The passing of Jerry Buss last month brought to mind one of the things that made the Lakers great during his reign. Great teams draft potential superstars. I can think of three examples where the Buss Lakers went outside the box during the draft. The Lakers drafted Vlade Divac at #26 in 1989 when foreign players were viewed skeptically. Kobe Bryant was one of the great bargains ever at #13 in 1996 when drafting HS players was a new thing. In 2005 the Lakers drafted Andrew Bynum at #10, because when you draft a talented young big, the potential payoff is much bigger. In each case any intelligent redraft would put each player in the top 3 of their respective drafts. Each pick was something of a gamble at the time, but offered a huge payoff. Even Buss’s first draft selection with the Lakers, Magic Johnson, was something of a gamble at the time. There had never been a 6’8” PG in the NBA and the Lakers already had a solid young PG in Norm Nixon. A “safer” pick at the time may have been PF David Greenwood. Greenwood was the type of inside grinder who seemed like a perfect fit on the 47-win Lakers of ’79 that lacked inside toughness. The Lakers went for the potential superstar instead and the rest is history.
Teams need to keep this in mind with the 2013 draft. There’s a lot of upside in this draft, but very little in the way of sure things. It remains an extremely hard one to figure out. Typically things are pretty well set at this point. This year things are still kind of muddled as we head into the conference tournaments. The main reason for this is the freshmen bigs. As inconsistent as the likes of Steven Adams, Willie Cauley-Stein and Isaiah Austin have been, all have flashed signs of brilliance. It’s hard to pass on talented 7-footers and the surprising success of Andre Drummond will make it even more difficult this year. In addition to the young bigs we have Victor Oladipo and Otto Porter, who both show signs of NBA superstardom, but also might be nothing more than very good role players. If Marcus Smart, Kyle Anderson and Michael Carter-Williams ever figure the offensive part of the game out all are potential top picks. Cody Zeller and Anthony Bennett could also put themselves into the top pick discussion should they finish strong. I’m hoping the tournament clears things up somewhat.
For this top 60 I decided to omit any players who seem extremely unlikely to declare for the draft. This being small college underclassmen like Bernard Thompson and Alan Williams and very low minute freshmen like Brice Johnson. This way the focus stays on the 2013 draft. Players are listed in order of how I would draft them all other things being equal.
1. Nerlens Noel, C Kentucky: I’m really pulling for the Bobcats win the lottery, because I like the paradox of Michael Jordan deciding on whether or not to draft a Kentucky center coming off knee surgery. MJ should ignore any old grudges he might be harboring and draft Noel. The injury shouldn’t change Noel’s status as the top overall pick. Players have come back strong from torn ACLs before. Noel is a young freshman who was going to involve some developmental time anyway. Leading up to the injury, the most impressive thing about Noel is how much he improved his offense since his college career started. Starting in January he hit .644 on 2-pointers, improved his blocks and kept all his other numbers steady. Nerlens Noel remains a potential NBA superstar. The injury is a setback, but it should keep a team from drafting this guy
2. Victor Oladipo, SG Indiana: I’m going to keep him at #2 for now. I’m still in the process of wrapping my head around what we have here. He’s a great defender and his scoring efficiency has been otherworldly for a SG. His numbers have the impressive look of some of the great SGs ever. The big negative is he has yet to prove he’s the big time scorer that all great SGs have been.
3. Anthony Bennett, PF UNLV: His defensive numbers rebounded after heading downward in January. That puts him ahead of the inconsistent young centers.
4. Otto Porter, SF Georgetown: Otto Porter should get the Wooden award. He has taken a team that suffered a significant loss when Whittington was ruled ineligible and has them on the verge of a top seed. He has improved his numbers during a tough Big East schedule, which is an impossibly difficult task. Porter has the look of a star NBA SF. In this muddled draft he’s about as sure a thing as there is.
5. Kelly Olynyk, C Gonzaga: So what happened in the past month that possessed me to move a guy from the round one bubble to the top 5? He started playing much better defense. He was at 1.2 B40 in November and December and improved to 2.9 in February. That number is still a tad low, but good enough that it makes Kelly Olynyk and darn good prospect when combined with his unstoppable offense.
