The 2013 NCAA tournament heads into the round of 32 on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great time to look at some of the most recent projections for the 2013 NBA draft.
Sixty selections are to be had in June’s draft, but the first 30 are the ones we’re most worried about on this Saturday morning, especially with the tournament in full swing and the nation’s top playmakers on display for the entire country to see on a big stage.
Stud guards Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA and Ben McLemore of Kansas highlight a talented, yet underachieving group of prospects this year. Most of the guys listed below have not played a full four seasons in college—a trend that seams to be continuing as we move deeper and deeper into this freshman craze.
In any event, most of the nation’s top players are freshman, partially because last year’s crop went ahead and went to the NBA. More than a handful of potential NBA stars remain, and here’s my updated look at where the country’s most talented playmakers could land amongst the 30 picks in the first round of the 2013 draft.
Note: Draft order courtesy of NBADraft.net and accurate as of the NBA standings on 3-22-13. For a look at outstanding trades and transactions that could affect draft order, check out this link from NBADraft.net.
1. Charlotte Bobcats—SG Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
If you want a playmaker, Muhammad is your guy.
The freshman, or reportedly freshman (as noted by Ken Bensinger of the Los Angeles Times), guard has been great since coming back from a three-game suspension to start the year. He's helped the Bruins by scoring over 17 points a game and showing the ability to dominate at times with his play.
Some like Ben McLemore here, and rightly so. Both guys are athletic studs who can play on the wing in the NBA. But Muhammad, to me, has more potential to grow into a dynamic force at the next level than McLemore does.
His body type, size and skill set (lefty that can finish) all boast to the fact that he was NBA-ready this season. It's hard to see Michael Jordan passing on that kind of talent.
2. Orlando Magic—C Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Speaking of talent, Nerlens Noel is the most talented center in the country, even if an ACL injury robbed him of the end of his freshman season.
Noel, who was averaging 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and a whopping 4.4 blocks per game in his first collegiate season, likely would have been in consideration for the top pick if he hadn't gone down with the ACL tear.
Heck, he might still be in contention.
He lands with the Magic in this mock draft—interesting because of the two centers (Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard) that the team drafted high and then watched go to the Los Angeles Lakers...twice.
It's way too early to make that comparison, but Noel would be a great fit in Orlando with budding NBA star Nikola Vucevic, who could then slide down and play power forward. Winners all around after a losing season for Orlando.
3. Washington Wizards—C/PF Cody Zeller, Indiana
The Wizards will be tempted to take the best player available in Ben McLemore, but they also don’t want to impede the progress of rookie Bradley Beal. Zeller is quite the talent around the basket and on defense if he decides to enter the draft. He would bolster the team's frontcourt instead of Washington stockpiling guards that can’t develop.
4. New Orleans Hornets—SF Otto Porter, Georgetown
Again, a team bypasses likely the top player on the board in favor of another college standout. Although Porter and the Hoyas went home early on Friday night to Florida Gulf Coast, the do-it-all forward is exactly the kind of guy point guard Greivis Vasquez and center Anthony Davis need to complete this squad.
Porter has the defense, scoring and intangibles that make him a candidate to go this high in any mock draft. Don’t be surprised if he’s the first true small forward taken in June.
5. Phoenix Suns—SG Ben McLemore, Kansas
The fall with McLemore stops here, and there really couldn’t be a better team in the top five for the redshirt freshman guard to land with.
McLemore has taken the Big 12 by storm this year with his stone-cold shooting, ability to get past defenders off the dribble and pesky defense—all traits that have him earning comparisons to one of the NBA’s best shooting guards of all time: Ray Allen.
That’s high praise for the 6’5” guard, but he has a long way to go to ever come close to that mantle.
In any event, a team like Phoenix would be the perfect fit for McLemore’s brand of play. Fellow Jayhawks Marcus and Markieff Morris are both Suns right now, giving him a smooth transition point into the league. And Phoenix’s offense is exactly the kind of run-and-gun play that a guy like McLemore would thrive in.
