Underclassmen in the NBA Draft
Andrew Wiggins, Freshman, F, Kansas
The most-heralded freshman in a class full of them, Wiggins showed why people have been raving about him for a few years. The expectations may have been a bit high, but when Wiggins was able to show his athleticism and skill in action, it was guaranteed to have people talking. His play could be inconsistent, but he impressed when he had chances. There was concern about his jumper heading into the season, but it looked fine, and he showed range to the NBA three-point line. Wiggins’ defensive skills are often underplayed, but he is capable of guarding multiple positions and can be a pest on the perimeter.
Jabari Parker, Freshman, F, Duke
One of the highly-touted freshmen this season, Parker lived up to his reputation as a high-level scorer, while also proving to be a very good rebounder on both ends of the floor. He is his most effective when playing from 15 feet in, but he has shown that he can knock down NBA-range three-point shots. Defensively, he has a lot of work to do just to become an average defender, but I think many teams will take his scoring and worry about the defense later.
Joel Embiid, Freshman, C, Kansas
Embiid made the most rapid improvement of any freshman in the country, showing some developing skill to go with great athleticism for a 7-footer. Still, he is very raw on both ends of the floor and will likely need some time before he has any impact in the NBA. The right coaching can make him a star for many years.
Marcus Smart, Soph., G, Oklahoma State
Smart shocked everyone when he decided to return to Stillwater for his sophomore year, even though he was a likely top-5 pick in last year’s draft. The season was certainly not what he had hoped for, and his frustration led to him pushing a fan at Texas Tech, landing him a suspension. However, Smart also showed why he is so highly-regarded as a point guard, scorer and defender, and the past season is now firmly behind him. Like last year, Smart’s biggest area of concern is his jumper, where he just forces too many bad shots. The problem is easily fixable, though, and I expect Smart to thrive at the NBA level.
Julius Randle, Freshman, F, Kentucky
A bull in the low post, Randle used his strong body and soft shooting touch to rack up 24 point/rebound double-doubles this season. He uses his left hand almost exclusively, yet he could only be stopped by double- or sometimes triple-teams. He doesn’t offer much on offense away from the basket, though he hasn’t really needed it. Randle is not a very good defender, but he has the body and athleticism to guard at the NBA level.
Noah Vonleh, Freshman, F, Indiana
Vonleh made an impression quickly this season for the Hoosiers with a nice combination of skill and maturity beyond his years. Unfortunately, the Indiana offense was a mess this year, and Vonleh did not get anywhere the number of touches he needed to really improve. He has a few basic back-to-the-basket moves for the low post, but where Vonleh separated himself was his ability to step out and knock down mid- and long-range shots consistently. He will still only be 18 years old by the time the draft comes around, so he should still have plenty of room to grow as a player. Vonleh rebounds well, but he isn’t a very good defender yet, and he needs to work on focusing more on being dominant down low first before relying on his jumper.
Gary Harris, Soph., G, Michigan State
After a freshman season where Harris played well but was bothered by nagging injuries, he stepped up in his sophomore year and showed why he was so highly regarded in high school. Harris is a very good athlete and versatile scorer, as well as a strong on-the-ball defender. He can have a tendency to force shots, but many times the Spartans’ offense wasn’t creating the space for him to work. Harris has the ability to step in right away for most teams and add some punch to both ends of the floor.
Aaron Gordon, Freshman, F, Arizona
Gordon came to college with a reputation as a strong rebounder and spectacular dunker, and he didn’t disappoint in either of those areas this past year. He also showed to be a versatile defender who could guard multiple positions. The rest of his offensive game, aside from dunks and put-backs, can be awkward, but his energy on both ends of the floor should be helpful to many teams.
Nik Stauskas, Soph., G, Michigan
Not many players this year surpassed expectations the way Stauskas did. He already had a deserved reputation as one of the best long-range shooters in college basketball, but he showed he was much more, including being a good ballhandler who can create his own shot, as well as a good passer and scorer off of pick-and-roll situations. He will need to work harder on defending at the NBA level, but his offensive skills should get him playing time immediately with most teams.
