1 Weakness Every Top-10 2014 NBA Draft Prospect Must Correct

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2014

1 Weakness Every Top-10 2014 NBA Draft Prospect Must Correct

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    The top tier of the 2014 NBA draft is brimming with talent and exceptional potential, but even premier prospects have skill deficiencies that need sharpening.

    Whether it's inadequate ball-handling moves, jump-shooting flaws or poor defensive footwork, these highly touted prodigies are still a work in progress.

    That isn't necessarily alarming. Remember, they're 18 or 19 years old.

    The players who can successfully identify these weaknesses and rectify them, whether rapidly or gradually, are the ones who will reach their NBA ceilings.

    What does each top-10 pick need to work on?

Our Criteria

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    As we break down each top prospect, we'll focus more on actual basketball skill deficiencies rather than intangibles or physical features.

    Sure, we could talk about Andrew Wiggins' slight frame or unassertiveness, but in this series we're emphasizing techniques that he must improve.

    What can these guys work on in between the lines at practice? What basketball procedures can they refine with coaches and teammates in order to produce at the next level?

Aaron Gordon, Arizona Forward: Shooting Delivery

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    The problem: Stiff shooting form, inconsistent touch from all ranges

    In order to be a legitimate combo forward in the NBA, Arizona's Aaron Gordon needs to improve his shooting delivery and touch. He's somewhat rigid and too deliberate in his motion, and he's been largely ineffective as a jump-shooter for the Wildcats. 

    His free-throw shooting (42 percent) is particularly troubling, as he leaves points on the table every night by missing more than half his attempts.

    Gordon slightly leans forward and doesn't bring the ball all the way back before releasing. As ESPN's Brett Edgerton puts it, "watching Aaron Gordon try to make a free throw is a very uncomfortable process."


    How he can correct it

    This isn't an overnight adjustment, but the good news is that his shot isn't a lost cause. Gordon has to work on smoothing it out, which means (1) bending his knees more, (2) relying on the "dip" to create rhythm and (3) bringing the ball all the way back above his head.

    Other than that, it's a matter of repetition, muscle memory and a commitment to focusing on fluid motion.

Dario Saric, Croatia Forward: Dribble Pull-Up Shooting

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    The problem: Ineffective and inconsistent on pull-up jumpers

    Croatian forward Dario Saric has intriguing potential as an all-around offensive contributor—if he can improve his pull-up shooting.

    His release form is pretty good, but his footwork and balance often hurt his chances to sink dribble-up attempts. Draft Express analyst Mike Schmitz notes that Saric "really struggles shooting off the dribble...doesn't have a mid-range game, uncomfortable rising up."

    When you watch him shoot off the dribble, it's apparent that the "gather" phase of his shot takes a long time, and he's not upright enough when jumping.


    How he can correct it

    Saric must work on speeding up that gather phase while consistently squaring his feet up toward the bucket. On every pull-up shot (except for step-backs), he should be planting for the jump simultaneously with his last dribble.

Gary Harris, Michigan State Shooting Guard: NBA Range

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    The problem: Not really a red flag, but Harris could improve his deep shooting range

    Another shooting problem among top-10 prospects?

    We're nitpicking here, for sure. After all, shooting in general is one of Gary Harris' best assets for the NBA, and he's a good college three-point shooter.

    However, when the Michigan State sophomore is forced into tough or deep shots, he's less reliable.

    He's not going to be the biggest wing in the Association, so three-point shooting will likely be his biggest weapon if he can harness it. In ESPN analyst Chad Ford's 2014 draft profiles (subscription required), he noted that Harris "needs to increase his shooting range."

    Harris is a career 37 percent shooter in college, but the NBA line is three feet deeper, and the defenders are a couple of inches taller.


    How he can correct it

    Practice (what else?), especially with a teammate sticking a hand in his face.

Julius Randle, Kentucky Power Forward: Scoring with Right Hand

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    The problem: Over-reliance on left-hand finishes, even when right side is better option

    Kentucky forward Julius Randle is a rare freshman—a physically imposing power forward who is quick and finishes strong around the basket. Unfortunately, he nearly always feels the need to spin left and finish left, despite windows of opportunity on the right.

    His offensive productivity would increase markedly if he was more of a right-handed threat. SB Nation analyst Jonathan Tjarks noted that he needs to adjust in order to shine in the NBA:

    ...He will have to diversify his offense to thrive. In college, he mostly bullies power forwards who can't match up with him physically. In the NBA...he will need to use his right hand. No matter where he is on the floor, he always goes back to his left. 

    If he doesn't improve his ability to go right, he will be predictable and more easily defended in the NBA compared to college.


    How he can correct it

    He must focus on exploding up and finishing with his right off the backboard, extending high to release. Randle also must practice setting up the right-handed shot: planting with his right foot and spinning over his left shoulder or faking left and then going up strong with the right.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State Guard: Mid-Range Creativity

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    The problem: Smart isn't a smooth mid-range shot-creator or facilitator

    While the hoops world is reacting to Marcus Smart shoving a fan at Texas Tech, NBA scouts are more concerned with his ball-handling and mid-range fluidity.

    The Oklahoma State star has the ability to quickly slash to the rim, but when it comes to weaving through defenders or finding creases for short jumpers, things get cumbersome for him. He doesn't have the tightest or smoothest dribbling skills or exhibit advanced footwork to generate space.

    ESPN college basketball commentator Jimmy Dykes explained his biggest worry surrounding Smart: "No middle game, no floaters, shoots a hard ball. It's 3's or all the way to rim for him. Must change as pro." 

