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Looking To The 2015 NBA Draft: Returning Point Guards

With the deadline for declaring for this year’s draft behind us, we now know who will and who won’t be returning to school next season. As is usually the case, the vast majority of players projected to go in the first round ended up declaring. Nevertheless, there are still a number of interesting prospects left in the college game. Even in a draft like 2014, which features a loaded freshman class, there’s still plenty of room in the first round for upperclassmen.

This far out, it’s hard to make any type of comprehensive list of the best players in the 2015 draft. Instead, we’ll be going position by position, taking a look at the best prospects in the college game at each position and how they stack up against each other. This is not a list of the who the best college players are, but of who I think has the most pro potential. These guys are unfinished products - who they are today isn’t necessarily who they will be in November or next April.

We’ll start with the point guard position, which features a familiar dichotomy - the biggest PG’s struggle with their jumpers while the best shooters are undersized. The holy grail are the guys who can do both, but even in the NBA, they tend to be few and far between. The smaller guards probably aren’t going to grow much in their late teens and early 20’s, but the bigger guards can make themselves a bunch of money this summer if they can return with a three-point shot.

1) Delon Wright, Utah - One of the most underrated players in the country. The younger brother of Dorell Wright, Delon burst onto the scene this season, after a lengthy trek through the junior college ranks. At 6’5 180, he isn’t quite as big as his older brother, but he’s every bit as athletic and he has a far more well-rounded game. He was a one-man team at Utah this season, averaging 15 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1 block a game on 56% shooting.

Wright turns 23 next season, which is a huge red flag for many NBA teams, but his combination of size, athleticism and feel for the game is pretty unique. There’s a lot of Rajon Rondo in his game - his one weakness is his lack of a three-point shot. He’s a reluctant shooter who went 12-54 from beyond the arc last season. If he could consistently make that shot, he would be a lottery pick, but even without it, he will still be a fascinating player to track as a senior.

2) Marcus Paige, UNC - It’s all set up for Paige at UNC. After two slightly down years, the Tar Heels are returning a lot of talent upfront and are bringing in a loaded recruiting class full of wing players. If Paige can be the triggerman for the secondary break offense, they should be right back in national title discussion. And when Roy Williams can put elite talent around a future NBA PG, good things tend to happen. See: Ray Felton in 2004, Ty Lawson in 2009.

At 6’1 170, Paige is undersized for the position at the next level, but he’s a very quick guard with excellent ball-handling ability who can stroke 3’s off the dribble. He averaged 17 points and 4 assists a game on 44% shooting last season, shooting 39% from 3 on 6.5 attempts a game. With a more balanced roster around him next season, he will be asked to be more of a playmaker. It’s almost impossible for a guy his size to start in the NBA and be a shoot-first player.

3) Rysheed Jordan, St. John’s - While Rysheed didn’t get a ton of press as a freshman, his size (6’4 185) and athleticism alone make him a player worth watching. He averaged only 9 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists a game on 42% shooting, but he also didn’t get much of a chance to play with the ball in his hands. With Jakarr Sampson declaring for the draft, that should change next season. If he can come back with a three-point shot, he will start flying up draft boards.

4) Andrew Harrison, Kentucky - After one of the most up-and-down freshman seasons in recent memory, the Harrison Twins both opted to return to school, something few would have predicted nine months ago. At 6’5 210, Andrew has great size for the PG position, but his lack of athleticism puts a clear ceiling on how good he can be at the next level. If he can become a better three-point shooter he should have a chance to stick, but stardom probably isn’t in the cards.

5) Ryan Boatright, UConn - Along with Shabazz Napier, Boatright exploded at just the right time last season, carrying UConn all the way to an unlikely national championship. Generously listed at 6’0 170, Boatright is extremely undersized for the NBA game, but he has the speed and quickness to at least get a shot at the next level. As a senior, scouts will be watching to see if he can make the same type of jump Napier made, in terms of becoming a better floor general.

