Regarded as the best class since 2003, the 2014 NBA draft class has big shoes to fill, and those shoes, at least of the top picks in the draft, will be filled by freshman, one-and-done stars from their respective universities. And yet, there are busts in every draft, so how do we figure out which freshman is going to be a bust and which freshman will be stars? That’s where I come in.
When freshman in college are forced to choose whether to stay in college or turn pro, it’s an amazing amount of pressure to put on 18- and 19-year-olds. The NBA dangles million-dollar carrots in front of the prospects’ faces, daring them to take the money and grab their dream at the same time. Like 99 percent of the world, I cannot relate to making that type of decision, so I won’t even try.
Strictly speaking, as an NBA writer, the only way I can analyze that type of a decision is to review past-player experiences, review the data, and make a guess at how we think each one-and-done player will perform. Let’s be realistic, there’s people around the league – coaches, sports writers, even some fans – who know exactly what type of player someone will be. How? Because they’ve seen it before.
Since 2006, the NBA’s age limit and “one-and-done rule” has forced players to attend college or play internationally until they are of age to play in the NBA. Because of this rule, I’ve noticed some patterns forming throughout the one-and-done sector of the NBA.
Before we proceed, I just want to lay some parameters before we dig in. I don’t really care about the player’s decision about staying in college or turning pro. The freshman should take a long, hard look in the mirror before deciding whether or not to turn pro. If they’re superstar material and their game is ready, then by all means, that player should take on the NBA. If the player isn’t ready or needs to improve an aspect of his game to be successful, they should stay in school. It should be that simple, but when millions of dollars are on the line, nothing is that simple.
Take Marcus Smart for instance. Last year, he was top-five pick in the draft, but turned it down to come back to school. At the time, I thought it was a good decision, yet after seeing what he did this season, he might’ve been a little overrated last year. This happens all the time.
I remember after Elias Harris’s freshman year at Gonzaga in 2009 he was a possible lottery pick in the draft because he showed that he had some athleticism and he was young. He decided to stay at Gonzaga, and after his four years, he couldn’t keep a spot on an NBA team.
The hype can work either way, and that’s what it really comes down to: Do you believe the hype?
If you’re ready, let’s get down to business.
There were four distinct roads to NBA stardom. Every player in the league has either jumped straight out of high school, come from overseas/international competition, played one year in college, or was a multi-year college player before playing in the NBA. Obviously, because of the “One-and-Done Rule” from the 2006 CBA, players don’t make the jump from high school to the NBA anymore, which leaves three pathways. Looking at the landscape of the league, of the Top 30 players in the league, by my own ranking, about ten of them (Durant, Anthony, Davis, Irving, Cousins, Wall, Love, Rose, Conley, and Drummond) are one-and-done guys, which is a pretty decent percentage.
In a column for Sports Illustrated, Inside the NBA columnist Chris Johnson described how he found most one-and-done players at least spend their career as a role player or contribute regular minutes for an NBA team. Comparatively speaking, spending one year in college does an all right job in preparing players for the NBA. Some players aren’t going to cut it in the NBA. That’s just how it is. But, in order to figure out how and which guys will succeed, we need to know what makes guys bust, and I have a few questions that need answers:
Is the player dependent on his athleticism?
This may seem obvious, but it needs to be said. In high school and college, many of these top recruits are the most athletic players on the court. They can get by, regardless of their weight or conditioning, because they’re more athletically gifted than the other players. They can run faster, jump higher, and out-muscle the rest of the competition. Due to their level of success, they become complacent, thinking their body will always be better than the other players.
Then, BOOM. One day they’re in the NBA, and they aren’t dominating like they used to, athletically. In fact, they’re one of the least athletic players on the floor. On top of that, they’re out of shape for the fast-paced, quicker NBA game.
Whoops, did I just describe Anthony Bennett’s rookie season? Sorry, Cavs fans.
It can go the other way, too. Again, imagine a player who has been an absolute freak athletically who dominates at the lower levels simply based on his athleticism. He gets all the highlight, breakaway dunks and alley-oops, and he’s hard to stop in the lane because of his hang time. He’s a really streaky shooter, with pretty terrible form, but when he’s on, he can light it up.
Then, BOOM. One day, he’s in the NBA. He’s not getting any breakaway dunks or alley-oops because he plays for a team who’s terrible on defense, and he doesn’t have the benefit of good defenders to create his opportunities. Most of the league has figured out his tendencies and have huge rim protectors, so he’s also not finishing at the basket anymore, and he can’t make threes because the line is three feet further than the college line. So, he finishes with the worst statistical rookie season of players averaging more than 20 minutes per game.
And that is Austin Rivers’ career so far… I dropped that one in on purpose.
It seems obvious, but when you evaluate players on a case-by-case basis, it’s fairly easy to tell a successful college player who doesn’t translate to the NBA because their game revolves around their athleticism, in a bad way. By staying in school, a lot of players are able to add depth to their game and develop a jump-shot, which helps them from entering the NBA as a one-dimensional player. We’ll get back to this point when we talk discuss Jabari Parker toward the end.
Personally, I like a little craft in a player, but not too much. You want raw talent, obviously, but you also want a player who is willing to learn the little tricks and nuances of the game to be more successful. You don’t want all-craft, like Adam Morrison. There is a perfect medium between being an athletic freak and being smart enough to draw fouls and put defenders in uncomfortable situations.
Did this player lead the team on a deep NCAA tournament run?
