Top 25 NBA Draft Prospects
NBA Draft Prospects
Though the NBA Draft isn’t until June 27, this is the prime time for scouts to begin assembling their boards. Nearing the end of the college season and heading into combines and workouts, much more about these players will come to light through drills and film evaluation. My rankings will obviously differ from the order in which I think these prospects will be drafted, but it will represent which prospects I believe have the brightest NBA futures.
All analysts and writers will have different lists and opinions. I believe the criteria are highly important towards understanding how the lists come to be. This is a list that is based on how successful I think these players will be, balancing both upside and likelihood of their true abilities. This is heavily influenced by my personal opinion, but in some places--especially in the teens--I have taken the words of scouts and analysts over my own.
The most controversial players I have heard discussed are Tim Hardaway Jr. and Tony Mitchell. Though I am not particularly a fan of either, I know all too well that NBA teams love to take chances on players like these. Though I have never really seen them perform anywhere near their alleged ceilings, NBA teams--especially those drafting in the latter half of the first round--can afford to take risks and have had more success developing players.
Without further introduction, here is the list.
Honorable Mentions: Myck Kabongo (PG, Texas, SO), Lorenzo Brown (PG/SG, NC State, JR), Isaiah Canaan (PG, Murray State, SR)
25. Allen Crabbe (SG, California, JR)
Watching this guy play, it's hard not to picture him immediately contributing on a contender. Though he may not be creating his own shot, Crabbe is an elite shooter with an NBA body. Though many will draft for potential, especially near the top of the draft, in the latter half of the first round, a contender will be lucky to scoop up a shooter like Crabbe.
24. DeShaun Thomas (SF/PF, Ohio State, JR)
The only thing holding Thomas out of the top 10 is his position...or lack thereof. Thomas was consistently one of the most impressive players in college basketball this season, dominating with his length and ability to score at will. While scoring numbers were at historic lows and Thomas played for an especially defensive team, he managed to score on a lot of NBA talent in the Big 10 and NCAA Tournament.
23. Tim Hardaway Jr. (SG, Michigan, JR)
Hardaway is a difficult prospect for me to evaluate. After the first half of the first round, all of the prospects will undoubtedly have holes. Hardaway has an idea NBA body, with great length, to be a strong 2-guard in the NBA. However, I show a strong bias towards prospects that have shown flashes of reaching their potential, and I have not seen that from Hardaway. With inconsistent effort and sub-elite shooting, Hardaway will be a project for the team that drafts him.
22. Steven Adams (C, Pittsburgh, FR)
The word project that aptly describes Tim Hardaway doesn’t do justice to Adams. The team that drafts Adams will effectively be drafting an international prospect, because there will likely be no returns on a pick of Adams for a few years. While he has the build and athleticism that the NBA wants in its bigs, he lacks any sort of court awareness or ability that would make him playable at this point.
21. Tony Mitchell (SF/PF, North Texas, SO)
Mitchell might have been subtly the hardest player to rank. Coming into the season, there was real hype on Mitchell as a potential lottery pick. However, his 44 percent shooting on the 12-20 Mean Green was underwhelming to say the least. He has the body and likely ability to be a real NBA contributor, but I don’t think anyone has really seen it yet. There is definite bust potential with Mitchell, but Mitchell will be worth the risk for a team that can afford the luxury.
20. Jeff Withey (C, Kansas, SR)
Jeff Withey picked the perfect year to enter the NBA. The bias towards skill on the perimeter and defense inside is as strong as ever. The Heat, Thunder, Knicks and others have shown that with perimeter shooters and penetration, there is less need for a post scorer. Withey’s ability to defend the rim will make him a highly desirable commodity to a team that already has scorers on the outside.
19. Erick Green (PG, Virginia Tech, SR)
I think I am higher on Green, relative to most NBA experts, than I am on any player in this draft. Erick Green is never going to win any defensive accolades, surely, but he can fill it up from anywhere. Green is not an elite finisher around the rim, but he can shoot and pass at a high level. While he’s probably not a starting 1-guard in the NBA if he can’t defend, he’ll represent a strong third guard who is NBA ready.
18. Gorgui Dieng (C, Louisville, JR)
Though everyone will comment on Dieng’s age (23), I believe that shouldn’t wildly hurt his value. The comments I made about Withey–-with NBA teams liking interior defense over post scoring--make Dieng an equally valuable commodity. Dieng has a mid-range jumper–-similar to that of a Serge Ibaka--paired with great athleticism.
