Noel, high-top fade and all, is the best player in the 2013 class.
It's always worthwhile to see what one of the most respected draft scouts has to say regarding this year's crop of rookies. Ford gauges his views not only based upon what players have been thus far in the NCAA, but also takes into account the opinions of actual NBA scouts.
Thus, assessing the validity of Ford's selections takes the shape of a commentary on the players themselves, since his placement is pretty impeccably based on fact.
There's a talented group of big men in the 2013 draft class, and a number of promising prospects that could make this crop surprisingly good before the eagerly anticipated draft class of 2014.
McCollum made a name for himself and Lehigh in March of 2012
McCollum hails from a mid-major school, Lehigh, but played a role in the shocking upset of No. 2-seeded Duke last year in the NCAA tournament. Like Damian Lillard, his talent may be slept on until it is too late, and he goes from a mid-major program to dominating the NBA.
A great NBA comparison for McCollum is Deron Williams, and his criticism is comparable to D-Will's: lack of athleticism, possibly a tweener.
The thing is, McCollum has great range on his shot and is effective in transition, both traits which should translate to success on the NBA level. Though an unfair means of comparison due to the talent of his competition, his Hollinger PER is an astounding 31.85
That's a huge impact, even if it isn't against nationally ranked competition except in March—and we saw how he did with that.
Long, long, and long.
Isaiah Austin is the skinniest of a frail crop of future NBA centers. He stands 7-foot without shoes but barely checks in at 200 pounds. His NBA comparisons aren't particularly inspiring either, with NBADraft.net comparing him to Jonathan Bender and Alexis Ajinca.
Both Bender and Ajinca were lanky guys with high upside who never panned out at the NBA level (though in Bender's defense, injuries played a big role).
Austin is the nephew of Isaac Austin, who strung together a few years at the NBA level, but unless his ultimate upside is higher than Isaac's, he really shouldn't be a lottery pick. Ford says Austin is highly skilled and can "score over anyone."
Perhaps a greater upside is there for Austin, who must fare better than Baylor's other elite prospects, as Perry Jones III has struggled to find his way into an NBA rotation playing for one of the best teams in the league.
The biggest problem for Austin may be that he never gains the size to be a center, yet doesn't have the skill set to be a 4 man. Truly, the description harkens memories of Brad Sellers of the late '80s and early '90s Chicago Bulls. For what it's worth, that isn't a good thing.
Up, up, up the draft board.
Mason Plumlee is Ford's second-ranked power forward in a draft weak at the 4 spot. His Hollinger PER is nearly off the charts, though, at 28.26. That's even more impressive considering the strength of Duke's schedule.
Plumlee is a gifted athlete who will be well suited to the NBA transition game. At 6'10", he should be able to outrun a lot of NBA big men and score some easy baskets.
A team like the Golden State Warriors or New York Knicks would suit Plumlee well, and Ford cites that he needs to add strength and develop a more diverse game in the post.
Even that being the case, his potential is very David Lee-like, and he's been considered a lottery pick since his freshman year at Duke.
Scouts aren't pegging Plumlee to be a superstar, but he really doesn't need to be if he falls outside the top 10 picks. He'll be a fine value late in the lottery as a guy who could potentially be a double-double player on the right team.
The 6'5" Goodwin could potentially even play some SF in the NBA.
John Calipari compared Archie Goodwin to Tyreke Evans, and though he is just 6'5", his 6'10" wingspan should enable him to defend just about any shooting guard in the NBA. He's played big minutes as a freshman, averaging over 34 a night, and Ford ranks him as the second-best shooting guard in the draft class.
Goodwin is a great athlete, and if a player can earn high praise from a respected talent guru like Calipari, it's a good sign he's going to be special.
Ford praises Goodwin's ability to finish at the rim, and says there is "some Russell Westbrook in him." That's exciting.
Scouts who value defense will consider Poythress.
It's hard to fathom how the Kentucky Wildcats are not a better team with three prospects in the top 11 picks, but nevertheless, their one-and-done crew is projected to be selected high in the 2013 NBA draft.
Alex Poythress is 6'8" with a 7-foot wingspan and should be able to play both forward slots in the NBA, though he has played the 3 spot this year at Kentucky.
He's a great defender, and could make that his calling card in the Association, but Ford cites concerns with his shooting off the bounce and a lack of strength as possible downsides to Poythress' prospects.
The thing about Poythress is he has a very Avery Bradley-like effect on an NBA game. He can score when called upon, but will make a far bigger impact than can be discerned from a box score.
The issue, of course, is as to whether NBA scouts will recognize his value while remaining blind to the fact that Shabazz Muhammad and others are far better scorers. Something tells me the scoring glamor will draw the higher pick, and while Poythress is expected to be a bit of a tweener, that's never been a reason not to take a player for a number of NBA scouts.
Marcus Smart was a top recruit coming into Oklahoma State.
Marcus Smart ranks sixth in the mock draft on NBADraft.net, but Ford considers him the second-best point guard in the draft class. NBADraft.net compares his talents to James Harden. At 6'4" 225 pounds, he has the body to be a physical 2-guard at the NBA level, or abuse smaller point guards like Westbrook does.
Ford says he is undersized as a 2-guard because he isn't all that long. Ford further says he needs to work on his perimeter shot, and doesn't feel the Oklahoma State standout is ready yet. Then, Ford seemingly contradicts this by saying he "wouldn't be surprised if he ends up as a top-five pick."
As to whether that is a knock on NBA draft scouts or an ultimate approval of his upside, is unclear. Either way, he was averaging 24 points per game through Jan. 7 and has loads of potential, so it would seem to be the latter of those possibilities.
