Biggest Question Surrounding Every Returning Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospect
When an NBA prospect returns to college, it usually means he was unable to maximize his draft stock the year before.
In what was a disappointing season for many, a number of projected first-rounders decided to give it another shot in college. And they'll have questions to answer in the process.
Except for Marcus Smart, each returning prospect finished last season with a cloud hovering overhead. That cloud represents a barrier, or a reason for scouts to feel a bit skeptical about his transition to the pros.
These are the questions that each prospect will have to answer to help scouts and executives make their evaluations.
James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina, 6'9'', SF/PF
Does James Michael McAdoo have a position in the NBA?
Who is James Michael McAdoo? In two years at North Carolina, he's yet to establish an identity for himself. So far, he's played every frontcourt position from the 3 to the 5, yet it's still unclear what he'll play as a pro.
McAdoo doesn't have the skill set as your traditional NBA wing. He's not a guy who can create off the dribble or attack his man from the perimeter.
He's got the size of a power forward, but he's shot less than 45 percent from the floor in both seasons at Carolina. Does he have the toughness and strength to bang down low?
This year, it wouldn't hurt for McAdoo to clarify his strengths and NBA attributes. Teams drafting in the lottery will want to know who they're taking.
There's a fine line between being versatile and being a tweener. And McAdoo is running out of time to prove he falls on the right side of it.
Mitch McGary, Michigan, 6'10'', PF
Was last year's explosion in the NCAA tournament a fluke?
After picking up just two double-doubles and only five double-digit scoring games during the regular season, Mitch McGary actually went nuts in the NCAA tournament.
He put up 21 points and 14 boards on 10-of-11 shooting against VCU, and followed with 25 and 14 in an epic win over Kansas.
McGary's status quickly rose from quiet role player to potential lottery prospect. But should it have?
He chose to return as a sophomore despite a monster spike in draft stock. And now everyone will be wondering whether or not his tournament explosion was a fluke.
With Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. no longer around, it probably won't take long to find out that answer. After averaging less than 20 minutes a game last year, we can now expect to see McGary in a full-time role as a sophomore, where every scout in America will be adjusting their microscopes accordingly.
Doug McDermott, Creighton, 6'7'', SF
Can Doug McDermott be more than just a three-point specialist in the NBA?
Doug McDermott has been one of the most lethal scorers in college basketball over the past few years. But his lack of athleticism leads many to believe that his offensive talent is unlikely to translate.
And for the most part, they're probably right. McDermott's 23-point-per-game average isn't going to carry over to the pros.
But his jumper will. McDermott has arguably the sweetest stroke in the country, nailing 131 of his last 268 three-pointers over the past two years. That's an unheard of 48.8 percent conversion rate.
The question is whether or not his three-ball is his only NBA asset. He's got tremendous scoring instincts inside the arc, with moves to go to and others to counter with. Because of his touch and refined game, any shot McDermott gets off is a makable one.
Scouts will want to know whether or not his physical limitations will prevent him from maximizing his offensive talent. The skill set is there—whether or not he'll be able to tap into it against NBA-caliber athletes is the question scouts will be asking.
If McDermott gets labeled as a three-point specialist instead of an offensive specialist, it could hurt his chances of generating first-round interest.
Semaj Christon, Xavier, 6'4'', PG
Part 1: Can Semaj Christon be effective even without a jumper?
Part 2: Is his jumper fixable?
And we've got our first two-part question of the day.
Semaj Christon flashed All-Star upside in his freshman year at Xavier. He's got excellent size, explosiveness and athleticism for the position, which he used to relentlessly attack the rim and score in the lane.
He averaged 15 points and dished out 4.6 assists, but Christon wasn't a threat to score from more than 18 feet away. Normally, it's a requirement that point guards be able to shoot, especially off the dribble. However, there's always a few exceptions, and scouts will want to know if Christon is one of them.
If that jumper never comes around, can he still be a successful NBA player?
And is that jumper fixable in the first place? He only hit seven three-pointers all season last year.
Some players just weren't born with a natural shooting stroke. Christon should look to do everything possible to keep scouts from thinking he's one of them.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6'4'', PG/SG
Will a team with an established point guard still consider drafting Marcus Smart?
Marcus Smart has been pegged as a floor general—the guy you want with the ball in his hands to run the offense or lead the break.
But is he a natural enough point guard where he can start at the position for an NBA team? Or is he more of a Dion Waiters type—a scorer who can handle and create?
