College Basketball Recruiting: Greatest Asset of Each Top Player in 2014 Class
Although Andrew Wiggins’ commitment to Kansas is putting the 2013 recruiting class in today’s headlines, coaches around college basketball are well aware that it’s already time to worry about their 2014 recruits. As the nation’s best high schoolers prepare for their senior seasons, many have already established top-tier skills that they can count on to earn them playing time at the college level.
One prime example of that phenomenon is athletic SF Jalen Lindsey, set to take over Wiggins’ starting job at Huntington Prep. Lindsey may not have his predecessor’s versatility, but he can throw down a dunk with highlight-reel panache.
Herein, a closer look at Lindsey's finishing ability and the biggest strengths of the rest of ESPN’s top 20 recruits for 2014.
20. Goodluck Okonoboh: Shot-Blocking
To be a top-notch shot blocker takes great instincts, and Goodluck Okonoboh has those in spades. Of course, his 6’9”, 215-lb body doesn’t hurt his chances any, either.
Okonoboh is a work in progress offensively, but his leaping ability and timing are already good enough to make an impact as a collegian, and he's only going to get better.
He has a lot in common with another 6’9” defensive specialist: St. John’s center Chris Obekpa, who ranked second in the country with 4.0 rejections per game last season.
19. Devin Booker: Jump Shot
As a pure catch-and-shoot threat, there aren’t many players in the class of 2014 who can compete with Devin Booker. Opponents will have to force him off the three-point line, because he’s already a deadeye scorer from long range.
Booker isn’t yet as adept at driving the ball as he is with his standstill jumper, but he does know how to get open. He’s also got the length (at 6’5”) to get his shots up over a defender, even at the college level.
18. Keita Bates-Diop: Face-Up Game
Keita Bates-Diop is on the small side for a power forward at 6’7”, though he’s got the wingspan to compensate for some of that disadvantage.
More importantly, the Ohio State commit has enough skill as a shooter and ball-handler to pull opposing bigs away from the basket.
Bates-Diop is also a terrific passer for a post player, making him even tougher to guard when he’s facing the hoop. He doesn’t have a lot of muscle on him yet, but opponents try to body him up at their peril, as he’s a very good free-throw shooter.
17. Jalen Lindsey: Dunking
At 6’7”, Jalen Lindsey is in the process of converting from a post player to a wing in the interests of his collegiate future. One skill that will serve him equally well both places is his outstanding finishing ability.
Lindsey is an electrifying athlete who’s exceptionally tough to stop when he gets a look at the rim. His experience battling big men underneath also helps him absorb contact when the defense challenges him in the air.
16. JaQuan Lyle: Adaptability
JaQuan Lyle is a true combo guard, able to set up his teammates or create his own scoring opportunities as the situation demands. At 6’4”, he has the length to handle either backcourt spot at the college level.
Lyle also has the basketball smarts to read the defense and figure out when to drive and dish or when to pull up for a jump shot.
Neither his passing nor his shooting are top-of-the-line by themselves at this point, but having the threat of both makes him a far more dangerous offensive player.
15. Stanley Johnson: Strength
At 6’6”, 220 lbs, SF Stanley Johnson already has more bulk than plenty of post players his age. The California native knows how to use his muscle, too, powering his way to plenty of rebounds and baskets inside.
Johnson is also a hard-nosed defender who will be able to use his physicality to help make up for a comparative lack of quickness on the perimeter.
Of course, for all his fundamental skills, he doesn’t miss many opportunities to bull his way past opponents for a dunk, either.
14. Justin Jackson: Shooting Touch
Justin Jackson doesn’t have the unlimited range of some of this class’ top jump-shooters, but when he’s in range, he doesn’t miss many. He’s improved as a pull-up shooter in the mid-range game, giving him another way to create looks for himself.
At 6’7”, Jackson won’t be giving up any size to college small forwards, and he can get his shot off against almost any defender.
Once he gets more comfortable shooting from beyond the arc, the North Carolina commit is going to be a devastating offensive weapon.
13. Theo Pinson: Passing
There are a number of star-caliber wing players in the 2014 class, and Theo Pinson’s scoring ability and athleticism don’t particularly set him apart from that elite group. What does make Pinson special is his playmaking ability from the SF spot.
The North Carolina native not only knows how to put his passes on the money, he knows when he’s better off giving up the ball rather than forcing his own shot.
That kind of basketball IQ isn’t easy to find in a great scorer, and Pinson will be a far more valuable player to his eventual college team because of it.
12. Joel Berry: Maturity
Physically, Joel Berry is still developing, but mentally he’s way ahead of the great majority of high school point guards.
The 6’0” North Carolina commit earned Mr. Basketball honors in Florida as both a sophomore and a junior (edging out Chris Walker, a top-15 prospect in the 2013 class, for this year’s prize).
Berry is more adept as a scorer than a passer at this stage, but he makes good reads and knows how to run an offense. He’s also shown a commitment to playing defense that isn’t always found in top-tier high school prospects.
