Well this Tuesday night was fun. Everyone finally got to see the consensus top-3 freshmen in the country (sorry, Aaron Gordon), along with the biggest mystery of the 2014 NBA Draft, Joel Embiid. But before we talk about Embiid, let's get to the men of the hour, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, and Julius Randle -- along with some of the Michigan State guys who improved their stock.
Randle had a fairly disastrous first half against Michigan State. In my opinion, a lot of that can be attributed to the spacing of the college game. Yes, Adreian Payne did an excellent job guarding him in the post. Yes, Tom Izzo game planned extremely well for the excellent post/midrange game that Randle possesses. But in reality, the lack of spacing in the college game due to the shorter three-point line led to a lot of struggles for Randle. It allowed the Michigan State defense to collapse on him and double more often in the post. While Randle clearly needs to do a better job of keeping the ball high and closer to his chest in order to avoid prying hands on these doubles, it will be rare for him to see situations like that in the NBA. Teams will double him, but it's much more difficult to recover in the NBA when facing these doubles, allowing him to make the proper pass out of the post.
Of course, the second half went much better for Randle. He put up 21 points on eight shots, along with eight rebounds. The game opened up a bit and was played more at Kentucky's pace, which allowed him to get out in transition and get some easy buckets. Then he found some space in the post and attacked the boards hard and picked up some easy buckets. Outside of the turnovers, everything went right in the second half for him. The eight turnovers are concerning, but overall this was far from a damning performance for Randle.
The two guys this game really helped play for Michigan State though. Payne was so spectacular defensively -- especially in the first half -- in the post against Randle that it really helped to show that he has the capability of playing tough post defense against players with NBA bodies and strength. He showed off a bit of his face-up game by making his only three point attempt of the game, but I need to see more of this portion of his game to really trust it. To add to this, he was the only Michigan State player that showed up last night against Columbia. His activity in the post was spectacular, and he got Michigan State in the double bonus early in the second half by r
The second guy is Keith Appling, who really looked the part of an NBA player in this game against the Harrison twins. He's three years older than them, but he absolutely outplayed them from start to finish on Tuesday. He had active hands defensively with four steals, he ended up with eight assists, eight rebounds, and scored 22 points. I didn't particularly think he was worth scouting coming into this year, but that game changed my mind and I'll be looking at him throughout the rest of the year. Note that I didn't mention Gary Harris here. We knew Gary Harris is this good. He's very comparable to Bradley Beal. I can do more of an in-depth comparison of these two at a later date, but I'm a fan of Harris's smooth game and I think he's pretty clearly a lottery pick right now.
Now to the second game, Kansas-Duke. The first half was the Jabari Parker Show, which is unsurprising given that it was his homecoming in Chicago. He showed off a vast array of step back jumpers, hanging layups, and the athleticism to get to the bucket. I'm pretty sure he's the second best jump shooter in the NCAA behind Doug McDermott. His elevation and high release point make his shot nearly unblockable at 6'8. As far as I'm concerned, Parker is Carmelo Anthony reincarnated. Once he fills out his body more and gets stronger, the post game will come. He even has the jab step down! It's scary how similar these two are.
He's already more unselfish than Melo, so let's hope that Parker becomes a bit more of a defensive presence as his career continues.
The main attraction in this game was Wiggins though, and, like Randle, he showed up in the second half after a first half riddled with foul trouble. First and foremost, he played spectacular defense on Parker in the second half, holding him to 3-8 from the field while mostly being the person matched up with him. His length and athleticism gave Parker some problems, which he'll be able to do all season to prolific wing and forward scorers.
His final two possessions on offense were a clinic that showed off the immense potential that Wiggins possesses in comparison to the other two players. In the first one, he got the ball a little bit outside the left block, turned to face up, jab stepped, then took a step back jumper and hit nothing but net. With his athleticism, that jab-step to step-back jumper is going to be entirely lethal if it's consistent. The second possession was a simple dunk in transition after a steal where he got fouled on the back of the head -- stupidly by Parker. Six of his nine field goals were either layups or dunks, and these go to show the athleticism that Wiggins has to get to the rim pretty much whenever he wants. He scored 22 points in 25 minutes, and by the end of the game had surpassed Parker as the best player on the floor.
As far as the other prospects on the floor? Embiid is intriguing because it's easy to see how athletic and smooth he is by watching him. He's massive, meaning this isn't an Isaiah Austin situation -- which we'll get to later because... *shudders*. However, he's so immensely raw right now that it's impossible to even begin to guess what he could be. The guy is clearly an athlete that NBA coaching staffs will want to draft early and mold, but I can't really see any circumstance where I'd take a risk like him over more of a sure thing like Aaron Gordon. If he continues to make progress skill-wise this year, I'll feel a lot better about raising him up my board, but right now he's definitely outside of the top 10.
