Embiid in discussion for No. 1 overall pick 

December, 10, 2013
Joel EmbiidShane Keyser/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty ImagesJoel Embiid, who has only played basketball since age 16, could be the NBA's top selection in June.
When Louisville coach Rick Pitino told me in July that Kansas had a legitimate chance to have the top two picks in June’s NBA draft, I thought he was nuts.

Let’s face it, Pitino wasn’t exactly stellar when he was in charge of personnel decisions for the Boston Celtics back in the day. So I took it with a grain of salt and quickly moved on to the next topic.

Everyone knew that Andrew Wiggins would be squarely in the equation for the top overall selection, but few had seen Joel Embiid. The 7-footer from Cameroon was a mystery man of sorts.

But Pitino had recruited Embiid and was confident in his potential.

“Skilled. Size. Raw.”

Those were the words Pitino used to describe Embiid, and after watching the freshman in Lawrence in October, I was beyond intrigued.

Why Marcus Smart could go No. 1 

November, 26, 2013
SmartAP Photo/Brody SchmidtMarcus Smart's development -- in particular his 3-point shot -- has NBA executives buzzing.
Marcus Smart was an afterthought for the 2014 NBA draft's No. 1 pick. When Oklahoma State's point guard-in-training opted to remain in Stillwater this past offseason, there was a gasp among the college basketball community and also the NBA fraternity.

"Is he crazy?" one NBA general manager texted me moments after hearing the decision.

"He just cost himself a ton of money," another one told me at the time.

Smart would have earned in excess of $2.9 million this season if he had been selected in the top five picks this past June, but he has always bet on himself -- and it usually has worked in his favor.

Smart sat and watched, waited his turn as the freshmen -- Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle -- received all the hype early in the season. The Champions Classic featured all three, and none disappointed. The 2013-14 college hoops campaign would be all about The Frosh.

[+] EnlargeJabari Parker
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeDuke's Jabari Parker and other heralded freshmen initially overshadowed the production of Marcus Smart.
But exactly one week after the trio (along with Arizona's Aaron Gordon) had created a national firestorm and quickly become the face of college basketball, Smart made a statement.

"Don’t forget about me."

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound point guard scored a career-high 39 points against a ranked Memphis team that was supposed to boast the best backcourt in the nation.

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Scouts break down top draft prospects 

November, 12, 2013
Wiggins/ParkerAP PhotosJabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins face off in one of the season's most anticipated matchups.
The Champions Classic in Chicago on Tuesday night (Duke versus Kansas; Michigan State versus Kentucky) is loaded with elite talent, especially among freshmen. Last week I ranked the freshmen, many of whom will be playing Tuesday night on ESPN at 7:30 pm., ET.

We now take a look at the top first-year players on the floor tonight, and talk to NBA scouts about the best way to stop them -- or in some cases, just try and slow them down.

How would you stop Jabari Parker?

Scout: “He’s tough because he comes at you and is aggressive. He can make jumpers -- and contested ones. The problem with Parker is trying to play him with a power forward because he’s so skilled and is big and strong. He’s got a nice pull-up jumper and can handle it and get to the basket. I’m not sure there’s a great answer to stop Jabari because he’s so well-rounded in his offensive game. He can just pick you apart in different ways.”

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Wiggins the No. 1 pick? Not so fast 

October, 17, 2013

WigginsAP Photo/Bill Shettle While many believe Andrew Wiggins will be the 2014 NBA draft's top selection, others aren't too sure.
I took a six-day trip last week to catch six of the top programs in America. I was also able to see six of the top 18 players on Chad Ford's most recent Top 100 draft board. I caught the Kansas freshman trio of Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden, got a look at Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart's development and also watched guys like Glenn Robinson III, Montrezl Harrell, Adreian Payne and Noah Vonleh. Both Mitch McGary (back) and Gary Harris (ankle) were injured and did not practice.

We'll start with the guy who ranks atop most draft boards -- Andrew Wiggins.

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Andrew Wiggins will be a very good NBA player someday, but he's a long ways away. It's completely unfair to put the supposed prize of the 2014 NBA draft class in the same sentence as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant.

During one three-hour practice, Wiggins misfired on jumper after jumper, took plays off and was practically invisible. Sure, he showed glimpses of the athleticism that have some putting him in elite company with NBA superstars. He's been blessed with incredible talent -- the length, quickness and athleticism that few possess even at the NBA level.