Other names to watch: Isaiah Taylor (Texas), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Shannon Scott (Ohio State), Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Olivier Hanlan (Boston College)

Blue Blood Schools Again Taking Country's Best Talent

The McDonald’s All-American Game is no longer the only big event on the all-star circuit, but it is still the most prestigious. If you look through the game’s rosters over the last decade, you will recognize most of the names. Even the guys who didn’t make the NBA usually had great NCAA careers. The programs who reel in multiple players from the McDonald’s game are the sport’s blue bloods - not every elite player from the class of 2014 was in Chicago, but most were.

You can see that in the distribution of this year’s crop. There were 13 schools represented at the game, but only five with multiple recruits - Duke and Kentucky with 4, UNC with 3, Kansas and UCLA with 2. In college basketball, the ability to consistently attract elite recruits is what separates good jobs from the great. If any of those jobs came open, every coach in the country would at least listen. There’s no substitute for talent and those schools always have it.

For a school like Seton Hall, securing the commitment of even one McDonald’s All-American can be a program altering move. Isaiah Whitehead is the first player from the McDonald’s game to go there in 14 years. Getting the first is always the hardest - elite players want to play with other elite players, whether it’s in college or the NBA. Whitehead, the only player in this year’s game headed to the new Big East, will be a marked man for the next four seasons.

Kentucky, in contrast, has so many McDonald’s All-Americans they don’t even know what to do with them. There will be more elite recruits coming off their bench next season than there will be in the entire Big East conference. John Calipari is the only coach in the country who can run off a kid from this game and not think twice - Kyle Wiltjer (2011) averaged 17 minutes a game in two years in Lexington before deciding to transfer to Gonzaga this season.

His recruiting class last season was considered one of the best of all-time and you can make the argument that this year’s bunch is even better. Karl Towns and Trey Lyles aren’t as big as Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, but they are more skilled and more comfortable playing on the perimeter. It’s the same story in the backcourt - Tyler Ulis and Devon Booker project as better shooters than the Harrisons, who shot 42 percent and 37 percent from the field as freshmen.

In five seasons at Kentucky, Calipari has made an Elite Eight and three Final Fours. No matter who decides to go pro in 2014, he shouldn’t miss a beat in 2015. Towns has a chance to be the No. 1 overall pick while Lyles and Booker both have first-round measurables. Even without the five projected first-rounders from this year’s team - Randle, Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, James Young and Andrew Harrison - the Wildcats have a McDonald’s All-American at every position.

Duke could lose two lottery picks - Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood - and be a better team next season. Jahlil Okafor, the consensus top player in the class of 2014, gives the Blue Devils a legitimate post presence at the center position, something they have not had in many years. Okafor means Marshall Plumlee, a McDonald’s All-American in 2011, will spend another year on the bench after averaging six minutes per game in his first two seasons in Durham.

On the perimeter, the three other McDonald’s kids from this year’s class - Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow - will be competing for minutes with one from 2011 (Quinn Cook) and 2012 (Rasheed Sulaimon). For the most part, everyone on Duke can shoot 3’s, which will allow Okafor to play in a tremendous amount of space around the rim. If there’s a weakness on next year’s roster, it’s at PF, where they might have to get by with a four-star recruit.

Even with the addition of Louisville, things should be back to normal in the ACC, with Duke and UNC fighting for the crown. The Tar Heels never recovered from losing PJ Hairston to eligibility issues and they struggled to space the floor and score from the wings all season. Next year, they are bringing in two McDonald’s All-Americans on the wings (Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson) to complement the one they have at PG and the four they have in the frontcourt.

Kentucky might be the only team in the country with the size to bang with Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Joel James. NBA scouts will learn more from watching the UNC big men in practice than they will from watching them against most of the ACC. The Tar Heels didn’t have enough perimeter shooting to exploit their size this season, but next year’s group, with Marcus Paige running the show, should blow most teams off the floor.

