The college-to-NBA transition process is all about making adjustments. Depending on what each prospect has to offer—physically, mentally and fundamentally—some have to make bigger ones than others.
In the pros, the trees are taller on the inside, the perimeter is secured by quicker guards and the game is played at a faster pace. It's a whole different on-court environment.
Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart are two of the highest-rated prospects on the planet. However, both have struggled at times during the year. And for each to successfully make the jump and ultimately flourish as NBA players, changes, improvements and tweaks will need to be made.
Picture this: Both players are in separate elevators, only Wiggins' elevator reaches the roof, or floor 10, while Smart's tops out at floor 8. There's simply no arguing this—Wiggins' ceiling sits at a higher level than Smart's, and if both players maximize their potential, it's Wiggins who'll end up the more dangerous and valuable player.
But it's probably going to take Wiggins an extra few years in his elevator to reach that 10th floor, while Smart might be capable of reaching his ceiling at a much earlier stage in his career.
At 6'4", 220 pounds, Smart won't have any trouble matching up physically with NBA point guards, and given his size, strength and motor, he could probably even hold his own against plenty of 2-guards.
At 6'8", 200 pounds, Wiggins will be going head-to-head with some of the toughest defenders in the game—Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala and more. And at this point, some of these guys have a 20-pound strength advantage on Wiggins, who's almost a year younger than Smart.
However, while Wiggins' elevator ride might take longer, Smart's could be bumpier.
And it all starts with Smart's skill set for the position he's slated to play. Smart played mostly combo guard in high school, and every recruiting service labeled him a shooting guard before he arrived at Oklahoma State. Now, many project him as a point guard.
And if we're talking adjustments, Smart is going to have to make some big ones to successfully transition to that position in the pros.
As a sophomore, Smart currently has a 0.91 PPR, a stat that measures assists to turnovers relative to each other. To put that in perspective, there are 14 players with a better PPR in the Big 12 alone. He averages 4.6 assists to 2.7 turnovers a game—not exactly numbers that scream efficiency or facilitator.
On the other hand, Wiggins will be sliding right into the same role he's been playing since high school. And the framework and foundation for him are there—Wiggins has the tools and skills that all the top NBA scorers have developed over time.
For Wiggins, it's just going to be a matter of polishing them up through repetition. While Smart will have to adjust and ultimately tweak his overall game, Wiggins just has to refine the one that comes natural to him.
Step-back and pull-up jumpers, three-pointers, floaters in the lane, one-on-one takes to the rack—these are all plays and shots in his wheelhouse, and ones he'll be going to in the pros once he's promoted into that top-scoring option. The challenge for Wiggins will be execution and consistency, which take time, but not as much adjusting.
Smart is still learning the position he'll likely be drafted to play. Though an excellent playmaker, his decision-making with the ball has been erratic, particularly his shot selection. And it's going to take some trial and error to adjust.
The challenge for Smart should be more related to his style of play—taking the skills he has now and applying them in the right spots. That means pulling up for a jumper instead of resorting to a low-percentage floater, or attacking a lane instead of settling on the perimeter.
At this stage, Smart pretty much plays either in the paint or behind the arc—nowhere in between.
My concern with Marcus 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— Jimmy Dykes (@JimmyDykesLive) February 4, 2014
Take a look at his made field-goal distribution:
|At the Rim||Two-point Jumpers||Three-pointers|
|Total Shots Made||72||19||39|
This type of distribution isn't likely to fly in the pros, especially for a point guard, who for the most part, based on the NBA's spacing and heavy pick-and-roll usage, needs a mid-range pull-up jumper.
I'm not even as worried about the poor shooting percentages as I am about the fact he's only made 19 two-point jumpers—specifically from a scorer's standpoint. Smart just doesn't have the one-on-one game that's likely to seamlessly translate.
And he's also going to have to do a better job of picking and choosing his spots as a scorer and distributor. That's more about improving his awareness than his skill set.
Still, between his defensive impact, passing instincts and ability to attack the rim, he'll probably be able to play a major rookie role. And depending on where Wiggins ends up, I'm not sure he'll be able to say the same.
But Wiggins won't have as many adjustments to make with regard to his style of play. The NBA pace will play directly to his favor, while he'll have better playmakers around him to put him in position to do his thing.
Wiggins just has to get better at the same game he's playing at Kansas—finishing slashes, jumpers and drives to the rack.
Smart will ultimately have to learn to become a more effective distributor and more efficient scorer. And while he has the talent and skill set, his overall game might require a bigger makeover and a little extra maintenance.
