Ranking the Top 10 College Hoops Freshmen with NBA Potential

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterNovember 17, 2012

Ranking the Top 10 College Hoops Freshmen with NBA Potential

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    With the one-and-done rule in full effect, the majority of NBA eyes remain glued to the college freshmen class.

    Since freshmen prospects don't get a ton of time to showcase their talents, all it takes is a glimpse of future potential, and scouts could be drooling on their sweaters.

    Most of these guys will have plenty of ups and downs. Some might have more downs than ups. But at only 18 years old, it's expected.

    To think that in five years from now someone like Baylor's Isaiah Austin will only be 23 years old is crazy to think about. NBA scouts feel that with a few years of daily tutoring and conditioning, all these freshmen need are the right tools to work with.

    The following freshman prospects all have the tools that will light up the scouting departments in preparation for the 2013 NBA draft.

10. Glenn Robinson, Michigan

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    The most notable aspect of Glenn Robinson's game is how effortless he makes it look.

    A smooth, 6'6'' athlete who can play either wing position, Robinson can shoot it spotting up or take a few graceful dribbles and pull up with balance. He's a versatile scorer for his ability to be effective both on and off the ball. This should allow him to flourish in any lineup at the next level and, hopefully, make an impact early in his career.

    On a team with all sorts of NBA talent, Glenn Robinson has the most NBA promise of any prospect on the Michigan roster.

9. Ben McLemore, Kansas

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    Ben McLemore has been terrific so far for Kansas, averaging 16 points, 7.7 boards and almost four dimes through his first three games.

    He's got NBA athleticism and legitimate 2-guard size, providing teammates with a slasher off the ball and spot-up target around the arc.

    We're still not sure how adept he is at creating his own shot, which may not be known until he lands with an NBA team. But his athleticism, IQ and scoring instincts should allow him to dominate at the college level.

    He threw down a putback slam in his first game that raised eyebrows a few inches. Though widely considered a wild card right now, keep your eyes on this kid as the season progresses. I have a feeling he could be one of the fastest rising prospects in the country.

8. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky

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    Willie Cauley-Stein is a legitimate seven-footer with a great feel for the rim.

    A former football standout, it's pretty easy to figure out why he's a ridiculous receiving target. Cauley-Stein's agility for a man his size allows him to consistently get off quality shots and score all over the post.

    He's the definition of prospect, in that compared with finished products, he's still being assembled. Whether he averages a double-double as a freshman or simply five minutes a game, he'll be an extremely sought-out option during the NBA draft process.

    Though probably better off at Kentucky for two years, NBA teams will quickly fall in love with his potential and look to snag him as soon as possible. Cauley-Stein's size, strength and touch could land him anywhere from late-first round to late lottery.

7. Steven Adams, Pittsburgh

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    The idea is simple here. When you combine seven feet with speed, agility and finesse, you have yourself an intriguing NBA prospect.

    A New Zealand product, Steven Adams is getting his first real taste of the American game. Right now his impact is on defense, where he's blocking 2.3 shots in only 21 minutes through three games this season. Adams is aggressive in terms of contesting, looking to alter any shot that's attempted in his paint.

    Offensively, he's finding ways to score easy baskets, which is reflected by the fact that he's averaging nine points a game and only missed five shots all year. He's got a soft touch inside and seems confident facing up for short-range jumpers within 10 feet of the cup.

    It's possible he will stay two years at Pittsburgh in order to better develop his game, but it wouldn't be surprising if teams fall in love with his potential now. If he does declare, he'll end up in the lottery.

6. Archie Goodwin, Kentucky

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    Archie Goodwin is a long, athletic 2-guard with NBA scoring instincts.

    Just give him the ball and watch him work.

    Goodwin is slated for off-ball work at the pro level, especially after watching him struggle at the point against Duke. His ability to slash to the rim and use his athleticism to finish will allow him to score several different ways through a 48-minute stretch.

    He also has a reliable mid-range pullup game, which will come in handy against teams with seven-footers protecting the rim.

    Expect Goodwin's stock to continuously rise as he adjusts to the college game. He's got top-10 potential as one of the more potent scorers in the 2013 draft class.

5. Alex Poythress, Kentucky

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    Alex Poythress is going to have a field day on a consistent basis at the college level.

    At 6'8'', he's an explosive small forward whose strength might allow him to play some 4 in the pros.

    He's best attacking the rim going north and south, where his strong legs and powerful springs help him rise above the rim and finish, despite contact. Loose balls around the cylinder seem to navigate toward Poythress, who always seems to be in position to make a play.

    We've seen short glimpses of his perimeter game where he sports a confident stroke, spotting up from downtown.

    There's a lot of promise in Alex Poythress, and the fact that he's a bright student only increases his appeal with NBA personnel. He'll be considered a top-10 candidate through his entire freshman year and a likely one-and-done prospect in the 2013 draft.

4. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

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    There's not much to dislike about Marcus Smart's game, even if you can't figure out what it is you like.

    He was a notorious winner at the high school level, gaining as much respect for his record as he did for his talents. At 6'4'' with the frame of a shooting guard and the instincts of a point guard, Smart is an ultra-efficient combo who can score and facilitate.

    His basketball IQ is off the charts for a freshman, and he'll continuously earn the trust of his coaches and teammates. Teams interested in Smart will be looking for someone to come in and contribute right away.

    If a playoff team lands him late in the first, Smart could end up being a difference-maker off the bench. He's a disciplined, no-nonsense guard willing to sacrifice points for rebounds, if that's what it takes.

    Look for Smart and LeBryan Nash to form one of the better duos in all of college hoops.

3. Isaiah Austin, Baylor

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    Isaiah Austin's upside is through the roof, and so is his head when he elevates off the ground.

    He's a rare seven-footer with one of the longest wingspans in the country—but what separates him is his skill level operating on the perimeter.

    Austin has been compared to Kevin Durant because of his length and scoring prowess out to 25 feet. Though not a realistic comparison in terms of a next-level transition, his ability to shoot from the outside and score inside allows him to occupy multiple positions on any given night.

    On top of his exceptional skill level, Austin can run. He's a mobile big man with multiple offensive services to offer and could provide top-five overall production given that his frame fills out and his arms bulk up.

2. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky

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    His NBA potential stems directly from his defensive capabilities, which can ultimately change the culture of a particular franchise.

    With guards getting faster and big men getting stronger, trying to lock them down on the perimeter is no longer a realistic option. Finding someone qualified to protect the rim has become the popular defensive strategy in order to make this new breed of athlete really earn their points.

    Offensively, there's room to grow, as he's shown some promise working on the block. His moves are still predetermined, but the fact that he has them is the key.

    Noel will never be a 20-point scorer or go-to big man in the pros, but neither is Tyson Chandler, who offers a similar package of skills. Guys like that don't blow up box scores, but they do help teams win championships, and that's all that matters to the NBA executives making basketball decisions.

1. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

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    After finally being ruled eligible, everyone will get to see this mythical legend we call Shabazz Muhammad.

    The 6'6'' wing simply dominated the high school circuit. There just aren't many teenagers with Muhammad's physical tools, which include elite athleticism, powerful strength and incredible length on an NBA frame.

    Muhammad can score in a variety of different ways, whether it's pulling up, attacking the rim or scoring in the post. Though he can tear down a basket with one explosive maneuver, he possesses a soft touch to really round out his game and complement his strength.

    Whether or not he produced at the college level will be irrelevant. He's not dropping out of the top three picks and presents arguably the highest ceiling of any collegiate player in the country.