But Wiggins eventually blended in during the practice last week. It wasn't the first time he's disappeared. In fact, Kansas coaches maintain that the 6-foot-8 Canadian has yet to be the best player on the floor in any of their practices thus far. To take it one step further, he's rarely even one of the best two or three players on the floor.

"I want to get him to start playing hard all the time and also playing to his athletic ability," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "He doesn't do it consistently."

NBA scouts who have passed through Lawrence told me that they are unsure why everyone has labeled Wiggins as the clear-cut No. 1 overall pick.

"I certainly wasn't blown away by him," said one high-ranking NBA executive. "He was just OK. Average. I'm just not buying all this no-brainer stuff about him being the No. 1 pick. I just don't see it yet."

The Jayhawks have talent. Make no mistake about it. There are two other freshmen, skilled 7-footer Joel Embiid and 6-foot-5 shooting guard Wayne Selden, who could play their way into June's NBA lottery.

But Wiggins is supposed to be the prize of a loaded 2014 NBA draft. He shouldn't just blend in; he should be dominating.

I saw James in high school, watched Durant as a freshman at Texas and have seen other No. 1 picks such as John Wall and Kyrie Irving countless times. Those guys dominated nearly every time out, whether it was practice or a game.

To be sure, I like Wiggins -- both as a person and as a player. However, the expectations are too high for him, and I'm not sure he can handle it. Durant was quiet off the court, but not like Wiggins. In the span of a 15-minute interview, Wiggins spent much of the time looking at the ground. It wasn't just me, either. Others who have interviewed Wiggins lately had the same experience.

But this isn't about his lack of interviewing skills. Wiggins' effort is inconsistent, and while he could get away with that at the high school level at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep and in summer ball, he won't be able to do it in college -- and certainly not in the NBA.

"Maybe he'll wind up getting there this season, but he's a long, long way off right now," said another NBA guy who came through Lawrence in the preseason. "He looks like just another player. I've seen him a few times in the past, and to be honest, he hasn't been off-the-charts any of those times. I love his athleticism, but I worry about his intensity -- as well as other aspects of his game. He doesn't shoot it great, and he's got zero aura about him. Again, I'm not saying he can't get there -- but people are making far more of this kid than they should."

Wiggins is a freakish athlete, but there are plenty of high-level athletes in the NBA. Josh Smith is a high-level athlete, but that doesn't mean he'll ever be an NBA superstar.

Wiggins is a mediocre shooter. I'd guess he'll shoot somewhere around 30 percent from beyond the arc this season. Although he's an elite athlete and has terrific body control, his ballhandling also needs work. Once he refines his handle, he could be extremely effective in the half court. Right now, though, he has difficulty getting by defenders in tight spaces.

Wiggins hasn't looked the part of a future NBA star, but it's still early.

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Five early-impact NBA rookies 

June, 29, 2013

Michael Carter-WilliamsBob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsMichael Carter-Williams will have a chance to play immediately in Philadelphia.
Stephen Curry was drafted by Golden State at No. 7 in 2009; Kawhi Leonard was selected 15th by San Antonio two years ago; and Damian Lillard went sixth to Portland in 2012. They are all quality players, but almost equally as important as their draft position was the spot in which they landed.

Let's take a look at five players from the 2013 NBA draft who should be able to excel quickly and five more who could be slower to develop.

Early impact

Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia took him with the 11th pick, minutes after dealing away All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday. Carter-Williams is long and talented -- and should get an immediate opportunity to earn the starting point guard spot. Will he make his mistakes? Absolutely. However, MCW has an extremely high upside and should get a chance to learn under fire. If he can become a solid long-range shooter, he could be scary good.

Trey Burke, Utah Jazz

Utah dealt its No. 14 and 21 selections to move up to No. 9 and grab Burke. It's a logical move, and the ideal marriage for both sides: The Jazz get a heady, high-character floor leader whose game translates to the next level. Sure, he's not a super athlete -- but Utah coach Tyrone Corbin likely will rely on him to come right in and start. Mo Williams, Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley are all free agents. This will be Burke's show from the outset.

