2013 NBA Draft: Five players emerging at the top

nerlens noel kentucky

It’s become an annual tradition in Cleveland to begin talking quite early in all sports about the upcoming draft.

For the Browns in the NFL, I did my first 2013 NFL Draft outlook post back in mid-November, when the Browns were 2-7. They finished at 5-11 and will have the No. 6 pick in April’s draft.

For the Cavaliers in the NBA, who selected No. 1 and No. 4 in 2011, then No. 4 and No. 17 in 2012, they again should be in the top-end of the Lottery this coming June. After an offseason of hype and intrigue that many fans thought could lead to the team potentially competing for the final playoff spot, the Cavs got off to a very slow start.

After Saturday night’s loss to Houston, Cleveland has the second-worst record in the NBA at 8-27. That’s eerily similar to their 35-game starts in each of the past two seasons: 8-27 in 2010-11 and 13-22 in 2011-12. So even if the team finishes strong (as opposed to #tankstrong), it’s likely they’ll finish somewhere in the top 8.

As of now, the 2013 NBA Draft class has had a pretty sour reputation.

In 2011, there were two clear favorites: Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams. It was thought to be an overall bad grouping because of fear of the upcoming NBA lockout: Many young players didn’t want to take the risk. But those two prospects were thought to be future All-Stars, so at least there was some upside at the top and the Cavs took advantage with the right pick1.

In 2012, with at least more certainty about the upcoming NBA lockout, many players that held back in 2011 finally made their jump for the league. Once sure-fire Lottery picks such as Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones III fell into the late first round. Anthony Davis was the clear consensus No. 1 pick and many were anointing him as the easiest No. 1 since LeBron James in 2003 or Dwight Howard in 2005. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal also were highly touted, as they ended up at the No. 2 and No. 3 slots, respectively.

So where does 2013 fall in respect to the past two drafts? Somewhere close to 2011, although it doesn’t even have a clear top two emerging just yet. There are no players that scouts are targeting as an absolute future All-Star like Irving or Williams, or even Hall-of-Famer like Davis. There are five up-and-down players that continue to compete at the very top, some depth immediately after that, but not a whole lot of overall firepower.

As usual, let’s take a look at the stats. Here’s a quick table breaking down the big boards from www.NBADraft.net, www.DraftExpress.com, Chad Ford at ESPN and Chris Mannix at Sports Illustrated:

Nerlens Noel1.8CKentucky18.7
Shabazz Muhammad2.3SG/SFUCLA19.1
Cody Zeller3.5CIndiana20.3
Alex Len4.0CMaryland19.6
Ben McLemore4.8SGKansas19.9
Anthony Bennett6.8PFUNLV19.8
Alex Poythress8.5SF/PFKentucky19.3
Otto Porter9.8SFGeorgetown19.6
Archie Goodwin10.3SGKentucky18.4
Michael Carter-Williams11.8PG/SGSyracuse21.2
C.J. McCollum12.0PG/SGLehigh21.3
Isaiah Austin12.3CBaylor19.2
Mason Plumlee12.8PFDuke22.8
Marcus Smart14.8PGOklahoma State18.8
Rudy Gobert15.0PF/CFrance20.5
James Michael McAdoo15.5PFNorth Carolina20.0
Dario Saric16.8SFCroatia18.7
Tony Mitchell18.0SF/PFNorth Texas20.8
Steven Adams18.8CPittsburgh19.5
Trey Burke19.3PGMichigan20.2


So the purpose of this post is to serve as a primer and introduction for folks to the upcoming draft class, I wanted to briefly profile those top five guys that have emerged at the top of the list. I’ll then share a little final analysis on the Cavs, their needs and potential fits.


1. Nerlens Noel, 6-11, 215, 4/10/1994, Kentucky, C

Hyped in Lexington as Anthony Davis-lite this season, Noel had quite the shoes to fill for the reigning champs and John Calipari. He’s done perfectly fine just far, cementing his status as a likely top-three pick: Through 13 games, he’s averaging 12.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, 4.2 blocks, 3.1 steals per 36 minutes on the court, and is shooting 55.7% from the field. Those aren’t as good as Davis’ numbers from his 40-game freshman year (15.9 points, 11.7 rebounds, 5.2 blocks, 1.5 steals and 62.3% shooting), but they’re still quite impressive and worthy of recognition on their own.

What scouts have been raving about thus far is Noel’s All-Star-worthy defensive presence. He has a very long wingspan, is an amazing shot blocker and even has surprised with his  well-above-average pick-and-roll ability on that side of the ball. He might not ever be a go-to guy on offense, but he’ll certainly be able to change games with what he does on defense. Chad Ford and Jay Bilas recently wrote that he “remains the default No. 1 pick” because he “has the most star potential of any player in the draft.”

