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The top-5 NBA prospects in the SEC

10/11/2012
Alex Poythress is stepping into Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's old role with Kentucky. Andrew Shurtleff

In 2010, the Kentucky Wildcats produced a stunning five players in the first round of the NBA draft. Three of them went in the lottery. John Wall went No. 1 overall.

2012 provided a bit of deja vu. Anthony Davis went No. 1 overall. His teammate, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, went No. 2. Two other Wildcats, Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague, were first rounders. Two more, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller, went in the second.

The Wildcats weren't the only SEC team represented. Bradley Beal of Florida was the No. 3 overall pick in the draft.

Once again, the Wildcats are expected to own the SEC and the NBA draft. While they don't have the talent of that 2010 or 2012 team, neither do any of the other schools in the SEC -- or college basketball, for that matter. They have a whopping five players on the draft radar heading into this season -- four of them freshmen. Arkansas and Georgia contribute to our top five of this list, and both Missouri and Florida have significant NBA talent, as well. (Click here to see the top 100 prospects for the 2013 draft.)

In other words, the SEC appears to be stacked with future pros again.

I spoke with a number of NBA scouts to get a take on the five players they'll be scouting most closely in the SEC this season. Here's the breakdown:

1. Nerlens Noel, C, Freshman, Kentucky

Top 100 Ranking: 1

The Wildcats have had the No. 1 pick in the draft two of the last three years. If Noel can get eligible to play (that's still a significant "if," at this point), he's got as good a chance as anyone to make it three out of the last four. While Noel isn't the same caliber of talent that Davis or Wall were, he's a dominant defensive big man who thrives as an athletic shot blocker. He's still very raw offensively, but John Calipari has shown a knack for developing young players at a quicker pace than scouts expect.

While other players like UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad and Indiana's Cody Zeller will give Noel a serious run for his money for the top spot, I still believe he's the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, given Noel's raw abilities and Calipari's track record.

If Noel can't get eligible, I still think he'll be a top-5 pick (a la Enes Kanter) based on pure upside and size.

2. Alex Poythress, F, Freshman, Kentucky

Top 100 Ranking: 7

If Noel is Kentucky's replacement to Anthony Davis, then Poythress is Calapari's answer to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. No one will be able to replicate MKG's elite motor and toughness. But right now Poythress's main calling card is on the defensive end. He's long, athletic and aggressive, and can guard multiple positions on the floor like Kidd-Gilchrist did. He also has the reputation as a leader on and off the court, and is seen as the type of player who can do all the little things to help his team win.

Like Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones, Poythress is a bit of a tweener. He can score in a variety of ways, but could use polish in virtually every aspect of his offensive game. He's going to be a critical cog in Kentucky's offense and defense, and if he can have a similar impact on the game to Kidd-Gilchrist, he's going to go high.

3. Archie Goodwin, SG, Freshman, Kentucky

Top 100 Ranking: 11

Goodwin might be the best pure scorer on this new Kentucky team. He's a strong, athletic wing who thrives on slashing to the basket. He's a terrific finisher at the rim and is a beast in transition. It's not a stretch to think that Goodwin could end up leading the Wildcats in scoring this season.

Goodwin will be several spots higher on the board if he can show scouts that he's got a consistent shot from beyond the 3-point line. He also will have to show that he's willing to play on the defensive end as well. He's young and has plenty of room for growth, and if Calapari can get him locked in, Kentucky could actually have more lottery picks this season than they did last season.

4. B.J. Young, PG, Sophomore, Arkansas

Top 100 Ranking: 15

Young is coming off a strong freshman season. But no one on this list inspires more debate among NBA scouts. Some scouts love him. They see him as a combo guard who can score the ball effectively and play both backcourt positions. Others see him as an undersized 2 who lacks the instincts to play the point.

Young was an efficient scorer as a freshman. He shot over 50 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range. He also was effective at getting to the line. However, he played primarily off the ball and his assist-to-turnover ratio wasn't very impressive when he tried to run the team.

With a full season under his belt, many scouts feel he has the potential to be the best point guard in the draft if he can cut down on turnovers and get his teammates more involved. If he does prove to be a point, he's going to move up another notch or two on the board. This draft is devoid of great point-guard prospects and if Young can prove he's a playmaker, he'll be in high demand next June.

5. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Sophomore, Georgia

Top 100 Ranking: 27

Pegged as a deadly shooter coming out of high school, Caldwell-Pope was anything but that as a freshman. He shot under 40 percent from the field and just 30 percent from behind the arc in his first season at Georgia and he averaged nearly seven 3-point attempts per game.

He's going to have to significantly improve as a shooter next season, because he doesn't have much else to his game right now. He's a good athlete and has decent size and length, but his handle is shaky and he's still figuring out how to create his own shot off the dribble.

Nevertheless, scouts have high hopes for him. They are always looking for athletic shooters and if Caldwell-Pope finds his range this season, he'll shoot up this list pretty quickly.

Others to watch: Patric Young, F/C, Jr., Florida; Ryan Harrow, PG, Jr., Kentucky; Jarnell Stokes, PF, So., Tennessee; Phil Pressey, PG, Jr., Missouri; Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Fr., Kentucky; Johnny O'Bryant, F, So., LSU; Alex Oriakhi, F/C, Sr., Missouri; Casey Prather, F, Jr., Florida; Kenny Boynton Jr., G, Sr., Florida; Jabari Brown, G, So., Missouri; Levi Randolph, G, So., Alabama; Laurence Bowers, F, Sr., Missouri; Trae Golden, G, Jr., Tennessee