NCAA: Top Senior NBA Draft Prospects
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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We’re at the point of the college basketball season where freshmen and sophomores are starting to rise to the top of NBA mock draft boards. Meanwhile, the student-athletes who do things the old fashioned way and earn degrees struggle to climb due to concerns about their age and potential.
Every year there are always a couple of seniors who manage to climb, but most are taken late in the first round and in the second round. That’s not going to change this year. Upside is still more valuable than experience from a NBA Draft perspective, but this year’s draft class will feature some intriguing four-year players who are worth monitoring despite the senior stigma.
Mason Plumlee (Duke) – 6’10, 235. Power Forward/Center
One of the most gifted athletes in the country, Plumlee is making the most of his physical tools this year and producing career numbers as a result. Plumlee is contributing 19 points, 11 rebounds and 1.7 blocks a game for the undefeated Blue Devils.
Mason’s brother Miles, who was nowhere near as productive as Mason even before this season, worked his way into the first round thanks largely in part to his frame and athleticism. Mason not only has that, he has a vastly improved low post game and a confident stroke at the free throw line.
More important than anything, though, is that he’s been consistent this season. He’s shown flashes of being able to do things like this before, he’s just now finally doing so on a nightly basis. Plumlee is now in the lottery mix with the potential to even get into the top 10 since big men are in such high demand these days.
C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) – 6’3, 190. Point Guard/Shooting Guard
McCollum has been a star since the very first day he became a member of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks basketball program. He’s wrapping up a career for the record books in fitting fashion, putting up 24 points, five rebounds and three assists a night. He’s doing so while shooting 50 percent from the field and 51 percent from beyond the arc as well.
McCollum’s producing at a rate that demands respect regardless of age and class. Whereas at the beginning of the season he was projected as a mid-to-late first rounder, he’s looking much more like a lock for the top 15 right now.
Scoring looks like it will always be McCollum’s strength, but his playmaking numbers should benefit from being surrounded by pro-level talent, which is not the case at Lehigh. He’s carrying a big load for them and his role calls for him to score at a high rate in order for them to be in a position to win.
Isaiah Canaan (Murray State) – 6’1, 195. Point Guard
Last year was the best year in the Racers program’s history and the catalyst behind their success was Canaan. Canaan passed on entering the 2012 NBA Draft so he could try and top what he did as a junior. So far, he’s off to a strong start, averaging a career-best 21 points, four rebounds and 3.9 assists.
Canaan is smaller than higher-ranked guards Marcus Carter-Williams of Syracuse or the aforementioned McCollum, but he’s strong and a very reliable shooter.
For Canaan to get into the first-round conversation he’s going to have to take his team deep into the tournament and do a lot of playmaking on the way there while scoring at a similar rate.
Jeff Withey (Kansas) – 7’0, 235. Center
Despite losing their two best players from last year’s national runner up team in Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, the Jayhawks are still a top 10 team in the country and the big man inside is a big reason why. Freshmen guard Ben McLemore has been a star, but Withey is the stable presence inside who makes the game easier for everybody else.
Withey is posting up 13 points, eight rebounds and 5.6 blocks, the top mark in the nation, a game. With ideal size for a center, good mobility and a nice set of hands, Withey is looking like a legitimate lottery pick. He recently recorded a triple-double, a testament to how big of an impact he can have on the game.
Consistency will be key for Withey easing doubts over his age.
Brandon Paul (Illinois) – 6’4, 200 lbs. Shooting Guard
Although Bruce Weber, the coach who recruited him, is gone, Paul is looking as good as he ever has with the Fighting Illini. John Groce, who replaced Weber, is leaning on Paul heavily in his first year at the helm of the program. Paul’s 19 points a game are five more than his previous best, and he’s doing so while setting career marks with his shooting percentages (46 percent from the field, 41 percent from beyond three) as well.
Paul has the game of an offensive spark plug in the mold of a Los Angeles Lakers guard Jodie Meeks or San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal. His bread and butter in the league is going to be scoring, which he may do as well as anyone in this draft class.
Paul is now on the first round bubble with plenty of time to ensure he’s finishes the season on the right side of it.
THE NEXT FIVE
Nate Wolters , South Dakota State - A well-rounded guard who carries a big load for his team. Can really shoot the three.
Alex Oriakhi, Missouri – A strong, physical big man who can hold his own defensively.
Mike Muscala, Bucknell – Skilled five man with a knack for scoring the basketball.
Jackie Carmichael, Illinois State – Energy guy with a serviceable skill set offensively.
Robert Covington, Tennessee State – Versatile with the ability to really shoot it from outside.
Honorable Mention: Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota), Elijah Johnson (Kansas), Richard Howell (N.C. State), Elias Harris (Gonzaga)