Top 2013 breakout candidates

Marcus Smart, Jeff Withey should shine in the new year

Originally Published: December 31, 2012
By Jay Bilas and Chad Ford | ESPN Insider
Marcus SmartWilliam Purnell/Icon SMIMarcus Smart has the potential to really rise on some draft boards.

During college hoops season, Jay Bilas and Chad Ford will start the week off by addressing a big question, evaluating NBA prospects on the rise and looking ahead to the next week.

The discussion: Who are your top second-half breakout candidates?

Chad Ford: We are at the halfway point of the college basketball season. Typically, the first half of the season is when draft prospects really break out. Faced with soft schedules and incomplete scouting reports, it's a great opportunity to make a name for yourself.

A number of players, including Kansas' Ben McLemore, Maryland's Alex Len, UNLV's Anthony Bennett and Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams have already dramatically improved their draft stock in nonconference play.

Now that teams are beginning conference play, things change from a scouting perspective.

Conference opponents scout much the same way NBA teams do. They understand what star players in their conference like to do and try to take it away from them. Some of the guys on the list above are going to start to struggle.

However, for other players, conference play is where it all starts to come together. With a dozen or so games under their belt, they finally start to feel comfortable, and their draft stock really takes off.

So as conference play begins, here's a look at a handful of players whom I think could break out in the second half of the season.

1. Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma Sate

NBA scouts want to love Smart. He's got huge size for his position, is an elite athlete and a natural leader. After a breakout game against NC State, the results on the court have been problematic. He hasn't shot better than 40 percent from the field since that game. He's been turnover-prone and, with the exception of the Virginia Tech game, he hasn't really been getting to the line. However, every scout I've spoken with believes he's going to continue to improve dramatically over the next few months, and when he does, he has the potential to be a top-five pick. If Smart really gets it going in the second half, he could move up 10 spots on our Big Board.

2. Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh
Adams got off to a very rocky start. He just looked completely overwhelmed against college competition. He still is trying to figure out what he's doing on the offensive end, but his defense has been getting better and better and a number of scouts who have seen him play recently are encouraged with his stronger play. NBA teams are always on the lookout for athletic big men who can rebound and block shots. Fab Melo, if you remember, went in the early 20s last year. If Adams continues to improve and does well in Big East play, he could make a jump back into the lottery.

Jay Bilas

College Basketball analyst

Chad Ford

Senior Writer, NBA Insider