2. Shabazz Muhammad, 6-6, 225, 11/13/1993, UCLA, SG/SF

Muhammad has been the most polarizing top-end draft prospect so far. He was suspended in November for one week (three games) by the NCAA while they reviewed his eligibility, then started off slow for the high-ranked Bruins, who proceeded to lose three of their first five games with him back. Since then, he’s been tearing it up — especially on the offensive end — while UCLA has crept back into the national picture. His per-36 minute stats: 24.6 points and 6.5 rebounds (including 3.7 offensive boards) with a 54.3% efficiency shooting percentage are quite effective for a wing.

The Las Vegas high school product is by far the most explosive scorer in the draft. He is looked at as a future 20-point per game scorer in the NBA, and he is actually averaging 23.2 over the team’s last six games. Where he disappoints is his overall contributions: Notice that I didn’t include his per 36-minute stats for assists (1.0), steals (0.5) and blocks (0.0). Scouts rave about his infectious motor, but that hasn’t show up in the all-around stats just yet. Ben Howland is notorious for ruining his player’s draft status2, although I still wouldn’t expect Muhammad to drop out of the top four.

3. Cody Zeller, 6-11, 210, 10/5/1992, Indiana, C

Zeller mania! But really, there’s a store called Zellers in Canada. I must get a T-shirt. Regardless, the youngest of three brothers (the oldest Luke plays for the Phoenix Suns) is the biggest star of the family. Once rumored to be the clear No. 1 pick this season, scouts have cooled off on him a bit during his sophomore season, despite his excellent play for one of the best teams in the nation. Through 50 career collegiate games, here are his per-36 minute numbers: 20.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.5 blocks. He’s an all-around contributor regarded for his excellent ability to run the court, while also shooting efficiently (he’s at 62.3% for his career).

Cody is regarded as a long, mobile big man with high basketball IQ. Translation: He’s not all that athletically gifted and makes the most out of his ability. He has a skinny frame still, has poor wingspan and is not all that strong in the post. So while his stats may shine at the college level, many scouts worry about his ability to similarly dominate in the NBA. He also doesn’t have the range to be a stretch 4, so some have contemplated where he best fits on the court. Cavalier fans are already used to that with his brother Tyler, but the key fact remains that Cody is more talented, yet similarly critiqued.

4. Alex Len, 7-1, 225, 6/16/1993, Maryland, C

Len is the one player that has risen the most on draft boards in the past two months. Born in Ukraine, he was then suspended for the first 10 games of his freshman season last year due to eligibility concerns. He started just 11 games then in 2011-12, yet never really was the focal point of the offense — he averaged only 7.3 FGAs en route to 10.1 points per 36 minutes. That has all changed this year for the big, strong who remains likely the least-profiled top-five prospect in this class. Len is now more of a focal point in the offense — averaging 13.5 FGAs per 36 minutes — and has delivered.

Through 14 games (13 starts) this year, he is averaging 19.8 points, 11.9 rebounds (including 4.5 on the offensive end) and 3.3 blocks. It’s easy to see why many scouts have been particularly intrigued by that combination of production and build. He is labeled as a competitive athlete with range, who should fill out over time to be a natural shot blocker and good pick-and-roll defender. But before a strong game Saturday, his recent passive performances had drawn the ire of his coach, lending weight to the main criticism that he is still just a project. Another polarizing player with upside, but tough to get too excited just yet.

5. Ben McLemore, 6-5, 195, 2/11/1993, Kansas, SG

Ohio State fans just got a taste of this uber-athletic guard’s potential as he scored 22 points in the Jayhawks’ victory on Dec. 22. A late bloomer who is old for his grade (he’s a redshirt freshman because of NCAA eligibility issues last year) and didn’t emerge on the national scene until late in his high school career, McLemore is another highly touted scorer who should succeed at the next level. He has as much momentum as any prospect as anyone because of his stats thus far: 19.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals per 36 minutes, to go along with 56.9% shooting efficiency.

Many have knocked McLemore for being inconsistent and lacking ideal strength. He also is not a great shot-creator at this stage in the game, as his ball-handling leaves a bit to be desired. But where he succeeds is in the transition game and in shot selection. He is smaller and less explosive than Muhammad, so he might not ever be as elite of a scorer, but he is still thought to be a very good athlete who is very effective with his body size in getting the most he can on the court.

Before I get into the specific Cavaliers analysis, I just wanted to also share the bottom rung of the NBA standings:

1. Washington — 4-27
2. Cleveland — 8-27, 2.0 GB
3. New Orleans — 8-25, 3.0 GB
4. Charlotte — 8-24, 3.5 GB
5. Phoenix — 12-22, 6.5 GB
T-6. Orlando — 12-21, 7.0 GB
T-6. Toronto — 12-21, 7.0 GB
T-6. Detroit — 13-22, 7.0 GB
T-9. Sacramento — 13-21, 7.5 GB
T-9. Dallas — 13-21, 7.5 GB


Wow, it’s pretty crazy to see that six teams are all within a game of each other in the 5-10 positions. Although top four are pretty far back of all of them, I’m surprised to see a team like Dallas this low overall, so I do expect there to be lots and lots of movement in the final 60% of the 2012-13 season. Regardless, as I said earlier, I’d be very surprised if the Cavs don’t finish somewhere in the top 8.