This is a really weird quirk I picked up on, but basically the best one-and-done players in the NBA led their team on a deep tournament run, regardless of what happened during the regular season. Look at this list:
-Carmelo Anthony: National Championship
-Anthony Davis: National Championship
-Derrick Rose: Runner-up
-Mike Conley: Runner-up
-Kevin Love: Final Four
-John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins: Elite Eight
-Kyrie Irving: Sweet Sixteen
The only exceptions are Kevin Durant and Andre Drummond, and each of them didn’t really have any help on their teams. Upsets happen in the tournament, and there’s always an outlier, but for the most part, it seems pretty interesting that guys who have a “refuse to lose” attitude in the NCAA tournament are successful in the NBA. Not only are these players successful, but they’re all stars in the league, or at least up-and-coming stars, as well. This is a tiny sample size, and in no way represents the entire “One-and-Done” player category, but it’s just something to keep in mind when looking at the future NBA prospects.
Has this player actually showed what he can do at a high level, or is he being considered because of his “potential?”
This is huge. Yes, I understand that technically every player is drafted on his potential to be a good basketball player, but with players like LeBron James you knew what he was going to be, and maybe we didn’t expect him to be this good even.
With LeBron, everyone knew he was going to be a star because he proved it night after night in high school. He was such a freak in every aspect of the game. Other than an inconsistent shot, he had basically no weaknesses at all. LeBron was not drafted on “potential.
Carmelo Anthony, coming out of college, was going to be a star in the NBA. Everyone knew it except for the Detroit Pistons. Same with Kevin Durant, even the Pistons knew he was going to be a star, though. If you’re an NBA franchise with a top pick, unless you absolutely know a player is going to be a star, then you are drafting that player on his potential to be a star. Sometimes those players work out, sometimes they don’t.
Anthony Davis was a star. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was drafted on potential to be a great player down the road. That’s the difference I’m talking about. Some guys, you absolutely know are going to be stars. Others have a lot more work to do.
Obviously, more than those three criteria goes into picking a player, but when figuring out who will be a bust or not, those three points will separate the cream from the crop… (is that how I use that expression?)
Let’s review the BIG Four Freshman in this year’s “One-and-Done” Class:
Jabari Parker: BUST!
A lot of people are really high on Parker and think he’s the best player in the draft, but I see a combination of Austin Rivers, Rudy Gay, and Carmelo Anthony when I watch him play. (That’s a bad thing). I’ve watch most of his games, and part of me likes what he has to offer. He has size, a good shot, and he can rebound. But, Parker also looked out of shape most of the year because of an injury before the season, and I thought he settled way too much for outside shots when his physicality and size were his main strength. When guys made him put it on the ground, he struggled to finish at the rim and in traffic. Plus, they lost to Mercer in the first round of the NCAA tournament. (Sound a little like Austin Rivers, anyone?). Parker needs another year to develop his body and hone his skills.
Parker still hasn’t declared for the draft, apparently, so it is actually possible he makes a good decision and goes back to school. The money will always be there for him.
Andrew Wiggins: Draw
Realistically, Andrew Wiggins needs another year to develop an inside game and become a more consistent scorer. There were times last season, like in the NCAA tournament loss to Stanford, where Wiggins was invisible. He showed flashes of being really good, but it’s going to take a while for Wiggins reach the franchise-changing player role. If you added him any of the bottom six teams, I think those teams would probably still be in the bottom six of the league.
Wiggins will be picked on the potential he can be a superstar. If he doesn’t improve that much, I think Wiggins is basically Gerald Green, which could be good or bad, depending on your viewpoint.
Julius Randle: STAR!
I’m all-in on Randle. Maybe he wasn’t the one making the game-winners for Kentucky down the stretch of the NCAA tournament, but Randle was the glue guy for Kentucky. He really took a step back – kind of like Anthony Davis – and went out of his way to set really good screens, crash the boards, and work the ball around to get his teammates open looks. When Randle played well this season, so did Kentucky.
Also, if you noticed, in the crucial posessions of the National Championship game, Coach Calipari went to Randle almost every time. If Coach Cal has that kind of confidence in him, you know he’s going to a force in the NBA. Yes, Randle is a tad undersized to play power forward and might be a little to big to play small forward, but in today’s NBA, with so many small-ball power forwards out there, Randle will be able to eat up the Terrance Jones’s and Ryan Anderson’s of the world. Plus, he’s a relentless rebounder. With eight more minutes per games, an 11-second shorter shot-clock, and a ton more rebounding opportunities per game, Randle is going to be great in the NBA, mark my words.
Joel Embiid- Likely Bust…
Look, Embiid is a great player, and if the Sonics still existed, I would love if they drafted him, but… he reminds me so much of Greg Oden. When a freshman has back problems, it’s one thing. But, when a seven-foot-two freshman has back problems, it’s a different thing entirely. Plus, if Embiid got hurt banging around down low with college guys, what’s going to happen in the NBA when he has to play 75 games in a season and play more minutes against bigger, stronger guys? I don’t like that one bit.
The skills are getting there. Embiid is still raw, but you can’t expect much when he’s been playing basketball for like five years. He is so coordinated too, so once he’s in the league, his skills should improve drastically.
I don’t blame Embiid for leaving. All it takes is one injury to nag him for your entire career, so he might as well get paid now. Personally, I think he needs another year at Kansas and with Bill Self to mature as a player offensively and learn how to stay vertical like Roy Hibbert did at the beginning of this season, not so much now. That’s the future of defending in the NBA, so the bigger and higher Embiid can get without fouling, the better chance he has at staying the league for a longer period of time.
Like I said earlier, most of these decisions come down to the money anyway. I can’t blame anyone for taking the cash, but other than Randle, all the freshman coming out for the NBA draft this season, realistically, should be staying another year. I think the NBA needs well-rounded players, not guys who’ll bounce back and forth between the NBA and the D-League for their first few seasons, but it’s not up to me.