Posted: Wed February 6, 2013 11:58AM; Updated: Wed February 6, 2013 12:59PM
Chris Mannix
Chris Mannix>INSIDE THE NBA

Ben McLemore quickly emerging as star of 2013 draft class

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Ben McLemore celebrates after a basket
Ben McLemore, 19, is averaging 16.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals for the Jayhawks.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Sorry, Nerlens Noel: You are No. 1 no more.

After three straight months at the top spot on SI.com's NBA Draft Big Board, the Kentucky center has been knocked off. Team executives are quick to note that it's not a knock on Noel, who is still a strong candidate to go No. 1 to a team with a glaring need for frontcourt help. But McLemore, an NBA ready shooting guard who can score inside and out, and Muhammad, a prolific scorer who oozes superstar potential, are considered more dynamic players.

Keep an eye on some of the international prospects, too. What was once considered a weak foreign draft class has started to get a few team executives talking.

On to to the Big Board ...

Chris Mannix's NBA Draft Big Board
1
Ben McLemore
Kansas, Freshman
6-5, 195
SG
Let's be clear: There is no consensus top pick in this draft. Whatever team chooses first will make a decision based on need as much as talent. But McLemore is quickly emerging as the star of the class. Several NBA teams have put McLemore at the top of their draft boards and the expectation is that as the season progresses, more will follow suit. Said one assistant general manager: "He's a cold-blooded stud."
 
2
Shabazz Muhammad
UCLA, Freshman
6-6, 225
SF
Muhammad continues to showcase tantalizing NBA talent, demonstrated most recently by a 23-point effort against No. 6 Arizona last month. The left-handed wing's offensive potential is unquestioned, but, as one executive noted, his ability to score going left is light years ahead of where he is going right. Still, teams will be hard pressed not to take Muhammad in the top three. He's that good.
 
3
Nerlens Noel
Kentucky, Freshman
6-10, 228
PF/C
As noted above, it's not that Noel's stock has fallen; it's just that it has not grown much, if at all, since early in the season. Noel is still a hard-working, defensive-minded big man with superior shot-blocking instincts. But the belief is Noel's ceiling is lower than that of Muhammad and McLemore.
 
4
Alex Len
Maryland, Sophomore
7-1, 225
C
Len showcases abilities that executives believe will make him a quality NBA center. Teams are enamored with his wide 7-foot-1, 255-pound frame; one executive believes his combination of touch around the rim and physical style will translate into a high number of free-throw opportunities in the NBA. "He's going to be a very good NBA center," the exec said.
 
5
Anthony Bennett
UNLV, Freshman
6-8, 240
PF
Bennett continues to surge on many teams' draft boards. Though the Rebels' system pushes Bennett into the post, he is a decent three-point shooter (35.4 percent) and scouts see the 6-foot-8, 240-pound freshman as being able to play either forward position. "You are not seeing all his skills in Vegas," an executive said. "He can give you a little bit of everything."
 
6
Isiah Austin
Baylor, Freshman
7-1, 220
PF/C
Austin's versatility ranks as perhaps his most appealing attribute. NBA talent evaluators love his ability to post up and make shots from the perimeter, as well as his offensive rebounding. One scout says the 7-foot-1 Austin's ability to shoot from the outside will make him lethal in high post action, a staple of NBA offenses. "I don't like that thin frame," a front-office man said of the 220-pound center. "But he is a very talented kid."
 
7
Cody Zeller
Indiana, Sophomore
7-0, 240
PF/C
Zeller has slipped as teams wonder what position the 7-foot, 240-pound big man will play in the NBA. Teams that have studied Zeller believe he will have significant problems scoring on longer defenders. "The talent is undeniable," a scout said. "But I don't know for sure if it is NBA talent."
 
8
Marcus Smart
Oklahoma State, Freshman
6-4, 225
PG/SG
The fastest riser in the draft, Smart has scouts drooling with his size (6-foot-4, 225 pounds). He uses his sturdy frame well, while several scouts have commented on how hard he plays every possession. "I love him," an executive said. "If he could shoot, he would be the No. 1 pick in the draft."
 
