By Jon Rothstein
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FIVE QUESTIONS HEADING INTO THE 2013 NBA DRAFT
1. WHY WOULD CLEVELAND TAKE ALEX LEN OVER NERLENS NOEL?
Offensive upside. Len didn't put up monumental numbers last season at Maryland (11.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG), but has the makings of a quality NBA center. Noel may possess more defensive prowess, but I'm hearing the idea of pairing Len with Kyrie Irving is enticing the Cavs. The combination of Irving and Len would give Cleveland stability at the two most important positions on the floor for the next decade. Cavs management has spent the past few days talking to members of Len's inner circle, and getting all the information they can on the Ukrainian native. An underrated story line here? Cleveland recently hired former NBA big man Vitaly Potapenko --- another native of Ukraine, as an assistant coach. Potapenko's presence could potentially ease Len's transition to the Cavs, and the presence of Zydrunas Illgauskas in the front office can't hurt either. Things can always change prior to the draft, but right now it sounds like Len is the likely candidate to go first overall.
2. WHO IS SLIDING?
Ben McLemore. The shooting guard seemed be to a virtual lock to be taken among the top three picks a few weeks ago, but now he could drop all the way to Sacramento at No. 7. The biggest knock on McLemore has been his conditioning in workouts, and the lack of killer instinct he showed this past season at Kansas. "The truth of the matter is, he wasn't our alpha dog last season," Jayhawks coach Bill Self told me on Tuesday. "Ben was a 19 year old freshman last year. He wasn't our alpha dog, but he would have been if he came back as a 20 year old sophomore. People can spin the numbers any way they want to, but I'll tell you this. He's got unbelievable upside. I think he can be so good. He's already so talented in so many ways. Now, he's got some things he's got to work on, but he's still a really talented player that's only going to get better." It will be interesting to see where McLemore winds up landing tonight at the Barclays Center.
3. WHICH TEAMS WILL BE MOST ACTIVE?
Portland and Cleveland. The Cavs have four picks from 1-33, and Portland owns four selections as well (10, 39, 40, 45). Cleveland is actively shopping for a veteran small forward and doesn't have to match salaries in a potential trade because they're so far under the salary cap. Keep an eye on these two franchises. Both of them will be very busy.
4. CAN A PLAYER FROM LEHIGH REALLY BE TAKEN IN THE LOTTERY?
Yes, and C.J. McCollum won't just be taken in the lottery, he'll be taken in the Top 10. Sources have confirmed that the Lehigh star won't last past Portland, who selects tenth overall. McCollum missed most of last season with a foot injury, but still has all the requisites to have a successful NBA career. If he winds up with the Blazers, it will be the second year in a row that Portland has drafted a mid-major guard. 12 months ago, the Blazers selected Damian Lillard, the NBA's current Rookie of the Year with the sixth overall pick.
5. WHY ARE PEOPLE BEING SO CRITICAL OF SHABAZZ MUHAMMAD?
We really don't know. Muhammad came into college last season as the top freshman prospect in the country. He didn't wow people with his play, but he was exceptionally solid, and produced at a high level (17.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG) despite not playing in the preseason due to eligibility issues. Muhammad likely won't be an NBA star, but that doesn't mean he won't have a productive career at the next level. At 6-6, the lefty has brute strength, and is a menace on the offensive glass. He'll be a good player for a long time in the NBA.
FIVE LATE FIRST FIRST-ROUND GEMS
1. RICKY LEDO, PROVIDENCE
THE SKINNY: Simply put, the man has skills. Sporting a ridiculously tight handle along with an uncanny ability to score, Ledo would have been one of the top offensive players in college basketball last season if he wasn't academically ineligible at Providence. At 6-6, Ledo has the size to play both back court positions in the NBA, and is a worthwhile risk for any team drafting between 20 and 30.
2. TONY MITCHELL, NORTH TEXAS
THE SKINNY: The 6-8 forward is the best athlete in the 2013 NBA Draft, and it's not even close. Originally committed to Missouri out of high school, Mitchell wound up at North Texas due to academic issues. This is a big time talent, one that would have been a lottery pick if he played in a BCS league.
3. ALLEN CRABBE, CAL
THE SKINNY: You can never have enough shooting at any level of basketball, and that's Crabbe's specialty. A long range gunner with deep range, this 6-6 wing may be a tad soft, but he's a very capable offensive player. Pencil in Crabbe for 10 solid NBA seasons.
4. JEFF WITHEY, KANSAS
THE SKINNY: Jayhawks coach Bill Self told me on Tuesday that Withey probably improved more over his college career than any other player he's had at Kansas. The big man got a little bit better each year he played, and really started to develop offensively last season. Think a better shot blocking version of Jeff Foster.
