5 Things You May Not Know About Each Of The Top NBA Draft Prospects

April 23rd, 2014 | by Clint Johnson

The greatest tournament in American sport has concluded, a champion has been crowned, and now life turns toward the culmination of the college basketball year, at least in the minds of Jazz fans this season: the NBA Lottery and Draft.  Between now and June 26th, prospects will be run through their paces in the combine and team workouts, adding both data and distraction to the dossiers1 teams have already assembled on each top talent.  But the chance for fans to see these players, so young and with so much expected of them, in genuine game conditions has passed.

For those who missed the chance to see the most desired prospects this college season, I include five observations on each of my top eight players from a year of intense focus on these young men.  My thoughts mostly address what doesn’t express fully in either the box score or common statistics, though I pair them with extensive statistical profiles of the players as well.2

(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Andrew Wiggins, SF — 6’8″ and 197 lbs; 19 years old; Freshman, Kansas.  2nd Team Consensus All-American. Comp: Kobe Bryant.

My rank: 1st; Draft Express rank: 1st; NBADraft.net rank: 3rd3

2013-2014 Basic Stats: 17.1 pts, 5.9 rbs, 1.5 asts, 1.2 stls, 1.0 blks, 2.3 tos, 44.8% FG, 34.1% 3P, 77.5% FT, 32.8 Min.

Per 40: 20.8 pts, 7.1 rbs, 1.9 asts, 1.4 stls, 1.2 blks, 2.8 tov.

Advanced: 21.4 PER, .563 TS%, .499 eFG%, 26.3 USG%, 564 PProd, 3.2 OWS, 1.7 DWS, .170 WS/40.

Vs. Top 25 Competition: 7 wins/4 losses, 18.2 pts, 7.5 rbs, 0.7 asts, 0.7 stls, 0.7 blks, 2.5 tos, 42.4% FG, 37.8% 3P, 82.2FT%, 32.5 Min

Five Observations:

  • He’s the ultra-rare superstar athlete with an advanced defensive skill set, especially given his hype, age, and position.  Don’t let the low steal rate fool you, data-driven fans.  He doesn’t take a lot of chances defensively and is excellent at wisely contesting shots.  It doesn’t result in an eye-popping number of steals or blocks, but that is actually a sign of how good, consistent, and technically sound his defense is.
  • Has the mechanics to become a great shooter.  Combine his height, length, vertical jump, and high release point, and it will be extremely hard to contest his shots without allowing him to blow by defenders.  The limitation now is shooting on the move (beyond a wickedly effective step back jumper).
  • Otherworldly driving right and spinning left; simultaneously, he’s very limited driving left or spinning right.  He’s very one hand dominant but athletic superiority has allowed him to get away with it.  That will need to change.
  • Greatest weakness isn’t lack of assertiveness; it’s shaky ball handling in traffic.  This is by far the most common reason he disappeared offensively in some games.  In the greater spacing of the NBA and with more development as a ball handler, I expect his assertiveness to grow.
  • He doesn’t handle physicality well.  Partially this is because he needs to get stronger, and he will.  But partially its because he just doesn’t like to bang.  I’m not sure that will go away.

 

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Jabari Parker, PF/SF — 6’8″ and 241 lbs; 19 years old; Freshman, Duke.  1st Team Consensus All-American.  Comp: Carmelo Anthony.

My rank: 2nd; Draft Express rank: 3rd; NBADraft.net rank: 2nd

2013-2014 Basic Stats: 19.1 pts, 8.7 rbs, 1.2 asts, 1.1 stls, 1.2 blks, 2.3 tov, 47.3% FG, 35.8% 3P, 74.8% FT, 30.7 Min.

Per 40: 25.0 pts, 11.4 rbs, 1.5 asts, 1.4 stls, 1.6 blks, 3.0 tos.

Advanced: 28.4 PER, .558 TS%, .511 eFG%, 32.7 USG%, 623 PProd, 3.6 OWS, 1.9 DWS, .205 WS/40.

Vs. Top 25 Competition: 4 wins/4 losses, 21.1 pts, 8.4 rbs, 0.9 asts, 1.1 stls, 0.9 blks, 2.4 tos, 47.3% FG, 36.3% 3P, 77.9% FT, 33 Min.

