Here’s the odd thing about the 2013 draft: The projected top-three picks in 2014 – and two of those have yet to play college basketball – might have all gone ahead of anyone who’ll be drafted this June.
Kansas recruit Andrew Wiggins, Duke recruit Jabari Parker and Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart are seemingly as good as anyone who will show up in Chicago this week for the annual pre-draft combine.
Wiggins and Parker are exceptionally athletic forwards. Smart is a big and explosive playmaker who can also play some shooting guard. The candidates in 2013 don’t quite stack up to that. It’s telling that Kentucky center Nerlens Noel – who doesn’t figure to be ready for training camp due to a severe knee injury – could still be the No. 1 pick in the June 27 draft.
The good news for the Charlotte Bobcats is there’s a strong possibility they will have four first-round picks between the 2013 and ’14 drafts and they could all be lottery picks (top 14).
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The Bobcats will definitely have their own pick (top-five, based on their 21-61 record, second-worst last season). There’s a remote chance they could have the Portland Trail Blazers’ pick, but for that to happen the Blazers would have to end up outside the top 12 in Tuesday night’s draft lottery.
If the Bobcats don’t get Portland’s pick in June (it’s owed from the Gerald Wallace trade), then they might get it in 2014. They could also have a pick the Detroit Pistons owe them (from the Ben Gordon trade) and their own (though there’s a small chance they would have to give that up to the Chicago Bulls from the Tyrus Thomas trade).
Complicated as all that sounds, here’s the best-case scenario: Four first-round picks in the next two drafts and more than likely three of those in 2014.
Wiggins and Parker weren’t eligible to enter the 2013 draft because of the NBA rule saying a U.S. player must be at least one year removed from his high school class’s graduation. Smart, who will be a college sophomore, chose to stay in school, while others – prominently Noel, Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, Georgetown small forward Otto Porter and Michigan point guard Trey Burke – all chose to turn pro.
The Bobcats will have a 19.9 percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick in Tuesday night’s draft lottery. The Orlando Magic, finishing with the NBA’s worst record at 20-62, gets a 25 percent chance at the top pick.
Since only the top three picks are decided by the weighted lottery, the Bobcats can do no worse than fifth pick. The Bobcats have no second-round pick in 2013, as they owe it to the Oklahoma City Thunder (Byron Mullens trade).
The players show up in Chicago the rest of this week for physicals, interviews with front-office personnel and some physical testing. The Bobcats are still in a search to replace head coach Mike Dunlap, with additional interviews planned after the combine. While the team would like to have a coach hired in time for him to participate in pre-draft workouts, president of basketball operations Rod Higgins has said there’s no deadline for hiring a coach.
With all that in mind, here’s a look at players the Bobcats might consider with a top-five pick:
Nerlens Noel, Kentucky center: He has the most defined NBA skill in this draft – a gift for blocking shots that averaged over four per game before he suffered that knee injury last winter. Noel likely wouldn’t be available before the middle of next season, but teams will still give him strong consideration in the top three. He’s not particularly skilled at the offensive end, and he needs more lower-body strength to hold up in the scrums under the basket at the NBA level. But as a rim-protector, he’s quite impressive.
Ben McLemore, Kansas shooting guard: He’s a quality scorer, and certainly the Bobcats need help there after averaging 93.3 points, ranked 27th among 30 teams. He averaged 15.9 points on 50 percent shooting from the field in his one college season. He would offer some insurance at shooting guard should restricted free agent Gerald Henderson not re-sign with the Bobcats. However, he all but disappeared in the NCAA tournament, which makes you question how he handles the game’s big moments.
Otto Porter, Georgetown small forward: Porter might be the most NBA-ready player in this draft. He has a wide skill set, although he does no one thing exceptionally well. Scouts like that he’s has legitimate frontcourt size (he’s 6-foot-8), plus perimeter skills. The question for the Bobcats is whether Porter would be redundant to what they already have drafted in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor.
Trey Burke, Michigan point guard: He had a spectacular NCAA tournament, vaulting him into the 2013 lottery. He’s smallish at 6-foot and the Bobcats already have a starting point guard of that size in Kemba Walker. A scout from another lottery team questioned why the Bobcats would have any interest, noting “Burke is no bigger than Kemba and probably not as quick.’’
Anthony Bennett, Nevada-Las Vegas forward: Bennett is often compared to Larry Johnson, and not just because they starred for UNLV. Bennett is burly the way Johnson was, but it’s hard to tell what he’ll be at the pro level: Not quite big enough at 6-foot-7 to be a true power forward, but not quite skilled enough to be a pure small forward. Johnson evolved over his career to being more of a perimeter player. Bennett might need the same transition.
Alex Len, Maryland center: He’s probably not a consensus top-five pick, but it’s easy to see why he might be on the Bobcats’ radar. They had no true post-up scorer, and Len has those skills. Maryland’s guards didn’t use him very well in the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop, and that’s a shame. He has the skills of a classic European big man who will be better utilized at the NBA level.
Cody Zeller, Indiana center-forward: Scouts describe him as a more athletic, springy version of older brother Tyler, now with the Cleveland Cavaliers. But he played poorly in the NCAA tournament, and looked passive doing so. At one time he seemed a candidate for the No. 1 pick, but that now seems unlikely.