NBA Player Comparisons for Top 20 College Basketball Stars of 2013-14 Season
Few sports feature as much turnover among the top players as college basketball, and not many fans will have had the opportunity to see all of the new stars who will dominate the headlines in 2013-14. For anyone who hasn’t yet encountered a particular college player, one of the easiest ways to explain his style is to find a pro with a similar game.
Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, for instance, played well below the radar last year on a team that barely topped .500. Those who haven’t seen the Sun Devils star, though, will probably be more familiar with Nuggets standout Ty Lawson, who features similar size and speed.
Read on for more on Carson and the rest of the 20 most exciting players in the college ranks for next season, along with an NBA counterpart for each.
20. Julius Randle, Kentucky
NBA Comparison: David Lee
One of the first things that grabs you about Julius Randle is the energy he plays with, a trait very much shared by Golden State All-Star Lee. Both are tireless workers at the PF spot who can pursue rebounds all night.
Also like Lee (at least in recent years), Randle is a terrific scoring weapon in the low post. The Wildcat freshman has yet to develop a jump shot on Lee’s level, but that may well come in time.
19. Chane Behanan, Louisville
NBA Comparison: Reggie Evans
While Evans can score when called upon, his primary job for the Brooklyn Nets is to eat up space in the paint and dominate the glass. That’s also a pretty accurate description of Chane Behanan’s role for the defending national champs.
At 6’6”, 250 pounds, Behanan has a healthy percentage of Evans’ power, if not his 6’8” height. The rising junior also has an edge on Evans in terms of quickness, allowing him to be more of a playmaker on defense.
18. Kendall Williams, New Mexico
NBA Comparison: George Hill
Nobody doubts Hill’s ability to score, but even in his first year playing starter’s minutes, he put up only modest point totals.
Similarly, Kendall Williams can go off for some enormous individual games (witness his 46 points at Colorado State last year) but averaged an unremarkable 13.3 points a night on the year.
Also like Hill, Williams keeps his job because he’s a reliable floor general, whether or not his shot is falling. Thanks in part to a couple of extra inches in length, the Lobos star is also more of a factor defensively than the Pacers PG.
17. Davante Gardner, Marquette
NBA Comparison: Zach Randolph
To state the obvious, Davante Gardner doesn’t even have a fraction of Zach Randolph’s deadly mid-range scoring ability. However, the two forwards play very similar games when they get closer to the hoop.
The 6’8”, 290-pound Golden Eagle and the 6’9”, 253-pound Grizzly both do most of their damage below the rim, but their exceptional strength and wide bodies still let them eat up rebounds in bunches.
Both players also have outstanding hands and (crucially) the ability to convert on their many free-throw opportunities.
16. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
NBA Comparison: Jameer Nelson
Although far from a liability as a scorer, Jerian Grant is a cut below the elite scoring point guards, much like longtime Magic starter Nelson.
What both Grant and Nelson do at a very high level is run an efficient half-court offense, contributing some of their own shots but setting up their teammates as a primary option.
Both guards are also solid on-ball defenders. The biggest disparity between them is that while Nelson is on the small side for a starter at 6’0”, Grant is an exceptionally tall point guard at 6’5”.
15. Alex Kirk, New Mexico
NBA Comparison: Marc Gasol
Just as Gasol has been right on the fringe of All-Star consideration for most of his NBA career, Alex Kirk is on the brink of a breakout season at New Mexico.
Neither center is an explosive athlete, but both are productive in all of the areas you look for in a successful post player.
Kirk, like the Grizzlies' Gasol, takes advantage of his muscle to make plays as a steady rebounder and an impact shot-blocker.
Both are solid scorers, though Gasol does more of his damage with his jump shot while Kirk is most effective grinding out points under the rim.
14. Jabari Parker, Duke
NBA Comparison: Shane Battier
Jabari Parker has a balanced, versatile skill set, but it’s his defense that’s likely to set him apart in his freshman year at Duke.