6. Detroit Pistons—PG/SG Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Speaking of thriving, Marcus Smart has done just that during his true freshman season at Oklahoma State.
The combo guard won both the Big 12 Freshman and Player of the Year Awards and, at times, looked like one of those kids who could have successfully made the jump from high school to the NBA.
Criticized at times for not being a true point guard (Smart was a small forward in high school), he's struggled with turnovers and poor shot selection—areas that also doomed the Cowboys in their second-round loss to the Oregon Ducks in the tournament.
In any event, Smart has the physical tools to attack the paint and the work ethic to improve his jump shot, which, right now, is the worst part of his game. Drawing comparisons to Russell Westbrook, Smart would add yet another young piece in Detroit and would form a fearsome backcourt combination with Brandon Knight.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers—C Alex Len, Maryland
Maryland might have struggled this year, but center Alex Len did enough with his pure size and play to stand out to NBA teams. As they say in NBA circles, you can’t teach size, but an NBA team would have a lot of fun letting Len develop in the right situation. That being said, look for the Cavaliers to be in play for a center early on in the draft.
8. Sacramento Kings—C/PF Isaiah Austin, Baylor
Personally, I don’t think Isaiah Austin is ready for the NBA. He needs to add weight and develop a better offensive game inside, or he’s destined to go through both a huge learning curve and be a full-time jump shooter for the first five-plus years of his career.
If he does elect to declare, Sacramento could be a nice fit, as his shooting and versatility would be a stark contrast to DeMarcus Cousins’ brash, physical inside game.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves—SF/PF Anthony Bennett, UNLV
As injury-ravaged and disappointing as this season was for the Timberwolves, the franchise could really use a spark in this draft to plug in beside Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. As good as Andrei Kirilenko was before injury, he can’t play forever. Lucky for Minnesota, Bennett has the same kind of versatility and his talent is likely too great to drop out of the top 10.
10. Philadelphia 76ers—C Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Cauley-Stein is another fringe prospect that might go pro, but he could elect to stay at Kentucky after a disappointing season. Look for Philadelphia to be in the market for a center after the Andrew Bynum saga this season, even if the 76ers decide to take the plunge and re-sign him in free agency. Bynum is unpredictable, and you need all the depth you can get behind him.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto Raptors)—PG/SG C.J. McCollum, Lehigh
Oklahoma City gets this pick after wheeling and dealing this offseason (James Harden). The Thunder also traded away yet another guard (Eric Maynor) to clear cap and open things up for Reggie Jackson.
I’m not sure the talent-happy Thunder are in the market for any kind of player (Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb are waiting), but C.J. McCollum is the kind of diamond-in-the-rough prospect that would have plenty of time to develop with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook holding it down.
12. Portland Trail Blazers—C/PF Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
Olynyk has made a lot of money so far with his play in the late stages of the regular season, and he added some more with his second-round performance (even if it was just against a No. 16 seed).
Olynyk shows a good feel for the rim, his teammates on the perimeter and is a nice shooting prospect, conjuring up images of several players (Pau Gasol, Luis Scola) that are comparable athletes. Portland would do well to add a different layer to its frontcourt with a guy like this.
13. Dallas Mavericks—PG Trey Burke, Michigan
If there’s one team in this draft that needs to change its fortunes with a playmaking guard, it’s the Dallas Mavericks. Darren Collison has been wildly inconsistent as a starter, former hopes Dominique Jones and Rodrigue Beaubois are both out of the mix (Jones was released) and Mike James is a filler guy at best.
Enter Trey Burke.
The Michigan sophomore and Big Ten Player of the Year can do it all. He’s an unselfish player (check out the second-round game against South Dakota State for more evidence), whether his shot is falling or not.
The Mavericks have been linked to Brandon Jennings in free agency, but he’s restricted and the closest thing to a franchise-changing pick in this draft is sitting right here on the board for Dallas. Hopefully the Mavericks pull the trigger on a guy that could be a franchise staple for years to come.
