NBA Mock Draft: Highlighting Potential Sleepers of First Round

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NBA Mock Draft: Highlighting Potential Sleepers of First Round
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA draft is known for the studs that are taken at or near the top of the first round, but the men taken later on who become All-Stars often carry a greater legacy.

Take former point guard Sam Cassell, for instance. He spent 15 seasons in the NBA, was named to one All-Star team and won three championships while becoming one of the league's better scoring point guards. On his draft night in 1993, he was not taken until the 24th selection of the first round.

Similarly, five-time champion and future Hall-of-Famer Kobe Bryant was taken 13th overall in 1996, then a high-schooler whose NBA career could have gone in any direction. Today, he is one of the most talked about players in league history.

This year's draft pool is full of potential sleepers in the first round, from the middle all the way down to the bottom and even towards the top as well. Wherever they land, they'll certainly be worth watching a little more than the alpha dogs of the prospect pool.

 

*Draft order is based off of NBA standings as of February 22, 2013

 

1. Charlotte Bobcats: Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas

Kemba Walker needs a go-to guy, and a pure scorer in McLemore would be ideal. The freshman is averaging 16.3 points per game for the Jayhawks and is shooting 50 percent from the field, plus 43 percent from downtown.

He is the clear-cut choice at No. 1, and seeing him picked anywhere else would be beyond shocking.

 

2. Orlando Magic: Shabazz Muhammad, SG, UCLA

Now that J.J. Redick is gone, Orlando needs a player who can start scoring immediately. Muhammad has done just that for the Bruins this season, posting 18.5 points per game while shooting 46 percent from the floor and 42.5 percent from long range.

Muhammad has also done a good job of picking his shots wisely this season. Once he works on his defensive game, he'll be set to be a fine impact player in the NBA.

 

3. Washington Wizards: Nerlens Noel, F/C, Kentucky

Even with a torn ACL, Noel's draft stock is sky high. He has solid height at 6'10", but needs to spend some time in the weight room to bulk up his 224 pound frame.

Just the same, Washington needs a big man to complement John Wall and Bradley Beal, and Noel would be an ideal target for GM Ernie Grunfeld. He was averaging 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks before his injury, so he could definitely be the defensive beast that the Wizards need in the middle.

 

4. Cleveland Cavaliers: Anthony Bennett, F, UNLV

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Just how Kenneth Faried came out of nowhere in 2011, Anthony Bennett will in 2013. The Canadian freshman is averaging 17.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Runnin' Rebels this season and works the low post with a dominant nature.

Like Faried, Bennett also does not have much size at 6'8", 240 pounds. However, though this positioning may seem a bit high for him, do not be so quick to doubt him.

Once he can improve his jump shot and diversify his scoring outside of the low post, he's going to be something special.

 

5. Phoenix Suns: Cody Zeller, C, Indiana

Nothing against Marcin Gortat, but his work against top centers is nowhere near top-notch. As the Suns enter their new era, they need a center who is going to be a competitor on the inside and never back down from a battle.

Enter Zeller, the 7'0" sophomore who is largely responsible for why Indiana is ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 this season. He has averaged 16.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game and would be perfect on a team that plays an up-tempo offense and uses the pick-and-roll a lot.

Assuming Phoenix chooses to keep that philosophy, Zeller would be a perfect fit in the desert.

 

6. Sacramento Kings: Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse

The problem with Sacramento's point guards right now is that they're score-first. Isaiah Thomas, Jimmer Fredette and Aaron Brooks only average a combined 7.1 dimes per game, unacceptable on a team with as much young talent as Sacramento.

Enter Michael Carter-Williams, who has averaged 8.2 assists and three steals for Syracuse this season. The sophomore is also big for a point guard at 6'6", 185 pounds, and has the pass-first mentality Sacramento needs at the point.

Don't let his shooting just 38 percent from the field turn you off of him. With time, Carter-Williams could become a solid passer and defender a la Rajon Rondo, only bigger.

 

7. New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans: Otto Porter, F, Georgetown

People are quick to write off Georgetown as a school all about centers and no scoring, as the Princeton offense is built around the big man. However, Porter is breaking convention and is a big reason the Hoyas have made some noise this season.

