The April 16 deadline for when players could return to school has come and gone, and we now have a better idea of what the field will look like when the 2013 NBA draft kicks off in June.
As such, "bubble" players that might not have been on lottery teams' watch lists when the end of the college basketball season was upon us now have new life to be selected in the elusive class of players deemed lottery-worthy by NBA general managers.
It's every player's dream.
Those dreams might become a reality for the players below, in large part because some of the prospects that had a great chance to go in the first few picks are returning to school.
We'll look at which players affected the currently lottery field and how those decisions impacted this draft enough to push these "bubble" prospects back into the mix.
2013 NBA Draft Lottery Odds (h/t ESPN)
|Pos.||Team||No. 1 Pick Odds (%)|
|5||New Orleans Pelicans||8.8|
|10||Portland Trail Blazers||1.1|
|12||Oklahoma City Thunder (via Toronto)*||0.7|
*OKC receives Toronto's first-round draft pick (Top 3 protected) via Houston from the James Harden trade (pick was originally traded to Houston in Kyle Lowry deal).
Bubble Players Now Destined to Crack Lottery
F/C Isaiah Austin, Baylor
One of the most touted freshman in the 2012 class, Isaiah Austin had an up-and-down season with Baylor and coach Scott Drew this past season.
While he flashed brilliance at times, he also showed us why scouts are worried that his slender frame isn't ready for the toils of the NBA season (see Anthony Davis, who only played in 64 games this year due to various injuries).
That being said, seven-footers don't grow on trees.
How will Austin's skills best translate to the NBA?
What Austin lacks in strength and toughness he more than makes up for in pure skill and height, although the strength issue is clearly his biggest crutch right now. Averaging over 13 points and eight rebounds during his freshman season, he showed some of the Davis-like skills on offense that made the New Orleans Pelicans (that will never get old) fall in love with him at the No. 1 spot.
As mentioned, seven-footers also don't grow on trees.
Nerlens Noel, Alex Len and maybe Kelly Olynyk are three prospects who fit that bill, but none have the potential both inside and out that Austin does. Another, Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein, is returning to school (h/t UKAthletics.com), meaning the pool dips even further down when looking for a game-changer at the four or five position.
He's a bit of a gamble, but the potential is tremendous, and if he can add roughly 20-30 pounds to his frame there's a good chance he becomes a special player at the next level. Without the marquee guards or forwards in Top 14 that make it easy to pass on potential, Austin should be a lock to go in the lottery.
He hasn't declared yet but has until the end of April to do so.
G Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
MCW played his way into the first round well before he was taking over games during the NCAA tournament, but his performance as Syracuse crashed the Final Four didn't hurt his draft stock at all.
Now, with Trey Burke a virtual Top Five pick on every mock draft and the other marquee guard expected to be taken in the first 10 picks (Marcus Smart) returning to school (h/t USA Today), Carter-Williams has a real chance to be a Top 10 pick himself.
There's a plethora of teams that need guard help in the first 14 picks, namely the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz at the bottom of the lottery. If there isn't a team that decides his potential and length are too great to pass up, consider it foolish to place him past the Jazz at No. 14.
G Victor Oladipo, Indiana
As the stud guard from Indiana was impressing us with his precision from the field, defensive intensity and winner's mentality, his draft stock was rising.
Some mocks have the Phoenix Suns taking the Wooden Award candidate, while others have him joining the Cleveland Cavaliers in a move that would both stabilize the starting lineup and the bench (move Dion Waiters to the pine).
There's a premium on defense in this draft, and Oladipo is a guy that could follow in the footsteps of Tony Allen.
Only it's not hard to argue his offensive game would likely translate faster than Allen's did.
At the very least he should not leave the Top 14.
F Dario Saric, Croatia
If you didn't ask that question, you are extremely tuned into the NBA draft scene, as this Croatian teen isn't exactly a household name after spending the first part of his professional basketball career overseas.
Though he's not a big name yet, there's a chance the young man could become one.
As noted by Fran Fraschilla on Twitter, the consensus for Saric's place in the draft is anywhere from 20-30—but the consensus is also that he's a lock to be a first-round pick:
Draft projections of Croatian sensation, 6-10 Dario Saric, going from 20-30 seem accurate right now. Has until June 17th to pull out.— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) April 15, 2013
Aided by Glenn Robinson III returning to school (h/t Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports) and what could be the weakest draft for forwards of all time, I think the young man can slip into the lottery if he has a solid workout period and eases concerns that draft experts like Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress have about how his talent will transition to the league:
No question Dario Saric is a prospect. His feel is off the charts. Problem is he shoots 50% from the free throw line and can't guard anyone.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) April 14, 2013
As the Dallas Mavericks—who ESPN's Chad Ford has selecting Saric in a recent draft—can attest, defense is a skill that can be taught to players when they reach the NBA. Dirk Nowitzki would tell you to this day that his defensive skills were below average during the early years of his development.
He's improved since then, and this kid will too.
What you can't teach is talent, and on film there are few players that have more skills than this guy in both creating a shot on the outside, firing away from three with a quick trigger and showing a passing skill for a 6'10" forward that is a rarity even in the NBA.
All that put together and factored in with the lack of a key forward after Anthony Bennett is taken, this could be a great pick for any team in the Top 14. Heck, Jan Vesely was a top-six pick, and that was in the same draft that featured Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight, the Morris twins and Iman Shumpert—not to mention Kenneth Faried, Jimmy Butler and Nikola Vucevic.
Considered a "weak" draft, Saric looks like a guy who will have a more focused microscope after the NBA season ends and when the draft chatter really begins. I sure hope so, because he's fun to watch on tape and has the talent to be considered as a lottery pick.