Kansas has a chance to be better without Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins. Bill Self runs the most consistent program in the country because he doesn’t need his McDonald’s All-Americans to dominate as freshmen. Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre won’t have to carry the Jayhawks - they will be playing off Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor. With no other Big 12 team represented in Chicago, Kansas will be favored to win their 11th consecutive league title.

UCLA’s lack of size was exploited by Florida in the Sweet 16, but that should change in the coming years with the additions of Kevon Looney (6’9 210) and Thomas Welsh (7’0 230). With Brice Alford, Jordan Adams and Norman Powell still in the fold, the Bruins will just need their young big men to catch and finish around the rim next season. When Looney and Welsh start putting on weight, they are going to be way too big and skilled for the vast majority of the Pac-12.

When a coach can throw multiple McDonald’s All-Americans at every hole on his roster, it makes his life pretty easy. And when you are bringing in 2-3 a year, you aren’t held hostage to every recruiting mistake or off-court incident. Imagine the Miami Heat getting a lottery pick in every draft and you can see why there isn’t much parity in college basketball. A single-elimination tournament gives every team a chance, but some teams get more chances than others.

The blue-bloods were a little down this year, which opened up room for a team from the Missouri Valley Conference to get a 1 seed and made the NCAA Tournament more wide open than usual. However, with so much of the elite talent in the class of 2014 concentrated in so few schools, 2015 could look a lot more like 2012, when Kentucky and UNC dominated the sport. In college basketball, the rich don’t stay down for too long. They just get richer.

P.J. Hairston Excellent In D-League Debut

It’s been a complicated nine months for P.J Hairston.

Coming off a successful sophomore season where Hairston averaged 14.6 points per game for North Carolina, he faced a troublesome offseason that sparked an NCAA investigation involving his relationship with Haydn “Fats” Thomas.

First, Hairston was cited for speeding in May while driving a car that was rented using Thomas’ home address. He was then arrested and charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession while driving a different car that was rented by Thomas. Head coach Roy Williams suspended Hairston nine days later after he was cited for speeding while driving 93 miles per hour in a 65 mile per hour zone (Associated Press).

After an extensive investigation by the NCAA, the University of North Carolina eventually denied reinstating Hairston in late December, stating that he “made a number of mistakes that placed his eligibility at risk.” As a result, Hairston decided to enter the D-League where the Texas Legends claimed him off of waivers.

Hairston made his professional debut on Saturday against the Austin Toros where he showed promise of becoming an instant superstar in the D-League, that is, until he’s eligible for next year’s draft.

He entered the game with 3:03 left in the first quarter and immediately made an impact. Hairston converted on his first three field goals, two of which were three-pointers, and didn’t show any sort of rust despite the lengthy delay since his last organized game.

The 6-foot-6 shooting guard finished with a team-high 22 points (9-16 FG, 4-9 3FG) and six steals in 28 minutes of action to lead the Legends to a 109-99 victory that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. He scored in a variety of ways, including high-flying dunks, mid-range jumpers, and his well-documented deep threes.

“I found a home here in Texas and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here,” Hairston said in an interview for the D-League’s YouTube channel on Friday.

“What I can bring is just another shooter and another scorer and someone they can trust to put the ball in the basket.”

His self-evaluation proved to be true on Saturday. But not only did Hairston show himself as a premier scorer, but he hustled for loose balls, deflected passes, and showed just as much talent on the defensive end of the floor. His defense is what impressed point guard Mickey McConnell, who had 20 points and 10 assists for the Legends.

“He’s a great player and he comes from a great program, so obviously he knows how to do things the right way,” said McConnell. “We got a couple additions that have really helped us energy-wise defensively. I thought the best thing that he did was that he got his hands on a lot of passes and on defense he was great tonight.”

