Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel has recently declared for the 2013 NBA draft. The 6'10" forward was once considered to be the No. 1 prospect this year. Unfortunately for Noel, he suffered a torn ACL in February, which could lower his draft stock come June.
With Noel's durability becoming a potential concern for teams looking to draft him, where does he rank among top forwards in this year's draft?
1. Anthony Bennett (UNLV)
Like Noel, Bennett is another freshman who has declared for the draft. Bennett could be Noel's biggest threat in regards to being taken as the top forward this year. One of the biggest reasons Bennett could hear his name called before the Wildcats player is the fact that he played the entire season for the UNLV Rebels.
Bennett was an absolute beast for the Rebels in 2012, finishing the season with 16.1 points per game, and averaging 8.1 rebounds. At 6'8", he doesn't have quite the height that Noel does, but his 240-pound frame makes him a disruptive presence inside.
Bennett was a scoring machine last season, scoring 20 or more points in 13 games last season, whereas Noel never posted more than 19 points in a game.
Defensively, Bennett's play is not comparable to Noel's. Bennett averaged just over one block per game last season, and he did not force many turnovers for the Rebels. If he is drafted before Noel, it will likely be because of a team's fear of Nerlens' injury.
2. Nerlens Noel (Kentucky)
If Noel does fall in the draft, it won't be far. His defensive abilities and rebounding skills could set him apart from any other forwards in the draft. Noel led the nation in blocks per game last season with 4.4 and was the South Eastern Conference defensive Player of the Year. He also averaged over two steals per game last season, a valued accomplishment for players at his position, and hauled in 9.5 rebounds per game.
Offensively Noel still has plenty of room to improve. He averaged only 10.5 points per game last season and struggled at the free-throw line, shooting 53 percent. At 19 years old, there is no reason to think that he can't improve on all aspects of his game both offensively and defensively.
Noel had surgery on his left ACL in early March, and his recovery time is expected to take somewhere between six to eight months. When drafted, he would be a long shot to play in the first game of the new season, but it could be possible.
3. Cody Zeller (Indiana)
Zeller is one of the more seasoned players at his position who has declared for the draft. He is 20 years old and bucked the trend of leaving college after his first year, staying for his sophomore season.
You can't help but love Zeller's size. Standing at 7'0" and weighing 240 pounds, he is one of the more physically imposing presences in this year's draft. During his final season at Indiana, Zeller averaged 16.5 points and pulled down 8.1 rebounds per game.
His ability at the free-throw line, though, makes him unique. He shot an impressive 76 percent from the stripe last season, which is something that many players his size struggle to do in the pros.
Zeller has virtually no chance at being the top player drafted at his position, but his ability and size will make him a nice pick for whoever drafts him.
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