Three top-10 NBA prospects are dealing with major injuries

5/7/13 in NBA   |   Matthew_Shovlin   |   735 respect

When it comes to rebuilding an NBA franchise, a poor first-round pick can be an enormous setback. A lot of teams want to pick players who they feel are a safe bet to be effective NBA players - those who not only have the talent to succeed, but are also likely to stay healthy. In recent history, the player who comes to mind is Greg Oden. The former first overall pick averaged 16.7 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per 36 minutes in his most recent season (2009-10), but injuries have ravaged his career. General managers are looking for players that they can confidently expect to contribute on a regular basis, and certain injuries pose major red flags when drafting at the top of the first round.

The 2013 draft will be very interesting, as there are three players widely regarded as top-10 prospects who are currently dealing with serious injuries. Will their talent and potential keep them amongst the draft's most coveted players, or will the injury risks drop them to the middle of the round?

Everyone knows the first player - Kentucky's Nerlens Noel. Last year's top high school recruit looked like a dominant force on defense during the 24 games of his college career. The 6'10'' forward/center averaged a modest 10.5 points, but racked up 9.5 rebounds, 2.1 steals, and 4.4 blocks per game. His freshman season came to an abrupt end when he suffered a torn ACL in a February game against Florida. Noel still managed to lead the SEC in total blocked shots despite missing seven of Kentucky's 31 regular season games.

ACL injuries are not nearly as devastating as they once were, and it is for that reason that Noel is still considered a candidate for the first overall pick. However, lower-body injuries are always scary for a big man, and the injury may be what deters a team or two from passing on Noel.
Mar 16, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UNLV Rebels forward Anthony Bennett (15) reacts after scoring against the New Mexico Lobos during the championship game of the Mountain West tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
UNLV's Anthony Bennett is considered by many to be the next best draft eligible low-post player. The 6'8'' forward has more offensive upside than Noel, as he averaged 16.1 points per game on 53.3% shooting as a freshman. He can play down low or slide outside and knock down jumpers anywhere inside the arc. However, Bennett will have surgery on his rotator cuff Wednesday that will sideline him for about four months.

The good news for Bennett is that the surgery is on his non-shooting shoulder, which should cause much less concerns among NBA personnel people. The problem for Bennett is that he will miss all of the pre-draft process, during which time other players could take advantage and potentially slide in front of Bennett in the minds of some scouts.

The third and final injury to a top-10 prospect is the most concerning of all. Alex Len spent two years at Maryland racking up blocked shots and shooting a great percentage from the field. His name was beginning to surface in the top-5 discussion, but he underwent ankle surgery on Friday that will keep him out for 4-6 months.

The stress fracture in Len's ankle will be a huge concern for NBA general managers due to both the location of the injury and Len's size (7'1''). Players standing at 7'0'' or taller that deal with serious foot/ankle injuries rarely turn into worthwhile top-10 selections. General managers will see this as an injury that could potentially plague Len for the entirety of his career, making him a very risky pick early in the first round. He'll be one of the more interesting players to follow as the draft gets closer, and where he is selected will be very tough to predict.

The good news for these ailing front court players is that there aren't really any other highly touted big men considered likely to go in the top-10. The next best big men are probably Indiana's Cody Zeller, Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk, and Louisville's Gorgui Dieng. Scouts are concerned about Zeller's strength/physicality, Olynyk does not rebound well for a seven-footer, and Dieng projects as a strict rebounder/shot blocker in the NBA. It will be interesting to see where the big men end up going on draft day.
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