If we're being honest, one of the biggest reasons college basketball is so popular is because we get a first look at future NBA players. And if we're being completely honest, the NBA is a goal for a lot of college ballers.
This season in college basketball, there are many players who are raising their NBA draft stocks. Even though we are just a few weeks into the season, these players are already showing that they have what it takes to be successful at the next level, and they are rising up draft boards because of it.
Entering the season, we thought we knew what these guys were capable of, but now they are showing that they can do much more than that.
Jeff Withey has been having a monster season, epitomized by his triple-double against San Jose State on Monday.
We knew that Withey was a defensive stopper coming into the season, as he averaged 3.6 blocks per game last season and was almost impossible to drive against.
This season he has been even better defensively, averaging 6.2 blocks per contest and proving once again why he is one of the nation's leading defenders.
However, what really makes Withey's development shine is his production on the offensive side. He is averaging 14.2 points per game this season and has shown a lot of development in the paint. If he keeps it up, he has a bright future ahead of him.
Mason Plumlee is having what is easily the best season of his career, averaging 19.9 points and 11.0 rebounds per game.
In his senior season, Mason is proving why he is the best of the three Plumlee brothers, with older brother Miles in the NBA and younger brother Marshall in his redshirt freshman season.
One of the leaders for a Duke team that knocked off a third Top Five team on Wednesday night against No. 4 Ohio State (21 points, 17 rebounds), Plumlee has been showing his athleticism and potential at the next level.
With a sturdy 6'10", 240-pound frame, Mason has the natural abilities and well-rounded game to be an NBA player next season.
Kansas freshman Ben McLemore has been one of the best players for Bill Self's team this season. He is second on the team in scoring and assists and third in rebounds.
McLemore has been impressive after redshirting last season, and this year he has proven to be a valuable weapon for the Jayhawks. However, it is rumored that he is nowhere near his ceiling and is just getting started.
Coach Self has been giving high praise to his freshman, and we have to take these quotes seriously: "Ben’s talent level is off the charts. He’s good. I mean, he’s as talented as just about anybody we’ve had come through there."
Talk about a compliment; this is one of the greatest coaches with one of the greatest programs in college basketball history saying McLemore is as good as anyone he's coached.
Le'Bryan Nash has been having quite a year, and it looks like he works better with a teammate than without.
Last season, Nash had to do it all for Oklahoma State, and he was forcing things too often.
Now, however, he is playing alongside talented shooting guard Marcus Smart. Both players are enjoying this mutually beneficial relationship, and there is a noticeable progression seen in Nash.
Whereas last season he shot just 39.4 percent from the floor because he was forcing everything, this year he is shooting six percent higher and scoring more, despite taking fewer shots.
Nash has been able to put his athleticism to work alongside Smart, and in his last four games he is averaging 20.0 points. There is no doubt that he is rising up draft boards this year, and he will likely turn pro at the end of it.
Speaking of the mutually beneficial relationship between Nash and Smart, the talented freshman has benefited as well.
We knew that Smart could score easily by driving through the lane with his size, but he has also become a facilitator, as indicated by his 5.8 assists per game as a shooting guard.
Unfortunately, Smart is insistent on shooting threes, averaging four attempts per game despite shooting just 20 percent from behind the arc. However, he is scoring and rebounding well, averaging 13.8 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, thanks to his athleticism.
Smart has a world of potential, and while he must work on his shot selection and decision-making skills, he is proving this season that he is more than just an athlete.
Alex Len is a 7'1" sophomore from Ukraine who has made great strides in his development this season.
Len was a raw talent last season, but he has improved across the board this season. He displayed his talents against Nerlens Noel and Kentucky in the first game of the season, with 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.
The improvement we're seeing in Len is truly remarkable. He is averaging 9.2 more points per game, not to mention increasing his numbers by 3.6 rebounds and 0.4 blocks per game, while shooting better from the floor and nearly 15 percent better from the line.
Len has been on fire, going for double-digit points in all six games this season and reaching double-doubles in two.
If he keeps this up, he could be a first-rounder by the time he declares for the draft.
Michael Carter-Williams has been having one heck of a season. After playing just 10.3 minutes per game last season, he took over as starting point guard for Syracuse this year and has flourished in the role.
Being a 6'5", 185-pound athletic point guard definitely helps his chances in the NBA, but this season he has proved that he can be a leader and run the point efficiently for his team.
Averaging 10.3 points, 9.3 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game, he has shown that he has what it takes on offense. He has been carving up opponents all season, and he is only going to get better with more playing time.
MCW's defense has also been impressive, grabbing four steals per game, which ranks second in the country.
He's a stat-stuffer like Rajon Rondo, and if all goes well, he could enjoy similar success at the next level.
Alex Poythress has been a man among boys in his last few games. He is the freshman who is leading the charge for John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats, which essentially ensures a high draft pick.
Poythress started the season slowly, going for just eight points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes against Maryland because he got into foul trouble.
However, since then he is averaging 21.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
Poythress has the body and talent to be a wing at the next level. He won't be shooting threes or helping in the backcourt, but he has the get-it-done attitude and physicality to be a slasher.
No one had high expectations for freshman Przemek Karnowski coming into the season...except for Gonzaga head coach Mark Few.
The 7'1", 305-pound freshman looked raw, to say the least. It looked like it would be a four-year project just to even have a hope of making it in the pros, but he has already been making an impact with the Bulldogs.
Karnowski started the season with a 22-point effort and has averaged 10.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game this season.
Needless to say, this kid is still raw. He has a lot of potential and appears to be ahead of schedule with his development. If he can sustain this improvement for the next few years, he will be on many NBA draft boards by the time he graduates college.
Coming into the season, we didn't even know if Shabazz Muhammad would play, so just by being cleared by the NCAA and returning to the court he has improved his draft stock.
His play has been impressive, however, and it appears that he has worked out a few kinks in his game.
Starting with his first game back, it was apparent that Muhammad is a much better defender than advertised. We knew that he would be a slasher and that he is next to impossible in transition, but defense was always a question mark. He answered it resoundingly.
We also found out that he has a nice stroke from downtown. We thought his range would be limited to 15-18 feet, but he has shot 50 percent from three this year.
While we would like to see him improve on his strengths at the collegiate level right now, in time he will put it all together and likely become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft.