We are less than a month into both the NBA and college basketball seasons, but it’s certainly not too early to start discussing the 2013 draft.
There are a number of players vying to become the No. 1 overall pick, and plenty more competing to get noticed by scouts in order to land in the first round, or just get selected at all, come late June.
Let’s take a look at the 30 top prospects on our big board this year, which is bound to change as the collegiate season ebbs and flows.
Please note this isn’t a mock draft; prospects are ordered by overall grade and not by projected draft order.
No. 1: Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
Noel is the best overall prospect in the class, largely based on his height (6’10”), athleticism and skill set. The Massachusetts native elected to take his talents to the Wildcats, and could follow Anthony Davis as the second-straight No. 1 pick from the university.
He has incredible shot-blocking abilities, knows how to pass in the post and plays extremely smoothly for a man of his size. If he continues to develop his offensive game, the sky is the limit for this flat-topped young star.
No. 2: Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA
Muhammad wasn’t certain that he would even get a chance to play for the Bruins in 2012, but the NCAA afforded him the opportunity this past week and he’s taken full advantage.
This lefty swingman has the physical size (6’6”, 225 lbs) to dominate the professional game and can use his bulk to out-muscle smaller players who attempt to guard him.
Shabazz is extremely versatile and could easily end up being one of the better overall players in this class, plus a 25 PPG scorer on the right team.
No. 3: Alex Poythress, SF, Kentucky
Poythress is another elite wing out of Kentucky, following in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s footsteps.
Like MKG, he has an incredible motor, as well as the ability to impose his will on a game either through scoring, defense or intangibles. He does have to work on shooting when he isn’t spotting up, but that should come to the 19-year-old in short order.
Whichever team lands the Wildcats swingman will be extremely happy with its selection.
No. 4: Cody Zeller, C, Indiana
Zeller is the most polished player in the 2013 draft class, largely due to his decision to stick with the Hoosiers for his sophomore season and develop his game more.
However, he’s not the most physical player and seriously needs to bulk up if he’s going to become a starting center at the next level. We predict that a team that needs immediate help in the frontcourt will make the safe pick and grab Zeller.
He shouldn’t disappoint, but his upside is a bit lower than other prospects in the lottery.
No. 5: James Michael McAdoo, PF, UNC
McAdoo looked like a lottery pick at the end of last season when he took the injured John Henson’s place, but he’s taken a step back at the beginning of this season.
The PF is extremely turnover-prone right now and isn’t always playing at full speed, something that has to be a concern to scouts looking to evaluate him as a potential top-five pick.
If he’s able to reduce those TOs and get his head in the game at all times—and there is still plenty of time to accomplish that this year—we expect McAdoo to leap up the rankings and stay there.
No. 6: Alex Len, C, Maryland
Len looked incredible against Noel when Maryland took on Kentucky, and has proven he’s one of the better big center projects available this year.
The Ukrainian native is in his sophomore season with the Terps and has incredible size at 7’1”, 225 pounds. His basketball skills are catching up to his raw measurables, and if that continues throughout the 2012 campaign, he’s going in the top five.
No. 7: Tony Mitchell, SF, North Texas
Mitchell has been a head-scratching prospect since leaving high school, becoming ineligible at Missouri and defecting to the Mean Green after losing a season.
However, his talent is undeniable, and the small forward could end up being one of the best scorers in this class. He’s a bit of a leap for any team, as he’s not showing his skills against top-tier talent, but worth the risk in our opinion.
No. 8: Rudy Gobert, PF, France
This raw international prospect stands at 7’1” and seems to have an innate understanding of rebounding. Like many foreign players, he doesn’t have the bulk for the NBA quite yet.
If he can add some size to his 220-pound frame, there’s a chance he lands inside the lottery.
No. 9: Isaiah Austin, PF, Baylor
The Bears seven-footer is an absolute sniper, with range out to the NBA three-point line. He also has the ability to handle the ball and run the floor like he’s a 2-guard, and can also get down low to block shots.
What he doesn’t have is traditional post moves, which is a bit of a shame considering his height. If Austin can dedicate himself to playing like a big man—which is what he actually is—instead of trying to masquerade as a small forward, he has a shot at being special.
No. 10: Archie Goodwin, SG, Kentucky
The 18-year-old UK guard is super athletic and knows how to handle the ball. While he doesn’t project to be a PG at the next level, he is certainly capable of sliding over to the position as a combo-type player.
He’s a great finisher, a decent shooter and a bad decision-maker, which is something he must improve on in his freshman season before franchises seriously consider him in the top half of the draft.
No. 11: B.J. Young, PG, Arkansas
This shoot-first guard doesn’t have the height (he’s only 6’3”) to play SG full-time at the next level, but could become a devastating scorer off somebody’s bench.
The Razorbacks sophomore isn’t exactly a floor general, but he can move the ball if he has to. He seems to prefer to dominate the rock and tries to force it in the basket at times, which will have to change if he becomes a lottery selection.
No. 12: Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown
Porter is an interesting swingman prospect who's a bit too skinny right now, but could easily bulk up and impress doubters.
He knows how to shoot, but there are worries that he won’t be able to regularly knock down the NBA three-pointer and is more of a mid-range player. Considering his ability to finish, that’s not the worst trait in the world.
If Porter has a solid sophomore season, it would do wonders for his stock.
No. 13: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Smart is an exciting player to watch, and we believe his skills will seamlessly translate to the next level.
Which PG will come off the board first?
The Pokes guard can play either the 1 or 2, penetrates the lane for drives and dishes out, isn’t afraid to bang with the big boys for boards and explodes at the rim. He’s immensely coachable and could definitely become a cornerstone of an NBA team based on what we’ve seen during his short college and high school career.