Smart isn't like Waiters in that he's much more proficient in terms of decision making and passing. But Smart is also a strong scorer—he averaged 15.4 points a game, compared to a mediocre 4.2-to-3.4 assist-turnover ratio as a distributor.
I want to know if teams who are already invested in a point guard will still consider taking Marcus Smart. With a top-five pick, would the Jazz take Smart after drafting Trey Burke? How about the 76ers after taking Michael Carter-Williams? Other teams projected to draft at the top of the order, like the Celtics, Suns and Bobcats, already have point guards in place. Would they select Smart if he was the top player left on their draft board?
Only the Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings are teams without long-term options at the point—at least at the moment. If he ends up elsewhere, chances are he won't be quarterbacking an offense in the pros the way he is at Oklahoma State.
And that leads to part two of the initial question: Can Smart play shooting guard in the NBA?
Glenn Robinson III, Michigan, 6'6'', SF
Will Glenn Robinson III develop an off-the-dribble game?
Glenn Robinson III played a major role in Michigan's run to the championship game. And he did so completely as a complementary player. Just about all of his offensive production came off the creativity of others, whether he was spotting up from downtown, cutting backdoor for a lob or finishing in transition.
Rarely did Robinson create his own scoring chances or use a dribble before making a shot.
His NBA ceiling would get a boost if he improved his handle and became a bigger threat off the bounce.
Without it, Robinson is vulnerable to fading into the background on offense. He finished with three-or-less made field goals in 16 games last year. Robinson was't much of a threat one-on-one, and had to rely on others setting him up or misses bouncing his way.
For Robinson to solidify his status as a top-10 prospect, he'll have to expand his off-the-dribble game and increase his threat as a scorer.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0'', C
Will Willie Cauley-Stein develop into an offensive force, or is he just a big body in the middle?
At 7'0'' with arms for days and nearly 250 pounds of muscle, Willie Cauley-Stein has some destructive physical tools. He's also a sensational athlete and a former football player, which is easy to pick up on when you see him running the floor, catching lobs and throwing down at the rim.
But his basketball skill set is lacking. Cauley-Stein is rather raw offensively, and relies strictly on his physical tools to pick up points in the paint. He averaged 8.3 points a game as a freshman, with just about all of them coming off dunks, tips, alley-oops or baby jump hooks within five feet of the tin.
Will Cauley-Stein ever develop into an option his guards can feed in the post? Or is he just an active big body to throw in the middle for rebounding, defensive and finishing purposes?
This year, Cauley-Stein will need to show some progression with regard to his ball skills. His size and athleticism give him a towering ceiling, but he'll need to add some moves and increase his threat as a scorer to reach it.
Montrezl Harrell. Louisville, 6'8'', PF
How valuable is Montrezl Harrell's athleticism?
As a prospect, Montrezl Harrell immediately stands out thanks to his explosive blend of hops, size and power. He adds incredible athleticism to Louisville's frontcourt, giving it an easy-bucket machine around the rim.
But he's pretty much limited everywhere else. Harrell lacks basketball polish—you won't see him use too many dribbles or make many moves with the ball.
So just how valuable is Harrell's athleticism? Is it worth using a lottery pick on, not knowing if he'll ever develop offensively?
If Harrell declares after the year without establishing some type of skill set, he'll enter the draft as a boom-or-bust option. To stick in those lottery conversations, he'll have to add a little more to his offensive arsenal.
Harrell should have plenty of opportunities to do so in 2013-14, especially after the suspension of forward Chane Behanan.
P.J. Hairston, North Carolina, 6'6'', SG
Is P.J. Hairston worth the potential headache?
At this point, it's too late. Nothing is going to change the "knucklehead" label that will be attached to P.J. Hairston, following a summer filled with legal trouble and off-the-floor issues.
But Hairston can ball. I actually love this kid's game. At 6'6'', Hairston is lights out from deep and explosive attacking the rim. He also rebounds at a high level and is a strong perimeter defender.
So is he worth the potential headache? Nowadays, teams are putting more emphasis in character evaluation than ever before. The interview process is extreme. Executives want to know they're investing in a stable, trustworthy individual.
Nobody wants to draft the next Michael Beasley with a high pick.
Even with a year of good behavior, Hairston will still enter the draft with red flags surrounding his name. The only question is, how many teams will ignore them?
Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado, 6'5'', SG
Is Spencer Dinwiddie strong enough to play the 2 at the NBA level?
Some might classify Spencer Dinwiddie as a combo guard, but he's a 2-guard at the next level. Dinwiddie thrives off the dribble, where he can attack the paint and score in the mid-range. He also got to the line over seven times a game last season, illustrating his dribble creativity and ability to make things happen with the ball.
