Five-star NCAA basketball recruits do not spring fully formed from the head of John Calipari. As the 2014 recruiting class heads into its senior season of high school ball, these are players whose bodies and games are still very much in development, and even the best have some questions lingering about the weaknesses that could dog them in the future.
For North Carolina commit Justin Jackson, the question is a common one: Will he be able to bulk up enough for major-conference competition? The 185-lb swingman has plenty of skill, but he’ll need some muscle to survive against the likes of Florida State and Virginia.
Herein, a closer look at Jackson and the questions haunting each of the rest of ESPN’s 5-star prospects in the class of 2014.
Can he improve his three-point stroke?
Josh Perkins is a versatile point guard who knows how to run an offense in transition or in the half court. However, he’d be even more difficult to guard if he became a more reliable three-point threat.
Perkins already has the range to drain the occasional trey, but his consistency from beyond the arc is lacking. The more defenders have to respect him as a long-range shooter, the easier a time he’ll have slicing into the paint for layups and assists.
How much muscle can he pack on?
At 6’4”, D’Angelo Russell already has fine length for a Division I shooting guard. However, the Ohio State commit will learn very quickly that 180-lb guards have a tough time making an impact against Big Ten defenses.
The sooner Russell starts adding pounds to his frame, the sooner he can get used to playing with the added weight while still maintaining his explosiveness.
Getting stronger will also boost his effectiveness on the defensive end, where he’s not quite as polished yet as he is with the ball in his hands.
Will he embrace the pull-up jumper?
As a 6’4” combo guard at the high school level, JaQuan Lyle has good reason to make driving the lane his primary weapon. Still, that job would get a lot easier if opponents had more incentive to fear his jump shot.
The Louisville commit isn’t a three-point threat, and even his mid-range stroke isn’t as consistent as you’d like for a guard headed to a power conference.
It’s possible to succeed at the point for Rick Pitino without doing much shooting (see Siva, Peyton), but Lyle would still be better off as a more serious scorer from outside the paint.
What kind of small forward does he want to be?
At 6’7” and with impressive speed and leaping ability, Keita Bates-Diop has a great core of assets to build around. The Ohio State commit has some options as to what style he wants to play in college, and now would be a great time to start testing them out.
With respectable low-post moves and impressive shot-blocking ability, Bates-Diop could move closer to the power forward end of the spectrum, but he’d need to put on a lot more bulk for that (190 lbs).
Conversely, he could aim to become more of a perimeter slasher, in which case it would behoove him to extend his shooting range.
Is he more than a catch-and-shoot specialist?
Kelly Oubre has one of the more impressive three-point shots in the 2014 recruiting class. At this stage, however, he doesn’t have a whole lot else that he does at an elite level.
The 6’6” Oubre has the athletic ability to finish drives at the rim but doesn’t put the ball on the floor very often. He could also stand to demonstrate more commitment to using that length and mobility on the boards, on either end of the floor.
Can he cultivate some post moves?
Unsurprisingly, Goodluck Okonoboh’s 6’9” frame and impressive leaping ability make him a lethal shot-blocker. Unfortunately for him, his instincts on that end of the floor have yet to translate into any sort of flow offensively.
Okonoboh’s natural position is going to be center, and he’d really benefit from being able to score in one-on-one situations on the low block. He hasn’t yet found a rhythm for those matchups, but if he gets a move or two that work consistently, watch out.
Is his body equipped to take the punishment of a major conference?
As shoot-first point guards go, Jordan McLaughlin has few peers. He’s a dangerous jump shooter and a terrific finisher inside, and he’s a slick passer to boot.
However, he’s also just 6’0”, 165 lbs, and even a guard of his elusiveness is going to take a pounding going to the rim in the Big East or SEC. Bulking up would serve McLaughlin well at the next level, and it wouldn’t hurt his high school game any, either.
Does he know what a bad shot looks like?
At the high school level, anybody who can score like Daniel Hamilton is going to have a perpetual green light to shoot.
However, even 6’6” swingmen with outstanding jump shots can be defended at the college level, and Hamilton is going to need to learn when his team is better off with someone else shooting.
The California native is committed to UConn, where he’s a sure bet to have other superstar shooters in the lineup with him.
If he forces too many unnecessary shots early on—a habit he can keep or kick starting next season—Kevin Ollie is going to find playing time for someone else.
Is his ball-handling up to par?
Devin Booker is an outstanding passer for a shooting guard, and he’s a fine catch-and-shoot scorer. At 6’5”, he also has the potential to be a dangerous finisher, but that will require tightening up his dribble.
Booker is too vulnerable to turnovers when the defense attacks him, and he doesn’t have the confidence to look to beat his defender off the dribble regularly.
The best news for his future college coach is that, once he does learn to handle the ball more effectively, he’s such a heady player that he won’t get into trouble with overdribbling.
How dangerous can he become in the mid-range?
Justise Winslow has all the peripheral skills you look for in a top-of-the-line star. He’s a dominant defender, a strong rebounder from the SF spot and a smart player with good passing touch.
What he’s not, at least yet, is a game-breaking scorer. His biggest issue is an iffy jump shot that keeps him from exploiting his athletic ability on the wings. If he can become more consistent from 15 to 18 feet, he’ll be a scary player.
Is he all right?
Joel Berry can do everything a point guard needs to do to excel, as long as you let him use his right hand for it. Force the North Carolina commit to his left, though, and he becomes far easier to handle.
Both as a ball-handler and a scorer, Berry needs to start getting his left hand in on the action. It won’t come up as often in the Tar Heels’ iconic fast break, but it will make all the difference when the youngster is running the half-court offense.
How far out from the rim can he be effective?