6. Willie Cauley-Stein, C Kentucky: Cauley-Stein does the two most important center things very well. He hits well over 60% on 2-pointers and blocks well over 3 shots per 40 minutes. That’s what nudges him ahead of Adams and Austin.
7. Steven Adams, C Pitt: Good prospect, but his offense hasn’t been steady like Cauley-Stein’s. What I like best about Adams is his defense has improved during the season. Improvement is good, because it shows a player is learning, adjusting and doing what’s necessary to get to the next level.
8. Isaiah Austin, PF-C Baylor: His rookie year has been a two steps forward/one step back process. He started slowly, but in late December and January he had a stretch where he was looking real good. In February he backslid a little. The fact that we’ve seen flashes of brilliance in this multi-skilled 7-footer is good and keeps him in the lottery. Austin is a project, but the payoff could be huge.
9. Cody Zeller, PF-C Indiana: Zeller remains a good offense/weak defense type with enough upside that he’s a top 10 mainstay.
10. Alex Len, C Maryland: I dropped Len too far last month. He really should be listed with the other frosh centers, as he’s the same age as most of them and has posted stats that show similar promise.
11. Rudy Gobert and Lucas Noguiera: I’m just going to repeat what I’ve been saying about these two all season. Similar players. Both are incredibly efficient inside scorers and good shot blockers. Both come up short as rebounders. Both seem likely to be lottery picks. In a very deep group of center prospects either one could drop or rise to near the top.
12. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG Georgia: It’s time to put this guy on the list of top SGs. His 3-pointer, a weakness coming to the season, has been improving all year to the point where he’s consistently at 40%. I never root against a prospect, but going into the season I was sort of hoping to be able to use the clever nickname “Can’tplayvious Caldwell-Pope” to describe him. He’s been so good that I can’t do that now. Opportunity missed. He’s KCP and is on pace to be a pretty good NBA SG.
13. Kyle Anderson, SF UCLA: It’s been rare for a freshman SF to post non-scoring numbers as impressive as Anderson’s have been. His scoring has been weak, but has steadily improved. I have no problem keeping him in the lottery for now, but eventually he’ll need to score the basketball.
14. Jordan Adams, SG UCLA: Of the UCLA trio of perimeter freshman, Adams has gone unnoticed following a fast start. His numbers are just too good to ignore though. Another factor to consider with Adams is that UCLA guards drafted by the NBA have consistently outdone their college stats during the Howland era. That group includes Farmar, Afflalo, Westbrook and Collison. Adams has posted better stats than any of those four.
15. Marcus Smart, PG Oklahoma State: I decided to move Smart ahead of Carter-Williams, despite the fact that Carter-Williams had a much better month. Smart is more than 2 years younger than MCW and that’s a pretty big deal. Like Kyle Anderson, he does need to get the offense going at an efficient level a lot more consistently than it has been.
16. Michael Carter-Williams, PG Syracuse: In January he was erratic and there was a temptation to write him off. In February he shot the ball less frequently and more efficiently, which is a good sign.
17. Reggie Bullock, SF North Carolina: Bullock is making the most of his chance to be the star. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s finally getting an opportunity or if he just improved that much. Either way he’s posted great numbers for a SF prospect. It’s possible that 5 years from now we’ll all be wondering what Roy Williams was thinking by playing Bullock in a supporting role to Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller.
18. Eric Moreland, PF Oregon State: Moreland is a player whose numbers are too good to ignore. The fact that he’s the 6th leading scorer on a sub-.500 team is a huge negative. I tend to veer pessimistic on players from non-tournament teams, which also hurts Moreland’s stock in my view. But there have been few players with the combination of rebounding, shot blocking and scoring efficiency stats that Moreland has posted this year. The vast majority of such players experienced long NBA careers.
