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NBA Draft Talk: Potential mid-major targets in mid-1st round

ESPN NBA Insider Chad Ford and College analyst Jay Bilas recently put together a list of promising mid-major talents, and the list contains a couple of intriguing prospects.

Mike Ehrmann

A quick bit of tid to divert our attention from the all hair-growing and game-losing talk of late: an Insider article from Chad Ford discussing the nation's top mid-major players. Jay Bilas provides his list of the non-major conference stars, and Ford breaks down which players are the best potential pros.

The list is worth noting, in my view, because at the very top it contains a couple of names who could be around the target range for Dallas, should they remain in the #10-#15 range(currently they have the 11th worst record in the NBA) and keep their pick.

The first, C.J McCollum of Lehigh:

1. C.J. McCollum, Lehigh Mountain Hawks

Everyone knows McCollum's name after he torched Duke in the NCAA tournament last season. McCollum was off to a hot start this season, averaging 23.9 points and shooting 52 percent from beyond the arc before going down with a foot injury on Jan. 5 that might cost him the rest of the season. McCollum is the one guy on this list who looks as if he could repeat what Lillard did this season as an NBA rookie, as he's a mature, exciting scorer who can also run the point when called upon. If he's healthy enough to work out for NBA teams, he's a potential lottery pick.

Fellow MMB-writer Jonathan Tjarks recently had a nice breakdown of some of the potential point guards in this year's draft(should they declare), including Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse and Trey Burke of Michigan. I love Marcus Smart, but I think it is safe to say that he will be out of reach for Dallas, and the way Trey Burke is playing, he might be, too. Michael Carter-Williams has some rubs, but I think he's a better prospect than Kendall Marshall in a weaker draft, so it's possible he could be gone as well.

McCollum, however, will be in the draft, and might be around still by, say, pick #15. He plays at little-known Lehigh, in Pennsylvania, and unlike fellow small-school product Damian Lillard, who Ford compares him to, McCollum hasn't displayed the same kind of pure point skills. As Ford mentions, he also is going to miss almost all of this season with a broken foot, which could hurt his draft stock.

McCollum has the look of a classic combo-guard, but unlike the ones Dallas has drafted recently, he will enter the league with a well-developed NBA skillset, including a terrific handle and solid jumpshot. He is very creative with the ball and has a knack for scoring, which he can do from just about anywhere on the court. What he lacks in elite athleticism he makes up for, I think, with NBA quality crossover and hesitation moves. His athletic markers aren't bad, though; infact, he rebounds very well for a guard, and is a thief in the passing lanes. In that Duke game last year, he lit up Austin Rivers, to the tune of 30-6-6.

The questions about McCollum will focus on just how well he can run the point, and if he can't, if he's a good enough athlete to play the two. Even if he doesn't develop into a star, I think he has a future as a third guard, very similar to Jarrett Jack, who's size, ballhandling skill, and fire all are present in McCollum.

The second mid-major star on Ford's list is North Texas' own Tony Mitchell:

2. Tony Mitchell, North Texas Mean Green

Mitchell began the season ranked in the top 10 on our Top 100 but has slowly faded with a mediocre season. Mitchell's team is just 9-17, and his numbers have been down across the board. His raw talent -- his athleticism, versatility and defense -- is there. But he struggles to put it together on a nightly basis. An NBA team is likely to take him in the first round if he declares, but so far he's been a major disappointment.

As Ford says, Mitchell began the year high on a lot of draft lists, thanks to a terrific all-around Freshman season in Denton. Mitchell has hit the Sophomore Slump, however, and this could cause him to slide back into range of Dallas. Interestingly, North Texas played Lehigh in late January and the matchup of McCollum and Mitchell brought a reported 57 scouts to Denton, easily one of the largest gathering for a mid-major game ever. However, McCollum was hurt and Mitchell was benched in what was a blowout, so how good a look any of those scouts got isn't certain. Clearly, though, despite being small conference teams, NBA talent evaluators are very well aware of these two.

Mitchell might be a bit of a tweener at the moment, as he plays the four right now for the Mean Green. I think he is capable of playing the wing at the next level, much in the way Kawhi Leonard made the transition, but this is not unanimous. Mitchell hit 18-41 threes last year, good for 44%, and has nice looking form, but the percentage has fallen to 30% this year. Mitchell has made some progress with his ball skills, more than doubling his assist rate, but it is still far from a strength.

Mitchell's strength is, of course, his freakish athleticism and wingspan. I made the Leonard comparison because, like Kawhi, Mitchell is reported to have an insane wingspan of well over seven feet. And the athleticism is not a mirage created by the weak competition level in the Sun Belt Conference: Mitchell was a former top prospect who can run and leap and if motivated will be an absolute terror on the defensive end in the NBA. Last year he posted over 10 boards a game and swatting 3 shots, too, all in under 30 minutes a contest. His highlight reel makes him look like a man amongst boys, and this is why I believe he has a chance of sticking at the three despite being 6'8, 230.

Of course, why a top prospect ended up at North Texas brings us to yet another issue. Mitchell was initially committed to Missouri, but transferred to UNT after being ruled academically ineligible. Add this to questions about his motor and overall BBIQ(guys with his talent should be scoring more than 14 a night against Sun Belt teams), and you may not have the type of guy Dallas will want to take a chance on. As I said, there are also those that believe he will have to end up playing the four, which might mitigate his defensive talent somewhat due to his size, and would certainly limit his short-term value to a team with a Hall of Fame power forward already installed.