yardbarker
RealGM Basketball

Kansas Jayhawks ArticlesKansas Jayhawks Articles

Draft Report: Joel Embiid Of Kansas

Ever since a back injury prematurely ended his freshman season, Kansas center Joel Embiid has been out of sight, out of mind when it comes to NBA draft discussions. Embiid, who declared for the draft on Wednesday, is far from a finished product, but he would dramatically improve every team in the lottery. There’s no one else on the draft who can replicate his impact on both sides of the ball. Embiid is the No. 1 prospect in 2014 and it isn’t really close.

Embiid had good statistics for a freshman - 11 points, 8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 1.5 assists and one steal a game - but they don’t fully capture how dominant he was. His biggest problem was foul trouble, which is what you would expect for a guy who started playing basketball three years ago. His per-40 minute numbers were outrageous - 19 points, 14 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 4.5 blocks and six fouls on 63 percent shooting. He’s a 19-year-old center with a 28.2 PER.

When Embiid was in the line-up, Kansas looked like one of the best teams in the country. Without him, they looked like a team that was replacing four senior starters and a lottery pick (Ben McLemore). Their tailspin at the end of the season coincided with Embiid’s absence. They went 3-3 in their last six games, including a loss to an NIT team (West Virginia), struggling with a 15-seed in the first round of the NCAA Tourney and losing to a 10-seed in the second.

Andrew Wiggins, his more celebrated teammate, had 41 points in the game against the Mountaineers, but he wasn’t making his teammates better. Without Embiid, Kansas couldn’t control the tempo of the game or protect the rim, allowing West Virginia to get the game going up-and-down and race out to a 50-38 halftime lead. Wiggins took 18 shots in that game, but he had only two assists on four turnovers. That’s not the ratio you want from your best player.

It’s much harder for a big man to rack up assists than a perimeter player, yet Embiid and Wiggins both averaged the same number on the season. When Wiggins gets the ball on the wing, he’s putting his head down and making a straight-line drive at the rim. When Embiid gets the ball in the post, he’s collapsing the defense and moving it back out. Even though he’s far less experienced, Embiid showed more court awareness than Wiggins this season.

For all the talk of Wiggins’ athletic ability on the defensive end, Embiid averaged only 0.3 fewer steals a game, despite spending most of his time in the paint. A great interior defender, as the second line of defense, is far more valuable than a great defender on the perimeter. Just by standing in the middle of the lane, Embiid covered up a lot of mistakes on the defensive end and made everyone better. There’s no way for a guard to replicate that kind of impact.

When people talk about the draft, everyone brings up Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan and Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. At the same time, you don’t hear many people talking about taking Evan Turner over Derrick Favors or all the teams that passed on Andre Drummond. The media would like you to believe that basketball games are won and lost by which team’s perimeter players can hoist more shots and “impose their will” on a game, but that isn’t the case.

If you make a list of the best centers in the NBA, you will start to notice a trend - they all play on really good teams. Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Tim Duncan, Roy Hibbert and Andrew Bogut are all centerpieces of good teams. The only good center on a bad team (DeMarcus Cousins) is the exception that proves the rule - he’s the rare center who doesn’t play much defense. If you paired him with Embiid, it would be a serious problem.

It’s no coincidence that Gasol, Noah, Duncan, Hibbert and Bogut all made the second round of the playoffs last season. The other three centers? Tyson Chandler, Chris Bosh and Kendrick Perkins. Unless you have LeBron James or Kevin Durant, you had better have a good center. In case you were wondering, there aren’t any 6’11 235 SG’s with a 7’4 wingspan or 6’9 270 point centers in this draft. Embiid is the one guy who brings instant credibility to the team that drafts him.

Embiid makes his teammates better on both sides of the ball. He’s the rare 7’0 who has a chance to be an elite defensive player and an elite offensive player. He has the physical ability to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and the skill-set to be indefensible in the low post. In terms of his ceiling, Embiid is more fluid offensively than Howard, more athletic than Gasol, more skilled than Hibbert and Bogut and much bigger than Noah. His ceiling is Tim Duncan.