As Battier’s NBA career winds down, he’s become a bit more specialized than he once was, but his value as a defender at the SF spot for the Miami Heat is still a highlight of his portfolio.
Both wings also have solid three-point shooting ability and exceptional feel for the game. Parker is probably a slightly better passer than Battier, while Battier is more comfortable banging with bigger opponents on the interior.
13. Isaiah Austin, Baylor
NBA Comparison: Andrea Bargnani
In the NBA, there are plenty of seven-footers who play like small forwards, but most of them (like Toronto's Bargnani) are European imports.
Baylor has the homegrown version in Isaiah Austin, a 7’1”, 220-pound center who spends much of his time on offense hovering out around the three-point arc.
To Austin’s credit, he’s a better rebounder and defender than Bargnani’s ever been.
Oddly, though, his three-point stroke (roughly equal to Bargnani’s at this stage) hasn’t translated at the free-throw stripe, where Bargnani is a force but Austin shoots just .634.
12. Shabazz Napier, UConn
NBA Comparison: Kemba Walker
When Walker was leading UConn to a national title, one of the keys to the Huskies’ success was backup Shabazz Napier’s ability to fill Walker’s shoes as floor leader.
Now that Walker has finished his first season as Charlotte’s starter, it’s pretty clear that he and Napier are still on similar tracks.
Both PGs are scorers first, attacking the rim at every opportunity and setting up teammates only when their own shot is cut off. The same aggressiveness comes through on the defensive end, where each player averaged 2.0 steals per game last season.
11. Glenn Robinson III, Michigan
NBA Comparison: Rudy Gay
Although Glenn Robinson III’s All-Star dad wouldn’t be a bad choice here, Toronto Raptor Rudy Gay is the pick among active NBA players. Both he and Robinson are fearsome dunkers with impressive all-around arsenals as scorers.
Also like Gay, Robinson is a productive rebounder even as a natural wing player.
The Wolverines standout could, however, stand to develop his defensive instincts (as Gay has done) to take better advantage of his excellent length and quickness.
10. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
NBA Comparison: Deron Williams
One of Williams’ greatest assets is a powerful 6’3” frame that helps him make up for not having the blinding open-floor quickness of a Chris Paul or a Russell Westbrook.
Similarly, 6’5” Andrew Harrison will have a decisive size and strength advantage over nearly every point guard he faces.
Also like Brooklyn's Williams, Harrison has a well-balanced game that will let him make an impact as a scorer or distributor as needed. The Kentucky freshman may even be a more dangerous defender than Williams (who’s never excelled in that area).
9. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina
NBA Comparison: LaMarcus Aldridge
James Michael McAdoo and Aldridge both have a fair amount of muscle to work with (230 pounds for the Tar Heel, 240 pounds for the Blazer), but neither specializes in slugging it out underneath.
Instead, both power forwards are long-armed face-up specialists, forcing slow-footed defenders to keep up with them in the mid-range game and along the baseline.
Both big men also make their length count on defense, with Aldridge preferring to block shots while McAdoo generates more steals.
With an offensive style and a physical build that will draw loads of fouls, though, McAdoo really needs to learn from Aldridge’s soft free-throw touch to improve his own ghastly .578 performance from last season.
8. Aaron Craft, Ohio State
NBA Comparison: Ricky Rubio
Although Rubio’s ball-handling flair has gotten more attention, he did tie for the NBA lead with 2.4 steals per game.
Aaron Craft can’t match the T-Wolves youngster for dribbling prowess, but he’s one of the toughest on-ball defenders in the business, college or pro.
Also like Rubio, Craft doesn’t do a whole lot of scoring, though that may change with Deshaun Thomas gone from the Buckeye lineup. Craft is a good passer, but he’s not quite at Rubio’s sleight-of-hand level in that area.