19. Trey Burke, PG Michigan: I find myself liking Burke a lot more than I probably should. He has the low RSB and that’s always a bad sign. Darren Collison is the only recent PG prospect to post a low RSB40 and go on to become a solid NBA player. Brandon Knight and Avery Bradley may also break through, but history suggests such players are reserves at best. Meanwhile there have been first round PGs with low RSBs like Jonny Flynn, Jimmer Fredette, Austin Rivers and Kendall Marshall who have all struggled. Burke is a better player than all those guys and I would look at his high end as more like a Collison. The thing to remember about Collison though is he’s on his 3rd team in 4 season, so it’s hard to call Burke a potential NBA starter.
20. Jeff Withey, C Kansas: Where a lot of this draft’s center prospects have a pretty wide range in the direction their careers might go, Withey is more of a certainty. His high end is a decent NBA reserve whose strength is defense.
21. Ben McLemore, SG Kansas: I’m having trouble warming to him as easily as others have. While he doesn’t score with anywhere near Oladipo’s efficiency, he is a pretty good scorer. In February he dropped below 20.0 P40 which has always been a bad thing for SG prospects. I wouldn’t mind the low P40 so much if he were posting the dominant defensive stats like Oladipo, but his S40 has been dropping to dangerously low levels too.
22. Mitch McGary, PF-C Michigan: A freshman who has played something less than starter minutes, but has been pretty impressive as a rebounder and defender.
23. Khem Birch, PF UNLV: Birch has been pretty solid, especially as a defender. He could be moved up about 10 spots based on stats. I remain leery of him because of his untidy exit from Pitt a year ago. The more he just shuts up and plays, the more distant a memory that becomes. But such incidents just aren’t a good sign.
24. Mike Muscala, C Bucknell: A center with as many skills as Muscala has should be able to find a role with some team. He’s one of the best rebounders in college ball. He’s a good shot blocker. He’s the best passing big man available this year. He can hit a 3-pointer. The downside is his 2-point pct. has never been much better than 50%. That’s a big negative for any center prospect, no matter what other skills he brings.
25. Patric Young, PF-C Florida: Young’s rebounding and shot blocking numbers have improved enough that he’s now a pretty good prospect.
26. Nate Wolters, G South Dakota State: Wolters has been killing it the past couple of months after starting the season in something of a slump. That and the fact he can play the point makes him the lead jackrabbit in a strong group of small college guard prospects this year.
27. Cory Jefferson, PF Baylor: I’ve been running hot and cold on Jefferson in what has been a bust out year for him. I knocked him down a tad too much in January and now I’m not sure why. Perhaps because of the struggles of his team or his age. Now I feel he’s a legit first rounder with solid, if unspectacular PF numbers.
28. Andre Roberson, F Colorado: Another player I like more than I probably should. Roberson has some dominant numbers, but has never been a big time scorer. He does have 3-point range and great defensive skills, which is a nice combination to bring to the NBA of the twenty-teens.
29. DJ Seeley, G CS-Fullerton: Seeley has made himself a decent prospect in his final college season. He’s a good combo guard who has the potential to become a useful NBA sniper/defender. The fact that it took him this long, he’s 23 years old, and his career included a transfer is a negative. But based solely on his numbers there are few guards who are better prospects.
30. James Ennis, G-F Long Beach State: Statistically he’s been as good as any SF in the country. I’m always leery of players who emerge as seniors, so his draft case will require further research before I shove him too far up the list. But like Seeley he’s a very good prospect based solely on statistics from the 2012-13 season.
31. Doug McDermott, F Creighton: His scoring prowess will get him drafted. His inability to do anything else will keep his NBA role limited.
32. Zeke Marshall, C Akron: He’s always been a good shot blocker, which of course is the single most important thing any center prospect can do.
33. Tony Mitchell, PF North Texas: I’m not sure what happened to the player he was last year. I don’t know if he got lazy or if the mighty Sun Belt conference figured him out. But the player who looked like a lottery pick last year is gone. In his place is a marginal prospect worth a look once round 2 starts based on his defensive skills and his great freshman year. Mitchell is a reminder of what should be called a Clifford Rozier rule with prospects. That a transfer is not a good thing for a prospect to have on his resume no matter how good the stats look.