There are a lot of parallels between Duncan and Embiid. Both picked up the game later in life - Duncan was an elite swimmer in the Virgin Islands, Embiid grew up playing volleyball and soccer. As a result, neither picked up the bad habits that plague modern big men. They aren’t trying to play point guard or shoot a bunch of 3’s - when you are bigger, faster and more coordinated than everyone you face, you don’t want make the game any more complicated than it has to be.

That’s the most intriguing thing about Embiid - he’s a 19-year-old still growing into his body, yet he’s already bigger and faster than most NBA centers. He won’t come in and dominate his competition as a 20-year-old, but he will be able to hold his own. Even if I had a center on my team, I would draft Embiid and make him a PF, just like Duncan. He’s fast enough to play on the perimeter and he shoots 69 percent from the free-throw line - he’s capable of playing out of the high post.

Andrew Wiggins is a great prospect, but there are super-athletic wings who can’t pass the ball in every draft. If Embiid never gets better, he is a more offensive-minded Tyson Chandler. An NBA team doesn’t get a chance to draft a 7’0 with his ability very often - there aren’t many drafts where Embiid wouldn’t be the No. 1 prospect. He’s the only player in this draft I would seriously consider tanking for. If the doctors clear him medically, you take Embiid without thinking twice.

Way Too Early Top 25 Projections

I am once again breaking out my lineup-based projection model to predict the 2014-15 season. A lot can still change. ESPN’s #2 Recruit Myles Turner has yet to make his college choice. There are a number of intriguing players available who have graduated and are eligible immediately. And there are also several Top 10 JUCO recruits who have yet to commit. Last year, I had Kansas as a borderline Top 25 squad in my first projection, and then they added Andrew Wiggins and Tarik Black and became an obvious Top 10 squad.

Somewhat unusually, I think we have a pretty good idea who is leaving in the draft this year. When a player’s decision is an open question, I list that in my discussion below. For the record, I’m projecting that Julius Randle, Will Cauley-Stein, James Young, and both Harrison twins leave Kentucky, but that everyone else returns. And I’m assuming that Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams leave UCLA based on the CBS Sports notes that suggest they will leave.

One final technical note: The results I am presenting are based on the mean projection for each player. I am saving the simulation portion of the model for later this year. The idea of the simulation is to show what happens if players fall above or below expectations and show the best and worst case scenario for each team. But the real purpose of the simulation model is to evaluate each team’s depth. And right now a number of quality teams would look pretty bad based on limited depth. That will be corrected with the addition of a late signing, eligible transfer, or JUCO recruit. Because the bottom of each team’s roster is in such flux, I don’t think it makes sense to show the simulation results at this point in the year.

Pred Pyth = Predicted Pythagorean Winning Percentage, the winning percentage against an average D1 team on a neutral floor.

Pred Off = Predicted Offense, Points Scored per 100 Possessions

Pred Def = Predicted Defense, Points Allowed per 100 Possessions

2014 Off = 2013-14 Offense

2014 Def = 2013-14 Defense

RMin = Projected Returning Minutes

T100 = Projected Players on Roster who were once Top 100 recruits

Rnk

Team

Conf

Pred Pyth

Pred Off

Pred Def

2014 Off

2014 Def

RMin

T100

1

Arizona

P12

0.963

119.8

90.1

114.7

88.5

82%

8

2

Kansas

B12

0.952

120.0

92.5

116.8

96.3

68%

10

3

Duke

ACC

0.943

122.0

95.5

123.5

102.3

47%

10

4

Wisconsin

B10

0.934

121.9

96.7

120.8

97.6

82%

3

5

Florida

SEC

0.920

116.3

94.0

115.3

89.2

47%

7

6

Michigan

B10

0.919

121.8

98.6

124.1

102.1

73%

5

7

Kentucky

SEC

0.916

118.9

96.6

118.4

97.1

21%

7

8

N. Carolina

ACC

0.914

116.4

94.7

111.7

95.4

74%

10

9

Connecticut

AAC

0.910

113.8

93.1

112.5

92.5

55%

6

10

Virginia

ACC

0.909

112.7

92.3

114.4

90.1

72%

4

11

Villanova

BE

0.909

116.6

95.5

113.8

94.4

78%

7

12

Wichita St.