9
Otto Porter
Georgetown, Sophomore
6-8, 205
SF
What more can you say about Porter? The sophomore forward's all-around game continues to impress. He doesn't dazzle often, but Porter is a solid rebounder, scorer and defender, who isn't particularly weak in any area. "That's a 10-year NBA player," an executive said.
 
10
Alex Poythress
Kentucky, Freshman
6-7, 239
SF/PF
Poythress has an NBA body and is a natural scorer in the paint. But his perimeter skills are being questioned, and his recent uneven play has some executives wondering if he should stay in school another year.
 
11
Archie Goodwin
Kentucky, Freshman
6-4, 198
SG
Like Poythress, Goodwin is plagued by inconsistency. "I don't know what is going on with him," an executive said. At 6-foot-4, Goodwin still projects as a quality combo guard in the mold of Jamal Crawford, with an explosive first step. But NBA decision makers are looking for Goodwin to develop a more reliable game the rest of the season.
 
12
Michael Carter-Williams
Syracuse, Sophomore
6-6, 185
PG
The lanky playmaker remains a top point guard prospect, though teams want to see him lower his dribble and polish his jump shot. Scouts are also dying to see how he would defend outside Syracuse's zone. Most believe Carter-Williams' quick feet and active hands will make him a strong NBA defender.
 
13
Mason Plumlee
Duke, Senior
6-10, 235
PF
Most teams are starting to pencil the 6-foot-10 Plumlee in as a power forward in the NBA. "I just don't think he can play the 5," an executive said. Talent evaluators love Plumlee's athleticism, but he's widely viewed as a backup and, said one scout, "a good rotation player."
 
14
Trey Burke
Michigan, Sophomore
6-0, 190
PG
Burke had a tough shooting night (9-for-24) against Indiana last weekend but has scored in double figures in every game this season and has collected at least eight assists in five of his last six games. "He's a pro," an executive said. "He has a great feel for the game. Honestly, if he were a few inches taller, he would be a top-five pick."
 
15
Rudy Gobert
France, 20 years old
7-1, 235
C
With big men such as Noel and Zeller beginning to slip, Gobert has started to look better. He is still a project, but that 7-foot-9 wingspan continues to make teams believe that, with the right coaching, he can be a dominant defensive center.
 
16
C.J. McCollum
Lehigh, Senior
6-3, 190
PG/SG
McCollum's stock took a hit when he went down with a broken foot on Jan. 5. Teams leery of drafting the prolific scorer had hoped to see more development in his playmaking. The injury likely won't stop McCollum from going in the top 20, but it will hurt his chances of cracking the top 10.
 
17
Sergey Karasev
Russia, 19 years old
6-7, 205
SG
Think of a better-shooting Andrei Kirilenko, one executive said of Karasev, with a little Ricky Rubio mixed in. The 6-foot-7, 205-pound forward has started to move up boards around the league thanks to a polished all-around game. "This guy is a stud," an executive said. "He does a little of everything. He would make any team better."
 
18
Dario Saric
Croatia, 18 years old
6-10, 223
SF/PF
Saric draws comparisons to Danilo Gallinari and Toni Kukoc. Several executives describe Saric as the best passing big man in the draft and the best passer, period, behind Michael Carter-Williams. His perimeter shooting is still suspect, but as one executive said, "That's something we can fix at this level."
 
19
Kelly Olynyk
Gonzaga, Junior
7-0, 238
PF/C
Olynyk, said one executive, "is an old-school 5." He has shown a nice touch around the basket as well as legitimate perimeter-shooting range. "He's not going to wow you with athleticism," a personnel man said. "But he knows how to play."
 
20
James McAdoo
North Carolina, Sophomore
6-9, 230
PF
McAdoo, once considered a top-five pick, has slid as teams remain concerned about his perimeter shooting, and several scouts have questioned how hard he plays. "Sometimes it looks like he is going through the motions," an executive said. "He's not trying to take over games when he has the talent to do it."
 
 
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