NCAA Basketball Recruiting: The 20 Most Versatile Players in the 2014 Class
Most NCAA basketball recruits have spent their high school careers developing one elite-level skill, but the best set themselves apart by contributing in multiple areas. The value of a post scorer who also knows how to block shots or a great point guard who can put points on the board (see Burke, Trey) is tough to overstate.
One of 2014’s most impressive prospects is Ohio State-bound D’Angelo Russell. He’s got the jump shot you’d expect from a 5-star shooting guard, but he’s also a first-rate passer when the defense overcommits to stop him.
Herein, a closer look at Russell and the rest of the 20 rising high school seniors who bring the most balanced skill sets to the table.
20. Theo Pinson
Small forward Theo Pinson is an unstoppable scorer who can get his points in a number of ways. He’s not the best pure three-point shooter or the best pure dunker in the class, but he does everything well.
What makes the North Carolina commit even more valuable is that he’s not a ball hog. He’s both willing and able to find the open man rather than forcing a shot, a skill that many wing players with his scoring punch never develop.
19. Cliff Alexander
As an offensive player, Cliff Alexander is about as one-dimensional as you’re going to find. However, the 6’8” center’s leaping ability and strength make him such a devastating dunker that his lack of a reliable jump shot becomes less of an issue.
More importantly for this list, Alexander is at least as much of a weapon on defense as he is with his power jams. Not only is he a top-tier rebounder, but he uses that same great athleticism to support his great shot-blocking instincts.
18. Dante Exum
Dante Exum has a Russ Smith-like ability to beat the opposing defense in transition seemingly every time he touches the ball. However, where Smith is undersized as a 6’1” shooting guard, the 6’6” Exum towers over most opposing point guards.
As much scoring as he does, the Aussie star is very much a floor leader, as he’s shown in extensive international play. He’s far from the only high-powered combo guard in this recruiting class, but even in this company his physical tools make him stand out.
17. Jahlil Okafor
Although Jahlil Okafor isn’t a big-time shot-blocker, that’s not the only way to play effective defense in the low post. The 6’10”, 265-lbs behemoth is adept at using his size to keep offensive players out of position and force penetrators into challenged shots.
What makes Okafor the class’ top-rated recruit, however, is how well he uses that bulk to dominate with the ball in his hands.
He’s a devastating low-post scorer with a nice shooting touch, and he has a chance move a lot higher on this list if he develops into a more adroit passer in his senior campaign.
16. Jordan McLaughlin
Even at just 6’0”, Jordan McLaughlin is a perpetual threat to get to the rim and score. His driving ability is even more dangerous because he’s got a serious jump shot to go with it.
As much scoring as he does, though, McLaughlin is a point guard first. His passing ability (particularly off those ubiquitous drives) is nearly the equal of his sensational ball-handling.
15. Trey Lyles
It’s easy not to notice that Trey Lyles plays tough defense. After all, the 6’8” power forward’s offensive prowess is so impressive that everything else tends to take a back seat.
Lyles is a lethal scorer in the low post who can turn and face with ease. He’s also got fantastic shooting range for a big man, letting him pull slower defenders all the way out to the three-point arc.
14. Quentin Snider
Most combo guards get that label because they can’t (or don’t) set up their teammates as well as bona fide point guards. Quentin Snider is best classified as a combo guard, but he can hold his own as a distributor with the best in the class of 2014.
That said, his playmaking skills haven’t developed at the expense of his own scoring, as he’s one of the best three-point shooters among 2014 PGs.
He’s less effective as a penetrator than some of the top-scoring ball-handlers on this list, but that’s not such a bad trade-off for a first-class jump shot.
13. Josh Perkins
One of many ways Josh Perkins can be a difference-maker in the backcourt is that he has the ability to defend both guard spots at 6’3”. As with most point guards, though, his defensive talents take a back seat to his explosive offensive game.
The speedy Perkins is at his best in transition, but he has the passing touch to make plays in the half-court set, too. He also finishes better than most point guards, and his jump shot is steadily improving.
12. JaQuan Lyle
Louisville commit JaQuan Lyle looks a lot like a souped-up version of the Cardinals’ outgoing point guard, Peyton Siva. Neither one is an elite jump-shooter, but Lyle (at 6’4”) has an appreciable edge as a finisher over the 6’0” Siva.
Also like Siva, the youngster is a fine passer, especially when he’s setting up shooters off his own dribble penetration. Then, too, Lyle knows how to defend bigger players, which will give Rick Pitino more options in his ever-shifting defensive schemes.
11. Kameron Chatman
Very few high school players can scare opponents as both three-point shooters and low-post targets.