MVC

0.908

116.9

95.8

118.1

93.3

64%

0

13

VCU

A10

0.907

109.6

89.9

107.9

90.2

70%

4

14

Louisville

ACC

0.899

113.6

93.9

116.6

90.0

41%

8

15

Syracuse

ACC

0.899

113.2

93.6

112.3

93.6

41%

7

16

Ohio St.

B10

0.898

113.4

93.9

106.5

89.6

54%

8

17

SMU

AAC

0.895

113.3

94.1

110.1

94.7

75%

3

18

Colorado

P12

0.878

114.2

96.2

105.1

96.9

99%

4

19

Baylor

B12

0.877

117.6

99.2

117.8

100.0

61%

4

20

Texas

B12

0.876

115.8

97.7

111.0

98.4

100%

6

21

Maryland

B10

0.873

112.1

94.8

107.6

95.5

99%

9

22

Iowa

B10

0.873

118.9

100.6

119.8

102.7

69%

2

23

UCLA

P12

0.872

114.0

96.5

117.0

97.3

35%

6

24

Gonzaga

WCC

0.872

116.3

98.4

111.4

94.4

64%

4

25

Utah

P12

0.861

112.2

95.8

108.7

96.5

94%

2

I see three teams that missed the NCAA tournament jumping into the Top 25:

SMU: The Mustangs had the 30th best margin-of-victory in the nation, and Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy are back. The team also adds elite PG recruit Emmanuel Mudiay.

Maryland: The Terrapins finished with the 41st best margin-of-victory in the nation in 2014. With virtually everyone on the roster back, and four four-star prospects joining the roster, there are no more excuses for losses. If Mark Turgeon cannot turn Maryland into a winner now, he is not going to keep his job.

Utah: The Utes had the 42nd best margin-of-victory in the nation last year and they bring basically everyone back. By simply upgrading the non-conference schedule, the Utes will be in the NCAA tournament hunt.

Focusing on the rest of the Top 25:

Arizona: Aaron Gordon was the least efficient offensive player in Arizona’s primary rotation, but he was also the heart of Arizona's defense. Thus as Arizona seeks to replace Aaron Gordon with elite recruit Stanley Johnson, I project that as helping the offense but hurting the defense. But the real reason I expect a big jump in Arizona's offense is the return of Brandon Ashley. Arizona's offense was four points better with Ashley in the lineup. If you don't like Arizona near the top of the rankings, you must think Nick Johnson is going to declare for the draft (which seems like a mistake) or that the defense is going to fall apart without Gordon. Given the athleticism Rondae Hollis-Jefferson showed this year, I think Arizona's defense will still be championship caliber.

Kansas: Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins should enjoy life in the NBA next year, but don't cry for Bill Self. With elite recruits Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre joining fold, he has already found replacements. Also, don’t forget about Arkansas transfer and former elite recruit Hunter Mickelson who is joining the team. Finally, Kansas gave a lot of minutes to freshmen besides Embiid or Wiggins, and you can expect a big sophomore leap for many of those players, including Wayne Selden.

Duke: Even without Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, Duke has a loaded recruiting class, and I think a lot of people will be tempted to slot them #1 overall. I agree that the offense will be great and project Duke's offense as the best in the nation. The overall ranking depends on how high you project Duke's defense relative to last year. Jahlil Okafor and a more mature Marshall Plumlee will help, but Mike Krzyzewski's defensive prowess has faded in recent years. Can he really depend on a freshman to anchor the defense when the scouting reports say Okafor is good but not great on D?

