First thing you need to know about potential lottery picks in the NCAA tournament: You can’t see Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel because (1.) the defending champions didn’t make the field and (2.) Noel’s knee injury is the biggest reason Kentucky didn’t make the field.
Freshman big man Noel is recovering from surgery to correct a severe knee injury he suffered this season. Had he stayed healthy, he might be a front-runner right now to be the No. 1 overall pick. That’s how impressive his shot-blocking was. Even with the injury, Noel might be a high pick if he enters the 2013 draft.
With Noel’s health in doubt, it appears one of two Big 12 guards – Kansas’ Ben McLemore or Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart – is likely to be the NBA top pick in June. McLemore is a classic shooting guard with the size, athleticism and skill to have a long pro career. Smart is a point guard with shooting guard size. He’s sometimes compared to longtime All-Star Jason Kidd.
As of Tuesday’s standings, the Charlotte Bobcats have the NBA’s worst record at 15-52, three games behind the second-worst Orlando Magic. Assuming the Bobcats finish last in the standings, they would be guaranteed a top-4 pick under the draft-lottery rules.
The Bobcats don’t have a second-round pick in June (it’s owed to Oklahoma City to complete the Byron Mullens trade). But the Bobcats might get a second first-round pick in the teens from the Portland Trail Blazers. If Portland’s pick is outside the top 12, it goes to Charlotte to complete the Gerald Wallace trade in 2011.
With all that in mind, here’s a quick look at who’s playing, when they’re playing and some background on why they might be high picks.
Ben McLemore: 6-5 shooting guard, a freshman at Kansas.
When does he play? The Jayhawks, top seeds in the South Region, open against Western Kentucky Friday night around 10 p.m. (on TNT).
What’s his game like? McLemore is often compared to current Miami Heat shooting guard Ray Allen. He has solid shooting range, but he can also beat defenders off the dribble. His size is a bonus, considering his perimeter skills.
How would he fit with Bobcats? He’d offer some insurance in case restricted free agent-to-be Gerald Henderson ends up elsewhere.
Marcus Smart: 6-4 point guard, a freshman at Oklahoma State.
When does he play? Oklahoma State plays Oregon Thursday at around 4:40 p.m. (on TNT).
What’s his game like? He creates abundant scoring opportunities for himself and others off his penetration. Crafty with the ball. And a competitor with size and toughness.
How would he fit with Bobcats? They’ve already invested a lot of playing time in Kemba Walker, currently their best player. Also, Ramon Sessions is their best backup. So they’re pretty set at the point.
Otto Porter Jr.: 6-8 small forward, a freshman at Georgetown.
When does he play? Georgetown plays Florida Gulf Coast at 6:50 p.m. Friday (on TBS).
What’s his game like? Often NBA teams must compromise height at the small forward position to put the most skilled player on the court. Porter has both the size and the skill, like a Tayshaun Prince.
How would he fit with the Bobcats? The Bobcats used the second overall pick last June on Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the 2012 second-round pick on Jeff Taylor. So they already have plenty of young small forwards.
Cody Zeller: 6-11 power forward/center, a sophomore at Indiana.
When does he play? Indiana plays at about 4 p.m. Friday (on TBS) against the winner of Wednesday night’s LIU-Brooklyn-James Madison game.
What’s his game like? He’s a more athletic version of big brother Tyler, who was at North Carolina before becoming a Cleveland Cavalier. One scout said Cody has more “bounce” in his game than Tyler and more offensive moves. He’s worked on adding strength and bulk, but that’s still an area where pros could push him around.
How would he fit with the Bobcats? This team needs some sort of scoring threat in the post. The fact that no Bobcats big man demands a double-team is a basic flaw in this roster.
Three other intriguing players:
Anthony Bennett, 6-8, UNLV forward (Rebels play California Thursday at about 7:30 on TruTV): Bennett is often compared to former Charlotte Hornet Larry Johnson. It’s that same brutish strength/perimeter skills model that makes him somewhat a small forward and somewhat a power forward.
Victor Oladipo, 6-5, Indiana guard/forward (Hoosiers play winner of LIU-Brooklyn-James Madison game Friday at 4 p.m. on TBS): This guy has a great motor and fine athleticism. He outhustles most everyone and excelled in the Big Ten, the top conference this season.
Shabazz Muhammad, 6-6, UCLA small forward (Bruins play Minnesota Friday around 10 p.m. on TruTV): Muhammad is a long, strong left-handed scorer. Has obvious gifts, but some scouts question if he understands the game well enough to make teammates better.