Ranking the Best NBA Draft Prospects in the Sweet 16
With only 16 teams remaining in the NCAA tournament, it's time to narrow down the list of prospects who we'll eventually see at the next level.
Some of these guys aren't NBA-ready and won't declare for the 2013 draft. Others are potential lottery picks looking to boost their stock for this year by carrying their team to Atlanta.
I've ranked my top 20 prospects, along with a few honorable mentions, based on their pro potential, whether they plan on leaving this year or in the future.
Russ Smith, Louisville, 6'1", SG
I'm a little skeptical about Russ Smith's NBA potential, given he's a volume shooter at just 6'1". If he's to succeed at the NBA level, he has little margin for error. If a team takes him in the second round, it will likely be because of his contagious energy and effort levels. He should probably have a conversation with Lou Williams, one of the few to succeed with his size and offensive mindset.
Seth Curry, Duke, 6'2", SG
We all know that Curry can score, but scouts are concerned that at 6'2" without speed, explosiveness or strength, he'll end up getting stuck between positions at the next level. Still, the risk is worth the reward considering his refined perimeter game as a shot-creator and maker out to 25 feet away.
Ryan Kelly, Duke, 6'11", PF
Though there isn't much upside here, Kelly's ability to stretch the defense and space the floor is a valuable skill to bring to the table. If Kelly shows during workouts that the 45.9 percent three-point stroke is no fluke, he'll find his way onto an NBA roster.
Erik Murphy, Florida, 6'10", PF
Like Ryan Kelly, Murphy's appeal as a prospect centers on his ability to stretch the floor. He has shot over 46 percent from downtown this season, the third year in a row he's hit at least the 40 percent mark from behind the arc.
Kenny Kadji, Miami, 6'11", PF
Another stretch forward, the 24-year-old Kadji is a little more versatile than both Ryan Kelly and Erik Murphy. At 6'11'', he can knock down the three-ball or put it on the deck and score on the move. He'll get second-round looks for his size, skill set and ability to help out sooner rather than later.
20. Solomon Hill, Arizona, 6'7", SF
Solomon Hill has been one of Arizona's most consistent offensive players, acting as an option in the post, from mid-range and at the three-point line.
At 6'7" he has a strong frame capable of bullying defenders on his way to the hoop with the agility that's required to get there.
He's 5-of-7 from downtown in Arizona's first two tournament games after shooting it nearly 39 percent from behind the arc as a senior.
Hill isn't an upside pick, but teams should view him as a perimeter shot-maker and mid-range offensive threat. Anywhere in the second round makes sense.
19. Patric Young, Florida, 6'9", PF/C
The good news for Patric Young is that he'll end up with the same job in the pros as he has in college.
Young is the enforcer—teams count on him to protect the rim, provide a physical, imposing interior presence and finish off others' dribble creativity.
He's limited in every other area, rarely leaving the paint and showing little to no face-up game.
Young is a nice option on the low block, but it's rare he gets the ball that deep in the post with room to operate.
Still, he'll be worth a second-round pick for a team that lacks toughness on the inside. I can think of a few front lines that could use his muscle.
18. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State, 6'7", SF
There aren't many college players who can work the nets out like Deshaun Thomas. If we ranked the best college players in the NCAA tournament, Thomas would be near the top.
But as an NBA prospect, Thomas' upside and role will be limited.
Many scouts view him as a defensive liability and a one-dimensional offensive player. Thomas won't have the green light he currently gets at Ohio State as the featured go-to weapon.
He still has an uncanny ability to make shots spotting up and pulling up, and at 6'7", he should be able to get them off.
But think of Thomas more as a C.J. Miles-type contributor and not the Big Ten leader in scoring.
17. Gorgui Dieng, Louisville, 6'11", C
Gorgui Dieng is known for his ability to eat space and protect the rim, but his offensive game has started to round itself out.
He's actually a perfect 9-of-9 from the field in his first two games of the NCAA tournament, showing a softer touch at the elbow and the ability to finish efficiently at the low block.
At 6'11" with long arms and deceptively quick feet, he'll audition for a backup center position at the next level. The more exposure he gets and film he creates overwhelming college big men, the better chances Dieng has of maximizing his draft value.
We currently have him pegged as an early second-rounder.
16. Jeff Withey, Kansas, 7'0", C
Jeff Withey's ability to protect the rim and finish around it has been a major factor in Kansas' success, and it is the primary reason NBA teams will view him as an option to back up their starting centers.