Wisconsin: Only Ben Brust departs from a Badger team that was one shot away from the national title game.

Florida: The Gators front-court is graduating and the defense will take a hit. But I'm projecting Chris Walker to return, and along with Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and Michael Frazier the Gators should still have a dominant lineup. Also, don't overlook the importance of a healthy Eli Carter and elite recruit Devin Robinson.

Michigan: I'm assuming Nik Stauskas leaves and Mitch McGary comes back. If both come back, Michigan will have a real chance at a national title.

Kentucky: James Young got a huge steal late in the national semifinal against Wisconsin. But he had only 29 steals on the full season before that. And despite NBA size, Young and the Harrison Twins were not elite defensive players on the full season. Having a player with the quickness of elite recruit Tyler Ulis will certainly help the perimeter defense next season, and even without Will Cauley-Stein, Kentucky should still have enough elite athletes to best this year's defensive effort. Offensively, Kentucky has reached another level in the NCAA tournament, and I don't expect next year's club to match that. But with a few more non-freshmen on the team, they might be able to avoid some of the mid-season struggles, and I see a slightly better offense on the whole year.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels found a rotation late in the year that really worked. Replacing James McAdoo should be doable with incoming elite wing Justin Jackson, who lit up the McDonald’s All-American game, and returning big man Brice Johnson. The real question is perimeter depth, but the team will have three elite passing PGs. And as Connecticut and Florida showed this year, that's a formula that can work.

Connecticut: Replacing Shabazz Napier's defense might be harder than replacing his offense. Napier was an elite defensive rebounder for a guard, and he was fantastic at getting steals. The combination of NC State transfer Rodney Purvis and elite recruit Leonard Hamilton should fill in for the loss of Napier's offense, especially with Ryan Boatright easily taking over the PG role.

Virginia: A year ago I would have said Virginia would fall off a cliff when Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell graduated. But with the emergence of Malcolm Brogdon and a strong core back, Virginia should have another extremely strong season.

Villanova: Every critical player but James Bell should be back from a team that dominated the Big East.

Wichita St.: I feel like my model is under-valuing the contributions of Cleanthonly Early. But Wichita St. has four super-efficient rotation players returning (Fred Van Vleet, Darius Carter, Tekele Cotton, and Ron Baker).  And while they'll need to pick up some frontcourt size from the JUCO ranks again, that plan has worked well in recent years. Overall, Gregg Marshall is on such a role developing less heralded players, there is no reason to expect that to stop next season.

VCU: PG Briante Weber, a healthy three point shooter Melvin Johnson, and leader Treveon Graham will be back. But the best news is that Shaka Smart has finally broken into the elite recruiting game with three Top 100 freshmen coming in this year. That formula doesn't always work. Sometimes managing elite prospects is more difficult than it sounds. But on paper, this is the most athletic team Shaka Smart has ever assembled.

Louisville: Losing Russ Smith will be devastating to the offense, but you cannot under-state Smith's impact on defense too. Right now the team has enough elite recruits and returning players that the perimeter offense will be solid. But most of the young forwards are a year away from dominating at the D1 level. Thus Montrezl Harrell's NBA decision might be the most critical of any player in the country. If Harrell comes back, Louisville is a real Final Four threat. Here I project Louisville without Harrell in the lineup. Either way, I think Louisville is a team that will benefit from the simulation model when I break that out later this summer, as they have significant quality depth.

Syracuse: Based on where he is showing up in mock drafts, I'm assuming Jerami Grant declares for the draft. Even without Grant, CJ Fair, and Tyler Ennis, Syracuse still has talent. Rakeem Christmas became a better defender last year. (Jim Boeheim no longer had to give him the hook for Baye Keita nearly as often.) Chris McCullough is a quality big man recruit. And DaJuan Coleman still has the recruiting profile to say he will be a dominant player if he ever stays healthy. Michael Gbinije is a natural wing. Trevor Cooney slumped at times, but he can be a dominant shooter. And thus you can see why Jim Boeheim is so frustrated that Tyler Ennis declared for the draft. For Syracuse to stay at an elite level, they need an elite PG. Kaleb Joseph had a lower recruiting rank than Ennis, and the reality is that freshmen PGs are a big risk.

