Welcome to my new feature centering on the picks and players that could be a part of the lottery selections in the 2013 NBA Draft.
To make sure everyone starts at the same place, the lottery covers the first 14 picks of the first round, which represent the 14 teams that did not make the playoffs that season. Naturally, these picks can be traded just like any other selections so the teams choosing can absolutely be ones who made the postseason.
The Teams: Who has What
One place to start is by laying out the teams that would not possess their first round pick should they miss the playoffs. Fortunately, this process gets simplified by the fact that many teams put full top-14 protection on their picks and thus will not be included on this list for 2013. Some are more likely than others to be in the lottery but all are included below:
Toronto Raptors: If the pick falls between No. 4 and No. 14, it goes to Oklahoma City (via Houston). [Likelihood of losing their lottery pick: Very high]
Golden State Warriors: If the pick is No. 7 or worse, it goes to Utah (via Brooklyn). [Likelihood of losing their lottery pick: Somewhat low since they are likely to make the playoffs]
Los Angeles Lakers: If the Lakers’ pick is anywhere in the lottery, it goes to Phoenix. [Likelihood of losing their lottery pick: Moderate since they have a good chance to make the playoffs]
Portland Trail Blazers: If the pick is No. 13 or worse, it goes to Charlotte. [Likelihood of losing their lottery pick: Possible but unlikely]
Minnesota Timberwolves: The only way Minnesota loses their own lottery pick is if they have #14 and Memphis ends up with a worse record than the Timberwolves this season. [Likelihood of losing their lottery pick: Nearly impossible]
Charlotte Bobcats: If the pick is No. 13 overall or worse, it goes to Chicago. [Likelihood of losing their lottery pick: Next to impossible]
Sacramento Kings: If the pick is No. 14 or worse, it goes to Cleveland. [Likelihood of losing their lottery pick: Next to impossible]
Other than those moves, all other teams would retain their lottery picks as of this writing.
The Player Pool: Welcome to the Land of the Centers
Over the last few seasons, some have commented on the movement of the league away from “true” centers in favor of more versatile players who previously played more power forward. My theory has always been that this was built more on a lack of quality supply than a lack of demand. This draft class should test that theory as it likely will contain a bumper crop of centers in the lottery. What makes this class different than some others is that a vast majority of these big men should only play center defensively (as opposed to the PF/C players we have seen over the last few years).
The centers most likely to be lottery picks in 2013 are:
1. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky (Freshman): While Noel gets plenty of comparisons to Anthony Davis because of his position and school, they are dramatically different players in both background and execution. Davis’ late growth spurt gave him better perimeter skills than Noel (who can still do fine for a C at creating his shot), while he has a frame more conducive to defending NBA centers full-time. He can be a difference-maker on the defensive end right away and could end up effectively handling either PF’s or C’s on that end. I am not particularly concerned about his injury though I absolutely understand why it could give teams pause.
2. Rudy Gobert, France (will turn 21 right around Draft Day): In terms of pure physical gifts, Gobert may be the most fascinating NBA prospect since DeAndre Jordan. Standing at 7’1” and possessing an eye-popping 7’9” wingspan (the largest ever measured by DraftExpress) with an astonishing standing reach that is a minimum of 9’4”, Gobert also has very good mobility for his size and could potentially play some power forward in the NBA, though I would like to see more of his offensive game to predict that more strongly. He still has a long way to go but the tools are incredible and the production is starting to catch up.
3. Alex Len, Maryland (Sophomore): Ho hum, another physical freak at over seven feet. Len had a disappointing year with the Terps last season but has already shown some excellent signs this season. His 23 points, 12 boards, and 4 blocks against Noel and Kentucky helped put him back on the lottery map and he has continued to do well as the season has progressed. It will be fun to see what Len can do with teammates who are more capable of getting him the ball in the right spots- that could actually trump the improvement in opposition in his case.
4. Cody Zeller, Indiana (Sophomore): The best draft prospect from last year’s class to return to college, Zeller stands out in this group because he is less of a physical freak than many of the other guys on this list. Despite that, Zeller plays with great skill and touch for a player his age and has the instincts to be a contributor on defense. He has moved down on the big man power rankings due to a lower ceiling than the rest of the list but he also possesses a much higher floor and should produce more during the first few years of his rookie deal, which matters to certain teams. More of a known commodity for better or for worse, a factor that could actually lead him to a better situation even if it moves him down the draft board a little.
5. Isaiah Austin, Baylor (Freshman): Austin needs to fill out a little in order to properly defend NBA centers man to man but has been on the lottery radar for some time due to his physical gifts. With a 9’3” wingspan and solid touch around the basket, Austin has the basic tools to make a major impact down the line. He has done a nice job of improving since he first became recognized as a prospect but he would have some issues as a lottery pick in a stronger draft.
6. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga (Junior): The Canadian product has taken one of the more interesting roads to becoming a potential lottery pick. After not playing much for Gonzaga during his first two seasons on the team (despite playing for the Canadian national team after his freshman year), Olynyk sat out last season rather than face a third year with limited minutes behind current NBA player Robert Sacre. That decision coupled with hard work in the interim has paid off since Olynyk now stands as the lead dog on a national title contender. He has an atypical game to fit his non-traditional path. Olynyk can make an early impact by virtue of being a very good athlete for his size and moving well to generate opportunities in transition. On top of that, he has flashes of an inside-outside game despite not having a ton of polish on either his interior scoring or his jumper. What moves him down the list is a combination of poor lateral quickness and inconsistent effort on the defensive end, giving him an imperfect profile as a defensive player. If Olynyk can work out his kinks and beef up his strengths, he can stick in the league for a long time either as a starter or as the first big off the bench on a good team.
What makes this list so remarkable is that these six players could potentially take one-fifth of the starting spots at center before the end of their rookie deals and only Cody Zeller has come close to having even a conception of his ceiling as a player. Furthermore, that grouping does not include Willie Cauley-Stein and Steven Adams, two other C’s in this class with the ability to start if they put it all together. The other interesting development of note here must be the fact that a few likely lottery teams already have players projected as their centers of the future: Sacramento (DeMarcus Cousins), Detroit (Greg Monroe and/or Andre Drummond), and potentially the Hornets depending on how they see Anthony Davis. Even with those teams having great big man cores, adding a phenomenal talent like any of these six could end up being worth it regardless, particularly when the perimeter prospects leave a ton to be desired.
Preliminary Player Rankings of Draft-Eligible Players
There are still plenty of guys I need to go back over coupled with new information to gather (NCAA tournament performance, workouts, and interviews to name a few) but here is where the players stand as of now. The rankings will include substantially more detail in future editions. [NOTE: I include all draft-eligible players regardless of their likelihood to declare for the 2013 Draft. This provides a better measuring stick for everyone and also explains why the list runs to 20 rather than 14.]
1. Nerlens Noel, C/PF, Kentucky: The physical tools to be a special defender on the interior (and one who rebounds well for his activity as a shot-blocker) and has the potential to be solid but not spectacular on the offensive end. Due to positional scarcity and a weak draft class, he sits at #1 despite the injury.
2. Victor Oladipo, SG/SF, Indiana: Oladipo might be the best complementary perimeter prospect to enter the league since Andre Iguodala. His ability to defend the 1, 2, and 3 at the next level comes with an understanding that he cannot and will not be the offensive focal point. Oladipo’s time at Indiana has done a great job of preparing him for his role at the next level and just about every team could use a player like him even if you need other talent around him in order to thrive.
3. Rudy Gobert, C, France: Could a team really stash a player taken this high in the draft? I shudder to think at what Gobert can be with the right coaching and talent around him, particularly a PG that can maximize him on the offensive end. It would be legitimately hard to draft him this high since it will take some time for him to hit his stride in the NBA (potentially even the end of his rookie deal) but the juice will be worth the squeeze.
4. Shabazz Muhammad, SG/SF, UCLA: I have said for years that the only swingmen (shooting guards and small forwards) who should go high in the draft are those with a meaningful chance of being #1 scorers or elite defenders. Muhammad has a chance to be one of those scorers while also contributing as a distributor. The big question with him has to be whether his less than ideal athleticism will hurt him on both ends of the floor in the pros.
5. Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown: As has become quite the theme for this draft class, I am not sure if Porter’s game will translate perfectly to the NBA but he has the ability to be a meaningful contributor even if he cannot transcend at the next level. Like Muhammad, he gets downgraded for his defensive limitations.
6. Marcus Smart, PG/SG, Oklahoma State: As someone who loves analyzing point guards, there have been few that have given me more fits than Marcus Smart. He has a different physical presence than the freak PG’s that have come into the league recently because he is bigger (height and width) than most of them and also a little bit slower. His activity and desire to play defense is a big help and will provide value to teams even if he has more trouble getting to his desired spot on the court.
7. Alex Len, C, Maryland: Len is another prospect who will benefit greatly from the increase in talent at the next level. Gaining teammates who can both get him the ball and take pressure off him offensively should reduce some of his faults and allow him to use his athletic gifts in a more productive way.
8. Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas: McLemore is getting a ton of pub right now as a potential top-3 pick but has the problem of being a dependent talent on offense while not possessing the size to be a difference-maker on the defensive end. People have compared him to former AAU teammate Bradley Beal who has come into his own at the end of his rookie year, yet Beal did a better job creating his own offense than McLemore has at this point. Plenty of potential, to be sure.
