I love the NBA Draft. The draft and the time leading up to it are incredibly fun, even though I'd rather be watching my team in the playoffs instead of watching prospects from college. Regardless, it's something that I really enjoy and the next 5 weeks or so are going to be pretty interesting to see what plays out.
This week, Sam Vecenie and I fired up the Skype machine and discussed the prospects in the upcoming draft. We certainly disagreed on several players and engaged in some mild debate. I changed his mind on a few guys and he changed my mind about others. What we came up with is a Big Board of what we think are the top 30 prospects in the draft. Some important points: This is not a mock draft. This is not team specific. This is purely our ranking of the top prospects as prospects. It has nothing to do with what teams will be drafting them and it has nothing to do with the Cavaliers. We will put together a community Big Board of prospects specific to the Cavaliers at a later date. Actually, you will put that together -- I'll set it up so we have a vote to determine the top prospects that we want for the Cavs. But we'll do that a bit later.
The NBA Draft Combine was this past week and we got some measurements on guys that might have changed our minds a little bit. Some guys were bigger than we expected while others were quite a bit smaller than we had hoped. I like to think that we aren't too reactive with regards to the combine, but it certainly did factor into a few of our decisions.
We ranked them purely 1 to 30, but we also broke it up into tiers. This is how we thought about the tiers: the order of players in a given tier is more or less interchangeable. They're intended to give you an idea of what we think are similar or comparable prospects. It gets tricky when comparing guards to centers, but we did the best we could. There's clearly a lot of time before the actual draft, so our rankings may go through a few updates and changes as we get closer and closer. But for now, here's our Top 30. I didn't write comments about every player, but I gave you some thoughts about some of the more interesting or difficult rankings that we have.
1. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
Noel is in a tier all by himself. Sam and I agreed that he's easily the best prospect in the draft and the vast majority of teams would take him first overall. It's a little weird because he's not an absolute lock to go first. Some of the guys in the next tier could go first, but as far as pure prospects go, Nerlens is the best.
2. Ben McLemore, Kansas
3. Trey Burke, Michigan
Burke is really the only guy other than Noel that I could see going first overall. He was clearly the best player in college basketball this past season and had better than expected measurements at the combine. Some people thought he wouldn't even be 6-foot. He measured at about 6'1.5" and had a wingspan of over 6'5". That's big enough for him to be considered first overall. I wouldn't be shocked to see the Orlando Magic take him if they get the first pick. But again, this isn't a mock draft and we determined that Noel and McLemore are still better prospects.
4. Otto Porter, Georgetown
5. Anthony Bennett, UNLV
6. Alex Len, Maryland
This tier really boils down to: "could you see this player going 2nd overall?" I think the answer is a resounding YES on all of these players, so that's why they are all grouped together.
7. Victor Oladipo, Indiana
He's easily the best 6'5" small forward in the draft. (I joke because I care, David.)
8. Cody Zeller, Indiana
Zeller is one of those guys that really benefited from the combine. He tested extremely well athletically and measured quite well too. Sam was working on placing him 5-7 spots lower than this before we found out about those numbers. It might be an overreaction on our part, but we basically determined that those numbers mean he has a great deal of untapped potential. As you know, a lot of the NBA Draft is about potential. Zeller is very skilled, apparently a lot more athletic than we thought, and still quite young. That makes him a pretty nice prospect.
9. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
This took some convincing from Sam to get me to put MCW in the Top 10. But he's another guy that tested off the charts at the combine and we couldn't really find anybody else to put ahead of him. He's not someone that I have studied extensively (since he's a point guard and the Cavs don't need one), but his size, feel for the game, and athletic ability make him an extremely intriguing player.
10. CJ McCollum, Lehigh
11. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA
I wanted to put him lower, but couldn't justify it. He marks the end of this tier. I don't think he'll fall farther than 11, but both Sam and I have really soured on Shabazz lately. He just doesn't show enough versatility or athletic potential for me to get excited about him as a prospect.
12. Steven Adams, Pittsburgh
Go ahead and call us prisoners of the moment, but I'm not sure there was a more impressive player at the combine this week. Adams' measurements confirmed what the naked eye already knew: this kid is huge. He's really young, has great athleticism, and already has an NBA body. He shot the ball a lot better than we expected and has tremendous upside. We're entering a tier that could really get interesting and we think Adams has enough potential to put him right at the top of this next level of players.
13. Rudy Gobert, France
He's huge. We got to see how long his arms were at the combine. Spoiler alert: they are very long.
14. Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
16. Dario Saric, Croatia
17. Mason Plumlee, Duke
These are the fringe lottery guys. I wouldn't be shocked at all to see any of these players be taken by lottery teams. Each brings something different to the table and ranking them really depends on what you prefer. If you need a contributor right now, you take Plumlee or Dieng. If you need to swing for the fences, take Adams or Gobert or Saric. You could rearrange any of these players from 12 to 17 and wouldn't get much of an argument from me or Sam.
18. Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State
19. Dennis Schroder, Germany
He apparently received a first round promise from somebody during the combine. I haven't seen much of him, but teams clearly like him a lot. I could see him rise into the lottery by the time the draft rolls around.
20. Sergey Karasev, Russia
Another guy that we haven't gotten a chance to watch much film on, but scouts and David Zavac insist that he's a big 6-7 shooting guard with a pretty shooting stroke. He's got mid-late first round written all over him.
21. Glen Rice Jr., Rio Grande Valley
Rice was kicked off the team at Georgia Tech and went a rather unorthodox route to get to the NBA Draft. He played in the D-League last year and exploded in the last month of the season. He has great size, athleticism, and shooting ability for a wing in the NBA. Character and maturity issues are probably the things that are keeping him from being higher on this list.
22. Jeff Withey, Kansas
23. Reggie Bullock, UNC
He's 6-7, athletic, and can defend and shoot threes. What more could you want out of an NBA role player?
24. Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
This is the player that suffered the most from the NBA Combine. He was measured as having an alarmingly small wingspan at 6'9.75" and tested pretty poorly athletically (I think it's hilarious that the NBA Combine is the only place on the planet where we go "What?? Only 6-foot-9? LAME"). We knew that he was a below-the-rim post player and remains very skilled, but it's a bit concerning when you start to think about him playing defense in the NBA. He could easily go higher than this, but Sam and I felt comfortable dropping him to the end of this tier.
25. Giannis Antetokuonmpo, Greece
This is the big huge Greek kid that nobody knows anything about. He's super young and obviously has incredible upside. That was apparently enough for a team to give him a first round promise.
26. Allen Crabbe, California
27. Pierre Jackson, Baylor
We knew he was small, but he's an explosive athlete and was extremely productive in college.
28. Shane Larkin, Miami
29. Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan
Huge combo guard that can shoot? Sign me up. I haven't seen him in the first round many other places, but I'm not sure why he wouldn't be at this point.
30. C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State
Had one of the most ridiculous combine performances in recent history. He has the game of a power forward and the body of a small forward. Considering he had the absolute best lateral agility and some downright freakish athleticism, I think he'll make that switch just fine.
That's our list. Tell me what you think and what you disagree with. Again, keep in mind that we did this without any team needs in mind. It has nothing to do with the Cavaliers and is certainly subject to change in the next 5 weeks before the NBA Draft.