NBA Draft: Top Prospects in College Basketball

Shawn Tighe@@Stighe05Correspondent IJanuary 22, 2013

NBA Draft: Top Prospects in College Basketball

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    After last years loaded draft class, the 2013 draft class doesn’t seem to have either the talent or the depth that would make teams want to throw their season or fix the NBA Draft Lottery.

    While no franchise changer resides in this year’s class, there is another Kentucky center in contention for the number one pick and plenty more talented prospects who could become impact players in the NBA.

    As of now there is no clear cut number one pick and that is all the more reason to be interested in the crop of incoming rookies. There is plenty of basketball to played in this young college basketball season, but the prospects we will look at today will most likely be in the similar positions by the time June rolls around.

    Today we’ll look at those college players who have impressed so far and will be atop NBA team’s draft boards this upcoming June.

Shabazz Muhammad

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    After being declared eligible by the NCAA to play three games into the season, Muhammad was playing catch up for much of the early part of the season.

    Muhammad set the college basketball world on fire once he got his legs underneath him, leading UCLA to 10 straight wins before dropping their last one to Oregon.

    Averaging 17.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, Muhammad has met his lofty expectations so far as he has been deadly from everywhere on the court. Shooting a tick over 45 percent from three and 47 percent from the field, Muhammad has shown he is much more than just an explosive athlete.

    If there is one player with true star potential in this draft it is Muhammad. Not only does he bring an all around offensive game to the table, but he is a solid defender and rebounder for a 6’6” guard as well.

    While teams will be enamored by our next prospect’s game changing defensive ability, the player with the highest ceiling in this draft is Shabazz Muhammad.

Nerlens Noel

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    Expectations were high for Noel coming into this season after what Anthony Davis and the rest of Kentucky’s super freshmen did last year.

    So far Noel has failed to meet those expectations as Kentucky has struggled and may even be on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament.

    Despite his shortcomings, Noel remains one of the best NBA prospects because of his raw talent and elite defensive skills. While his offensive game is a work in progress (10.8 ppg), Noel possesses a knack for shot blocking (4.1 bpg) and rebounding (9.2 rpg) that will have NBA teams fighting over the 18-year-old freshman.

    Noel, with his 7’ 4” wingspan, has blocked 23 shots through 4 games of SEC play and is starting to learn how to play with his unusual skill set. He will never be the guy an offense runs through in the NBA, but his defensive skill set will be the reason he becomes a solid player at the next level.

Anthony Bennett

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    A tad undersized for a power forward at 6’ 8”, Bennett makes up for that with his diversified skill set, his ability to score away from the basket, and a 7’1” wingspan gives taller opponents trouble getting off clean looks at the basket.

    Bennett's leaping ability, perhaps his best skill, also helps offset his minor size disadvantage. He’s able to elevate, even in traffic, and can take turnovers coast to coast for easy dunks at the other end.

    Because of his all around game he is the frontrunner for freshman of the year and has elevated himself to the top half of the draft lottery.

    Bennett should be able to handle the transition to the NBA because he already fills out his frame well, weighing a solid 240 pounds, and can adjust his game outside the paint if necessary (56 percent shooter from the field; 40 percent from three).

Ben McLemore

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    After missing last season due to eligibility issues, McLemore has found his game recently taking home Big 12 rookie of the week last week averaging nearly 18 points per game, shooting 55 percent from the field, and 52 percent from three in his past 5 games.

    Despite missing last season, McLemore was able to gain experience practicing with the Jayhawks allowing him to hit the ground running this year. That experience he gained has been valuable this year as he has carried the Jayhawks of late and has become the face of the program.

    He can still be inconsistent at times and is sometimes hesitant to take big shots, but Mclemore has the range (44 percent from three point range on the season) and the finishing ability (16.4 ppg) to become a solid scorer in the NBA.

    McLemore will also be able to make an impact immediately on defense, as he has great length and athletic ability allowing him to stay in front of his man and wreak havoc on opposing ball handlers.

Michael Carter-Williams

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    Carter-Williams is the type of point guard that would fit perfectly in the NBA today. The game is moving towards a more up and down pace that requires big athletic point guards who can double as scoring guards when called upon.

