Last year's Arizona Wildcats missed the NCAA tournament and then lost at home in the first round of the NIT. This year's Arizona squad is off to its best start in 25 years.
With a thrilling Christmas Day win over a San Diego State team better than their ranking indicates, Arizona rolled to 12-0.The difference from a year ago is obvious: The Wildcats have tons of talent all over the court. This list profiles which of these Arizona talents are the best NBA prospects.
Kevin Parrom has provided a huge spark for the Wildcats in all the significant tests this season. Against San Diego State he made two huge threes, had a couple of key put-backs and played all the most important minutes.
He has quietly turned himself into the most clutch shot-maker on the team. He also plays solid defense both on and off the ball and is a good rebounder. Parrom has become an indispensable part of this team, and without him I see three losses on the Wildcats' perfect season.
Despite his contributions, Parrom won't be drafted. He is long and a good size for his position, but he isn't particularly athletic, does not have a consistent or quick shot, cannot create his own shot, is not an explosive finisher and makes very poor decisions at times.
Parrom might get Arizona over the top in a bunch of games to come this season, but he is not an NBA quality forward.
Mark Lyons was not in draft territory to start the year. There were serious questions about leadership and his ability to play as a true point guard.The leadership issue has been dismissed long ago. His leadership is the reason Arizona has won the way it has.
He has been the team's aggressor, the one to take the last shot (and deliver), the one to get the offense moving when it staggers and the player who tenaciously defends the top of the key. In the San Diego State game he again proved just how far he has come as a leader: benched because of fouls during the most important minutes of the game, Lyons didn't slouch or complain. Instead he was waving a towel over his head, cheering his teammates on. He is the player every coach loves to have.
The other question is about his style of play, and it is undeniable that he is not a true point guard. He isn't a great passer and does make his fair share of bad plays, but his positive attributes are going to get him into the league. He has elite quickness, is a good shooter and a great on-the-ball defender. He can take and make the big shot, is uber competitive and, if nothing else, this year shows that he is a winner.
These traits will translate to the NBA in some fashion. Arizona will constantly be on ESPN and national TV, so he will get a chance to be seen as well. In the end, Lyons will sneak into the end of the second round.
Solomon Hill is a classic tweener. He is not quick enough to defend a shooting guard but not big enough to guard an NBA forward. He doesn't have the shooting ability to play at the two nor the size or explosiveness to play the three.
Yet he is a very polished all-around player. He can score well when he is aggressive, is a great rebounder for his size and a good defender. He also has good ball-handing acumen and passes very well for his position.
If Hill wants to compete at the next level he has got to improve his jump shot and his ability to create a shot. He needs to be able to come off a screen or pull up off the dribble and nail a jumper—consistently. This is not a skill in his repertoire yet.
His shot has improved dramatically over the past three years, which bodes well for his ability to add to his game. Hill has impressed enough to be drafted in the mid-second round, but if he can add this to his package he will stay on an NBA roster for many years to come.
Nick Johnson has progressed faster than any Wildcat. He has begun to polish his game to a point where he could soon be a solid NBA prospect. His shooting has always been good and with his jumping ability, he should be able to get his shot when he needs to.
He is also an intense defender and has show an ability to stop quality players at both guard spots.
His most obvious impediment is his size. At 6'3", he is not big enough to play the NBA shooting guard role, but he is not enough of a play-maker at this point in his career to play the point. This is where his work ethic can kick in.
If he can become a more capable ball handler and learn to distribute the ball over his two-plus seasons at Arizona, he will be at minimum a mid-second-round choice. If his ability to distribute the ball stays where it is at now, he might not be drafted at all.
Grant Jerrett has been something of an enigma this season.
He plays his role well. He comes in as a substitute for Brandon Ashley or Tarczewski and fills the minutes until the starter comes back into the lineup. The transition is seamless and his presence on the court often goes unnoticed. The reason he is an enigma is that he shouldn't be a role player. He shouldn't be someone who bridges the gap between one starter and another.
Jerrett is 6'10" and has a massive skill set. He shoots very well, can handle the ball some and can post when he actually has the patience to do so. He's a good passer, he rebounds, blocks shots and plays good team defense.
In the Miami game he made a play that exemplified just how good this guy is: Kevin Parrom threw him a skip pass that he caught just above his head and beyond the three-point line. Without adjusting or pulling the ball down, he was ready to shoot. His only motion was a flick of his right wrist—and the ball went in.
Jerrett could score 15 points a game, but he isn't comfortable with being selfish enough to get into a rhythm. He seems like he is nervous about being the guy to make a mistake. And the result is he fades into all the other talent; he disappears.
I suspect this will happen for the rest of this year because the Wildcats have so many talented players. It won't be until next season that Wildcats fan will really see what Jerrett can do. When his skill set is actually on display, he will be mid- to late first-round pick after his sophomore season.
If Tarczewski stays four years, he is going to be a dominant force on the national scene. Although he hasn't done much of anything on the offensive end of the floor, it is already apparent he can totally control the boards. Also, his post defense is good, and will do nothing but improve with time. And as big as he is now, he is just going to get bigger and stronger by going through Chris Rounds' strength and conditioning program. A bigger and stronger Zeus is a scary thought.
However, as he looks right now, his game doesn't translate all that well to the NBA. He isn't as athletic as he was touted to be coming in and can be a defensive liability against quicker big men. Additionally, most good NBA big guys have good hands. Tarczewski doesn't have them. He simply cannot catch anything thrown to him in close quarters. This may be an adjustment to the college level, but neither Ashley nor Jerrett have this issue. More likely his hands just aren't that good, which is a problem for his NBA prospects.
With all that said, Tarczewski's size is something that is always coveted. He is a big 7'0'' and will just get bigger. Because of that trait, he will mostly likely be drafted in the mid-first round. Hopefully he stays at Arizona for at least a couple of years because while he can dominate on the college level, but he is not going to be a great pro.
Ashley is highest on the list because his potential is nearly sky high. With his length and athleticism, if he could develop any one of a number of skills he could end up being a good, or even great NBA player. If he were to become a better ball handler, or a consistent shooter, or improve his defensive prowess, his draft stock would skyrocket.
At this point in his career he operates off of pure ability. His length, hops, speed and quickness allow him to start at one of the best college programs in the country. If he becomes a great shooter, he could be a poor man's Kevin Durant. If he becomes a great ball handler, he will be the second coming of Andre Iguodala. If he only is to become an elite defender, he can play for years on that alone.
In a variety of ways Brandon Ashley can be a contributor on an NBA roster for a number of years, but he needs to develop his raw talent into a solid basketball skill. On pure talent alone he stands to be a mid-to-late first-rounder; with some polish, he could be a lottery pick.