There isn't much upside here, but teams interested in Withey's services will look to use them immediately.
His size and defensive instincts can't be taught, and he should be able to help out a rotation in need of frontcourt depth right away.
15. Brandon Ashley, Arizona, 6'8", SF/PF
Brandon Ashley is a long-term prospect, so disregard his totals as a freshman at Arizona.
At 6'8", Ashley has a refined offensive game within 18 feet of the hoop. He can play with his back to the basket as a post option or face the rim and knock down jumpers inside the arc.
He still needs to add muscle, and he's currently too low in Arizona's pecking order to generate any type of scoring consistency. But just wait until next year.
Ashley should be considered a prospect to watch for in 2014.
14. Adreian Payne, Michigan State, 6'10", PF
Adreian Payne has been considered a potential NBA prospect since his freshman year, but it hasn't been until now that he's proved it on the court.
At 6'10" with a monstrous frame and massive wingspan, the appeal here starts with his physical tools. But over the past two months we've seen Payne become active on the interior and make plays with the ball in his hands.
He's also knocked down spot-up three-pointers (15-of-37 on the year), a tool that diversifies his offensive services and allows him to separate from the pack.
There's still plenty of room for him to grow fundamentally, but the fact that we see visible progression is a great sign moving forward. I've moved him into the late first round of our most recent mock draft.
13. Vander Blue, Marquette, 6'4", SG
Vander Blue is one of those prospects using the NCAA tournament to boost his NBA draft stock.
He had that beautiful lefty take to the rack for the game-winner against Davidson and then followed that up with 29 points in a win over Butler.
Blue is an exceptionally fluid athlete at 6'4" who's built to slash and defend at the next level. But now his jumper has improved and he can create off the dribble, while he continues to expand his range (5-of-10 from downtown in first two games of the tournament).
He was Marquette's go-to scorer all year, posting nearly 15 points per game after scoring just 8.4 as a sophomore. Blue is a legitimate NBA threat whose stock has soared over the past week.
Look for Blue to be a trendy name during the predraft process if he chooses to declare.
12. Shane Larkin, Miami, 5'11", PG
Shane Larkin has gone from afterthought to a legit NBA prospect within one year.
He led Miami to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, controlling the tempo of games and managing them like a pro.
Though he may never be the starting point guard in the pros that he is in college, teams could use his speed, energy, breakdown ability and shot-making in a role off the bench.
It's unknown whether he's thinking about declaring in 2013, but if Miami continues to roll, it might be worth selling his stock while it's up.
11. C.J. Fair, Syracuse, 6'8", SF
C.J. Fair is Syracuse's top scoring weapon and someone who has expanded his game tremendously from his days as a freshman.
He's really improved his ability to play off two feet. Instead of low-percentage runners in the lane, he now separates in the mid-range and gets better balance on his jumpers. Fair's three-point percentage has also risen to 49 percent. He's a lethal spot-up threat and rarely forces the issue.
At 6'8", Fair is an excellent athlete who has the foot speed to play the 3 exclusively at the next level. If he declares, teams should give him looks near the back end of the first round. However, one more year in school could allow him to fly up some boards after playing a season featured as the go-to guy.
10. Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke, 6'4", SG
Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon will likely be a coveted NBA prospect as a sophomore at Duke.
He's an excellent off-the-ball complementary player who can slash, defend and knock down open looks.
Sulaimon scored 21 in Duke's win over Creighton, aggressively attacking the rim (8-of-10 from the stripe) and converting three of his five three-point opportunities.
NBA teams should view him as a reliable supporting cast member with a high basketball IQ. Without Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly next year, Sulaimon will have the opportunity to show what he's capable of playing more possessions on the ball.
9. Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan, 6'6", SG
Tim Hardaway Jr. has the scoring tools to make and hold down an NBA rotation spot, with an advanced perimeter game and excellent athleticism at the off-guard position.
He just needs to find a way to score when his perimeter game isn't working.
Right now, Hardaway is overly reliant on his jump shot. But few volume scorers are able to succeed without the ability to get easy points.
Hardaway gets to the free-throw line fewer than three times per game, a pretty wild statistic for a 14.9-point scorer.
He's already turned heads with his ability to create and make shots from the outside, but diversifying his game could be the difference between sixth man and eighth man.
