The 2013 NBA draft is still a few months out, but early March is a perfect time to predict where some of the best players are going to land this coming June.
While the NCAA tournament is sure to have a few players sky up the big board (and have others subsequently fall off), there are a few elite prospects that will certainly land in the first round regardless of how they fare in the Big Dance.
Let’s take a look at the projected top-30 picks, with the order based on current record and predicted finish.
1. Charlotte Bobcats: Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas
McLemore is a born scorer that would fit in perfectly with the Bobcats' youth movement.
With Kemba Walker manning the point, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist bringing hustle and heart from the 3 and a host of other up-and-comers on the roster, this Jayhawk could provide the firepower needed to leave the NBA’s basement as early as the 2013-14 campaign.
2. Orlando Magic: Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
Jameer Nelson’s time in Orlando is just about up, leaving room for an elite draft selection like Smart to come and pick up the slack.
This 6’4” Pokes product possesses the prototypical size, playmaking ability, athleticism and basketball IQ teams covet in a modern PG.
3. Washington Wizards: Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
While Nerlens Noel's freshman season was cut short, we still have him as the highest-rated big man on the board.
He’s a special athlete with incredible athleticism, defensive awareness and—most importantly—a motor. That’s just something you can’t teach and is hard to find in a big man these days.
Expect the Wizards to bring this youngster in to augment their blossoming backcourt.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers: Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown
The Cavs have been absolutely nailing draft picks lately, bringing in Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters over the past two seasons.
Selecting Porter would add an extra dimension to the offense and looks to be a home run, especially after his recent display of crunch-time scoring prowess.
With Cleveland needing a top-tier wing player to round out their starting five, we can’t see anyone but Porter coming off the board here.
5. Sacramento Kings: Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana
Oladipo is one of the quickest risers in the 2013 class, but for good reason.
He’s one of the strongest defenders in college basketball, possesses insane athleticism and a motor that just doesn’t quit.
The Kings direly need more players that are willing to try hard on every possession, even if they have numerous guards under contract already.
6. Phoenix Suns: Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV
The Suns need to augment their frontcourt by adding a bruising 4, as neither of the Morris twins fits that description.
If Bennett were a few inches taller than 6’8”, he’d likely be considered the No. 1 pick. This undersized big man uses pure power to muscle his way into the paint for scores and rebounds, while having the touch to go out to the three-point line if necessary.
7. New Orleans Hornets: Alex Len, C, Maryland
The Hornets have two great power forwards in Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis, now they need a true pivot to get the most out of the frontcourt.
Len has a huge, 7’1” frame and a wide array of low-post moves that old school big men used to display. He’s a throwback talent and should help the Pelicans get on track next season.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves: Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State
Minnesota’s search for a productive 2 continues in the 2013 draft, but the front office may finally find a solution if it selects Harris out of Michigan State.
The Spartans star is a natural scorer with range from anywhere on the court, plus a great defender. These attributes make him a natural complement to Ricky Rubio in the T-Wolves’ backcourt.
9. Detroit Pistons: Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA
After trading away Tayshaun Prince during the 2012-13 campaign, the Pistons are in the market for a new wing stopper and scorer.
While Muhammad is a bit undersized at 6’5”, he’s willing to bust his butt on every play and is just as great a scorer as Prince.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: Cody Zeller, C, Indiana
With Andrew Bynum’s future uncertain, the Sixers will need to address their lack of productive big men with this pick.
Zeller is a great pick as he should be able to immediately contribute, run the floor and soak up plenty of minutes at both the center and PF spots. The Hoosier may never develop into an All-Star, but he’s going to be a solid player in this league.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto): Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
Kendrick Perkins is owed a lot of money and hasn’t been the most productive center; meaning OKC could elect to amnesty the veteran this summer.
Should they choose to do so, Cauley-Stein would be a cheap and suitable replacement. The seven-footer has plenty of upside as a shot-blocking, defensive-minded 5.
12. Dallas Mavericks: Dario Saric, SF, Croatia
Dallas hasn’t been afraid to search overseas for talent before, notably bringing in superstar Dirk Nowitzki and developing him into a star.
Could magic strike twice with Saric? The 18-year-old prospect has an intrinsic feel for the game, helping him to score, facilitate and rebound with ease.
Despite his youth and inexperience, this Croatian may be the best hope for the Mavs’ future.
13. Charlotte Bobcats: Mason Plumlee, PF, Duke
The Bobcats need more energy guys and Plumlee looks to be the ultimate glue guy in this draft.
He’s clearly not a superstar in the making, but this Blue Devils senior can run the floor, create opportunities for himself and his teammates by hustling for second-chance looks, grab boards and do all the little things that contending teams need.
Should Charlotte ever desire to join those ranks, a player like Plumlee will be instrumental in the process of getting there.
14. Phoenix Suns (via Lakers): C.J. McCollum, SG, Lehigh
Before breaking his foot, McCollum was once again wowing fans with his incredible scoring ability.
The Suns have a huge need for a talented bucket-maker; regardless of what position he plays.
McCollum would be in a perfect situation out in Phoenix, as he would likely be handed the keys to the offense—much as Damian Lillard was given free rein this year in Portland.
