NCAA: Top Five Freshmen NBA Draft Prospects
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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Every year a new freshmen class comes into the NCAA. With youth being valued so highly in the NBA Draft, the top first-year players have a lot to gain in their initial evaluations. With most teams playing anywhere from 3-6 games we’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of the top freshmen in action and five players have separated themselves from the rest from a NBA Draft perspective:
Nerlens Noel, Kentucky, Power Forward/Center
Looked at by many as the top recruit in the 2012 freshmen class, Noel has shown serious flashes of how good he can be. He’s contributing across the board, showing the ability to seriously impact the game in multiple ways. Noel is notching 11 points a night along with eight rebounds, two assists, two blocks and three steals.
Given the impossible task of replacing last year’s NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Anthony Davis, Noel is definitely intriguing in his own right even if he’s not as good as his predecessor. As he develops physically and becomes a more viable threat on the offensive end Noel’s stock will get back into the top five status it used to be in. Currently he has slipped, but that’s due to some excessive expectations being set for him on the outset. He’s still very high on everyone’s draft board, though.
Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA, Shooting Guard
Outside of potentially winning a national championship, Muhammad’s biggest victory came last week against the NCAA when his appeal earned him immediate eligibility. The Bruins fell in his debut to a talented Georgetown Hoyas team, but Muhammad helped guide them to a bounce-back win over Georgia in his first start. He chipped in 21 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor and the three point line to go along with his four rebounds.
All it took was a modest debut for questions about how well Muhammad fit into the discipline-oriented UCLA attack to start circulating. Some felt he would be better suited for the free-flowing style of Kentucky, but Muhammad is the kind of player who can thrive in any system. His status as the number one overall prospect on HOOPSWORLD’s 2013 mock draft has only been strengthened with his opening-season performances.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, Point Guard/Shooting Guard
No single player has rocketed up the draft boards since the beginning of the season more than Smart. Taking over the point guard position for the Cowboys, Smart has led the program to a 4-0 start that is highlighted by their recent victory over sixth ranked N.C. State. Smart is second on the team in scoring at 14.8 a contest and leads the team in rebounds (8.0), assists (5.0) and steals (3.0).
He’s struggled with his jump shot out of the gate. It wasn’t his strength in high school and it still remains a work-in-progress. What’s made Smart such an impact freshman is his competitive spirit and work ethic. He never lets up when he’s on the court, always appearing a play or two ahead as well. Smart is just a natural leader who is mature well beyond his years. He originally seemed like the kind of player who could be around for a couple of years, but with the way he’s playing right now the NBA is going to be hard to pass up come April.
Isaiah Austin, Baylor, Power Forward/Center
Due to his size and skill set, Austin has been on the NBA radar for the better part of the last few years. Big men are always looked at as late bloomers, but Austin appears to have found a nice groove early on in his career as a Bear. He’s finishing offensively and stretching the floor with his shooting ability. Most importantly, though, he’s aggressively hitting the boards and getting the most out of his length.
Big men far less talented than Austin have been selected in the lottery in the past, making him a near lock for the top 14 should he maintain his current level of play and be interested in leaving school early. It’s up to him on how ready he wants to be for the NBA when he gets there. A full offseason in the Bears’ strength and conditioning program could put him in the first overall pick discussion for 2014. There’s still enough time and the race is wide open to the point where he could still work his way into that spot in this year’s draft too, although 2014 seems more likely at this point.
Alex Poythress, Kentucky, Small Forward/Power Forward
Narrowly edging out teammate Archie Goodwin for the final spot on our list is Noel’s teammate on the frontline, Poythress. We talked about him at length in our last NCAA notebook. To summarize, Poythress is highly effective with a motor that only knows how to operate at its highest level. He’s a load inside with a first step on the outside that makes him difficult to contain out there as well.
Poythress always plays within himself and capitalizes on the opportunities that present themselves within the Wildcats’ system. He fits in perfectly with the team-first mentality and is the main reason why the Wildcats have to be looked at as a serious threat to defend their national championship despite the fact that six of the top seven players from last year’s championship team are in the NBA.
Honorable Mention: Archie Goodwin (Kentucky), Steven Adams (Pittsburgh), Rodney Purvis (N.C. State), Glenn Robinson (Michigan), Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky) and Ben McLemore (Kansas).
Some Love For the Little Guys: Coming into the season the Texas Longhorns were expected to be young and lethal, but without starting point guard Myck Kabongo, who is out due to an NCAA investigation over impermissible benefits, they have struggled. They are 2-2, coming off of an embarrassing defeat to the Division-II Chaminade Silverswords.The Silverswords didn’t get a prayer to go at the buzzer to shock them either, they scored 55 second-half points en route to a convincing 86-73 upset.
The loss shows how much Kabongo means to Texas and the downside to being so inexperienced. While the Longhorns undoubtedly have superior talent even without Kabongo, it takes time to learn how to win in college basketball and if you don’t do the things that are fundamentally necessary, you can lose to whoever regardless of classification.
Their defeat exemplifies everything that makes the NCAA Tournament so thrilling. No matter what a matchup may look like on paper, anything can happen in the game of basketball.
Scoring Record Broken: Sticking with the theme of giving small schools some love, Division-III guard Jack Taylor set a NCAA record with 138 points in a 179-104 win over Faith Baptist Bible. Taylor had a huge first half with 58 and from there it was all about letting him make history.
He made 52 of his 108 attempts en route to the record-setting night. Previously Bevo Francis of Rio Grande held the NCAA scoring record with 113 points against Hillsdale in 1954. Below you can watch highlights of Taylor’s eruption that could put a stranglehold on the record for just as long as it took to break it, if not longer.