TJ Warren, Soph., F, North Carolina State
Warren was one of the top scorers in the country, averaging 25 points-per-game on over 52% shooting, including 31 games where he scored at least 20 points. The remarkable part of Warren’s scoring for a 6’8, 215-pound player, is that almost none of it comes from behind the arc. He hit only 31 three-pointers all year, and instead, he relies on a solid mid-range jumper to go with his ability to find open spaces in the defense quickly for good shots. Warren also does a good job hitting the offensive boards where he finds easy buckets. He will still need to develop his long-range jumper, but he’ll find ways to put up points regardless.
Kyle Anderson, Soph., G/F, UCLA
The Bruins’ 6’9 point guard the past two seasons, Anderson has tremendous vision and a passing ability that gives his teammates very good looks at the basket. He uses long strides to get past defenders and to the basket, and he has worked hard at improving his jumper. Anderson is a good rebounder as well, though there are questions about who he can guard at the NBA level.
Elfrid Payton, Junior, G, Louisiana-Lafayette
Payton was a triple-double threat all year for the Ragin’ Cajuns, including posting one in January. He is very effective off the dribble and is very tough to keep out of the lane. He went to the free throw line more than 300 times (but shot a disappointing 60%) this past season, and even though he is only 6’3 and 180 pounds, he has no problem absorbing contact. Payton also chipped in six rebounds and six assists per game, as well as more than two steals. Shooting the ball is his major flaw right now, but he can affect the game in many other ways. It doesn’t matter that he played in the Sun Belt conference. He goes out and plays his game no matter who the opponent is.
Rodney Hood, Soph., F, Duke
Hood made the most of his one season in Durham after sitting out a season due to his transfer from Mississippi State. He provided a strong secondary scoring option to Jabari Parker, while showing a consistent shooting stroke from long-range. He has the tools to be a good defender, but he really needs to put in a stronger effort.
K.J. McDaniels, Junior, F, Clemson
One of the most athletically gifted players in a draft with many, McDaniels carried a major load for the Tigers on both ends of the floor this year. He can be very dangerous when he looks to attack the basket, while also showing some ability in the mid-range area. He will need to work on hitting NBA threes, though he should adapt sooner rather than later. At 6’6, McDaniels is a very good rebounder and shot blocker, and he registered at least six blocks four times last season.
Tyler Ennis, Freshman, G, Syracuse
Ennis built his reputation early this past season as a young point guard with great composure and a talent for making winning plays. Though the second half of his season was more inconsistent, Ennis is still a very reliable ballhandler and distributor. He will need to work on being more of a creator on the offensive end, while also showing he can be a consistent offensive threat. Defensively, he made some plays, especially corralling turnovers caused by his teammates’ length, but he will likely struggle early on guarding man-to-man.
James Young, Freshman, G/F, Kentucky
Before this past season started, the word out of Kentucky practices was that Young was the best player there. That was not the case once the season started. He had a reputation as a terrific perimeter shooter, and while he did show a nice shooting stroke on occasion, he was only good when he had time to get his feet set and had room to shoot. He can’t create his own shot yet, and while he uses his athleticism well to get to the basket, he really can only go to his left. When he does have space heading to the basket, he can be a spectacular dunker. Defensively, the tools are there for him to one day do well, but right now he is way below average.
Jerami Grant, Soph., F, Syracuse
With bigger minutes this season, Grant showed some brilliant flashes of potential. He is a strong athlete who can be a terror on the offensive glass. His shooting has improved, though he still needs to become more consistent out to the mid-range area. Like many Syracuse players, Grant will also need to show that he can handle the change to playing man-to-man defense regularly, though being the son and nephew of former NBA players, he probably has a good idea of what he needs to do.
Glenn Robinson III, Soph., F, Michigan
Robinson is a vital part of the Michigan team that went to the National Championship his freshman season, but the expected jump in production his sophomore year never really came along. He is a good athlete with a strong body, and he gets to the basket quickly for his size. His mid-range and long-range shooting need some work, but it’s more about shot selection than how he shoots. Robinson is the type of player who could thrive more in an NBA-style offense.
