"Star" is a term thrown around loosely in the NBA, specifically because there are so many quality players who continue to wow us on a nightly basis.
From LeBron James to Carmelo Anthony, the NBA is home to plenty of players who hold that "star" label, and the new wave of players like Kyrie Irving and DeMarcus Cousins continue to threaten that club with their stellar play over the last couple of seasons.
As the 2013 NBA draft approaches, we're reminded of two things.
One: College basketball is a freshman's game nowadays, and the 2013 class will be dominated by an influx of underclassmen who decide to go pro.
Two: That decision is well-warranted because freshmen today are more equipped to handle the NBA style of play than ever before.
That being said, here's a look at the latest NBA mock draft, with a keen eye on the freshmen who have the potential to join the elite ranks of "star" status.
Note: Draft order based on standings as of Feb. 7. Additionally, outstanding NBA trades have affected the order in which some teams will select in the first round. For a list of those deals, check out NBADraft.net. Teams involved in a trade will feature a (*) sign to indicate that a trade has taken place, while players who are highlighted as freshmen who could be stars will look like THIS*.
1. Charlotte Bobcats—SF Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA*
Muhammad got off to a slow start to the 2012-13 season for the Bruins, in part because of the adjustment period and in part because of an NCAA investigation.
He's averaging 18.4 points in the Pac-12, shooting an impressive 42.6 percent from the three-point line and showing that he can come in to a situation in the league and score points right off the bat. His assist numbers are low (0.9), but the Bobcats have two guards who can get him the ball and line him up as a shooting guard in a big lineup.
From his James Harden-like moves on the court to his leaping ability, everything about Muhammad screams star.
2. Washington Wizards—C Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Noel has been a steady presence for a Kentucky team that continues to grow together, and he is clearly the best shot-blocker in the nation—he shows that off each game. However, his offensive game is underdeveloped, and he needs to get better on the block. Still, the defense makes him elite and worthy of a top three pick in the draft.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers—C/PF Cody Zeller, Indiana
Pairing the Zeller brothers in Cleveland would certainly be interesting, and with the Cavs looking less likely to keep Anderson Varejao by the day, this would be a smart pick for Cleveland to continue the rebuilding process.
4. Orlando Magic—SG Ben McLemore, Kansas
McLemore has come a long way in his freshman season, and some feel he is worthy of the top pick. However, I think he's more suited to a lower pick in this draft—still a great talent, but not enough to justify the No. 1 pick. He reminds me of O.J. Mayo, and there could be an adjustment period to the finer aspects of the NBA.
5. New Orleans Hornets—SF Otto Porter, Georgetown
This might be a little high for the Hoya to go, but he's a smooth player who is as fundamental as they come. New Orleans has game-changers in Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis, and what they need on the wing is a presence who is big, can defend and would be a great addition to this rebuilding franchise.
6. Phoenix Suns—SF Anthony Bennett, UNLV
Regionally located right now in the West, Bennett would have a short flight to Arizona to join the Suns. His versatility as a freshman and his ability to guard multiple positions on defense would make him perfect for the upstart, run-and-gun Suns.
7. Oklahoma City* (via Toronto Raptors)—C Alex Len, Maryland
The Thunder continue to pick up draft picks and build for the future, and owning this top-three protected pick is another way they will bolster an already star-studded lineup. The future for Kendrick Perkins is now, and Len would be a prime candidate to replace him in the next few seasons.
8. Sacramento Kings—PG Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse*
Carter-Williams is leading the nation in assists, and his presence for the Orange has been invaluable in replacing the graduated Scoop Jardine.
From leading the break to running the offense, MCW has the size to play on the perimeter and the skill to run point guard for any team in the NBA. With a few more pounds added to his frame, he could turn out to be one of the biggest matchup problems in the NBA.
Wherever he lands in this draft, he'll immediately force competition for the incumbent guard. His instincts are top notch, and he has the potential to be the next great PG in this league.
9. Detroit Pistons—PF/C Isaiah Austin, Baylor
Austin has drawn comparisons to Hornets forward/center Anthony Davis, but he has a long way to go to reach that plateau. His 14-plus points and nine-plus rebounds are great stats and show he can contribute right away, but he has a long way to go in the strength and shot-selection departments before he'll be considered a star.
Still, a Detroit front line featuring Austin, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond would be a great start toward a new era of Pistons basketball.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves—G Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Smart is a big, physical guard who can play both the point and shooting guard positions in the NBA. Although the Timberwolves are set with international stars Ricky Rubio and Alexy Shved, Smart would be a nice role player off the bench to help make up for the lost production of Brandon Roy.
11. Dallas Mavericks—F Glenn Robinson III, Michigan*
Although GR3 hasn't put on a display of scoring output yet at Michigan, he's quietly been one of the most efficient players in the country on one of the best teams in college basketball.
His 11.6 points and 5.7 rebounds are great, but it's the 57.6 percent shooting from the floor and 40 percent shooting from the three-point line that make Robinson III an attractive sleeper product with star potential.
Throw in the fact that Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Trey Burke are both more ball-dominant for the Wolverines, and GR3 could be one of the best prospects in the NBA that no one is talking about.
12. Philadelphia 76ers—F James McAdoo, North Carolina
McAdoo is a versatile forward in the mold of the new 3/4 combos in the NBA, and he has had a productive career for Roy Williams at North Carolina. This is a good value pick for a team looking to bolster its bench and hopefully employ Andrew Bynum full-time in 2013-14.
