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It has begun: Mock Drafts a plenty, rumors of other names that NBA decision-makers feel are in the conversation for a top pick, plenty of losing, and lots to talk about. All of that and it is only November, let’s get to it.
Here is the NBA Draft Fast Five.
ONE: What Do We Know?
The top of the draft is settled in. There is room at the top for prospects to move up and join the conversation with Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker. Three names that are moving into the conversation are Australian guard Dante Exum, Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon, and Oklahoma state sophomore Marcus Smart. The top three are the top three despite traffic baiting articles where “General Manager X told me that Player Y is in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick.” That is something that is going to happen no matter what throughout the year because the narrative that there are three incredibly talented freshmen superstars is not enough for some.
The top is set with the big three and then after that, the talent is still a higher tier than most common drafts.
TWO: What Do We Not Know?
How good is the middle?
Some are skeptical of how talented the middle of the draft is after the top seven when you include Kansas freshman Joel Embiid with that group above. After that tier, there is a group that includes Gary Harris (Michigan State), James Young (Kentucky), Noah Vonleh (Indiana, more on him below), and Wayne Selden (Kansas) that would have all been in the running for a top five pick in the past three years. There is a quality of depth in the middle of the draft between the 8-14 slots that could yield more talented prospects that those taken at the very top of the 2013 NBA Draft.
The class has not been defined so knowing how strong it can be is impossible today, but the potential with all the prospects in this group is reminiscent of the 2003 NBA Draft that produced one perennial All-Star, four more career starters, and an additional eight rotation players after the Big Three were selected. That makes for 16-for-29 (55.1 percent) of the picks being a hit, having an impact, and giving the draft an overall quality of depth that is rare.
THREE: Stock Rising
At this point in a college season it is easier to credit prospects that are playing above and beyond their projections, like Indiana freshman forward Noah Vonleh. He has come on strong as the fourth outstanding freshman of this group behind Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker. Vonleh is not as vaunted as his peers nor as dynamic, but he plays his position as well as anyone, with great energy and effort, while producing at a very high rate. In this class, Vonleh is not a star, but maximizes his athleticism and production on the court in the paint.
FOUR: Stock Falling
It is still too early to make a bold statement like “Player X Stock is falling.” An aspect of being an NBA-level prospect is showing progression, improvement and new wrinkles to their game. So far this season Baylor sophomore forward Isaiah Austin has shown slight improvement, but has not developed up to his talent and potential. Austin has added some strength and some weight to his slight frame, adding to his game to play more inside. He is playing more in the paint, as a 7-footer should, using his size and athletic tools to add to his shotblocking numbers, but has dropped in his rebounding production.
Austin plays like a big in moments, like a guard in others, and moving away from those bad habits will take time and coaching.