14. Utah Jazz—PG/SG Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
Utah and Burke are great fits together too, but with him off the board, the Jazz have to turn elsewhere. I like Michael Carter-Williams, who shows good promise on defense even though the Orange exclusively play the 2-3 zone.
He also shows nice vision on offense and can create his own shot—valuable tools that might entice the love of the Jazz, who appear to be a guard or two away from really taking that next step in the Western Conference. Randy Foye and Mo Williams have been good this year, but drafting a guy like MCW (who is 6'6") would set them up for the future.
15. Milwaukee Bucks—SG Victor Oladipo, Indiana
Between Jennings and Monta Ellis, it’s hard to see the Bucks keeping both. That could push them to also make a decision on JJ Redick. Bottom line: Milwaukee will yet again need a new guard in the draft, and the underrated Oladipo can both play tenacious defense and get his shot almost any time because of good patience and an improved jumper. This would be a good fit for both sides.
16. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Los Angeles Lakers)—SF Glenn Robinson III, Michigan
Cleveland added a PG (Kyrie Irving), a SG (Dion Waiters), a PF (Tristan Thompson) and a C (Tyler Zeller) in the last two drafts, and that makes small forward and obvious candidate right here. While Cleveland could elect to add depth behind its guards with this pick, Robinson III is an efficient, NBA-ready talent that would thrive as a spot-up shooter and occasional do-it-himself guy.
17. Atlanta Hawks—C Rudy Gobert, France
If the Hawks manage to make a play for Dwight Howard this summer, a pick like this could obviously change. But with the Hawks slated to get two picks in the same region of the draft, they can afford to be a little bit flippant. Gobert, a 7’1” center from France who has good ball skills and can shoot it some, would be a nice piece off the bench whether or not Howard was in tow.
18. Atlanta Hawks (via Houston Rockets)—SF/PF James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina
Right now, Atlanta is slated to pick back-to-back.
The impending departure of Josh Smith has to factor in to whatever decision this team makes with its draft pick.
The Danny Ferry era would get off to a nice start if he could add both a center and a combo forward to help replace Smith. James Michael McAdoo has some of the same athleticism that Smith brings to the table on a nightly basis.
19. Boston Celtics—PF Mason Plumlee, Duke
Let’s get real, Boston fans: Kevin Garnett can’t play forever. The aging forward has transcended the game by being a leader and an incredible defender, but he’s at the point where he can tutor some of the younger Celtics coming in.
Jared Sullinger is one of those guys, but Mason Plumlee will bring a physical, athletic presence to the team that selects him and an offensive game that continued to improve during his time at Duke.
20. Chicago Bulls—C Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
Have the Chicago Bulls missed Omer Asik this season? Ask a scorned fan and they might tell you no, but I think Chicago would benefit from having a designated center that brings the kind of defensive intensity that Asik did to the table.
The former center has thrived with the Houston Rockets, but Gorgui Dieng, a big part of what the Cardinals are doing in the tournament, brings the same ability to take on a defensive-minded role for coach Tom Thibodeau.
21. Utah Jazz (via Golden State Warriors)—PG Myck Kabongo, Texas
Yes, I know I have the Jazz selecting two guards in this mock draft. That’s how bad I feel they are going to look for guard help in the draft.
Texas’ Myck Kabongo will be on Utah’s short list of guys that could come in and grab a starting spot. He was injured to start the season, but his place in UT’s starting lineup was extremely noticeable and the Longhorns’ improved play had a lot to do with having Kabongo on the court. That’s the kind of impact Utah needs at point guard.
22. Brooklyn Nets—SF/PF Tony Mitchell, North Texas
Tony Mitchell is another guy that could benefit from another year of school. After a stellar freshman season, he took a step back on the radar and might wind up not being a first-round pick because of it. We saw that he has the tools to be a versatile player, but another year of school could put him up even higher on the board.