9. Cody Zeller, C, Indiana: Over the past year, Zeller has suffered a little bit from Matt Leinart Syndrome, meaning that draftniks have had another season to tear down his game as an elite prospect in the public eye. The problem is that some of those concerns are legitimate since his short wingspan and slight frame will allow him to be exploited defensively at the next level while those same limitations could curb some of his talent on the offensive end. Still a valuable contributor who will make teams sweat the whole time he is on the court.
10. Alex Poythress, PF/SF, Kentucky: Since he was in high school, I have been rooting for Poythress to develop an offensive game that worked for a perimeter player since it would make him an absolute force in the NBA. Unfortunately, that has not happened thus far. However, his combination of size (6’8” or so with a 7’1” wingspan) allows him to be a disruptive new era 4 in the pros. His potential to guard both SF’s and PF’s makes him incredibly intriguing in a league looking for players with that type of ability.
11. Isaiah Austin, PF/C, Baylor: When you have a player who measures out at 7’1” with a 7’3” wingspan whose offensive role in the NBA most closely resembles a Power Forward, you know you are in unusual territory. Joining the ranks of the physical anomalies in this draft class, Austin has more work to do on both ends of the floor in order to maximize his physical potential. Like with Gobert, it could take a while but he should make an impact as a shot blocker sooner rather than later.
12. Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV: The least valuable position in the NBA is a non-elite power forward that cannot defend centers because of how many people already in the league can play the part and how frequently new ones come into the fold. Bennett has shown substantially more depth in his game than most freshmen but also has the benefit of being older than most of them as well (he turned 20 on March 14). He makes up for a lack of height with a legit 7’1” wingspan and the unpolished tools to score in a variety of different ways, which has become a necessity for PF’s in the big leagues. He will contribute early but will need to improve both his strengths and weaknesses in order to stand out at the next level.
13. Archie Goodwin, SG, Kentucky: Simply put, we do not see 6’5” Shooting Guards with 6’10” wingspans very often. As the league has struggled to find and develop pure SG’s for a few seasons now, they are actually becoming a more valued commodity in the league. The gigantic question mark with Goodwin is whether he can develop the jumper necessary to become a long-term starter in the league and deliver the energy on defense until that happens.
14. Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan: It feels a good deal better to make a mistake on an elite athlete and that could end up being the case with Robinson. The son of the Big Dog is not just a physical specimen though, since he also has a pretty good basketball IQ and some intriguing potential as a scorer. That said, he needs to up his effort both mentally and physically to make the most of his ability.
15. BJ Young, SG/PG, Arkansas: There might not be anyone in draft circles who is a bigger BJ Young fan than yours truly. While he clearly has off the court issues (he was suspended in November of this season for violation of team rules, among other concerns), Young can do things on the court that are incredibly hard if not impossible to teach and can improve his weaknesses in the right organization. He has a pretty stroke and a great handle with the frame to be a capable defender. A fun question to consider is where Jamal Crawford would go in a flawed class like this one. While not there, BJ Young has that kind of potential.
16. Trey Burke, PG, Michigan: I want to love Burke more as a prospect than I do. People talk a ton about the size concerns but the bigger issue for me is whether he can create for others well enough to make up for his inability to score close to the basket. At the absolute worst he will be an awfully fun change of pace guy who gets spot starts and that has a meaningful value in today’s NBA.
17. Kelly Olynyk, C, Gonzaga: Most of what you’ll need to know on Olynyk is above but the one other important thing to mention is that he will be 22 on draft day, which does impact his stock meaningfully. Older players should be dominating younger ones, especially in smaller conferences. That said, there is a nice place for Kelly in the association.
18. CJ McCollum, SG/PG, Lehigh: After last year’s stunning defeat of Duke in the NCAA Tournament, McCollum started getting the draft hype he had deserved for a little while before after finally developing his game enough to be a legit NBA player. The challenge for CJ is that he does not appear able to run an NBA offense but does not possess the size to be a reliable off-guard. Fortunately, he can score in bunches sufficiently to make him worth taking, especially since he also generates turnovers on the defensive end.
19. Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky: Stop me if you have heard this before. Athletic big man who can defend NBA Centers but needs to get stronger and develop a deeper game in order to make an impact. In a class full of raw C’s, Willie may just be the most raw. One of those guys whose stock could benefit from staying in college but could be better off developing in the league and getting to his second contract that much faster.
20. Tony Mitchell, PF/SF, North Texas: Aim high! In a draft full of middling prospects, it seems worth it to go after one of the biggest boom/bust guys we have seen in years. Mitchell is one of (if not the) best athlete in this class and like some of the other players on that list has not impressed this year. That said, Tony did a good job in the U-19 World Championships where he was the per-minute rebounding leader over guys like Jonas Valanciunas and Patric Young. If he can put it together, Mitchell could be an NBA starter and/or an important contributor on a strong team.