May 11, 2014 10:38 PM EDT
Our position-by-position look at the top NBA prospects returning to school next season concludes with the centers. There should be a bumper crop of behemoths in the college game in 2015, who will look to make their mark in a sport traditionally dominate by guards. Last season, Kentucky turned that logic on its head, riding a wave of NBA talent in their frontcourt all the way to the NCAA championship game, despite very inconsistent play from their perimeter players.
Next season will be no different, as John Calipari will have more size upfront than a lot of NBA teams. It’s not just Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein, both of whom would have been first-round picks in 2014. Karl Towns, Trey Lyles and Marcus Lee, while natural PF’s, could all play C for most college teams. For Calipari, the trickiest part will be finding shots and touches for all his big men. Either way, Lexington will once again be a prime destination for NBA scouts.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky - Cauley-Stein was one of the more surprising decisions to return to school, given that he could have been a Top 15 pick and he is returning to a logjam in the Kentucky frontcourt next season. I’ve always thought he had a higher ceiling than Nerlens Noel - neither guy is all that skilled on offense, but Cauley-Stein is just as athletic and he’s much bigger (7’0 240). He can switch on the pick-and-roll and lock up guards already. If he develops a post game or a 15-foot jumper this off-season, watch out.
Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga - Karnowski hasn’t gotten a ton of publicity at Gonzaga - he backed up Kelly Olynyk as a freshman and played second fiddle to Sam Dower as a sophomore. However, despite their wealth of talent upfront, the Zags decided to run their offense through a bunch of 6’1 guards instead of the 7’0 300 monster at C. Karnowski is a massive human being with an incredible amount of skill for a guy his size. He averaged 10 points a game on 59% shooting - he needs more than 7 shots a game.
Dakari Johnson, Kentucky - Johnson is kind of the converse of Cauley-Stein. They both have the size to be NBA C’s, but while Cauley-Stein doesn’t have a ton of skill, Johnson doesn’t have a lot of athleticism. At 7’0 260, he has good touch around the rim and a decent post game, but he’s not very agile and his interior defense leaves a lot to be desired. If Johnson can cut some weight off his frame, return to school in better shape and improve as a rebounder and shot-blocker, he will be a lottery pick.
AJ Hammons, Purdue - Progress has been slow for Hammons, whose been stuck on rebuilding teams in his first two seasons in Purdue. Nevertheless, the physical tools are there - at 7’0 250, Hammons is solidly built and can move well for a player his size. He averaged 11 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks a game on 51% shooting as a sophomore. If he can improve those numbers as a junior and get Purdue back in the NCAA Tournament discussion, he will be a first-round pick next year.
Mamadou N’Diaye, UC-Irvine - I didn’t really know what to make of him until I saw him in person, when UC-Irvine played SMU in the NIT. I came away pretty impressed. He’s way more athletic and way more skilled than you would expect a 7’6 300 guy to be. If he was only 7’0, he would still be an NBA prospect. At 7’6, he changes the geometry of the game just by standing in front of the rim. He’s not the most compelling basketball player at this stage in his career, but neither was Roy Hibbert as a freshman.
Other names to watch:
Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona), Joel James (UNC), Nnanna Egwu (Illinois), Nephawe Tshdizivili (New Mexico State)
May 05, 2014 1:04 PM EDT
Our position-by-position look at the top NBA prospects coming back to school next season continues with the small forward position, a position which has become increasingly difficult in recent years. With floor spacing the name of the game in the NBA, it’s very hard to hide a small forward who can’t shoot 3’s. The problem is there just aren’t many 6’7+ players with the length and athleticism to match up with NBA small forwards who also have the skill-set to drain 25+ foot shots.
A small forward who can’t shoot 3’s has to have the game to be a primary offensive option at the next level, since the ball will naturally wind up in their hands. As a result, it’s become a bit of an all-or-nothing position - there’s no such thing as a role playing SF who can’t stretch the floor at the next level. Going into next season, there aren’t many players coming back to the college game who can play the SF position in the NBA, but there are even fewer who can shoot 3’s.
If there’s a role model for these guys, it’s Kawhi Leonard, who went from a 29% three-point shooter at San Diego State to 38% with the San Antonio Spurs. You just don’t see a player make that transition too often. For every Leonard or Lance Stephenson who become better shooters, there are a dozen D-League wing players who are a three-point shot from making millions of dollars in the NBA. If there is another Chip Engelland out there, he could be a very rich man.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona - RHJ started to come on strong towards the end of last season, moving into the starting line-up when Brandon Ashley went down with a foot injury. Arizona had some floor spacing issues playing him with Aaron Gordon together, so he should have a much bigger role as a sophomore, with Gordon off to the NBA. From a physical standpoint, RHJ is as talented a player as any in the country - a 6’7 215 ball of fast twitch muscles with a long wingspan.
The most intriguing thing about his game is his passing ability, which he didn’t always get to showcase as a freshman, when he was more of a secondary option. However, he’s an excellent ball-handler with a great feel for the game, who had 6 assists against UNLV and 5 against Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament. If he can develop a three-point shot over the summer, he could be a Top 5 pick. Even without one, RHJ could have a long career as an Andre Iguodala type player.
