Ranking the Most Complete Players for the 2014-15 College Basketball Season
It's hard to find a truly "complete" player in college basketball anymore. Not that it was ever easy, to be honest. After all, Larry Bird was never a tremendous athlete and Michael Jordan shot 16.4 percent from three-point range in his first four NBA seasons.
Among the players today, big men want to be shooters and aren't interested in scrapping under the board. Small men are happy to chase rebounds, but may neglect work on their passing and shooting.
What we're left with is an increasingly positionless game, one in which every player can perform roles suited to their individual strengths rather than a coach's dogmatic system.
These players—all returnees, no freshmen, thanks—aren't necessarily the 20 best in America, and not all have shown any signs of stardom in their careers. What they all have shown is the ability to impact a game in multiple ways, which is the true definition of a "complete player."
20. Terry Rozier, Louisville
What if I told you that a 6'1" freshman guard ripped more rebounds per 40 minutes than any Louisville player who didn't live in the low post? Despite his vertical deficiencies, Cardinal guard Terry Rozier had absolutely no qualms about putting himself in harm's way among the trees to seek out the rock.
Rozier pulled down 3.1 rebounds per game in 18.9 minutes, or 6.5 boards per 40. In an interview with Eric Crawford of WDRB Louisville, Rozier summed up his philosophy: "Rebounding is all toughness. It's not a skill. ... It doesn't matter how smart you are, you can go get the ball."
This season, Rozier has the opportunity to prove himself both tough and smart as he tries to fill the gargantuan shoes of Cardinal legend Russ Smith. To truly inherit the mantle, however, Rozier will have to put up big games against the likes of North Carolina, Duke and archrival Kentucky rather than Rutgers and Temple.
Rozier can attack the basket with the best of them, especially now that he's put in some weight-room time to add some upper-body strength. The Cards also hope he remains a solid threat from the arc (37.1 percent last season) without Smith there to draw defenders. If the added bulk helps and Rozier improves his mid-range consistency, he's got a very good chance to fill the Cardinals' scoring void.
19. Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin
Stephen F. Austin had a superb season by any measure in 2013-14, conference affiliation be damned. The Lumberjacks ripped off a 29-game winning streak that included a victory over VCU in the NCAA tournament, and they were paced the entire way by a guy who looks like one of Patrick Swayze's surfer-dude accomplices from the epic Point Break.
Jacob Parker rolled to Southland Player of the Year honors after carding 14.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Unafraid to mix it up on the glass, Parker is comfortable shooting from all three levels on the offensive end. Hoop-Math.com shows impressive shooting splits of 66.9 percent at the rim, 40.2 on mid-range jumpers and 46.9 from three-point range.
How important was Parker to the Jacks' season? Ask Sports-Reference.com. S-R ranked Parker third in America in win shares per 40 minutes, virtually tied with some dude named McDermott.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you're saying, anybody can crunch numbers against the Southland. Who'd he play? Well, that's a bit of a caveat, although Parker did card 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting against VCU. Unfortunately, Parker's not likely to get more chances for signature games, since most of the power-conference teams are petrified of scheduling talented mid-majors.
No matter who he's playing, though, expect Parker to contend for another conference POY honor and plan on seeing him again in March.
18. Ron Baker, Wichita State
Two years into his career, Ron Baker has been to a Final Four and played a key role in a 35-1 season. It's enough to make the rest of us re-evaluate what we're doing with our lives.
While the Missouri Valley was more a field of poppies than a minefield for Wichita State last season, the all-around season Baker recorded is still impressive, especially for a guy who came in without a scholarship in 2012.
According to Sports-Reference, Baker stood in the MVC's top 10 in several advanced metrics, including player efficiency rating, true shooting percentage, offensive rating, win shares, steal percentage and even block percentage. Simply put, Baker made plays. And without All-American forward Cleanthony Early on the 2014-15 roster, he'll have opportunities to make more.
17. Juwan Staten, West Virginia
There's something very refreshing about a basketball player knowing his limitations. In an era where even the centers want to bomb away from downtown like a cross-eyed version of Larry Bird, a point guard who makes his living inside the arc is an oddity to say the least.
West Virginia's Juwan Staten has taken a grand total of 50 three-point shots. That's over his entire three-year career. At Ole Miss, Marshall Henderson would call that a slow week. Despite having severe separation anxiety from the rim, Staten still poured in 18.1 points per game to lead the Big 12.
