Predicting Whether Every Top NBA Draft Prospect Will Declare or Return to School

Maxwell OgdenCorrespondent IIIMarch 30, 2013

Predicting Whether Every Top NBA Draft Prospect Will Declare or Return to School

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    In less than three months, the top prospects in the world will come together with 30 franchises for the 2013 NBA draft. In less than one month, the NBA's early-entry deadline will pass and officially determine the field of players.

    Which of the top NBA draft prospects will declare themselves eligible, and which will be returning to school?

    This is the question on everyone's mind as the NBA prepares for the next wave of stars and role players. Fortunately for those in doubt, there are signs of what these elite players will decide to do.

    So, what can we expect to transpire?

Anthony Bennett, UNLV Rebels

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    Position: Forward

    Age: 20

    Class: Freshman

    2012-13 Season Averages: 28.24 PER, 27.1 MPG, 16.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.2 BPG

    Decision: Declare for the NBA Draft


    According to Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports, UNLV forward Anthony Bennett will declare for the NBA draft. This is far from a surprising turn of events, as Bennett could end up being a top-five draft choice.

    What more is there to think about?

    Bennett tallied eight double-doubles during his first 17 games in 2012-13. He picked up four during his final 18 and went from a potential top pick to a player whom scouts are beginning to question (login required).

    Bennett has world-class abilities, which leads to the unsurprising report that he will enter the draft while his stock remains intact.

Trey Burke, Michigan Wolverines

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    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 20

    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Season Averages: 29.76 PER, 18.9 PPG, 6.8 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.6 SPG

    Decision: Declare for the Draft

     

    The star of the 2012-13 college basketball season and the face of the 2013 NCAA tournament has been Naismith Award finalist Trey Burke.

    This elite point guard is going to be a top-10 draft choice in 2013—why waste any more time?

    Burke has already developed into one of the most well-rounded players in the nation. Unlike a majority of NBA prospects, Burke thrives more on a honed skill set than world class athleticism.

    With the potential to own multiple major awards by season's end, Burke will have achieved everything but winning a title—something the Wolverines are dangerously close to doing as members of the Elite Eight.

    Burke will declare and begin his path to NBA superstardom.

Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse Orange

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    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 21

    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Season Averages: 21.25 PER, 12.1 PPG, 7.5 APG, 4.8 RPG, 2.7 SPG

    Decision: Declare for the Draft

     

    Michael Carter-Williams plays for a Syracuse Orange team that often produces defensively inept players due to their zone style of play. With that being said, Carter-Williams is as close to elite a defender as you'll find at his position.

    At 6'6" with superb length and blazing lateral quickness, Carter-Williams can translate those abilities to the next level—something he will attempt to do by declaring for the 2013 NBA draft.

    Carter-Williams and Trey Burke are the top two point guards in the upcoming draft. This suggests that both will be lottery picks, which creates the opportunity for Carter-WIlliams to play early in his career.

    Even if his poor shooting suggests he should stay for another season, Carter-Williams has a prime opportunity to go high in this year's draft.

Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State Aztecs

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Age: 21

    Class: Junior

    2012-13 Season Averages: 23.87 PER, 17.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.6 SPG

    Decision: Declare for the Draft

     

    Jamaal Franklin is a world-class athlete, a dynamic scorer, the best rebounder at his position and an all-around star. If you don't believe that, note that Franklin led San Diego State in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals.

    Expect the junior to transform that collegiate success into an appearance in the upcoming NBA draft.

    Franklin has the athletic gifts to become the next great slasher at the NBA level. With explosive athleticism and superb length, Franklin could step in from the opening tip to offer quality contributions.

    His draft stock may not get any higher than it is right now, so it'd be hard to imagine Franklin wasting this opportunity.

Gary Harris, Michigan State Spartans

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Age: 18

    Class: Freshman

    2012-13 Season Averages: 19.08 PER, 13.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.3 SPG

    Decision: Return to School

     

    Gary Harris won the 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year award. He did so by scoring at an efficient rate, playing lockdown defense and becoming one of Tom Izzo's go-to players.

    Expect him to continue to grow in 2013-14 by returning to play for Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans.