15. Milwaukee Bucks: Alex Poythress, SF, Kentucky
The Bucks have plenty of talent in the backcourt and some great big men, making a wing the best direction to go here at No. 15.
Poythress may be extremely raw and prone to mental lapses, but his athleticism is undeniable and his upside is something Milwaukee must be willing to gamble on to become an elite team.
16. Boston Celtics: Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
With Rajon Rondo out for an extended period of time with an ACL injury, Burke could get valuable minutes in the C’s rotation.
He’s a bit undersized, but the 6’0” PG is one of the better college players in the game and should have no problem translating his scoring and facilitating skills to the NBA.
17. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston): Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan
Robinson is super raw and struggles against top-notch competition, but he’s worth a mid-first round flier here to the Hawks.
He can knock down jumpers, get to the cup and shoot threes—providing a wide-array of scoring opportunities for Atlanta from the swingman position.
18. Utah Jazz: Michael Carter-Williams, G, Syracuse
It’s no secret that the Jazz have too many good bigs and barely any great guards.
While Carter-Williams is far from a sure thing, he’s arguably the best facilitator in the class.
If he can help to feed those power forwards and centers down low, his suspect shooting and poor handle may not be as glaring of an issue.
19. Atlanta Hawks: Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga
Should Josh Smith decide to take his talents elsewhere in free agency, the Hawks could go with a big man in the first round.
They would then be able to move Al Horford to his natural power forward position, slotting a rookie into the pivot spot.
It’s quite a risk, but it’s possibly Atlanta’s best option should J-Smoove sign with another franchise.
20. Utah Jazz (via Golden State): Jamaal Franklin, SG, San Diego State
With the Jazz getting their PG earlier, we like them bolstering their depth in the backcourt here with Franklin.
The San Diego State stud is a superb athlete who rebounds like a machine for his position, but has to work on his jumper to become an effective NBA weapon.
21. Brooklyn Nets: Isaiah Austin, PF, Baylor
Austin is a major project, but the Nets don’t have many other ways to improve the poor play at the 4.
Until he bulks up, the Bears player is going to be riding the pine in the NBA. If he’s able to put some weight on and gain some strength, Austin could be one of the more unique stretch power forwards in the league and greatly help Brooklyn’s quest to win a title.
22. Chicago Bulls: Archie Goodwin, SG, Kentucky
Marco Belinelli has been a solid surprise for Chicago, but the Italian is lacking in athleticism and defensive ability.
If the Bulls select Goodwin, he could augment the SG position with his out-of-this-world slashing ability and capability to defend quick opponents.
Unfortunately, he’s not much of a shooter and would not be able to stretch the floor when he’s out on the court. That’s something this Wildcat must work on to become a true star in the Association.
23. Denver Nuggets: Rudy Gobert, PF, France
Denver is extremely deep, giving the club the luxury of taking a player they can stash in Europe and develop for a while—or potentially turn into a trading chip for a superstar.
Gobert has a 7’9” wingspan and looks like an interesting player, but could be far more valuable to the Nuggets if he eventually nets them the go-to player they need to become real contenders.
24. New York Knicks: James Michael McAdoo, PF, UNC
McAdoo was once a lottery prospect that killed his stock over the course of his sophomore season.
He’s improved it a bit in the latter half of the 2012-13 campaign, but we’re still not sold on him ever panning out and being worth an early selection.
Considering the Knicks need to add some youth all over the court, they might take a gamble and bolster their frontcourt here.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Memphis): Kyle Anderson, SF, UCLA
Anderson’s a special player that can play down low or run the point-forward, depending on how a team desires to use his skill set.
If he declares for the draft, we expect he could go anywhere from the lottery to late first, which is where we have him when he falls to Minnesota here.
26. Indiana Pacers: B.J. Young, PG, Arkansas
The Pacers are loaded with depth and talent, but could use some more spark in their second unit.
Backup PG D.J. Augustin isn’t bad, but Young’s a great option to provide instant offense off the pine—even if he’s not much of a facilitator.
27. Los Angeles Clippers: Patric Young, C, Florida
The Lob City Clippers are chock-full of athletic players that find themselves on the highlight reel often, making Florida’s Young a great option to back up DeAndre Jordan at the 5.
He doesn’t have the markings of a great starter in the NBA, but projects to be a suitable backup and could help this team in limited minutes.
28. Oklahoma City Thunder: Tony Mitchell, SF, North Texas
The Thunder stopped Perry Jones’ slide last year and could do the same with Tony Mitchell in 2013.
Mitchell’s a talented scorer, but hasn’t been showing it during his time with the Mean Green.
Perhaps a breath of fresh air and some star teammates will help him live up to his potential.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Miami): Jeff Withey, C, Kansas
The Cavs are right on the cusp of contending, but still are a few pieces away.
A defensive-minded center with great defensive presence and shot-blocking skills is one of those missing parts, which is a void Withey could fill off their bench.
30. San Antonio Spurs: Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton
McDermott is a great pick for the Spurs, as he is adept at catching and shooting all over the court and could greatly benefit from the plays that coach Gregg Popovich cooks up.
While he may never be an elite wing player, McDermott could light up the scoreboard some nights and stretch the floor in San Antonio.