5. TIM HARDAWAY JR., MICHIGAN
THE SKINNY: Hardaway played in the shadows of Trey Burke somewhat during his three-year run with the Wolverines, but that doesn't mean he lacks the chops for a solid NBA career. A competent outside shooter with a good frame, the 6-6 Hardaway can make shots and guard his position. A team that takes Hardaway between 20 and 30 could wind up getting what Portland has gotten the past few seasons with Wesley Matthews.
FIVE SECOND-ROUND SLEEPERS
1. JAMES SOUTHERLAND, SYRACUSE
THE SKINNY: Long distance threats always have a way of sticking in the NBA, and that's just what Southerland is. A lethal shooter with inter galactic range, the 6-8 stretch forward could be an ideal fit for a team looking to add support alongside a perimeter star. Oklahoma City is very interested at 29 and 32.
2. PIERRE JACKSON, BAYLOR
THE SKINNY: If you watched the NBA Playoffs, and saw what Nate Robinson did for the Chicago Bulls, you know that Jackson has a real future at the next level. The former Baylor star is more of a true floor general than Robinson, and can also be a pest defensively. This is a worthwhile gamble for a team in the second round despite Jackson's size (5-10).
3. ERIK MURPHY, FLORIDA
THE SKINNY: Think another Matt Bonner. Murphy had great workouts with San Antonio, and the Spurs could give him a hard look at both 28 and 58. He's also been coached by Billy Donovan, which can't hurt.
4. TREVOR MBAKWE, MINNESOTA
THE SKINNY: Built like a truck, Mbakwe is as ferocious as he is physically imposing. A relentless rebounder, and terrific teammate, Mbakwe would flourish on a veteran team that needs toughness inside. Pure enforcer.
5. GRANT JERRETT, ARIZONA
THE SKINNY: I was disappointed Jerrett left college after only one season, but there's a place for him in the NBA. The 6-10 forward shot 40.5% from three-point range last year at Arizona, and emerged as a legitimate pick and pop threat late in the season. Jerrett has all the capabilities to have a "Channing Frye" type impact at the next level.
FIVE THAT MAY GO UNDRAFTED BUT COULD WIND UP STICKING
1. RAMON GALLOWAY, LA SALLE
THE SKINNY: Is this the next Gary Neal? Galloway is a tremendous athlete, has good size at 6-4, and shot over 40% from three-point range in each of the last two seasons. Don't be surprised if he starts out in Europe or the NBDL and then works his way back to the league.
2. DEWAYNE DEDMON, USC
THE SKINNY: If Joel Anthony can have a place in the NBA, then so can Dedmon. Blessed with a body from the heavens, the 6-11, 240 pound Dedmon has pro ability, yet sometimes looks like Tarzan but plays like Jane. Someone may give him a chance because he looks the part, is a true center, and can really run the floor.
3. JAMELLE HAGINS, DELAWARE
THE SKINNY: Low maintenance big man can run the floor at a high level, while also defending and rebounding his position. Hagins averaged a double-double in each of his last two seasons with the Blue Hens, and had eight games last year with 15 rebounds or more, including a 23-rebound effort against Lafayette.
4. KHALIF WYATT, TEMPLE
THE SKINNY: Wyatt scores like we breathe. The 6-4 guard scored 33 points in a win over Syracuse last season, and averaged 31 PPG in the Owls' two NCAA Tournament games. The stocky Wyatt doesn't look the part, but he's got an unbelievable ability to put the ball in the basket.
5. RICHARD HOWELL, NC STATE
THE SKINNY: It's rebounds, rebounds, and more rebounds. Howell snatched 10 or more rebounds in 24 of the Wolfpack's 35 games last season. This is a blue collar, "Charles Oakley" type forward that's beyond rugged. Howell eats the glass every time he steps on the basketball court.
MOCK DRAFT - LOTTERY VERSION
1. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS - ALEX LEN, MARYLAND
2. ORLANDO MAGIC - VICTOR OLADIPO, INDIANA
3. WASHINGTON WIZARDS - OTTO PORTER, GEORGETOWN
4. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS - NERLENS NOEL, KENTUCKY
5. PHOENIX SUNS - ANTHONY BENNETT, UNLV
6. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS - TREY BURKE, MICHIGAN
7. SACRAMENTO KINGS - BEN MCLEMORE, KANSAS
8. DETROIT PISTONS - MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS, SYRACUSE
9. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES - KENTAVIOUS CALDWELL-POPE, GEORGIA
10. PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS - C.J. MCCOLLUM, LEHIGH
11. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS - CODY ZELLER, INDIANA
12. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER - STEVEN ADAMS, PITT
13. DALLAS MAVERICKS - SERGEY KARASEV, RUSSIA
14. UTAH JAZZ - SHANE LARKIN, MIAMI
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