34. Shabazz Muhammad, SF UCLA: His low ASB40 has actually improved a tad, but is still nowhere near where it needs to be. I can forgive the low numbers a little bit, due to the Ben Howland factor, but Muhammad’s are too ridiculously low to think a different system would have mattered. Players like Muhammad stick around the league only as 3-point specialists.
35. Lorenzo Brown, PG North Carolina State: Similar prospect to Smart and Carter-Williams in that his ceiling is pretty high. What knocks him down to 2nd round status is he’s a junior, but is the age of most seniors, 22. His numbers aren’t quite on the level of the other two and his high TOs are a concern. He’s a gamble that might pay off, but that becomes more unlikely as time passes.
36. Ed Daniel, PF Murray State: Daniel may get some buzz as another Faried going into the draft. He has the silly hair, but he isn’t as good as Faried. He might become a useful bench energy player though.
37. CJ McCollum, G Lehigh: The fact that he was killing it from behind the arc before the injury really helps his prospects, because that had been a weakness coming in. He brings a scorer’s mentality that should make him a good 3rd guard. I don’t see much evidence he can handle the point, but I said the same thing about Damian Lillard last year.
38. Gorgui Dieng, C Lousiville: Dieng’s numbers aren’t impressive, but I can’t shake the notion that he’s better than his numbers.
39. Alex Poythress, F Kentucky: He’s like Muhammad and McDermott in that his painfully low ASB40 should take him out of any top prospect discussion. Like Muhammad that number has improved slightly, but nowhere near enough. While the ASB improved slightly, the impressive scoring efficiency he flashed early on has disappeared. In his defense I’ll say that Kentucky probably hasn’t been an easy place for a freshman to play this year. They were a group of players thrown together with high expectations, following a championship team. That couldn’t have been an easy thing to step into. I can’t say whether the circumstances affected the numbers of players like Poythress and Goodwin.
40. Robert Covington, SF Tennessee State: He’s been playing better since his return from surgery, but still isn’t scoring at the efficiency he was last year. I would have liked to have seen him play better, but I think the drop in efficiency can be blamed on the injury. He’s a SF who has proven to be an effective scorer from inside and out, with solid defensive numbers. He could be a bargain in round 2.
41. Taylor Smith, F Stephen F. Austin: Smith has become prominent enough that I no longer get “Did you mean Taylor Swift?” when I google him. Smith is a senior getting big minutes in division 1 for the first time. He’s hitting over 70% on 2-pointers for two years running now. He has great defensive and rebounding numbers. Problem is he’s 6’6” 215 and looks more like an undersized small college PF than anything. His stats are reminiscent of recent small college surprises Millsap and Faried. His lack of bulk will be a problem though.
42. DJ Cooper, PG Ohio: Cooper’s solid senior season has made him an intriguing sleeper. The PGs in the 2013 draft are shaping up as a flakey bunch. They’re talented, but each one comes with a red flag. Any team looking for PG help in the draft may do well to go big in round one and take a round 2 flyer on a player like Cooper.
43. Reginald Buckner, PF Mississippi: Buckner can boast the PF statistical trifecta of a 2PP over .600, R40 over 10.0 and B40 over 3.0. Such players have a decent history of success. He isn’t much of a scorer and that’s always a negative, but big guys who can defend, rebound and put in easy layups always have a place.
44. Solomon Hill, SF Arizona: Nice all-around player who doesn’t score that often. I like Hill better than some of the other low-scoring/multi-talented SFs, because Hill has 3-point range which is becoming almost a necessity for such players
45. Ray McCallum, G Detroit: After the success of Damian Lillard, I expect small college guards to get a little more attention this year. McCallum is right there with the better known McCollum and Wolters. He’s more of a PG than the other two and that should help his case. The biggest negative is that he isn’t a super high volume scorer like McCollum, Wolters and most small college guards who made the successful jump to the NBA in the past.
46. Allen Crabbe, SG California: Crabbe, a junior, has always been a decent scorer. This year his defense has improved enough that he’s a decent NBA prospect.
