Which College Basketball Stars Have Ideal Skill Sets for the NBA?
Harrison Barnes made Golden State look really smart during the playoffs and made a few NBA general managers bang their heads against a wall.
Barnes was a really good college player, but he underwhelmed because the expectations were for him to be a superstar at North Carolina. He was a preseason All-American as a freshman, yet he never really dominated the college game. You felt like he should be better, but the college setup wasn't ideal for him.
In a more spread-out game in the NBA, Barnes is thriving. Golden State got a guy who could end up an All-Star with the seventh pick in what at this point is looking like a relatively weak draft.
Sometimes players end up better suited for the NBA than the college game. Sometimes it can come down to having one elite skill that NBA coaches figure out how to utilize.
Looking up and down the draft board this year, these are 10 players who fit a particular role in the NBA. In five years, I'll probably look back on this list and wish it was easier to erase things on the Internet. (Cut to David Kahn nodding.)
Note: All advanced stats used in this piece, unless otherwise noted, come from KenPom.com.
Arsalan Kazemi, Oregon
In 2012, Oregon ranked 158th in adjusted defensive efficiency and 162nd in defensive rebounding percentage.
In 2013, Oregon ranked 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency and 27th in defensive rebounding percentage.
In 2012, Oregon did not have Arsalan Kazemi. In 2013, Oregon had Kazemi, the best defensive rebounder in the country.
Whoever ends up with Kazemi will get a great rebounder and really good defender. If someone is willing to give Kazemi a shot and look past the fact that he's only 6'7", he could have a long career in the league as a defensive and rebounding specialist.
Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga
Maybe it's just the hair, but I see a little bit of Luis Scola in Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk, like Scola, has good post moves and can also step out to hit a jumper. According to Hoop-Math.com, Olynyk made 52 percent of his two-point jumpers this past season.
That combination is hard to find, and that's why big men like Scola, the Gasol brothers and Roy Hibbert are so valuable.
Scola has averaged 14.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists for his career. If Olynyk can put up those kind of numbers, he'll be well worth a lottery pick.
Reggie Bullock, North Carolina
Here are Reggie Bullock's numbers this past season compared to another former Tar Heels' numbers in his final season.
- Bullock: 13.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, 43.6 three-point percentage, 20.1 percent of shot taken
- Former Heel: 13.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, 41.8 three-point percentage, 22.9 percent of shot taken
Bullock is 6'7"; the former Tar Heel is 6'6". So similar numbers and similar size. Sounds like a worthy comp, right?
That former Tar Heel is Danny Green. Green has turned out to be a really solid pro. If Bullock gets in the right situation—San Antonio is perfect for Green—Bullock could also turn out to be a really good fit in the league even though he wasn't a star at UNC.
Mike Muscala, Bucknell
It's hard to predict the success of any college player but especially big men who played in a smaller conference like Mike Muscala.
Reason to believe Muscala could eventually become productive in the league is he's got NBA size at 6'11" and he can score over either shoulder. Muscala was also an elite rebounder on the college level. His 28.9 defensive rebounding percentage this past season ranked second nationally.
Ben McLemore, Kansas
Ben McLemore could be taken away this past season by teams that would keep one guy glued to him on the perimeter and take away any rhythm jumpers.
The reason McLemore fits so well in the NBA is that the floor spacing should allow him to get good looks. On the nights when he had good looks at KU, he'd blow up.
McLemore would really benefit if he's paired with a penetrating point guard or scoring big man willing to kick the ball out.
Kansas ran a lot of pin-down action for McLemore to get him shots. He improved throughout the year with his footwork and ability to catch and shoot off the move. That's why he's so intriguing at the next level. And it doesn't hurt that he's got great speed, hops and the ability to finish in transition.
Otto Porter, Georgetown
Otto Porter is a Swiss Army knife 3-man. He's the rare player coming out of college who can do just about everything well.
