Projecting the Best Specialists in the 2014 NBA Draft Class
Specialists are players who excel in one particular area of the game. And it's that one core strength they possess that will be their moneymaker in the pros.
Usually, it's one shining attribute, whether it's a jump shot, rebounding instincts or incredible physical tools. Sometimes, a players' skill set is just built perfectly for one specific role.
Specialists aren't valued as much, given they're only likely to make an impact in one phase of the game.
But every team needs specialists to help balance out a lineup. Not everyone can be a scorer.
These are the guys who have one elite skill or strength pro teams will specifically target.
Interior Specialist: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0'', C, Sophomore
Interior specialists are good for three things: Rebounding, rim protection and finishing (passing is a plus). That's it—no post game, jumper or handle. Zero creativity.
Quite frankly, interior specialists can go full games without using a dribble.
Say hello to Willie Cauley-Stein, who isn't likely to touch the ball more than eight feet from the rim.
He's a monster athlete—at 7'0'', this kid used to play receiver on his high school football team. Cauley-Stein throws down some vicious dunks above the rim via lobs, dump offs or offensive rebounds.
Cauley-Stein averages seven boards and 3.2 blocks in 25.6 minutes of action for Kentucky. He's not a threat to score outside the paint, but he can clean the glass, change some shots and clean up around the rim. Plus, he's an excellent interior passer.
If you can accept the fact his offensive impact might be minimal, and you're in the market for some frontcourt size and athleticism, Cauley-Stein is your guy.
Three-Point Specialist: C.J. Wilcox, Washington, 6'5'', SG, Senior
Who cares if the rest of his scoring repertoire translates? C.J. Wilcox has an elite speciality strength he'll be able to take with him to the pros no matter what.
Wilcox can shoot the rock—he's making 3.1 threes per game this year on 41.5 percent from downtown. He's never shot below 36 percent from three, and he shot above 40 as a sophomore and junior.
Consistently lethal, Wilcox also has good 2-guard size and athleticism.
He's not the most elusive off the dribble in terms of getting to the rack or creating his own shot (though he's still averaging almost 20 points a game). But in the pros, that won't be his responsibility.
We've seen how effective Tim Hardaway Jr. has been for the Knicks simply catching and shooting on the perimeter. As a rookie, there's no reason Wilcox can't fill a similar role if he winds up in the right spot.
Offensive Specialist (Shot-Maker): Doug McDermott, Creighton, 6'7'', SF, Senior
Doug McDermott's core strength is putting the ball in the hole. It's a pretty nice one to work with. If only he had the athleticism to go with it, McDermott would be one of a kind.
But without it, he'll fall more into a specialty role, given he doesn't project as a plus defender or the same go-to guy he is for Creighton.
McDermott's responsibility in the NBA will be making shots and finishing plays. He's pretty darn good at it in college—this would mark his third year in a row averaging at least 22.9 points per game (he's at 24.8 now).
While some project McDermott as more of a three-point specialist, given his 44-percent long-range stroke and lack of athleticism at a position that traditionally requires it, he actually offers a whole lot more in terms of offense and shot-making range. McDermott can score from any spot or angle on the court, whether he's spotting up, shooting on the move, wide open or challenged.
Teams won't feature McDermott in their offense, but they'll have him out there to complement the ball-dominators as an offensive/shot-making specialist.
Sixth Man: Zach LaVine, UCLA, 6'5'', PG/SG, Freshman
As a freshman, Zach LaVine is coming off UCLA's bench. And it's something he might want to get used to.
It's a good role for these combo guards who can struggle with efficiency at the NBA level.
At 6'5'', LaVine weighs in around 180 pounds with a spaghetti-like frame, which makes it hard to believe he'll have the strength to defend starting NBA 2-guards. And at least at this stage, he's doesn't have the game to run the point full time.
But just like he does for UCLA, LaVine can provide a team with an offensive microwave off the bench. He's shooting it 45.1 percent from downtown, and when given the freedom to create, he can even dance a little with the ball and score off the bounce.
He's also a guard who can pick up easy buckets thanks to some electric athletic ability. If there's open floor or a driving lane to hit, LaVine can explode right through it before throwing one down above the rim.
LaVine is the guy you put into a game when the lineup on the floor needs a jolt. He makes things happen as an instant-offensive option.
Unless his game really takes off Russell Westbrook style, and he emerges as a starting-caliber point guard, LaVine could make a living as a potent sixth man.