    In order to maximize his offensive chances, he must become more adept at setting up high-percentage chances inside the arc.


    How he can correct it

    Smart must develop a floater, as well as a springy pull-up jumper and short bankers. Equally important is his need to polish his ball-handling skills and develop hesitation prowess, jump-stops and fadeaways.

Noah Vonleh, Indiana Power Forward: Turnovers

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    The problem: Gives the ball away too often (3.5 turnovers per 40 minutes, 19.3 turnover percentage)

    There isn't just one reason why Indiana's Noah Vonleh is coughing up the ball too much. It's a combination of lack of skill, alertness and instincts.

    His natural talent and upside are readily apparent, but he often gets the ball stripped or forces bad drives or errant passes. Quick double-teams often result in turnovers.

    Draft Express analyst Mike Schmitz detailed Vonleh's series of issues, noting that the forward is "prone to forcing the issue on drives," and he "drops a fair amount of passes because he isn't ready to catch and finish."

    Vonleh is a strong person but doesn't always play strong or alertly with the ball in the high post. Consequently, he gets robbed or gives the ball away on ill-timed passes.


    How he can correct it

    Other than experiencing continued exposure to high-level defenses, Vonleh can improve his flaws by executing quick, simple moves from the post or perimeter. He can't possess the ball too long, especially while dribbling and spinning, and he must be more aware to pass and catch passes.

Dante Exum, Australia Guard: Shooting Consistency

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    The problem: Inconsistent shooter

    Australian combo guard Dante Exum will develop into a great scorer in the NBA, but not until he irons out his jumper.

    There aren't any major flaws with his setup, dip and delivery, but he doesn't display consistent upright posture or adequate arc on the shot. While scouting Exum last summer, Drew Wolin of NBADraft.net noted that his shot "tends to be flat and needs more arch."

    In a tournament where he was dialed in offensively (18.2 points per game in 2013 U-19 Worlds), Exum still only managed 33.3 percent from three-point range. NBA range is another step farther from the hoop, and in a few short months, pro defenders will test his range. 

    If he can gradually upgrade his efficiency, it will open up his game and make him significantly more productive as a young playmaker. He should strive for 35 to 38 percent from distance.


    How he can correct it

    Thousands of uncontested and contested triples per week.

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas Small Forward: Advanced Shot-Creating Skills

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    The problem: Lacks versatile repertoire of assertive shot-creating moves

    While he must improve his strength and 40-minute intensity, Andrew Wiggins' biggest deficiency skill-wise is his creativity.

    He's not a terrible dribbler, and he does have a nice spin move, but that won't cut it in the NBA. His handle could be tighter, and his game needs to be more unpredictable. It's pretty much either a three-pointer or layup attempt for him whenever he looks to score.

    Eric Buenning of Brewhoop.com explains that Wiggins doesn't have the moves to get by his man in half-court scenarios:

    ...He doesn't seem to have that ability (yet) to break down his defender and find the open man for an easier shot than a reliance on athleticism to get a layup. I don't necessarily wonder if he'll develop that skill, but rather how long it will take for him to get to that level of shot creation.

    When he gains the ability to maneuver past foes with multiple dribbles and effectively adjust to help defenders, he will be a star. Until then, he's relying solely on explosiveness.


    How he can correct it 

    He will work on jab-step setups, fake step-backs, hesitations, in-and-out dribbles and tighter crossovers. While practicing all these moves, he must remember to stay balanced and control the ball.

Jabari Parker, Duke Forward: Defensive Positioning and Footwork

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    The problem: Gets beat off the bounce by wings, out of position against bigs

    It's never a good sign when people say, "Jabari Parker is so out of position on defense sometimes, I often wonder if it's by design."

    That's what CelticsBlog's Kevin O'Connor said about the Duke star, who has frequently struggled to stop opponents throughout his freshman campaign. A combination of subpar footwork and unassertiveness allows attackers to get around him off the dribble or beat him to the spot away from the ball.

    Parker doesn't always use solid fundamentals like staying low and sliding his feet. He's often caught in no-man's land when helping, and he gives up prime post position to power forwards and centers.

    There's only so much he can do about lateral quickness. But can he develop enough fundamental positioning to guard quick swingmen and strong bigs?


    How he can correct it

    He should watch video of guys like Paul Pierce, who is slow but effective defensively. Parker needs to stay low on every possession and sharpen the "alligator step" to stay in front of slashers.

Joel Embiid, Kansas Center: Telegraphing Plays and Not Being "Strong with the Ball"

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    The problem: Between soft moves in traffic and staring down passes, Embiid turns it over too much (5.3 per 40 minutes in conference play).

    Joel Embiid is 250 pounds, and he's a great passer for a big man. Yet he doesn't always control the ball strongly, and he occasionally telegraphs passes by staring down his intended target long enough for defenders to anticipate the pass.

    The undesirable effect is a tidal wave of turnovers.

    Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports notes that Embiid is shaky when defenses ramp up the pressure: "Dealing with double teams is still a work in progress for Embiid."

    Sometimes he predictably turns into help defenders and coughs it up, and other times he tries a difficult pass across Fifth Avenue. It's all part of his skill and IQ development as a newcomer to high-level hoops.


    How he can correct it

    First, he should practice keeping the ball at chin level in a strong stance with his elbows out. Second, he should use peripheral vision to make passes, and third, he needs to refrain from risky passes across the middle.


    Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report.

    Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR