Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker haven’t even taken their first collegiate shots yet, but the never-ending cycle of NCAA basketball recruiting is already shifting to focus on the next crop of superstars-to-be. As coaches evaluate the rising seniors at high schools around the country, they’re looking not just for what a player does well, but also for what he’ll need to improve at the next level.
Cliff Alexander, for instance, is one of the top big men in the country thanks to his exceptional combination of power and agility. However, he’s also a subpar shooter by the standards of top-flight post players, a deficiency he’ll be working to improve throughout his senior season.
Herein is a closer look at Alexander and the rest of the 5-star prospects in the 2014 class (as rated by Scout.com) with a focus on the best and worst areas of each high schooler's game.
Strengths: Shooting touch, shot-blocking, mobility
At 6’11”, Myles Turner can score from the low block or the three-point line with equal ease, thanks in part to outstanding footwork.
Turner weighs 225 pounds, not a huge amount of muscle for a player his size, and his rebounding occasionally suffers for it.
Strengths: Speed, quickness, finishing ability
Australian Dante Exum has blown away international competition with his fast-break game, and at 6’5”, he can get to the rim even when the defense is ready.
Weaknesses: Jump shooting, passing
Exum is a fine decision-maker, but he’s not at the level of a true point guard when it comes to setting up his teammates.
Strengths: Passing, vision
Josh Perkins is as good of a traditional playmaker as there is in the 2014 class, able to connect on passes other PGs wouldn’t even attempt.
Weaknesses: Decision-making, jump shooting
Perkins isn’t a bad shot, but that area of his game isn’t nearly at the level of his distributing. He sometimes goes for the spectacular play over the smart one.
Strengths: Athleticism, dunking, mid-range shot
Although Jalen Lindsey gets the most attention for his highlight-reel jams, he can stick the jumper as well.
Weaknesses: Ball-handling, focus
A relative newcomer to the swingman role, Lindsey doesn’t yet have the handle you’d like to see from a top-notch wing.
Strengths: Ball-handling, passing, leadership
A bona fide pass-first point guard, Louisville commit Quentin Snider also has an enviable jump shot with three-point range.
Weaknesses: Quickness, strength
Snider isn’t an A-plus athlete, and at 160 pounds, he’ll be swallowed whole by power-conference defenders.
Strengths: Athleticism, passing, finishing
North Carolina commit Theo Pinson has good length for a wing at 6’6” and a polished offensive skill set to go with it.
Weaknesses: Three-point shot, ball-handling
Lethal inside the three-point arc, Pinson isn’t yet as hard to contain when he’s outside it.
Strengths: Basketball IQ, ball-handling
Parker Jackson-Cartwright, an Arizona commit, will provide a big-time floor general for the Wildcats once T.J. McConnell (a similar pass-first PG) graduates.
At the college level, a 5’8”, 150-pound guard will be at a huge disadvantage every night, and adding muscle will be of paramount importance.
Strengths: Energy, rebounding, finishing
Although he stands just 6’7”, Leron Black has the wingspan and leaping ability to make plays against bigger foes.
Weaknesses: Low-post game, shooting range
Black is a solid face-up scorer but doesn’t hit many shots from beyond free-throw distance.
Strengths: Muscle, finishing, rebounding
A small forward with a power forward’s strength at 6’6”, 220 pounds, Stanley Johnson can get to the rim against any defender.
Weaknesses: Quickness, polish
Johnson doesn’t have much in the way of finesse to his game, though he is a solid jump shooter.
Strengths: Penetration, quickness
Although Jordan McLaughlin can hit the jumper, he rarely needs to thanks to his uncanny ability to dribble through defenses.
Weaknesses: Set plays, size
The improvisational McLaughlin doesn’t have the polish of some other PGs when it comes to reading and using picks.
Strengths: Post moves, motor
Power forward Craig Victor brings an impressive combination of skill and effort on the low block.
Weaknesses: Shooting range, mobility
Compared to many power forwards in this class, Victor is athletically unremarkable.
Strengths: Explosiveness, speed, ball-handling
Malik Pope has great length for a small forward at 6’8”, and his athleticism makes him a fearsome matchup in transition or on the wing.
Weaknesses: Jump shot, decision-making
Pope is streaky as an outside shooter, in marked contrast to his impressive finishing ability in the paint.
Strengths: Leadership, quickness, defense
A first-rate scoring point guard, North Carolina commit Joel Berry is especially dangerous driving the lane, where he’s as much of a threat to finish as to find the open man.
Weaknesses: Left hand, three-point range
Berry’s long-range shooting is a work in progress, and his off hand isn’t as strong as you’d like for a primary ball-handler.
Strengths: Three-point shooting, length
At 7’1”, 235 pounds, Kentucky commit Karl Towns Jr. is built like a center but has the shooting touch of a 2-guard.
