The No. 6 Syracuse Orange are 17 games into the 2012-13 season, and point guard Michael Carter-Williams is by far the best NBA prospect on the team.
But exactly how high is his draft stock, and how does he measure up to the pro game?
Carter-Williams has already convinced most of us that he's one of the best floor generals in the country. His vision, dexterity and fluidity directs the Orange offense with an NCAA-best 9.4 assists per game and a colossal 46.9 assist percentage.
He's fantastic at probing the defense and finding teammates as they're cutting to the hoop. Williams can keep opponents on their heels by driving to the bucket and exploiting the slightest rotation flaws.
Syracuse is lucky to have one of the few point guards who can make it look easy.
Combine those facilitating skills with a 6'5" frame, and it's easy to see why he's such an attractive prospect.
One of his most valuable gifts to Jim Boeheim is not the actual passing, but the way he pushes the tempo. He's excellent on the break, and he can even kick-start the team's half-court attack with high screen-and-roll or isolation work.
They went from being slower than the D-I average to being a top-40 team in tempo...The primary reason for this is that Carter-Williams relentlessly pushes the ball upcourt after opponents' missed shots or turnovers, and is adept at identifying quick-strike scoring opportunities...When he drives into the paint on the break, with a shooter on the wing and a drop-off option on the block, points are almost guaranteed.
From a ball-handling and precision-passing standpoint, Carter-Williams is elite and NBA-ready. His court awareness and execution is aided by his ambidexterity. He can get rid of the rock quickly and accurately with either hand. Not many college sophomores can do that.
Defensively, he's snatching a slew of steals so far in the 2012-13 season (3.2 per game), which is great to see. However, it's not necessarily an indicator that he'll be a great on-ball defender in the NBA.
We don't know exactly how good he'll be in man-to-man scenarios as a pro, but one thing he has going for him is his size. His height and length will allow him to contest almost any point or shooting guard.
When it comes to finishing his drives, he's shown flashes of brilliance but also some ill-advised forays. Overall, he has the agility and dexterity to be a slasher in the pros.
The only weakness that could truly derail Carter-Williams' draft stock and NBA career potential is his jump shot.
He hasn't exhibited consistency from the college three-point line (27 percent on 3.5 attempts per game), much less NBA range. His shooting form is not one quick, fluid motion. Sometimes he steps one foot at a time before springing up for the shot.
Although he's shooting poorly this season, his shot is fixable. It would take a few months of developing and streamlining it, but at least he could bring a respectable jumper to pre-draft combines and camps.
If, however, he doesn't show improvement from deep, it's going to be tough for him to crack the lottery in June.
Another deficiency that needs addressing is his decision-making when driving to the hoop. Carter-Williams coughs up 3.6 turnovers per game, and many of them occur when he unwisely ventures into traffic.
The aggressiveness is welcome, but sometimes it gets him in trouble. He occasionally over-dribbles, tries to make difficult shots in the lane or forces tough passes. Boeheim is trying to teach him to pick his battles.
Carter-Williams' 180-pound build shouldn't be something to fret over, as he's a tough player and will put on another 10-15 pounds by the time the 2013-14 NBA season tips off.
It served as a confusing and controversial talking point, and it also altered people's view of Carter-Williams as a young man. He hasn't been completely vilified, but the incident does raise questions about character and maturity.
Although it paints him in an immature light, it probably won't affect his draft standing because it is an isolated incident. As long as he says all the right things in interviews and explains it as a foolish college decision, he will satisfy most NBA executives.
Draft Stock and Possible Suitors
Given what we've seen from Carter-Williams to this point, there will be several teams interested in his upside.
The middle of the first round is his most likely destination, and he won't be picked by a team needing a franchise point guard immediately.
His suitors will be clubs that already have a point guard and are willing to groom a youngster. Teams like the Orlando Magic or Denver Nuggets could pick Carter-Williams no sooner than eighth and no later than 16th, unless his stock plummets in the spring.
Where is Carter-Williams on major mock drafts and big boards?
CBSSports.com 2013 Mock Draft: No. 9 overall
DraftExpress.com 2013 Mock Draft: No. 13 overall
NBADraft.net 2013 Mock Draft: No. 11 overall
Hoopsworld.com 2013 Mock Draft: No. 14 overall (Nuggets)
Bleacher Report 2013 Mock Draft (Jonathan Wasserman): No. 11 overall
ESPN Chad Ford Big Board No. 8 prospect
With a sensational start to his sophomore campaign, Carter-Williams quickly became one of the top point guard prospects in college basketball. He draws a special interest because he demonstrates a creativity on the court that few possess.
However, the majority of the Big East schedule lies ahead of him, including the vaunted backcourts of Louisville and Connecticut and tough defenses like Georgetown's.
How he fares in those tests and in postseason play will go a long way in determining whether he's a late first-round choice or a mid-lottery choice.
Sit back, relax and enjoy Carter-Williams' audition for the NBA.
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