Before the concept of guaranteed rookie contracts came into existence in 1995, freshmen were seen as players who usually had a lot of growth in front of them at the college level. The NBA Draft changed forever in that fateful year and now with the "one year out of high school" rule, these first year players are usually seen as the cream of the crop of possible draftees. Since the rule came into place in 2007, we have seen 5 out of 6 #1 picks having just finished their first year of college, with sophomore Blake Griffin being the exception in 2009.

Freshman aren’t only top overall picks, many of them often fill out a good portion of the lottery as well. The first three picks in last years draft were all "one-and-done", as well as 6 of the first 15 draft choices. Of the two previous high school classes (2010/2011), 29 have already been chosen in the NBA Draft. This points to the herd being thinned of much of the top talent. Other players from these classes will still shine, there will still be a demand for them. Just know that if you are looking for the best players from those high school classes, chances are they are on a NBA roster right now.

This is why these freshman rankings have become one of the more intriguing lists to follow on NBADraft.net. This is usually one of the only classes with all of the best possible options intact. Chances are, you may not see many of these guys around for too long and that at least the top few may be making a very short stay at their college of choice. The high school class of 2012, or college class of 2016, is not incredibly loaded. It in fact may have more players stick around college compared with typical incoming freshman classes. However, in accordance with current times, these guys may benefit greatly from the ones that have left before them. Here is a breakdown of our current top 15 freshman, with a number of strong possibilities for the 2013 or 2014 NBA Draft:

Class of 2016: Freshman Rankings

1. Shabazz Muhammad, 6-6 225 SG/SF UCLA

The last "true" wing (unless one counts LeBron James, who was thought to be more of a PG when drafted) to be selected #1 overall was Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson in the 1994 NBA Draft. Shabazz Muhammad is a player who has a great chance of ending this 18 year drought of scoring wings at the top spot. A definite alpha amongst the incoming freshman class, Shabazz combines high level athleticism with overpowering strength to gain competitive advantage. The lefty has an excellent wingspan and plays every possession like it was his last. He leads by example and even amongst his top peers in the high school All-Star games, was more often than not deferred to as the absolute #1 scoring option.

His major detractors will point out his strong hand dominance as well as consistency with long range shooting, two things he will definitely need to improve to ensure the top spot in the 2013 Draft. Shabazz draws comparisons to James Harden and while he might be even stronger at a similar stage of development, he is not at Harden’s level as a distributor. Nonetheless, the only thing holding Shabazz from having a big time freshman season at UCLA would be questions surrounding his eligibility. If these concerns are ironed out, look for Shabazz to have the best freshman season seen at Westwood since Kevin Love was on campus.

2. Nerlens Noel, 6-11 225 PF/C Kentucky

A majority of recruiting services ranked this late addition to the 2012 HS class as the #1 recruit. Noel has a rare combination of size, length and athleticism. The kid sporting the high top fade is expected by some to rival the unibrowed wonder, Anthony Davis, as a shot blocker at UK. The main difference between the two seems to be court awareness, particular on the offensive side of the floor. Nerlens should be able to get plenty of dunks much like Davis, just seems to be a long ways behind Davis’ ability as an offensive rebounder. Davis displayed excellent hands and a much softer touch than one might expect from his replacement in the middle of UK’s zone.

Nerlens did seem to have some added pressure in reclassifying from 2013 to 2012, spending most of the summer taking courses to ensure his eligibility. He did not exactly blow away the competition at adidas Nations, gaining the ire of some in attendance and maybe a reality check on expectations for his premier season. Still, his first season should more than likely be his last and the aforementioned qualities still make Nerlens a commodity the NBA will be looking at closely. Nerlens level of effort will be integral to the Wildcats having near the success they did in their NCAA Championship run last season. Those expecting Davis 2.0 will be disappointed, but look for Nerlens to be amongst the nations leaders in blocked shots while averaging close to a double double. Anything more than that, Nerlens may indeed climb in the conversation for top spot once again.