A point guard with good size is a valuable commodity.
Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse is considered to be the best point guard in the 2013 draft class. Williams stands 6'5" but is extremely quick and crafty with the basketball. Because of his size, he will be an effective combo guard at the NBA level, and his Hollinger PER is an outstanding 22.87.
Ford writes he is hesitant to put Carter-Williams as a top-five talent because he will turn 22 before his first NBA game, and he cites further worries about whether or not he can handle the rigors of the Big East.
NBADraft.net ranks Carter-Williams as the No. 11 pick in the draft, and he is actually the second point guard in the queue on that mock. Some team will likely reach to obtain the best floor general in the draft, and whether or not it is Carter-Williams, or Smart, both will most likely go in the lottery.
Porter has Iggy-like potential.
Otto Porter is a talent I compared to Andre Iguodala and Gerald Wallace in my last Mock Draft Roundup. Porter is the same stature as both Iggy and G-Wall, and has a similarly long wingspan, 7'1"
NBADraft.net compared Porter to Stacey Augmon, who carved out a long NBA career as a defensive stopper. He's also a dead eye from three-point range, but there is question regarding his range at the NBA three-point line.
Ford lists Porter's negatives as a "need to add strength" and questions regarding his range. The thing is: NBA players extend their shooting range on the regular.
LeBron James couldn't hit the three-ball his first couple seasons in the league, and he's just the most notable example of the type of guy whose work ethic promotes success in previously weak areas. If Porter is going to be any kind of NBA talent, he'll have no problem working on his shooting range.
Zeller can jump.
Cody Zeller would have been a top-five pick if he came out in 2012, and there isn't really a good reason for his stock to have dropped. Ford cites concerns that Zeller may not be big enough to play the 5-spot at the NBA level, and further worries by scouts that he couldn't play the 4-spot.
Zeller does need to add some bulk, but since when was that a reason to discard a player of his skill set?
Zeller is far better than older brother Tyler, who is already carving out a niche for himself as a rookie in Cleveland. Cody should be a solid NBA starter for his entire career, and is a pretty safe pick. But if teams would rather roll the dice on someone with supposedly higher upside (like Muhammad), then that is their prerogative.
UNLV has the talent to make waves in March.
Anthony Bennett of UNLV is Ford's top-ranked power forward in the NCAA. Though 6'8", Bennett has the athleticism to make up for any shortcomings in stature. He's a bit of a tweener, but should be able to effectively play both forward slots in the NBA.
Ford explains that his 7'1" wingspan and overall athleticism give him the potential to be the best player in this draft class. When being a tweener is the worst aspect to a player, it's pretty safe to say potential can carry him a long way.
Len's size should give him an edge at the next level.
Alex Len may have the most NBA ready body of the bigs, which isn't a huge accomplishment since Len is just 225 pounds at 7'1" himself. Still, a true seven footer always finds a home on an NBA roster, and Len has a knack for blocking shots, which is something that can't always be inculcated to NBA bigs.
Len should add 35 pounds of muscle to his frame, and he'll be as imposing as anyone not named Dwight Howard. His frame is broad and can support a lot of mass, so that should be taken into account by NBA scouts.
Ford cites that Len is a better offensive player than Nerlens Noel, but that really should read "more skilled." Noel has speed and advantages not found in Len's more methodical approach towards offense, and though Ford says "he could easily end up surpassing Noel for the No. 1 pick," that is a proposition I am selling on.
Len has definite starter and double-double potential, but it's hard to laud the franchise label on him that Noel has had thrown around since before matriculating to Kentucky.
If he really is as good as Ray-Ray, we're in for a treat.
Ben McLemore of Kansas is the top-rated 2-guard in the nation. He's certainly athletically gifted enough to warrant that, and has a great jump shot to boot.
At 6'5", he's ideally suited for covering the best shooting guards in the league, but he is a 21-year-old freshman. It's going to make him an old one-and-done essentially, as he'll be wise to come out with Ford ranking him third overall.
According to Ford, scouts are comparing him to a young Ray Allen. Allen in his prime was downright nasty, so if McLemore lives up to the billing, he belongs in the top five picks at least.
Is his upside as high as originally reported?
Muhammad has a Hollinger PER of 23. He's the most comparable thing this draft has to a great dominant wing player the likes of LeBron James or Kobe Bryant.
But not all scouts are sold on his ability, and cite a weak off hand and errant jumper as reasons why Muhammad may not ever reach the elite level.
Muhammad has not had a great start at UCLA either, and Ford cited that he often looked "out of shape...overmatched." That's not the kind of confidence I want to hear for a No. 2-overall selection, and though Muhammed will likely go top five, there is no lock on franchise talent here.
Noel could find himself playing with former UK player Anthony Davis. Interesting?
Jay and I both agree that Noel remains the default No. 1 pick. The biggest reason is upside; he's a super-athletic 18-year-old who already looks like he can be a defensive presence in the NBA. He needs to get stronger and improve his offensive game, but his development under Coach Cal has impressed scouts, as has his consistently high motor. He's far from a sure thing, but he may have the most star potential of any player in the draft.
It's hard to disagree with Ford here. Noel, though, has displayed more offensive game and polish than anticipated by many analysts. He often looks fluid and comfortable passing out of double teams.
Moreover, Noel has something that can't be taught: an ability to react to where the ball will come off when a shooter puts up a shot. Noel could potentially be a beast on the boards, and adding bulk is a must, but an overstated one at that.