Ohio St.: Ohio St. loses the three most important offensive players from a team that was not that great offensively last season. They are easy to write off. But they have a veteran PG in Shannon Scott, they gained a huge boost with the addition of Temple transfer Anthony Lee who is eligible immediately. They add three Top 30 recruits who should boost the offense. And they get back Kam Williams, a great SG prospect who was injured and forced to red-shirt this year. Ohio St. isn't going to be the same elite defensive team, but the talent is there for the offense to make a meaningful jump.

Colorado: Colorado finished the year with the 77th best margin-of-victory numbers in the nation. Thus they make the biggest jump of anyone in my projections. There are two key reasons. First, they gave a ton of minutes to freshmen, who should take a big jump forward. Second, PG Spencer Dinwiddie should return from his injury and substantially improve the team’s offensive execution.

Baylor: Kenny Chery was a brilliant PG last year. Ish Wainwright and Allerik Freeman (an injury redshirt) won't match Bradly Heslip's shooting, but the former elite recruits should improve on his defense. Royce O'Neale is a dominant wing who should take on a larger role. Rico Gathers is a dominant rebounder. And if Austin comes back, Baylor is clearly a Top 25 team. Isaiah Austin says he hasn't made up his mind about going pro. And given that he is projected as a 2nd round pick in most mock drafts, I’m projecting that he returns here.

Texas: The Longhorns made the Round of 32 and everyone is back. They should be in everyone's Top 25.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes lose three seniors, but given how many players the team used last year, those losses are not devastating. The addition of elite JUCO PG Trey Dickerson should also help the team to find the right scorers in more situations. But the real reason this team fell apart down the stretch was because the defense collapsed. Head coach Fran McCaffery has had mixed success on defense in his career. He's had some good defensive teams and some bad ones. With just a little defensive improvement, Iowa should be back in the Top 25.

UCLA: Bryce Alford, Norman Powell, and a now-eligible Isaac Hamilton will man the perimeter. Meanwhile elite recruits Kevon Looney and Thomas Welsh will join Tony Parker in the paint. That's a pretty good core, but the lack of depth is a concern. On paper, UCLA is not that much better than Stanford, but the model has more faith in head coach Steve Alford than Johnny Dawkins over the long grind of the regular season.

Gonzaga: Transfer big man Kyle Witjer was a very good shooter at Kentucky, but his defense was suspect.

And a few notes on teams that surprised me by missing the cut:

Iowa St: If Bryce Dejean-Jones makes the jump from UNLV, that should bump the Cyclones into the Top 25. I’m making projections based on current commitments, but given Fred Hoiberg’s track record in closing the deal with transfers, I don’t have a problem with anyone assuming he will get that commitment. And I don’t have a problem with anyone putting Iowa St. in their Top 25 right now.

Oregon:  Super-scorer Joseph Young, Dominic Artis, elite PG recruit JaQuan Lyle,  elite transfer recruit Brandon Austin (eligible in December), Elgin Cook (who broke out against BYU in the tournament), elite recruit Jordan Bell (a late qualifier and red-shirt), and Top 10 JUCO forward Michael Chandler are all reasons to love this team. But I think Oregon had more talent last year, and they still finished 29th nationally. Right now this team has limited depth in the paint, but with one more transfer addition in the front-court, they can easily jump into the Top 25.

San Diego St: It cannot be over-stated how vital Xavier Thames was to the Aztecs offense and how important Josh Davis' rebounding was to the team's defense. San Diego St. has a great recruiting class filled with players who should be stars in 2016. And Angelo Chol is a transfer who could put the team over the top. But without Thames and Davis, the team falls just outside the Top 25.