3. Steven Adams, 7-0 250 C Pittsburgh

If the draft was done on a combination of physical tools and incredible stories, it would be hard to beat what Adams brings to the table. The youngest of 18 children, he could barely read or write at the age 13, when his father passed away from cancer. Taken in by a guardian who worked for Scots College in New Zealand (Adams is from the town of Rotorua), Adams turned things around, hit the books and hit the radar of major universities. Jamie Dixon, who used to play with a couple of Adams brothers during a professional stint in New Zealand, gains a massive interior presence with rare strength and athleticism for an incoming freshman post.

Adams still has a lot of seasoning to catch up on and will have to get used to the physical play of the Big East, though his frame should help. With the transfer of Khem Birch last season due to a presumed lack of playing time, one can only hope that the extra strength gives Adams a bit more PT as a frosh. His defensive game appears well ahead of his offense at this point, like most young big men. His post game is a major work in progress and his confidence at times is waning. The bottom line is, his size, strength and athletic ability are heavily attractive qualities at the NBA level. He is somewhat of a project, but one that some NBA franchise probably wants to take on sooner rather than later.

4. Alex Poythress, 6-8 240 SF/PF Kentucky

A big bodied, long limbed forward, Poythress used these qualities along with top notch athleticism to dominate high school All-Star games. With Kentucky losing their top 6 players, he will be expected to come in and fill in the role of a couple top 20 picks from last years draft. With a body similar to recent Wildcat Terrence Jones, Poythress may have more of an opportunity to play on the wing due to the set up of UK’s roster. In fact, he will be expected to do a lot of the same dirty work Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did last season that made the Wildcats so difficult to beat.

Poythress should turn into another big time recruit for John Calipari, with one-and-done status seeming almost like a lock. While there may be slight questions pertaining to which forward position he may be best suited for in the NBA, his wing skills seem to definitely be there with top notch athleticism to keep up with perimeter oriented forwards. He is a willing rebounder and can even put the ball on the floor at times. His listed weight is almost 25 more pounds than he was measured last summer, yet he has not appeared to have lost a step. Poythress should have a strong edge on being UK’s primary scorer and along with that a likelihood of being another UK one-and-done that is lottery bound.

5. Ben McLemore, 6-5 195 SG Kansas

Ruled a partial qualifier last season, McLemore was not allowed to play for a Jayhawk team that made it to the NCAA Championship game. However, he still had an ability to practice and should play a big role in what is his red-shirt freshman season. Word out of Lawrence is that coach Bill Self feels McLemore has just about as much potential as any player he has coached at Kansas. McLemore is an explosive athlete with prototype size that makes him a huge contributor on either end of the floor.

With Kansas losing long time leader Tyshawn Taylor, McLemore seems to have a heavy burden placed on his shoulders. To make this even more difficult, their were injuries that kept him from being fully involved on the teams exhibition trip to Europe. Even with all of these factors, his rare bounce and prototype size firmly put him on the NBA radar. He will need to work on the consistency of his shot, along with giving consistent effort on every play, but he seems like he could explode out of the gates for Kansas this year.

6. Marcus Smart, 6-4 225 PG/SG Oklahoma State

"Tough as nails" and "a flat out winner" are two phrases often used to describe Marcus Smart. Whether it was playing at the AAU level, for his Marcus High team or starting for Team USA’s U18 squad, Smart has experience in leading champions. Smart lead Team USA in steals and assists, while garnering major praise from his coaches. With his lock down defense and willing distribution ability, Travis Ford expects him to run a great deal of point this season for the Cowboys. While he may be a two guard by NBA standards, his attitude and versatility should really intrigue a number of teams. Look for Oklahoma State to be vastly improved this season with Smart absolutely leading the charge.

7. Rodney Purvis, 6-3 195 PG/SG NC State

After a summer that put his eligibility up in the air, Purvis was finally fully cleared by the NCAA recently. This is great news for the Wolfpack as they get a flat out scorer with some definite driving ability off the dribble. Purvis can be downright explosive and seems programmed to be a scoring guard, though with speed and handle to possibly be viewed by some as a point. Seen as maybe an undersized 2 by NBA standards, his ability to put the ball in the basket will keep him on the court early and often for strong NC State team. His college stint will more than likely be short and while he may have some concerns surrounding his pro position, players with Purvis’ elite ability to score always seem to find a taker.