So after picking Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller high in the last few drafts, the typical Cavaliers fan is probably hoping for an explosive, tall SF that can add more to the scoring load while playing effective defense. Another need is in the big man category, because of Anderson Varejao’s injury risk and unknown future, as the team lacks stellar depth after the three players mentioned in this paragraph.

At first glance, Muhammad is likely to be the franchise’s top target. He fits many of their needs: He’s an explosive scorer, good rebounder and has the potential to also be very good on the defensive side in a couple of years. If Noel has the best star potential of any prospect in this draft class, Muhammad is likely just behind him.

After that, Zeller and Len both don’t seem to be ideal fits. I could potentially see the Cavs being patient with Len, but based on the pressure that will exist to win immediately beginning in 2013-14, I’d be surprised. McLemore also could help out the Cavs because of his scoring abilities and he’s not exactly the same athletic mold as Waiters, but again, that’s not an ideal fit.

Looking further down on the big board, the next three players — Anthony Bennett, Alex Poythress and Otto Porter — all intrigue me to various degrees. As I keep up on the 2013 NBA Draft news, I’m sure I’ll have more on them as June gets closer.


(AP Photo/James Crisp)

  1. One of my biggest NBA-related pet peeves over the last 12-18 months has been the retroactive perspectives on the 2011 NBA Draft. Many fans were clamoring for the Cavs to take Derrick Williams at No. 1, followed by Brendan Knight at No. 4. Irving was nowhere near a consensus top pick, but he’s been the right one. Cleveland’s front office deserves a ton of credit for that. []
  2. I just recently returned from 10 days of vacationing in California, including three days at UCLA with an old friend. I also was on campus for UCLA’s upset overtime win over then-No. 7 Missouri on Dec. 28. Bruin fans were almost mad at the fact that the win secured some extra time for Howland, who’s been a clear disappointment over the past three seasons. But in that game, Muhammad was the star in the clutch, finishing with a season-high 27 points. But he corralled just one rebound and had just one assist, with no blocks and no steals. That’s practically the anti-LeBron. []
  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I like Zeller and Mohammed myself. On a positive note it’s really great seeing the numbers Thompson has been posting the last week. He’s been a beast on the boards. If he can improve his offense some while maintaining his glass work he’ll more then make Grant look good for his selection.

  • EZ

    Excellent writeup, especially with what the Cavs likely fits would be. I think my personal big board would be 1) Muhammad 2) Bennett 3) Noel 4) McLemore 5) Poythress. Based on what the modern day center is, I think Thompson could handle the role on defense most of the time. If Bennett can play SF, great, but I’d be completely fine slating him in at PF, too.

    However, Muhammad is my clear-cut #1. They did a breakdown of his measurements… and while he’s about an inch or so shorter than the average SF, he’s actually an inch longer, as well. To me, he has James Harden type ability. And before people jump all over that, Harden was pretty mediocre his first year in the league. I think Muhammad would show his potential earlier than Harden did.

  • 330ClevFan614

    If the Cavs are lucky enough to get Shabazz, I say you make him the SG on the team and make Dion the 6th man. He can then backup both Kyrie and Shabazz. That would be a better than average starting 5 (in terms of height at each position)- Kyrie, Shabazz, Gee, to go along with Tristan and Andy. Then you would have Waiters, Miles, Zeller and the other draft pick from LA/MIA on the bench. That makes the Cavs look better on paper…

  • CavsDraft

    I am very intrigued by Isaiah Austin. Has a smooth stroke for a 7 and I think he and kyrie could run the pick and roll very effectively together. He needs to bulk up to be able to take the pounding given in the NBA but Dwight Howard was the same way when he came into the league. Hopefully, we can get another lottery pick or parlay the extra first round pick we have this year to get 2 top 10 picks.

  • The Other Tim

    Thanks for this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lnicholas2 Lee Nicholas

    If you look at Tristan’s stats since Andy’s injury I don’t think you can argue that he was the best available player. He’s the third highest rebounder in his rookie class, though if you exclusively look at the past month he’d be the highest. People also hack him for his scoring, but on the season he’s the 9th overall for sophomores – he’d be 6th or 7th if you just look at the post-Andy injury stats. If you rank the players in order of that draft I don’t think its a stretch to say that he was the 4th best player from that draft – especially if you take the other PGs out of the equation. People should give Grant credit at minimum for sticking to his guns and picking who his team believed to be the best candidate, not ESPN’s mock drafts.