NCAA Basketball Players We're Excited to See Take Over as Top Scoring Option
NCAA basketball players typically jump to the NBA as soon as they have one great season, but there’s a silver lining for fans. The departure of one star provides an opportunity for another great young talent to step in and show what he can do. That's particularly a bonus when it comes to offenses that never have quite enough shots to go around.
Arizona, for example, saw both Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon depart early for the pros, but their absence will be a great opportunity for power forward Brandon Ashley. The soft-shooting big man is back from the broken foot that ended his 2013-14 season and ready to light up Pac-12 scoreboards as a junior.
Read on for more on Ashley and 14 more budding stars who are set to become the focal points of top college offenses in 2014-15.
Georges Niang, Iowa State
Known primarily as a point forward in Iowa State’s high-octane offense, Georges Niang is a far better scorer than he’s gotten credit for.
Though he was only the third-best point producer on last year’s Cyclones, he still poured in 16.7 points per game alongside DeAndre Kane and Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim.
Niang won’t have the benefit of Kane’s playmaking next year, but UNLV transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones will keep the offense flowing without much trouble.
That will leave the 6'7" rising junior with plenty of time to bury mid-range jumpers and take slower forwards off the dribble (not to mention cleaning up his share of offensive rebounds for the ISU guards).
Isaac Hamilton, UCLA
Even if it is a year later than anticipated, Isaac Hamilton’s college debut should prove to be worth waiting for.
The one-time UTEP commit couldn’t get out of his letter of intent to the Miners, but now that he’s sat out a year as a transfer, he’s ready to start fresh in Westwood.
Hamilton was a 5-star recruit for a reason, and he’ll have every opportunity to show off his explosive offensive game on a UCLA Bruins roster that must replace the prolific Jordan Adams.
The youngster is primarily a scorer himself, but he has some playmaking ability too, a fact that will come as welcome news to backcourt mate (and dunk specialist) Norman Powell.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Snatched from Virginia Tech at the 11th recruiting hour as a freshman, Montrezl Harrell has been a perfect fit in Louisville’s offense.
The agile forward was widely expected to leave for the NBA, but now that he’s back on campus, he’ll get to absorb many of the shots left open by Russ Smith’s graduation.
Like so many of the big men who have succeeded under Rick Pitino, Harrell’s strengths include running the floor and knocking down mid-range shots.
Considering that he was already putting up 14 points a game in Smith’s shadow, he’ll be a threat to lead the ACC in scoring if he can only get his foul shooting above its latest Shaq-like nadir (.464).
Ron Baker, Wichita State
It’s not the most consistent way to win ballgames, but a steady rain of three-pointers can make for one of the most exciting offenses in college basketball.
With Cleanthony Early gone, Wichita State will be relying on a deep backcourt to provide just that kind of attack next season.
The top sniper for the Missouri Valley powerhouse is rising junior Ron Baker. He poured in 13.1 points per game as Early’s sidekick last year.
Fred VanVleet is back to set him up, too, meaning that the .380 long-range marksman will be one of the most productive shooting guards in the country next season.
Cliff Alexander, Kansas
The Kansas Jayhawks have plenty of options as they look to fill the offensive hole left by Andrew Wiggins’ NBA departure.
Veteran Perry Ellis and freshman Kelly Oubre Jr. will both put up points in bunches, but the bet here is that another frosh, Cliff Alexander, will come out ahead of them all.
Alexander is a beast of a physical specimen, a 6’8”, 240-pound post player with the speed and leaping ability of a small forward.
He has every chance to be this year’s answer to Aaron Gordon, a highlight-reel fixture for his dunks who also cleans up as a rebounder and back-to-the-basket scorer.
Jabari Bird, California
A December ankle injury sidetracked what had been a promising start to Jabari Bird’s college career.
By the time the freshman guard found his confidence again, the year was nearly over, but his electric performances in the NIT offer plenty of hope for the future.
Plenty of other California Golden Bears with higher 2013-14 scoring averages return alongside the former McDonald’s All-American. However, none of them can match his potential or his combination of driving and jump-shooting talent.
Look for Tyrone Wallace to replace more of Justin Cobbs’ playmaking, while Bird gets the lion’s share of the shot attempts vacated by the graduated floor leader.
Myles Turner, Texas
The Texas Longhorns return all five starters from the Big 12’s surprise success story of 2013-14, so it may seem counterintuitive to expect a freshman to dive in and outscore all of them. Myles Turner, though, is decidedly up to the challenge.
A true 7-footer with three-point range on his jump shot, Turner is a fearsome offensive weapon with polish that belies his youth.
