With Thursday's NBA draft nearly upon us, I've complied a list of my five favorite prospects. You won't find Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker or Dante Exum on this list. These aren't the five best prospects in the draft, but rather five players who I feel will have successful NBA careers to varying degrees. Three of these prospects will be selected in the lottery, one later in the first round and one in the second round. They're listed in alphabetical order.
Doug McDermott (Forward, 6-9, 225, Creighton)
McDermott put the finishing touches on one of the finest careers in college basketball history last season, averaging 26.7 points and 7.0 rebounds as a senior at Creighton. He is the definition of offensive efficiency. Last season he shot 53 percent from the field, 45 percent from three-point range and 86 percent from the free-throw line. McDermott didn't miss a beat as Creighton made the step up from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Big East. He was the unanimous Big East Player of the Year and swept all of the National Player of the Year awards as well.
McDermott wrapped up his college career with 3,150 points, the fifth-most in Division I history. He did so playing every game of his career as the focal point of opposing defenses. Teams spent all of their preparation and energy trying to stop McDermott, and they couldn't do it.
His offensive repertoire is unmatched by any prospect in the draft, Jabari Parker included. Nik Stauskas is the only shooter in the same league as McDermott in this draft class. Like Stauskas, McDermott can score from anywhere, not just behind the three-point line. He's incredibly efficient with his back to the basket and is effective on either low block. He uses both hands around the basket and moves incredibly well without the ball. He's constantly in motion running off screens, utilizing back-cuts and working the baseline.
McDermott's Basketball IQ is off the charts. McDermott's father, Greg, was his head coach at Creighton. He plays like you'd expect the son of a coach to play -- always makes the right decision, doesn't force things offensively and knows when to get his teammates involved. McDermott also has all the intangibles you look for in a prospect -- he's unselfish, has a great work ethic and is accustomed to the spotlight both on and off the court. Despite all of his accomplishments, he never rested on his laurels. He constantly worked to improve himself and add new wrinkles to his game. The results are evident each time he steps on the floor.
Elfrid Payton (Guard, 6-3, 190, Louisiana Lafayette)
Payton might be the most overlooked first-round prospect in this draft. When this year's crop of point guards is discussed, names like Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Tyler Ennis are mentioned first. But Payton has all the traits you look for in a NBA point guard -- size, athleticism, and explosiveness. He's a tremendous ballhandler and passer and has the potential to become an elite perimeter defender. Payton's most glaring weakness is his shooting ability; he shot just 26 percent from three-point range as a junior.
Don't put much stock into his mid-major background -- he can play. He's a scoring point guard who is a willing passer -- a rare combination. He was the only player in the country to average 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals last season. Payton calls to mind Damian Lillard, the former Weber State star who went the mid-major to NBA All-Star route.
Julius Randle (Forward, 6-9, 250, Kentucky)
Randle was the best player on a Kentucky team that fell one win shy of a national championship. He recorded 24 double-doubles as a freshman. Randle finished with averages of 15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds, and he shot 50 percent from the field and a respectable 70.6 percent from the foul line.
He was billed as one of the elite prospects in last year's freshman class and lived up to the hype amidst the intense scrutiny that accompanies playing at Kentucky. Fellow freshmen Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker all had their moments, but Randle was the most consistent performer among all the first-year players in the country last season.
Randle is a rebounding machine who is relentless inside the paint. He relies heavily on his left hand but has shown he can use his right hand effectively. He's also capable of getting out on the fastbreak and scoring in transition. Randle has solid form on his jump shot when he chose to step out on the perimeter. His unselfish demeanor also stands out. He could have scored 20 points per game but averaged less than 10 shot attempts playing in Kentucky's star-studded lineup. Randle never appeared agitated by his lack of touches and was genuinely happy to watch his teammates succeed, particularly in the NCAA tournament.
He does enter Thursday's draft with one red flag. Randle had surgery on his right foot in high school. It was reported two weeks ago that the injury didn't heal correctly and would require surgery. In that scenario, Randle would be out until training camp. However Randle has repeatedly denied that he needs surgery. He claims he met with the top foot doctor in the country and was told not to do anything with his foot. Randle has no plans to undergo surgery and still should be selected anywhere from sixth to ninth in the first round.
Russ Smith (Guard, 6-0, 170, Louisville)
Smith is one of the best players in the long and storied history of Louisville basketball. He was a first team All-American as a senior and led the Cardinals to a national championship as a junior. He scored nearly 1,900 points in his final three collegiate seasons. Smith makes up for his lack of size with outstanding speed and explosiveness. He's arguably the fastest player eligible for the draft this year.
Smith was a star in college. He won't take on that same status in the NBA. However he can serve a valuable role at the pro level. I view him as a scoring and energy guy coming off the bench, a guy who can spark a team's second unit. Think Patty Mills in the NBA Finals.
His skill set is most comparable to Kemba Walker -- an explosive athlete and tremendous competitor. Like Walker, he's also a winner. I expect Smith to carve out a 10-year NBA career by relying on the strengths and attributes that made him one of the finest college players we've seen in the last decade.
Nik Stauskas (Guard, 6-6, 205, Michigan)
Stauskas elevated his draft stock significantly after an outstanding sophomore season at Michigan that saw him win Big Ten Player of the Year honors and lead the Wolverines to the regular season championship in the best conference in the country. Stauskas and Michigan fell agonizingly short of advancing to a second straight Final Four, losing to Kentucky on a last second Aaron Harrison three pointer in the Elite 8.
As a freshman at Michigan, Stauskas established himself as one of the best shooters in the country. He did nothing to change that as a sophomore, shooting 44 percent from three-point range for the second straight season. More importantly, Stauskas enhanced his all around game, showcasing the ability to get to the basket and demonstrating his terrific ballhandling and passing skills. In more than 35 minutes per game as a sophomore, Stauskas averaged 17.5 points and 3.3 assists while connecting on 47 percent of his field goal attempts.
Stauskas is neck-and-neck with McDermott for the title of best shooter in this year's draft. He has proven that he is comfortable shooting the ball with a hand in his face. Stauskas is also incredibly efficient moving without the ball and shooting off of screens, a trait that will serve him well in the NBA.
He was overshadowed as a freshman at Michigan by Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., both of whom were first-round picks last year. But Stauskas took over the role of leading man as a sophomore and kept the Wolverines among the country's elite teams. Opponents focused on stopping Stauskas each game, yet he was able to turn in a tremendous season. He's not just a scorer -- he creates scoring opportunities for his teammates as well.
Stauskas' offensive repertoire is well rounded. He also has good size for a shooting guard. Those unfamiliar with his skill set will label him as a spot-up shooter in the NBA. That won't be the case. Stauskas is able to score in a variety of ways and is an underrated athlete. His offensive game will translate very well at the next level.