On top of that, he also came second in assists per game (5.8), eighth in steals per game (1.2) and ninth in total defensive rebounds (158). Staten didn't quite pull off the Shabazz Napier triple of leading his team in points, rebounds and assists, but he came closer than most.
This season, Staten lacks much of last year's supporting cast, with guards Eron Harris and Terry Henderson transferring to Michigan State and North Carolina State, respectively. WVU would have been a tournament candidate with all three in tow, but will now need an All-American season from Staten to contend for the bubble.
That All-American bit, though, is far from inconceivable.
16. Treveon Graham, VCU
At times, it seemed that VCU wing Treveon Graham was spending his junior year preparing for life without low-post warrior Juvonte Reddic. Despite spending plenty of time on the perimeter—enough to launch 172 three-point shots, anyway—Graham also attacked the glass hard enough to pull down seven rebounds per game.
With Reddic gone this year, the team belongs to Graham and point guard Briante Weber. While Weber is one of the nation's most dangerous defensive pests, Graham is among the country's most consistent scorers. In 71 games over the past two seasons, Graham has been held to only eight single-digit point totals.
If there's a hiccup in Graham's game, it's that his shooting percentages did slump last season. A career shooting year will push him into potential All-American territory while also making the Rams a dangerous draw in March.
15. Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon put his time in at point guard last season. He put even more time in at his natural shooting guard spot. But it was time spent as a cheerleader that may have the most lasting impact.
For a player to go from a potential All-ACC pick to a healthy scratch in the season's first six weeks is an unusual trajectory, and some never make it back. Sulaimon dusted himself off after sitting out against Michigan and getting only garbage time against Gardner-Webb, and proceeded to score in double figures in 17 of his final 25 games.
In a pinch, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski can even turn to Sulaimon for emergency work at the point. He carded seven games of five or more assists, combining for only 11 turnovers in those games. He served as a catalyst for the Duke bench, leading the second unit when Coach K resorted to full hockey-style five-man line changes.
The final numbers from Sulaimon's sophomore year were distinctly inferior to those he'd put up the year before. In 2014-15, however, there's no Rodney Hood, Andre Dawkins or Tyler Thornton to take away shots and bury a less experienced player down the depth chart. There are only unproven options like Matt Jones and Grayson Allen, so Sulaimon's leash should be much longer than it was last year.
14. Keifer Sykes, Green Bay
College basketball legend and analyst Bill Walton can often be heard exhorting the game's larger players to "throw it down, big man!" While 5'11" Keifer Sykes of Green Bay doesn't qualify as a big man by the game's lofty standards, he can certainly throw it down with the best of them, as this highlight package from last fall's preseason practices illustrates.
Aside from his vertical exploits—and yes, he's gotten airborne in actual games, too, in case you doubt—Sykes spent last season assembling a season that earned him the Horizon League's Player of the Year award and had a few bracketologists penciling the Phoenix in for an at-large bid. Look closely and you'll see B/R's own Kerry Miller among the believers.
At-large bids are things that the HL doesn't earn terribly often since Butler bolted.
In addition to his 20.3 PPG, Sykes also carded 4.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists per contest. According to Hoop-Math, he converted 64.4 percent of his shots at the rim, an impressive rate for a man his size. Sykes' three-point stroke suffered last season, but he did can more than 42 percent of his triples as a sophomore, so he's certainly capable of a bounce-back.
The main concern is that Sykes is the undisputed star of Green Bay's show with 7'1" center Alec Brown gone. Double-teams will surely come fast and thick. Another 20 PPG season should put Sykes not only atop the Horizon once more, but also garner him some hoop hipster All-American votes.
13. Wesley Saunders, Harvard
Wesley Saunders has been at Harvard for three seasons now. The school, which made a whopping one NCAA tournament appearance back in the 1940s, has gone dancing all three years of Saunders' career.
Coincidence? Probably not.
Saunders won Ivy League Player of the Year as a junior despite his numbers taking a slight step back from his sophomore campaign. Of course, he had returning veterans like Kyle Casey, Brandyn Curry and Laurent Rivard surrounding him last year, with Casey and Curry being disassociated from the team in 2012-13.
