9 NBA Draft Prospects Who Are One Year Away from a Full-Fledged Breakout
This is the year where they flash their upside. Next season is when those flashes turn into a steady stream of production.
Sometimes, it just takes a guy an extra year to settle in, whether the delayed breakout is due to a limited game or limited role.
With another season in school, expect the following prospects' games and roles to expand and draw NBA interest.
Caris LeVert, Michigan, 6'6", SG, Sophomore
Caris LeVert is currently experiencing the preliminary breakout. Next year he'll have a chance at the full-fledged eruption that could land him on first-round radars.
LeVert looks like your prototypical 2-guard at 6'6" with long arms and fluid athleticism. He's averaging 13.3 points, but it's not necessarily the production that's been so impressive—it's that LeVert has actually become a guy you can give the ball to and watch light it up.
He's shown the ability and confidence to win the one-on-one battle. LeVert is now a threat to beat his man to the rack, score on the move or separate for a mid-range jumper.
With Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III on the wing, touches aren't always easy to come by in Michigan's offense. But we've seen LeVert go for 24 points against Duke, 20 in a win over Wisconsin, 22 against Iowa and 25 against Wisconsin in their second meeting.
Most recently, LeVert dropped 23 in a sensational win over Michigan State, as he and Stauskas completely took over.
With Stauskas and Robinson III both projected to take off and enter the 2014 draft, LeVert could be poised for an absolute monster junior year as Michigan's go-to offensive option.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona, 6'7", SF, Freshman
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is still awfully raw offensively, but his ridiculous length, lightning-quick foot speed and effortless athleticism are all top shelf.
He's been able to make an impact without many refined skills—he's averaging 8.6 points, 5.5 boards and 1.6 assists in under 25 minutes a game, with most of his production fueled by energy and physical prowess.
We've seen flashes of a mid-range jumper, and with a lane to attack, he's capable of putting it on the deck and driving. Hollis-Jefferson is also a pretty heads-up passer, and though he's deadlier in the open floor, he's shown the ability to make things happen within Arizona's half-court offense.
Defensively, he offers tremendous versatility, with the ability to guard three to four positions.
If Hollis-Jefferson is able to add some polish to his offensive game, we could be talking about the lottery next season, given his promising two-way upside and high level of activity.
Chris Walker, Florida, 6'10", PF, Freshman
Hopefully Chris Walker doesn't get tempted to make the jump following this year. After being ineligible for the first 22 games of the season, Walker has barely gotten any burn since making his debut, as he appears far from NBA ready.
In limited action, we've seen Walker's attractive blend of size, length and world-class athleticism. But given Florida's veteran squad and current No. 1 ranking, minutes will be tough to come by for the raw yet promising freshman.
Walker's appeal stems directly from his hops and playmaking ability around the rim, both as a finisher and shot-blocker.
With Florida's senior forwards and big men Patric Young, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather all on their way out, Walker should find himself in prime position to flourish alongside penetrating point guard Kasey Hill in 2014-15.
Bobby Portis, Arkansas, 6'9", PF, Freshman
Bobby Portis has the NBA build that stands out the second he hits the floor. And by next season, he should have a more refined offensive game to go with it.
He's averaging 13.1 points, 6.6 boards and 1.6 blocks on 54.1 percent shooting.
At 6'10", 242 pounds with a wingspan over 7'0", Portis can overwhelm in the post. He can also on occasion face up his man and attack off the dribble. He's even looked comfortable taking mid-range jumpers, and though his long-range shooting is something he'll need to improve, he's still hit seven three-pointers on the year.
He's dominated at times this season—Portis erupted for 35 points on 14-of-17 shooting against Alabama.
Still, he'll have to become more active on the glass and pose more of a threat as a one-on-one offensive player, but the promise he's shown as a freshman makes him an obvious breakout candidate as a sophomore.
Delon Wright, Utah, 6'5", PG, Junior
After transferring from junior college in San Francisco, Delon Wright has emerged as one of the more eye-opening guards in Division I.
Sure, he's in the midst of arguably the most under-the-radar breakout in the country, but he still has room to grow, assuming he returns to Utah as a senior.
