NCAA: Top PG Prospects in 2013 NBA Draft
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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There is just over one month remaining in the 2012-13 NBA regular season. Once April 18 hits, there will be 16 teams that play on, but there will be a collective shift of focus throughout the entire league to the 2013 NBA Draft. Even as teams pursue the Larry O’Brien Trophy, they will continue to put in their due diligence on evaluating talent and being as well prepared as they can for draft night.
Scouting has grown into a year-round process with no time off, but we’re entering the period where it’s the top priority in the vast majority of NBA front offices. With that being the case, HOOPSWORLD is going to start rolling out our positional rankings. Leading up to Selection Sunday on March 17, we’ll take a look at the top five at each position as well as everyone at the spot who warrants consideration from a NBA Draft perspective. Up first are the point guards.
Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State, Fr.) – 6’4, 225 lbs.
For the last two years, Smart has been one of the best kept secrets on the NBA Draft front. Despite one of the most successful high school careers ever in Texas, a state that has seen All-Stars like Shaquille O’Neal, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Deron Williams dominate at the high school level, Smart didn’t receive the kind of national attention that he deserved. Within two weeks of his debut at Oklahoma State, though, that all changed.
Smart has shot up draft boards because he’s virtually a pro in every way, except for the fact that he’s not actually in the league yet. Smart has an unrivaled work ethic and the physical build of a multi-year veteran, not someone who didn’t have a high school diploma at this time last year. He’s a leader at all times, not just when the lights are on. Several high major coaches who recruited Smart called him the best practice player they’ve ever seen.
Smart has run the point for the Cowboys this year not because he’s a true point guard, but because he’s the kind of player who you want to have the ball as much as possible. Ideally he would also play the position at the next level because he’d have such a size advantage, but that’s contingent on Smart tightening up his handles and decision-making skills. Smart has turned the ball over 3.2 times on average this season, far too much for a future NBA point guard. He hasn’t shot the ball particularly well this season (40 percent from the field and 30 percent from deep), but the major concern is over his assist-to-turnover ratio.
Currently positioned in the top five of just about every mock draft, Smart should only further secure that spot once teams start to get to know him more intimately. That’s if he decides to leave early, which is far from a certainty right now.
Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse, So.) – 6’6, 185 lbs.
Like Smart, you won’t ever see Carter-Williams’ photo next to true point guard in the dictionary, but few have played the position at as high of a level as Carter-Williams has this season. Possessing a serious height and length advantage night in and night out, Carter-Williams has run Coach Boeheim’s potent offense so well at times that many have compared him to former NBA All-Star Penny Hardaway. He holds great potential on the defensive end and showcases good instincts, but is tough to completely evaluate as Syracuse solely plays 2-3 zone defense.
This is Carter-Williams’ first season playing big minutes for the Orange as he was a seldom-used reserve during his freshman season. Like all young players, he’s had some stretches better than others. However, his season averages of 12.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 7.9 assists are nothing short of solid, especially for a player with as much room to grow as Carter-Williams has.
Even at the NBA level, Carter-Williams will usually have the size and length edge, as long as he is kept at point guard. In order to not risk being moved off the ball, Carter-Williams has to improve his playmaking skills and become a better shooter. Carter-Williams has made just 28 of 98 shots from beyond the arc this season, and has been sub 40 percent from the field as well.
Early indicators are that Carter-Williams won’t be returning for his junior season. He’s a near lock for the lottery, but has to finish strong and erase character concerns stemming from an off-court incident in order to go top 10.
Trey Burke (Michigan, So.) – 6’0, 190 lbs.
Had Burke declared for the 2012 NBA Draft, there’s a pretty good chance he would have been selected in the first round. There’s no doubt he’s a first-round pick now, though, with how much he has improved as a sophomore. After averaging 14.8 points and 4.6 assists during his first year as a Wolverine, Burke is now putting up 18.8 points and 6.9 assists a game. He boasts a 3.6:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and has raised his shooting percentage to near 50 percent while hitting just under 40 percent from deep.