At 6’6”, Theo Pinson is both tremendously skilled and a tremendous athlete. He’s got the size and will to finish inside and the shooting touch to drain mid-range jumpers all day.
If he can move that comfort zone out beyond the three-point arc, he’ll really be unstoppable.
Right now, the North Carolina commit doesn’t have the shooting range or the top-flight ball-handling to shine at that distance, but that could easily change by next season’s end.
Can he add some finesse to go with his power?
Most high schoolers are at a serious disadvantage in muscle when they get to college. A 6’6”, 220-lb SF, Stanley Johnson won’t have to worry about that problem, but he’s got some other areas to be concerned about.
Johnson is a good but not great ball-handler, and he needs a lot of work on his jump shot (for both range and consistency) to play on the perimeter.
He can already overwhelm smaller high school foes with his bulk, but if he can also beat them with flair, he’ll really have something.
Will he develop his smarts to match his shot?
With the ball in his hands, 6’6” Rashad Vaughn is quite a weapon. He’s got shooting range to the three-point arc, he can beat most defenders off the dribble and his long arms make him tough to defend when he gets to the paint.
All that said, Vaughn doesn’t have the intuitive feel for the game that some of his classmates do. As he improves at moving without the ball and setting up his defender for moves and countermoves, he’ll become far more than just a shooter.
Can he play with his back to the rim?
There isn’t a coach in the country who’s going to complain about adding a mobile, 7’0”, 240-lb center. Myles Turner has a lot going for him, but one traditional pivot skill has yet to enter his repertoire.
Turner, though a gifted face-up scorer, doesn’t spend much time with his back to the basket down low. With his size, he’ll routinely have the edge in that situation, so polishing some reliable moves would really boost his scoring numbers.
Will he improve his shot to match his playing style?
Slender 6’8” Kevon Looney is well-suited to playing the kind of stretch-4 position that so many college teams are featuring these days. He’s got length, agility and excellent ball-handling skills for a big man.
What he doesn’t have at this point is the kind of three-point shot he’ll need to thrive at that position. He’s shown flashes of three-point range, but next season is the time to develop the consistency to make it a rule rather than an exception.
Where’s the beef?
Justin Jackson is a multitalented 6’7” swingman with a terrific outside shot. The North Carolina commit handles the ball well and is a willing rebounder from the outside, but that area of his game is going to suffer in the ACC without some added bulk.
The 185-lb Jackson will need a good bit more strength to handle the big, athletic wings with which his future conference is loaded. In addition to boosting his numbers on the glass, some additional muscle will help him finish in the paint more effectively.
Is he a viable scorer in the half court?
Chris McCullough has great length (6’10”, 220 lbs) and athleticism, and woe be to the defender who has to stay with him in transition.
Against a set defense, though, the Syracuse commit doesn’t have the scoring arsenal to match his otherwise multifaceted game.
Although his ball-handling makes him effective as a face-up offensive player, he needs to become more consistent with his jumper to make opponents respect him.
He’ll also do well to improve his unimpressive low-post moves, considering how many opportunities he should get on the block.
Can he add some center’s skills to his center’s body?
The 7’1”, 235-lb Karl Towns Jr. is, amazingly enough, one of the deadliest pure shooters in the class of 2014. As tough as the Kentucky commit is to stop at the three-point arc, though, he’s surprisingly easy to contain in the paint.
Towns’ high center of gravity leaves him vulnerable to smaller but stronger defenders, and his low-post game is still very raw. He’s also none too impressive as a rebounder or shot-blocker for a player with his build.
Is this the year he adds a three-point shot?
Emmanuel Mudiay is very close to being the total package offensively. The 6’5” combo guard can drive and dish like a point guard or pull the string and knock down jumpers when the defense sags off him.
However, his impressive shooting accuracy doesn’t extend to the three-point arc. It’s hard to complain too much about an offensive weapon this dangerous, but he could be even better if defenders had to worry about him burying the trey.
Will his middling athleticism limit his ceiling?
There isn’t a low-post scorer in the class of 2014 who can touch Trey Lyles for polish and skill. On top of his impressive array of back-to-the-basket moves, Lyles has a very good face-up game and a solid mid-range jump shot.
If you're looking for highlight-reel dunks, though, Lyles isn’t the player to provide them. At 6’8” and without overwhelming speed or leaping ability, he’s a player who will go only as far as his impressive skill set will take him.
Is he ready to get physical?
An exceptionally smart and quick point guard, Tyus Jones is the best distributor in the class by leaps and bounds. He’s not half bad as a shooter, either, making his ability to run the pick-and-roll all the more deadly.
Where Jones may have trouble is with opponents who want to body up on a 6’1”, 171-lb PG.
He himself could stand to play tougher defense, but his biggest concern needs to be making sure he has the muscle to play through contact against bigger, stronger opposition.
Can he score in non-dunking situations?
The 6’9”, 230-lb Cliff Alexander has the speed and vertical leap to be the most awe-inspiring dunker in this recruiting class. If only the rest of his offensive game were in such good shape.
Alexander scores the great majority of his points off dunks and putbacks, but with his body, any coach is going to want to pound the ball to the big man in the post.
If he can show even a hint of a back-to-the-basket game (or a face-up jumper) to keep defenders off-balance, he’ll have a lot more openings for his signature jams.
Will he get better at hanging onto the ball?
Jahlil Okafor is one of the most physically imposing players you’ll ever see as a rising high school senior. The 6’10”, 265-lb center has the strength, hands and moves to control the game from the low block.
Where the big man needs work is in handling the inevitable double-teams that come with his size.
So far, Okafor is too prone to turnovers (whether on the strip or on a bad pass out of the post), but it wouldn’t be any surprise if even that flaw showed major improvement in his final high school season.