Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospects with the Most to Prove This Season
Prospects with something to prove typically have preset bars to reach or potential weaknesses that need fine-tuning.
Some guys have to prove they're worth the hype that built them up. Others simply need to show they have a basketball package worth coveting.
Scouts will watch the following prospects closely this year, as each has a specific goal they need to achieve.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6'8'', SF, Freshman
With the bar set at the highest level, Andrew Wiggins came in with absurd expectations. But what's made it even more difficult for him is the stiff competition he's facing.
Wiggins has to prove he's the real deal—especially with prospects like Duke's Jabari Parker, Kentucky's Julius Randle and his teammate, Joel Embiid, all lurking in the shadows. There isn't much margin for error here. With three other standout options who offer No. 1 upside of their own, a general manager might feel inclined to pass on Wiggins if he ever gets hesitant or skeptical.
Specifically, Wiggins has to prove that his perceived lack of killer instinct either isn't true, or that it won't prevent him from emerging as a leader and go-to weapon. Because with a top pick and lots of star power to choose from, that's what general managers will covet.
Mitch McGary, Michigan, 6'10'', PF, Sophomore
Mitch McGary went absolutely nuts during last year's NCAA tournament—21 points and 14 boards against VCU, 25 and 14 against Kansas, 10, 12 and six assists against Syracuse.
Within a two-week span, McGary went from just another role player to a rumored potential lottery pick. But despite his stock having seemingly peaked to an all-time high, he chose to return to Michigan as a sophomore.
And now he has to prove last year's outburst wasn't a fluke.
Conference play hasn't started yet, but you have to wonder whether McGary wishes he capitalized on his stock spike last June. He's had more single-digit scoring games than double-digit ones this year and hasn't shown a lot of improvement as an offensive weapon in the post.
Instead of entering the year as an under-the-radar prospect, he now faces the pressure of having something to prove.
Alex Poythress, Kentucky, 6'8'', PF, Sophomore
Alex Poythress has seen his draft stock take a steady dive since the start of last season.
A big-time Kentucky recruit with NBA lottery expectations, Poythress has looked anything but through a season and a third of college hoops.
He passes the eye test—at 6'8'' and roughly 240 pounds, he's a dynamite frontcourt athlete. But he hasn't showcased the matching game to go with it. Last season, he was strictly a line-drive player who couldn't create or change directions off the bounce, and that really limited his scoring opportunities. He looked like your textbook tweener.
This was his year to prove doubters wrong, though it would be tough given the influx of freshman talent coming in. And so far, the newcomers have flushed him right out of the core rotation.
As a sophomore, he's seen his minutes drop from 25.8 to 17.8 a game. Further, we haven't seen much progress in terms of him diversifying his offensive arsenal. He's made just 22 buckets in 12 games.
However, Poythress is pulling in the same amount of boards this year (six) as he was last year in eight minutes less per game. If offense isn't going to be his thing, motor, energy and toughness has to be plan B. All he has to do is differentiate himself from other players at his level.
James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina, 6'9'', PF, Junior
The clock is ticking on James Michael McAdoo, who's now in his third year and has yet to prove just what it is he brings to the NBA table.
There's a reason he's still at North Carolina and not in a pro uniform. McAdoo hasn't been able to maximize his draft stock.
He's a sensational athlete with top-notch physical tools, but he lacks the skill set of a wing and hasn't proven he can bang or live inside. McAdoo also hasn't hit a three-pointer in his career, nor has he shot more than 45 percent from the floor or more than 65 percent from the line. On the other hand, he can be hit or miss on the glass despite his size and leaping ability, and he struggles finishing after contact inside.
McAdoo is capable of making big plays, whether it's dunking in a miss, attacking a lane or hitting a turnaround jumper in the post. But he'll ultimately have to prove he can make those type of plays every game instead of once every three.
Glenn Robinson III, Michigan, 6'6'', SF, Sophomore
Behind Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas as a freshman, Glenn Robinson III was only able to flash his potential in limited doses.
This year, with Burke and Hardaway in the pros, scouts have wanted to see Robinson take the initiative and turn those sporadic flashes into a steady stream of production.
Robinson did a lot of spot-up shooting and catch-and-finishing last season. He was rarely given the freedom or put in a position where he could create offense off the dribble.
He has to prove he can pose as more of a threat with the ball in his hands. He tends to go long stretches without taking a shot or making a play, and that hurts his value as an NBA prospect.
To prove he's worth the lottery buzz that was generated last year, Robinson will need to evolve into a more multidimensional and assertive offensive player.
Isaiah Austin, Baylor, 7'1'', PF/C, Sophomore
Many pegged him as a one-and-done freshman when he got to Baylor. But Isaiah Austin just wasn't very convincing.
He was a bit inconsistent—a little too much for a guy with his physical tools and lottery upside.
But the real concern here is over his position, strengths and place in an offense. At 7'1'', he's only about 225 pounds and doesn't dominate the paint. At times, Austin can be vulnerable to getting pushed around inside, and unless a ball bounces his way or he's fed with good position in the post, he could struggle to generate scoring opportunities.
He has to prove to teams that he's the offensive mismatch his physical tools and skill set suggest he should be.
This year, Austin's playing time is down—and so are his numbers. He's averaging only 10 points and a head-scratching five boards a game, although he is blocking 3.1 shots in 24 minutes.
“I’m not playing as well as I did last year but we’re winning so I’m not really troubled by it,” Austin told Shehan Jeyarajah of the Baylor Lariat. “I just have to get back in rhythm. I know my teammates have my back.”
Austin will have to pick it up during conference play, given how harmful a sophomore regression could be for a prospect draft stock.
Adreian Payne, Michigan State, 6'10'', PF, Senior
It's early, but Adreian Payne is already proving to scouts he hasn't fully broken out. And he needed to, because if he had left after last year, he likely would have been a fringe first-rounder.
After about six weeks of ball as a senior, Payne now looks like a first-round lock and legitimate threat to the lottery.
He's always had the elite physical tools—above-the-rim athleticism, a massive 6'10'' frame and a monstrous wingspan. But he hasn't always been able to put them to use on a consistent basis.
Payne had been more of an occasional contributor as opposed to a constant in the lineup. However, down the stretch last season, he became a much more consistent producer. Payne improved his interior scoring game and even flashed outside touch.
He needed to prove that last year's late run was a step forward in his development. And he has been pretty convincing so far. He's averaging 18 points and eight boards a game on 53 percent shooting and 46 percent from downtown.