The 6'8" sophomore is averaging 15.1 points and 7.7 rebounds this season, and has shown vast improvement with his mid-range jumper. He needs to add some muscle before he can make any sort of impact in the pros, but his athleticism is strong on both ends of the floor. Should he adjust, rebuilding New Orleans would be a great fit for him.

 

8. Minnesota Timberwolves: Alex Len, C, Maryland

Nikola Pekovic will be a restricted free agent in July and if he proves too expensive for Minnesota, insurance at the 5 is going to be needed. Not only does Len work the low-post well like Pekovic, but he also brings more size and more of an explosive nature.

The Ukrainian sophomore stands 7'1" and weighs in at 255 pounds, and is averaging 12.4 points, eight boards and 2.1 blocks for the Terps this season. It may take time for him to adjust to the NBA, but the fact that he is an international prospect playing well on the American collegiate level speaks volumes about his potential.

In time, look for him to be an All-Star.

 

9. Detroit Pistons: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State

At 6'4", 225 pounds, Smart is not a conventionally built guard, nor does his game resemble any type of convention. If anything, he is like Iman Shumpert in that he is not a strong scorer, but a top defender.

This would explain why Smart has shot just 40 percent from the field in averaging 15 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.9 steals this season, but just 4.4 assists. Just the same, Detroit needs defense and Smart has lots of it. With coaching, he can further develop his game and become more of a passing point guard on top of his defense.

 

10. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Toronto Raptors): Victor Oladipo, G/F, Indiana

The Thunder would love to have a scorer who can slash and dash his way to the hoop, and Oladipo is exactly that. Though just 6'5", 214 pounds, he is averaging 14 points, six rebounds and 2.4 steals while shooting an astounding 64 percent from the field.

Don't let his size fool you. This young man is bound for a strong NBA career once he can improve his jump shot, at which point he'll be extremely dangerous.

 

11. Philadelphia 76ers: Mason Plumlee, C, Duke

Right now, we're at the part of the draft where big men will be flying off the board. Since Andrew Bynum's knees have proven too volatile for even one season in the City of Brotherly Love, Sixers GM Tony DiLeo will look for a young scoring center that has yet to peak.

Enter Plumlee, who has broken out his senior season to the tune of 17.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. With a refined low post game and good size at 6'10", 235 pounds, he could definitely be the solid big man Philly needs to complement Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner.

 

12. Charlotte Bobcats (from Portland Trail Blazers): Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga

Say what you want about Gonzaga being overrated, not having any quality wins, etc. That does not take away from the fact that Olynyk can play and could be a solid fit for the Bobcats at either power forward or center with his 7'0", 238 pound frame.

Olynyk can be a force on the inside and also stretch the floor, and is averaging 17.9 points and 6.9 rebounds for the Bulldogs this year. He's a bit like Byron Mullens in that he likes to incorporate a mid-to-long range game, but also shows zero hesitation when it comes to standing and banging under the basket, thus his 65 percent field goal rate.

He's definitely a project player, but definitely has a tremendous upside.

 

13. Dallas Mavericks: Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky

When the Dallas Mavericks won a championship in 2011, much of it was thanks to solid defense in the middle from Tyson Chandler. Since he departed for the New York Knicks via free agency following that season, the Mavs have had a gaping hole in the paint, one that not even Chris Kaman can fill.

Cauley-Stein is young at just 19 years old, but has the size at 7'0", 244 pounds that Dallas needs. He's only averaging 8.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks for the Wildcats, but works the low post well and can become a solid center like Chandler in the next few years.

 

14. Phoenix Suns (from Los Angeles Lakers): Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia

Assuming that the Suns choose to remain a team that's all about offense, they're going to need a shooting guard that can score more than either Jared Dudley or Shannon Brown. Caldwell-Pope has the size for the 2 at 6'5", 205 pounds and has averaged 17.6 points per game while shooting 37 percent from long range.

The only mark against Caldwell-Pope is that he is a bit overly dependent on his three-point game, which could damn him in the NBA. With the proper coaching and lots of patience, he can become a solid shooting guard with the greater potential to be special in his own unique way.

