Here are my in-depth breakdowns of the players I believe are the top five prospects in this year’s NBA draft.
#1: NERLENS NOEL – 19 years old, C, Kentucky (+6.09)
I’ve heard a lot of people express concerns about Noel. One is that he has a limited offensive game, and the other is that his reported weight is only 206 pounds. The weight doesn’t concern me much. Noel is young enough that he shouldn’t have too much trouble putting on about 20 pounds over the next three or four years; if he can get to a solid 225 pounds, that should be good enough for the NBA.
The limited offensive game is a bit more of a concern, as Noel isn’t a particularly efficient or prolific scorer. However, Noel did shoot 59 percent from the floor for Kentucky, which indicates that he doesn’t take too many bad or low-percentage shots. Noel seems to be a team-first player on the floor, which goes a long way in my book.
What Noel gives you is a very good rebounder and an excellent shot blocker. He blocked 5.0 shots per 36 minutes at Kentucky, along with grabbing 10.7 rebounds. He did this against a high level of competition as a 19 year old, which is a very good sign for an NBA prospect.
Noel is far from the perfect prospect, and as the favorite to be drafted first overall, it’s easy to nit-pick and highlight his flaws. When I look at Noel’s overall statistics and skill set, I see a player whose upside is Tyson Chandler, an excellent rebounder, shot blocker, and all-around player for the Knicks. If Noel ends up anything like Chandler, he’s definitely worthy of the top overall pick.
#2: CODY ZELLER – 20 years old, PF/C, Indiana (+3.17)
Most rankings and mock drafts I see have Zeller in the 8-10 range. I have him #2. There are a number of things that stand out about Zeller. If you’re looking for an offensive big man, look no further. I believe Zeller is the premier offensive big man in the draft.
The first number that jumps out at me is that Zeller took 8.8 free throw attempts per 36 minutes, the most of ANY player eligible for this year’s draft, and made 76 percent of them. He shot 56 percent from the floor on 12.0 shots per 36 minutes. Overall, Zeller is both a very efficient and very prolific scorer, and did that against a very high level of competition at Indiana.
The one knock against Zeller is that his defensive metrics aren’t quite so impressive. He had a combined 2.8 blocks and steals per 36 minutes, which is less than the other big men projected to go in the first round. Zeller does not profile as a defensive anchor in the post.
A team that drafts Zeller will be drafting him for his offense, and since he figures to go outside the top five, whoever drafts him will be getting terrific value.
#3: OTTO PORTER – 20 years old, SF, Georgetown (+3.14)
Porter isn’t my #3 prospect because of any one statistic or attribute. There’s nothing that jumps off the page by itself. However, when I look at Porter’s statistics, what’s remarkable is that he’s good at everything. He’s a fairly efficient scorer, a good rebounder (particularly for a small forward), a good passer, and his defensive metrics are solid as well.
Like Noel, some people have expressed concerns with Porter being just 198 pounds, but also like Noel, I’m not too concerned about that, as Porter should be able to put on weight without too much trouble. He’s already shown above-average rebounding ability, so I’m confident he’ll be able to handle the physicality of NBA basketball.
Porter is the kind of player who could help any NBA team. With his diverse skill set and very solid defense, he can fill a number of roles, and I believe will be a good teammate as well.
#4: KENTAVIOUS CALDWELL-POPE – 20 years old, SG, Georgia (+2.42)
When I first ranked Caldwell-Pope fourth overall, he was projected to be picked late in the first round. Now, Caldwell-Pope is a projected lottery pick, so this ranking is less shocking than it was a couple weeks ago.
The number that jumps off the page with Caldwell-Pope is his rebounding ability. Caldwell-Pope got 7.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, an excellent number for a shooting guard. He also has solid defensive metrics, getting a good number of steals and blocks.
Caldwell-Pope is a good scorer; he has above-average three-point shooting ability and does a good job drawing fouls. Whoever drafts Caldwell-Pope will be getting a solid two-way player and an excellent rebounder.
#5: ANTHONY BENNETT – 20 years old, PF, UNLV (+2.38)
Bennett is somewhat polarizing as a 6’7″ power forward. Proponents of Bennett point to his diverse offensive skill set, while detractors question how successful he can be as a 6’7″ big man. Ultimately, I think Bennett’s offensive abilities out-weigh the potential defensive issues of being small for his position.
Bennett is one of the better scorers in the draft. He averaged 21.4 points per 36 minutes on a mix of low-post skill, foul drawing ability, and long-range shooting. Like Cody Zeller, Bennett is both efficient and prolific. He looks like the kind of player who can be the focal point of a team’s offense.
Where Bennett will struggle is on the defensive end. He only got 2.5 blocks and steals per 36 minutes, a reflection of his lack of size. Bennett might have to be a player who gets reduced minutes against opponents with a lot of low-post scoring. With that said, his overall talent is enough to land in my top five.