Each Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospect's Biggest Weakness
For the past few weeks and months, the 2014 NBA draft class has heard about how amazing they are, and how they're the best crop of prospects in years.
The praise is well-deserved, but it doesn't mean they're perfect.
There are plenty of flaws and shortcomings to go around. Remember, most of these premier athletes are 18 or 19-year-old underclassmen still learning the sport.
Some weaknesses are more unnerving than others, and some will be straightened out in time. The players who can address their deficiencies soon will be the ones who excel early in their careers.
What is the biggest deficiency of each top prospect?
*Statistics gathered from Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted (accurate as of Dec. 22, 2013).
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Shooting Touch (All Ranges)
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 13.9 Pts, 11.9 Reb, 6.2 Blk, 64% FG, 49% FT
Although he's made considerable strides to improve his offensive game, Kentucky's 7'0" center Willie Cauley-Stein still struggles with execution and consistency.
Even in his second season in Lexington, the sophomore shot-blocker is primarily a dunk-or-layup type of scorer, with the rare baby hook or jumper sprinkled in. In order to be a more complete player in the NBA, he'll need to work on his offensive touch.
Nicole Auerbach of USA Today noted Cauley-Stein "admitted his offense feeds off his defense."
It's great that his defense sparks some scoring opportunities, but he needs to play aggressively and smoothly as a scorer at all times.
Cauley-Stein has drawn NBA comparisons to Tyson Chandler. That is both a compliment (defense) and an insult (offense). In order to avoid being a dunk-only pro, he must continue to work on his touch off the glass, flip shots and mid-range jumpers.
Rodney Hood, Duke: Explosiveness
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 22.6 Pts, 6.1 Reb, 55% FG, 44% 3-PT, 84% FT
Rodney Hood isn't slow-footed, nor is he completely devoid of leaping skills.
However, he lacks that burst NBA decision-makers love to see. Without an impressive vertical bounce or extra lateral gear, his moves and ball skills won't be quite as effective at the next level.
Prior to Hood's Duke debut, Draft Express scout Josh Riddell said Hood "won't wow scouts with his athleticism," and that he doesn't own an explosive first step.
While those shortcomings haven't prevented a productive season with the Blue Devils, they certainly will limit his upside in the Association.
Periodically, he fails to jet past a defender or leap all the way to the rim when most NBA-caliber athletes would. It's not a major red flag, but definitely something pro executives will need to be aware of on draft night.
Noah Vonleh, Indiana: Defensive Discipline
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 21.1 Pts, 17.1 Reb, 4.9 Fouls, 54% FG, 71% FT
As a young player whose draft value is based largely on potential, Indiana's Noah Vonleh has several areas to work on. The one we'd like to focus on is defensive discipline and decision-making.
The 6'10" forward is well-equipped to defend both forward positions, and he is inclined to work hard on the defensive end. Unfortunately, his aggressiveness and positioning has led to a handful of poorly-timed fouls early in his college career. In 22.4 minutes per game, he's notched four-plus fouls six times, and he's committed three-plus fouls eight times.
The Hoosiers blew out Kennesaw State Sunday, but InsideTheHall.com's Ryan Corazza didn't forget Vonleh's less-than-sharp defense:
Vonleh’s defense is still a work in progress as he fouled out this afternoon and was also the recipient of an earful from Ferrell during the first half after he wasn’t doing what he was supposed to during a defensive possession.
Indiana's team defense doesn't do him many favors, but Vonleh must learn to pick his spots when it comes to reaching in and contesting shots. The schedule is only going to get tougher this season.
Once his defensive awareness and footwork improve, he'll be a formidable NBA stopper. For now, he's an 18-year-old trying to hold his own out there.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona: Free-Throw Shooting
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 17.0 Pts, 10.4 Reb, 51% FG, 39% 3-PT, 44% FT
Much like Noah Vonleh, Aaron Gordon has loads of untapped versatility. The one pressing issue he must remedy soon is his free-throw shooting.
Arizona's high-flying forward is shooting just 44 percent from the charity stripe thus far, which is unacceptable by anyone's standards.
His shooting form and delivery aren't picture-perfect, but they're definitely good enough to convert more consistently than 44 percent. Coach Sean Miller told reporters after the game that Gordon hit 85 of 100 foul shots during the team's shootaround earlier that day, so the challenge during games is between the ears.
These in-game free-throw struggles shouldn't impact his draft stock. But if he wants to maximize his productivity when he hits the NBA hardwood, he needs to overcome this psychological hurdle.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Turnovers
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 24.0 Pts, 5.0 Ast, 5.9 Reb, 4.0 Tov, 46% FG, 32% 3-PT, 69% FT
Oklahoma State sophomore combo guard Marcus Smart doesn't have any glaring weaknesses, but his two most noticeable imperfections are perimeter shooting and turnovers.
