The fun part about the weeks leading up to the NBA draft is the inexact nature of the process. In-person scouting over the course of the season, film breakdown, background work and player interviews give NBA teams as complete a picture of a potential prospect as possible, but nothing about the process is foolproof.
There are a variety of reasons why, in the weeks and months leading up to the NBA draft, players rise and fall in the eyes of people who follow the draft -- and it's often because of perception and not reality.
Here are five prospects who I believe have been somewhat devalued and will begin to rise up draft boards as teams get a closer look at them before draft night on June 27:
A year ago, Canaan and his teammates were the toast of college basketball, winning their first 23 games of the season. Canaan was named to numerous All-American teams and was certainly on the minds of many NBA teams that were studying the 6-foot point guard as an early-entry candidate.
This season, there's little buzz about him. Did he get worse during his senior season? Nope.
Canaan has NBA strength, speed and quickness, not to mention NBA range on his jump shot. And much like NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard did at Weber State, Canaan has been in a screen-and-roll offense his entire career at Murray State. Canaan has excellent point guard acumen to go along with physical gifts. Coming into the season, he was thought to be at the same level as guys like Michigan's Trey Burke and Lehigh's C.J. McCollum.
So what happened?
Canaan averaged more points (21.8) and assists (4.3) this season than at any time in his career, but his 3-point shooting percentage dropped from 46 percent to 37 percent. If you study film of the Racers and understand that they lost some key players off last season's NCAA team, you'll see that opponents' defenses shrunk the floor on Canaan. They forced him to take on two or three defenders at a time, trapped the ball out of his hands and forced others on his team to beat them.
A season ago, Murray State shot almost 40 percent behind the arc. This season, Canaan's teammates shot a pedestrian 33 percent. This is not to make excuses for him, but instead to point out that circumstances and perception can dictate how a prospect is viewed.
Canaan is one of those players whose stock will rise again when he works out for teams against players at his position perceived to be better than him. Last summer, he more than held his own against the same players at the Nike LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas. That's not ancient history, and more than a few NBA teams were paying attention then. Similar performances in pre-draft workouts will serve as a nice reminder.
Crabbe is one of the few players in this draft who has positional size at the 2. At 6-foot-6 and with his ability to consistently make shots with his feet set or in movement off screens, he will prove a good value because he will be able to stretch an NBA defense.
Now here's the bad news. Crabbe plays defense in a tuxedo, doesn't come up with loose balls and has trouble, at times, with keeping opponents in front of him. Offensively, his ability to beat defenders off the dribble is average, and he has shown an aversion to contact in the lane on occasion.
Playing in Mike Montgomery's system at Cal fit Crabbe to a T. He runs well in transition and has no trouble getting his feet set off the break. In addition, the offense has always been about giving a jump shooter two routes with which to come off screens, and Crabbe is outstanding at going in the opposite direction of his defender. He made 53 percent of his midrange shots this season.
On the first day of rookie camp, the NBA team that drafts Crabbe will begin to attack his weaknesses. How quickly Crabbe goes to work on those weaknesses will determine how smoothly his transition to the NBA will go. But players who can put the ball in the basket always are a commodity at the pro level.
Lucas Nogueira, C, Brazil
Three years ago, the 7-0 Brazilian with the 7-5 wingspan had a coming-out party at the 2010 Under-18 FIBA Americas Tournament in San Antonio. His 22-point, 14-rebound, 3-block performance against Kyrie Irving and Harrison Barnes pushed Team USA to the brink and had NBA teams salivating.
After two years of development and unfulfilled expectations for Estudiantes, the Spanish ACB League team, Nogueira is starting to blossom this season in the second-best league in the world. If he elects to stay in this draft, with his enormous shot-blocking ability, he could be a great find for an NBA team in the second part of the first round.
What changed for Nogueira?
In talking to people close to Nogueira, his work ethic has changed and he has matured. Estudiantes is a team with an excellent reputation for developing young talent, and "Bebe" (Portuguese for baby) has worked hard to finally prove himself this season. In 14 minutes per game, he is shooting 68 percent from the floor, mostly on rim runs in screen-and-roll plays and off offensive rebounds.
Nogueira has excellent potential as a rim protector at the NBA level, and even if he is stashed for another season or two -- he is under contract with Estudiantes until 2014 -- there are few defenders like him in this draft.
If Brown were a more consistent jump shooter, he would be a lottery pick.
As it is, the 6-5 junior has enough of the other attributes needed to be a solid NBA rotation player that he should be able to stick in the league no matter where he gets selected. In the last two seasons, Brown has been one of the most effective playmakers in the country with excellent size, passing skills and deceptive athleticism, especially in the open court. This season he had nine games of 10 assists or more for the Wolfpack.
What I love about Brown is that he can play point guard at various speeds. In NC State's UCLA half-court offense, he was charged with making sure that he distributed the ball equally among four double-figure scorers in addition to looking for his own shot (averaging 12.4 PPG himself). And Brown was comfortable playing in an up-tempo game.
There are two major question marks about Brown's game, and they are interrelated -- his outside shooting and his ability to play in screen-and-roll action.
After shooting 35 percent behind the arc as a sophomore, it dropped to 26 percent this season. In fact, after spraining an ankle at Virginia in late January, Brown made just seven of his last 38 3-point shots. On the bright side, he did shoot 77 percent from the free throw line this season, so there is a chance he will be able to acquire a solid shooting stroke with hard work.
Because just 11 percent of the Wolfpack's half-court offense involved screen-and-roll plays, Brown did not have many opportunities to hone his skills in ball-screen offense -- something he will need to do at the NBA level. He has the aptitude, and with repetitions, he could be very good in that area, where an improved shooting stroke is a must. His ability to be a scoring threat will be critical to opening up screen-and-roll opportunities for his teammates.
NC State struggled to meet the high expectations set for it this season in the preseason polls, and there's likely plenty of blame to go around. But if that's what causes Brown's draft stock to drop after a junior season averaging 12 points and 7 assists per game, well ... one team is getting a steal on draft night, especially if he polishes up a couple of key areas.
Bulls guard Nate Robinson's performance in the NBA playoffs is not hurting Jackson's draft stock one bit. While Robinson and Jackson are not exactly alike as players, they share the characteristics of being small but elite athletes and having bulldog mentalities. They share a similar skill level, as well.
In a college season deep with quality point guards, Jackson was electric this season. He not only had blinding speed in the open court, but his ability to change direction at full speed was second to none. His combination of speed, strength and power made him nearly impossible to keep out of the paint as well.
Although Jackson led the Big 12 in scoring and assists (just the fifth power conference player in 24 years to accomplish that), his ability to find teammates with on-time, on-target passes was a huge strength. In fact, he started off most Baylor games looking to distribute the ball, knowing he could create his own shot at any point in the game. He had 10 or more assists in five of his last seven games, and they were all in the postseason.
Jackson is a good enough shooter to keep opposing defenses honest. He made 35 percent of his 2-point jump shots and 36 percent of his 3-point shots. He can shoot behind a ball screen, come off ball screens and make shots in the high paint area, and he has NBA range.
Early in the season, few had Jackson anywhere near the first round -- and some still might not. But he is a first-round talent, even at 5-10. At worst, he can be an explosive change-of-pace backup point guard, and in this draft, that might be good enough to warrant a first-round pick. He has what it takes to help an NBA team win some games.