In any event, his particular skill set has to appeal to a team like Brooklyn, currently using aging forwards Gerald Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse to stay afloat. Don’t get me wrong, those guys have been great, but Brooklyn is set at other key positions and would love to add some versatility at the forward position.
23. New York Knicks—SF Doug McDermott, Creighton
McDermott is a special talent. The junior forward averages 23.1 points per game, adds 7.5 rebounds and is one of the smartest players in college basketball.
McDermott has drawn comparisons to current Knicks forward Steve Novak and San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner, but I think his basketball IQ makes him somewhat of a unique player at the next level.
While the “SF” in front of his position is the same as Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks love to use the small lineup. McDermott is the kind of offensive player that wouldn’t take long to transition to the pro game (although his defense would likely need work), and the Knicks are always looking to add that kind of player to the fold.
24. Indiana Pacers—SG Markel Brown, Oklahoma State
The Pacers appear ready to move on without Danny Granger in the next couple of seasons, in large part because of his huge contract and also because Paul George has easily been the league’s most improved player (and it’s not even close).
George’s All-Star season paves the way for his move to small forward, and Brown, a sharpshooting guard from Oklahoma State, would be a nice addition as an Anthony Morrow-type guard that could stretch the floor and help Indiana set itself up for a dynasty in the process.
25. Denver Nuggets—G Archie Goodwin, Kentucky
I love Andre Miller, but the Nuggets are a franchise that understands the aging process. By adding a guy like Goodwin (who can play both guard positions), the Nuggets create some more depth behind Miller and Ty Lawson as they wait for Evan Fournier to develop too.
26. Los Angeles Clippers—C/PF Kenny Kadji, Miami
The Clippers could choose to address the wings with this pick, but Kenny Kadji is a rapid-riser on my board because he brings a skill set to the table that not many teams have.
The Robert Horry/Channing Frye-type player is good in the post, can stretch the floor from the three-point line and, although he’s a little slow-footed for a “stretch 4,” he’s a guy that has helped carry one of the best teams in the nation. Kadji’s skills behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan would be highly valued in L.A.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Memphis Grizzlies)—SF Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
The guard-happy 'Wolves won’t be satisfied on the wings until they get someone that can bolster the bench behind the current collection of players. My personal belief is that general manager David Kahn finds a trade partner for Derrick Williams this offseason, opening up more time at forward.
Enter Thomas, who is extremely undervalued as a clutch scorer and defender. I don’t always like his shot selection, but the guy fills it up and always makes plays when Ohio State is struggling.
28. Oklahoma City Thunder—C Jeff Withey, Kansas
Oklahoma City swung and missed on its first attempt to add a Kansas center (Cole Aldrich), but Withey is a different, more athletic player who could help soften the blow, as Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison need more depth in coming seasons.
From shot-blocking to rebounding, Withey is a player that knows his role and would get all kinds of chances at second shots around the basket with KD and Westbrook chunking them up.
29. San Antonio Spurs—PF C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State
Leslie had a disappointing season at NC State, but his physical tools would be put to good use with the Spurs, even if Tim Duncan continues to punch retirement in the face every time he goes out on the court. Leslie has a nice inside game, is very athletic and would enjoy the mentorship of Duncan, while the Spurs could soften the depth blow they’ll take as DeJuan Blair moves on this summer.
30. Phoenix Suns (via Miami Heat through Lakers)—PF Ryan Kelly, Duke
Like Kadji, Ryan Kelly can flat-out shoot the ball. "Flat-out" and "shoot" in the same sentence usually makes you a candidate to go to the Phoenix Suns, and that’s exactly where Kelly falls at the end of the first round in this mock draft.
The senior missed time with a foot injury this year, but he's also is a game-changer in terms of stretching the floor and adding a Ryan Anderson-like presence when he’s on from deep. The status of Channing Frye is still unknown, but that part of Phoenix’s offense has been severely lacking this year.