"He's had double-digit rebounding games, double-digit assist games and is shooting and distributing the ball with a high efficiency," coach Larry Krystkowiak told Rahshaun Haylock of Fox Sports. "If we can get his feet in the paint he seems to make the right play the majority of the time. (He has) a number of deflections. They're just a lot of ways he impacts the game."
Standing 6'5", Wright is averaging 16.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists a game. Believe it or not, he's actually No. 1 in the country in win shares at 6.5, while he's got the highest PER (Player Efficiency Rating) in the Pac-12.
He's nifty off the dribble, where he can cut and change directions with long, decisive strides on his way to the rack. Wright is an excellent finisher at the rim (74 percent, per Hoop-Math), where he's able to hit off-balance layups, floaters or flips.
Wright has also shown impressive vision as a playmaker—he looks like a natural out there in terms of his ability to create and pass.
But he's only made 11 three-pointers all season, and his in-between game could use some work. Still, Wright is shooting 79.2 percent from the line and 41.2 percent on two-point jumpers, both promising numbers moving forward.
Wright has a few adjustments and improvements to make with regard to his offensive game, but based on the season he's having as a first-year NCAA player, expectations will be high in 2014-15.
Shaq Goodwin, Memphis, 6'9", PF, Sophomore
Shaq Goodwin has made strides from his freshman to sophomore years, but the big jump looks ready to go down in 2014-15.
He's flashed first-round upside this season—the goal as a junior will be to keep it turned on from November to March.
Goodwin is a dynamic athlete with a terrific basketball body he uses to wheel and deal in the paint and finish above the rim. He's averaging 12.5 points on an impressive 61.7 percent shooting, while blocking almost two shots a game thanks to some effortless leaping ability.
Though not the most skilled offensive player, Goodwin has a good feel for the game and sharp interior instincts. We've seen him flip shots around defenders with his back to the rim and score in the post over either shoulder. Still, Goodwin relies a little too heavily on his strength and length as opposed to refined moves.
But we've seen enough progression from one year to the next to think there's plenty more to come.
Jarell Martin, LSU, 6'8", PF, Freshman
Jarell Martin certainly looks the part of a power forward thanks to a strong 6'9" frame, a powerful upper body and face-the-bucket athleticism.
He's got some phenomenal hands along with excellent instincts to finish at the rim—Martin just has a natural feel for scoring around the paint.
He actually resembles Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris in a way, with the size and agility to play from multiple spots on the floor. He can score in the paint or attack off the bounce, and he's hit 16 three-pointers on the season.
But Martin clearly needs more reps and touches, as he's too raw to make a consistent impact. I'm expecting a big sophomore year from Martin, who has the physical tools and foundation to build an intriguing inside-outside offensive game.
Dakari Johnson, Kentucky, 7'0", C, Freshman
Dakari Johnson's minutes have fluctuated this season, though with Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein expected to declare in 2014, playing time shouldn't be as much of an issue in 2014-15.
He saw some solid action in February. At 7'0", 265 pounds, his gigantic body serves a purpose even without much of a skill set to complement it. Johnson is a monster presence in the paint, and though his offense needs some refinement, he's got soft hands and a nice touch around the hoop.
In the four games this year where he's gotten at least 20 minutes, Johnson averaged 9.5 points and 7.2 boards.
He's still extremely raw and limited offensively, but you just can't teach that size and feel around the rim. Expanding his low-post game could lead to all sorts of double-doubles next season.
Jabari Bird, California, 6'6", SG, Freshman
Jabari Bird has cooled off the second half of his freshman year, but all the pieces should be in place for a breakout sophomore season.
He flashed some serious upside after six weeks of college basketball—before injuring his ankle late in December, Bird went for 24 points against Oakland, 15 against Arkansas, 17 against Syracuse and 16 against Nevada.
He's an explosive athlete with ideal size (6'6") for an NBA 2-guard, but at this point, he's limited to shooting line drives and situational jump shots.
Bird can shoot it—he makes a three-pointer a game, though his 30.6 percent three-point shooting clip suggests he'll need another year of regular reps to improve his consistency from outside.
With plenty of defensive potential and an offensive skill set in place, he's got the game and tools—Bird just needs to fine-tune them.
Bird should be poised for a huge year at California with an increased role as a sophomore.