As freshman and sophomores start to develop, rapid risers emerge on NBA draft boards.
This board has a big one: Kansas guard Ben McLemore.
McLemore wasn’t on many NBA radars in October, the result of being declared academically ineligible last season. But he was able to practice with the Jayhawks in the second semester, where he gained valuable experience. This year McLemore — who made the Big 12 honor roll in his second semester — has become a force in the Kansas lineup while developing into a darkhorse candidate for the top pick in the 2013 NBA draft.
Onto the rest of the Big Board …
Chris Mannix’s NBA Draft Big Board
Noel hasn’t done much to separate himself this season — he has failed to crack double figures in scoring in four of his last five games — but NBA team executives have been unwavering in their belief that the Kentucky freshman is the No. 1 pick. “He’s not a guy you plug in right away and expect to carry you,” said a Western Conference executive. “But he has a motor, and with bigs the hardest thing to find is a motor. Darko Milicic was one of the most talented big men you ever saw, but he didn’t have a motor. It might take [Noel] some time but so what? It took Jermaine O’Neal five years to get established.”
After dealing with eligibility issues in November, Muhammad is showing top-pick potential, averaging a team-high 19.3 points per game while scoring at least 21 points in four of his last five games. Muhammad is easily the draft’s most tantalizing talent, a prototypical small forward who can score off the dribble and in traffic. He’s even showing touch from the perimeter, connecting on 48.5 percent of his threes.
Despite a pair of subpar performances against Delaware State and IUPUI, Len continues to rocket up teams draft boards. NBA teams believe his strong rebounding will translate to the next level. “He’s going to be a force on the boards,” said a Western Conference executive. “He doesn’t have so many star qualities but he can be a solid starting center.”
The sweet shooting two-guard is averaging 15.8 points on 48.9 percent shooting, including 41.2 percent from three-point range. “I’ve heard a few people compare him to Ray Allen,” said an Eastern Conference executive. “I don’t think he is as good a shooter but he is better athletically. He has a big body, he can come off screens, he can finish in traffic. He will be a starter in the NBA in a year or two.”
Scouts continue to be impressed with Zeller’s quick feet and diverse offensive skill set but, said a Western Conference exec, “I’m still not seeing a huge improvement from last year.” Rebounding is a concern: Zeller is averaging 8.1 per game, and scouts have wondered if he will be overpowered physically at the next level. “I just don’t know who to compare him to,” said the exec. “Right now, he looks like a risk.”
Bennett, 19, has surged into the top-10 behind several explosive offensive performances. Bennett has put up 20-plus points in three of his last four games and more than held his own against North Carolina’s James McAdoo on Dec. 29. On the season, Bennett is averaging 19.4 points and 9 rebounds. “This kid is always on the attack,” said a Western Conference exec. “He has a little Bernard King in him. He’s a little small for a power forward but he is a stud.”
Austin can play: He scored 20 points and pulled down eight rebounds in a loss to Gonzaga last week and is averaging 14.5 points and 8.6 rebounds on the season. The question is, where? Austin is rail thin and team executives aren’t sold — yet — on his ability to play inside at the next level. Still, his uncanny ability to score inside and out has several teams eager for the chance to try and develop him.
Poythress continues to show flashes of brilliance, but consistency has been a problem. He is a frequent target of Wildcats head coach John Calipari, who hounds the freshman for everything from poor defense to sporadic intensity. Scouts love Poythress’ ability to play in the paint but are still looking for him to exhibit the small forward skills (ball handling, consistent three-point shooting) he will need in the NBA.
Porter continues to be consistent, scoring 10-plus points in eight of his last nine games while shooting an efficient 51 percent from the floor and 43.5 percent from three-point range. Is Porter a star? Maybe. But his polished game will keep him among the top-20 in the draft.