Five Observations:

  • 19 years old and has the body of a 30-year-old Carmelo Anthony.  That scares me.
  • Not a great passer, but he’s more willing than his numbers show.  While he’ll never key an entire offense like LeBron James, serving as both primary scorer and primary facilitator, he won’t be a ball stopper either.
  • Truly loves to play.  He smiles a lot on the court, both after his own great plays and after teammates’.  He takes coaching extremely well and will be a positive and supportive teammate, as he often encourages teammates when things aren’t going well.
  • Extremely high offensive intellect.  While he is a good shooter who projects to be great, when shots aren’t falling or defenses dictate, he uses fakes and positioning for jumpers to set up drives to the basket.  He has sneaky athleticism, but it’s his veteran-style craftiness that makes him effective at getting to the hoop and the line, including skillful positioning of his sturdy body.
  • An NBA power forward, no question.  Speed, athleticism, and skill are all advantages at that position, where he has multiple disadvantages at small forward.

 

 

(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Joel Embiid, C — 7’0″ and 240 lbs; 19 years old; Freshman, Kansas.  Comp: David Robinson.

My rank: 3rd; Draft Express rank: 2nd; NBADraft.net rank: 1st

2013-2014 Basic Stats: 11.2 pts, 8.1 rbs, 1.4 asts, 0.9 stls, 2.6 blks, 2.4 tos, 62.6% FG, 20.0% 3P, 68.5% FT, 23.1 Min.

Per 40: 19.4 pts, 14.0 rbs, 2.3 asts, 1.5 stls, 4.5 blks, 4.1 tos.

Advanced: 28.2 PER, .655 TS%, .629 eFG%, 23.4 USG%, 307 PProd, 1.8 OWS, 1.7 DWS, .213 WS/40.

Vs. Top 25 Competition: 7 wins/3 losses, 10.7 pts, 10.3 rbs, 2.7 asts, 0.3 stls, 2.0 blks, 1.0 tos, 59.0% FG, 16.7% 3P, 59.8% FT, 25.7 Min.

Five Observations:

  • True center.  Changes the game by playing big on both ends of the floor.
  • Can really run.  Sometimes outruns his ball handler on the break.
  • He’s lauded for having the Dream’s moves, and he does, at least the beginnings of them.  But he lacks Olajuwon’s balance, and I don’t think he’ll ever get it.
  • Sometimes uses athleticism and length to recover or make plays late and succeeds because of physical superiority.  Needs to improve awareness and preparation.  He’ll be good because of his gifts.  If his knowledge of the game rises to anything near his physical level, he’ll be great — and he’s proving to be a very fast learner.
  • He has a temper.  It’s not DeMarcus Cousins grade, but it is large enough to get him kicked out of games.  Competitors noticed and worked to irritate him on the floor.  Too often, they succeeded.

 

 

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Julius Randle, PF — 6’9″ and 248 lbs; 19 years old; Freshman, Kentucky.  Comp: Chris Webber.

My rank: 4th; Draft Express rank: 4th; NBADraft.net rank: 4th

2013-2014 Basic Stats: 15.0 pts, 10.4 rbs, 1.4 asts, 0.5 stls, 0.8 blks, 2.5 tos, 50.1% FG, 16.7% 3P, 70.6% FT, 30.8 Min.

Per 40: 19.4 pts, 13.5 rbs, 1.8 asts, 0.6 stls, 1.0 blks, 3.3 tos.

Advanced: 24.5 PER, .567 TS%, .505 eFG%, 25.4 USG%, 599 PProd, 3.5 OWS, 2.4 DWS, .191 WS/40.

Vs. Top 25 Competition: 8 wins/7 losses, 15.3 pts, 10.3 rbs, 1.1 asts, 0.4 stls, 0.6 blks, 2.5 tos, 51.8% FG, 16.7% 3P, 74.0% FT, 32.3 Min.