Weaknesses: Defense, strength, rebounding
Towns can be outmuscled by smaller players at this stage, and the rest of his game is still catching up to his shooting prowess.
Strengths: Rebounding, face-up game
Kevon Looney is an impressive scorer from the PF spot, but he’s even more eye-catching with his ability to dominate the glass at 6’8”.
Weaknesses: Shooting range
Although Looney’s athletic ability lets him pull slower power forwards away from the hoop, he hasn’t yet extended his own shot far enough to get the most out of that approach.
Strengths: Leaping ability, finishing, toughness
Dwayne Morgan isn’t the biggest power forward at 6’7”, but he can outjump most opponents and has great timing.
Weaknesses: Jump shooting, post moves
Morgan is far more comfortable in an up-and-down transition game than grinding out points in the half court.
Strengths: Shooting touch, smarts
Devin Booker is a devastating catch-and-shoot guard who knows how to read a defense and get himself good looks at the basket.
Weaknesses: Ball-handling, finishing
Although he stands 6’5”, Booker isn’t nearly as dangerous powering to the rim as most of the top guards in this class.
Strengths: Length, penetration, passing
JaQuan Lyle is a combo guard who’s developing into a 6’5” point guard with outstanding court vision.
Weaknesses: Athleticism, three-point range
Compared to some of the top-end point guards in the 2014 class, Lyle is giving up a fair amount of quickness and speed.
Strengths: Dunking, rebounding, mobility
Cliff Alexander is an imposing physical specimen at 6’8”, 240 pounds, and he combines that with the leaping ability to block shots and hammer home thunderous slams.
Weaknesses: Shooting touch, conditioning
Alexander’s face-up game is getting better, but he’s still not nearly as menacing in the mid-range as he is when he can get to the rim.
Strengths: Quickness, defense, leaping ability
Like so many Jim Boeheim recruits, Syracuse commit Chris McCullough is a lean, long-armed forward with terrific shot-blocking instincts.
Weaknesses: Jump shooting, feel for the game
McCullough’s offensive polish is minimal, and while he’ll throw down some impressive dunks, he’s not a big-time point producer.
Strengths: Jump shooting, competitiveness
North Carolina commit Justin Jackson has the kind of three-point shooting ability that’s helped P.J. Hairston and NBA-bound Reggie Bullock light up scoreboards as Tar Heels.
At 6’7” and just 185 pounds, Jackson will have a tough time going inside against powerful ACC defenders.
Strengths: Three-point range, finishing, size
Rashad Vaughn's power forward-like size (6'6", 200 lbs) belies his status as the best catch-and-shoot guard in the 2014 class.
Weaknesses: Defense, ball-handling
Vaughn’s defense isn’t so much bad as it is unremarkable, but that’s still several notches below his stellar offensive game.
Strengths: Finishing, ball-handling
6’4” point guard Emmanuel Mudiay has the potential to be a fine distributor, but it’s his scoring that makes him a top-10 prospect.
Weaknesses: Three-point range, passing
Mudiay can dominate from the mid-range, but he doesn’t have a consistent three-point stroke at this stage.
Strengths: Hands, size, footwork
A towering center at 6’10”, 265 pounds, Jahlil Okafor is a game-changer on both ends of the floor.
Weaknesses: Passing, post moves
Few opponents can challenge Okafor when he catches the ball on the block, but those he can’t overpower can force him into turnovers and missed shots.
Strengths: Post moves, mid-range game
Trey Lyles is a lethal scorer at the PF spot, and he can play some defense, too.
For all of his polish, Lyles isn’t an above-the-rim type and doesn’t have elite perimeter skills (even for a 4-man).
Strengths: Leadership, defense, basketball IQ
A point forward in the making at 6’5”, Justise Winslow is a fine playmaker with a tremendous feel for the game.
Weaknesses: Jump shot
Winslow is unlikely ever to be a go-to scorer at the college level, not least because he still needs a good deal of work on his shooting range.
Strengths: Jump shot, ball-handling
D’Angelo Russell is a shooting guard with a point guard’s dribbling skills. Whether he’s creating for himself or catching and shooting, he’ll knock down jumpers all day.
Weaknesses: Conditioning, strength
At just 180 pounds on a 6’4” frame, Russell (an Ohio State commit) is going to get pushed around in Big Ten play.
Strengths: Passing, decision-making, leadership
Tyus Jones is a pure distributor as a point guard, with a fantastic understanding of the game and the ball-handling ability to act on it.
Weaknesses: Three-point shot, strength
Jones is a respectable scorer, but his shooting range is limited. He’s also just 171 pounds at 6’1”, which will leave him outmatched against plenty of college guards.