I believe the story of the 2013 draft will be the big men, specifically the freshmen big men. This class had 11 centers in the top 40 overall players. That’s an unheard of number. Considering the love NBA teams always show for big men in the draft and the fact that 5 of the last 6 top overall picks have been freshmen, I think it’s pretty clear these 11 prospects will be watched closely and will be the story of the year for draft watchers.
With that in mind I want to get an early start on ranking these players. This list is only for the freshmen 11. All the rankings I do before March should be considered fluid. This very early list is more than that. It should be considered fluid that will be shaken up, poured into a river and sent down some rapids and falls before it flows to the shore in March and takes a final form after the tournament.
- Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: The Wildcats have some issues that may keep them from repeating, but Noel has been as good as advertised. His defensive numbers so far are off the charts, that he doesn’t even need to score in order to get into the top 5. He’s passing the ball like a young Bill Russell and his offense has been surprisingly good. As a rebounder he’s been OK so far, at 11.0 R40. That’s a number that often fades for big men as the season goes on, but in Noel’s case that might not happen. He had good rebounding games against Alex Len and Mason Plumlee, a couple of likely lottery picks. That’s a good early sign. Even if his R40 slips below 10.0, his other skills make him a great prospect. Right now he’s established himself as a pretty strong early favorite to become the top overall pick.
- Cameron Ridley, Texas: There are some negatives with Ridley. He’s been turnover prone early on and at .333 in 18 FT attempts, he’s a threat to Andre Drummond’s pathetic .295 FT pct mark last year. But looking at the good side if the ledger, Ridley has been pretty impressive. He’s been a solid rebounder and shot blocker who knows how to get to the line. Those are 3 skills that are hard for center prospects to develop. An early turnover problem usually fixes itself. An ability to rebound and block shots is pretty constant and Ridley appears to have that going for him.
- Caleb Tarczewski, Arizona: He’s hitting .600 on 2-pointers and his defensive numbers are great so far. His rebounding is minimally acceptable at 10.0 R40. Tarczewski’s Wildcats have played only three games, all against weak competition. The schedule toughens up in November and we’ll learn more about Tarczewski then.
- Steven Adams, Pittsburgh: Adams has posted some excellent numbers, if we ignore the poor rebounding. Adams is at 8.8 R40. The problem is rebounding and shot blocking have historically been a more difficult skill to improve than scoring or passing. Because this is for only 118 minutes, it isn’t time to freak out just yet. But the low rebound rate is a bad sign for Adams. The important thing to remember here is that at this early point in the season a couple of double figure rebound games will put Adams right back where he needs to be.
- Adam Woodbury, Iowa: Good, but hardly a great start. His early numbers show Woodbury as a solid all-around player with no glaring weaknesses. That’s good, but he also lacks any big number that blows me away. Because he was the lowest ranked center in the top 40, there are some lingering doubts that he can keep this pace up.
- Mitch McGary, Michigan: McGary is listed as a PF, but he’s also listed at 6’10 250, so I’ll call him a center. At 17.3 R40 McGary has been the best rebounder of this group by a large margin. He has also been a decent scorer and has gotten a lot of steals in low minutes. His blocks are low and that will have to improve.
- Isaiah Austin, Baylor: He’s been slowed by an ankle injury so his numbers might be a little suppressed. What he has going for him is the fact that he’s the only one in this group that has flashed 3-point range. Such a skill doesn’t make a prospect a pro in itself, but is a nice skill to bring to the combine. Like a lot of this group his low rate of blocks is a concern.
- Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Good shot blocker and scorer, weak rebounder. He may have to wait a year to shine as 2013 is shaping up as the year of Noel and Goodwin in Lexington. Next year’s Wildcat freshmen class already has 3 of the top 5 players in the nation committed. All are perimeter guys and having a holdover “veteran” as a force in the middle should be a good thing for all.
- Shaquille Cleare, Maryland: Like Cauley-Stein, Claire finds himself behind a top prospect at center. For him it’s sophomore Alex Len. His numbers so far have been OK. There’s some good and some bad. My guess is his opportunity to shine will come next year after Len heads for the NBA.1
- DuJuan Coleman, Syracuse: As his play in the all-star games suggested, he’s a pretty good rebounder. That’s about all I can say about his play so far though. He’s the only prospect here with a FG pct. under .500. He hasn’t blocked shots well in the early going. There’s still some promise here, but he has work to do.
- Tony Parker, UCLA: Parker is another guy playing behind a center, Joshua Smith, who is a potential first rounder. In the early going he’s been an OK scorer, with few other numbers that impress. He could be another one whose time will come next year.