Five Observations:

  • Makes lots of difficult shots at a surprisingly high rate.  Uses broad shoulders and thick body well to shield defenders and get off shots.  How that will translate to the NBA, with longer, more athletic defenders but fewer double teams, is a huge question.
  • Not a good stand-still jumper, which combines with his short arms to limit his ability to shoot over taller defenders.  Much better jumper off the run, where he turns fairly explosive.
  • Great passer out of the post given his age.  He’s a much better passer than his stats suggest and may become something of a wizard at his position in the NBA.
  • He will never be a rim protector, but he can become a good positional defender at his position.  He has good lateral movement and anticipates offensive players well — when he cares enough to devote himself.
  • He dealt with more double teams than any player in college basketball, which largely hid his fine ball handling and quickness on the drive.  The short arms and body built to gain weight are concerns, but I think Randle’s offensive ability fits the NBA style as much as any player in the draft.

Dante Exum, SG — 6’6″ and 188 lbs; 18 years old; Australian Institute of Sport.  Comp: Derrick Rose.

My rank: 5th; Draft Express rank: 5th; NBADraft.net rank: 6th

2013 World Championships U19 Stats: 18.2 pts, 3.6 rbs, 3.8 asts, 1.7 stls, 0.1 blks, 2.3 tos, 44.6% FG, 33.3% 3P, 60.9% FT, 29.6 Min.

2013 Oceania Championships: 2.0 pts, 1.0 rbs, 0.5 asts, 1.0 stls, 0.5 blks, 0.0 tos, 33% FG, 0.0% 3P, 100% FT, 5.5 Min.

Notes: NA.4

 

(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

(Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Marcus Smart, PG/SG — 6’4″ and 200 lbs; 20 years old; Sophomore, Oklahoma State.  Comp: Jason Kidd meets Joe Dumars.  

My rank: 6th; Draft Express rank: 6th; NBADraft.net rank: 5th

2013-2014 Basic Stats: 18.0 pts, 5.9 rbs, 4.8 asts, 2.9 stls, 0.6 blks, 2.6 tos, 42.2% FG, 29.9% 3P, 72.8% FT, 32.7 Min.

Per 40: 22.0 pts, 7,2 rbs, 5.8 asts, 3.5 stls, 0.7 blks, 3.2 tos.

Advanced: 26.9 PER, .552 TS%, .486 eFG%, 29.2 USG%, 589 PProd, 3.1 OWS, 2.5 DWS, .220 WS/40.

Vs. Top 25 Competition: 3 wins/6 losses, 21.0 pts, 5.4 rbs, 4.3 asts, 2.6 stls, 0.4 blks, 2.7 to, 37.6% FG, 23.4% 3P, 72.1% FT, 36.4 Min.

Five Observations:

  • The most constantly involved player in college basketball.  Even off the ball, Smart calls plays, directs traffic, and communicates with teammates.  Talks to his team after practically every made basket and on every dead ball.  A true coach on the floor.
  • STRONG guard.  Like all physically overpowering players (Shaq, LeBron), he is sometimes frustrated when he doesn’t get whistles.  As hurt by the hand-checking rule as any player in the nation given his physical style.  That makes his 2.9 steals per game more impressive.
  • Single-handedly dictates pace.  Starts fast breaks through pressure defense, steals, and defensive rebounds.  His passing is at its best in the open court.  He excels at generating energy for his team.
  • Poor shooter with temperamental mechanics.  Over-rotates the ball on release and kicks feet forward, likely to counterbalance too much propulsion due to his strength.  He’s super-elite at attacking the rim and getting to the line, but his shot likely requires mechanical adjustment to become even a solid shooter from range.
  • Extremely competitive and confident, sometimes to his detriment.  Smart is an intelligent player who sometimes succumbs to hero ball.  Emotion does effect his decision making.  No other player in college  basketball played as well against top competition but lost as frequently, which invites even greater scrutiny on his lapses of judgment.

 

 

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Noah Vonleh, PF/C — 6’10” and 242 lbs; 18 years old; Freshman, Indiana.  Comp: A stronger Chris Bosh.

My rank: 7th; Draft Express rank: 7th; NBADraft.net rank: 7th

2013-2014 Basic Stats: 11.3 pts, 9.0 rbs, 0.6 asts, 0.9 stls, 1.4 blks, 2.1 tos, 52.3% FG, 48.5% 3P, 71.6% FT, 26.5 Min.

