Looking Ahead: The 2013 Draft’s Top 10
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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From the moment former Gonzaga center Robert Sacre’s name was called by Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver as the 60th pick overall by the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night, the countdown for the 2013 NBA Draft began. While it may not weigh heavily on the general public’s mind because it’s a year away, it’s one of the main motivating factors along with winning a national championship for future prospects this summer. As the offseason progresses, we’re going to profile all of the top players going into the 2012-13 NCAA season, starting today with the top 10 prospects as of right now.
Nerlens Noel (Kentucky, Fr.) – 6’11, 216 lbs. Center
Featured in a must-read article earlier this month by Alex Kennedy, Noel has the early leg up on the competition for the top overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft. He’s going to Kentucky with quite possibly the biggest shoes to fill of any John Calipari recruit ever, even bigger than the ones Derrick Rose and Marcus Camby left to fill. While those players were great for Coach Cal, Anthony Davis, the number one pick in the 2012 draft, accomplished even more than they did.
Noel, like Davis, is a terror defensively who blocks shots at an unnatural rate. Davis actually said that Noel is a better shotblocker than he is, which is high praise coming from the National Defensive Player of the Year who averaged 4.8 swats a contest.
The competition for the top spot is going to be fierce, though. While it’s Noel’s to lose now, he could easily find himself slipping if he doesn’t progress the way he needs to offensively and strength wise. It’s going to be vital for Noel to not listen to all the talk in the media and get caught up in always comparing himself to Davis. He has to be the best Nerlens Noel he can be, that’s all that matters.
Cody Zeller (Indiana, Fr.) – 6’11, 209 lbs. Center
There wasn’t much more Zeller could have done during his freshman season at Indiana. Entering Bloomington with a ton of expectations, Zeller lived up to them and served as the catalyst behind their revival. Cody, the younger brother of Cleveland Cavaliers center Tyler Zeller, averaged 15 points and six rebounds on 62 percent shooting from the field.
Possessing a great understand for how to play the center position, Zeller played some of his best basketball against Kentucky’s stellar frontline that won a national championship. He’s a very skillful player offensively, but he’s going to have to take a big step forward next year if he wants to avoid experiencing the same sophomore slide that Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger and Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones had.
Six rebounds a game isn’t going to be enough for Zeller next year. He’s too tall and talented to not average at least 10. If he puts up 20 and 10 next year and helps take the Hoosiers to the Final Four, look for him to jockey with Noel for the top spot.
Shabazz Muhammad (UCLA, Fr.) – 6’6, 223 lbs. Small Forward
The Kentucky faithful were heartbroken when Muhammad opted against playing for the Wildcats by choosing to go to UCLA instead. The Bruins’ program has seen better days, but that didn’t scare Muhammad away. He joined Kyle Anderson and helped recruit Tony Parker to form a freshman class that could help restore the proud Bruins’ tradition.
Muhammad is a competitor that will remind a lot of people of Charlotte Bobcats’ draft pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the effort and energy he exerts on the floor. He’s a better player offensively than MKG was going into college, though. Muhammad has a reliable jump shot to go along with his standout athleticism. Like MKG, he takes pride in his defense. He’ll likely defend every position from 1-4 throughout the year.
There are some who believe that Muhammad is the top prospect in this year’s draft. He’s certainly in the conversation. He’ll have every opportunity to prove he’s worthy.
James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina, So.) – 6’9, 226 lbs. Power Forward
It was really tough to evaluate McAdoo as a freshman because he only played 15 minutes a game on the year, averaging a modest five points and three rebounds for someone who came in with so much hype. However, he was stuck behind two first-round draft picks in the aforementioned Zeller and Milwaukee Bucks forward John Henson.
Late in the year he received extended minutes due to an injury to Henson, in which he excelled. That created some talk that he could leave early for the NBA, but he wisely decided to stick around for another year.
This season, McAdoo will be featured in a major role. With his offensive talent, size, skill and athleticism he should be able to establish himself as a top five pick. Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams needs him to have that kind of year after all they lost to the draft.
Isaiah Austin (Baylor, Fr.) – 6’11, 201 lbs. Center
Although the Baylor basketball program has recently become a destination for top-flight recruits to consider, there are serious questions about how well they’re developing the blue chippers they’re getting. Oklahoma City Thunder forward Perry Jones III never improved as expected and slipped on draft night partially because of it. The same goes for Denver Nuggets forward Quincy Miller, who decided to leave Baylor despite being projected so highly in the 2013 draft. He ended up going 38th overall.