11. Leron Black: Effort
There are stronger and more polished power forwards in the 2014 class, but there aren’t any that work harder than Leron Black.
Whether it’s battling for an offensive rebound or helping on defense to get a blocked shot, Black’s energy is unflagging.
The Memphis native also does a great job of running the floor, which gets him plenty of easy baskets. His half-court offensive game is still developing, but naturally, he’s putting plenty of work into improving it.
10. Justise Winslow: Ballhandling
Where many of his rivals at small forward are learning the position after starting out in the post, Justise Winslow is a natural wing.
Nowhere is that fact more apparent than in his sensational ball-handling ability, which would be the envy of plenty of guards in this class.
Even though Winslow doesn’t have a top-notch jump shot, he can score in bunches by driving through the defense (even when they know he’s coming). He’s also a wonderful passer with the vision to set up his teammates after he’s broken down the D.
9. Rashad Vaughn: Length
At 6’6” and the wingspan of an even bigger player, Rashad Vaughn is a brutal matchup for most small forwards (especially at the high-school level).
The Minnesotan is at his best attacking the rim, where he has the size to challenge bigger interior defenders.
Vaughn’s long arms also help him make his jump-shooting chances count, though consistency is still an issue for him in that arena.
He’s also tough to handle in transition, where very few of the players who can keep up with his speed can also contest his dunks on the other end.
8. Cliff Alexander: Rebounding
At 6’9”, 230 lbs, Cliff Alexander is among the most physically overpowering prospects in the class. Nowhere is that advantage more evident than on the boards, where he grabs and holds onto any ball that gets near him.
Alexander’s rebounding success isn’t all about bulk, either, as he’s tremendously active on the glass. He has the rare ability to make an impact as a shot-blocker without sacrificing too much of his rebounding effectiveness.
7. Kevon Looney: Versatility
A legitimate power forward at 6’8”, Kevon Looney has plenty of small-forward skills. He has shooting range out to the three-point line and can readily take bigger defenders off the dribble.
Of course, the Milwaukee native is also a first-rate rebounder with the quickness to pursue the ball if he doesn’t control it immediately. He’s nearly as dangerous going inside on wing players as he is making big men chase him around the perimeter.
6. Chris McCullough: Mobility
Very few 6’10”, 220-lb power forwards, even at the college level, run the floor better than Chris McCullough. He gets plenty of good out of his agility in half-court situations, too, using his advanced ball-handling skills to drive on slower defenders.
The Syracuse commit, like so many Jim Boeheim recruits, is also an outstanding shot-blocker who has the lateral quickness to cover a huge space in the Orange’s 2-3 zone.
His value on that end of the floor (which includes solid rebounding ability) will help compensate early on for some very raw scoring skills.
5. Karl Towns Jr.: Shooting Range
Much like current Baylor standout Isaiah Austin, Karl Towns Jr. often plays as though he’d rather not be quite so tall. Towns stands 7’1” but frequently gravitates to the perimeter, where he’s already a first-class three-point threat.
The Kentucky commit isn’t as polished in more traditional big-man skill areas, but even top college teams will struggle to match up with his size—especially as he adds muscle to his current 235 lbs.
That advantage will make it all the harder to contain him when he does step out and start firing treys.
4. Trey Lyles: Low-Post Moves
As more and more power forwards shift to playing on the wings, it’s refreshing to see a young player who wants the ball on the low block.
Once 6’8” Trey Lyles catches the ball in the post, there aren’t going to be many defenders who can control him, even when he gets to college.
Lyles can create openings with an array of back-to-the-basket moves, or turn and face to get by his defender. He’s an aggressive scorer with plenty of shooting range, but he does his best (and most polished) work down low.
3. Emmanuel Mudiay: Scoring Arsenal
Although he’s generally listed as a point guard, the most obvious comparison for Emmanuel Mudiay is graduating Arizona star Mark Lyons.
Like Lyons, the youngster can make some solid plays as a passer and ball-handler, but is at his best creating shots for himself.
It hardly matters what kind of shot, because Mudiay has them all available.
He doesn’t quite have the range to be a consistent three-point threat as yet, but he can score off the pull-up, coming off a screen, driving to the rim or on catch-and-shoot looks—all with equal aplomb.
2. Tyus Jones: Leadership
Tyus Jones has the athleticism and skills you expect from an elite pass-first point guard. What sets him apart, though, is his ability to bring out the best in his teammates.
Jones runs an offense better than any PG in the class, and he’s in the rare group of offensive players who can take over the game without scoring.
His decision-making and vision are top-of-the-line, and he has the instincts to put himself in the right place to make plays.
1. Jahlil Okafor: Hands
A hulking 6’10”, 265 lbs, Jahlil Okafor can carve out space inside better than anyone in the 2014 class. Even with that capability, though, he wouldn't make nearly as many plays without the benefit of his extraordinary hands.
Whether fielding an entry pass or corralling a rebound, Okafor catches the ball so well that he’s always in good position. He’s also got wonderful shooting touch for a player his size, making him the most dangerous post scorer in the class.