Per 40: 17.0 pts, 13.6 rbs, 0.9 asts, 1.3 stls, 2.1 blks, 3.2 tos.

Advanced: 22.2 PER, .604 TS%, .560 eFG%, 21.4 USG%, 321 PProd, 1.6 OWS, 2.0 DWS, .182 WS/40.

Vs. Top 25 Competition: 3 wins/5 losses, 8.3 pts, 7.5 rbs, 0.5 asts, 0.8 stls, 1.9 blks, 2.4 tos, 48.8% FG, 56.3% 3P, 55.2% FT, 25.5 Min.

Five Observations:

  • Awkward but effective.  Finishes plays that look impossible to finish with his long arms.  Gets lots of tips due to long arms but needs to learn to better control them (a la Tyson Chandler).
  • Fast when running but strangely reluctant to run.  Methodical style with sudden bursts of speed, even though he does work hard and make hustle plays.  Weird combination.
  • Very mechanical offensively but shows the beginnings of a very diverse offensive game.  Uses both hands near the hoop.  Very good shooting form if given time, including range out to the three.  Very much needs time to mature but may mature into a truly unique stretch big.
  • Does not jump high or quickly.  If his offensive skills plateau too early, he could remain extremely limited on the offensive end against NBA athleticism and size.
  • Terrible vision as a passer.  I mean awful.  Offensive awareness is not good.  He’s really young and has plenty of room to improve, but this is a concern.

 

 

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Aaron Gordon, PF — 6’9″ and 212 lbs; 18 years old; Freshman, Arizona.  Comp: Shawn Kemp meets Dennis Rodman.

My rank: 8th; Draft Express rank: 8th; NBADraft.net rank: 12th

2013-2014 Basic Stats: 12.4 pts, 8.0 rbs, 2.0 asts, 0.9 stls, 1.0 blks, 1.4 tos, 49.5% FG, 35.6% 3P, 42.2% FT, 31.2 Min.

Per 40: 15.8 pts, 10.2 rbs, 2.5 asts, 1.1 stls, 1.3 blks, 1.9 tos.

Advanced: 20.4 PER, .503 TS%, .516 eFG%, 23.2 USG%, PProd 469, 2.1 OWS, 3.3 DWS, .183 WS/40.

Vs. Top 25 Competition: 2 wins/1 loss, 11 pts, 10.3 rbs, 2.7 asts, 0.3 stls, 2.0 blks, 1.0 tos, 57.3% FG, 83.3% 3P, 50.0% FT, 36.3 Min.

Five Observations:

  • Extremely fit.  He has a great motor and is always moving, be it sprinting down the floor or sliding into position on help defense.
  • Top grade defender.  Good technique and focus combines with great effort both on and off the ball.  Excellent lateral movement.  Contests shots admirably.  Will be able to guard three or four NBA positions.
  • Willing to bang but not strong enough to hold up against strong bigs.  He’s susceptible to being overpowered in the post and on the glass.  While he will get stronger, strength may always be a limitation for him because he is a small power forward, not a small forward.
  • Rare ball handler for his size.  Quick first step.  Can go either way and is an elite finisher at the hoop.  Facing up will be his NBA offense early on.
  • Variable shooting mechanics completely dependent on rhythm.  He’s a passable shooter on kick outs when he can catch and shoot in rhythm.  Against solid defense or on the move, his mechanics offer no ability to execute a controlled shot.  This makes him an extremely self-conscious shooter when the shot isn’t taken in natural flow of the game (42% free throw shooter).  His shooting form will likely need to be rebuilt, likely with psychological handling as well.
Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. In addition to his writing center work at Salt Lake Community College, he designed, coordinates, and teaches in an experimental author residency program for a West Valley City public charter school. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

11 Comments

  1. Timothy says:

    Dennis Lindsey’s idea of the future:
    C Enes Kanter 13 PPG 10 RPG solid starting center
    PF Derrick Favors 17 PPG 11 RPG 2 BPG Defensive Player of the Year
    2014 draftee 25 PPG 3 RPG 2 APG superstar, number one scorer on the team
    SG/SF Gordon Hayward 15 PPG 5 APG 6 RPG 2 SPG distributor, swiss army knife
    PG Trey Burke 14 PPG 8 APG 3 RPG Floor general, leader, distributor