 

15. Milwaukee Bucks: Trey Burke, PG, Michigan

Should Brandon Jennings prove to be too expensive in restricted free agency, Milwaukee is going to need a floor general who will be fully able to balance his scoring with his distribution. Since Burke has done that and more for the Wolverines this season, he could be a perfect fit in Milwaukee.

The sophomore does not have much size at 6'0", 191 pounds, but is averaging 18.6 points, 6.9 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 39 percent from long range. He is a pure leader who makes his team better and in Milwaukee, that is just the type of point man that the roster needs.

Even if Jennings does come back, don't be surprised to see Burke get some extended minutes off the bench and become a dynamic presence, a la Eric Bledsoe.

 

16. Boston Celtics: Tony Mitchell, F, North Texas

At 6'8", 235 pounds, one would not expect Mitchell to be a strong interior defender. Then his stats come up, and shock sets in.

In his sophomore season for the Mean Green, Mitchell is averaging 13.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. His long arms allow him to be a force in the paint, and when it comes to Boston, he is the perfect man to both complement Jared Sullinger while also serving as an insurance policy for the soon-to-be second-year player's balky back.

 

17. Atlanta Hawks (from Houston Rockets): C.J. McCollum, G, Lehigh

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

McCollum is undersized for a shooting guard at 6'3", 200 pounds, but one thing is clear. The man can score.

He's averaging 23.9 points per game in his senior season with the Mountain Hawks and is shooting an eye-popping 52 percent from downtown. Given the Hawks' needs at the 2, GM Danny Ferry should definitely take McCollum if he's available. The team is about to have a huge hole in the scoring department, assuming Josh Smith doesn't re-sign in free agency, and McCollum could help fill that void.

It's going to take some time for him to adjust to the NBA level, as it did fellow undersized 2-guard Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards, but McCollum has a high ceiling. More players out of smaller schools are starting to make an impact in the NBA (i.e. Andrew Nicholson, from St. Bonaventure), and McCollum has the opportunity to put these smaller conferences on the map.

 

18. Utah Jazz: Dario Saric, F, Croatia

Saric has the size for the NBA at 6'10", 225 pounds, but international prospects in the NBA level are very hit or miss. Just the same, Utah could definitely use his size and athleticism at the 3.

Once he can balance his scoring with his defensive skills, the sky will be the limit for him.

 

19. Atlanta Hawks: Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan

Assuming Smith does leave, Atlanta is going to have to fill a hole at forward as well. Whether or not Robinson III is the long-term solution at the position remains to be seen, but the Hawks owe it to themselves to take a chance on the dynamic youngster.

In his one year of college ball, Robinson III is averaging 11.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He doesn't have much size at just 6'6", 210 pounds, but is an explosive dunker with an ever-developing offense.

He isn't going to be as dynamic as Smith, nor a Shawn Marion type that can do it all, but Robinson III has determination and the drive to do well, and that should count for something on draft day.

 

20. Chicago Bulls: Allen Crabbe, SG, California

Derrick Rose needs a pure scorer to help him carry the load, and GM Gar Forman should be sure to draft Crabbe to fill that void if he's available. The junior Golden Bear is averaging 19.5 points per game and shooting 36 percent from long range, and has the natural touch that Chicago needs at the position.

He has the build at 6'6", 210 pounds, so it's just a matter of him adjusting to the league and building a solid on-court relationship with Rose. At that point, the Bulls would finally be a complete team.

 

21. Utah Jazz (from Golden State Warriors): Rudy Gobert, C, France

Enes Kanter is ready to step into the starting center's role next season, but it can't hurt Utah to have a solid backup. Gobert can be that with his 7'1", 230 pound frame, as his work above the rim and shot blocking abilities are well known in Europe.

He is the perfect complement to power forward Derrick Favors, so it is just a matter of GM Ted Lindsey choosing how to get his next backup 5.

 

22. Brooklyn Nets: Isaiah Austin, F/C, Baylor

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kris Humphries has worn out his welcome in Brooklyn, and Reggie Evans is little more than a backup who can rebound well. The Nets need a viable power forward who can be a multitalented force, and his name is Isaiah Austin.