47. Mason Plumlee, PF-C Duke: I see Plumlee as an energy player and not much more than that. The fact that his defensive numbers are weak makes him a big risk in round 1, where most mocks have him projected.
48. Jordan Bachynski, C Arizona State: He’s a great shot blocker and that’s a good skill to have. His high turnovers make him a risk.
49. Fuquan Edwin, SG Seton Hall: Edwin has that defense/sniper potential that has been a big thing for NBA wings lately. The other part of that equation is low turnovers and that’s an area Edwin has struggled with.
50. Jackie Carmichael, PF Illinois State: Carmichael is a strong rebounder/defender with substandard offensive numbers. There are no concerns with size, age or a transfer that some of the other 3rd tier PF prospects bring. There’s little about him that blows me away either.
51. Leonard Washington, F Wyoming: Going through the PF checklist, Washington looks pretty solid. He’s a good rebounder and defender who has hit over 60% of his 2-pointers for 2 seasons now. There are some worries though. He’s a 5th-year senior with a transfer in his past. He launches way too many 3-pointers, 78 at a .176 clip this year. He’s smallish for a PF, at 6’7” 230. Any team that can accentuate his positives while eliminating the negatives could make a decent player out of this Mr. In Between.
52. Archie Goodwin, SG Kentucky: His numbers are pretty terrible for a prospect, but at some point I have to nod to his youth and skills and say that drafting such a player has more potential payoff than drafting an undersized 5th-year senior who is coming off the best year of a so-so career. A recent successful precedent here is Lance Stephenson, who came out after an unimpressive freshman season and is now a solid reserve with the Pacers.
53. Glenn Robinson III, SF Michigan: Take what I said for Goodwin above and sprinkle in the ASB40 comments I made about Muhammad and Poythress and you’ll get an idea of how I feel about Robinson III.
54. Trevor Mbakwe, PF Minnesota: He just keeps coming up as a decent prospect. He’s older than the 5th-year seniors on the list and has those off court issues, but his numbers remain solid for a PF prospect. The fact that Cody Zeller had his worst game against this guy doesn’t hurt either.
55. Alex Oriakhi, PF-C Missouri: At UConn he was something of an afterthought for 3 seasons. His stats were OK, but not good enough that I’d take him seriously. As a senior at Missouri he’s hitting 60% of his FGs, getting to the line more often and rebounding better than ever.
56. Terell Parks, PF Western Illinois: He’s listed as a PF-C. In college that usually means he’s an undersized center. He’s 6’8” which means he’s a PF in the NBA. His numbers are solid, particularly on defense, which is the single most important skill for a big guy to bring.
57. Arselan Kazemi, PF Oregon: While Anthony Bennett is the only true PF worthy of the lottery, the 2013 draft should feature a lot of PFs that are good late round 2 gambles. Kazemi makes the list because he’s one of the nation’s top rebounders.
58. Aaron Craft, PG Ohio State: His numbers took a big dive this year as he attempted more FGs and got more involved in the offense. That pushed him out of the first couple of top 60s. But he remains a decent passer and a great defender. He keeps coming up huge as a defender in big games. He’s never put it all together as a complete PG prospect, but he has shown enough skills at different times in his 3 years that he has to be mentioned.
59. Gregory Echnique, Creighton: He’s always been a player with great per minute stats, which of course has made him one of my favorites. February was a really bad month for him though. I still like him a lot as a pick in the second round.
60. Elias Harris, F Gonzaga: There are a lot of directions I could go with #60. Pierre Jackson, Tony Johnson, Jamaal Franklin, Carrick Felix, Chris Udofia, Brandon Davies, Keith Rendleman and Jordan Henriquez would all be worthy of the mention I just gave them. I could go for some shock value and mention one of two Johnny-come-latelies from LSU, Andrew del Piero and Charles Carmouche. I think Harris is the best choice though. He plays on the nation’s top ranked team and has been a solid 4-year starter. He hasn’t always been consistent, but definitely has the skills to be a decent NBA stretch 4.