Kameron Chatman is one of the exceptions, a 6’6” SF who’s happy to score with his jump shot or use his length inside when he has a favorable matchup.
Chatman doesn’t have to wait for a teammate to set him up in the post, either, because he’s effective attacking off the dribble. He rounds out the offensive package with his solid passing skills.
10. Joel Berry
Although he’s not a threat to rain three-pointers, Joel Berry can still do plenty of scoring from the point guard spot. The North Carolina commit is a dangerous penetrator with a great feel for the game, and he’s even better at racking up assists than he is points.
At just 6’0” and 185 lbs, Berry doesn’t have the physical advantages some of his recruiting classmates boast. What he does have, however, are exceptional defensive fundamentals and the intensity to keep his focus sharp at that end of the floor.
9. Dwayne Morgan
For a 6’7” forward, Dwayne Morgan is an exceptional ball-handler. Of course, he also has the first-class scoring ability in the paint that coaches look for in a great frontcourt prospect.
Even more striking is the fact the UNLV commit has the mobility and instincts to be a weapon as a defender, regardless of which forward position he winds up playing.
He’s a terrific shot-blocker inside, but he can also body up on a small forward without getting burned off the dribble.
8. Tyus Jones
Tyus Jones is the best passer and the smartest playmaker in the class of 2014. He also has the scoring ability to match any combo guard on this list, even if he rarely opts to show it.
The 6’1” Jones is an aggressive defender, for better and worse. His gambling style creates a lot of turnovers, but he also makes far more mistakes on that end of the floor than he does with the ball in his hands.
7. Isaiah Whitehead
Isaiah Whitehead is, at 6’4”, one of the top backcourt rebounders in this recruiting class. Even better for whatever team lands him, that’s just the beginning of Whitehead’s repertoire.
He’s one of the country’s best finishers among 2-guards, but his improving jump shot still forces defenders to stay up on him. Once the D accounts for all of that, it also has to worry about his passing touch, which is outstanding for his position.
6. D’Angelo Russell
Combo guards almost always wind up at the point, but D’Angelo Russell is looking like an exception. The Ohio State commit is a 6’4” shooting guard with enough passing and ball-handling ability to play on the ball if needed.
More often, though, Russell is the one on the receiving end of passes, coming off screens and draining three-pointers or slashing to the paint. He’s also a better rebounder from the wing than plenty of frontcourt players.
5. Emmanuel Mudiay
The most versatile player in college hoops right now is Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State.
When the Cowboys star jumps to the NBA next summer, Emmanuel Mudiay will be arriving to make sure there’s another big, strong point guard near the top of that list.
The 6’5” Texan is an unstoppable finisher inside, an intimidating mid-range scorer and a fantastic passer. He’s not the jaw-dropping defender Smart is, but he is effective at outmuscling smaller PGs on defense and on the glass.
4. Myles Turner
Jahlil Okafor is the standard-bearer for traditional centers in this recruiting class, but Myles Turner is the contemporary version.
What the 7-footer lacks in rebounding and back-to-the-basket scoring, he more than makes up in face-up jump shots (especially off glass) and fast-break dunks.
Turner’s agility also makes him a devastating shot-blocker who can close on an opponent in a heartbeat. Less expected is his passing touch, which is extraordinary for a player his size.
3. Grayson Allen
If there’s one thing Mike Krzyzewski knows, it’s recruiting three-point shooters. Duke commit Grayson Allen is a big-time sniper, but he’s got a lot more to his game than some designated long-range threats.
In the first place, the 6’4” SG is an all-around scorer—he’s a terrific finisher and a mid-range weapon—and an impressive passer with great on-court smarts. On top of that, he’s a far more dedicated defender than most game-changing scorers.
2. Keita Bates-Diop
Keita Bates-Diop is the very rare small forward who can make his presence felt as a shot-blocker. Unsurprisingly, the 6’7” length and outstanding quickness that make him so dangerous on D have plenty of other uses.
The Ohio State commit is a terror as a fast-break finisher who’s developing into a legitimate mid-range scorer. He’s also unusually adept as a ball-handler and passer from the wing.
1. Justise Winslow
Positioned as it is on the borderline between frontcourt and perimeter play, small forward tends to be the best place to find ultra-well-rounded players. The 2014 recruiting class has none better in that regard than 6’6”, 210-lbs Justise Winslow.
The class’ best perimeter defender, Winslow can guard anyone from a shooting guard to a power forward and have the advantage in all those matchups.
On offense, he’s a better playmaker than many point guards, a productive rebounder and an underrated scoring threat.
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