The freshman has the height at 7'1", but is way too skinny at 220 pounds. His 13.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game are impressive, but he won't be able to make an impact in Brooklyn until he beefs up and subs out his jumper for a strong interior game. At that point, the Nets' defense will become all the more stronger.

 

23. Denver Nuggets: Doug McDermott, G/F, Creighton

Nothing against Andre Iguodala, but he is not the best option at shooting guard in George Karl's system. Assuming he opts out of his contract and hits free agency, GM Masai Ujiri will need to have a backup plan at the 2.

McDermott has mostly played small forward at Creighton but has the build for the 2 at 6'8", 225 pounds. In his junior season, he is averaging 22.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 55 percent from the field and an astounding 48 percent from long range.

He isn't overly athletic nor the same type of defensive force as Iguodala, but McDermott definitely has the extra bounce in his step on offense so that he can help the Nuggets reach the next level.

 

24. New York Knicks: James McAdoo, F, North Carolina

The Knicks need defense, and lots of it. Fortunately, that happens to be McAdoo's specialty.

The sophomore Tar Heel is averaging 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds to go with 1.5 steals per game, and has a solid defender's build at 6'9", 230 pounds. The only real problem with him is that his free-throw shooting is abysmal, at 57 percent for this season, and on offense, it appears that he's trying a bit too hard to be Gerald Wallace. McAdoo has the pesky defensive skill set, but his jump shot is nowhere near as strong as his interior game, as is the case with Wallace.

Once he finds that balance, McAdoo will definitely have the potential to be a much more defensive version of Wallace, but only if he rights the free throw ship.

 

25. Indiana Pacers: Isaiah Canaan, PG, Murray State

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

George Hill's passing game has definitely improved, but he is still more of a shooter than a floor general. The same can be said for Canaan, who has posted 21.2 points per game this season compared to just 4.2 assists, but he has the leadership abilities and presence that Indiana's offense needs.

Don't let the low assist totals fool you. Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, of Weber State, only posted 3.4 assists in four years of college, and now he's a great scoring point man in the NBA and en route to the Rookie of the Year Award. Perhaps Canaan can be that same story.

 

26. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Memphis Grizzlies): Lorenzo Brown, SG, North Carolina State

Minnesota needs a defensive guard to help complement the shooter Alexey Shved, and Brown can easily fill that role. He's only averaging 12.7 points per game, but has also posted 6.8 assists and two steals.

With a solid guard's build at 6'5", 188 pounds, look for Brown to become a top defender on the NBA level.

 

27. Los Angeles Clippers: Tim Hardaway Jr., SG, Michigan

In his junior season for the Wolverines, Hardaway Jr. has done a great job of improving his overall game. He is averaging 15.2 points per game and shooting 41 percent from long range. His offensive abilities and supreme athleticism will help him become an impact player in the next few seasons, so fans should be patient with him.

Oh, and mark my words. In 2014, he WILL win the Slam Dunk Contest.

 

28. Oklahoma City Thunder: Jeff Withey, C, Kansas

At this point, any center would be an improvement over Kendrick Perkins in Oklahoma City. Withey has the size at 7'0", 235 pounds, and his four blocks per game this year make him a perfect interior presence in OKC.

He won't start nor see many minutes off the bench, but that type of defense is rare and GM Sam Presti is surely going to jump at the opportunity to land some of it.

 

29. Cleveland Cavaliers (from Miami Heat): C.J. Leslie, F, North Carolina State

Cleveland could use some help in shoring up its defense, and Leslie is the man to help them do that. He has the build for the paint at 6'9", but is a bit small at 200 pounds. Once he adds some meat onto the skin and bones, he is sure to become a solid rebounder that can provide Tristan Thompson with some help off the bench.

 

30. San Antonio Spurs: Lucas Nogueira, C, Brazil

Nogueira is only 20, but has a good NBA body at 7'0", 220 pounds, albeit one that needs some time in the weight room. It may be a few years before he plays in an NBA game, but the Spurs would be a good fit for him.

Gregg Popovich is a master at getting the best out of young players, notably Danny Green and Tiago Splitter this season, and Nogueira will be no exception. Once he joins the league, he'll be in a position to learn under the best coach for him.

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