I'm not as high on Wayne Selden as some seem to be because I think he might simply be a man among boys athletically right now. Even as a freshman, Selden is one of the strongest 2-guards in the NCAA already. That, along with his long arms and ability to get to the rim, make him a great potential slasher in the NBA. However, I'd just feel a lot more comfortable about him if he was two inches taller at 6'7. At 6'5, he's probably confined to playing mostly 2-guard, which is a problem for a guy whose shooting mechanics can waver when he's shooting from 20 feet away, let alone what I can envision as 23 feet. Selden and Embiid are pretty close on my board right now. If Selden can smooth out that jumper at some point this season, he's a surefire lottery pick. I just need to see a little bit more of him.
That's about all I've got for you from the greatest NBA Draft night in November college basketball history. We'll be looking at all of these guys throughout the season. As far as the Cavs are concerned, I'd want them to get their hands on Harris the most outside of the top-3. He's a shooter that would immediately replace C.J. Miles' 20 minutes-per-game as a rookie along with strong defensive intensity.
If you made me rank the three big prospects right now, I'd say that nothing really changed for me. Wiggins is number one, Parker number 2, and Randle number 3, and they're separated by the slimmest margin possible. I think they're all clear NBA All-Star-caliber talents and you can't go wrong with any of the three.
-6'10, 350 lb C Joshua Smith is back on the collegiate radar at Georgetown. He had a massive night against Oregon last Friday to start his season with 25 points. Smith still possesses the great, soft hands that made him a five-star recruit, along with the strength to push around literally anybody in the NCAA that he wants to in the post. He utilizes his excellent lower body strength well, doesn't lower his shoulders, and has a very refined post game for a man his size. The way he can carve out space is Bynum-like. Instead of finding the soft spot in the zone, he can simply turn his hips, make a wide target, and catch the ball with his soft hands. The problem is though that he literally can't do anything else unless he's on the offensive end. His activity level when rebounding is a veritable problem, where he literally doesn't have the reaction ability to time his jumps properly to even make it worth going up for rebounds, and that's most of the reason that Oregon defeated Georgetown. Smith played 27 minutes and collected 1 defensive rebounds while Oregon collected 16 offensive rebounds throughout the game, converting them for 20 points. He's still undraftable in my mind unless he can improve his rebounding effort.
-On the other end of the spectrum, 6'8" F Mike Moser looked pretty excellent against Georgetown. Moser is a graduate transfer from UNLV, where a dislocated elbow sidelined him for a large deal of last season -- even though he attempted to play through it. It looks like his shooting stroke has finally returned, as he's 5-12 from three this season. But beyond that, he's a tough rebounder for his size, an active defender with great hands, and excellent away from the ball and cutting to the rim. When Dominic Artis returns from his suspension, I'd look for Moser to even take a larger jump in efficiency as he can start running and getting easy buckets in transition. He's something of a forgotten man because of his long travels, but Moser is going to be a key player in the Pac-12 this season. Specifically, I look forward to his matchup this season with Aaron Gordon, another combo forward. He's not a first-rounder or anything right now, but he could be a riser as the season continues.
-Sam Dekker's release this season looks to be a bit more smoothed out and quicker, which is rather large for his development. He was one of the least effective draft-eligible small forwards in the NCAA from midrange last season because of the quicker closeouts from bigs. This assuages my fear of shot being too slow to function properly in the NBA, and I think that he's a top 20 prospect right now because of his basketball IQ and shooting ability.
-Finally, let's talk about Isaiah Austin. I'm not sure I've ever been more disappointed in a player's development. He still has absolutely zero lower body strength, and gets pushed around literally all over the court. Against Colorado last Friday, he was not even able to establish box-out rebounding position against Josh Scott, who just pushed him out of the way to get offensive rebounds. He's entirely a finesse player that needs to be out on the perimeter right now, but he doesn't actually possess perimeter skills to play out there because he's still a seven-footer that doesn't have enough coordination. He's a complete tweener that can't really do anything right now. Until he improves his lower body strength, he's outside of my top 30. I'm not sure he's the best forward prospect on his team because of Cory Jefferson. His game oozes potential and skill, but I'm starting to become severely worried that he won't ever put on weight because of his body style (skinny shoulders, narrow frame).
If there's anyone else you guys want me to take a look at in the future, please let me know.