    No point guard in the draft fits that bill more so than Michael Carter-Williams. The 6’5” sophomore has led Syracuse to an 18-1 record this year, highlighted by their upset win of No. 1 Louisville over the weekend.

    In that game Carter-Williams scored 11 out of Cuse’s last 13 points  (he assisted on the other two) and showed he is not afraid to take the big shots in crunch time. In light of his success, Carter-Williams still had eight turnovers in that game and has struggled in that area all year averaging nearly four turnovers per game.

    Otherwise, Carter-Williams has averaged an impressive 9.3 assists and 3.2 steals per game to go along with grabbing 4.8 rebounds per game. If he can improve his shot selection in the second half of the season he could be a top five pick.

Marcus Smart

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    Speaking of athletic point guards, Marcus Smart is just as athletic as Michael Carter-Williams, it’s just different kind of athletic. While Carter-Williams is long and rangy (6’5” 185 lbs), Smart is stout and strong (6'4" 225).

    Smart reminds me a bit of Russell Westbrook as he is a penetrating point guard who can explode off the floor at the rim, but also struggles with shot selection and turnovers.

    Ironically the Thunder received the Raptors first round pick in the James Harden trade and are rumored to have been scouting Smart.

    No matter where Smart goes, that team will get a very athletic guard with a lot of raw talent. While Carter-Williams is a better decision maker at this point in his career, Smart is two years younger, leading general managers to be more inclined to pick the younger, more impressionable Smart.

Cody Zeller

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    Cody Zeller proved to the nation that he was clearly the best of the Zeller brothers last year. While older brother Tyler graduated and was drafted 17th overall by the Mavericks (later traded to the Cavs), Cody decided to stay in school another year and work on his game (meanwhile the forgotten oldest Zeller, Luke, is collecting dust on the bench in Phoenix).

    Cody decided to come back in light of the fact that he would have been a surefire top 10 pick, and would have won serious bragging rights in the family.

    As is common when scouts have more tape to watch, the extra year could cost Zeller some draft spots and money. Zeller is a smart polished player, but he plays soft for a 6’11” big man. He has only averaged 8.2 rebounds this year, after averaging only 6.6 boards last year, and doesn’t have a great outside game yet, but could develop into a Pau Gasol type player if he improves his outside touch.

    He runs the floor really well, just like Tyler Zeller, but must be able to bang with the big boys if he wants to be successful right now.

Mason Plumlee

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    One of the leading candidates for Naismith Player of the Year, Plumlee has went from goofy big man to likely lottery pick after tearing up college basketball in the first half of the 2012-2013 season.

    Averaging 17.4 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, both career highs, it looks as though Plumlee has turned all of his potential into real results. The senior has improved every year, a good sign for NBA teams, and remains one of the most athletic big men in college basketball today.

    Plumlee isn’t going to shoot lights out from mid-range or beyond, and will struggle at the free throw line, but he has a chance to develop just like Blake Griffin has over the past few years.

    Griffin wasn’t exactly offensively refined coming out of college, but he was brimming with athleticism, much the same as Plumlee.  And even if he isn’t a star, he will still win your franchise a dunk contest.

Trey Burke

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    Never highly touted in any regards, 142nd best prospect according to Rivals; 84th best by ESPN’s standards, Burke has proven everyone wrong propelling Michigan to a 17-1 record this season.

    He may be undersized but that hasn’t stopped Burke from averaging 18 points per game and shooting over 50 percent from the floor. What separates Trey Burke from the rest of the point guards in this class is his court vision, consistency, and the intangibility factor he possesses.

    Everyone has their doubts about Burke, who stands only 6’1”, but I get the feeling that he is one of those players that will find a way to win regardless of his size. The other point guards in this draft are, size-wise, what most NBA teams are looking for, but Burke brings certain intangibles to the table that the others don’t.

    Due to his size he is still only a fringe lottery pick according to ESPN’s Chad Ford, but that could improve if he continues his strong play into the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. While his size may cause him to struggle defending larger opponents, Burke has the “IT” factor about him that will cause teams who passed on him to shake their heads.