8. Glenn Robinson III, 6-6 210 SF Michigan

The son of the last "true" wing selected first in the NBA Draft has been making a definite name for himself before hitting the floor at Michigan. The second coming of "Big Dog" (nickname possibilities include "Little Big Dog", "Big Dog Jr." or, probably Glenn III’s favorite "Bigger Dog"), has Wolverines fans excited as they were at the wrath of his Purdue graduate father, who scored at will in college. With their top two scoring options returning in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn should still make an absolute impact for this team. His specialty is putting the ball in the bucket, as he can do so from every level of the court. He may hang around Michigan for a year or two, but expect him to be on the NBA radar shortly and for Michigan fans to be incredibly happy they landed Robinson III.

9. Willie Cauley, 7-0 245 PF/C Kentucky

Much like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Willie Cauley-Stein decided to go the hyphenated route on his last name. This goes along with his new body and confidence upon arrival in Lexington. Cauley-Stein seems to be a legitimate 7 footer and has put on considerable bulk from his HS days. He showed a good deal of promise at the adidas Nations this summer and is seen as a likely 6th man in John Calipari’s rotation. Cauley-Stein even spent some time on the football field in high school, where his size obviously helped as a WR, but also displayed surprising speed and ability. Playing against the likes of Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer should not hurt, either. Cauley-Stein may not put up major numbers as a freshman, but he should contribute and have NBA teams quite interested.

10. Anthony Bennett, 6-8 240 SF/PF UNLV

Another in the recent line of big time Canadian prospects, Bennett’s body is absolutely college ready. With strong leaping ability and an ability to step out on the perimeter, he should be a match-up nightmare as soon as he plays his first game for UNLV. Much like former Runnin’ Rebel Larry Johnson, Bennett may not have prototypical PF size, but he has massive strength and an ability that at least makes a translation to the 3 spot possible. At the college level, look for him to put up big rebounding numbers and be a bruising 4. This may lead to questions of where his spot may be at the pro level, though I still feel that due to his physical and athletic tools there will be a number of teams after his services.

11. Kyle Anderson, 6-9 235 SF UCLA

Their may not be a more polarizing prospect in this years freshman class than the man they call "Slo-mo". Some absolutely love his ability to run the point, see the floor and get to his spots on the court by changing speed. Others point to the fact that his athleticism is lacking far beyond the point of players he is compared to positively (Brandon Roy, Magic Johnson, Jalen Rose, etc.). At UCLA, we will get a chance to see Kyle play off of the ball, yet still at times handling some major distribution duties. The most major concern is who exactly Kyle covers. Is he quick enough to defend the perimeter or willing to bang down low? Definitely something to monitor. The overwhelming feeling most seem to have is that Kyle is really good at a number of things as an overall basketball player, which at the end of the day should convince NBA teams to figure out a place for him in their line-up.

12. Isaiah Austin, 7-1 220 PF/C Baylor

Austin has a rare combination of size and skill set. He can stretch the floor, block some shots and even at times put the ball on the floor. The major issue with Austin is beyond shot blocking, he does not really do much one would expect from a 7 footer. He lacks strength and has yet to develop a post game to counter his face-up ability. A big first game at adidas Nations had some singing his praises, but than he went back to showing the same concerns surrounding physical play associated with his presumed NBA position. Austin is a good athlete for his size, but is he really formidable enough to beat PF’s off the dribble at the NBA level? Will he be strong enough to defend or keep centers off of the block at the next level as well? Time is on Isaiah Austin’s side, but at the current time their is that bit of apprehension surrounding his eventual jump to the big league.

