It’s never too early to talk NBA Draft, especially with a projected class as deep and talented as the 2014 group. Every Sunday, I’ll take a look at how college basketball’s premier talents performed during the past week and see how that impacted their NBA prospects. ESPN draft guru Chad Ford’s current Big Board Rank is in parenthesis followed by the player’s age, position(s) and school.
Andrew Wiggins (1), 18–G/F Kansas: Wiggins had a nice all-around game on Thursday in a win over Wake Forest, posting 17 points, four boards, four assists and three steals but was quiet in the Jayhawks’ last second loss to Villanova and last night’s four-point win over UTEP. He isn’t as polished as Parker and some of the others, but his freakish athleticism and star potential on both sides of the ball are why he remains the highest rated prospect in most circles.
Julius Randle (2), 19–F Kentucky: Randle looks like a man among boys in the early going, putting up 19 points and cleaning the glass for 13.1 boards. His 14-point, 10-rebound performance on Wednesday gave him seven double-doubles in seven games tying a school record. He’s been ultra-aggressive too, getting to the free throw line 68 times (and making 51 for a 75 percent rate), good for nearly 10 attempts per game. He looks like a top-five lock.
Jabari Parker (3), 18–F Duke: After a blistering start to his Duke career, Parker struggled against Arizona’s length in the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship game, shooting 7-21 from the floor and missing all five shots from long range. His 19 points were a season-low (gulp) but at 18 years young, he’s as polished as anyone on the offensive end and is one of the early frontrunners for National Player of the Year honors. He will be a matchup nightmare for power forwards at the next level because of his multifaceted skill-set.
Marcus Smart (5), 19—G Oklahoma State: Smart would have been a top pick in last June’s draft but elected to return to the Cowboys and it has certainly paid off. He needed to work on his perimeter shooting and cut down on turnovers and though it’s early, his shooting has improved astronomically. Smart was unconscious from beyond-the-arc, scoring 24 points in the first 11 minutes against Memphis en route to a 39-point performance 12 days ago (they face the Tigers tonight in a rematch on ESPN2) and went for 30 on Thursday in a win over Purdue. Smart is shooting 48 percent on the season and 38 percent on three-pointers, up from 40 and 29 percent a year ago. With an improved jumper to go along with his size, strength, toughness, defense, selflessness and leadership abilities, Smart could sneak into the conversation for one of the top picks in the draft.
Joel Embiid (6), 19–C Kansas: The seven-footer from Cameroon has actually looked better than many expected, putting up gaudy numbers in limited action. He’s averaging 2.9 blocks in less than 20 minutes per game, including a career high seven blocks last night. He’s still very raw and learning the game, but some say he has the most upside of any prospect not named Wiggins.
Aaron Gordon (7), 18–F Arizona: Gordon is another one of the freshman phenoms and brings ridiculous athleticism to the table. He’s been compared to a young Blake Griffin, has a jaw-dropping high school mixtape full of gravity-defying dunks, dazzling crossovers and blocks and only turned 18 in September. Gordon has registered four double-doubles in seven games and is averaging 12.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per contest. He plays extremely hard, has surprisingly good ball-handling skills and does a little bit of everything but his perimeter shooting is a work in progress. Gordon filled up the stat sheet in Friday’s win over Duke, putting up 10 points, seven boards, four assists and two blocks along with solid defense on Parker when the two were matched up.
Gary Harris (10), 19—G Michigan State: Harris sat this week to rest a bum ankle. A sweet shooting two-guard, Harris drained 41 percent of his threes last season, but the sophomore has yet to find his shooting stroke this season sinking just 26.5 percent of his 8.2 attempts per game from downtown. His 17.7 points per game leads the nation’s number one team and he will look to get back on track when he returns to the court Wednesday in a showdown against #16 North Carolina.
Rodney Hood (11), 21–G/F Duke: Hood and Parker have been an unstoppable one-two punch in Duke’s front court, thus NBA folks are surely taking notice of the Mississippi State transfer. He jumped up 15 spots in Ford’s big board last week and with good reason. Although Hood isn’t a great athlete and his defense is suspect, he has been extremely efficient, posting an insane shooting line of .622/.591/.818 (FG/3PT/ FT). He put up 21 points and eight boards in the loss to Arizona, a team with NBA-type athletes up front. His shooting percentages will likely drop but he has certainly turned heads among scouts and fans alike.
James Young (12), 18—G/F Kentucky: Young received rave reviews before the season from scouts and reporters who had watched him in practices, mainly because of his scoring ability and sweet stroke from the outside. The 6’7” swingman has struggled with his three-point shooting thus far, going 0-6 from deep on Wednesday night to drop his three-point percentage to 27 percent (13-48) in the early going. Young will have to find the bottom of the net more often to secure his spot in a stacked lottery.
Wayne Selden Jr. (13), 19–G Kansas: Selden is a big physical two-guard who’s been inconsistent with his scoring thus far but has played a controlled game, not forcing shots or playing too fast like most freshman do. He had just two points in 21 minutes in the upset loss to ‘Nova but rebounded with 14 points on 6-9 shooting yesterday including 2-4 from deep. He did commit six turnovers after not committing more than two in any of the first six games.
Andrew Harrison (14), 19–G Kentucky: Another ballyhooed frosh, Harrison has yet to match the lofty expectations that were placed on him coming into the season. Proclaimed as the next great John Calipari coached point-guard, Harrison has been uneven running the point for UK, putting up 10.7 points, 3.7 assists and 2.3 turnovers. His shooting numbers are fairly solid and he’s been aggressive getting to the line over 5 times per contest but has yet to have a breakout game. He had just eight points, three assists and five giveaways in Wednesday’s win over Eastern Michigan.
Jahii Carson (19), 21–G Arizona State: If you like high scoring undersized guards, Carson is your guy. At just 5’10”, “Jahiisus” has insane hops (he says his no-step vertical leap is 42 inches!!!) and seemingly hangs in the air on his drives to the basket before finishing among the trees. Carson lit up UNLV for 40 points on 16-25 shooting 12 days ago and continued his phenomenal play this week, putting up 21 points on 10-16 from the field against Charleston. He’s shooting 54.5 percent and dishing out 5.1 dimes through eight games.
Aaron Harrison (34), 19–G Kentucky: The lesser rated of the Harrison twins, Aaron has had two 20-plus scoring nights, including a 22-point outburst to help UK pull away from a scrappy Eastern Michigan squad this week. His outside shot has been hit-or-miss in the early going (28.6 percent from deep) but the freshman hasn’t been afraid to pull the trigger, taking five treys per game.