This year, those three key pieces are gone for the Crimson, which means that Saunders will have to resume a larger share of the scoring load, perhaps surpassing the 16.2 PPG he carded as a soph. He's also very capable of carding five rebounds, five assists and two steals per game, with only his highly reluctant three-point shooting standing out as a significant flaw.
Saunders should still be placed among the favorites for another Ivy League POY trophy, and don't put big money down on another team winning the conference, either.
12. Marcus Paige, North Carolina
North Carolina had more going for it than Marcus Paige last season, but all the other pieces came with some question marks. The defensively challenged Brice Johnson couldn't stay on the floor at times. Veteran Leslie McDonald got a late start thanks to NCAA eligibility concerns. And James Michael McAdoo got lost on the way to the NBA draft lottery.
At times, it truly was Paige against the world. But more often than not, the sophomore guard was up to the challenge. He thrived in the biggest games, lighting up Louisville for 32 points, Kentucky for 23 and Texas for 23.
Despite the fact that he's generously listed as not big, Paige spent much of the season doing exactly what he's doing in the picture above: taking people to the rim and scoring on them. Hoop-Math credits him with 65.2 percent shooting at the rim, more than a point better than McAdoo and within half a point of 290-pound Kennedy Meeks.
By now, no one really knows if Paige is a point guard or shooting guard, and no one with any Carolina blue gear in their closet really cares. All they want to know is if he can make a push for All-American honors. The smart money says yes.
11. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
Sam Dekker's most difficult challenge this offseason hasn't been mastering any skill on the court, because he can already do nearly everything. No, the hard part was getting out of his own head.
"I'll be the first to tell you that I have a lot of physical tools I can go with," Dekker said to Fox Sports Wisconsin's Jesse Temple. "But I'll also be the first to tell you that there's a lot of things mentally that I lacked last season and the season before that. ... One thing is just being confident in that moment, not just when things are going well. That's a big thing for players."
Dekker improved in some aspects from his freshman to his sophomore year—becoming more of a factor on the glass and making a slight reduction in his turnovers, for example. One glaring flaw that arose, however, was a faulty three-point stroke. A 39.1 percent shooter as a freshman, Dekker dipped to 32.6 percent last season.
If those long shots begin to fall again, the 6'9", 229-pound Dekker—up two inches and nine pounds from last season's listed measurements—could establish himself as a threat on the entire offensive end. Wisconsin will miss the shooting of graduated guard Ben Brust, but Dekker is a key to filling that void and spurring the Badgers on another potential Final Four run.
10. Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Last season, Bobby Portis was arguably the SEC's best big man outside the commonwealth of Kentucky. And if you're not an Arkansas fan, but you're into reading scary things, here's one for you: This year, he's even bigger.
Portis measured 6'10.5" in shoes at this summer's Nike Skills Academy, up 1.5 inches from 2013's Hoop Summit tape (h/t DraftExpress). The additional length should help him in the trenches as he battles an improving group of SEC post players.
Defensive rebounding was one of the only major question marks on Portis coming into college, and his 16.7 defensive rebounding percentage (per Sports-Reference) was good, but not elite, ranking 10th in the SEC.
Last year's 27.0 MPG may not rise all that much, considering the rapid pace that Hogs coach Mike Anderson prefers. Still, look for Portis to double or even triple last season's five double-doubles. Averaging 17 and 10 per game with two-plus blocks is not out of the question if Anderson does play his sophomore star 30 minutes a night.
Oh, and Portis may also improve his jumper. He sank nine of 33 three-point attempts last season. If he becomes a threat from the arc, you could be looking at the SEC Player of the Year.
9. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
For a guy who first got to Virginia as a point guard, Malcolm Brogdon looks kind of terrified to be dribbling in the above picture. Just saying.
All jokes aside, Brogdon showed no signs of rust from a 2012-13 season lost to injury. He was solid enough to make the All-ACC first team and become the catalyst for Virginia's run to the ACC regular-season and tournament championships.
Brogdon doubled nearly all of his per-game averages from his freshman season two years ago, showing just as much facility for playing off the ball as on it.
He drained 37 percent from deep and finished second on the team in rebounding.
He gave the ball away only 53 times, but stole it back 44 times.
About the only thing Brogdon lacked was consistent finishing at the tin, converting only 50.8 percent, per Hoop-Math.