13. Devonta Pollard, 6-8 200 SF Alabama

With the losses of their two main scoring options, Pollard has an immediate chance to make an impact at Alabama. He is a wing who is explosive off of the bounce and uses this athleticism to his advantage on both sides of the court. Definitely a player who will need to gain strength, though in the mean time he has speed and hops both on his side. Consistency on his shot will be something to follow, but he has a strong possibility of being the best SEC freshman that does not play for Kentucky. After a couple of years at Alabama, with some added muscle, Pollard projects to get strong looks as a NBA 3 man.

14. Archie Goodwin, 6-5 200 SG Kentucky

The 4th Kentucky freshman in the top 15, Goodwin has the responsibility of stepping into the shoes of the ever so steady Doron Lamb. For last years Wildcats, Lamb was their premier shot creator and an all out assassin from long range. Archie is much more of a penetrator and will be expected to make much more happen off of the dribble. If anything, Archie’s shot is a tad mechanical and a slight cause for concern at the next level. What he does to make up for this is attack the basket and use his athleticism as an advantage. Chances are, he may have an opportunity to enter the pro ranks right away, though much like Lamb, his coming back might be in his best interest. Though Lamb was a 2nd round pick and had a tad more versatility offensively compared to Goodwin’s superior size, athleticism and wingspan. This should bode well for his gunning for a first round spot in 2013 or 2014.

15. Kaleb Tarczewski, 6-11 230 C Arizona

Seen as the likely crown jewel of a very strong Arizona recruiting class, Tarczewski has the makings of a true back-to-the-basket pivot. The most reminiscent comparison people come away with seeing him would probably be Rocky IV’s Ivan Drago as opposed to any basketball players in mind. Kaleb’s willingness in the post, along with his athleticism and building strength, are tools that have him on the NBA radar. He has prototype size for a center and has really impressed with his work ethic this summer at Arizona. He should get big minutes as a freshman and while their is no guarantee he leaves early, their is certainly a belief that his stint in college might not last more than a couple of years. Tarczewski’s post arsenal is still a work in progress and limited at this current time. However, it is just kind of refreshing to see a player who is willing to be a center and the guess is that some NBA teams will see it that way as well.

Follow Michael on Twitter @MikeyV_Is_Here. Also, feel free to e-mail him at [email protected]



  1. What are these rankings based

     What are these rankings based on? Is it ability to produce right away as freshmen? One and done probability? NBA potential? How good they are currently?

    If it is based on ability to produce right away and one and done probability, I’d have Joel James over Tarc (Tarc has more competition in the frontcourt). Danuel House over Devonta Pollard (who although has very good potential, is raw for a wing and will likely play more PF for ‘Bama).  I’d also have Semaj Christon in the top 15 somewhere.  Josh Scott should be one of the most productive freshmen in the country too.  I think he’s currently a better basektball player than Cauley-Stein, who I think is currently benefitting from UK hype. 

  2. nice article mikeyvthedon.

    nice article mikeyvthedon. Not even just becasue im a ucla fan, as a basketball fan in general, i really hope we get to see shabazz play this year. Although I had to laugh a lttle when i saw an interviewwith him from a little while back and they asked about him going one and done and he did the pc thing and said he was looking forward to getting his education and he wasnt sure. I mean more power to him if he really feels that way, but yeah, we all know hes going in the draft next year.

  3. Thanks for reading

    Even if it apparently gave you no information whatsoever. I write what I know and I try to make it engaging for people who may not follow basketball as a religion, like many posters on here do.


    Preaching to the converted on Josh Scott, Danuel House and Semaj Christon. I tried to make a case for Scott being at least top 20, though ultimately Aran has final say. The rankings I believe are not based off of immediate freshman impact, they are usually based off of NBA potential. That probably still makes little difference as far as the suggestions and changes you might make, but take that as it is.

    So, as far as Joel James or Przemek Karnowski are concerned, they do have a chance at more PT than Tarczewski. Yet, neither is athletic as Kaleb and the jury is still out whether they will be better NBA prospects as well. Willie Cauley-Stein is another player I am unsure of as well and I do feel is probably being helped a tad by John Calipari talking him up. Still, he is tall, long and very athletic for his size. A number of players listed below him will have better freshman seasons, just no assurance they will be better pro prospects or higher draft picks when Cauley-Stein finally enters.

