A number of NBA scouts, executives and players were on hand in Chicago Tuesday night to see what could be one of the memorable freshmen classes of college basketball. Four of the top teams in the nation competed in close games that were led by players who could be in high demand during next summer’s draft:
Andrew Wiggins is billed as the can’t-miss prospect of next year’s draft. With comparisons to LeBron James, Scottie Pippen, Tracy McGrady (healthy), and other elite talents, the hype on Kansas’ star forward is unlimited and almost unfair. Wiggins had a quiet first half with six points and three rebounds, but his 16 second half points were instrumental in Kansas’ victory over Duke.
Wiggins’ athleticism remains his calling card; he’s every bit the spectacular athlete he’s made out to be. His wiry frame gets off the ground quickly and he is a dangerous threat in the open the floor. With his length, athleticism, quickness and explosion, Wiggins’ upside is transparent. These tools could make him one of the basketball’s elite perimeter defenders.
Wiggins isn’t a reliable threat from the perimeter yet, but shows improved mechanics and has more confidence in his shot. This is the area Wiggins will need to make strides in to cement the top spot in next year’s draft. He’s got a lot of potential as a playmaker off the dribble and should continue to get better there.
Wiggins was passive in the first half and at times it was hard to remember he was on the floor. Derrick Rose had a similar knock on him during his first batch of games as a freshman at Memphis, but silenced all doubt at the next level. Wiggins performance in the second half showed the overall effect he can have. Critics will want to see Wiggins be more aggressive and show a motor as the season goes on. While the stature of Wiggins as a prospect can be debated thoroughly, it’s hard to argue against him as the most talented prospect in next year’s class.
Before Wiggins re-classified into this year’s heralded freshmen group, Jabari Parker was considered the best high school talent in the nation; it’s easy to see why. Parker finished with a game high 27 points and nine rebounds in his return to his hometown of Chicago. Parker’s offensive game is so smooth, at times it looks effortless. He has a high, quick release on his jump shot with excellent mechanics and range out to the NBA three point line. Parker had little to no trouble rising over defenders to get any shot on the floor.
Parker isn’t limited though to his jump shot; he has a good first step and showed the ability to create off the dribble and get separation from his defender. Parker handles the ball like a guard and can be a dependable playmaker someday. Most surprising was Parker’s athleticism; he’s already thrown down a few dunks that he’s a more than capable athlete. Last night Parker caught an alley-oop that brought the sell-out crowd at the United Center to their feet. Parker looks to be a good rebounder for his size as well.
Parker has a complete offensive game in the mold of Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony. Parker doesn’t shy away from the spotlight and shows early signs of having the killer instinct many great offensive players have. Parker has the ability to average 17-20 points as a rookie and be one of the best scorers in the league.
Julius Randle is big boy basketball. Michigan State threw everything including the kitchen sink at Kentucky’s star freshman, but Randle always had an answer. Randle has the prototypical size of an NBA power forward at 6’9-6’10 and 240-250 pounds. He bullies is way into the paint and doesn’t hesitate to bang down low. Randle is an excellent rebounder; he finished with 13 rebounds against a veteran Michigan State frontcourt. Randle has a likeable mean streak to his game on offense.
Randle has good footwork in the low post and possesses terrific ball handling ability for a player his size. He can finish in a variety of ways inside the paint but is also a threat to hit from the perimeter. Randle’s combination of size, strength, scoring ability, rebounding and explosiveness has drawn comparisons to Chris Webber. A more athletic Zach Randolph is also a rational base for Randle. There are still teams who prefer to build a team inside out through scoring and rebounding, and Randle can anchor a team through that for a long time.
IN THE BONUS:
- Michigan State’s Gary Harris could arguably be the most complete shooting guard in the nation. Harris’s combination of three-point shooting, ball-handling and defensive potential should make him a lottery pick.
- How much fun would it have been to see Australia’s Dante Exum in action last night. Exum is a talented shooting guard prospect in his own right and some folks in the media consider him to be every bit as good as the elite prospects in next year’s draft.
- Aaron Gordon of Arizona is also considered to be one of elite freshmen in the country. Gordon is an explosive athlete and has drawn some comparisons to Blake Griffin.
- James Young of Kentucky is another of John Calipari’s remarkable freshmen class. Like Harris, Young can really shoot the ball and has good size for his position. He might be the key to Kentucky’s season with his potential to create shots and extend defenses.
- Despite playing backseat in hype to his teammate Wiggins, Wayne Selden Jr. had a good game with 15 points, six rebounds and four assists. Like the aforementioned guards, Selden is a versatile shooter and scorer at shooting guard.
- Freshmen center Joel Embiid was impressive off the bench. Embiid is viewed as a raw seven-footer, but showed a good feel for the game last night. He dished out five assists, grabbed seven rebounds, but scored just two points. Embiid has good size, length and athleticism for his position in a similar mold Steven Adams of Pittsburgh, and now of the Oklahoma City Thunder, did last season.
- Neither Andrew Harrison or Aaron Harrison had good outings last night, but remain good prospects. In particular, Andrew Harrison has a chance to be a special prospect at point guard.