Once again, seniors slide in the NBA draft

It used to pay to go to college all four years. It still does for most students, but for NBA draft prospects, those days are long gone.

Consider that Kyrie Irving is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving played all of 11 games during his freshman year at Duke, missing most of the season because of a toe injury.

The rest of the lottery (the first through 14th picks) are likely to be a mishmash of college underclassmen and international prospects.

As for seniors, well, BYU guard and national college player of the year Jimmer Fredette at least has a shot to be picked in the top 10. And Morehead State forward Kenneth Faried could go in the top 15 or 20.

Other than that, if you’re a draft prospect, it seems it’s a much smarter move to make sure NBA scouts see you less.

“Being a follower of the NBA draft a long time, now I know seniors don’t get that much love just because we’re seniors,” Duke senior guard Nolan Smith said last week at the pre-draft camp in Chicago. “But it comes with time. When we go to these workouts, it’s our time to prove ourselves.”

Smith is viewed as a combo guard, but he filled in admirably at the point this past season when Irving was injured. During that time, Smith proved he has the potential to run an NBA team.

He has also has good basketball bloodlines. His father, Derek Smith, played in the NBA and was an assistant coach with the then-Washington Bullets, for whom Nolan was a ball boy. (Tragically, Derek Smith died of a heart attack at the age of 34 on a cruise with his family, including 8-year-old Nolan.)

Nolan Smith is 6-foot-2 and averaged 20.6 points per game his senior year. He also was a key member of Duke’s national championship team his junior season. Scouts are saying he could be drafted anywhere in the 20-35 range. So, like most seniors, Smith really has no idea how low he can go.

Of course, those are better prospects than the ones facing another Duke senior, forward Kyle Singler. He, arguably, was MVP of the title-winning team but decided to go back to school last summer.

There’s a chance he might not get drafted at all. At best, he is seen as a middle second-rounder. Even more interesting is the fact Singler’s age (23) is considered a weakness. Seriously.

“If that’s a weakness of mine, I guess I’m pretty good,” Singler said.

Singler is one of those guys who did everything well at the college level and even has better-than-advertised athleticism. But if he’s so good, NBA types seems to say, then he would have entered the draft a few years ago.

“It’s sort of a warped way of thinking,” one NBA scout said. “It’s funny how GMs always seem to forget that seniors can make an impact right away. Landry Fields led the Pac-10 in scoring and rebounding two years, and nobody gave him the time of day (in the draft). Then he starts at shooting guard and becomes a stabilizing force as a rookie for the Knicks, a playoff team.”

Fields was drafted No. 39 last summer, which is about where many seniors can expect to be selected this year. More specifically, most can plan on hearing their names called later, regardless of credentials.

The long list includes Purdue forward JaJuan Johnson, Providence guard Marshon Brooks, Cleveland State guard Norris Cole, Hofstra guard Charles Jenkins, Ohio State guard David Lighty and Oakland University big man Keith Benson.

Forget the fact Johnson was the Big Ten Player of the Year and Brooks was the NCAA’s second-leading scorer (behind Fredette). Meanwhile, Faried led the nation in rebounding at 14.5 per game.

But if you’re a senior, all you can do is shrug it off and carry on — and try to prove everyone wrong.

“I feel (I have upside), but it seems like when you’re older, you’ve been exposed more and teams get to pick at you more,” Johnson said. “But I think I’ll be fine.”

Notes

• Detroit has expressed a strong interest in Kentucky guard Brandon Knight, and Knight said he was impressed with the Pistons, who own the No. 8 pick. Unfortunately for both parties, Knight could be drafted as high as third.

• Knight told Hoopsworld.com: “I wouldn’t mind going to Detroit. It seems like a great place to be.” He later added: “I’m confident in the things I do. . . . I’m comfortable that I’ll be the player a lot of people expect me to be. So I’m confident on being the face of the franchise.”

• Benson is another player who could be on the Pistons’ radar, especially since he played his college ball in the Detroit area and stands 6-foot-11. The Pistons own two second-round picks, Nos. 33 and 52 overall.

• As for Faried, expect Philadelphia to take a long look at him with the No. 16 pick if he’s still available. “He fits well for the Sixers,” a scout told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He plays bigger than he is. He could be anyone’s leading rebounder. I think he’s the fastest athlete in the draft. He is a tremendously quick jumper, can get to his second and third jump very fast. He’s a ridiculous athlete. He has no offensive skills but will score on tip-ins and rebounds. I don’t think he gets out of the teens in the draft.”

• New York general manager Donnie Walsh seems to be leaning toward taking a guard with the 17th pick. Nolan Smith could certainly be an option, and he is expected to work out with the team soon. Smith already has spoken with the Knicks and said they’re interested. UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt has also interviewed with the Knicks, according to New York Post.

• Now that the Chicago pre-draft camp is complete, NBA talent-evaluators are in Minneapolis to watch two days of group workouts. Click here to view the complete list of participating prospects.

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO