This draft looks to be a deep draft in terms of talented rotational players, but there looks to be a dearth of star power at the top. I won’t yet put out a mock draft, not until tourny time in March, but for now let’s look at the top ten collegiate players that look to be lottery locks:
1. Nerlens Noel (6’11” PF/C): Noel, in his freshmen year at Kentucky, has showed scouts that he is the elite defensive force as was his billing when he graduated high school. Noel not only blocks shots (3.5 per game) but he also does a great job rebounding. What separates Noel from other tall physical specimens is his motor. Noel has an incredible effort level allowing for activity on both the offensive and defensive glass, an ability to alter any interior offense by Kentucky opponents, and to get easy buckets in transition. While Noel struggles to find an offensive game outside of easy dunks/layups, he does have a smoothness with the ball that leads me to believe he will develop a quality jump hook shot. He has excellent hands and good footwork, but is not a good jump shooter. I don’t ever see him being an elite offensive player, but as he adds pounds to his thin frame and fills out, I see him being an elite defender at the next level. He is certainly not the most skilled player in the draft, but he is a PF/C and those are hard to come by, so size wins against the superior skill level of the next guy on my list.
2. Shabazz Muhammad (6’6″ SG/SF): What Shabazz lacks in elite athleticism he makes up for with hard nosed physical play, intelligence and an enormous wing span which spans nearly 7 feet. As a shooting guard/small forward combo, he is one of the top players in the country at getting to the rim whether off the ball cutting or with the ball in his hand. He has excellent footwork and seems to effortlessly get his shot off. After being suspended at the start of the season for UCLA by the NCAA due to an investigation into improper benefits, Shabazz returned to action looking out of shape and sluggish but quickly turned his game around. He is averaging nearly 20 points and 5 boards a game on 50% shooting. Speaking of his shooting, he is a much better shooter than I was anticipating after watching his high school film. As mentioned above, his length is a huge plus as it allows him to cover bigger multiple positions defensively. He needs to work on his right hand though, as the lefty struggles when forced to his off hand. He has the ability to be one of the true star players in this draft. I could see him being a similar player to James Harden.
3. Alex Len (7’1″ C): This is one enormous man. Still only a sophomore he needs to fill out his frame a little more by adding both lower and upper body strength, but the skill set is there for this guy to be an offensive force at the NBA level. He is averaging 13.3 points per game but only playing 25 minutes per contest as his conditioning needs to improve. He has a very solid back to the basket game and great touch around the hoop. He also has a decent mid range jump shot. He will definitely be a player who will need a year of seasoning to get into NBA shape but his high skill level and size should give him a long NBA career. Check out these highlights from the Kentucky game to get an idea of what he brings to the table:
4. Cody Zeller (7’0″ PF/C): By now, you have probably heard a lot about Cody Zeller, either because he is the best player on one of the top teams in the country or because of his family’s basketball pedigree. Zeller will not be a star at the NBA level, but as we all know, size is hard to come by in the NBA, and Zeller could easily be a 15 and 10 type of guy in the league. He runs the floor with the effortless grace of a small forward and is certainly one of the best big men runners in the country. He has a high basketball basketball IQ and great patience offensively. He doesn’t have the elite athleticism of some other players which will limit him defensively at the NBA level, but he makes up for this with excellent footwork on both ends of the floor. He creates space in his back to the basket game and I would not hesitate in drafting him as he will surely be a solid contributor for many years at the next level. He needs to add strength, like all young big men, and I believe he may struggle to stay out of foul trouble as he adjusts to NBA speeds. I really like his game though.
5. Ben McLemore (6’4.5″ SG): McLemore is an elite athlete with a beautiful jump shot (although it’s not falling at the rate i’d expect). He projects to be a lockdown defender as well. He has a great NBA body, but could add some more strength. He plays very hard, going to the basket sacrificing his body and diving for loose balls defensively. His best asset right now is his ability to slash and get to the basket in the uptempo game. He doesn’t have the longest of wingspans at just 6 foot 7 inches (he is 6 foot 4 and one half inch tall) but relies on a very quick release on his jumper which will be crucial at the next level. As mentioned above his shot, while very beautiful looking, hasn’t been something he is able to consistently knock down. I’m excited to see how he fares against tougher talent in the conference and field of 64 tournaments, but I think he has the ability to also be a star at the next level.
