POSTED: Apr 16, 2013 4:36 PM ET
Before he was hurt in early February, Nerlens Noel was averaging more than six blocks a game.
One of the preseason favorites for the first pick in the NBA Draft, Nerlens Noel, suffered a serious knee injury in early February. Two others, Cody Zeller and Shabazz Muhammad, have hurt their stock. Less than half the college season had elapsed and NBA front offices were looking at having the No. 1 selection as if it was something ticking on the door step.
The race for No. 1 remains as wide open as it was in November. The rest of the top five is just as uncertain. The NCAA tournament could help the sorting-out process. Or, based on the last several months, not.
The lottery, May 21, will become a factor on who goes where, allowing team needs to be weighed as well as individual talent. For now, this is a straight ranking of prospects based on conversations with executives and scouts. (With school or other affiliation, position, height and weight.)
1. Ben McLemore, Kansas SG 6-4 195
A starring role as a freshman moved him from far back in the pack to a realistic shot at No. 1 in a year when the first pick remains open for debate.
2. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky PF 6-11 220
The choice becomes very, very interesting if the team that lands No. 1 in the lottery has a glaring need for a big man and debates the risk of taking Noel some 3 ½ months after knee surgery.
3. Anthony Bennett, UNLV PF 6-7 240
Two inches taller and Bennett is probably in the lead for No. 1. Even as an undersized power forward, he has a decent case amid debate from scouts and executives whether he has the offensive game to play some small forward.
4. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State PG 6-4 200
Opinions are mixed. Some teams see the positive of a smart, tough, poised floor leader, others see the drawback of a player whose best attributes have nothing to do with skill level.
5. Otto Porter, Georgetown SF 6-8 200
Impressive play early moved him securely into the lottery, then another surge late in the regular season put the Big East Player of the Year into position to crack the top five.
6. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA SG-SF 6-6 225
The preseason possibility for the top pick has played his way down the board, potentially well down the board, with selfish play and the realization he is a volume scorer rather than a good shooter.
7. Cody Zeller, Indiana PF-C 7-0 240
There's nothing terribly wrong with his game. It's just that there is nothing terribly right. Once prominent in the conversation for No. 1, he is now viewed as a safe pick with a low ceiling.
8. Victor Oladipo, Indiana SG 6-5 210
Oladipo, his reputation for defense previously established, shot up draft boards by expanding his offensive game and becoming a dependable shooter. One of the best two-way players available.
9. Alex Len, Maryland C 7-1 255
He has shown encouraging signs of growth in his game as a sophomore two seasons after coming from the Ukraine, but there's nothing like being the best true center available to help a draft stock.
10. Isaiah Austin, Baylor PF 7-1 220
Much like Perry Jones, a first-rounder out of Baylor a year ago, Austin needs to add a lot of muscle to survive at power forward in the pros, but the skills are intriguing for a 7-footer.
11. Mason Plumlee, Duke PF 6-11 245
The combination of a developing offensive game and already-there athleticism for a big man has turned Plumlee into a very solid choice high in the first round.
12. Rudy Gobert, France PF-C 7-1 235
Gobert's play this season has not helped his draft stock, but the NBA sees real potential. The NBA also sees 7-1, with a good chance to add needed bulk, and a 7-9 wingspan.
13. Trey Burke, Michigan PG 6-1 175
He used a standout sophomore season to become a candidate for Player of the Year while flashing an all-around game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.3-1 while shooting 47.9 percent with 3-point range.
14. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga C 7-0 240
Part of the wave of Canadian prospects in recent years, with Bennett this season, Olynyk has an advanced offensive game for a big man, with the ability to score from the post and the perimeter.
15. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse PG 6-5 175
Carter-Williams has gone from the top-rated point guard at the start of the season to No. 3 at best, but his ball-handling and vision at 6-5 keeps him in lottery contention despite shooting 38.7 percent.
16. C.J. McCollum, Lehigh PG-SG 6-3 190
The scoring guard has delivered huge games in the NCAA tournament, hitting Duke for 30 points in Lehigh's upset win in 2012 and Kansas for 26 in a loss in 2010.
17. Alex Poythress, Kentucky SF 6-7 215
Poythress said after the season-ending NIT loss to Robert Morris that he will probably stay in school. If he comes out, an elite level of athleticism will tempt front offices around the middle of the first round.
18. Gary Harris, Michigan State SG 6-4 210
The pressing problem is being small for a shooting guard. But Harris is shooting 46.3 percent with 3-point range and has the athleticism and toughness to address the size concerns.
19. Dario Saric, Croatia SF 6-10 235
Saric has a lot of upside and turns 19 in April, giving him a lot of time to grow into the potential. With his passing skills at 6-10 and the European background, expect a lot of Toni Kukoc comparisons.
20. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky C 7-0 245
Cauley-Stein said he will consider turning pro, but that he wanted a ring before leaving college, indicating he is leaning toward a sophomore season at Kentucky.
21. James McAdoo, North Carolina PF-SF 6-9 240
He began the season as a candidate for the top half of the lottery, only to tumble down draft boards amid concerns from executives and scouts that he is strictly a complementary player.
22. Steven Adams, Pittsburgh C 6-11 235
While the New Zealand native is expected to stay in school, the freshman season at Pitt -- the first time he regularly faced a high level of competition -- was an encouraging sign for a future that will include a lot of NBA buzz at the start of 2013-14.
23. Glenn Robinson III, Michigan SF 6-6 210
The son of the No. 1 pick of 1994 is an attacking wing who uses athleticism and good instincts that could translate beyond the role he has at Michigan as a complementary player to Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
24. Gorgui Dieng, Louisville C 6-11 245
His size and mobility suggest a future as a shot blocker, while his offense remains a work in progress. Being 23 years old is a drawback, giving him fewer years to develop than most picks.
25. Archie Goodwin, Kentucky SG 6-4 200
Like teammates Poythress and Cauley-Stein, Goodwin is signaling a return to school next season. Becoming more consistent from the perimeter pushes his stock much higher in 2014.
26. Tony Mitchell, North Texas SF-PF 6-8 235
One of the wild cards of the draft. Mitchell had a disappointing sophomore season, but it's easy to see teams falling back in like when his athleticism and toughness are on display at pre-draft workouts.
28. Jeff Withey, Kansas C 7-0 235
A shot blocker with the experience of four years in a major program with a lot of pressure situations. He's mature at 23 years old. A pick for a team that can't afford to wait while a big develops.
27. Myck Kabongo, Texas PG 6-1 180
He missed 23 games because of an NCAA suspension and then struggled offensively when he did return, but Kabongo remains an intriguing prospect as a distributor.
29. Lucas Nogueira, Brazil PF-C 7-0 220
The NBA has been waiting for years for the athletic 7-footer to add toughness. That it hasn't happened is a bad sign. That teams able to spend an investment pick are still very interested is a good sign.
30. C.J. Leslie, NC State SF 6-9 205
An intriguing mix of size and athleticism offsets the lack of bulk. If he can get stronger and play some power forward, teams are more interested.
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