When the Cavaliers needed plays, Brogdon made them look effortless, whether sinking a buzzer-beating three to sink Pitt or sealing up wins over Maryland and Virginia Tech at the free-throw line. With two more seasons to improve his body and his game, don't be surprised if Brogdon finds himself an NBA job after leaving UVa.
8. Caris LeVert, Michigan
Two years ago, Caris LeVert was a spindly kid who decommitted from Ohio after coach John Groce left. Not Ohio State, but Ohio. Today, he's a living embodiment of Michigan's revenge on the Bobcats for the 2012 NCAA tournament, a player who's set to contend for All-Big Ten honors at a minimum.
As a freshman, LeVert was such a good defender that coach John Beilein burned his redshirt and put him into the rotation as a stopper off the bench. As a sophomore, he proved that he could score from anywhere on the court (75 percent at the rim, per Hoop-Math), while defenses kept a more critical eye on classmates Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III.
Now, it's essentially LeVert's team. He's by far the Wolverines' most-proven scorer, and there is potential for him to lead the Big Ten in that category if his young teammates can't keep up. Still, he can't possibly make another 10 PPG improvement as he did last season.
7. Dez Wells, Maryland
Dez Wells has played everywhere on the perimeter since he arrived at Maryland. That includes some emergency fill-in minutes at point guard, a position that Wells may find himself occupying even more often this season.
Coach Mark Turgeon told CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein about Wells, "He's going to have to play some point guard this year due to some of the departures we've had. He played some point guard last year but we really didn't have time to practice it. ... Now we've got all summer and all fall to practice. And Dez has gotten so much better at it."
Wells dished three assists per game as a sophomore, a number that slid a bit last season. He's also stabilized his turnovers, pulling back from an excessive 20.2 turnover percentage in 2012-13.
A puzzling aspect of Wells' game has been his outside shot. We know he can hit threes. After all, he knocked down 37.7 percent as a freshman at Xavier. Since then, though, his success rate has dropped to last year's low point of 30.4 percent. Wells can score from anywhere inside the arc, he's good at getting to the basket and he's made himself an 81 percent foul shooter.
All that said, Wells will need to prove that he can run an offense and/or knock down the long jumper on a consistent basis if he wants to pursue a lengthy NBA career. If he can manage both, he may become the Terps' first ever All-Big Ten selection.
6. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
According to Sports-Reference, only three players ranked in the national top 20 in both offensive and defensive win shares. Shabazz Napier was a consensus first-team All-American, Xavier Thames had to settle for an AP honorable mention and Wichita State's Fred VanVleet was a happy medium, picking up third-team honors from the NABC and Sporting News.
Of the three, VanVleet is the only one returning, and it's a safe bet that he won't be left off many preseason All-American predictions.
With stud forward Cleanthony Early gone to the NBA, the focus shifts to the Shockers backcourt. Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton will be key performers, but VanVleet may be more important to his team than any player in America.
VanVleet didn't kill his team with bad shots or clusters of turnovers last season, two things that every coach dreams of in his point guard. In fact, not only did VanVleet card 21 more steals than turnovers last season, he gave up only two more turnovers than he had in his whole freshman year. This despite playing 500 more minutes than in 2012-13.
Concerns about the Shockers' level of competition will continue to dog VanVleet, especially while the power-conference programs are scared senseless to schedule WSU. No matter who the opponents are, though, look for another smooth season out of Wichita's consummate point guard.
5. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky wasn't always a 6'11" sculpture made primarily of legs and elbows. He was a guard in high school, and he's still got some of the skills that he learned at that level.
We know about Kaminsky's three-point shooting prowess. He sank six in setting a school record with 43 points against North Dakota. Four shots went down in an early March win over Purdue. Finally, just to prove he could, Kaminsky made three of five in the Elite Eight against Arizona.
Perhaps we didn't know that Kaminsky could split a defense off the dribble, as shown above against Oregon. Hoop-Math shows only 44.9 percent of his baskets at the rim being assisted, meaning he was frequently getting to the rack himself rather than posting up and waiting for the entry pass.
If you want your center to do traditional center things, Kaminsky can take care of you there, too. He finished in the Big Ten's top 10 in both rebounds and blocks. All this while averaging only about one turnover per game.
