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Scott Howard-Cooper

Shabazz Muhammad is projected as a Top 10 pick, but he's heading in the wrong direction.

First round snaps into focus with list of early-entry candidates


Posted May 2, 2013 10:43 AM

The draft picture that was coming into greater focus in recent weeks received further clarity Wednesday when the NBA released the names of the early-entry candidates, who officially join the pool for June 27.

The biggest hit was Marcus Smart, the top prospect at point guard, returning to Oklahoma State, and he probably was being overhyped anyway in a generally weak draft. (Last year, Damian Lillard, much better at that point of his career, went sixth. Yet Smart was getting talked up as a top-three selection and a possible No. 1 if the team with the first pick needed a point?) Otherwise, most who chose to stay on campus were projected for late-lottery or deeper into the first round: Gary Harris of Michigan State, Isaiah Austin of Baylor, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary of Michigan, James McAdoo of North Carolina and Doug McDermott of Creighton.

A lot of bubble picks for the first round just moved into safer territory for guaranteed money, which, in turn, means the draft got even weaker. The international crop is probably the main beneficiary as teams picking in the 20s yawn through a lot of U.S. college options and consider taking players with a glimmer of a chance to develop into something better after another couple years overseas.

With that in mind, here's the latest Top 30, after conversations with executives and scouts but without regard to team need until the lottery on May 21:

1. Ben McLemore, Kansas SG 6-4 195

The struggle to score late in the season -- or hit a single shot in the round of 32 -- increased the doubt about what happens at the next level. But in this draft, he is the clear choice for a team that needs a wing.

2. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky PF 6-11 220

The choice becomes very, very interesting if the team that lands No. 1 has a glaring need for a big man and debates the risk of taking Noel approximately 3 ½ months after knee surgery. The doctor for some team is going to be on the clock.

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 while teams debate whether he has the offensive game to play some small forward.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. Victor Oladipo, Indiana SG 6-5 210

With his defensive abilities previously established, Oladipo shot up draft boards by expanding his offense and becoming a dependable shooter. One of the best two-way players available.

7. Trey Burke, Michigan PG 6-1 175

Even while struggling with his shot in the tournament, he used a standout sophomore season to become a candidate for Player of the Year with a well-rounded game. He boasts an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.3-1 and an accurate stroke (47.9 percent shooter) with range.

8. Cody Zeller, Indiana PF-C 7-0 240

There is 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.

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 nothing helps draft stock like being the best true center available.

10. 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-foot-5 keeps him in lottery contention despite shooting 39.3 percent.

11. 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. He has the ability to score from the post and the perimeter.

12. 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 late in the lottery.

13. 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.

14. Dario Saric, Croatia SF 6-10 225

An apparent change of heart after initially saying he would stay in Europe puts the Toni Kukoc-like small forward with a great feel for the game right back into lottery contention.

15. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia SG 6-5 205

Offensive threat who has spent two seasons in a system that creates a lot of shooting opportunities. To put it another way: he took nearly 43 percent of Georgia's threes in 2012-13.

16. 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-foot-1, with a good chance to add needed bulk, and a 7-foot-9 wingspan.

17. Gorgui Dieng, Louisville C 6-11 245

His size and mobility translate into a future as a shot blocker, with signs of a respectable offense. Being 23 years old is a drawback, giving him fewer years to develop than most picks.

18. Steven Adams, Pittsburgh C 6-11 235

While the New Zealand native is expected to stay in school, his 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.

19. 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 is mature, at 23 years old. A pick for a team that doesn't want to wait for a younger big to develop.

20. Sergey Karasev, Russia SF 6-7 205

He is showing potential while playing big minutes in a good league as a 19-year-old. An ideal draft-and-stash candidate who could go much higher in a year or two.

21. Giannis Adetokoubo, Greece SF 6-9 215

One of the late climbers on the draft board has the disadvantage of playing against pretty weak competition, hurting his development. If he does well in individual workouts, his stock will soar.

22. 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.

23. Dennis Schroeder, Germany PG 6-1 180

His breakout performance for the international team playing against the top U.S. college-bound stars at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland moved him from prospect to legitimate first-round possibility.

24. Erick Green, Virginia Tech PG 6-3 185

Green improved as a distributor last season and became more than a scoring threat from the perimeter. He also has the experience of four years in a major program.

25. Allen Crabbe, California SG 6-6 205

Though he needs to get stronger, Crabbe has the size, accuracy and decent 3-point range to fit the shooting-guard mold at the next level.

26. Archie Goodwin, Kentucky SG 6-5 195

He went from being one of the top recruits in the country to having a very inconsistent rookie season. But the physical tools and potential will keep a lot of teams interested.

27. Myck Kabongo, Texas PG 6-1 180

He missed 23 games because of an NCAA suspension and then struggled offensively when he returned, but Kabongo remains a prospect as a distributor.

28. 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.

29. Jamaal Franklin, San Diego St SG 6-5 205

The Mountain West Conference Player of the Year will have to show he can handle the transition from college forward to primarily a shooting guard in the pros.

30. DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State SF-PF 6-7 225

Thomas is a versatile scorer with good experience after three years with the Buckeyes. The question is whether he is a tweener without a position or a stretch four.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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