7. C.J. Fair, Syracuse
NBA Comparison: Marvin Williams
Much like Williams, C.J. Fair is something of a tweener forward, featuring the build and agility of a 3 but with the rebounding and interior offensive game of a 4. Both forwards also produce a steady supply of highlight-reel dunks.
Utah's Williams has developed as a three-point threat during his pro career, a skill that Fair hasn’t yet added.
On the other hand, Fair has done a better job of parlaying his athleticism into a strong defensive performance than Williams has managed thus far.
6. Adreian Payne, Michigan State
NBA Comparison: Chris Bosh
Adreian Payne is likely to shift from PF to center this season with Derrick Nix gone, a transition with which Chris Bosh has plenty of experience (in both directions).
The Heat center has earned his slew of All-Star appearances with a combination of tremendous athleticism and a dangerous jump shot, attributes Payne also showcases.
Payne is in the process of developing a perimeter-focused offensive game comparable to the one that’s served Bosh well in his pro career. The similarly built big men are also respectable (though not overwhelming) shot-blockers.
5. Jahii Carson, Arizona State
NBA Comparison: Ty Lawson
Few guards can survive the NBA grind at under 6’0”, but the 5’11” Denver Nugget is an exception.
That makes him a fine role model for Jahii Carson, Arizona State’s 5’10” spark plug, whose devastating open-floor speed belongs in the same conversation as the fleet-footed Lawson’s.
Neither Lawson nor Carson is quite as effective passing as they are slicing through defenses for runners and layups, though both are respectable floor leaders.
One of the biggest differences between them is also the biggest hole in Carson’s game: The Sun Devil standout shoots just .320 from deep, where Lawson’s NBA career average is .380.
4. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
NBA Comparison: Danny Granger
Like Granger, Andrew Wiggins has the total package offensively, and it’s his prolific scoring that will open fans’ eyes. Also like the Pacer All-Star, though, the Jayhawk freshman brings plenty more to the table.
Both small forwards are skilled rebounders from the perimeter, and both can use their length to make plays defensively.
Wiggins, a bit better as a penetrator and a bit less inclined to seek his own shot, is likely to put up better assist totals than Granger’s typically meager numbers in that category.
3. Doug McDermott, Creighton
NBA Comparison: Kyle Korver
A decade after Korver made Creighton the class of the Missouri Valley, Doug McDermott is leading the Blue Jays into their first season in the Big East.
Both players have made their names with astonishing jump-shooting ability, with Korver hitting .457 from the NBA three-point line last year and McDermott draining .490 from the college stripe.
Also like Chicago's Korver, the 6’8” McDermott is nothing special as a defender or athlete, though both have enough heart and hustle to contribute on the glass.
McDermott is a more polished interior scorer than Korver’s ever been, but it’s hard to imagine the rising senior getting much chance to use those skills after he leaves Omaha behind for the NBA.
2. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
NBA Comparison: Derrick Rose
The 6’3”, 190-pound Rose is a freakish athlete for the PG spot, and 6’4”, 225-pound Marcus Smart has a lot of the same advantages.
He may not be quite as quick as the Bulls' former MVP, but he can overpower pretty much any point guard around, not to mention getting to the rim at will against bigger defenders.
Both guards also boast great versatility, excelling as scorers and rebounders while still running their offenses at a high level.
Smart doesn’t yet have Rose’s recently developed three-point touch, but Rose has never put up the kind of eye-popping steal totals that left Smart a hair short of the Division I lead last season.
1. Russ Smith, Louisville
NBA Comparison: Monta Ellis
Russ Smith is a type of college guard who doesn’t really have a good NBA analogue, but Milwaukee's Ellis isn’t a terrible approximation. Both of them take an enormous number of shots, putting plenty of points on the scoreboard in the process.
Smith and Ellis also take a lot of chances on defense, leading to enormous steal totals. However, where Ellis is a high-volume three-point shooter, Smith is slightly more judicious (though no more accurate) with his long-range tries.