He's grown in both facets since his freshman campaign, but we decided to critique the giveaways. Smart's creativity and instincts are NBA-worthy, but he often gets caught trying one too many drives or one too many difficult passes.
Fortunately, he's aware of the problem: Forcing things a little too much. He told John Helsley of The Oklahoman that he's trying to avoid those tendencies moving forward:
I'm just trying to focus and make sure I don't force a lot of things because I do have a talented group of guys around me. They can create also, so I just let them get into their flow of the game.
The Cowboys ask him to do a ton of work on offense, so some of these turnovers come with the territory. We're really nitpicking here—that's how good Smart is.
Dante Exum, Australia: Shooting Consistency
2013 U19 Worlds (9 games): 18.2 PPG, 3.8 APG, 3.6 RPG, 45% FG, 33% 3-PT, 61% FT
Dante Exum is the most highly anticipated international draft prospect since Ricky Rubio, and deservedly so. The Australian playmaker's scoring, passing and defensive talent could make him one of the most dangerous guards in the NBA.
However, he won't be entirely dominant in the pros until he shoots more consistently.
When you watch him take jumpers, it's not an ugly sight. He just needs to stay on balance more often and avoid shooting line drives. Drew Wolin of NBADraft.net scouted him over the summer and found that Exum's shot "tends to be flat and needs more arch."
Some nights, he goes oh-fer from distance, and other times he connects on the majority of his triples. NBA executives want to see a more reliable clip as the 18-year-old prepares for elite competition.
*Exum Stats via FIBA.com
Julius Randle, Kentucky: Scoring with Right Hand
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 24.0 Pts, 14.7 Reb, 4.4 Tov, 55% FG, 73% FT
You want the critical scouting report on Julius Randle? Just ask Kentucky head coach John Calipari.
"He's got to go to his right hand more," Coach Cal told Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Randle's lethal mix of athleticism, power and scoring prowess would be even more proficient if he took advantage of his off hand more often.
When the southpaw drives toward the rim, he frequently bends back for a tricky left-hand finish when there was more space for him to score with his right. In college, he can get away with it most of the time, but against the top-notch athletes of the NBA, he won't be so lucky.
It's tough to break old habits, but Randle would do himself a big long-term favor by utilizing his right hand more often.
Joel Embiid, Kansas: Decision-Making
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 20.4 Pts, 13.1 Reb, 4.4 Blk, 68% FG, 65% FT
As a prospective NBA center, Kansas freshman Joel Embiid has the raw tools, talent and desire to be an elite post player. He's got size, footwork and the potential to be a two-way star.
What he doesn't have is experience or a great feel for diagnosing plays.
He's only been playing organized hoops since 2011, so forgive him for the occasional bad pass or rushed shot. Embiid will gain savvy with time, and he'll know how to approach things like double-teams or pick-and-roll defense.
He's still learning defensive technique and fundamentals, but he has all the tools shared by the NBA's most effective rim protectors. Offensively, he has the game—it's just a matter of him polishing it up and consistently tapping into it.
His ascent to elite prospect status over the last couple years has been extraordinary, so imagine how amazing the next couple years will be as he learns from the best in the business.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: Shot-Creating Skills
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 20.4 Pts, 7.2 Reb, 47% FG, 35% 3-PT, 74% FT
Make no mistake, Andrew Wiggins is an ultra-rare type of prospect, an exceedingly talented player. No matter where he lands in relation to Jabari Parker, the team that drafts him will be delighted.
There are some flaws in his game, however. He needs to add muscle and continue to hone his NBA-range jump-shooting, but the area we'll harp on here is his shot-creating ability as a ball-handler.
Aside from the occasional step-back jumper, Wiggins has primarily employed straight-line slashes or spin moves. SBNation's Jonathan Tjarks explained that those basic moves get predictable in a hurry:
If a team can keep Wiggins in front of them and out of transition, he may struggle to create his own shot. One thing you can be sure of: everyone is going to be sitting on that spin move.
His crossover isn't as tight as it could be, nor are his hesitations or in-and-out dribbles. Wiggins needs to add those to his arsenal if he wants to make an immediate splash in the NBA.
Jabari Parker, Duke: Defense
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 28.3 Pts, 10.0 Reb, 2.4 Ast, 55% FG, 48% 3-PT, 77% FT
After another impressive performance by his freshman Jabari Parker, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski focused on the star's chief weakness.
"The main area he needs to learn is defense," he told David Gardner of Sports Illustrated.
As a stopper, Parker just doesn't have the same talent and instincts that he possesses on offense.
He's been burned off the bounce numerous times during his first few weeks of college ball, and that doesn't translate well against pro-level playmakers. Parker also has trouble with positioning against the pick-and-roll, and he's not the most confident or assertive presence in the paint.
Some of these issues, like location and awareness, are things that can get cleaned up. Lateral quickness, on the other hand, might be a problem if he guards swingmen in the NBA.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.