Meet the NBA Draft Radar's Biggest New Risers

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterDecember 9, 2013

Meet the NBA Draft Radar's Biggest New Risers

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    It's not that we didn't see them coming—it's how fast they got here that's been so impressive.

    Some of these guys have come out of nowhere. Others are freshmen who were expected to take a little more time to heat up. 

    Whether they were previously off the radar or much further from the center, the following six prospects have made major impressions early on in 2013-14. 

Nik Stauskas, Michigan, 6'6", SG/SF, Sophomore

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    New Potential Draft Range: Late First Round

    After providing role-playing services as a freshman shooter, Nik Stauskas returned to Michigan in Terminator mode.

    He added 16 pounds of muscle to his frame, along with a more advanced and potent scoring arsenal.

    Stauskas has raised his average from 11 points to 18.9 per game, moving from No. 3 or No. 4 in the pecking order to No. 1 in the offensive attack. 

    No longer just a shooter, Stauskas has become a threat off the dribble, where he's getting to the rack at a much better rate. He's taking over seven free throws a game, up from just 2.2 a year ago.

    And of course, Stauskas continues to stroke it from deep and is now 24-of-48 to start the year from downtown. 

    With a high basketball IQ, polished offensive game, lights-out three-ball and deceptive athleticism, Stauskas now looks like a viable option as an NBA floor-stretcher and late first-round pick. 

Jordan Clarkson, Missouri, 6'5", PG/SG, Junior

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    New Potential Draft Range: First Round

    After transferring from Tulsa and sitting out last season, Jordan Clarkson has suddenly emerged as Missouri's floor general and offensive catalyst. 

    He's running the team and has it off to an 8-0 start after picking up a strong win over UCLA. 

    Through nine games, Clarkson is averaging 20.2 points on 51.5 percent shooting, along with almost four assists per game. At 6'5", he's got excellent size and athleticism for a ball-handler, which he uses to score and finish over defenders once he gets into the lane. 

    Clarkson has struggled shooting it early on, though he recently knocked down three threes against the Bruins, and shot it 37 percent from deep as a sophomore. 

    His decision-making can also be a bit reckless, but he's still just learning the position. 

    Leading Missouri to a couple of big wins this year certainly won't go unnoticed. He's got the physical tools and offensive skills to turn scouts' heads and earn their full attention. If you haven't noticed—sizable, athletic ball-handlers are in these days. 

    Look for Clarkson to start generating a little more national attention once conference play picks up.

Zach LaVine, UCLA, 6'5", PG/SG, Freshman

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    New Potential Draft Range: Lottery

    Though rail thin at 6'5", 180 pounds, Zach LaVine's combination of size and athleticism screams electric backcourt playmaking. 

    He's putting up points in a hurry off UCLA's bench, averaging 14 in 25.7 minutes per game. Given his explosiveness in the open floor and 50 percent three-point stroke, LaVine picks up easy buckets above the rim and behind the arc. 

    Through nine games, he's 20-of-40 from downtown on the year and looks natural and confident with his delivery. 

    It's pretty clear he operates with a shoot-first mindset at this point, but he's playing off the ball in a scoring role for the Bruins. The fact that he's got the physical tools—the size, length, athleticism—and the talent—ball-handling, shooting—is what ultimately drives his awfully intriguing NBA potential. 

    LaVine might ultimately be best off staying in school and expanding his offensive creativity. But you just never know what a kid's going to do when he starts hearing those lottery whispers. 

Rodney Hood, Duke, 6'8", SF, Sophomore

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    New Potential Draft Range: Lottery

    We knew Rodney Hood could ball back in 2011-12, when he averaged 10 points as a freshman for Mississippi State. But after sitting out a year and changing schools, it's always tough to predict how a player will adapt.

    Hood looks pretty darn good so far for Duke. He's lighting up defenses for 19.3 points per game on 58.9 percent shooting. And at 6'8", he's got ideal size for the NBA wing. 

    Now 15-of-28 from downtown on the year, Hood combines a wildly accurate stroke with a dangerous off-the-dribble game. Defenders who play him up tight get burned off the bounce, while those who lay off get beat by the jumper. 

    With the ability to play in the post, facing the rim or spotting up off the ball, there isn't a spot on the floor where Hood isn't a threat. I'm not sure he was thought of as anything more than a fringe first-rounder heading in. Now I can say with confidence he's a lottery contender. 

Noah Vonleh, Indiana, 6'10", PF, Freshman

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    Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

    New Potential Draft Range: Top 10

    Noah Vonleh was a highly touted recruit, so it's not like he came out of nowhere. But I'm not sure many expected him to be averaging a double-double nine games into the year. 

    He's averaging 17.7 rebounds per 40 minutes, over two more than Kentucky's Julius Randle, a projected top-five pick in 2014. Vonleh is as strong, long and physical as any freshman in the country, with a monstrous 6'10" frame and 7'4" wingspan. 

    With arms for days, Vonleh sets up shop in the paint, where he takes up an inordinate amount of space in every possible direction. Offensively, he consistently gets position on his man or sneaks behind him for easy catch-and-finish buckets. He's averaging 13.3 points, doing just about all of his damage in the post.

    Vonleh has a tremendous feel for the game, along with a developing skill set and unteachable physical tools. He's got plenty to work on, particularly his jumper and face-up game, but the ingredients are all there. 

    He should get top-10 looks in whichever draft he chooses to enter. 

Joel Embiid, Kansas, 7'0", C, Freshman

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    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    New Potential Draft Range: Top Three 

    I know, Joel Embiid isn't new to the radar. But he is to the No. 1 overall pick conversation. 

    There's no doubt Embiid should be included in the tier with Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle, despite his role off the bench as a backup for Kansas. 

    If you ask me, I'd have him ranked just behind Wiggins and Parker on the big board. 

    Depending on who you talk to, some scouts are as high on Embiid as any prospect in the class. They love the fact that he just picked up a basketball for the first time a few years ago, and he's already developed into a skilled offensive player. 

    This isn't just another raw Hasheem Thabeet type of prospect. Embiid has established moves and touch. He's a guy you can feature in the post, thanks to some impressive footwork and ball skills with his back to the rim. 

    He's averaging 9.3 points in only 19 minutes per game while shooting 65.9 percent from the floor. On the other sides of the ball, he's completely controlling the glass and protecting the rim, grabbing 6.6 boards and blocking 2.1 shots in limited action. 

    With the ability to change a game on both ends of the floor, Embiid's upside shoots through the clouds. He'll obviously need to continue polishing up his offensive game, but if we're talking long-term potential, Embiid offers a ceiling worthy of No. 1 overall value.