Ranking the High-Risk, High-Reward 2013 NBA Draft Prospects
Risk is all relative to where you take it. Reward always remains the same.
Nerlens Noel is certainly a risky play at No. 1, but not so much at No. 6. If Noel maximizes his potential, the reward is the same regardless of where he is chosen.
These are the guys who could make an enormous splash if everything checks out. But there's also a good chance they make a thud.
These rankings are based on a combination of upside and risk with regard to where they're projected to go in the 2013 NBA draft.
8. C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State, 6'9'', SF/PF
C.J. Leslie's natural talent and mesmerizing athleticism can be captivating. And at 6'9'' with long arms and the top agility score at the combine, there's clearly a lot to like.
But very few prospects like Leslie have survived the transition to the next level, or at least excelled after making it.
The first guy that comes to mind when thinking of Leslie is former Syracuse standout Hakim Warrick, who had nearly identical height, weight and length measurements. Though he had crazy bounce and athleticism, he was never strong enough to play power forward in the NBA and lacked the skill set of a small forward.
That's currently where Leslie stands, as he is a natural power forward who might be forced to transition to the wing due to his insanely skinny, 209-pound frame.
But if Leslie successfully converts and develops off the dribble, all of a sudden, he goes from being a tweener to being versatile.
As a 3, he'll have to learn how to play facing up in the half court from 25 feet from the rim. Shooting and attacking are both part of the small forward job description.
If he adjusts, a team could end up with a big-time frontcourt asset. If he doesn't, Leslie might end up as one of those journeymen looking for a new home every summer.
7. Archie Goodwin, Kentucky, 6'5'', SG
We were talking about Archie Goodwin as a potential top-10 pick for the first quarter of the season.
And then we weren't.
Goodwin is an explosive athlete with 2-guard size and point guard mass. He's got tremendous natural ability without a clue how to use it.
Still the youngest American prospect in this draft, he's obviously nowhere near a finished product. His upside remains the same as it was when he scored his first points at Kentucky.
But throughout the year, Goodwin struggled badly with jump shooting, which can be fixable, and decision-making, which might not be.
He's got the foundation, but whether or not he builds a successful career will depend on how well he refines his offense and figures out the nuances of the game.
Goodwin was a top recruit out of high school and went to Kentucky for a reason. The NBA-level talent is there if he can find it.
6. Ricardo Ledo, Providence, 6'6'', SG
Ricardo Ledo is what the high-risk, high-reward label is all about.
He didn't log a single minute in college after being ruled academically ineligible. And since NBA scouts are barred from high school gyms, nobody has really seen Ledo in live-game action.
But before he committed to Providence, Ledo was regarded as one of the most electric scorers in the country. And at 6'6'' with smooth athleticism, he seems to have the physical tools required for that talent to translate well.
Ledo's upside justifies a spot in the top 20. He's got all the components of an NBA-level scoring wing, and with the ability to create off the dribble, his ceiling exceeds those of guys like California's Allen Crabbe, UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad and even Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
The reward is clear, but so is the risk in taking a kid who last played competitively against 17- and 18-year-olds.
Learning to play without the ball and adjust to a complementary role isn't always an easy task for high school standout scorers.
5. Rudy Gobert, France, 7'2'', C
Rudy Gobert's risk depends on where he goes. As a lottery pick, the risk is greater given the value of that draft slot.
At 7'2'' with an unprecedented 7'9'' wingspan, you don't have to be a seasoned scout to recognize the potential he offers down road. A guy with that type of size and length can alter a game defensively and present a glowing offensive target for passers.
But Gobert's skills are awfully raw, and the odds of him contributing to an NBA rotation before 2016 seem slim.
All international prospects come with some risk considering the setting they've played in is vastly different.
But Gobert's physical tools remain the same, no matter what country he's playing in. The team that drafts him might end up with one of the NBA's great secret weapons—or a complete, offensive dud.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Greence, 6'9'', PG/SF
"The Greek Freak" is widely considered one of the highest-risk, highest-reward prospects in this class.
Playing in Greece's second division, Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn't seen overwhelming competition on a regular basis. And as an 18-year-old international prospect, it's tough to get a grasp on just exactly how good he really is.
