The dust has barely settled on the 2012 NBA Draft, however, for NBA scouts and general managers, the path to next season's draft has already begun. Last year at this time, North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes and Duke guard Austin Rivers were projected as the top two prospects until Anthony Davis declared his dominion over college basketball.
Instead Barnes was drafted seventh by Golden State and Rivers went 10th to New Orleans. While they were still lottery picks, their tumble down NBA Draft boards shows how much the draft picture can change in a year. While there is no definitive number one, we have a fuzzy picture of the candidates.
5. James McAdoo- While McAdoo wasn't the most recognizable name on the Tar Heels roster last season, or even a starter, his last name should ring bells for basketball aficionados. McAdoo is a relative of Laker legend Bob McAdoo but aside from his basketball pedigree and famous last name, Davis' game speaks for itself.
Buried beneath a a deep pool of NBA draft picks, McAdoo averaged 10.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game over his final seven games. After four Tar Heel starters declared for the 2012 Draft, McAdoo will enter the upcoming season as a starter and leader for the Tar Heels. If McAdoo has a breakout sophomore campaign, and flashes some of his uncle's scoring touch, he'll likely be a top-five pick.
4. Shabazz Muhammad- Not only is Muhammad an incredibly athletic 6-foot-6 forward but he also possesses versatile scoring ability that is unmatched by any other 18-year old wing players. After averaging 29.1 points per game as a high school senior, Muhammad is viewed as the savior of UCLA's program and Ben Howland's job.
"He's a special, special talent and has so many attributes that will help our team," Howland said after Muhammad announced his commitment to the Bruins. "He's physically strong right now to be an impact player right away because he's 222 pounds."
If Muhammad succeeds at UCLA, he'll likely be rewarded by becoming the centerpiece of a rebuilding NBA franchise.
3. Cody Zeller- As a freshman, Zeller led Indiana's resurgence but declined to declare for the draft despite averaging a team-high 15.6 points per game and a conference-high 62 percent shooting percentage. While Zeller doesn't have great athleticism, he is considered an elite prospect because of his great low post scoring skills.
According to CBSSports.com, Zeller has grown bigger than the 6-foot-11, 230 pounds he was listed at next season, which should only boost his draft stock.
2. Nerlens Noel- Just one year after Davis set a new single season NCAA mark for blocked shots, another Kentucky freshman may challenge his record. The 6-foot-11 incoming freshman, has transcendent defensive instincts, athleticism and length to challenge Davis' record. CBS Sports senior writer Jeff Goodwin called Noel the best shot-blocker ever seen at the high school level. Unlike Davis, Noel's signature hair doesn't rest below his forehead but squarely atop it in the form of a retro hi-top fade that makes him at least 7-foot-4 standing up.
Unfortunately, Noel only averaged 12.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game as a high school senior and has to improve his offensive repertoire by leaps and bounds if he wants to translate his high school dominance into the pros. Until he does, Noel will be considered a prospect somewhere between Davis and newly drafted Piston, Andre Drummond, who was one of the rawest players in college basketball last season.
1. Isaiah Austin- Austin doesn't receive as much acclaim as 2012 McDonalds All-Americans Noel and Muhammad, however, it's more likely due to his decision to commit to Baylor's resurgent basketball program (instead of joining a blue blood program like UCLA or Kentucky) than due to his basketball talent.
Austin is a legit seven-footer, who runs the floor like Davis, has elite athleticism, range out to 18-feet and the ball handling ability of a guard. Overall, he's comparable to a bigger version of Kentucky's Davis with a slightly longer wingspan and two more inches on his frame.
While Noel is the better defensive prospect, Austin has earned unique comparisons to Laker great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar because of his skillset and upside on both sides of the floor.
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