Three-and-D Specialist: P.J. Hairston, Texas Legends, 6'6'', SG
The D stands for defense—Three-and-D guys are wings who can shoot it and defend.
Though now with the Texas Legends of the D-League, Hairston was money from downtown as a sophomore at North Carolina, where he shot it 39.6 percent on 2.6 makes per game. He even sank four three-pointers in his debut with the Legends.
“What I can bring is just another shooter and another scorer and someone they can trust to put the ball in the basket,” Hairston said (via Cameron Schott of Realgm.com.)
But at 6'6'' with really long arms, excellent athleticism and a diesel 220-pound frame, Hairston also has appealing defensive potential.
He averaged 1.3 steals in only 23.6 minutes a game last year, and when he's locked in, Hairston has that ability to overwhelm defensively on the perimeter.
"I thought the best thing that he did was that he got his hands on a lot of passes and on defense he was great tonight, ” said Legends' point guard Mickey McConnell of Hairston after his first game with the team (via Realgm.com).
Hairston has a little more to his offensive game, as he can get to the rack and score after contact, but in the pros, expect his bread and butter to center around shooting and defending. If he's able to capitalize as a slasher, we could be talking about a guy who offers top-15 value in the draft.
Rebounding Specialist: Roscoe Smith, UNLV, PF, 6'8'', Junior
Roscoe Smith is currently your nation's leading rebound leader at 12.4 a game. And if he chooses to declare this June, that's likely to be the heart of his NBA sales pitch.
Smith has terrific rebounding instincts to go along with long arms, quick feet and athleticism.
He's racking up four offensive boards a game. Smith is a go-getter on the glass, bringing good energy, activity and toughness to the interior.
Offensively, he occasionally shows some touch around the rim and on his mid-range jumper, but teams targeting Smith will be focused on his ability to control the boards.
At 22 years old following his transfer from Connecticut, Smith might want to take advantage of being the field's top rebounding option.
This spot might have gone to Michigan's Mitch McGary if he didn't undergo season-ending back surgery.
Glue Guy: Dario Saric,Croatia, 6'10'', SF/PF, 1994
Dario Saric is a unique specialist in that he's multidimensional. Most specialists have one core strength they lean on.
But Saric's core strength is his ability to act as glue. He's a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type of contributor.
He's averaging 14.6 points, 8.3 boards, 2.5 assists and 1.4 steals on 53.6 percent shooting and 33 percent from three. Saric doesn't dominate in any area of the game; rather, he contributes by doing whatever is necessary on that particular possession.
He scores, passes, shoots and rebounds, but he isn't overly advanced in any one department.
Saric's ability to contribute across the board and balance out a lineup is what makes him the glue-guy specialist of the 2014 class.
Spark Plug: Jahii Carson, Arizona State, 5'10'', PG, Sophomore
At 5'10'' with a questionable track record as a true facilitator, Jahii Carson is a better fit providing a spark than running an offense.
His job at the pro level will be to ignite a dead lineup—whether it's sinking a transition three-pointer or dishing an alley-oop pass off some breakdown penetration. A coach will insert Carson into the game to simply make plays.
However, spark plugs come with a short leash, especially mini ones like Carson or Nate Robinson—guards who have to take low-percentage shots, and who aren't the best options on defense.
Carson's decision-making at Arizona State has also been erratic—he's already had seven games this year with more turnovers than assists.
But there's no doubt he's an NBA talent—Carson is as quick as anyone with the ball, and his ability to create off the dribble and knock down shots should attract suitors looking for backcourt life.
Just don't expect Carson to emerge as your team's next starting point guard. In a role where he can play as opposed to think, he could be a nice luxury to have on your bench.
Passing Specialist: Vasilije Micic, Serbia, 6'5'', PG, 1994
You won't find a more natural point guard in the field. Vasilije Micic is a pure, pass-first facilitator with extraordinary vision and instincts.
He's currently No. 3 in the Adriatic League in assists per game. Micic has eyes in the back of his head, while his timing and accuracy are always on point. Pick-and-rolls, backdoor passes, drive-and-dishes, simple ball movement—Micic is a guy who finds open teammates and makes the right choices as a passer.
The downside of Micic's game is that he's not a standout athlete. He lacks that breakdown quickness, and it's unclear yet if it will prevent him from excelling as an NBA point guard.
Even if Micic never evolves into a starter, his passing ability and high IQ could be valuable to a team in need of a ball mover to balance its lineup.