13. Phoenix Suns* (via Los Angeles Lakers)—G Archie Goodwin, Kentucky
Kendall Marshall is exactly the kind of passer the Suns need as a point guard, and Goran Dragic is also an underrated point man. However, the Suns could use some more quickness at the position, and Goodwin has plenty of that to go around.
14. Charlotte Bobcats* (via Portland Trail Blazers)—F Mason Plumlee, Duke
After getting a wing of the future in Muhammad, Michael Jordan and company can bolster the frontcourt with Plumlee, who is a quality big who shows plenty of effort—something teams can latch on to when things are rough.
15. Boston Celtics—G C.J. McCollum, Lehigh
The 2012 NCAA tournament hero returned to school for his senior season and will wind up moving up draft boards about five to ten spots higher than he would have if drafted in 2012. The Celtics might choose to move on from Jason Terry soon, and McCollum would be a nice guard to groom for the future.
16. Atlanta Hawks* (via Houston Rockets)—C Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Cauley-Stein is raw, but he's a seven-footer who can get above the rim with the best of them. The Hawks haven't been able to get Dwight Howard in a trade yet (that might change in the offseason) but Cauley-Stein would be an athletic piece to protect the paint alongside Al Horford.
17. Utah Jazz—PG Trey Burke, Michigan
Mo Williams and Randy Foye are temporary fixes in Utah, and Burke would undoubtedly be the point guard of the future for this franchise if taken near this spot in the draft. He would fit right in with the system and might even challenge for the starting job right away.
18. Milwaukee Bucks—F Tony Mitchell, North Texas
Mitchell is only 6'8", but he can play multiple positions and has a high motor. The Bucks have plenty of shot-blockers, but Mitchell is a skilled big who could add some offense to the front court that Milwaukee could benefit from. The Bucks could also select a guard here, especially with Brandon Jennings heading to free agency (restricted).
19. Atlanta Hawks—PF/C Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
The big man has drawn comparisons to Spencer Hawes, and with the Hawks loading up on guards in the past couple of offseasons, the front court isn't necessarily set with just one draft pick. Olynyk could stretch the floor off the bench in a way that Horford does in the starting lineup.
20. Indiana Pacers—C Rudy Gobert, France
Gobert is a 20-year-old Frenchman who has plenty of work to do before he'll be considered elite. Still, as a defensive presence, he has made huge strides in his current league and could protect the paint for the Pacers in the next few years—if they brought him over at all in 2013.
21. Brooklyn Nets—C Jeff Withey, Kansas
Trade rumors are swirling around bigs Kris Humphries and Andray Blatche, and with Mirza Teletovic poised to gain more minutes in the event of that development, the Nets could be a little light in the center department. Withey would solve that problem and help spell Brook Lopez in the event of fatigue or—worst case scenario—injury.
22. Denver Nuggets—SG Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State
Franklin, the smooth shooting guard from San Diego State, would be a nice pick for the Nuggets at this point in the draft. They could opt to go with a big man, but Franklin has good size and is a good shooter—both things that Denver SGs have had for quite some time.
23. Chicago Bulls—SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia
The quest for a companion in the Chicago backcourt will continue in the 2013 draft. Rip Hamilton is aging, and the other guards on the roster are a little undersized. The emergence of Jimmy Butler is great, but a true SG is something Chicago hasn't had during its recent up-tick in success. Caldwell-Pope could help change that.
24. Utah Jazz* (via Golden State Warriors)—SF Alex Poythress, Kentucky
After grabbing Burke, the Jazz would do well do grab the uber-athletic Poythress, completing a big coup on draft night. With these two in tow, the Jazz would add two more pieces to their already blooming young roster.
25. New York Knicks—SF Doug McDermott, Creighton
McDermott is a scoring machine for the Bluejays, and he's just the kind of shooter and athlete who would do well in Mike Woodson's offense. The Knicks would love to have his shot and talent off of their bench next season.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves* (via Memphis Grizzlies)—F C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State
Kevin Love is battling injuries, the team is battling injuries all around and the depth for bigs is a little light right now. Throw in Love's uncertainty as a long-term Wolf, and the need for a skilled forward seems to be a great fit. Leslie is just that.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers* (via Miami Heat)—SF DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State
I love this pick for the Cavs at the end of the first round. Thomas plays in Ohio right now and is a small forward/power forward combo who could defend multiple positions, and he creates matchup problems on offense right now for Thad Motta. Put it all together, and Thomas is a quality pick for the Cavs.
28. Los Angeles Clippers—C Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
You know the old saying "You can never have enough big men." Dieng is a good shot-blocker for the Cardinals right now, and if the Clippers do manage to acquire Kevin Garnett for DeAndre Jordan, they'll eventually need a replacement.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder—PG Lorenzo Brown, North Carolina State
Brown is a big guard who isn't a shoot-first player—something the Thunder don't currently have in their PG ranks. With Brown in the fold, OKC might finally have a worthy successor to run the second unit.
30. San Antonio Spurs—F Dario Saric, Croatia
The Spurs love international flavor, and Saric is a combo forward who could either come over right away to start learning the ins and outs of the NBA or wait another season until San Antonio's Big 3 is on its way out.
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