    It is a tough list to make, especially once you get down to the further rankings. Players are expected to contribute right away and the ones that do can sometimes be seen as better pro prospects, though that is not always the case. Development in college basketball still exists to an extent and sometimes there are late bloomers. Think the goal of this list is to give an idea of what the NBA feels about these guys as of right now. It will definitely change and I think you raised some good suggestions.

    Just wanted to kind of give some perspective on where the list is coming from. Wanted to have Josh Scott, Grant Jerrett, Semaj Christon and even TJ Warren higher, definitely spoke up for Danuel House as well. Well, we will see what happens when we update during/after the season.

    • The times that I’ve seen

       The times that I’ve seen Tarczewski, I’ve never been impressed.  Yeah, he’s got center size and he looks coachable.  That’s about it.  Nothing about his game really stands out. Not his athleticism, not his skill level, he doesn’t have the intimidation factor, his length is pretty average for a PF, let alone a C.  I don’t think he has the physical attributes to be a lane protector and he looks pretty ordinary on offense, with basic jump hooks and up fakes, without the ability to step out.  Overall, he just looks like a back up C, 2nd big man off the bench to me.

      Both Karnowski and James provide different dimensions.  I think that if Karnowski loses a good 15 lbs, his mobility will look better.  He’s bigger and more skilled than Tarz and provides the unique dimension of either being a post hub with his passing or having the ability to step out and clear the lane for slashers.  He reminds me of a Big Z or Rik Smits type, with less length.

      IMO Joel James has sleeper one and done potential.  I think if he were to have lost weight prior to his senior yr, he would’ve been ranked much higher by scouting services. He’s still bull strong and nasty on the interior with good touch and improving touch out to mid-range.  What he has over Tarz is opportunity, but I also think he’s the more physical presence offensively and will have the position versatility to play and guard either PFs or Cs at the next level. 

      I guess if the list is solely based on NBA potential, I can see why Cauley-Stein is on there, but I still wouldn’t put him up there as high. He’s got very good run and jump athleticism, but he doesn’t show much at all in terms of skill or feel for the game.  There are times when he looks flat out lazy out there on the floor.

  4. Siggy

    You definitely know your stuff man and I would very much like to see your list of 50 (or fewer, just whatever list of freshman based on NBA potential). Of course right now a lot of it is guess work, still a lot of development left in many of these kids. I was not exactly blown away when I saw Kaleb either, but he passes the eye test, knows his limitations and being coachable definitely helps.

    Have heard a lot of good things about Joel James and I also think Shaq Cleare has been working really hard this summer, should show something at Maryland. Przemek is a guy I saw at the Hoop Summit in 2011, he did not exactly have his best game. Nonetheless, he is skilled, a nice passer and has soft hands/touch. His lack of athleticism was noted and he is currently listed at 305, but I am guessing he makes an impact at Gonzaga. He was a guy I know I would have as an honorable mention with definite possibility of being on my list.

    If you wanted to start your first forum topic on here, think it would most definitely get positive reception. I made my list of 50 and with more research, watching, thinking, would surely make some changes to it. Just wondering, if you would be down to make your first thread post with your list of Top 50 freshman, I would most definitely be down to post my pre-season top 50 freshman as well, sure others would get involved. Just a thought, am interested in what you have to say, you definitely know your stuff and seem to watch a lot of hoops.

    • I don’t know if I could do a

      I don’t know if I could do a top 50, maybe a top 30-35. I haven’t really thought of making one. I just know which players I think will be better than others. I’ll probably get around to it and post before the week’s end.


  5. Only one Big Ten freshman?

    Gary Harris, Mitch McGary, Yogi Farrell?

    I know Kentucky’s class is deep, but four of the top 15? No. I wouldn’t be suprised to see three of them really struggle with the transition to college ball.

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