But at 200 pounds, Dinwiddie lacks strength, along with above-the-rim explosiveness that allows scoring 2-guards to finish over or through traffic. He's shot below 42 percent from the floor in both of his first two years at Colorado.
Without the physical tools to allow him to pick up easy buckets, Dinwiddie is often forced into taking many difficult shots.
He's got the skills and versatility to play at the pro level. I'm just wondering whether he can be effective when the physical punishment picks up.
Jerami Grant, Syracuse, 6'7'', SF
Can Jerami Grant turn freshman flashes into a steady stream of production?
Jerami Grant only got 14 minutes a game as a freshmen, but he did enough with that time to generate substantial NBA draft buzz.
Now, scouts are asking whether or not he can turn those flashes of promise into a steady steam of consistent production. Grant is expected to be a full-time player and significant piece in the Orange rotation.
With 6'7'' size, a ridiculous 7'2'' wingspan and smooth, fluid athleticism, Grant is an active body with a great nose for the ball. He made a lot of plays in limited action, always making his presence felt whenever he was on the floor.
But will Grant's energy and activity levels fall as his responsibilities increase? We'll find out soon enough, as Grant will be entering a big year as a spotlight sophomore in a brand new ACC.
Isaiah Austin, Baylor, 7'1'', PF/C
Where does Isaiah Austin fit in an NBA offense?
You either love Isaiah Austin as a prospect, or you're completely turned off. He's real tough to evaluate, given his unique size and skill set.
He stands 7'1'', but he doesn't have the game of your typical NBA center. Plus, he's only 225 pounds, the same weight as 6'4'' combo guard Marcus Smart.
So is Austin a 4? He's got a real nice touch from the high post and facing the rim on the perimeter. Austin can also score with his back to the rim. And considering his height and length, he's able to get off clean shots in the post.
But again, can Austin body up down low with some of the stronger, more athletic bigs in the NBA? At this point, I'm just not sure where he fits into an offense.
Normally, a skilled 7-footer like Austin is a lock for the lottery. But the fact that he might be more comfortable playing away from the rim than at it slightly clouds his projection.
Austin should look to get a little more aggressive on the interior this year and establish some type of presence as a big man inside.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State, 5'10'', PG
How high is Jahii Carson's ceiling at just 5'10''?
Jahii Carson will return as one of the most electric guards and skilled prospects in the country. He's a dynamic playmaker—Carson averaged 18.5 points and 5.1 assists, having a hand in the majority of Arizona State's offensive production.
But at just 5'10'', how good can he be as a pro? It's rare that a guard that small can find a full-time role, never mind just a spot on a bench.
Shane Larkin, another sub-six-foot guard, tore up college basketball last year, leading his team to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. But despite testing as the top athlete at the combine, along with a weak field of talent, Larkin still saw three point guards go before him in the draft. You can attribute that to the fear scouts had over his physical transition.
If scouts ultimately view Carson as just a lightning rod off the bench, it could dent his draft stock and keep him from breaking through the lottery barrier.
Gary Harris, Michigan State, 6'4'', SG
Can Gary Harris evolve into anything more than a role player?
There isn't much to not like about Gary Harris. He shot it 41 percent from behind the arc, was efficient in the half court and kept opposing scorers in check on the defensive end.
But Harris lacks that ability to create his own shot. He's more of a catch-and-finish or catch-and-slash type of player. And that's fine. But he currently projects as a role-playing 2-guard who lacks size and explosive athleticism.
Usually, this type of player looks something like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope—an explosive 6'6'' athlete who plays above the rim.
Many have high hopes for Harris this year. For him to crack the top 15 in a deep field of talent, Harris will have to convince scouts he's got a little more to his game.
Alex Poythress, Kentucky, 6'8'', SF
Is Alex Poythress a basketball talent or just an athlete?
Alex Poythress is strong, athletic and powerful. He really finishes through traffic at the rim, and has no problem taking contact.
But Poythress hasn't shown any shot-creating ability whatsoever. He doesn't have a post game as a 4 or a perimeter game as a 3. He's a line-drive scorer—if there's a lane, Poythress can attack it going north and south. He just doesn't have any change-of-direction ability or a good enough handle to separate.
As a freshman, Poythress looked more like an athlete than a basketball player.
He came to Kentucky with the expectations he'd be a top-10 pick in the draft. But that seems impossible based on what we saw last year.
Poythress needs to develop a more advanced offensive game in order to bring something to the NBA table.
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