6. Anthony Bennett (6’7″ PF): The Hottest name rising on NA+BA draft boards right now is UNLV’s Anthony Bennett. This undersized, but incredibly strong PF has all the tools to succeed at the NBA level. He is undersized at 6’7″ but has a 7’1″ wingspan. He shoots 74% at the rim, top ten in the NCAA so his height has not limited his ability to finish down low He is as versatile a scorer as you will find as he can score in the post or stretch the defense and shoot 3’s. His mid range game as a turn and shoot player is also exceptional. I see a lot of Paul Milsap in his game. Can he defend 3’s at the next level? probably not, so he will likely stay at the 4, but man. this kid can score. 2 inches taller and he’d be the number one pick hands down. Needs to improve defense and positional rebounding. Check out this amazing highlight video/draft video for this kid by draftexpress:
7. Alex Poythress (6’7″ SF): Poythress is one of those guys that is hard not to love. He is an outstanding defensive player who can guard multiple positions, is great at penetrating and getting to the rim, and is a great rebounder. An elite athlete, what holds Poythress back from being a few spots higher is that he is not a good shooter and will need to add strength to be able to guard NBA small forwards. He always seems to be the aggressor on the court, putting the defense on its heels, but it’s hard for him to take advantage of it without being a knockdown shooter. He finishes at the rim with great power and touch when necessary He should be a solid role player/energy guy in the pros.
8. Michael Carter-Williams (6’5″ PG): Without question the top PG in the country, MCW is a rare combination of size, court vision, ball handling and unselfishness. He was a top flight scorer out of high school and was a backup point guard his freshmen year at Syracuse but has re-secured his spot among the top players in college basketball with his play this season. He is averaging 10 assists and 3 steals to go along with 12 points this season. He has incredible court vision and seems calm with the ball in his hands. He is not a great shooter right now, but has a great tweener/floater shot in the lane. He can score from anywhere, but just needs to find consistency on his jump shot. He has amazing quickness his first few steps giving him great separation ability. When he adds strength in prepping for the NBA draft, his stock could skyrocket. His length and handle bring to mind former lottery pick Shaun Livingston, but i believe MCW has a much better chance to be a good pro after being seasoned at Syracuse for two seasons.
9. Tony Mitchell (6’8″ PF): Mitchell has been on the NBA scouting scene for awhile now, but he has seen his stock take a huge hit with his poor play this season. I still like Mitchell and have kept him in my top ten despite his woes this season. An athletic specimen with a 7’3″ wingspan he plays above the rim and is an excellent shot blocker. His length also allows him to be a terrific rebounder and finisher in the transition game. He can score back to the basket or take his man off the dribble displaying great speed for a big man. He does come with quite a bit of baggage however. He was forced to sit out his first two seasons as he was academically ineligible. He also has been labeled a low or inconsistent motor guy, something that is never good to hear. Despite all his issues, I think he has a bright NBA future if he can be motivated perhaps even a Kenyon Martin type career.
10. Mason Plumlee (6’11” PF): Plumlee’s game is perfect for the NBA. He is just an average shooter from any sort of distance, but that’s one of his few weaknesses right now. He has an excellent motor to combine with elite athleticism. He is both a terrific positional rebounder as well an athletic above the rim rebounder. One knock that followed him into this season is that he was not a part of the Bluedevils offensive gameplan and relied solely on fast break points or offensive rebound putbacks. He has put that to rest somewhat this year as he has been given many chances to score in the post. His stats have jumped from 11 and 9 last year to 19 and 11 this year. He can score with either hand down low, is a solid passer, and is an improving shooter. If he slides to a playoff team, he could have a big time immediate impact in the NBA. Once he adds some strength i see him as a double-double guy in the league.
Just missed but could climb second half: Archie Goodwin, Isiah Austin, James McAdoo, CJ Mccolum, Otto Poter, and many more.
Next time I’ll look at some more prospects and catch you up on anyone making waves with NBA scouts. Let me know what you think in the comments.