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Andrew WigginsSam Forencich/Getty ImagesIncoming Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins is the consensus No. 1 draft prospect for 2014.
The 2003 NBA draft brought us LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. The 2014 draft has a chance to bring us one franchise player (Andrew Wiggins) and a host of other ridiculously talented prospects.

What a difference a year makes.

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Top one-tool prospects 

June, 21, 2013

Reggie BullockAP Photo/Jeff RobersonReggie Bullock may not be a first-round pick, but his skills make him intriguing to many NBA teams.
It's likely that, if you are a basketball fan, you followed the NBA Finals closely. And while the focus was on LeBron James and Tim Duncan, there were role players like Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and Mike Miller who made huge contributions.

When an NBA team is building its roster for the long haul of a season, it is critical to find those role players who can do at least one thing extraordinarily well, like shooting, rebounding, defending or quarterbacking a team, even off the bench for a quarter. These are the players that complement a team's stars and can play off their strengths as well.

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Ranking prospects by draft tier 

June, 20, 2013

Anthony BennettJake Roth/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Bennett is being viewed as one of the top six prospects in the draft.
Is there a consensus No. 1 prospect in this year's draft? Is there a consensus anything in this year's draft?

Of course, the word "consensus" is a bit of a joke. We are a week away from the draft, and there are still major debates running internally within every front office in the league. If teams can't agree, internally, on the order of draft prospects, how can we create a "consensus" ranking? As hard as it is for NBA draftniks to believe, there is little agreement within teams, let alone between them, on draft night.

This year is especially difficult. There aren't any elite players at the top of the draft, and there is enormous parity from the late lottery to the early second round. Many prospects are all over the board. I've been doing this a long time, and I've never seen so little agreement so close to the draft.

The draft is an inexact science, despite concerted attempts to create analytical models that are more predictive of a player's future success. I've read through a number of those models, and they don't agree on anything either.

NBA teams watch prospects play thousands of hours of games. They go to practices and camps. They hire guys from MIT to create statistical solutions. They work out players, give them psychological tests, do background checks and conduct personal interviews. And still, there is little consensus.

Factor in the debate between taking the best player available versus filling team needs and the situation muddies itself further.

To make sense of all this, the past few years I've chronicled a draft ranking system employed by several teams called the tier system.

In the tier system, teams group players, based on overall talent, into tiers. Then the teams rank the players in each tier based on team need. This system allows teams to draft not only the best player available but also the player who best helps the team.

So what do the tiers look like this year? After talking to several GMs and scouts whose teams employ this system, here is how the tiers look:

(Note: Players are listed alphabetically in each tier.)

Tier 1



Note: This category is usually reserved for guys who are surefire All-Stars and franchise players. Since 2009, only Blake Griffin, John Wall and Anthony Davis have been ranked in this slot. This year, there just isn't anyone who looks like a "surefire" anything.

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Who is Giannis Antetokounmpo? 

June, 12, 2013

Fran FraschillaGiannis Antetokounmpo has been a mystery man to NBA draft fans. No longer.
For a long time, international players were a huge mystery to many people at NBA draft time. Even players like Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol were relative unknowns until they were selected in the first round. Today, that has all changed.

NBA teams are devoting more resources to international scouting, and while mistakes are still made, there are few surprises, even for fans.

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Michael Carter-WilliamsHarry E. Walker/MCT via Getty ImagesNBA scouts were impressed by how Michael Carter-Williams carved up the Indiana defense.
This time of year, when I'm not putting together NBA mock drafts or debating point guard prospects with Jay Bilas, I'm usually on the phone with NBA GMs, scouts and agents trying to get a handle on what's happening before the draft.

With an updated Big Board coming next week, here's some of the latest buzz and how it relates to the fluid draft stock of some of the top players.

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Richard HowellBrad Penner/USA TODAY SportsRichard Howell, a potential selection from NC State, had 18 double-doubles last season.
I love the 2013 NBA draft. While it might not be deep at the top, I believe it will have more players available to select beyond the lottery that can make teams than we've seen in recent memory.

Given that the draft process is not an exact science -- and analytics can only help to a degree -- it may be hard to find the next Marc Gasol, Monta Ellis or Manu Ginobili in the second round. But there are bargains to be had.

Here are seven players that may be undervalued going into the NBA draft, and while one or two may sneak into the first round, all have a great chance to play in the league next season or in coming seasons. Rest assured that, with history as a guide, some will become excellent rotation players and a few may turn into stars.