Stanford: I really feel like Stanford should be in the Top 25. With Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, Stefan Nastic, and three elite recruits, this is a team that can build on the Sweet Sixteen run. But even with the Sweet Sixteen run, Stanford's margin-of-victory on the season was only 36th nationally. And that continued a trend where Johnny Dawkins has failed to develop teams that perform on a per possession basis. Dawkins saved his job this year by making the tournament, but the long-run stats say he hasn't been great at developing players. Perhaps he will prove the model wrong by turning Reid Travis into a star this year, but right now the model isn’t convinced.

Dayton: The Flyers will show up in many people's Top 25 rankings because they played a deep lineup and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. But they lose their two most important offensive players (Devin Oliver and Vee Sanford), and don't have anyone coming in to replace them. For a team that finished 38th nationally in margin-of-victory, that isn't the formula to move up into the Top 25. But if you are looking for a reason these projections are wrong, consider that Dayton played much better basketball after February 1st.

And now a note on a few other teams that might spend some time in the Top 25 next year:

Michigan St.: The Spartans lose three critical offensive players in Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling and they don’t have anyone coming in who projects to make an immediate impact. The return of key role players like Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine will keep them near the edges of the Top 25, but the Spartans take a big step back this year.

Pittsburgh: The return of Durand Johnson from injury should help offset the loss of two key seniors.

Bottom Line: Even though Michigan St. and Pittsburgh are not in my top 25, never bet against Tom Izzo and Jamie Dixon. These teams will still be very dangerous.

Georgetown, Seton Hall, UNLV: Great recruiting classes, but each team needs to improve in a number of areas to be a Top 25 team.

LSU: Another team with elite talent, that isn’t quite there yet.

Memphis: The Tigers have enough elite talent to finish in the Top 25. But they had Top 25 talent last season, and they finished with the 37th best margin-of-victory numbers. Realistically, with zero seniors in 2014-15, Memphis projects to peak in 2015-16.

Tennessee:  The Volunteers lose a ton of production, but if Jarnell Stokes comes back, they will be in the hunt.

Illinois: Jon Groce’s team finished with the 49th best margin-of-victory in the nation last year, and the team adds three quality transfers, plus incoming Top 100 recruit Leron Black in the paint. They still don’t have many star scorers besides Rayvonte Rice, but given the upgrade at PG and PF, Illinois is intriguing.

Nebraska: Tim Miles is very close and brings almost everyone back. But considering that Nebraska still has zero Top 100 recruits, if Tim Miles can get the team to jump from 44th to 30th nationally, that would still be a huge accomplishment.

Cincinnati: The offense was bad with Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson in the fold. They deserve respect as the defending American Conference champs, but it is hard to see this team defending that title.

All Stars Must Pass

When Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker played each other in the first week of the season, it looked like the start of something big. The NCAA was supposed to be a formality for the two freshmen stars, a one-year layover before the NBA draft. Duke and Kansas were supposed to meet again in the Final Four, not lose in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Wiggins and Parker, for all their talent, have a long way to go. The road to stardom is not smooth.

In many ways, they were both were victims of the hype machine that has enveloped the sport. As freshmen, they were first-team All-Conference selections in two of the best conferences in the country. Wiggins averaged 17 points and six rebounds a game on 45 percent shooting while Parker averaged 19 points and nine rebounds a game on 47 percent shooting. Nor were they putting up empty stats on bad teams - Kansas had a 25-10 record and a Big 12 title while Duke was 26-9.

Nevertheless, while the Jayhawks were a No. 2 seed and the Blue Devils were a No. 3 seed, both teams had serious issues coming into the Tourney. Kansas never got consistent point guard play or outside shooting from their other guards and they had no replacement for Joel Embiid when he went down at the end of the season. Duke had similar holes at PG and C - Quinn Cook lost the PG job halfway through the season and they were starting a 6’9 210 PF (Amile Jefferson) upfront.

