Like I mentioned last week, it appears many of the top prospects in the upcoming draft will be freshman. While I think it is still too early to rank the best freshman prospects in order (with the exception of Nerlens Noel, who seems to be the best prospect of the entire draft), the sophomores are another story. There are several good sophomore prospects who will probably declare for the draft, and there is a chance a few of them will eventually become All-Stars in the NBA. Much can change in the coming months, but most of the top sophomores we have seen enough to get a feel for their game, and their possible NBA potential.
So here is my present rankings of the best sophomore prospects in the country, in preferential order. A few caveats: I am focusing on players who have a reasonable chance of being selected in the top 10 in the 2013 Draft. As my recent draft review made clear, star players are very likely to be selected within the first ten picks of a given draft, so that's where I focus most of my energy. We are trying to find potential All-Stars. The other thing to know is I will be listing one freshman on this list, because he was redshirted last year.
Alex Len, Maryland
Despite being in the top 5 of most mock drafts, the 19 year old Len appears somewhat underrated. As a legit seven footer with good athleticism, he has been a forceful presence for Maryland all season. Playing on a team that often has trouble feeding him the ball, Len has done a decent job offensively, and clearly has the skills to grow in that area. Defensively he has been impressive, both on the boards and in blocking shots. Maryland's schedule has been easy, and it will be telling if Len can continue his impressive statistical production against more difficult competition. If he can raise his game against stiffer competition, he probably deserves to be picked in the top 3.
Ben McLemore, Kansas
A redshirt freshman who turns 20 next month, McLemore seems better classified as a sophomore for our purposes. No player has seen his stock rise as much over the last six weeks. The Ray Allen comparisons at present seem a little bit overboard, but McLemore seems a safe bet to become a very solid pro. His upside is debatable - there is certainly the chance that other guards in this draft will have better careers. But currently McLemore seems like one of the safer picks of 2013, and if things continue to go as they have, he may well deserve to be picked second behind Noel in June.
Otto Porter, Georgetown
The all around game of Porter is impressive, and it does not take much of a leap in faith to believe he could mature into a player similar to Andre Iguodala or Paul George. Porter plays in a system at Georgetown that can mask the full NBA potential of a player, which means he actually might be better than advertised once he reaches the next level. Obviously, the opposite is a distinct possibility as well.
Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
A very tall and lanky point guard at 6'5'', Carter-Williams is an intriguing prospect with a pro potential that seems hard to project. His ability to break down defenses and set teammates up is exceptional, and legitimately reminiscent of Jason Kidd. But Kidd, once a very poor shooter, never had trouble shooting the ball in college the way Carter-Williams has. Carter-Williams' passing and defensive abilities are enough to keep him in the lottery discussion no matter how he shoots, but it casts a shadow of doubt over how effective he could be as a point guard in the NBA.
Cody Zeller, Indiana
It is easy to like Zeller, but hard to love him. You have to love a prospect's potential to draft him in the top 3, which is where many mocks still have Zeller. Ed Weiland recently made a compelling case for why there is little to suggest Zeller will be a star. He is good offensively, and clearly has some skills, but not much indicates he would be dominant at the next level. At this point he is probably an overrated prospect.
Tony Mitchell, North Texas
After a stellar freshman season, Mitchell has simply not been as good as a sophomore. On Thursday, he did not even score a point in 32 minutes against Florida International. I am hesitant to dramatically downgrade a talented player who follows an excellent season with only a good one, but it's not a promising sign that Mitchell's numbers are down across the board. He still is an interesting prospect with possible star potential, but the future does not look as bright as it did a few months ago.
Trey Burke, Michigan
Burke is the point guard for one of the better teams in the country, and has put up good numbers in the process. Given how difficult it can sometimes be to project a point guard's pro potential, there is a chance Burke is a better prospect than many currently think.
B.J. Young, Arkansas
More of a combo guard than Burke, Young has the athleticism to potentially make a sizable impact at the next level, although it seems less likely to happen than with most of the players on this list.