Johnny O’Bryant, Junior, F, Louisiana State
O’Bryant, a former McDonald’s All-American, has made great strides over the past few seasons, turning himself into a legitimate low-post scoring threat and energetic rebounder. He has good size and strength, and the past few years have shown that he is very teachable. The next step will be for O’Bryant to show that he can consistently knock down mid-range jumpers and show that he can guard both the post and perimeter well.
Jordan Adams, Soph., G, UCLA
A natural scorer with a great understanding of the game, he prefers to work in the mid-range and basket area but has improved as a three-point shooter. While not exceptionally fast, Adams has a great knack for forcing turnovers on defense.
Semaj Christon, Soph., G, Xavier
Christon was a consistent scoring threat over the past two seasons for the Musketeers, using a good combination of skill and athleticism to create space and get to the basket. He will need to work on becoming a more consistent perimeter shooter, and as his pro future is likely as a point guard, he will need to show he can create for others on a consistent basis.
Jabari Brown, Junior, G, Missouri
Brown put together a great season as a scorer for the Tigers, averaging 20 points per game, including 41% from three-point range. He thrives in transition, and he has a great knack for drawing fouls when he attacks the basket. Brown doesn’t offer much on the defensive end, but he has the athletic ability to make some plays.
Mitch McGary, Soph., F, Michigan
McGary, who made a splash at the end of his freshman season, was limited to just eight games this past year due to a back injury. While he was debating whether to enter the NBA this season, it came out that he would be suspended for all of next season due to testing positive for marijuana. When healthy, McGary is a high energy player who defends and rebounds well. While limited offensively, he is effective around the basket and is a strong high or low post player. It is yet to be seen how well he will be able to work out for NBA teams with his back, but he will still gather a good deal of interest.
Jarnell Stokes, Junior, F, Tennessee
The wide-bodied Stokes is your classic power forward prospect. He is an effective scorer around the basket, using his body to back down less burly opponents, and he’s also a terror on the boards, going after missed shots aggressively. Stokes has a good feel for the game, and he has shown to be a good facilitator in the high and low posts. He will need to work on defending on the perimeter, but he has the strength to battle inside against most NBA forwards.
Khem Birch, Junior, F, UNLV
After three seasons, Birch is still a much bigger defensive presence than he is a scorer, though he has made some improvements. He is a tremendous rebounder and shot-blocker, and he is constantly working on the defensive end of the floor. Birch’s offense revolves mainly around running the floor and putting back missed shots, but there is still room for him to improve as a traditional post scorer.
Zach LaVine, Freshman, G, UCLA
LaVine got off to a strong start this season, likely because none of UCLA’s early opponents had him on the scouting report. The early buzz eventually transformed into an uneventful season, though he still has plenty of potential. LaVine is a very good athlete who can do some great things in transition. He has also shown that he can hit long jumpers, though his shot selection can be bad. Word is that he sees himself as a future point guard. I just don’t see it.
Jahii Carson, Soph., G, Arizona State
One of the quickest players in college basketball, Carson was extremely tough for any guard to cover one-on-one. He uses his speed and ballhandling ability to get into the lane or create space for his jumper. Control is an issue at times, and his decision-making running an offense still needs to improve. Some teams may worry about Carson being 5’10, though if he can fix his other issues, his size will only be a minor problem.
Isaiah Austin, Soph., C, Baylor
Though he’s 7’1 and skilled, Austin never really found consistency on the offensive end. While he has shown that he can knock down long-range shots on occasion, the shot was rarely the best option. Austin showed significant improvement on the defensive end this year, especially as a shot-blocker, but at 225 pounds, he needs to build a lot more strength to be effective as a pro.
Sim Bhullar, Soph., C, New Mexico State
Bhullar is massive at 7’5 and 365 pounds with developing skill on both ends of the floor. His play was very inconsistent over the past two seasons, mainly due to conditioning issues, but by the end of this past season, he was putting together long stretches on the floor. Bhullar could be an interesting project for some team.