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin - Dekker, like most of Bo Ryan’s players at Wisconsin, passed up a chance to be a first-round pick to come back to school as an upperclassmen. As a junior, he will be expected to team with Frank Kaminsky and lead the Badgers to a Big Ten title. NBA scouts have little patience for older players who stay in school and plateau - to remain in the first-round pick conversation, Dekker will need to have a Big Ten POY caliber season next year.
At 6’7 220, he is a solid all-around player with surprising athleticism, who averaged 12 points and 6 rebounds a game on 47% shooting as a sophomore. While he doesn’t have ideal size for an NBA SF, he should have a long career at the next level as a versatile player who can swing between both wing positions. After playing off the ball in his first two seasons, Dekker should be given the opportunity to create more shots for himself and others as a junior.
Alex Poythress, Kentucky - At 6’8 240, Poythress projects as more of a PF, but there won’t be many minutes for him at the position at Kentucky, where he will have to fight for playing time with Karl Towns, Trey Lyles and Marcus Lee. Poythress has the athleticism and shooting stroke to play on the perimeter, but he has the tendency to float and not impact the game when he’s playing too far from the basket. He’s still only a junior, which makes him an old man in Lexington.
Branden Dawsen, Michigan State - At 6’6 225, Dawsen is a freak athlete who plays much bigger than his size. If the NBA doesn’t work out for him, he might want to think about the NFL. The question for him is simple - he doesn’t have the size to play in the post in the NBA, like he does in college as an undersized 4, and he doesn’t have the skill-set to score on the perimeter. If Dawsen could shoot 3’s, he would be a first-round pick. Without a jumper, though, it will be difficult.
LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State - After being seen as a possible one-and-done player coming out of high school, Nash has turned in a solid college career at OSU. With Marcus Smart and Markel Brown gone, Nash will have to carry a huge offensive load as a senior. At 6’7 215, he has an elite first step that makes him a very difficult cover as a stretch 4 in college. However, to play in the NBA, Nash will need to develop a three-point shot in his final season in Stillwater.
Other names to watch: Troy Williams (Indiana)
Apr 29, 2014 1:21 AM EDT
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)
Apr 08, 2014
John Calipari is 18-3 in the NCAA Tournament at Kentucky. Even more remarkable, he compiled that number with four completely different teams, sending upwards of 15 players to the NBA. It’s a vindication not only of how he built his program, but of the entire “one and done” model.
Apr 08, 2014
Should Kentucky have played more zone this year, why Niels Giffey made a lot of fans happy, and how Napier survived a few frustrated moments to lead his team to victory.
Apr 07, 2014
Kevin Ollie didn’t recruit most of his roster, but his offense and maneuvering of lineups have been essential to reach the championship. The Huskies starting lineup has shown a change of the times as well.
Apr 06, 2014
Kentucky continues to overcome the odds, Wisconsin's season was historic even without a Final Four win, and I break down the simulcasts.
Apr 03, 2014
The programs who reel in multiple players from the McDonald’s game are the sport’s blue bloods. 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.
Apr 02, 2014
Jahlil Okafor, for all his skills, plays more like the No. 1 overall pick in 1994 than 2014. For a glimpse at where the game is going, you have to look at Karl Towns and Myles Turner, two of the other top big men in the class of 2014.
Mar 31, 2014
In a tourney filled with unlikely stories, none is more unlikely than John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats becoming a Cinderella. Rather than 2-3 guys emerging as stars, everyone on has shared the burden, with each member of their rotation coming up big at a different time.
Mar 25, 2014
Time to classify every player in the Sweet Sixteen.
Jan 27, 2014
The impact of the new foul rules on Kansas and Kentucky, the new key to Wisconsin's season, and Florida St.'s poor defensive rebounding highlight this week's column.
Dec 15, 2013
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.
Nov 07, 2013
After receiving a ton of questions about how to interpret Best Case and Worse Case Scenarios in the projections, we run models on Kentucky and Michigan from last season as both were outliers.
Oct 16, 2013
The NCAA can act like the NBA’s disinterest is a burden for the NCAA, but it’s really an opportunity to make $11 billion over 14 years to put on a March basketball tournament. There are plenty of people who want to watch the best 18-20 year old basketball players in the world.
Apr 04, 2013
Arizona's latest commit Aaron Gordon stole all the headlines, but I was more impressed with a less-heralded name headed to Washington.
Apr 02, 2013
With a few exceptions (Anthony Bennett, Marcus Smart) last year’s class didn’t quite live up to typical McDonald’s All-American game standards. But with Andrew Wiggins headling, we are confident that this year’s class will be different.
Mar 16, 2013
Bill Walton quotes, the fate of early college enrollees, is Ryan Harrow a curse, angry coaches, and the end of the Georgetown vs Syracuse rivalry.
Dec 22, 2012
If Nerlens Noel can continue to progress in his understanding of basketball and improve his skillset along the way, he could actualize his potential and become a top player from the 2013 draft class. He does have a long way to go before he can make an impact in the NBA though.
Dec 21, 2012
Archie Goodwin projects as an athletic slasher with arguably the highest upside in the 2013 draft. He must continue to learn how to play without the ball in his hands, as he struggles using screens effectively.
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