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Insider

Nerlens Noel still best bet to be No. 1 pick

Either Nerlens Noel or Shabazz Muhammad could be the No. 1 pick by the end of the season. Getty Images, USA TODAY Sports

When David Stern walks up to the lectern around 7:10 p.m. ET on June 27 to announce the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft, what name will he call?

Last year, it was a slam dunk. All 14 teams in the lottery would've selected Anthony Davis No. 1. We knew that sometime in mid-January.

This year? Good luck finding two general managers, two scouts or two fans who agree. This year's draft doesn't have any surefire NBA superstars. There's talent, but it's all flawed talent.

No one looks like your typical No. 1 pick in the draft now. The potential for a bust is as high as it's ever been at the top of the draft. Whoever gets the No. 1 pick will be sweating bullets. This one could go very, very right or very, very wrong.

At this point, it looks like we have basically six contenders for the No. 1 pick. It's not out of the question that another dark horse or two will arrive -- but for now, here's my quick take on where each player stands.

Nerlens Noel

Strengths: He's a dominant shot-blocker and rebounder. He runs the floor like a guard. He has a great motor. He's an explosive athlete. Knows how to defend without fouling. An adept passer out of the post.

Weaknesses: He's still very raw offensively. He has no perimeter game and very few low-post moves. He's not aggressive in looking for his shot. He's pretty thin. Can he build the bulk necessary to play the 5 in the NBA?

Bottom line: Noel has been No. 1 in our Top 100 since it debuted in late June. For a lottery team looking for a defensive anchor -- someone like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Sacramento Kings or Minnesota Timberwolves -- Noel might be the best option. He comes with some risk if he doesn't develop some semblance of a NBA offensive game, but even if he doesn't, he could be the second coming of Marcus Camby -- a guy who averaged 9.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 2.4 bpg in a long NBA career.

Chance he goes No. 1: 40 percent


Ben McLemore

Strengths: McLemore is an elite athlete who flies up and down the floor. He's a beast in the open court. He's an excellent shooter when he gets his feet set. He has the ability to defend multiple positions on the floor.

Weaknesses: McLemore is still emerging as a ball handler. He's less effective creating his own shot or shooting off the dribble. At times, he can become passive on the offensive end and blend in too much.

Bottom line: McLemore began the year ranked in the 20s and has been the highest riser on our Big Board this year. His stock has climbed to the point that many GMs now have him No. 1 on their board. The last few weeks he seems to have hit a bit of ceiling and his numbers (and KU's fortunes) have fallen a bit. If a team like the Phoenix Suns, Charlotte Bobcats or Minnesota Timberwolves get the No. 1 pick, he could very well be the guy.

Chance he goes No. 1: 35 percent


Shabazz Muhammad


Strengths:
Muhammad might be the best scorer in this part of the draft. He has the ability to score from everywhere on the floor. He has NBA strength and is a great athlete. Muhammad is a competitor who hates to lose. He plays hard on every possession.

Weaknesses: He appears to be more of a one-dimensional player. He's not an elite defender, isn't a great rebounder and he doesn't really get others involved. There are questions about whether he really has the size to play his true position -- small forward -- in the pros.

Bottom line: Muhammad has been a mild disappointment all year. From his early-season suspension to his struggle to get back into shape to his inability to really get the UCLA Bruins to an elite level -- he's been good, but not great. It's getting harder and harder to find teams who have him atop their big board. A team like the Washington Wizards or New Orleans Hornets (soon to be Pelicans) might be his best shots at going No. 1.

Chance he goes No. 1: 10 percent


Alex Len

Strengths: Len is a big, traditional center who can score in the paint or step outside and hit a jumper. He moves very well for a player his size. He's a good rebounder and shot-blocker. While he's still a work in progress, he has some nice paint moves for a post player his age.

Weaknesses: Len is fairly inconsistent. He really needs guards that can get him the ball in the right position to score.

Bottom line: I don't know of a team right now that has Len atop their Big Board. However, I know a number of GMs who are still considering him believing he could be a Zydrunas Ilgauskas-type player at the next level if a team is willing to be patient. If you are looking for a big man who can do some damage in the paint on the offensive end -- a team like the Cavs comes to mind -- Len could be a very good fit.

Chance he goes No. 1: 4 percent


Anthony Bennett

Strengths: Bennett is an explosive athlete who can score from anywhere in the floor. He has a big 7-foot-1 wingspan. He's an absolute beast in transition and a terrific finisher around the rim. He is a good perimeter shooter with range out the 3-point line and a good ball handler for a player his size. He has a solid post-up game.

Weaknesses: He's undersized for his most natural pro position -- power forward. He can get lost on the defensive end of the floor. He's struggled a bit lately handling double-teams in conference play.

Bottom line: Bennett is having a terrific freshman year. If he was two to three inches taller, he'd be a very strong contender for the No. 1 pick. There are a couple of teams that are seriously considering him for the No. 1 pick anyway, including the Bobcats or the Orlando Magic.

Chance he goes No. 1: 3 percent


Marcus Smart

Strengths: Smart has great size for his position. He's a tough, grind-it-out guard who plays fearlessly. He has a high basketball IQ. He's a natural leader. He's a very good athlete who is already blessed with an NBA body. He'll do whatever it takes to win. He's happy passing the ball if his teammates are playing well and he isn't afraid to take over the game offensively if that's what's needed. He's an absolute monster on the defensive end of the floor. Coaches rave about his work ethic and character.

Weaknesses: Smart struggles shooting the ball. He's a very streaky shooter both in the midrange game and from distance. He's still learning the point guard position and can be turnover-prone.

Bottom line: Smart is still figuring things out at Oklahoma State, but he oozes NBA potential. He might need a year or two to refine his skills, but he has the chance to be an elite NBA player with time. A team looking for a young point guard -- someone like the Magic -- would have to seriously consider him at No. 1.

Chances he goes No. 1: 3 percent