LaQuinton Ross, Junior, F, Ohio State
Ross is a similar player to Robinson in that they are both much more comfortable using their athleticism to get to the rim, though Ross doesn’t have Robinson’s strength. Ross could be a good perimeter shooter, though he is streaky and is prone to taking bad shots. He is a good defender on the perimeter and uses his length well to disrupt ball movement, but he needs to give a consistent effort on that end.
DeAndre Daniels, Junior, F, Connecticut
Daniels’ three years with UConn were incredibly inconsistent, especially for someone who was touted so highly coming out of high school. It took Daniels a few years to gain the skills he wasn’t taught in high school, where he thrived just on athleticism, and he took some positive steps this season. He put together some very strong games on the way to the Huskies’ National Championship win, showing he can score inside and out, as well as rebound well when he tries.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Junior, G, Colorado
Dinwiddie’s season came to an end in early January after he tore his ACL. Prior to his injury, he ran the point for the Buffaloes, and at 6’6, his ability to create mismatches was a major part of the offense. He has slowly improved his offensive game over the past few seasons, though he is still at his best when he gets into the lane and draws contact. His length could be an asset on defense, but he still needs to improve in many key defensive areas. Dinwiddie likely won’t be able to start playing again until late this year, but he should still get plenty of pre-draft interest.
Nick Johnson, Junior, G, Arizona
Coming off a season where he was Pac-12 Player of the Year and an All-American, Johnson is hoping to take that momentum to the NBA. Having been a solid role player and good defender his first two years, Johnson showed that he could add some scoring to the mix, though his shooting/shot selection can be very inconsistent. He has a good feel for the game and is a better passer than many realize, but a spot in the NBA may come down to showing he can be more of a playmaker.
Alex Kirk, Junior, C, New Mexico
After a strong sophomore season, Kirk didn’t build on it in his junior year the way many expected. The emergence of Cameron Bairstow probably didn’t help, but neither did inconsistent play. Kirk is a skilled 7-footer, capable of scoring inside and out, though he can have a tendency to fall in love with the jumper. While he isn’t exceptionally smooth on the defensive end, he rebounds well and can block shots. Kirk has the makings a very good backup big option.
Jordan Clarkson, Junior, G, Missouri
Clarkson has good size (6’5) at the point guard position, though he is still much better in transition than he is in a halfcourt offense. His perimeter shooting numbers dropped this past season, his first at Missouri after transferring from Tulsa, though the pace of the Tigers’ offense often encouraged poor shot choices. He’s a good athlete who can make plays on both ends of the floor, but his overall game still needs to be polished for the pro level.
James Michael McAdoo, Junior, F, North Carolina
Like McGary, McAdoo first made a name for himself near the end of his freshman season. However, this only heightened expectations, which McAdoo never fully reached. He is at his best playing around the basket, but he spent much of the last two seasons settling for bad mid-range jumpers. He’s an average defender and rebounder, though when he has his head in the game, and stays out of foul trouble, he can be disruptive.
Eric Moreland, Junior, F, Oregon State
Moreland returned from a 12-game suspension to start the year (unspecified team violation) to once again become one of the leading rebounders in the country. Moreland uses his length well to defend in the post, and he does a very good job blocking shots in and out of his area. Offensively, he is still very limited, but his defense is what will get him looks from teams.
JaKarr Sampson, Sophomore, F, St. John’s
Sampson is skilled and athletic, but he still needs to learn a lot about the finer points of the game. If you like mid-range jumpers, Sampson is your man, though when he does look to get to the basket, you just wonder why he doesn’t keep doing it. His long-range shooting needs serious work, as does his defense, but there is a good talent base for the right team to mold for a few years down the line.
Roscoe Smith, Junior, F, UNLV
After two seasons at Connecticut, Smith made his way to UNLV where he seemed to thrive in the chaotic style of play. Smith was one of the leading rebounders in the country, including a couple of games with 20+ boards. He isn’t much of an offensive threat other than in transition or crashing the offensive glass, but his energy would be great for a role player.