Posted: Fri April 12, 2013 12:59PM; Updated: Fri April 12, 2013 5:04PM
Chris Mannix
Chris Mannix>INSIDE THE NBA

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Russ Smith is flirting with the draft, but executive don't believe he's a first-round pick.
Russ Smith is flirting with the draft, but executives don't believe he's a first-round pick.
Porter Binks/SI

It's that time of year again, when underclassmen start overestimating their value and enter the NBA draft.

In the last week and a half, Pittsburgh freshman Steven Adams, NC State junior C.J. Leslie, Memphis sophomore Adonis Thomas and Missouri junior Phil Pressey all declared for the draft, with none indicating they were leaving the door open to return to college. There are certainly extenuating circumstances -- Adams, for example, said he was headed to the NBA out of a need to provide for his large family -- but not one of the aforementioned players is a lock for the first round, the only area in which players are guaranteed money.

Then there is Russ Smith, the Louisville junior who was reportedly headed to the draft but now, according to Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, is "50-50."

Complete list of underclassmen who have declared for draft

If Smith is getting positive feedback from NBA teams, it isn't coming from any of the executives I have talked to. He's listed at 6 feet, though he is probably closer to 5-10, and 165 pounds, though that's likely closer to 155. He's not a playmaker (2.9 assists per game) and shot just 32.8 percent from three-point range last season. A sample of the projections offered for Smith this week:

"He's a second-round guy, a third-string push guard," a Western Conference personnel executive said.

"Honestly, I don't know if he gets drafted in the second round," an Eastern Conference assistant general manager said.

And from an Eastern Conference personnel scout: "He would go undrafted. Guaranteed."

If Smith isn't getting a first-round promise -- and it would be shocking if a team would -- then why go? Perhaps Smith can earn a spot on the end of a team's bench; the new CBA has created more opportunities for cheap talent. But it's just as likely he will be playing overseas next season. By staying another season at Louisville, Smith could focus on making his game more NBA compatible. He could work on his playmaking and establishing himself as more of a point guard. Louisville will welcome coveted junior-college point guard Chris Jones next season, but Smith could still impress scouts by showing he is more than a one-dimensional scorer.

Chris Mannix's NBA Draft Big Board
1
Nerlens Noel
Kentucky, Freshman
6-10, 228
PF/C
I'm not sure whether it speaks to the weakness at the top of the draft or the potential of Noel, but multiple general managers of teams with lottery picks say that if they land at No. 1, Noel is the pick. "He is not Anthony Davis," said an Eastern Conference executive. "Davis is better. But he [Noel] is a high-energy center who will rebound and block shots. He's the guy."
 
2
Ben McLemore
Kansas, Freshman
6-5, 195
SG
McLemore erased the memory of two weak opening-round games, against Western Kentucky (11 points) and North Carolina (two), by posting 20 points (on 8-of-15 shooting) in a Sweet 16 loss to Michigan. With prototypical 2-guard size and a picturesque stroke, McLemore should be a starter right away and in the top half of NBA shooting guards within a couple of years.
 
3
Marcus Smart
Oklahoma State, Freshman
6-4, 225
PG/SG
Teams were disappointed not to get a longer look at Smart in the tournament, where the Cowboys lost to Oregon in their first game. Smart's final line (14 points, nine rebounds, five steals, four assists) was solid, and several NBA teams love his athleticism, awareness and bulldog defense. He will need to improve his three-point shot (29 percent), but with the NBA landscape dominated by big, physical playmakers, Smart has potential.
 
4
Anthony Bennett
UNLV, Freshman
6-8, 240
PF
What position will Bennett play? That seems to be general managers' biggest question about the 20-year-old forward. At 6-8, Bennett would be an undersized power forward, but his wingspan (7-1) and burly physique could make up for that. Still, at least two executives believe that Bennett has small-forward skills that will become evident at the next level. Once removed from the Rebels' system -- which put him in the post often -- Bennett has the talent, they say, to play off the dribble and score from the outside.
 
5
Trey Burke
Michigan, Sophomore
6-0, 190
PG
It wasn't a perfect NCAA tournament for Burke, who was so-so in Michigan's opening-round win over South Dakota State and terrible in the Wolverines' Final Four victory over Syracuse. Still, Burke's consistent play over the course of the season has a lot of GMs believing that he is an eventual starting point guard. A 24-point effort (in 26 minutes) against Louisville's swarming defense in the national title game didn't hurt, either.
 
6
Otto Porter
Georgetown, Sophomore
6-8, 205
SF
Porter's stat line (13 points, 11 rebounds) against Florida Gulf Coast doesn't look bad, but his poor shooting (5-of-17) contributed to the upset loss to the Eagles. Fortunately, a strong finish to the regular season makes Porter -- a rangy wing player in the mold of Tayshaun Prince -- a virtual lock for the top 10.
 
7
Victor Oladipo
Indiana, Junior
6-5, 214
SG
Oladipo continued his rapid rise with a strong tournament. The 6-5 guard plays NBA-ready defense and is an excellent finisher. Some teams remain concerned about his shot, particularly after he struggled mightily from beyond the college arc in his first two seasons. But multiple team executives say they hear good things about Oladipo's work ethic, and a number of shooting guards -- Michael Redd, for example -- have come to the NBA and developed a consistent jump shot.
 
8
Shabazz Muhammad
UCLA, Freshman
6-6, 225
SF
The Bruins' opening-round loss to Minnesota capped a disappointing season for Muhammad, who proved he could score (17.9 points) but not much else. Muhammad is going to need a lot of work: Much of his scoring comes when he goes left, his jump shot is inconsistent and he does not impact the game in any other areas. A team will jump on him early because of his scoring potential, but he will need a strong coaching staff to mold the rest of his game.
 