17. Mason Plumlee (PF/C, Duke, SR)
Plumlee has great athleticism, rebounding ability and experience. Though he’s 22, he will still likely be a lottery pick. Some may have him higher than this, but I am skeptical about his ability to score at a high level in the post. I think he is superior to a lot of the defense-only bigs available in this draft, but I don’t see him as a potentially elite post option.
16. Dario Saric (SF/PF, Croatia)
I’ve read mixed things on Saric, but I believe international prospects could rise heavily in this draft. The tape and combines will likely reveal more flaws than qualities in a lot of these college prospects, so the unknowns of this 18-year-old Croatian could be appealing to some teams. He is a highly regarded passer and scorer. He seems to have a higher floor and ceiling than a lot of other prospects in this range.
15. Rody Gobert (C, France)
Gobert is the French Steven Adams. While he is slightly more developed as a player, he is certainly going to be an investment for future returns. At 7-1, with a 7-9 wingspan, he is unbelievably athletic and agile. As replacement level for bigs is so low and the development of international bigs has been relatively consistent, Gobert’s stock may recover to the top 10 potential he had earlier in the calendar year.
14. Michael Carter-Williams (PG, Syracuse, SO)
Carter-Williams certainly has the body to play the one in the NBA. He showed elite court vision and passing ability in college. However, many questions still linger. He showed no consistency with his jump shooting, and scouts consistently question his ability to play man-to-man defense after playing in Syracuse’s heralded 2-3 zone in college. A team will probably take a shot on Carter-Williams, as his size and court vision will make him at least a strong backup PG. If he improves his jump shot, however, his potential is much greater.
13. Giannis Adetokoubo (SF/PF, Greece)
I am undoubtedly much higher on Adetokoubo than most, but I am optimistic about the unknowns here. His level of competition in Greece, currently, is very low. The talent, according to both what I’ve seen and what I’ve read, is very real. Though he is not yet a strong enough shooter to handle the three in the NBA, he’s an elite athlete and has the potential to be an absolute star in the NBA. He reminds me a lot of Nic Batum. This draft surely lacks elite talents, and a team could take a chance on a player who has dominated his competition.
12. Shabazz Muhammad (SF, UCLA, FR)
I have personally wavered a lot on Muhammad. His talent is elite and undeniable. When he had the ball in his hands, against underrated Pac-12 competition, Muhammad showed flashes of the elite ability that scouts have touted. The intangible detraction is also very real. After lying about his age and averaging less than one assist per game, critics have a lot to hang their hat on. Though I am sure that he will go ahead of number 12 in the real draft, I am very skeptical. Though there is no doubt that he will be able to score at the NBA level, I have trouble ever picturing him as a cog on an elite team. Will he ever defend and pass well enough to keep a team at a high level? I’m skeptical. I’m not sure if this is a compliment, but I see a lot of Harrison Barnes in Muhammad. Unmatched hype coming out of high school, passable college numbers (but leaving much to be desired overall), and potentially a better role player than star in the NBA.
11. Kelly Olynyk (PF/C, Gonzaga, JR)
Olynyk’s style runs in direct contrast to a lot of the other bigs’ games in this draft. While many are unpolished, freak athletes, Olynyk is the complete opposite. He is a polished passer and scorer, with a European game, and needs to utilize that skill to compensate for his lack of athleticism. He is more of a win-now piece for a late lottery team. He plays strong defense and is probability a day one starter in the NBA.
10. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SF, Georgia, SO)
I think Caldwell-Pope is possibly the most underrated prospect in this draft. Teams are going to struggle to find impact players, but KCP is an immediate impact scorer in the NBA. He can shoot and penetrate well, showing keen improvements from his freshman to sophomore year. Though he may never be an elite 2-guard, as he probably can’t defend at a high enough level, he is at least a high-energy scorer in the NBA.
9. CJ McCollum (PG/SG, Lehigh, SR)
McCollum benefits from a little of the Noel effect. After playing so well in his junior year and early in his senior campaign, McCollum suffered a season-ending foot injury. Though he isn’t the shooter that Stephen Curry is, his scouting report will look very similar. An elite isolation player and scorer, teams will worry about his ability to play the point and defend at a high enough level. Ultimately, in a weak draft, teams should have a hard time passing up this impact scorer and creator.