  2. Timothy says:

    My idea of the future:
    C Enes Kanter 18 PPG 11 RPG
    PF Derrick Favors 12 PPG 13 RPG 3 BPG
    SF Jabari/Wiggins 24 PPG 4 RPG 3 APG
    SG Gordon Hayward 11 PPG 5 APG 6 RPG 2 SPG
    PG Trey Burke 15 PPG 8 APG 3 RPG

  3. Dustin Flanary says:

    Nice post Clint!! Great summaries. Makes me change my personal Draft Board a bit. Wiggins/Parker/Embiid/Exum/Gordon/SMart/Randle probably in that order but really close.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Thanks, Dustin. Your board makes a lot of sense and I think may match some GMs pretty closely, from what I’m hearing. Question: What makes you place Gordon ahead of Randle? Not disputing the decision, just wondering how you see each player. Gordon’s shooting mechanics really scare some people. Are you less worried about that or do you have some significant concern about Randle? Just curious.

      • cw says:

        Really nice job. There seem to be a lot of guys that could help the jazz. I am intrigued by Gordon. I know his shot is broke and you can’t pick him too high, but he seems like he could develop into one of those guys that really help you win if you also have a good offense in place. Like Rodman or tony allen or Bobby Jones or Igloudala or Kirelenko. You have to ask yourself if him averaging something like an efficient 12/8/2 with elite defense–something that seems pretty possible– is more valuable than say Parker’s, 20/8/2 with poor defense.

        If the jazz are at 5 or above I think I would go with Gordon. I’d have to really think about picking Parker over him. I would trade anyone but Favors for him.

        • Clint Johnson says:

          Though I have Gordon ranked 8th out of my eight All-Star level prospects, I think he could be a game changing player depending on where he goes and how they handle him. He has a great work ethic, good overall sense of the game, nice basketball IQ, all the intangibles are there; plus, he’s one of the youngest of these players. If he ends up on a team that can teach him how to shoot, patiently, systematically, making use of his current ability to give him room to develop and contribute immediately, he could become the best player in this draft.

          It all depends on that shot. Will he become a specialist and offensive liability like Rodman, or will he develop his jumper to the point where he can score when defenders back off him, like Shawn Kemp did? That may be a franchise-turning question for whoever drafts him.

          • cw says:

            In my dream world, the jazz get one of wiggins, parker, embid, or exum, then trade hayward or kanter and a pick for gordon. Hayward I guess they would have to trade after the draft, but it doesn’t seem impossible for several of the teams from 5 to 8 going for something like that.

            Other than wiggins, Gordon is the player that I am the highest on.

  4. Brent says:

    One point of emphasis on Aaron Gordon. He shoots 42% from the free throw line. This is worse than Rudy Gobert 49% and Beidrins at 50%. Teams aren’t going to miss that. They are going to play “hack-a-shaq” with him. Just like the Kings did with Gobert.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      His shot is a glaring vulnerability. In watching him, I firmly believe he has more than mechanical problems. He’s a self-conscious shooter, which is almost always true of truly horrendous free throw shooters. If a team can fix that shot both mechanically and psychologically, he can be great. If not, I really can see him becoming something like Dennis Rodman, a great effort, great defensive player who all but writes off being an offensive option.

  5. Jason says:

    A lot of fans like Gordon in here. He is a fine prospect, but he doesn’t solve the problems the Jazz have. Having a defensive minded PF coming off the bench is not going to lead to a lot more wins. Our biggest need is a #1 scoring option. This is the year we go all in. Trade players and picks until we get our guy.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      If you mean Wiggins or Parker, they may not be gettable depending on where the Jazz select. They may well be the top two players selected, and moving into those picks is typically incredibly expensive. The cost may be even greater this season given the hype on these players, and I don’t believe the Jazz view this rebuild as a piece away. That makes me think it’s highly unlikely the Jazz trade up.

      Incredible how much ping pong balls can matter, isn’t it.

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