Porter reminds me a little bit of Tayshaun Prince. He has great length and should be an impact defender right away in the league. He also can shoot off the catch or the dribble from the perimeter and in the mid-range.
Like Prince, there's nothing really flashy about his game. He's just efficient and dependable. It's tough to excite a fanbase with that description, but Porter is the closest to a sure thing in this draft.
Pierre Jackson, Baylor
Pierre Jackson should thank Nate Robinson if his stock ends up higher by the time of the draft than it was before the NBA playoffs began.
You can see a lot of Robinson in Jackson. The Baylor point guard is extremely quick, can jump out of the gym, has a strong upper-body and he's a shot maker. If an NBA team wants to find instant offense off the bench in the mold of a Robinson, Jackson is the best bet in this draft. He might even have a higher ceiling because he's a better passer.
Allen Crabbe, California
Drafting a player who played three years in college based on potential is rare, but that's why I believe Allen Crabbe is intriguing. If there's a Paul George of this draft, someone who ends up way better than you expected, I think Crabbe could be the one.
One thing scouts want to see is the ability of a player to see a weakness and turn that into a strength.
With Crabbe, he was not an efficient scorer inside the three-point line as a sophomore. According to Hoop-Math.com's numbers, he attempted only 11 percent of his shots at the rim and made 53 percent of those attempts. As a junior, he attempted 19 percent of his shots at the rim and bumped his percentage made up to 71 percent.
Crabbe also improved his mid-range game, going from 35 percent on two-point jumpers as a sophomore to 45 percent as a junior. Those are signs that he's willing to put in the work to be a solid pro.
Archie Goodwin, Kentucky
Archie Goodwin's agent should be doing everything he can to get anyone to compare Goodwin to former Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe.
Bledsoe has turned into a valuable asset off the bench for the Clippers because of his breakneck speed and ability to get to the rim.
At Kentucky, it was clear Bledsoe was an elite athlete but what could have scared away some teams was how turnover-prone he was as a freshman.
Sound familiar? Goodwin wasn't the best decision-maker and struggled to make jumpers—that's one area Bledsoe didn't really struggle as a freshman—but he can get to the rim and has the athleticism to be a really good defender.
Even if Goodwin gets drafted, he's probably destined for the D-League. But in a few years when he is ready for the NBA, Goodwin will be able to come off the bench and not play a staring role, like he had to at UK. As a change-of-pace guard off the bench like Bledsoe, Goodwin could excel.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia
If Kentaviuos Caldwell-Pope had played for a winning program, he'd probably be a lottery pick.
Caldwell-Pope has the size and jumper to be an effective 2-guard in the league with some similar attributes to Ben McLemore. His jumper is not as smooth as McLemore's, but he's better off the dribble.
At Georgia, Caldwell-Pope took 33.1 percent of the shots when he was on the court this past season, so he's used to a role as a high-volume shooter. Caldwell-Pope could find his calling in the NBA as a scorer off the bench similar to a guy like J.R. Smith.
Trey Burke, Michigan
According to the numbers from UMhoops.com (via Synergy), Trey Burke was involved in 487 ball-screen possessions last season.
It's rare that a college point guard comes into the NBA with this much experience in ball-screen situations. Burke is similar to Chris Paul in his ability to use his body to protect the ball and create angles.
Burke will come off a pick with his defender behind him, lean forward and put his backside right into the defender, then accelerate when he sees an opening. It's like a patient running back waiting for his hole to open up. It's a veteran move.
Burke does not have elite speed or great size, and that's why NBA scouts are not exactly drooling over him. But he makes up for it with his feel for the game and ability to score or distribute in NBA-like sets. I anticipate he could have a Damian Lillard-like immediate impact because of the experience he gained at Michigan using ball screens, similar to what Lillard experienced at Weber State.
The fear for anyone that takes Burke high is that he ends up closer to a D.J. Augustin, who put up comparable numbers to Burke in his two years at Texas.