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Sergey Karasev struggles in Vegas 

June, 3, 2013

LAS VEGAS -- Our annual workout tour ended on Friday in Las Vegas. After seeing prospects

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How Zeller compares to Bosh, Aldridge 

May, 31, 2013

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Over the past two weeks, we've taken you to Chicago, New York and Santa Barbara on our annual NBA draft workout tour.

On Wednesday and Thursday I was in Santa Monica for workouts with some of the best bigs in the draft -- Indiana's Cody Zeller, Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk, Louisville's Gorgui Dieng and Kansas' Jeff Withey.

Here's a look at what I saw.

Cody Zeller, Indiana Hoosiers

[+] EnlargeCody Zeller
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesCody Zeller, who primarily played center at Indiana, is likely to be a power forward in the NBA.
Zeller began the season in the mix for the No. 1 pick in the draft. After an incredibly efficient freshman season, teams had high expectations for him as a sophomore. Zeller actually improved in points per game (from 15.6 to 16.5) and rebounds per game (6.6 to 8.1) and he was eighth in the NCAA in PER, but his improvements weren't big enough for scouts who began to pick apart his game.

As skilled as Zeller was in the post and as fast as he was in the open court, he struggled with long, physical bigs on the front line. He got his shot blocked way too much for a future NBA center and teams began to worry that his terrific college game wouldn't translate at the next level.

After a crushing final game versus Syracuse (Zeller had 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting), his stock slid out of the top 10 and scouts began to openly pine for him to go back to school and develop a face-the-basket game.

Zeller, however, decided to enter the draft and he has spent the past month in Santa Monica doing what scouts have asked -- he's honing his jump shot and ballhandling skills to make the leap from center to forward.

Zeller, for his part, claims that he has always had these skills. As a high school player, he regularly played on the perimeter and took 3s. He said he made three 3-pointers during one game his senior season. However, at Indiana, head coach Tom Crean wanted Zeller in the post and that's where he stayed. As a freshman he took just 27 percent of his shots outside the basket area. As a sophomore he upped it slightly to 34 percent.

What makes him think he can do it differently now?

Zeller told us at the NBA draft combine we'd be surprised by his shooting and he backed up that claim Thursday. I tracked his NBA 3-point shots and he shot 72 percent for the workout. That's terrific, especially for a 7-footer. His midrange jumper was even better. Zeller showed the ability to shoot off the bounce and with his feet set. He was especially effective in the corners, where he shot 80 percent from the field for the day.

Combine that small sample with other known qualities of Zeller -- he's the fastest big man in the draft (both laterally and in sprints), has the highest standing vertical (35.5 inches) of any player 6-foot-9 or taller in our database, great hands and a high basketball IQ -- and the question is: Did Zeller go from being overrated to underrated?

Some scouts think so. Several scouts compare him to a young Chris Bosh. A few others to LaMarcus Aldridge. They are both interesting comparisons -- rail-thin college centers who made the transition to power forward in the pros.

Zeller actually has some advantages on Bosh and Aldridge. He's taller than both. His standing and max verticals (35.5 and 37.5 inches) are both considerably higher (Bosh 30 and 33 -- Aldridge 26.5 and 34). He was much faster in his lane agility (10.82 seconds) and sprint testing (3.15 seconds) at the combine (Bosh 11.8 and 3.3 seconds -- Aldridge 12.02 and 3.43 seconds). In short, he's taller and a quicker, a more explosive athlete than either player.

Where Bosh and Aldridge beat Zeller is on wingspan (Bosh 7-foot-3.5, Aldridge 7-4.75, Zeller 6-10.75) and standing reach (Bosh 9-1, Aldridge 9-2, Zeller 8-10). But those numbers aren't nearly as important if Zeller is playing the 4. He is big enough for that position.

As far as style of play goes, both Bosh and Aldridge were allowed to play on the perimeter more in college. In fact, Bosh took 47 3-pointers during his one season at Georgia Tech.

But all three players are fluid athletes who are more comfortable on the perimeter. We didn't see that much from Zeller in college, but from what I saw at the workout, it was more than just a gimmick. He looked truly comfortable on the perimeter -- more so than he ever looked in the post in college. And he certainly has the foot speed to guard quick 4s.

