Not many college basketball stars can do what Anthony Davis did last season: make the transition to the NBA look easy. Still, with the right combination of physical tools and on-court skills, a college player (even after just one year on campus) can make an immediate impact at the next level.
One of last year’s most heralded freshmen, Glenn Robinson III, has already shown the potential to shine as a pro. The Michigan star’s eye-popping athleticism and aggressive offensive play will earn him plenty of minutes with an NBA team, quite possibly as soon as 2014-15.
Read on for more on Robinson and the rest of the 20 college stars who are best equipped to step in right away once they hear their names called on draft night.
Even at the pro level, there isn’t a surplus of 7’0”, 250-pound centers. Even fewer of those can actually play, which will put Alex Kirk in a very select group when he arrives in the NBA.
Kirk averaged 12.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game in his first season as the Lobos’ starter, palpably gaining confidence with each passing game.
He wasn’t just dominating smaller opponents, either: He racked up 19 points and 10 boards (along with three rejections) in a road win over 7’0”, 255-pound Colton Iverson and Colorado State.
With his skill set, Doug McDermott is never going to be more than a role player in the NBA. That said, he’s ready to fill his designated-sniper role at an extremely high level right now.
The 6’8” SF is the best pure shooter the college ranks have seen since the incomparable Duke career of J.J. Redick.
He’s slow of foot and (like Redick) nothing special as a defender, but McDermott’s ability to pour in 23.2 points per game while hitting 54.8 percent of all his shots and a mind-boggling 49 percent of his treys will find him space on NBA benches for years to come.
It’s a measure of how good Isaiah Austin might become that he’s already equipped to make an NBA impact as a player who’s obviously still developing.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to start with a 7’1” body and the agility of a small forward, both of which Austin features.
The Bears center is a skinny 220 pounds, but his mobility and length mean that his shot-blocking instincts (1.7 rejections a night) will translate just fine at the next level.
He’s not the three-point shooter he thinks he is, but his mid-range shooting touch is more than enough to make him a dangerous scorer as a pro while his nascent low-post game improves.
The biggest knock on Gary Harris as a pro prospect is that 6’4” is none too big for an NBA shooting guard.
However, lack of height is far more of an issue on defense, and Harris’ outstanding strength and superior defensive instincts make him a prime candidate to overcome that problem.
On offense, the rising sophomore quietly served as the second-leading scorer on an outstanding Spartans team with 12.9 points per game.
Although his strength makes him a valuable slasher, he’s even more effective from long distance (.411 from the college arc as a freshman).
There are plenty of NBA players who hold their jobs based on size alone, and an appreciable number of them would be happy to trade for Willie Cauley-Stein’s 7’0”, 244-pound frame.
Moreover, the number of post players of any age who can run the floor like the fleet-footed Wildcat is vanishingly small.
Cauley-Stein didn’t do much scoring on last year’s packed UK roster (8.3 points per game), but he showed that he’s ready to compete with the pros in other areas.
As a freshman, he averaged 6.2 rebounds and a remarkable 2.1 rejections a night while spending most of the season playing sidekick to last year’s best collegiate defender, lottery pick Nerlens Noel.
Ironically, Justin Cobbs might be a lot more visible on the national scene if he hadn’t been such a terrific passer last season.
The rising senior PG was the second half of one of the nation’s highest-scoring backcourts, but all the attention went to the player he was setting up, Pac-12 scoring champ Allen Crabbe.
With Crabbe graduated, Cobbs will be the main man in Berkeley this season.
He doesn’t have ideal three-point range for a pro guard, but his overall scoring punch (15.1 points per game), passing touch (4.8 assists a night) and 6’3” length are all indicators that he’s equipped to run an NBA offense.
The most impressive bullet point on Jerian Grant’s NBA resume is his 6’5” height, outstanding for a point guard even in the pros.
The court vision that comes with his length, plus some terrific offensive instincts, helped Grant dish out 5.5 assists per game as a junior. That number came in spite of sharing ball-handling chores with another great playmaker, Eric Atkins.
Although Grant isn’t an overpowering scorer (13.3 points per game, .344 three-point accuracy), his 12-point final-minute outburst against Louisville showed the kind of crunch-time confidence every pro team wants from its floor general.
It doesn’t hurt that he has a world-class pedigree, with both father Harvey and uncle Horace having enjoyed long and productive NBA careers.
Julius Randle is noteworthy for his intensity and effort, always traits that will help a young player earn minutes in the NBA just as much as in college.
He’s also a good enough rebounder relative to his 6’9” height that he’ll be able to hold up just fine on the boards as a pro.
Most importantly, Randle is a tremendously polished low-post scorer.
Even as an incoming freshman, he’ll be one of the toughest players in the country to control in the post. That same arsenal of moves (plus a deft shooting touch) will let him make plays on offense against bigger NBA defenders.
This year even more than most, the number of college shooting guards with NBA size is strikingly small. One of the few players bucking that trend will be Kentucky freshman Aaron Harrison, measuring in at a solid (if still unremarkable) 6’5”, 205 pounds.
Harrison also has the shooting range to keep NBA defenders honest; though, he’ll be most valuable early on as a slasher and mid-range shooter.
He doesn’t shy away from contact, which will help him earn extra minutes as a pro with rebounding and defensive toughness.
Because Mitch McGary has such an energy-intensive playing style, there are legitimate questions to be asked about whether he can go full speed for an entire season without burning out.
