The 10 Most NBA Ready Draft Prospects
By Josh Morgan: VP and Director of Content at Hoopstuff…
1. Doug McDermott-Creighton
McDermott isn’t the most athletic or the fastest or the strongest player in college basketball, but I would challenge you to name someone with a better knowledge of the game and all of its nuances than him. He has been the best player on his team from the day he stepped on campus and has not taken that distinction lightly, constantly evolving his offensive game into the most complete scorer in the country. Yes he can catch and shoot or take the ball off the dribble, but off the ball he uses screens exceptionally well to get open layups or jumpers. When he is in the post he can make defenders look silly with his moves and countermoves, something that is impressive from even a senior in college. Now there is no debate that he needs to improve his defensive game to be the best professional player he can be, but wherever he lands in the draft come this summer McDermott will make an immediate impact putting points on the board.
2. Jabari Parker-Duke
Parker has been hyped ever since his high school days in Chicago and for the most part he has lived up to expectations. The easiest comparison to make is a more team oriented Carmelo Anthony, as they have similar builds (although Parker can still add some muscle), scoring prowess and rebounding ability, but I believe that Parker is a much, much better playmaker than Anthony at this stage of his career, with his ball handling and great passing ability. Once he gets experience in the NBA he will turn into a dynamite point forward. There are legitimate questions to me about his defensive effort, but his offensive skills translate perfectly to the professional game. If I were in the front office of the franchise with the first pick in the draft, it would be very difficult for me to pass up a player like Parker.
3. Marcus Smart-Oklahoma State
I’ll get this out of the way now and say that the whole situation at Texas Tech gives me no pause when it comes to Marcus Smart in the NBA. He’s a great person from everything I have heard and this seems like it was a one time thing. Sure he kicked a chair after a tough game, but is that really enough to knock his draft stock? No.
What makes him ready to play in the league right now is his body and physicality. Smart is listed as 6’4’’, 220 pounds and he uses that size to get to the rim to finish around the basket, but he needs to do that more often and stop settling for jumpers. Shooting just 29 percent from 3 for his career at Oklahoma State does not bode well for his range in the pro game. There are also questions around his ability to play the point guard position, as his decision making at times can be wonky at best, but if he is given the opportunity to play alongside a good distributor and someone can get through to him that he needs to be going to the bucket more, Smart will be an immediate impact player at the next level on offense. Defensively he could be one of the best players coming into the league from this draft, as his strength and athleticism will be hard to handle for opposing players, even in the NBA. If he can put all of his talents together Smart will be a player that franchises can build around and an All Star.
4. Julius Randle-Kentucky
Randle was one of the big three freshmen coming into this college basketball season and though his team has greatly disappointed, Randle has shown a very strong all around game. He is a strong rebounder, averaging 10.4 a game and leading the SEC overall, and can score the ball at will inside. He also has a good handle for someone his size, another skill that will translate very well in the league. The biggest problem for Kentucky this season has been their defensive intensity and Randle is no exception. He can be a very good defender with his quick feet and good hands, but he gets complacent too often. He has offensive skills that not many his size have however and once he enters the league, he should easily be a double digit scorer for the early lottery team that drafts him.
5. Adreian Payne-Michigan State
Payne is a physical specimen and has a combination of talents that scouts drool over. He can bang in the post and although his moves are still relatively raw, he has gotten much better over his four years in East Lansing and has turned into a dependable scorer inside, as he is leading the conference in field goal percentage this season. He can also step outside and knock down threes on a consistent basis, something that was nonexistent in his game just a few years ago. On the defensive end he is an excellent rebounder, one of the best in Big Ten history going strictly on stats, and with his length and athleticism, he is a very solid shot blocker. Add to all of this four years of playing for one of the best minds in basketball, Tom Izzo, he should have a considerable knowledge of the game and will be able to transition to the league quickly. Payne may fall to the late first round because of potential injury concerns and a lackadaisical attitude, but falling to those teams would be a great situation for him, as he would most likely be going to a playoff team. Being around veterans will be great for him and he could be a contributor day one off the bench.