8. Cody Zeller (PF/C, Indiana, SO)
Zeller’s full-court game and mid-range jumper will make him a top 10 pick, but I worry about his position in the NBA. At 6-11, there will be questions if he has the athleticism and explosiveness to really be a true five in the NBA. I wasn’t a fan of how often he disappeared, when he was supposed to be the key cog on arguably the nation’s best team. He will be a top 10 pick, but I think his true talent may lay closer to his floor than his ceiling.
7. Anthony Bennett (SF/PF, UNLV, FR)
There was a stretch of time where I would’ve picked Anthony Bennett to be the number one overall pick. At 6-8, he is probably a stretch-4. He can score inside and out and has super elite athletic ability. He probably can’t defend well enough to ever be a three and he’s undersized to be a true four, so Bennett will fall a little as teams will fear his true upside. I think that with his athleticism and already realized ability, it’s hard to imagine Bennett doesn’t pan out to some extent in the NBA.
6. Victor Oladipo (SG/SF, Indiana, JR)
In my opinion, there is no reason Oladipo isn’t a Tony Allen type in the NBA. Though it’ll take time for him to become the absolutely elite defender that Allen is, Oladipo might have the upside to score more. Showing the ability to penetrate and to score on the perimeter, Oladipo showed the necessary improvements to move way up draft boards this past season. Taking advantage of the publicity Indiana garnered and the star role that Cody Zeller oft-vacated, Oladipo looks NBA ready in all ways.
5. Trey Burke (PG, Michigan, SO)
Burke finds his way into the top five on the board because his floor is relatively high, but NBA teams may be turned off by his relatively low ceiling. Though I don’t think anyone is thinking Burke is a budding MVP candidate, his intangibles and court vision make him a strong pick for teams in need of a facilitator rather than a star at the one. I’m not a huge fan of Burke and I don’t see him as a pure lottery talent, but given this draft, why not take a guy who comes little risk, doubt or downside?
4. Alex Len (C, Maryland, SO)
I think Alex Len has a chance to be a real star in the NBA. With an extremely developed low post game and true touch on his mid-range jumper, Len could be a true low-post scorer. Though somewhat obsolete in the NBA, I’m not sure why a team wouldn’t want a guy like this. He definitely has to bulk up to compete and defend down low, but at 20 years old and only two years removed from Ukraine, he is not far away from being a real player in the NBA.
3. Otto Porter (SF, Georgetown, SO)
Otto Porter is maybe the least likely player in the top 10 to make an all-NBA team, and I would still grab him in the top three. He’s an NBA ready scorer, defender and leader. There are plenty of NBA teams with strong guard play and general disinterest in bigs (especially the ones in this draft), so Porter should be a top five pick. Though he may never be an explosive scorer at the three, he will undoubtedly be a strong complimentary piece on a very good team. He has much more talent than a prototypical intangible-driven player and is ready to contribute right now.
2. Nerlens Noel (PF/C, Kentucky, FR)
Nerlens Noel very well may be taken first overall in this draft. I happen to think that he is the second best player, but taking him first overall would not bother me. Noel is obviously coming off major reconstructive knee surgery and has little that resembles a groomed offensive game, but his defense, athleticism and advanced passing ability makes him a top two talent in this draft. I believe that Noel could be the first pick in two scenarios. The first, obviously, is that a team could be in such desperate need of a big that his value to them is greatest. Bill Simmons offered up an alternate theory. A team could draft Noel with the assumption that he plays substantially less than 82 games in his rookie year. In that case, the team could position themselves for another high draft pick in the 2014 draft--one that is expected to be much stronger than this. Though I find the concept of a team effectively tanking over 82 games relatively deplorable, it would not be entirely shocking or impossible (especially if Noel is simply not healthy enough to play many games or minutes).
1. Ben McLemore (SG, Kansas, FR)
The biggest criticism I have of McLemore is that he is 20 years old. While his game and body are not fully developed, this kid is already a budding superstar. He should be the cornerstone of a franchise. If you haven’t already read his back story, you really should. Leading his family from a young age and a team of seniors at Kansas, this kid is the perfect face for a struggling NBA team. Though he is not quite the overall prospect that Bradley Beal was last year, I believe there are aspects in which he is actually better. His pure athleticism and unreached upside are probably slightly greater than those of Beal, and a team would be getting a star who can get even better. If you read the things that Kansas coach Bill Self has said about McLemore, you’d be hard pressed to not rank him first.