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Noel still on top; Muhammad slips in second NBA draft big board

Chris Mannix's NBA Draft Big Board

A common refrain is emerging among NBA executives when asked about the 2013 draft: Right now, it's not looking that great.

"It's not a deep draft," an Eastern Conference team executive said. "And there is no consensus top pick. Whatever team gets that pick, it wouldn't surprise me if they immediately looked to trade it."

The big news since the last Big Board a month ago: the debut of UCLA freshman small forward Shabazz Muhammad, who was cleared to play by the NCAA on Nov. 16. Team executives will be keeping a close eye on Muhammad, who could play his way into the No. 1 spot.

One note: Dario Saric, a versatile forward from Croatia, reportedly is expected to sign a four-year deal with Cibona Zagreb that won't give him an NBA out until 2014. So for now, Saric is off the board.

 
1
Nerlens Noel
Kentucky, Freshman
6-10, 228
F
Multiple NBA executives weighed in on the UK freshman here and in last week's issue of Sports Illustrated (buy the magazine, cheapskates). Noel's offense is a work in progress -- he is limited to dunks and put-backs -- but execs love his energy and defensive instincts. As a passer, Noel has shown flashes of an ability to see the floor and dish out of the high post, a skill perfected and used frequently by the Grizzlies' Marc Gasol and, to a lesser extent, the Pacers' Roy Hibbert.
 
2
Cody Zeller
Indiana, Sophomore
7-0, 240
F
Zeller -- who battled the flu early in the season -- didn't dazzle talent evaluators in games at the Legends Classic earlier this month. "He was good," an Eastern Conference assistant general manager said. "But I wasn't wowed by him." Still, scouts remain enthralled with the 7-footer's diverse skill set and expect him to improve significantly by the end of the season. Zeller had 20 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in top-ranked Indiana's blowout victory against No. 14 North Carolina on Tuesday.
 
3
Shabazz Muhammad
UCLA, Freshman
6-6, 225
F
Two executives offered the same response when asked about Muhammad: "I need to see more." A lot of NBA eyes will be on Muhammad this season; most want to see if a pro game is encased in that pro body. It may take some time to form strong opinions. Muhammad has looked uncomfortable early fitting into the Bruins' young lineup.
 
4
James McAdoo
North Carolina, Sophomore
6-9, 230
F
While Zeller performed well in Tuesday's high-profile matchup, McAdoo (10 points, 4-of-15 shooting) flopped. Overall, though, McAdoo has looked good early, albeit against weaker competition. "There is an NBA body there and NBA athleticism," a Western Conference GM said. "I just don't know what his moves are going to be yet. He is going to be someone everyone wants to see against better competition."
 
5
Rudy Gobert
France, 20 years old
7-1, 235
C
Full disclosure: Not many scouts who spoke to SI.com this month offered any new information on Gobert. The expectation is that execs will start monitoring Gobert's progress closer next month. With eye-popping length -- a staggering 7-foot-9 wingspan -- Gobert remains a big-time prospect. "There are a lot of questions about his game," an Eastern Conference executive said. "But a guy with that size, come on. You have to look hard at him."
 
6
Alex Len
Maryland, Sophomore
7-1, 225
C
With dozens of scouts in Brooklyn, N.Y., to see the Kentucky freshmen earlier this month, Len dazzled with a 23-point, 12-rebound performance in Maryland's narrow defeat. Playing an extra five minutes per game this season, Len has more than doubled his scoring average. "Everyone knew he was going to be better this year," an Eastern Conference GM said. "But this kid has starting NBA center written all over him."
 
7
Isaiah Austin
Baylor, Freshman
7-1, 220
C
Austin has displayed a polished shooting stroke early -- he's connected on 36.4 percent of his threes, while attempting more than two per game -- and looked comfortable in the pick-and-pop. He has shown the usual freshman sloppiness (screens that have led to offensive fouls, mental mistakes on defense) but nothing that won't be corrected in time. A matchup with Kentucky's Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein on Saturday could be revealing.
 
8
Archie Goodwin
Kentucky, Freshman
6-4, 198
G
Goodwin continues to be miscast as a featured ball handler, though the expected return of Ryan Harrow this week should relieve the lanky combo guard of some of the responsibility. But Goodwin has begun to shine: His 22-point, nine-rebound, nine-assist effort against Long Island last week showcased a complete game. "I see a lot of Jamal Crawford in him," a scout said.
 
9
Alex Poythress
Kentucky, Freshman
6-7, 239
F
Poythress continues to score -- he has had four straight 20-plus point games -- but not in the ways scouts are looking for. "I need to see a three-point shot," a Western Conference exec said of Poythress, who has attempted just two threes this season. "He's way too small to be a power forward at this [NBA] level. He needs to develop small-forward skills or else he will be a poor man's Patrick Patterson."
 