9
Cody Zeller
Indiana, Sophomore
7-0, 240
PF/C
"There are a lot of issues with Zeller," a Western Conference GM said. "But you know what? He's a 7-footer who can score. I can work with a talent like that." Zeller probably needs a strong big-man coach, someone to break him of his habit of playing smaller than he is. He is not the surefire star many thought he would be in November and -- as it said in this space last month -- some teams are scared of drafting him too high. But in the right situation, Zeller's offensive repertoire could make him a steal.
 
10
Alex Len
Maryland, Sophomore
7-1, 225
C
Len submitted back-to-back strong performances in Maryland's last two games of the NIT, scoring 15 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) and collecting 13 rebounds in a win over Alabama and posting 16 points and nine rebounds in a loss to Iowa. Len isn't especially efficient offensively -- as analyzed here -- but he's a solid rebounder and defender who draws contact in the post, qualities teams really like.
 
11
Michael Carter-Williams
Syracuse, Sophomore
6-6, 185
PG
Carter-Williams bombed in 'Cuse's Final Four loss to Michigan (two points on 1-of-6 shooting), but overall his sophomore season was impressive. Teams persistently compare the lanky, fluid point guard with a young Shaun Livingston, while many expect him to be a quality defender outside of the Orange's 2-3 zone. It's a deep draft for point guards, but Carter-Williams should come off the board quickly.
 
12
Rudy Gobert
France, 20 years old
7-1, 235
C
Gobert is something of an enigma: On one hand, he can look like an awkward explosion of long arms and legs. On the other, he is a 7-1 big man with a 7-9 wingspan who can run the floor, block shots and has shown flashes of potential, like a 14-point, 14-rebound effort against fellow prospect Mam Jaiteh in February, a game heavily scouted by NBA execs. He may need to be rooted to the bench for a year or two, but that potential is too tempting to pass up.
 
13
Isaiah Austin
Baylor, Freshman
7-1, 220
PF/C
Austin capped a productive NIT with a 15-point, nine-rebound, five-block effort in a win over Iowa in the finals. There's a lot to like about Austin's game: He can play inside and out and can score off the dribble. But Austin is rail thin, has stretches -- sometimes entire games -- where he disappears and at times appears to get frustrated easily. More and more, NBA teams are placing a premium on big men with high motors (like Noel), which could result in Austin's slipping.
 
14
C.J. McCollum
Lehigh, Senior
6-3, 190
PG/SG
McCollum was having another productive season when he broke his foot in January, robbing many NBA scouts of a closer look at him. There's a lot of Damian Lillard to McCollum's game. Both are elite scoring guards who can shoot the three and excel in the pick-and-roll, and both left college with questions about their playmaking ability. After never averaging more than four assists per game at Weber State, Lillard is averaging 6.5 in Portland. Some scouts think McCollum (who averaged 2.9 assists this season) could have a similar impact.
 
15
Gorgui Dieng
Louisville, Junior
6-11, 245
PF/C
Dieng had a nice tournament for Louisville, including 14 points and 11 rebounds against Duke and eight points, eight rebounds, six assists and three blocks against Michigan. Though one team executive calls Dieng "an underrated passer," he is very limited offensively. But he's big and physical with a reported 7-6 wingspan that has teams' attention. "His age [23] hurts him, but he can protect the rim and rebound," an Eastern Conference personnel scout said. "He's probably a backup center, but a good one."
 
16
Gary Harris
Michigan State, Freshman
6-4, 205
SG
Harris just oozes potential. The Spartans' freshman shot 45.6 percent from the field this season and 41.1 percent from three-point range, drawing comparisons to Hornets guard Eric Gordon. Harris is small in stature for a shooting guard (6-4) like Gordon but lacks Gordon's bulk, while nagging shoulder injuries have led several team executives to express concern about how Harris will hold up. Still, if Harris comes out, his ability to score will be attractive.
 
17
Kelly Olynyk
Gonzaga, Junior
7-0, 238
PF/C
Olynyk has the most advanced offensive game of any center in the draft. He can score with either hand with a variety of efficient post moves and can step out and make a jump shot. But what position will he defend? Olynyk is a below-average rebounder who appears to lack the lower-body strength necessary to play in the paint in the NBA.
 
18
Mason Plumlee
Duke, Senior
6-10, 235
PF
Plumlee completed a productive senior season with a strong tournament, showcasing good hands, athleticism and ability to finish around the rim. Plumlee is on the older side at 23, and in four years at Duke did not develop much of a post game. His ceiling is lower than most prospects.
 
19
Jeff Withey
Kansas, Senior
7-0, 235
C
Withey opened some eyes with a strong tournament run, including a 16-point, 16-rebound output against North Carolina. Withey is an NBA defender: He's strong with superior footwork, timing and defensive technique. There isn't much depth in Withey's offensive repertoire right now, though he has shown a nice touch around the rim. One personnel scout compared Withey to former Indiana forward Jeff Foster, a grinder who had a productive 13-year career despite never averaging more than seven points per game.
 
20
Glenn Robinson III
Michigan, Freshman
6-6, 210
SF/SG
Robinson didn't dazzle in his freshman season, averaging just 11 points. But he played big in the tournament, scoring in double figures in five of Michigan's six games, including a 21-point outburst in the opening-round win over South Dakota State. Robinson isn't as polished a scorer as his father, former top overall pick Glenn Robinson, but he's athletic, shoots a high percentage (57.2 percent last season) and has a sturdy, 6-foot-6 frame that figures to fill out considerably as he gets older. Robinson is something of a project, but the potential could be worth the risk.
 
 
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