Kotoch: Who will be No. 1 in Draft? No clear leader

One isn’t the loneliest number when it comes to the 2013 NBA Draft.

After several years in which consensus top picks such as Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, and John Wall were the obvious choices for whichever team won the lottery, 2013 appears as though it will be different.

When a draft lacks star power, it usually means the race to be the first pick is wide open — which is the case this year.

Several talented players across the country and the world have a shot to be the top pick, but that will largely depend on which team ends up winning the lottery. While the top of the draft is weak, overall this is a fairly deep draft that is strong in terms of bigs.

Here is an updated look at the leading candidates to be the first overall pick in the draft.

Shabazz Muhammad, SG, UCLA – While the Bruins’ star freshman joined the team late because of eligibility issues, his impact has been felt.  The resurgent Bruins (11-3) are currently riding a six-game winning streak heading into this afternoon’s game against Stanford, and Muhammad is a big reason why with his consistency and shot selection.

Scouts that I have spoken with have been impressed with Muhammad’s shooting over 48% from beyond the arc. Muhammad also has an impressive physique, which allows him to match up defensively against either guards or small forwards.  Comparisons to James Harden, because of his ability to slash and create, are fair here.

While Muhammad does not project to a face-of-your-franchise prospect, he could be a solid second or third option on a good team.  This early in the college season, Muhammad has a long ways to go to lock up to the top spot. But if the draft were held today, there seems to be a sense that a majority, albeit slim, of lottery teams would potentially tap Muhammad.

To secure his status as the top pick Muhammad will need to carry this Bruins team into March and show flair for taking over games in the closing minutes.

Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky – Last year, the Wildcats had the best player in the country manning the middle, swatting shots, grabbing boards, and causing havoc on both ends of the court in route to a national championship. Fast forward to today, and the Wildcats (9-4) have Noel, who resembles the aforementioned Anthony Davis physically but is not quite as talented or skilled.

Since posting a career-high 18 points in a blowout win against LIU-Brooklyn, Noel has averaged just 9 ppg. We’ll all get a better look at his as the season progresses, with all of Kentucky’s remaining 18 games slated for national TV.

Noel is as good as advertised as a shot blocker and rebounder averaging 3.5 and 9.3 per game, respectively.  The major difference between Noel and Davis is that Noel lacks perimeter skills and a face-up game like Davis had.

Only 18 years old and blessed with great length and athleticism, Noel is attractive to any NBA team and certainly worthy of consideration to be the first overall pick when you look at his upside.  However, working against Noel right now is the fact that the majority of other contenders for the first pick in the draft are also centers, most of whom are more complete offensively.

With conference play just beginning, Noel must step it up on the offensive end and show dominance in the low post if he wants to lock down the top spot.

(RELATED: Top 5 Recruiting Classes and Top 5 Uncommitted Prospects)

Alex Len, C, Maryland – Perhaps the most surprising candidate for the top spot, Len has flourished this year for Mark Turgeon’s group, becoming more efficient offensively while increasing his rebounds per game by 2.5 and more than doubling his point total.


  1. john steppling says

    good piece, but no McLemore? Id think if bennett is there, then McLemore has to be. In fact Id say he has to be more impressive so far than Muhammed. Only 6 4 1/2 of course and shabaaz is 6 6. But so what, McLemore has elite hops and athleticism. Gobert is a walking bust. Ouch. This years biyambo but worse. Also…mason Plumlee might not be top pick but top five? Id say so at 19 pts a game and is a better defender than Cody.

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