10 NCAA Basketball Players Who Have Improved Their NBA Stock Most This Year
Heading into the season, we all had preconceived visions of who every prospect was and what type of player they'd be.
But as the season progressed, some of those visions have changed. These prospects have broken through their shells and emerged as the most attractive candidates to fill out an NBA rotation.
Ben McLemore, Kansas, 6'5'', SG
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Nobody really knew what to expect from redshirt freshman Ben McLemore heading into the year. We knew he had talent, but were unsure how it would translate.
Many had projected him as a mid-first rounder, while some people I spoke to didn't expect him one-and-done.
But McLemore's NBA build, athleticism and sweet outside stroke have propelled him into the top tier of prospects. He fits the bill as a starting NBA shooting guard in almost every way possible, except for the ability to create his own offense in the half court.
But shooting guards can be effective complementary scorers, which is exactly what McLemore projects as.
He's averaging 15.9 points per game on 42.3 percent shooting, as has emerged as arguably the safest draft target in the field.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6'4'', PG/SG
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Marcus Smart entered his freshman year with an impressive track record consisting of two high school state championships and a gold medal at the FIBA World Championships.
But not many had him pegged as the top point guard prospect in the country. Maybe that's because nobody was sure it was his natural position.
After several months at Oklahoma State, we're now sure.
He's built like a shooting guard, yet has a point guard's brain. Smart has helped put the Cowboys on the map, which reflects more on his draft stock than the 14.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.4 and 2.9 steals per game he's averaging.
Anthony Bennett, UNLV, 6'7'', SF/PF
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Anthony Bennett was a highly-touted recruit, but he was barely on the 2013 NBA draft map. It's not difficult to understand why. He's undersized for an NBA power forward and doesn't have the look of a wing.
But looks can be deceiving.
Bennett has shown the agility and mobility to play the small forward position, while showing off his strength and aggression on the interior.
Instead of being labeled a tweener, Bennett has now earned the status of a combo forward, whose versatility allows him to become an offensive mismatch.
Bennett will be in the first pick overall conversation as we approach pre-draft festivities. He's averaging 17 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse, 6'6'', PG
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Michael Carter-Williams was mostly a spectator as a freshman, so to see his name amongst lottery candidates means he's done something right as a sophomore.
He's currently second in the country in assists, at 7.9 per game, which should come as a surprise considering he was never labeled a pure pass-first distributor.
But it turns out he has every tool to indeed become a facilitator as opposed to a scorer, and at 6'6'' with NBA athleticism, his physical attributes raise his ceiling even higher.
With some added polish as a decision-maker and jump shooter, we could be looking at one of the more difficult future NBA matchups.
Victor Oladipo, Indiana, 6'5'', SG
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Victor Oladipo was considered a borderline second-rounder entering his junior year after seeing two seasons at Indiana where he relied solely on athleticism.
He's improved his ball-handling skills and jump shot (48 percent from three) to the point where he's an unpredictable offensive threat with the ball in his hands.
Pair that with his stifling defense and relentless motor, and Oladipo has established himself as a legitimate two-way prospect.
I've always felt that a playoff team would fall in love at the end of the first round, but I've changed my stance. Someone in the lottery will snag him first.
Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga, 7'0'', C
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Kelly Olynyk decided to redshirt last year knowing he wouldn't get any burn playing behind Robert Sacre, now of the Los Angeles Lakers.
It turns out he did wonders to his game in his spare time.
Olynyk is arguably the most improved player in all of college basketball, averaging 17.7 points and seven boards on 66 percent shooting.
Nobody has been able to slow him down at the college level, and with 7'0'' size you pretty much expect it to translate. He's scoring inside and out, and though somewhat awkward, he has deceptive mobility.
Virtually unknown to start the year, Olynyk will start getting looks in the lottery because of his size and NBA skill set.
Mason Plumlee, Duke, 7'0'', PF/C
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Everyone knew Mason Plumlee, but not as the lottery prospect.
He's revamped his offensive game to the point where he's an option in the post, developing an over-the-shoulder jump hook he uses as a go-to move, while also maintaining activity level on the glass and above the rim.
At 7'0'' with his level of athleticism and mobility, Plumlee would have been coveted even without an offensive game. Now that he's averaging 17.5 points and has increased his free-throw percentage from 52 percent to 66 percent, Plumlee looks the part of an offensive NBA weapon.
Mike Muscala, Bucknell, 6'11'', PF/C
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Nobody is going to generate much NBA attention at Bucknell, but Mike Muscala found a way to do the impossible.
Despite playing inferior competition on a regular basis, his level of dominance is too strong to overlook.
Muscala is top five in the country in rebounding at over 11 per game, while averaging 19 points using a polished offensive repertoire. He's a solid finisher inside, with the size and willingness to bang on the glass, clean up a mess and defend the post.
He's also shown a reliable mid-range jumper, which should translate to pick-and-pop success at the next level.
Muscala may not possess the athleticism that will knock your socks off, but he's got desirable tools for an NBA frontcourt.
Cory Jefferson, Baylor, 6'9'', PF
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Cory Jefferson averaged just over three points in 10 minutes as a sophomore playing behind a deep front line at Baylor.
As a junior, he's taken on a bigger role and ran with it, averaging 11.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks on 58.2 percent shooting.
Just looking at him, Jefferson has a monstrous NBA frame with long arms and a tough upper body. He's got the ideal build for an NBA power forward.
Jefferson is still a raw offensive player, but if he's got the ball on the low block he's proven too strong to be turned away. With some offensive development, Jefferson has the tools to become an effective low-post big man.
His physical presence alone could be an attractive quality to a team looking to beef up its front line.
Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan, 6'5'', SG
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Tim Hardaway Jr.'s game had been criticized in the past for illustrating a low-percentage brand that wouldn't be tolerated in an NBA lineup.
But Hardaway has improved his efficiency, most notably from behind the arc where he's shooting nearly 40 percent as opposed to the 28.3 percent he shot last year.
Hardaway has shown a valuable ability to play on an off the ball, creating offense for himself or finishing it as a spot-up shooter and slasher towards the rim.
With the size and athleticism of an NBA guard, it will come down to making shots when given the opportunity. And at Michigan so far this year, he's done just that.