Unlike many centers with well-developed face-up skills, he’s also more than comfortable backing down shorter defenders on the low block.
Winston Shepard, San Diego State
For large stretches of 2013-14, San Diego State had exactly one functioning offensive player: senior point guard Xavier Thames. The Aztecs bring back most of the rest of the roster, but someone’s going to have to create points.
Fortunately for Steve Fisher, he’s got a wealth of top-notch athletes to try out as offensive leaders, none more promising than Winston Shepard.
The rising junior has mostly been a fast-break finisher so far, but he looks ready to parlay that role into the kind of slashing offense that Jamaal Franklin played so successfully in Fisher's system.
Trey Lyles, Kentucky
No freshman in the country is walking into a more favorable opportunity than Trey Lyles. He’s a high-scoring power forward replacing the similarly skilled Julius Randle, and he joins a Kentucky lineup that returns three starters from a Final Four run.
Where Randle overwhelmed opponents with his sheer athletic ability, Lyles thrives more on finesse.
He’s a more accomplished jump-shooter than his predecessor, and he has a much more reliable array of post moves at his disposal. The latter asset will help him avoid the scoring slump that hit Randle in SEC play.
Shaq Goodwin, Memphis
Shaq Goodwin has quietly become a very good college center in two seasons at Memphis, but you'd be forgiven for having missed him entirely.
The Tigers have been so loaded with versatile, athletic guards during Goodwin’s career that he’s rarely been more than an afterthought on offense.
Graduation has finally drained the backcourt talent pool, leaving the big man (a fine passer) to run the offense from the pivot next season.
Now that he’s not obligated to defer to the guards, he’ll power his way to far more than the 11.5 points per game he scored last year.
Jahlil Okafor, Duke
A top-rated recruit from Chicago is about to arrive as the next superstar for Coach K’s Blue Devils. No, you haven’t stumbled onto last year’s Duke preview—just as Jabari Parker did in 2013-14, Jahlil Okafor is ready to dominate the ACC next season.
Where Parker was a marvel of versatility, Okafor is a classic low-block center.
At 6’10” and 265 pounds, he has more than enough muscle to control the paint, but he sets himself apart with extras such as exceptional footwork and remarkable open-floor speed for his size.
Brandon Ashley, Arizona
It’s a testament to Arizona’s depth that the Wildcats came within inches of the Final Four, despite losing Brandon Ashley for the most important games of the season.
The versatile forward broke his foot in early February, putting even more pressure on freshman Aaron Gordon (now of the Orlando Magic) to excel as a scorer.
Both Gordon and perimeter star Nick Johnson are gone, but Ashley and his terrific mid-range jumper are ready to anchor an offense that’s short on other shooters.
He’ll also get his share of low-post chances, though Kaleb Tarczewski and freshman Stanley Johnson (neither of whom has Ashley’s range) will be doing more of the Wildcats’ damage around the rim.
Chris Walker, Florida
Four senior starters graduating leaves the Florida offense a virtual blank slate. Of the many Gators who will see their scoring averages jump next season, none can match the limitless potential of Chris Walker.
The 6’10” Walker is an eye-popping athlete who managed a few highlight-reel dunks (and blocks) in just 87 minutes of action during an abbreviated freshman season.
With his eligibility issues behind him, the mobile power forward is among the early front-runners for SEC Player of the Year. That's thanks in significant part to his Juilus Randle-like knack for darting between those defenders he can’t soar over.
Rodney Purvis, UConn
Ryan Boatright is the heir apparent to Shabazz Napier’s point guard job for the defending national champs. Rodney Purvis, though, is the man who will need to pick up most of Napier’s scoring punch, and the NC State transfer isn’t hurting for potential.
A former recruiting classmate of T.J. Warren, Purvis established himself as a slam-dunk artist with a fine shooting touch (.385 from deep) as a Wolfpack freshman.
Now that he’s finished sitting out his transfer season at UConn, he’ll be the best of a brigade of rim-rocking shooting guards at coach Kevin Ollie’s disposal for 2014-15.
Caris LeVert, Michigan
When Michigan lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas took over the offensive load, and the Wolverines bounced right back to the Elite Eight. Now that Stauskas is gone, it’s Caris LeVert’s turn to go from sidekick to sensation in Ann Arbor.
LeVert’s skill at slicing through Big Ten lanes provided a valuable counterpoint to Stauskas’ marksmanship. The 6'6" rising junior will be an even bigger threat to attack the rim now that he’s the No. 1 option on offense.
That said, he’s also a deadeye long-range shot (.408), so Zak Irvin won’t be the Wolverines' only three-point threat worth watching.