At this point, though, that’s about the only concern NBA scouts need to consider with one of the nation’s top low-post prospects.
McGary stands 6’10”, 250 pounds—wonderful size for a pro power forward—and his enthusiasm as a rebounder is second to none.
He’s a good enough shooter to stay competitive at the next level, and he showed his big-game acumen by averaging 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds over six NCAA tournament contests.
There’s no good statistic to measure heart, but Shabazz Napier has it.
In three years, he’s gone from being a star sixth man on the 2011 national champs to seeing most of his classmates leave while he stayed to lead 2012-13’s postseason-banned Huskies, helping that team finish with a perfectly respectable 20-10 record.
Napier's tangible advantages to an NBA team are just as encouraging, from his 17.1 points and 4.6 assists per game to his .398 long-range shooting.
Like many small guards, the 6’1” rising senior compensates with tremendous quickness, an asset that helped him rack up 2.0 steals a night last season.
C.J. Leslie of N.C. State averaged 15.1 points and 7.4 rebounds a game last year and thought he was ready to leave early for the NBA.
James Michael McAdoo averaged 14.4 points and 7.3 boards for a better team in the same conference, and it was considered a down year.
Already built for the NBA at 6’9”, 230 pounds, McAdoo has tremendous athleticism and a soft shooting touch. He may never match the exploits of Hall of Famer (and distant relative) Bob, but he’d be a worthy addition to plenty of pro frontcourts.
Spencer Dinwiddie is not a point guard but (unfortunately for him) he plays one on TV.
The rising Colorado junior will be spending another year sharing pseudo-PG chores with Askia Booker—who’s equally ill-suited to them—rather than living up to his full potential as a 2-guard.
Even while spending plenty of time acting as a distributor, Dinwiddie managed to pour in a team-leading 15.3 points per game last season.
He’s not an ideal marksman (.338 from deep), but he makes up for it in spades with a 6’6”, 200-pound frame that’s helped him become one of the best wing defenders in the college game.
In one sense, being stuck out of position at power forward may actually have helped Glenn Robinson III.
It’s hard to imagine he’d have looked like such an impressive rebounder (5.4 boards per game) if he’d been playing in his natural SF spot rather than banging with bigger, stronger opponents in the paint.
At the next level, though, the 6’6” Robinson will be playing the same small forward role that made his dad famous, and he’ll do it very well.
His highlight-reel dunks for the Wolverines have provided ample evidence of his NBA-ready explosiveness, and he tied classmate Nik Stauskas with 11 points per game despite attempting only 71 three-pointers to Stauskas’ 182.
There were an awful lot of freshmen in 2012-13 who got a a great deal more attention than Semaj Christon without performing nearly as well.
The Musketeers point guard thrived despite a dearth of scorers around him, dishing out 4.6 assists per game while leading the team (by a healthy margin) with 15.2 points a night.
At 6’3”, Christon has good length for an NBA point guard, and he’s an instinctive defender who snatched 1.5 steals per contest.
His lack of a three-point shot is worrisome, but he’s such a dangerous scorer otherwise that even NBA defenders will have their hands full with him.
The ACC is, as usual, loaded with perimeter scorers, which will give freshman Jabari Parker ample opportunity to show off his impressive defensive abilities.
Add in the fact that Parker himself will be one of those terrific scorers, and there’s a lot for NBA scouts to be impressed by.
It doesn’t hurt that, at 6’8”, 220 pounds, the youngster is already built to run with NBA athletes. He’s an unusually cerebral player for his age, making him a perfect candidate to benefit from playing for Mike Krzyzewski.
The only bad news for an NBA team looking at Andrew Harrison is that it won’t be able to follow Kentucky's example and pick up his twin brother Aaron (a first-rate shooting guard) in the same package.
That’s about all that Andrew can’t offer in his capacity as one of the most exciting point guard prospects in the country.
The 6’5” Texan is an outstanding scorer, a physical defender and a first-rate passer. He's also got the speed and quickness to let him use all those skills, even against NBA athletes.
Andrew Wiggins is the top-rated freshman in the country for a reason. The 6’7” SF has a complete skill set, but it’s his point production that’s going to attract the most attention.
Wiggins is entirely capable of leading the Big 12 in scoring as a freshman, and his package of long-range shots, pull-ups and slashes to the hoop is already of NBA quality.
He knows about the challenges of the pro game, too, as his dad (Mitchell) played six seasons with the Bulls, Rockets and Sixers.
If you’re looking for an NBA-caliber athlete at the college level, there’s no finer example than Adreian Payne. The high-jumping, fast-running Spartan is one of the Big Ten’s most mobile players despite his massive 6’10”, 240-pound frame.
Payne’s raw scoring totals (10.5 points per game) haven’t been impressive, but improvements in his mid-range shot have made him a devastating threat to drive by slower defenders.
He’s also more than ready to rebound at an NBA level, having grabbed 7.6 boards a night while playing alongside hulking Derrick Nix last season.
Standing 6’4”, 225 pounds, Marcus Smart could outmuscle plenty of NBA shooting guards. He’ll rarely need to, though, because the do-it-all Cowboys star is the best point guard in college hoops.
Smart’s per-game averages—15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.0 steals—would be enviable for a player at any position, and they're only going to get better in his sophomore campaign.
Complain if you like about his .290 three-point shooting, but even Derrick Rose was in the league a couple of years before his treys started falling.