As a gifted scorer with his size and athletic ability, Hairston showed why he was regarded as a first round pick last season. If he can continue to play at this type of level while staying out of trouble, there’s no doubt that he can salvage his draft stock and become a 2014 first round selection. With an excellent debut, Hairston and the Texas Legends will be fun to follow for the rest of the D-League season.

Coaches That Peak Early In The Year

Explaining how an Iowa vs Iowa St. basketball game can be better than Kentucky vs North Carolina, and how Mike Krzyzewski can show up on a list about coaching disappointment.

Notes On 2013 ACC-Big Ten Challenge

Although there wasnít a conference crowned the champion of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge because of a tied 6-6 outcome, plenty of story lines and questions emerged from the event. We take a glance into some intriguing aspects seen in the challenge.

Super Sophomore Point Guards

Typically in college basketball, point guards see the most dramatic improvement between their freshman and sophomore seasons. Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams and Shane Larkin were prime examples last season. Now it's Marcus Smart, Marcus Paige and Jahii Carson.

From The Champions Classic To Cupcake Week, Part 2

On Obama watching Oregon State, VCU, Trae Golden, the search for upsets, Branden Dawson at the 4, Harvard Watch and more.

2013 Holiday Tournaments (Part 1)

In the first of a three-part series, we breakdown several holiday tournaments including 2K Sports, Puerto Rico, Coaches vs. Cancer, Hall of Fame Tipoff, Paradise Jam and the Charleston Classic featuring the likes of Michigan State, Louisville, North Carolina and Michigan.

Changing Pace With Conference Realignment

When it comes to pace-of-play, a teamís head coach is critical. In this edition, we look at the pace of play for each team in all of the major conferences.

March Madness Through The NBA Lens (Round Of 64)

While the NCAA Tournament has cachet all its own, one way of looking at the Tournament from the perspective of NBA talent evaluators. Here are the games and prospects most worthy of your attention for the round of 64.

Comparing The Conferences

The Pac-12 has been suffering through a long dark period. The Big Ten has been dominant (at least in the pre-conference schedule) for the last few years. Should we expect a change this year? Is the Pac-12ís slump over? Is the Big Tenís boom about to come to an end?

Team-By-Team Gold Medal Winners

The Jazz and Thunder have had the most Gold Medalists since the USA began bringing NBA players in 1992, while Duke leads amongst colleges. How do the other 29 NBA teams rank?

Notes On The 2012 Jordan Brand Classic

Anthony Davis wanted to wear Michael Jordanís number in this game last year. This year no one chose to wear #23. Maybe people are right when they say this yearís class of high school seniors is missing a larger than life star.

The Cautionary Tale Of Harrison Barnes

All the extra exposure Harrison Barnes has received has only served to magnify his flaws as a player, and thereís a very good chance he will end up regretting his decision to return to school for his sophomore season.

Sweet Sixteen Day 2

What does every coach in the Sweet Sixteen have in common? A great efficiency margin over the last 5 years.

NCAA Tournament Day 4

Twelve of the 16 teams in the Sweet Sixteen were in the preseason AP Top 25, and Michigan St. was among the first teams in the ďothers receiving votesĒ category. But Indiana, Ohio, and NC State have all exceeded expectations this season by making it this far.

All Roads Go Through Kentucky, North Carolina

Kentucky and North Carolina played a thriller on Dec. 2nd and are setup to meet again in a national championship game filled with future NBA players if there are no stumbles along the way.

Major Conference Tournaments Day 4

Baylor broke through, Michigan and Tennessee had huge game tying 3's, but the true action on Friday took place in the A10.

Bubble Edition Of Injury Splits

One of the most important things to look at when examining bubble teams is how they have fared with and without key players.

Rivalry Week Musings And More Conference Shuffling

Breaking down Duke/North Carolina, Syracuse/Georgetown, Kansas/Baylor and Florida/Kentucky, along with which conferences are improving with the new round of shuffling.

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