The 2013 NBA draft is feeling a lot like the 2012 draft. Last year we had Anthony Davis as a clear No. 1 pick; this year the top player clearly seems to be Nerlens Noel. We then have a bunch of other talented freshmen, but it is hard to decipher how dominant they can become as pros.
In 2012, freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal were both regarded as much better prospects than Andre Drummond. Eight months later, we can say that was a mistake. Drummond had a weak freshman year at UConn, but would surely be picked in the top two if the draft was to happen again today.
This year, we could see the same thing happen again. Freshmen are hard to gauge. Unless a prospect seems clearly superior, like Noel, it can be very easy to overrate or underrate their long-term pro potential.
So, instead of giving you a list of who I think the best freshmen players in the country are, I would like to explore some of the main questions we have concerning each one of them.
The following is my current preferential order of the top freshman, but the whole point is that the order could dramatically change by June. We don't usually have much to go by with freshmen, and we are likely to change our opinion on them rather fluidly.
Nerlens Noel is likely to be drafted No. 1, as I have gone over before. He is the one freshman who has exhibited everything that is needed to warrant being a top selection. Still, there are legitimate questions regarding his pro potential.
Noel is skinny, and playing center in the NBA could be physically challenging for him.
Will he be really more of a power forward in the pros? Will his offense be solid enough to make him a truly dominant player?
These are valid questions, but Noel has too much potential to be viewed as anything but the top prospect—unless something surprising happens.
Marcus Smart is a big, physical point guard who has played very well for the Cowboys. Possessing good athleticism and leadership skills, it's not hard to see him turning into a Chauncey Billups-type pro.
But there are some serious questions about Smart.
His perimeter shooting has been sorely lacking, and he will need to greatly improve that part of his game in the NBA. He also commits a high amount of turnovers and makes many questionable decisions on offense. These issues can be chalked up to youth, or they may be a signal of a problem that he will never solve.
At this point I am led to believe it's the former—he won't turn 19 until next month.
As I have previously mentioned, Ben McLemore should be treated as a sophomore for our purposes. He seems like a safe pick, and that is one reason he will probably be selected in the top five.
But will McLemore really be able to dominate at the next level?
His athleticism is impressive in college, but in the pros it will look much more normal. Does McLemore really have the high ceiling many scouts claim he does? His numbers are good, but they are not great. The same can probably be said of his physical tools.
It seems more likely that McLemore will be the third-best player on a decent NBA team than a perennial All-Star.
The knock on Anthony Bennett, unsurprisingly, is his height.
Can he be an excellent power forward in the NBA at his size? And is he capable of playing small forward?
Bennett has been an offensive force all season long, but scouts have very good reason to question whether Bennett can hold his own at the next level, particularly on defense.
Bennett is not the dominant college rebounder Kenneth Faried and Paul Millsap were, but his superb offensive output makes him intriguing as an undersized power forward.
Archie Goodwin started the year looking like a top-five pick. He has since significantly cooled down. As an athlete, he is right up there with Noel as the best in his class.
Can he harness his explosiveness to become a dominant NBA guard? Can he improve his shot on offense and consistency on defense?
John Calipari apparently compared Goodwin to Russell Westbrook earlier this season, and while such comparisons are usually silly, this one makes sense. Like Westbrook, Goodwin seems bound to be underused in college, and to have only adequate numbers.
But with such obvious physical tools, there is a chance Goodwin could be special. It is also important to note Goodwin is very young, and will not turn 19 until August.
Another Wildcat, Willie Cauley-Stein looks the part of NBA center. But he has not played much, partially because of a medical issue. Will more playing time make him look only average? Are there injury concerns?
If Cauley-Stein can play well over the next month he will probably be picked in the top 10, but that is a big "if." He really hasn't shown that much yet.
Some people love Isaiah Austin, but I have yet to see what the fuss is about. He is a rail-thin seven-footer with a perimeter-oriented game. While such a player can have value, he seems unlikely to become a star in the NBA.
I doubt Austin can handle the nightly physical beating the NBA brings. I also question his ability to hold his own defensively. The fact he is so highly regarded in some quarters means we must keep an eye on him, though.
I doubt it, though. He has scored well at UCLA, but done little else to deserve being considered a top prospect. High scoring swingmen who do little else seldom become excellent NBA players.
Not as hyped as his fellow freshmen teammates, Jordan Adams has been UCLA's best player for most of the season. He plays the game at his own pace. Questions about his athleticism will dog him throughout his college career.
Can he defend NBA shooting guards? And will his unique offensive style carry over well to the next level?
He looks like a solid pro to me.
One of the more highly touted freshman in the country coming into the season, Kyle Anderson is a very difficult player to categorize. He has the talent to play any position on the floor—but the question is, can he play any of them well at the next level?
Anderson has had a terrible shooting year and will have to greatly improve in that area in order to regain his footing as a top prospect. Like many of these players, he might become a much more coveted prospect if he returns for his sophomore year.
The big center from New Zealand has disappointed a lot of Pitt fans with a lackluster freshman campaign, but the numbers really aren't that bad at all.
Will Steven Adams be able to continue to learn the game on the fly when he becomes a pro? Does he have an offensive game that is capable of at least slightly expanding? Is he physical enough to play big minutes at the next level?
Adams' stock could quickly rise if he answers some of these questions over the next month.
Yet another Wildcat. Highly rated by some, Alex Poythress has often looked lost on the floor, but has put up some good offensive numbers.
What position will he play in the pros? Is he capable defensively?
If he improves his all-around game, Poythress could rise into the top 10, but personally I do not see great pro potential.
Glenn Robinson is playing on an excellent team, and has performed pretty well. What is his upside? Does he possess the skills to become an excellent NBA forward? Can he dramatically improve his defense?
At this point, Robinson seems unlikely to crack the lottery. But being a highly touted freshman with skill, you never know.