concerns at the professional level will probably be his defense and turnover issues. He often struggles to stay in front of his man and will be giving up a few inches to most NBA point guards (Burke is listed as 6’).
Moreover, Burke averaged about three turnovers per contest as a freshman. If he puts up those type of numbers running an NBA franchise, the fans and coaching staff may lose some patience with him.
However, Burke has only played one collegiate season and should be a much more enticing prospect after his sophomore year.
No. 8 Phil Pressey
If Trey Burke is going to be giving up some size to NBA points, then Phil Pressey is going to be looking up at his opposition an awful lot as well.
One thing the Missouri speedster won’t be giving up much of however is athleticism. He is a pesky defender, ruthlessly efficient on the break and is improving his jumper.
It will be interesting to watch the Tigers’ floor general in the SEC this season as he goes up against opponents such as Florida and Kentucky. Don’t think NBA scouts won’t notice if he puts up impressive numbers in these marquee games, even if the Wildcats aren’t the strongest from the point guard spot.
Like Burke, Pressey needs to work on his turnover tendencies. He gave it up about 2.5 times per contest, something that will not make many professional teams happy.
However, part of the turnover issue can probably be traced back to Missouri’s up-tempo style of play.
No. 7 Tony Mitchell
I’m sure there are plenty of you who are asking yourself who Tony Mitchell is and why CBS considers him the seventh best college basketball player for the 2012-13 season.
Well, had Mitchell decided to attend Missouri like he originally planned, he would probably be a household name among hoops fans.
Instead, the 6’8” forward eventually ended up at North Texas and has dominated the Sun Belt conference. He impressively averaged a double-double and about three blocks per game, albeit against weaker competition.
It was such a good freshman campaign that Draft Express lists him as the seventh best NBA prospect for next year’s draft.
As an NBA player Mitchell will probably be a big small forward or more athletic power forward. I imagine he will play the four spot because of his lengthy wingspan and impressive rebounding and blocking prowess.
The only knock on the athletic prospect is that he is somewhat limited offensively. He gets a lot of his baskets off offensive rebounds and putbacks and doesn’t have great ball-handling skills.
However, another season of collegiate basketball and eventual NBA coaching could very well change that.
No. 6 Mike Moser
Mike Moser will be a primary reason why UNLV should scare some people in March.
In terms of how Moser will transition to the NBA, his versatility has to be one of the most enticing aspects about his game. He is capable of facing up as a small forward or asserting his dominance as a rebounder in the paint from the four spot.
He is a force in transition, can crash the offensive glass, can finish at the rim after driving by people, can handle the ball and even has a solid three-point shot. In fact, there are few things on the offensive side of the ball that Moser cannot do effectively.
However, like many players on this list, he may struggle at the NBA level trying to guard some of the elite players in the three or four spot. One problem is that he doesn’t have a lot of bulk and will be outsized by plenty of opponents down low.
His length and athleticism will help if he is guarding small forwards, so whichever NBA team elects to draft him will probably be better off inserting him in the three spot and playing with a big lineup.
No. 5 Nerlens Noel
The easy and obvious comparison when talking about Nerlens Noel is Anthony Davis.
After all, Davis was a much-hyped Kentucky freshman who was tasked with leading Big Blue Nation to a national title. That probably sounds a bit familiar to Noel right about now.
Just based on his physical traits alone—nearly 7’ tall, an unnaturally lengthy wingspan and a muscular frame that will serve him well in the paint—Noel has been on the radars of NBA scouts for quite some time now, regardless of silly things like actually playing a college basketball game.
Noel is listed as the second best overall NBA prospect on Draft Express, largely due to the fact that he is an absolute defensive force. Expect plenty of blocked shots and frustrated SEC opponents this year.
If a year of collegiate basketball under the direction of John Calipari improves his offensive abilities (which admittedly need some polishing), don’t be surprised if Noel follows the footsteps of Davis as the first pick in the draft.
No. 4 Isaiah Canaan
It’s not very often that a player from Murray State garners the type of preseason coverage and hype that Isaiah Canaan has this summer.
But that’s what happens when you are the star player of a team that won more than 30 games a season ago and captured the attention of college basketball fans everywhere.
His problem, like many point guards at the college level, may be height when it comes to the NBA game. He stands around 6’ and will be undersized against the taller point guards that populate the Association today.
However, there will be plenty of appealing aspects of Canaan’s game to NBA scouts and coaches. He is a lethal shooter from behind the three-point line, is more than capable of creating his own shot and effectively sets up his teammates.
He’s not the best finisher at the basket, but that may not be much of a concern if he reaches the NBA level because 6’ points don’t get inside too often.
No. 3 Shabazz Muhammad
Like Nerlens Noel, Shabazz Muhammad projections are all based partially on guesswork at this point.
Nevertheless, the UCLA freshman is listed as the top-ranked prospect on Draft Express for the next NBA draft and has Bruins’ fans excited that 2012-13 will return their program to glory.
At 6’6”, Muhammad combines an ideal height with a lengthy wingspan in terms of NBA shooting guards or small forwards.
He will probably end up playing small forward at the professional level because he isn’t the best three-point shooter or ball-handler. Both of those could pose problems with NBA guards defending him.
Nevertheless, he is effective attacking the basket and has a formidable post game, considering his 6’6” size.
Assuming Muhammad eventually regains eligibility and takes the floor for UCLA, he may only be playing one season in the Pac-12. NBA lottery teams will be glad if that comes to fruition.
No. 2 Doug McDermott
Doug McDermott may be the prototypical superstar college player that just doesn’t enamor the professional scouts.
He is currently listed as only the 57th-best draft prospect by Draft Express, despite the fact that he is one of the most prolific scorers in the entire country at the collegiate level.
One thing that does work in McDermott’s favor is the fact that he seems to be expanding his offensive repertoire the longer he stays at Creighton. He plays power forward and scores a decent amount in the post and paint, but Bluejay fans are beginning to see more mid-range shots from the 6’7” McDermott.
That will appeal to NBA scouts because McDermott isn’t going to be scaring any professional power forwards or centers at his height.
Nevertheless, if McDermott is going to one day play small forward for an NBA team, which may be the only realistic possibility for him to really catch on at the next level, he is going to have to improve on his shot creating abilities and ball handling.
Fortunately, he will have another season at Creighton to do just that.
No. 1 Cody Zeller
Of course Tom Crean has played a major role, but Cody Zeller is as responsible as anyone for helping to turn around the Indiana program.
Zeller is listed as the third best NBA prospect by Draft Express, but if he lives up to the Naismith hype in 2012-13, he could shoot up to No. 1 by June.
There is very little Zeller doesn’t do. He scores in the post, runs the floor, is an effective defender and can run the floor a bit. He’s also listed at 7’, which probably won’t bother many NBA scouts.
It’s hard to envision Zeller as anything but a power forward or center at the next level. He may want to add some bulk if he plans on playing center, but he possesses all the abilities that are required of an NBA big man.
Zeller could have his shot sooner rather than later at turning around a struggling professional team like he has turned around the Hoosiers if he is a top-five selection.