No. 14: Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV
If Bennett wishes to join the pros as a 4, he’s not ready. He must add post moves to his repertoire and work to include some finesse into his raw game.
What he does possess is the frame of an NBA player, the jumper of a stretch-4 and innate rebounding ability. That alone makes him worth a flier in the first round, even if he has to ride the pine or hit the D-League until he’s ready in a few years.
No. 15: Mason Plumlee, PF, Duke
Plumlee is a great player for the Blue Devils, but their offense isn’t based around him and he likely doesn’t get many plays drawn up.
He’s a great garbage man, and that is what he projects to be at the next level. There is nothing wrong with that, and many men have made careers—and won championships—off incredible hustle, rebounding, defense and intangibles.
The Duke standout reminds us of Kris Humphries, likely a player to whom he would be favorably compared at the next level.
No. 16: Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
This 18-year-old international phenom has looked great in exhibition contests and other events meant to show off European talent to scouts around the world.
Saric’s a major project, and it’s unknown if anyone is going to take a chance on his immense upside in the first draft for which he is eligible. Don’t expect him stateside anytime soon.
No. 17: Adonis Thomas, F, Memphis
We’d love to see Thomas play the 3 in the NBA, but he’s more suited for the 4 the way things are going. He’s athletic and strong, with a non-stop motor for rebounding and playing defense.
However, his handle is lacking and his jumper isn’t much of a weapon, which makes his potential to play SF a bit of a stretch right now.
No. 18: Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh
How will Steven Adams fare in the NBA?
This Kiwi center is surprisingly being considered a first-round pick by a few teams across the league. New Zealand isn’t known for their basketball talent but may have exported a diamond in the rough in Adams.
He has the size and raw talent; he just needs to learn the American way, which he will under coach Jamie Dixon at Pitt. Should he adapt to the differences, there is a strong possibility that this big man not only gets picked early, but flourishes in the pros.
No. 19: C.J. McCollum, SG, Lehigh
You may remember McCollum from when he eviscerated Duke in the first round of the 2012 NCAA tournament. The senior remained for his final year and is an interesting mid-to-late-round prospect if he continues his solid production.
No. 20: Myck Kabongo, PG, Texas
Kabongo is a pure point guard who uses speed, court vision, leadership and passing to dominate the game, rather than look for his own shot.
This type of point guards is becoming a rarity in the NBA, but helps a team win far more often than the 1s that hog the ball. We like Kabongo going to a team late in the first round, but he’ll far exceed expectations for his draft position.
No. 21: Le’Bryan Nash, SF, Oklahoma State
If Nash can get his head on straight, the Pokes forward will be a prominent NBA player. He has a prototypical professional basketball player frame for the 3, and could come in and dominate some of the weaker swingmen right off the bat.
The question is, does he want to?
If Nash dedicates himself to becoming a defender and works on his offensive game, there is no question he will fly up the big board as 2012-13 season progresses.
No. 22: Jeff Withey, C, Kansas
Withey is known as a dominant defensive player and shot-blocker for a strong Kansas team defense, but he’s getting more involved on the offensive end in his senior season.
As long as the Jayhawks are feeding this big man in the post, his stock will soar, and he has a strong chance to be selected late in the first round.
No. 23: Ben McLemore, SF, Kansas
McLemore is a pure athlete with great shooting touch, a defensive presence and a knack for rebounding.
He’s already 20 years old and his upside, along with his basketball IQ, are what we have to knock on his game, which drops him down to a mid-20s ranking in this class.
No. 24: Gorgui Dieng, C, Louisville
Deng is a monster down low, and knows how to block any shot near the rim. Aside from that, he’s extremely raw—a concern, this being his junior season.
The Senegalese stud has to make improvements in the offensive area of his game if he’s ever going to crack a rotation in the pros.
No. 25: C.J. Leslie, PF, NC State
Leslie’s upside is well known, but his production has been questionable. It seems that he is content to dominate a game at his discretion, which isn’t as often as we’d like to see.
If he can get motivated to play at a high level as often as possible, plus add a few things such as an outside jump shot, the Wolfpack star will greatly improve his draft stock.
No. 26: Patric Young, C, Florida
The Gators' big man decided against the draft last year, where some had him falling into the second round. If he wants to avoid that fate following his junior year, we need to see a leap in his offensive prowess.
No. 27: Michael Carter-Williams, SG, Syracuse
Is Michael Carter-Williams legit?
Carter-Williams simply didn’t get the minutes he needed last season, playing on a stacked Syracuse squad.
Now he’s the main option and needs to prove why. He’s struggled out of the gate, especially on his three-point attempts, making just one of eight so far on the year.
He has a smooth jumper and should be able to score at will, so hopefully he’ll improve drastically over his sophomore campaign.
No. 28: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
This small, streaky 2 might just become a first-round pick, depending on how he looks for Sparty during the regular season and NCAA tournament. He’s a player who has a low stock now, but could vault considerably higher based on his performances.
No. 29: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia
The Bulldogs' sniper is back for Round 2 of his collegiate career and is hoping to show scouts that he’s a worthy first-rounder.
At 6’5”, he has the height to play the 2 in the NBA, the range on his jump shot and knows how to lock his man up. He just needs to work on strength and handling to become an elite prospect.
No. 30: Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
This New Jersey native has been up-and-down for the Bruins in 2012, but his unique skill set is highly intriguing.
He can pass with anyone in this class, including the top-tier point guards. He also has nice size for a swingman at 6’8”, 233 pounds and understands the game of basketball.
If Anderson bolsters his scoring ability, he could slip into the lottery.