    Harris has the ability to come out and enter the 2013 NBA draft. With that being said, Harris is a fringe top-10 projection who has the capacity to be a star at the next level if developed in the proper manner.

    Who better to hone his skills under than Coach Izzo?

Alex Len, Maryland Terrapins

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    Position: Center

    Age: 19

    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Season Averages: 24.04 PER, 11.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.9 BPG

    Decision: Declare for the Draft

     

    Alex Len is one of the most intriguing prospects in the 2013 NBA draft class. Not only does he possess elite size at 7'1", but he is also a skilled player around the basket and capable of facing up with a solid perimeter game.

    Even if there is reason to doubt his NBA readiness, Len is projected to be a potential top-10 draft choice—a status he may not hold onto if he remains at Maryland.

    Should Len opt to come out in 2013, there's a strong chance he'll go to a team that can offer him instant playing time. If not, he'll go to a team that will help hone his skills at the pro level.

    Regardless of where he ends up, it's a more likely destination than a return to Maryland.

Ben McLemore, Kansas Jayhawks

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Age: 20

    Class: Freshman

    2012-13 Season Averages: 24.24 PER, 15.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG

    Decision: Declare for the Draft

     

    More times than not, a player who struggles to perform on big stages will be inclined to remain in school. When you're expected to go first overall, however, that decision-making process is altered.

    When 2014 will feature multiple players being hyped as the next great NBA stars—Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and the Harrison twins, to list a few—it's a no-brainer.

    There is no question that McLemore needs to develop his mental aggression. Until he does, his world-class abilities will be limited by the lack of a killer instinct.

    With all of that being noted, McLemore could go from being the top pick in 2013 to a player going outside of the top five in 2014. Is there anything more to say?

    This isn't your typical case, folks—this is top pick or not.

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA Bruins

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    Position: Small Forward

    Age: 20

    Class: Freshman

    2012-13 Season Averages: 21.99 PER, 17.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 37.7% 3PT

    Decision: Declare for the NBA Draft

     

    Shabazz Muhammad has lost momentum due to the underwhelming success of the UCLA Bruins. Even as UCLA exited early from the 2013 NCAA tournament, however, Muhammad continued to prove his status as an elite prospect.

    If you ask former UCLA coach Ben Howland, Muhammad's future is already decided (via The Los Angeles Times).

    "That was his last game in Pauley," Howland said after a hard-fought 74-69 victory over No. 11-ranked Arizona. "There's no doubt about it. I know that. He knows that. We all know that. So we want this season to go on as long as possible."

    Muhammad responded by saying "[UCLA] could be really good next year." With that being said, much has changed since those comments.

    UCLA recently fired Howland, thus sealing Muhammad's fate. Coming back to play for a new head coach is hardly an option for a player with "lottery pick" written all over him.

Nerlens Noel, Kentucky Wildcats

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    Position: Center

    Age: 18

    Class: Freshman

    2012-13 Season Averages: 27.09 PER, 10.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 4.4 BPG, 2.1 SPG

    Decision: Declare for the NBA Draft

     

    If Nerlens Noel returns to Kentucky, there's a strong possibility that he remains in contention for the first overall draft choice.

    With that being said, Noel is coming off of a severe knee injury—it'd behoove him to take advantage of this opportunity while his stock is high.

    Noel is an elite defender from an athleticism and anticipation standpoint. Assuming he recovers adequately from knee surgery, he's also capable of running in transition.

    Considering he was injured in a freak accident, he's hardly injury prone. In other words, he remains top-pick material in 2013.

    Noel must take advantage of a draft class that he's currently at the helm of.

Victor Oladipo, Indiana Hoosiers

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Age: 20

    Class: Junior

    2012-13 Season Averages: 29.09 PER, 13.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 2.2 SPG

    Decision: Return to School

     

    When it comes to balancing overall ability and upside, Victor Oladipo is a superstar in the making. Not only does he possess elite physical gifts, Oladipo also shares a trait with all of the NBA's greats.

    From a mental standpoint, he is two plays ahead of everyone else on the floor.