The heavy usage of the pick-and-roll in the NBA suits Burke perfectly. He’s among the best in college basketball at the play thanks to his speed, ball handling skills and shooting ability.
Size is the main thing keeping Burke out of the top 10. He’s just 6’0, which is small for the position in today’s day and age. He could still easily play himself into that range, though. Regardless, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he’s on the board after the lottery.
C.J. McCollum (Lehigh, Sr.) – 6’3, 200 lbs.
Over the course of McCollum’s four-year career at Lehigh, which was unfortunately cut short this season due to a broken foot, he has tallied 2,361 points and 304 assists. So, you’re probably asking yourself what in the world is he doing on a list of the top point guards? The answer is that McCollum’s best chance to be successful as a pro is if he can run the point. At 6’3, he’s just too undersized to play shooting guard on a nightly basis. There are always exceptions, which McCollum certainly could be, but there’s no denying that from a size standpoint McCollum is better suited to play the one at the next level than the two.
It’s important to note that McCollum has always been in a position where he had to score in order for his team to be competitive. Being surrounded by pro-level talent for the first time will help his assist numbers by default. It will still be on him, though, to adjust properly and look to find the balance between scoring and playmaking like Rookie of the Year candidate Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers has.
The original timetable for recovery on McCollum’s injury, which occurred in early January, was 8-to-10 weeks. That puts him on schedule to be available to work out for teams, although he probably wouldn’t be in peak conditioning, which is understandable. With such a consistent and lengthy body of work, though, McCollum’s stock as a mid first-rounder is fairly safe and not completely reliant on a strong showing during the pre-draft process.
Myck Kabongo (Texas, So.) – 6’1, 180 lbs.
Suspended for the first 23 games of the season for lying to NCAA investigators about accepting impermissible benefits during the summer, Kabongo is in the process of making up for lost time. After a modest start for someone of his talent level in his first three games back, Kabongo has gone for 24 and 31 in his last two games. He’s impacting the game with his rebounding and playmaking as well, averaging 4.4 in each category. After an underwhelming freshman campaign, he’s living up to the expectations right now, albeit in a short span.
Kabongo fits the mold of a pass-first point guard as well as anyone in this draft class. His court vision, speed and ball handling make him a really tough guard and a very promising prospect.
Kabongo is on the smaller side and can get in trouble with excessive turnovers at times. Scouts would have loved an opportunity to watch him play throughout the course of the entire season, but he’s clearly improved. The pre-draft process will be very vital for him; it could be the difference in getting him on the right side of the first-round bubble.
The Next Five:
Lorenzo Brown (North Carolina State, Jr.) – 6’4, 186 lbs.
A steady floor general with good size for the position, but hasn’t improved as hoped. Needs to improve consistency as a shooter and limit turnovers at the next level.
Isaiah Canaan (Murray State, Sr.) – 6’1, 195 lbs.
Averaging a career-high 21.5 points and 4.1 a game, but team isn’t having the same success as they did last year. Limited athletically, but gets the most out of what he has. Hasn’t played against the strongest level of competition throughout his career.
Nate Wolters (South Dakota State, Sr.) – 6’4, 190 lbs.
Has quietly been dominating at this level for the last three years. Level of competition works against him, but he’s clearly a skilled player with NBA-level shooting ability. Will have to be serviceable defensively in order to stick in the league.
Russ Smith (Louisville, Jr.) – 6’1, 165 lbs.
A potent scorer who has a long ways to go in terms of his point guard skills. Smith’s strength will always be with his ability to fill it up, but he’s going to have to let the game come to him and make better decisions. Talent is there, just needs to be harnessed properly.
Erick Green (Virginia Tech, Sr.) – 6’4, 185 lbs.
One of the hottest names on the draft board right now, working his way up the second round with vast improvements made as a senior. Averaging 24.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists. Will have to answer concerns about his defense.
Honorable Mentions: Jahii Carson (Arizona State), Deonte Burton (Nevada), Aaron Craft (Ohio State), Ray McCallum (Detroit) Pierre Jackson (Baylor), Elijah Johnson (Kansas), Matthey Dellavedova (St. Mary’s), Anthony Marshall (UNLV).