6. Tyler Ennis-Syracuse
Ennis came into Syracuse with plenty of hype as a top 25 prospect in the nation and he hasn’t disappointed. He has been the best player on his team and has shown lead guard skills that should translate very well to the next level. He leads the ACC in assists at 5.6 per game and averages just 1.7 turnovers. At 6’2 Ennis is big enough to see open teammates and can use that size to finish around the rim against bigger players. He is fearless with the ball, and although that can get him in trouble at times, it is something that will work well for him once he gets to the NBA. He isn’t a great three point shooter at just 38 percent, but he is good enough to keep defenders honest, allowing him to use his quickness and handle to get the shot he wants or to create for his teammates. Ennis is also one of the better defenders at the point guard position in college, averaging 2 steals per game and leading the conference in that category as well. He will need to transition into a one on one defender after playing in Jim Boeheim’s famous 2-3 zone, but his anticipation and foot speed bode well for him going forward. He should be a late lottery pick and for any team in this area needing a point guard, Ennis can come in and immediately make an impact with his on the court skills and his supreme confidence, that he has show in his only college season.
7. PJ Hairston-Texas Legends of the NBDL, formerly North Carolina
Hairston has had numerous issues in the past few years that got him kicked off the team at North Carolina, forcing him to play in the NBDL, but in all honesty this may be a good move for him. He does not have the pressure of school and can be around men that understand being on the professional level. If he can keep his head on straight, he has incredible skills that translate to the NBA game very well. At 6’6’’ he has good size for a wing player and that height allows him to get his shot off easily. While playing for the Texas Legends of the NBDL Hairston is averaging 22 points per game with multiple forty point games under his belt, shooting 45 percent from the field and 37 percent from the three point line. Now Hairston isn’t going to give you much else than his scoring ability, he is an average defender and rebounder and not a good playmaker as his decision making can be questionable at times, but that scoring ability is something that cannot be denied. He may not be a first round pick but wherever he goes he will put points on the board from day one.
8. Gary Harris-Michigan State
Living in Indiana, I’ve heard a lot about Harris throughout his high school days playing at Hamilton Southeastern. Though I’m still a bit disappointed he didn’t stay in state to play at IU, it is hard to deny how talented Harris is a player. He is a versatile player on the offensive end, equally adept at shooting the ball and taking it off the dribble. With his experience playing wide receiver in high school, Harris has no problem taking contact and finishing around the rim. The range on his jumper is unlimited, making him exceedingly difficult to guard as his athleticism and quick first step allow him to use his great fundamentals to make a jab step or pump fake and get around his defender to get inside. He could become a more consistent shooter, but by no means is he someone that will have long stretches where his jumper is off anymore. He may not have ideal size for a two guard but his length and athleticism make up for that and with his great demeanor and work ethic, Harris will be able to fit in on any team. Wherever he ends up, that team is getting solid contributor from day one in whatever role they put him in.
9. Shabazz Napier-Connecticut
Napier has been around the college basketball landscape and thanks to that, it is pretty easy to describe his strengths and weaknesses. He is a very good offensive player, mainly a scorer, as he can create for himself in a variety of ways. He can be deadly in transition, as his speed is almost impossible to match and more often than not he finds a way to get to the rim. He isn’t the best finisher but his ability to draw fouls is uncanny and he is a very good free throw shooter at just under 89 percent this season. He has steadily improved his three point shooting from year to year and is at 40 percent in 2013-14 and with his experience in Madison Square Garden, he has shown that the range on his jumper goes beyond the professional line. His shot selection can be bad at times and in the league he will need to make better choices when to put the ball up. In the past his decision making has been questioned as well and he has even been described as selfish at times, but this year he has turned that around and is averaging just under 6 assists per game. There is still room for improvement however, as he misses players on the roll in favor of his own shot and at times and still has some of that selfishness in him. For someone his size, 6’1, Napier is a surprisingly good rebounder averaging 6 a game in this category as well. Although the NBA isn’t a defensive league to say the least, Napier is not a good defender. If he is able to come off the bench however and be utilized as a scoring point guard, Napier will thrive with his tenacity and aggression and could make someone look like a genius in the second round.
10. Deonte Burton-Nevada Reno
Burton is under the radar playing in the Mountain West but he is a very good scorer, going over 2000 points for his career recently. He may not have great size but he makes up for that with his muscular build and length and based solely on his frame, he is has been NBA ready for the past two years. His offensive game is quite versatile, as he is potent in pick and roll situations, in transition and isolation. Now if he can just get to the rim more often where he is an outstanding finisher and not overestimate his three point shooting ability, where he shoots just 31 percent from the college line, Burton would probably be even higher on draft boards. Where Burton comes up short is as a playmaker. He is third in total assists and assists per game in the MWC this season but he just does not have a natural feel as a decision maker. His questionable size make him a bit of a tweener when it comes to a position thanks to this deficiency but there is little doubt that Burton is one of the best offensive players in the draft. When goes late in the first round he could be a steal and should make an impact off someone’s bench come next season.