10
Mason Plumlee
Duke, Senior
6-10, 235
F
Plumlee's decision to return to Duke is paying off. Playing a featured role on offense, Plumlee's scoring has spiked 8.6 points (19.7 per game) from last season while his free-throw shooting has gone from 52.8 percent to 80 percent. "I never saw this polished a player last year," a Western Conference assistant GM said. "His post skills are a work in progress, but he is much more efficient than last season."
 
11
Otto Porter
Georgetown, Sophomore
6-8, 205
F
After a concussion caused by an errant elbow torpedoed Porter's first two games, he returned with a vengeance, chipping in 18 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and three steals in a win over No. 11 UCLA and another 15 points, five rebounds and four assists in an overtime loss to No. 1 Indiana. Scouts love to hear this: Hoyas coach John Thompson III says Porter plays "as hard as anyone I've ever seen in recent history."
 
12
Le'Bryan Nash
Oklahoma State, Sophomore
6-7, 230
F
NBA scouts love guys that get to the line and Nash is getting there a lot (9.6 free-throw attempts per game) and converting his attempts (85.4 percent). In a win over NC State, Nash contributed 23 points and eight rebounds, while knocking down all 13 of his free-throw attempts. "He has that Carmelo Anthony kind of way of drawing contact," said an East scout. "He could get half his points from the line this season."
 
13
Tony Mitchell
North Texas, Sophomore
6-8, 235
F
One executive who has been monitoring Mitchell expressed disappointment in Mitchell's motor at times early in the season. "When I saw him, he wasn't playing hard on every possession," said the exec. When Mitchell revs up, he is impressive. "He has elite NBA athleticism," said an Eastern Conference scout. "He's a good weak-side shot blocker who can defend multiple positions. He's long and can really move his feet. I'm a huge fan."
 
14
C.J. McCollum
Lehigh, Senior
6-3, 190
G
McCollum's scoring has not skipped a beat from last season: He's the leading scorer in Division I, averaging 26.3 points per game. In the season opener against No. 19 Baylor, McCollum poured in a season-high 36 points. Still, McCollum says he returned to school to focus on his point-guard skills, something scouts have yet to see. "Maybe he's the next [Damian] Lillard," an Eastern Conference scout said. "But right now he is a little too offensive oriented to be a good NBA point guard, in my opinion."
 
15
BJ Young
Arkansas, Sophomore
6-3, 180
G
Character questions aside -- Young was suspended for the Razorbacks' season opener for a violation of team rules, an incident that didn't go unnoticed by NBA personnel -- Young has gotten off to a terrific start. His scoring continues to improve (20.5 points per game) but more importantly, so has his playmaking. After a averaging a woeful 1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio last season, Young is up to 6.0.
 
16
Jeff Withey
Kansas, Senior
7-0, 235
C
A mediocre eight-point, seven-rebound effort against Michigan State notwithstanding, Withey continues to impress. Defense continues to be his strength -- Withey swatted 12 shots in a win over San Jose State on Monday -- but Withey has shown a nice arsenal of post moves and deft passing skills early on. "I still don't know if I see a starting NBA center," said an Eastern Conference GM. "But there is potential. And he's already good enough to be a backup 5 anywhere."
 
17
Steven Adams
Pittsburgh, Freshman
7-0, 240
C
One scout admitted he has been taken aback by how poorly the New Zealand-born Adams -- who has cracked double figures in scoring just twice -- has started this season. "He looks overwhelmed out there," said the scout. A defining moment was Adams's zero-point, one-rebound output against Michigan last week, the only ranked team Pitt has played this season. Most executives are waiting to see how Adams performs in conference play. "He's a freshman playing regularly against major U.S. competition for the first time," an assistant GM said. "Let's see what he looks like when he gets more comfortable."
 
18
Trey Burke
Michigan, Sophomore
6-0, 190
G
As Michigan rises in the rankings, so does Burke, an adept ball handler who reads defenses well and excels in ball-screen situations, an NBA bread-and-butter play. Burke continues to be a little sloppy -- a 2.67 assist-to-turnover ratio needs to improve -- but in his second season is significantly boosting his draft stock. Both Burke's field goal percentage (48.1) and three-point percentage (37) are up from last season.
 
19
Michael Carter-Williams
Syracuse, Sophomore
6-6, 185
G
In his sophomore season, Carter-Williams is showing some serious point-guard skills: His assists per game have jumped from 2.1 in a limited role last season to an NCAA-leading 9.3 this season. Team executives love his size (6-foot-5) and understanding of the position. "I saw him in high school and thought maybe he could be a scorer in the NBA," said an Eastern Conference executive. "But if he keeps playing the point like this, he's going to land in the top-10 next year."
 
20
Adonis Thomas
Memphis, Sophomore
6-7, 240
F
More concerning than Thomas's ho-hum start -- 12 points and 4.2 rebounds -- is that his perimeter shooting has taken a nosedive. After shooting 40.5 percent from three last season, Thomas has made just one out of 13 threes this season. "When I saw him last year I loved the potential in his mid-range game and his three-point shot at the next level," said a GM. "If he can't make the three, I don't know what position he is going to play."
 
 

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