Sheer weight of numbers tells us that not every all-conference or All-American performer will play in the NBA at all, let alone become a productive long-term pro.
Every season, great college performers go undrafted. Even the ones who are drafted have no guarantees that their games will adapt to the NBA.
These 10 players—presented alphabetically—have plenty of talent to succeed in the college game, but all have question marks that make their professional prospects somewhat murky.
At 6'9" and 235 pounds, Kyle Anderson has the body of a well-proportioned small forward and the passing skills of an elite point guard. He finished sixth in the Pac-12 in both assists and rebounds, crashing the glass effectively with his 7'2" wingspan.
The issues for Anderson at the next level will be in scoring points and stopping others from doing the same.
Anderson struggled with his shot as a freshman, and his difficulties were indiscriminate. According to Hoop-Math.com, he made 61 percent of his shots at the rim last season, a respectable figure but second-worst among UCLA's regulars. He also made a sickly 35 percent on two-point jumpers and 21 percent from three-point range.
Defensively, those lengthy arms caused a lot of turnovers, with Anderson's 3.4 steal percentage ranking seventh in the Pac-12, according to StatSheet.com. At the next level, however, who does he guard? Anderson lacks the strength to body up and fight for rebounds against NBA forwards, and he's not quick enough to stay in front of pro guards.
NBA teams routinely carry a shooting specialist off the bench, but not many carry a passing specialist who can't shoot and can't defend point guards. Anderson's quickness is a difficult issue to fix, so he'll need to become a knockdown shooter over the next year to put himself in the first round.
He seemed to spend the rest of the season satisfied to stick to that plan. Only 33 percent of his shot attempts came at the rim, a figure owed to his stick-thin 220-pound frame.
Austin runs the floor like a guard and can make shots from just about anywhere. He sank 33.3 percent from three-point land and 39 percent of his two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.
In most cases, though, a team drafting a 7'1" player in the first round—or even in the lottery, where Austin was projected before his freshman year started—will expect a player of that size to be competitive on the glass.
Austin is capable of outreaching college opponents for rebounds and blocking five shots a night, as he did in the NIT championship win over Iowa. In the NBA, however, he'll need a good 20 pounds of muscle if he's going to compete with centers. Otherwise, he's a stretch 5 like Channing Frye.
Considering Frye has had a reasonably productive NBA career, the reader is free to decide for himself if that's a satisfactory goal for a talent like Austin.
Last season was a dress rehearsal for Aaron Craft to prove that he could shoot well enough for NBA scouts to ignore his lack of offensive explosiveness.
Reviews were not good.
Craft shot less than 42 percent from the floor and only 30 percent from three-point range, both career-low figures. Hoop-Math also pointed out that he converted only 56 percent of his shots at the rim, many of which were low-percentage desperation flings designed to draw free throws.
Defense is still Craft's calling card and the skill that will get him in the door with a professional club. Opposing fans consider him dirty, while opposing players and coaches like Michigan's Trey Burke and John Beilein claim respect for his game. He gets two steals per game less by gambling and trying to jump passing lanes than by pure harassment of opposing ball-handlers.
Craft's agility on defense may be exposed against longer, quicker NBA guards. His below-the-rim inside finishes and shaky jumper will render him nearly useless on the offensive end. The potential is there for Craft to make a team as a backup platoon guard, but he might not generate the kind of fear in pro opponents that he does in college foes.
Branden Dawson is a gifted athlete with a great body for an NBA shooting guard. Problem is, the 6'6" Spartan doesn't have the jump shot to match.
Dawson made only 33 percent of his two-point jumpers last season, according to Hoop-Math. That percentage was second-lowest among MSU's regulars. He didn't make up for it with solid three-point range, either. Dawson has taken only eight triples in his career, making none so far. A 54 percent mark from the foul line puts a rotten cherry on his offensive sundae.
Dawson's offensive rebounding percentage, best in the Big Ten as a freshman, fell off as a sophomore as he eased back into the lineup following a torn ACL. At his height, his ability to scrap with professional bigs on the glass will be in serious question.
Much like Big Ten rival Aaron Craft, Dawson can make a pest of himself defensively but isn't a pro-level offensive threat right now. He's strong enough to battle against bigger forwards, and the knee hasn't completely sapped his lateral quickness against perimeter players.
He's still getting high second-round love in the Draft Express 2014 mock draft, and he can stay in the league for a few years as a platoon player. Stardom, however, is likely to elude him unless he can reinvent his shot overnight.
Marshall Henderson will score a ton of points if given a ton of shots. In the NBA, that won't happen.
The 6'2", 170-pound Texan is stuck in a point guard's body but has shown little inclination to create for others during his well-traveled college career. Henderson's career assist percentage sits just below 10, according to Sports-Reference.com.
He has loads of quickness and the ability to get to the basket, but spent last season at Ole Miss making it rain from long range. Only 144 players in all of college basketball took more shots in total than Henderson took from three-point range last season.
An 88 percent foul shooter last season, Henderson can get his points if he's willing to get to the rim and take some contact. Only 6 percent of his shot attempts came at the basket last season, per Hoop-Math.
Henderson also carries a load of inescapable off-court baggage, encompassing everything from throwing ice cubes at fans to legal issues involving cocaine, marijuana, alcohol and counterfeit money. That alone will end any chance of his being a first-round draft pick, no matter what he does on the court. Pro clubs have little inclination to guarantee millions to a player who's spent his time in these manners.
Professional coaches won't tolerate Henderson's inefficiency, and professional teammates won't tolerate him giving lax effort on defense and mugging for the cameras with every shot. If he is willing to help others make plays and learns the difference between good and bad shots, some team may take the chance. Otherwise, Henderson will need to "get this money," per Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post, overseas.