If Bosh and Aldridge are legit comparisons, we have Zeller too low on our Big Board. Where he goes in the mock is another matter. He'd be a good fit in Charlotte, but sources say the Bobcats aren't one of the teams that high on him. The Kings are another possibility. But his real sweet spot looks like the Sixers at 11, the Thunder at 12 and the Mavs at 13. All three teams are great fits. I'm not sure he should last that long, but in a draft with so much parity, I expect teams to be drafting primarily for need.

Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga Bulldogs

[+] EnlargeKelly Olynyk
James Snook/USA TODAY SportsForward Kelly Olynyk is likely to be drafted between picks 10 and 20.
Olynyk is in the same boat as Zeller and had one of the more interesting workouts I saw. While Dieng and Withey were on one side of the court working with big men Brian Scalabrine and Will Perdue, Olynyk was working out with a group of guards including Marquette's Vander Blue.

That's telling. Much like Zeller, Olynyk is being marketed to teams not as a center (the position he played at Gonzaga) but as a 3 or a 4. He certainly has the offensive skill set for it. Olynyk excels at putting the ball on the floor and shooting the basketball. He did not look out of place among the guards who were there and actually shot it better than Blue. On Wednesday he showed off terrific range on his jumper, nailing NBA 3-pointer after NBA 3-pointer.

If Olynyk can shoot like that in workouts, he might convince a lot of GMs to take him as a stretch 4. Whether he can convince anyone to take him as a 3 is another question entirely.

While very few people have questions about what he can do offensively, it's his defense that will ultimately determine where he goes. He seems to lack the lateral foot speed to guard perimeter players, but has neither the length, strength nor explosive leaping ability to guard in the paint. If he did, we'd be talking about him as a potential top-five pick in the draft. As it stands, it looks as if his range is between 10 and 20.

Gorgui Dieng, Louisville Cardinals

Dieng was participating in his first workout in over month. He injured his ankle in Santa Monica playing one-on-one in late April and was actually in a walking boot at the NBA draft combine a couple of weeks ago.

It was good seeing him out running and cutting. He was anxious to get as much work in as possible. He seems like a willing worker who is just a sponge. Despite the fact that he's already 23 years old, in basketball years Dieng is really 18 or 19. He has played basketball just five years and is still learning the game.

With that said. Dieng looked impressive on a number of drills and is probably one of the more NBA-ready big men in the draft. He still needs more consistent shot mechanics, but his footwork looked good and he actually thrived (surprisingly) in a drill that mimicked Dirk Nowitzki's deadly one-legged fadeaway.

The best thing going for Dieng is his 7-foot-3.5 inch wingspan and a 9-3.5 standing reach (good for second in the draft). He can block shots, is an excellent passer out of the high post and a willing worker. His stock has slipped a bit the past month, but he's still considered a mid-first-round pick.

Jeff Withey, Kansas Jayhawks

Withey isn't really going to stand out in a workout setting. While he's greatly improved as an offensive player, his real value to NBA teams is on the defensive end. He was, for the second season in a row, one of the best shot-blockers in college basketball, and the team that takes him will be drafting him for that reason.

With no shot-blocking drills to witness, I saw Withey get in a long post session with Perdue and Scalabrine. He has come a long way and is making even more strides here. He's got a solid touch on the basketball and moves well. He plays a little stiff and they are working on trying to improve his stance.

Withey is a hard worker and has a great attitude, but he's one guy who doesn't really need great workouts. He just needs to keep doing what he did in college.

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The science behind Muhammad's stock 

May, 30, 2013

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- We've been to Chicago, New Jersey and New York on our annual NBA draft workout tour.

This week I flew to California to take a look at more top prospects in the 2013 NBA draft. On Tuesday, I took in a workout with UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad.

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Rumors: Noel remains Cavs' top option 

May, 29, 2013

Nerlens NoelAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesDespite injury and weight issues, Nerlens Noel is Cleveland's top option with the No. 1 overall pick.
With the 2013 NBA draft a little less than a month away, players continue to slide up and down draft boards while teams assess their best draft fits and options.

On Tuesday, following the draft combine and several workouts, we provided our updated top 30 NBA draft prospects to go along with our Top 100 ranking and Mock Draft 3.0.

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