Goodwin’s athleticism continues to impress NBA scouts. “Pound for pound, his athletic ability is as good as anyone in the NBA right now,” said a Western Conference personnel scout. The return of Ryan Harrow to the lineup has made Goodwin a permanent 2-guard, a position scouts believe he will play in the NBA. Said the scout, “When he gets stronger, watch out. He’s really impressive.”
Plumlee has been the best player in the ACC this season, scoring (18.8 points per game) while controlling the glass (11.2 per game). “He doesn’t seem to have a bad game,” said an Eastern Conference GM “He’s athletic, he can mix it up and he can score. If he plays like this the rest of the way, he could crack the top-10.”
North Carolina, Sophomore
Once a projected top-five pick, McAdoo is in a freefall, thanks to an inconsistent, sloppy and predictable game. “Teams are making him shoot from outside and are putting a body on him when he attacks the boards,” said a Western Conference executive. “If you don’t have another skill set, teams will figure you out. Right now, he is looking more like a tweener than an NBA power forward.”
Burke continues to impress with his scoring (18.1 points per game) and playmaking (7.2 assists). Recently, Burke has played more under control, too: He has committed just five turnovers in his last five games. “He runs that team so well,” said an Eastern Conference executive. “He sets up the offense, he knows when to look for his shot, he has great acceleration and change of pace. The only knock on him is his size. If he was a few inches taller, he would be in the top-10.”
Team executives continue to be enamored with Carter-Williams’ size and playmaking: He leads the NCAA in assists with 10.1 per game. “You can tell the vision is there,” says an Eastern Conference exec. “He breaks down defense, he makes great passes. The big thing for me is I don’t see a change of direction move. He’s a terrific pick-and-roll player but when I see a guy who isn’t real quick when he changes direction, it scares me a little for the next level.”
The nation’s leading scorer (25.7 points per game) has turned Lehigh into a destination for NBA scouts. While McCollum’s scoring continues to dazzle — he pumped in 34 points against Bryant last week, his fourth game with 30 or more points this season — his low assist totals (3 per game) remain a concern for scouts hoping to see more point guard skills from him.
Croatia, 18 years old
Saric — who according to published reports will be able to enter the draft this summer — is an impressive prospect. “He has a lot of Danilo Gallinari in him,” said a Western Conference exec. “After Carter-Williams, he is the best passer in the draft. He can read the floor, he’s tough and he is unselfish. Gallo is a better three-point shooter but Saric has a better mid-range game.”
France, 20 years old
It’s safe to say some of the shine has come off Gobert, a physical specimen with a 7-foot-9 wingspan who has been mediocre thus far in European competition. “He still doesn’t have a great feel for the game,” said an international scout. “He is not consistent. A lot of times, he looks awkward. He’s a gamble to take in the lottery. I think he would be a great late first-round pick. But someone is going to take him in the mid first round because every team now is looking for those athletic centers.”
Adams’ roller coaster season took another dip this week against No. 14 Cincinnati, when he went scoreless in 24 minutes. Adams has tremendous physical tools but, so far, has not been able to put them together. “You just know he is going to get better,” said an Eastern Conference exec. “But right now he is just a big, strong, raw body. He looks lost. He looks like he is wondering where he should be on the floor. He doesn’t have enough experience. As enticing as he is, if I were him, I would stay in school another year.”
Oklahoma State, Sophomore
Nash didn’t help his stock with a nine-point (on 4-of-13 shooting) effort against Gonzaga this week. And several scouts have expressed concern about his effort. “I think he has a dog in him,” said a Western Conference executive. “I don’t think you can trust him. He drifts in games. He plays hard one minute and then he takes 10 minutes off. Superstars should be leaders. He shouldn’t have issues like that.”
Oklahoma State, Freshman
Scouts love Smart’s sturdy frame — “He has an NBA-body,” says an Eastern Conference exec — and he is starting to show he has a pro game to go with it. He chipped in 23 points and six assists in a loss to Gonzaga and is averaging 13.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists on the season. “He is a very good defender,” said the exec. “He doesn’t have great speed but he has a knack for fighting through picks. He is someone to watch.”