Austin is going to be the ultimate test for Bears head coach Scott Drew and his staff. Austin is a versatile big man who has the potential to be dominant on both ends of the court. He has a long way to go, though. Austin rarely plays with the type of energy needed to be a consistent force and, at times, he’s content to sit out on the perimeter offensively when he should be in the paint.
If Coach Drew can light a fire under him and get him to do the little things necessary for a team to win, which he didn’t always do in high school, Austin could seriously vie for a top three spot in next year’s draft. He’s that gifted and skilled.
Archie Goodwin (Kentucky, Fr.) – 6’5, 195 lbs. Shooting Guard
There is the opportunity for Goodwin to step in to the starting shooting guard position at Kentucky and potentially be another one-and-done under Coach Cal. He’s going to have a veteran point guard in Ryan Harrow, a transfer from N.C. State who spent this past year practicing everyday against the national championship squad, setting him up and relieving some of the pressure in the backcourt.
Goodwin is a tremendous athlete who is going to really impress when the Wildcats get running. He’s tough to stay in front of and he can really finish around the rim.
With the addition of a reliable jump shot, something he didn’t possess in high school, he could become the top shooting guard in this year’s draft. Being efficient will be almost as important. Goodwin can’t try to do too much. This year’s Kentucky team isn’t expected to be as good offensively as last year’s group, but that doesn’t mean he has to take on a heavy scoring responsibility. Davis and MKG proved that you can get drafted one and two without being dynamic offensively, which Goodwin has to keep in mind all year long.
Tony Mitchell (North Texas, So.) – 6’7, 215 lbs. Power Forward
There’s no doubt that Mitchell would have been a first-round pick in this year’s draft, probably going somewhere in the mid-to-late 20s. He nearly decided to forego his remaining eligibility when a coaching change occurred at North Texas, but in the end he opted for another year to work on his game and prove that he’s one of the best power forwards in the country.
Mitchell is not your average overlooked mid-major star. He’s known by virtually every scout and general manager in the league. He committed to Missouri out of high school, but ran into some academic issues that forced him to eventually end up in North Texas.
Mitchell is a man with an NBA-ready body. He’s rugged on the defensive end, crashing the boards with aggression and blocking shots with ferocity. If he shows an improved offensive game he could be next year’s Thomas Robinson, who went five overall to the Sacramento Kings.
LeBryan Nash (Oklahoma State, So.) – 6’7, 220 lbs. Small Forward
At the end of Nash’s freshman year he was playing some of his best basketball, showing marked improvement from where he was at back in November. He had the option of testing the waters, but he knew he clearly wasn’t ready and smartly decided to return to Stillwater. He’s joined this year by a dynamic freshman class in what could be a big year for the Cowboys.
It was tough at first for Nash to adjust to not being a man amongst boys like he was in high school. He’s still stronger than most guys he plays against, but the gap isn’t anywhere near as vast as it was in high school.
Nash grew as a basketball player, though, making better decisions with the basketball and playing more in control. Becoming a better shooter needs to be his primary concern this season. If he can hit the 3-point shot consistently he’ll be one of the best players in the Big XII and a viable candidate to leave early.
C.J. Leslie (North Carolina State, Jr.) – 6’9, 207 lbs. Power Forward
When you’re a fringe first-round pick, the best decision is to go back to school and that’s exactly what Leslie did. He firmly put himself on the radar with a stellar finish to his sophomore season, but still lacked the strength and offensive polish to justify going pro just yet. Now, he’ll enter his junior year as a potential top 10 pick, which he didn’t have a chance to be in this draft.
Leslie is a face up, hybrid power forward who explodes off the ground. He’s at his best on the offensive end of the court, something that will have to change if he’s going to stay in this draft range. Leslie has to better utilize his incredible athleticism on the defensive end because he has the potential to make a similar impact there.
Leslie also has to improve at the free throw line. He’s shot less than 60 percent in the last two years, which isn’t acceptable for a player as good as he is. If he can extend his range, improve at the charity stripe and become a defensive presence, he’ll benefit greatly from sticking around one more year.
Adonis Thomas (Memphis, So.) – 6’5, 204 lbs. Small Forward
Soon-to-be Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard Will Barton, a former teammate of Thomas’, put it best when he said to HOOPSWORLD that the sky is the limit for Thomas. He has the ability to be as good as he wants to be. Thomas is an ultra-athletic forward who could have left for the NBA this year, but probably made the right choice in sticking around for his sophomore year.
Thomas was limited by injuries throughout the year. They kept him from having the kind of freshman campaign he was hoping for, but it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Thomas is going to be a small forward at the next level and his perimeter skills could greatly benefit from another year in college.
The Tigers have a great team coming back next year and Thomas could be their featured option. If he takes them deep into the tournament and looks the part of a true small forward, look for him to call it a career in college and make the jump.