The NCAA Tournament, like the NBA playoffs, has a way of exposing every hole on your roster. In their first-round loss to Mercer, Duke could not match up with Daniel Coursey, a 6’10 220 center who had 17 points on 7-12 shooting. Kansas, after barely scraping by Eastern Kentucky in the first round, fell to Stanford in the second. They had no answer for Stefan Nastic and Dwight Powell upfront and they shot 5-of-16 from three, allowing Stanford to sit in a zone.

It wasn’t a matter of bad match-ups either - there were systemic issues on both rosters that were going to be exploited at some point in the Tourney. Mercer was run out the gym in the second round by Tennessee, an 11-seed who played in the First Four. Stanford is a middling Pac-12 team without a PG - there’s no guarantee they get by Dayton in the Sweet 16. The issues on Kansas and Duke went way deeper than Wiggins and Parker, so it’s unfair to blame them for the loss.

That said, neither one of them had a good showing in the biggest games of their young career. Parker had 14 points and seven rebounds on 4-for-14 shooting; Wiggins had four points and four rebounds on 1-of-6 shooting. If their teams were going to make the Sweet 16, they needed more from their best players. They needed more points, but they also needed more rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. If Wiggins and Parker aren’t scoring, they have a hard time impacting the game.

Charles Barkley talked about it in the postgame show - even the greatest scorers have nights when their shot isn’t falling. Kevin Durant shoots 51 percent from the field this season, which means he still misses every other shot he takes. He was even more accomplished than Wiggins and Parker at Texas, but he lost in the second round of the Tourney as well. Assists are the biggest difference between Durant at 18 and 25 - he averaged 1.3 a game in college and he is at 5.6 now.

A great basketball player makes his teammates better. When Durant is hot, the Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t just getting points from him, they are getting points from the other four players on the floor. When Durant is cold, he can focus on drawing double teams and creating open shots for everyone else. That’s how a scorer gets back into rhythm - by letting the game come to them. When you keep making the extra pass, eventually the defense will stop sending help.

That was the problem for Wiggins and Parker this weekend. When their shot wasn’t going in, neither had a Plan B they could go to. If you miss shots, the solution shouldn’t be to keep shooting. That way lies the path of Carmelo Anthony. Stanford and Mercer weren’t AAU teams - they played team basketball on both ends of the floor. No one can consistently beat a set defense 1-on-5 - not Kevin Durant, not LeBron James and certainly not Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins.

The higher the level of basketball, the more individual talent starts to equalize. At the AAU and high school levels, Wiggins and Parker could take over whenever they felt like it. There’s nothing the average 18-year-old basketball player can do to stop a 6’8 200 SG with elite athleticism, or a 6’9 250 PF with the ability to shoot and handle like a guard. At the college level, you can’t beat a good defense with just the drive or the shot; you have to beat them with the pass too.

That’s what the third member of the hyped troika of freshman figured out on Sunday. While Julius Randle only had 13 points in Kentucky’s win over Wichita State, he had a career-high six assists. Instead of forcing the issue against an undersized team that packed the paint, Randle patiently played out of the high post, surveying the floor and hitting open shooters. Kentucky doesn’t win if they don’t go 8-for-14 from long range and Randle’s passing created a lot of those shots.

To win in March, you have to move the ball and play defense. If Kentucky is going to beat Louisville in the Sweet 16, Randle will have to shut down Montrezl Harrell, keep him off the boards and take some of the playmaking pressure off the Harrisons. You win as a team and you lose as a team - a basketball team is only as strong as its weakest link. Wiggins, Parker and Randle all had more turnovers than assists this season; they weren’t making anyone else better.

You don’t have to be a great athlete to pass the ball. Passing, more than any of the other phases of the game, is mental. A great passer thinks the game - instead of reacting to the defense, they anticipate it. They see 2-3 moves ahead, making the pass before the other player is even open. They play at their own pace and they play under control; the defense can’t speed them up or force them to take difficult shots. That’s the next step for both Wiggins and Parker.

