2013 NBA Draft Top 5: Noel, McLemore red flags; Oladipo, Len rising

USA TODAY Sports

Less than two weeks before the 2013 NBA Draft, the clear-cut top two prospects in the NBA draft are the subject of rumor and innuendo that question character and readiness for the NBA.

It wouldn't be draft season without a bit of controversy. This week, that controversy surrounds leaks to the media about work ethic and maturity issues with the top 2 overall prospects in the 2013 NBA Draft.

You have to ask yourself why these leaks are out there. Who benefits? Well, it allows Cleveland to muddy the waters a bit more on who they take #1 overall. The inevitable backlash they'd receive over passing on Noel and/or McLemore would lessen if there were fresh, legitimate questions of character. It's a lot like a political race. Smear the one you don't like to make your favorite look a little cleaner by comparison.

Nerlens Noel

Since the early days of last college basketball season, Nerlens Noel has been the top prospect coming out of college. As an 18-year old freshman at Kentucky, Noel averaged nearly 10 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game. He showed a natural ability to defend the post, provide weak side defense and alter shots near the rim.

Noel also showed a rudimentary offensive game limited to putbacks and rolls to the rim, but those limitations are skill-based which can be learned over time. He also needs to put on weight, which is true of any 18 year old. In fact, 7-foot 18 year olds who don't need to put on weight should have a red flag of their own, because it's just natural to gain weight in your 20s.

But none of those deficiencies detracted from Noel's clear No. 1 status in this NBA Draft. No other player has the upside, the ceiling of Nerlens Noel.

Yet when Noel tore up his leg (and yes, I realize the very first comment is going to be dudotski posting that disgusting gif or pic of Noel's injury because that's just what dudoski does), the fears of his wafer-thin legs' ability to stand up to the NBA rigors began to form.

Add in some character questions - recent rumors of being "handled" to much by his handlers, refusing to visit teams outside the top 2, missing meetings and interviews - and you've got a full-blown chance controversy.

Top it off with Cleveland's "need" to make the playoffs next season, we just might see an NBA Draft where the very best player is not taken No. 1 overall because he will miss a chunk of the season.

If Noel drops out of No. 1, how far does he drop?

Can Orlando, who love Vucevic and need a shooting guard, pass on him?

Can Washington, who really need a small forward, pass on Noel? Washington has veterans on the front line and a need to make the playoffs just like Cleveland and a bigger hole at small forward (Otto Porter) than center.

Or Charlotte, who need help in the pivot but really, really need an offensive force down there? Charlotte already boasts a developmental defensive whiz in Bismack Biyombo. What they really need is offense in the post.

Could Noel drop into the Suns lap? If that happens, would the Suns blink twice before taking Noel?

Suns GM Ryan McDonough said yesterday he doesn't anticipate drafting any player at 5 who hasn't visited the Valley before next week's draft, but could he really pass on Noel?

Ben McLemore

Like Noel, Ben McLemore has been stop the prospect charts all season long. He's got a sweet shooting stroke and the ability to fill it up offensively from the field, often being compared to a Ray Allen. McLemore is long (6'9" wingspan) and uber-athletic, possessing the talent to be an impact defender as well as scorer.

Yet, McLemore was passive in college. He never demanded the ball, or took over games. Part of that is because he's not good at handling the ball. He's a shooter, not a passer. Like a Jamal Crawford, for example.

And now, Chad Ford leaked that there are red flags with 19-year old McLemore. He's apparently been dogging it in workouts. We all know he's been refusing to compete against other top players (Porter has refused as well), and now Ford says he has sources who tell him McLemore was unimpressive in his Phoenix visit, having trouble keeping up in the drills designed by head coach Jeff Hornacek.

Ford:

McLemore remains in the top 5, but I'm starting to have my doubts. I love the talent. But his lack of preparation for the draft is hurting him. Multiple sources told me that his workout in Phoenix was not impressive; he wasn't in shape, and he struggled to keep up in the workout. I heard similar things in Orlando. McLemore is in a tug-of-war right now between adviser Rodney Blackstock and his agency Rivals. It's kept McLemore out of the gym and for the most part, out of workouts. How much will all of this affect the draft stock? I'm told teams are worried. But how worried? Enough for one of the most talented players in the draft to slide further? If the Suns pass on McLemore, both C.J. McCollum and Michael Carter-Williams are possibilities here.

What I recall is Hornacek lauding McLemore's shooting stroke, in the post-workout interview. He liked that McLemore didn't need that extra step to gather himself on a catch-and-shoot. That his stroke was pure and quick, making it harder to defend.

The latest ESPN mock draft has Oladipo going #2 to Orlando, while McLemore drops to Phoenix at 5th.

If McLemore drops to Phoenix at #5, I would be ecstatic. I would be happy with either McLemore or Oladipo. They bring different skills to the table, but McLemore has the offensive skills that Phoenix desperately needs.

Oladipo and Len

The obvious beneficiaries of Noel and McLemore dropping are the next best center (Alex Len) and the next best shooting guard (Victor Oladipo).

Alex Len has been in a boot this whole workout season with a broken foot, only visiting teams for interviews. So, he has not had a chance to mess anything up. By not even participating in workouts, and not getting a rep for avoiding them, Len can only rise up the charts. There's a chance he goes #1 overall to Cleveland, with a floor likely at #4 (Charlotte).

Victor Oladipo, on the other hand, has been totally healthy and participating in every single workout against every other shooting guard prospect he can find. He has no qualms against competing and he's a heck of a good interview.

Oladipo might just be taken #1 overall by Cleveland, but my guess is that's ONLY if Cleveland has traded the pick to someone else. Cleveland already has Dion Waiters at shooting guard. It's possible they go with a three-guard lineup, but that's not the blueprint you lay out with your top picks.

Oladipo's most probable landing spots for Oladipo are #2 Orlando and #5 Phoenix.

What this means to the Suns

Well, I guess it means that Nerlens Noel might-just-might drop to #5. If that happens, likely both Oladipo and McLemore are already off the board.

But the most likely scenario still has Phoenix getting whoever drops to 5 between Oladipo and McLemore.

Either way, the Suns are winners.

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