The potential reward has been quite visible, though. At 6'9'', Antetokounmpo is a legitimate ball-handler who can attack off the dribble or create for teammates. He's got a great feel for the basketball, and with effortless athleticism and a monster wingspan, it's hard not to drool when envisioning what this kid could look like if he's able to make the transition.
Given his age, raw overall game and lack of experience against higher-level competition, though, it's just impossible to know how he'll respond when he makes the jump.
There's obvious risk with drafting a young kid from Europe who just left his home country for the very first time.
But if you've got any sort of imagination at all, the upside with Antetokounmpo is through the roof.
3. Alex Len, Maryland, 7'1'', C
Alex Len doesn't present as much risk as Nerlens Noel, but it would be irresponsible to call him safe.
It's hard not to squint when thinking about big men and foot injuries. Len will enter this draft wearing a metal boot instead of a sneaker after suffering a stress fracture that required surgery.
He also didn't demonstrate much consistency at Maryland, though you can make the argument his team and coach had a little something to do with that.
He only scored 20 points twice in two years of college. Twelve times this year, he took six shots or less.
Len's upside has been flashed in doses as opposed to a steady stream.
On the flip side, the reward here is awesome. At 7'1'' and 255 pounds, he's got a developing and promising offensive skill set. Len can play with his back to the basket or facing it, and he has shown a soft touch on his mid-range jumper.
Given his size, he projects as a defensive asset even if his instincts never improve. Len should be able to change shots just by standing around the rim.
With enormous two-way upside, Len has the chance to be a top-seven center in this league. But he can also be one of the hundreds of raw big men who failed to make the physical and fundamental transition to the NBA.
2. Anthony Bennett, UNLV, 6'8'', SF/PF
Anthony Bennett is this year's ultimate high-risk, high-reward option in the top 10. He's got the chance to be a star, and he actually might possess the highest ceiling of any prospect in the field.
A missile in the open floor with mind-blowing explosiveness, Bennett has the speed and agility of a 3 to mesh with the power and strength of a 4.
However, combo forwards don't exactly have the most glowing track records. We've seen Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams and Thomas Robinson—all top-five picks—struggle to make the transition. Though it's too early to write them off, it's clear that they've fallen between positions early in their careers.
The risk with Bennett is that he's not big enough to play inside and lacks the perimeter-oriented skill set of a 3. Can he create his own shot standing on the wing when the game is slowed down? Can he post up down low against 6'9'' and 6'10'' forwards?
If Bennett is able to exploit his versatility as a combo forward, we could be talking about one of the toughest mismatches to come out of this class.
But if he struggles to create easy shots for himself in the half court and is ultimately exposed as weak inside and ineffective outside, he'll get slapped with a tweener label before his rookie contract expires.
1. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky, 7'0'', C
If Nerlens Noel was projected as a late-lottery pick, he may not even be on this list. But as a No. 1 or No. 2-overall guy, the risk is amplified given the increased value of that draft slot.
There are three areas of concern with him, which are all manageable individually but can cause a headache when meshed into one.
The first is his injury history. Noel fractured a growth plate in his knee in high school and tore his ACL in college. These are two significant injuries for a kid who hasn't played an NBA minute yet.
The second area of concern is weight. The two lightest starting centers in the NBA are Larry Sanders and Chris Bosh at 235 pounds. Noel weighed in at 206 pounds at the combine.
If Noel is able to add roughly 30 pounds to his slender frame, he'll still be tied for the lightest starting center in the league. Of course, he should be able to get there, but a guy like Bosh has a tremendous offensive skill set. Noel doesn't. Sanders is a great comparison for Noel, but is Sanders a No. 1 overall pick?
The last area of concern is offense. It's just not his thing. We're talking about a potential first pick in the draft who can't score more than five feet from the rim.
And when you combine all these areas of concern together, you get one seven-foot risk with a flattop.
Then again, his athleticism and defensive instincts have the potential to change a game. Noel has awesome bounce, a relentless motor and exciting above-the-rim playmaking ability.
But you have to ask yourself—is the risk worth the potential reward? I'll let you know in 2016-17.