    Even still, it's unlikely Oladipo will leave Indiana after losing in the Sweet 16. Oladipo has a personal relationship with head coach Tom Crean and has not yet projected as a top-five lock.

    Oladipo has proven he's competitive, and he'll want to come back to finish what he started and pursue a national title in 2013-14.

Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga Bulldogs

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    Position: Center

    Age: 21

    Class: Junior

    2012-13 Season Averages: 36.57 PER, 26.4 MPG, 17.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.1 BPG

    Decision: Declare for the NBA Draft

     

    Kelly Olynyk is one of the best centers in the nation. Not only does he have a nonstop motor, but at 7'0" and 238 pounds, the junior big man has the physical gifts to match his drive.

    With the opportunity to be a lottery pick, expect Olynyk to enter the 2013 NBA draft.

    There is reason to believe that Olynyk will return to Gonzaga for the 2013-14 season. Kevin Pangos, David Stockton and Gary Bell Jr. are all expected to return, thus creating the potential for greater success in the 2014 NCAA tournament.

    With that being said, Olynyk is coming off of an extraordinary season and may never see his draft stock this high—it could be now or never, which is a risk that's not worth taking.

Otto Porter Jr., Georgetown Hoyas

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    Position: Small Forward

    Age: 19

    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Season Averages: 27.88 PER, 16.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.8 SPG, 42.2% 3PT

    Decision: Declare for the NBA Draft

     

    Otto Porter is one of the most well-rounded prospects in the nation, regardless of position. From his elite on-ball defense to his versatile offensive approach, Porter has all of the skills necessary to make an impact in the NBA.

    With that being said, Porter is a fierce competitor—ending his college career with a loss in the round of 64 is hardly an appealing option. Becoming a top-five draft choice is.

    That's exactly what Porter would be if he entered the 2013 NBA draft.

    If Porter is to enter the draft, there's a strong possibility that he contends for the first overall draft choice. Ben McLemore struggled during the NCAA tournament, and Nerlens Noel is coming off of a severe knee injury.

    Remaining at Georgetown is an option, but Porter is in the running to be the first overall draft choice—an opportunity he cannot pass up.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 19

    Class: Freshman

    2012-13 Season Averages: 24.23 PER, 15.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 3.0 SPG

    Decision: Declare for the NBA Draft

     

    Marcus Smart and the Oklahoma State Cowboys were knocked out of the 2013 NCAA tournament during the round of 64. Even still, Smart remains one of the most intriguing prospects available.

    With the upside to go first in the 2013 NBA draft, Smart would be wise to enter.

    With that being said, there is no guarantee that Smart declares himself as eligible. After losing in the round of 64, there is a strong possibility that he strives for greater success as a sophomore.

    According to Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman, Smart made it clear that he's yet to make a decision.

    “I don't know,” Smart said on multiple occasions, brushing off any talk of whether he would declare early for the NBA draft.

    “I have no idea. We just came off this loss. I'm going to get back home and go from there.”

    Chances are, Smart is telling the truth. With that being said, Smart is a virtual lock to go within the top five in the upcoming draft.

    Returning is a legitimate possibility, but Smart is an elite prospect—not some freshman who might be a lottery pick.

Cody Zeller, Indiana Hoosiers

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    Position: Center

    Age: 20

    Class: Sophomore

    2012-13 Season Averages: 30.93 PER, 16.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.3 BPG, 1.0 SPG

    Decision: Return to School

     

    Chances are, Cody Zeller's decision will hinge directly upon that of Victor Oladipo. Assuming Oladipo returns to pursue a championship, Zeller will join him in pursuit of status as college basketball legends.

    Seeing as we've already projected Oladipo as a player who will return, expect Zeller to join him.

    If there's one position the 2013 class of freshmen lack, it's center. While Dakari Johnson is intriguing, Zeller has developed a reputation as a respected player among scouts and general managers.

    By returning for one more season at Indiana, Zeller could bulk up and push his name even further up draft boards in pursuit of a national championship.

    Keep in mind, center is often the position where freshmen struggle to build a lottery-pick profile. Isaiah Austin, Kaleb Tarczewski, Steven Adams and Cameron Ridley can attest to that.

    If anything, Zeller's draft stock will improve.