8. Gary Harris, Michigan State, 6'4", SG
Gary Harris has flashed his NBA tools on a limited basis this year, with his appeal stemming from his offensive efficiency and perimeter defense.
He averaged over 13 points a game with a 41.9 percent three-point stroke as a freshman, knocking down his open looks with consistency and finishing his opportunities at the rim.
Harris also has a high basketball IQ, and his motor is never in doubt.
Another year in school would allow him to show scouts just how good he can be, instead of leaving now and having them guess.
7. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse, 6'6", PG
While we've seen plenty of mistakes over the past year, nothing can erase the fact that Michael Carter-Williams is a pure facilitator at 6'6". He's able to do what he wants once penetrating the first line of defense, using his long arms and roaming vision to make plays around defenders or finish over the top.
His physical tools also allow him to impact the game defensively; guards have trouble working around his size and length.
Carter-Williams' flaws are his jumper, handle and decision-making, but there's room to grow in these departments.
He'll get looks starting at the back end of the lottery.
6. Mason Plumlee, Duke, 6'11", C
Mason Plumlee just can't be stopped at the rim without anyone tall or athletic enough to challenge him above it.
Near-seven-footers who can run and fly just don't fall out of trees. At the next level, Plumlee will look to make a similar impact as DeAndre Jordan does for the Clippers—someone who finishes plays at the rim for a couple of easy baskets every game.
Plumlee raised his scoring average from 11.1 to 17.2 by learning how to get himself points with the ball in his hands, which has propelled him into the next tier of NBA prospects.
The longer Duke lasts in the tournament, the better it will look on Plumlee's resume.
5. Victor Oladipo, Indiana, 6'5", SG
Victor Oladipo has added an offensive skill set to go with his motor and relentless activity level, and it's launched him up draft boards.
Though he doesn't project as a guy teams will give the ball to and watch him go to work, he'll pick up easy buckets in transition, on line drives and as a catch-and-shooter on the perimeter.
Despite his new-found offensive abilities, it will still be his harassing defense that draws the most attention from NBA teams shopping for some life in their rotation. If there's one thing Oladipo brings, it's energy, color and life.
4. Glenn Robinson III, Michigan, 6'6", SF
The light behind the dashboard that reads "potential" just won't stop flashing.
Glenn Robinson III has been spectacular in Michigan's first two NCAA tournament games, finishing off the ball in the half-court, getting out in transition and knocking down spot-up threes and pull-up jumpers.
These are the four offensive tools teams will expect Robinson to use once he reaches the next level.
Teams should view him as a two-way wing who can improve his team's offensive efficiency as a finisher at the rim and the perimeter. The Andre Iguodala comparison is as good as it gets.
3. Cody Zeller, Indiana, 7'0'', PF/C
Despite his flaws, most notably strength and toughness, Cody Zeller has been pretty effective all year as the top option on a top team in the premier conference in America.
There may not be a better bet for two points than Zeller in isolation; he's quick off the dribble facing up and clever with his back to the basket.
With better spacing in the pro game (partly due to a deeper three-point arc), Zeller should have more room to operate once he reaches the next level.
Adding muscle and confidence in his mid-range game will be the immediate items to address on the to-do list moving forward.
2. Trey Burke, Michigan, 6'0", PG
Trey Burke has matured as a player in his second year at Michigan, leading the Wolverines to a Sweet 16 appearance and improving his draft stock in the process.
At this point, the only thing holding Burke back is his size. But even at 6'0", we've seen plenty of point guards make the transition without that extra inch or two of assurance.
He led the country in assist-to-turnover ratio while averaging nearly 19 points a game in the toughest conference in America.
If I'm a team in the lottery looking for a new point guard, I give Burke a good, hard look.
1. Ben McLemore, Kansas, 6'5", SG
Ben McLemore might not have performed like the top prospect in the tournament over Kansas' first two games, but that shouldn't change your perception of just how good he can be down the road.
He is, however, on the hot seat. One or two ugly performances you can live with. But Kansas will have its hands full with a rolling Michigan team right now, and the Jayhawks can't afford for McLemore to fade into the background.
Regardless, there's just too much to like about him as a prospect that any slump could change.
With a lights-out perimeter game, smooth, effortless athleticism and the ideal build for an NBA shooting guard, McLemore remains our No. 1 prospect left in the Sweet 16.