Wiggins turned 19 in February and Parker turned 19 in March - they are the farthest things from finished products, on and off the court. College is supposed to be a learning experience and neither one is likely to go back to school, so you just hope they learned something in this last year. I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t know where their journeys will take them, but I can make this prediction - neither is ever going to win an NBA title averaging 1.5 assists a game.

Major Conference Tournaments Underway

How good would Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, and Arizona be if their freshmen stuck around? I also check in on some seniors and the first day of the major conference tournaments.

In Season Improvement, Part 1

What Arizona, Wisconsin, and Syracuse have that Kansas does not have, hope for Michigan fans, and the Top 10 coaches at improving their teams in-season.

Final Thoughts On Ranking 351 D1 Teams

Over the past few days, Dan Hanner has presented his updated projection model, his season projections on ESPN Insider, Q&A's with Eamonn Brennon and John Templon, along with replying to questions on Twitter. Here are a few additional thoughts that didn't make the cut.

Star Ratings (In Depth)

Sometimes we see enough players fail to develop and wonder if the recruiting rankings really matter. And while a players potential is far from the only thing that matters, there is no question that a players work ethic and athleticism is on display at the high school level. Recruiting rankings matter, and not just for the Top 100.

Freshmen Playing Time Part 2

Given a sophomore and freshmen with equivalent stats, how much less will the freshmen play for each major conference coach?

Big 12 Basketball Early Projection

With Andrew Wiggins joining Kansas, the Jayhawks should stay at the Top of the Big 12. But the projection for West Virginia, Kansas St., and Oklahoma is entirely different from last season.

2013-2014 Preseason Top 25 Part 2

A lineup-based statistical projection of the 2013-2014 season.

Weaknesses of Title Contenders

In this edition, we take the teams in the Top 16 of the Pomeroy Rankings and figure out how often they look beatable on the basketball court.

NCAA Power Poll For February

While there are certainly no elite college teams this season, there are a host of teams that can reach the Final Four. In this edition, we outline the various tiers.

Who Have You Played?

On the legitimacy of Arizona and Florida as national championship contenders, who has quality wins already and more.

Nerlens Noel, Isaiah Austin, And A Quick Look At How The Top 80 Recruits Have Fared

On Nerlens Noel, Isaiah Austin, Kyle Anderson and the rest of the freshman class as they play such prominent roles to begin the 12-13 NCAA season.

Mike Krzyzewski Owns November

Duke may not be #1 in the polls, but in terms of accomplishments, no one has more quality wins than the Blue Devils at this point. They’ve beaten two preseason Top-5 teams and two more probable tournament teams.

Early Season Tournaments: Brackets, Observations, And Odds: Part 2

The Legends Classic might be the most highly anticipated early season tournament because of the potential finals matchup between Indiana and UCLA. We also look at the CBE Classic, Maui Invitational, Cancun Challenge, Great Alaska Shootout, Battle 4 Atlantis and the Old Spice Classic.

Beating Kentucky

Kentucky has multiple defensive answers for the top players on Louisville, Ohio State and Kansas. On the other end of the floor, none of those teams have defensive answers for all of Kentucky’s weapons.

Player Performance In The NCAA Tournament

What star player in the Final Four has the worst efficiency rating in this year's NCAA tournament? And which players have raised their efficiency from the regular season?

And Then There Were Four

Don't let the final score fool you. Kansas vs North Carolina was an instant classic.

Will The Madness Continue Into Sweet 16?

The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament was one of the most unpredictable in recent memory. Now, with the second weekend set to tip-off, the Madness may have only just begun.

Older Articles »

 

Basketball Wiretap Headlines

    NBA Wiretap Headlines

      NCAA Wiretap Headlines

        MLB Wiretap Headlines

          NFL Wiretap Headlines

            NHL Wiretap Headlines

              Soccer Wiretap Headlines