It's not terribly likely that a player in a Bo Ryan system will rack up the kinds of sexy averages needed to earn an All-American vote. Still, even if Kaminsky doesn't claim multiple national honors this season, he's still a more-than-worthy addition to the Badgers' esteemed big man lineage.
4. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
On the court, Jerian Grant was flying last season. In the classroom, he face-planted hard enough for the Notre Dame program to essentially banish him for what he called "an academic matter that I did not handle properly."
Now back in school, Grant's also back on the court for one last run as a senior. With Notre Dame losing multiple senior leaders from last year's still-rudderless squad, the Irish are set to lean on Grant's leadership as much as his scoring or his playmaking for others.
Grant no longer has a Garrick Sherman or an Eric Atkins to pawn team leadership off to. Of course, he also has fewer options to pawn the ball off to, which could lead to Grant pouring in somewhere around 23 points per game. He was already scoring 19 per game last season with much more veteran talent surrounding him.
With career averages of 3.1 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 35.7 percent from three-point range, Grant can impact the game in nearly every way possible. This season, he may have to if the Irish are going to climb the ladder in the strengthening ACC.
3. Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming
Wyoming can give San Diego State a serious run in the Mountain West if the real Larry Nance Jr. can please stand up. Nance was putting up All-MWC numbers—15.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 2.1 blocks per game—before tearing his ACL against Fresno State.
Nance fills every role the Cowboys ask him to play except ace perimeter sniper, but he's smart enough not to put up an excessive number of deep shots (75 career three-point attempts). Let him get to the paint and he's trouble—Hoop-Math says Nance converted a ludicrous 81.3 percent of his shots near the rim.
Now, the knee injury raises some red flags. Nance's explosive first step was a key weapon, but now he has to prove that the injury didn't cost him that quickness. At 6'8" and 234 pounds with a wingspan north of 7 feet (all measurements from the 2014 Nike Big Man Skills Academy, reported by DraftExpress), Nance's frame is prototypical for an NBA wing. But will he be tentative on the repaired leg?
A full-strength Nance should be in the Mountain West Player of the Year discussion, especially now that San Diego State star Xavier Thames has moved on. After all, Nance was strong enough last season to earn first team all-conference honors even with the injury costing him Wyoming's last seven games.
Now that's respect.
2. Delon Wright, Utah
Delon Wright's 2013-14 stat line reads like the kind your created character on an NBA 2K game would have once you tweaked the difficulty right to where you wanted it.
Had Wright played for an NCAA tournament team, his 15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.8 blocks per game would have garnered him substantial All-American support. As it stands, he must prove that he can replicate those results against a schedule that doesn't include things called Evergreen State and St. Katherine.
As shown above, Wright can throw down. Shots like those contributed to his 71.7 percent shooting at the rim, per Hoop-Math. He's also a solid mid-range shooter, but his perimeter stroke is still highly inconsistent.
Overall, Wright dropped in 63.3 percent of his two-point shots despite opponents having the obvious option of backing off and daring him to shoot the jumper. Few players in America showed that consistent ability to victimize defenders.
Most of Utah's production returns this season, and the Utes also add touted in-state freshman Brekkott Chapman. Watch the Pac-12 to see if this is the season that Utah finally returns to the NCAA tournament. If it is, save a spot on your All-American team for Wright, because he's likely to deserve one.
1. Georges Niang, Iowa State
Some players talk the talk about leaving blood, sweat and tears on the court. Iowa State forward Georges Niang actually walked the walk when he was busted open like this against Kansas.
Between wearing the above crimson mask and breaking his foot against North Carolina Central in the second round of the NCAA tournament, March was a month Niang would like to forget. He was in the midst of a second consecutive strong season for the Cyclones, averaging 16.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.
Niang's 250-pound frame could have contributed to the broken foot. Rather than take any chances, Niang has lost about 25 pounds this offseason. The weight loss will aid his perimeter defense as well as his stamina, allowing him to play more than last season's 30 MPG. A quicker Niang should also have a good chance to take any opponent to the hole.
The added stamina should have a beneficial effect on Niang's shot as well. After shooting 39.2 percent from three as a freshman, he slipped to 32.7 last season. Adding a consistent outside shot to his array of interior moves could make Niang the Big 12's top scorer this season.
With everything else Niang can do on the court, blending last season's volume with his efficiency of two years ago should catapult him onto the lion's share of All-American ballots.
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