Sean Kilpatrick could have solidified his draft stock last season by proving that he can shoot with efficiency.
It didn't quite happen that way.
Kilpatrick's 37 percent three-point shooting from his first two seasons bottomed out to a mere 30 percent in his junior year. His overall field-goal percentage fell below 40, with a 20-of-67 four-game stretch just after Christmas proving a particular lowlight. Considering that more than half his shots came from beyond the arc, his selection could also throw up a red flag.
NBA scouts told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the 6'4" guard lacked the ball-handling ability to play the point, and his struggles in 2012-13 did little to assuage their concerns about his shooting.
A lack of length and difficulties in getting over screens will hinder his ability to defend bigger shooting guards in the pros. His assist percentage has steadily declined over his three seasons at UC, and it may help his stock if he can reinvent himself as a passer and ball-handler.
A 6'4" point guard may be able to find NBA work, but a 6'4" off-guard with a creaky shot will see time in the D-League or overseas.
The NBA values guys with "upside" over proven producers. Doug McDermott is a producer of the highest order, but he's not a SportsCenter dunker or a defensive wizard, thanks to iffy athletic gifts.
As a shooter, there may be few better in college basketball. "Dougie McBuckets" drained 49 percent of his three-point attempts, 87.5 percent from the line, and StatSheet pegged him as a 72 percent shooter at the rim. McDermott gets points like Scrooge McDuck gets money.
At 6'8" in shoes and possessing a wingspan about that long, McDermott is likely to struggle against quicker NBA small forwards. His length and leaping ability won't be sufficient to outduel pro big men on the glass, but he could be helpful pulling power forwards out to the perimeter to respect his shot.
None of the mock draft sites project McDermott as a lottery pick, and most don't even give him a first-round grade. He'll be a low-risk pick for a team looking for a bench shooting specialist but isn't likely to enjoy the same stardom that he's experienced at Creighton. Look for him to end up on a contender's bench a la Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas going late to the Spurs.
Shabazz Napier has been in a dream scenario at UConn, getting to play alongside another point guard in Ryan Boatright. The two have been able to swap distributing and shooting responsibilities on almost a play-by-play basis. It's worked well in college, but in the NBA, Napier could have issues.
The professional point guard position is outgrowing players who are generously listed at 6'1", especially ones who have been labeled "hardly an exceptional athlete," as Draft Express has written about Napier.
Napier does get credit for great improvements in his shot selection, as all of his percentages climbed to career highs last season. He's not a dangerous penetrator, though, as he took only 22 percent of his shots at the rim last season, per Hoop-Math. He'll struggle even more to beat the longer, quicker NBA guards.
Working next to Boatright has also allowed Napier to thrive in one of his favorite situations, shooting off the catch. He's not likely to see as many of those possessions in the NBA.
Ball security and decision-making have been questions earlier in Napier's career. While his turnover percentage was a career-best this season, his assist-to-turnover ratio dipped below 2.0. Write that off to being the recipient of more assists, but he still isn't likely to land on a pro team that will accentuate his shot quite so much.
Like so many of the players discussed here, there's potential for Napier to find a home as a bench spark. Still, the physical disadvantages may be too much to overcome as a 30-plus minute player.
Russ Smith, like Marshall Henderson, can score a lot. And he does so, a lot.
Lightning quick and fearless about contact, Smith would seem a prime candidate to transcend his physical limitations and succeed at the pro level. And he can, if he can become as creative a distributor as he is a scorer.
There are few NBA players today listed at 6'0" and 165 pounds, and those who are don't play any position aside from point guard. Smith has never had to create for others with steady point guard Peyton Siva next to him. With Siva gone, Smith may get more chances to play on the ball as a means to take pressure off new points Chris Jones and Terry Rozier.
A decent 21 percent assist rate shows that Smith can find his teammates when he's motivated, but the fact that he finished fifth in America in field-goal attempts demonstrates how rarely that motivation strikes him.
Smith's shot selection is often questionable. Hoop-Math points out that he took more two-point jumpers than either rim attempts or threes, despite sinking only 30 percent of those mid-range efforts. NBA coaches will staple him to the bench for such performances.
Again, Smith and Henderson have similar dilemmas. Smith, though, seems more likely to follow the route of Rockets reserve Patrick Beverley, who learned the point guard position in Europe before coming to the NBA. While Henderson is much more likely to give the NBA the finger and keep being a conscience-free scorer, Smith should be a lot more receptive to coaching.
We may see Russ Smith in the NBA, but it may not be immediate.
To NBA scouts, Patric Young is an Adonis. Standing 6'9" and weighing approximately 240 pounds, he looks like a sculptor created the prototypical NBA power forward out of a raw block of granite.
Touted as a pro prospect from the moment he stepped on campus at Florida, he's now entering his senior season. In this early-entry era, that means something has gone wrong.
Young has carded back-to-back seasons of 10 points and six rebounds per game and watched his free-throw shooting bottom out at a hideous 49 percent. He recorded only two double-doubles in SEC play, with rebounding percentages that did not improve at all from his sophomore season.
Young did make a respectable amount of his mid-range shots (47 percent, per Hoop-Math). The downside from that is that more than half of his shots were jumpers, leaving only 49 percent taken in the post. If this was a conscious effort to prove to scouts that he can shoot, mission accomplished.
Passivity marred Young's play last season, evidenced by his 10 games of five or fewer shots. It's not likely that he'll have a lot of high-usage games in the NBA, so this could be preparation for his future role. Still, pro coaches will demand a fiercer effort on the glass and in the offense.
Young can stick as a reserve bruiser—think Reggie Evans—but he'll need to keep developing the mid-range shot and show up to play every night before he can show the league what a real power forward should look like.