We're at the point now where we've seen plenty of each top prospect, specifically Kansas' Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins and Duke's Jabari Parker. And there still doesn't seem to be a consensus No. 1.
One scout anonymously told me, "People are going to flip back and forth now but really they [are] going to draw more meaningful conclusions during the tournament and once we get combine measurements and results."
From here on out, it looks like all the top dogs are on an equal playing field. And a good or bad performance in the NCAA tournament could be the difference between going No. 1 or No. 3—especially for guys like Parker and Wiggins, who scouts will be expecting to lead their teams down the stretch.
|7||Gary Harris||Michigan State||SG||Sophomore|
|8||Marcus Smart||Oklahoma State||PG/SG||Sophomore|
|18||P.J. Hairston||Texas Legends||SG||Junior|
|19||T.J. Warren||North Carolina State||SF||Sophomore|
|20||Adreian Payne||Michigan State||PF||Senior|
T.J. Warren, North Carolina State, 6'8", SF
Warren has been sizzling over the past four weeks. He's putting up some of the biggest numbers in college basketball, averaging 27.8 points a game over his last eight.
He's fresh off a wasted 36-point effort in an overtime loss to North Carolina, in which he made 12 two-point field goals. Warren simply has an uncanny ability to get buckets, whether it's by slashing, finishing, shooting from the perimeter or converting floaters.
"There are so many different ways that the guy gets his baskets," N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried told Bret Strelow of The Fayetteville Observer. "Not a lot of players can do that, so I think he's unique in that regard."
Though not the most explosive athlete, at 6'8" and 215 pounds he has good size for the NBA wing. Warren should find himself on first-round radars by June if he hasn't already.
Nick Johnson, Arizona, 6'3", PG/SG, Junior
Johnson has been terrific over the past few games, most recently at home against California, when he went for 22 points, seven boards and five assists with Danny Ainge and Flip Saunders on hand.
He previously went for 20, five and six in a win at Colorado. Johnson is simply a better all-around player and leader than he was a season ago.
He's going to destroy the NBA Draft Combine's athletic testing. Johnson's vertical is absolutely off the charts. Last year it was Shane Larkin who blew everyone away at the combine, and I've got my money on Johnson making similar noise this May.
James McAdoo, North Carolina, 6'9", PF, Junior
He's played real well at times this year, but inconsistency has just sucked the life out of his draft stock. McAdoo was a non-factor in Carolina's recent overtime win over North Carolina State, finishing just 2-of-11 from the floor. Prior, he was 3-of-9 against Wake Forest and 5-of-14 against Duke.
This all came after McAdoo fouled out in 13 minutes without scoring a point against Florida State.
At this stage, you just expect him to make an impact on a more routine basis. And his inability to do so might cost him guaranteed dollars on draft night.
Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State, 7'2", C, Senior
Bachynski skipped the coolin' off process and went straight to ice cold. Despite his enormous size, he hasn't scored more than five points in three straight games. Bachynski went 1-of-6 against Stanford, 1-of-6 in a loss to Utah and 2-of-5 in a loss to Colorado.
And despite his 4.3-block and 8.5-rebound-per-game averages, he's only totaled four blocks and 12 boards over the past three games.
In other words, Bachynski has been a complete no-show as of late.
Dario Saric, Cibona, 6'10", PF, 1994
Dario Saric has been tearing up the Adriatic League, which he now leads in both scoring and rebounding.
However, according to Jonathan Givony of Draft Express, there's still question as to whether he'll be declaring for this June's draft. If you recall, Saric pulled out of the 2013 NBA draft right before it started.
Saric could choose to enter the draft and then remain overseas if he's able to work out the details.
He's been projected to go anywhere from the late lottery on down. And given his current production overseas, teams are likely tuned in to see where this goes.
Jusuf Nurkic, Cedevita, 6'11", C, 1994
The big Bosnian has been slowly building his case this year, but he officially made his point with his latest gem overseas. Nurkic recently went for 16 points and 15 boards while missing just two shots in 20 minutes.
He's only getting 16.2 minutes per game, but per 40 minutes, he's averaging a whopping 28.6 points and 13.8 rebounds.
Nurkic currently sports the highest PER of any player in the Adriatic League, as he seems to produce just about every chance he gets.
The kid weighs 280 pounds, and at 6'11" with a 7'2" wingspan, he takes up an absurd amount of space on the interior. Nurkic reminds me a little of Nikola Pekovic, with great interior scoring instincts and strength.
- Kansas' Andrew Wiggins has now scored at least 14 points in seven straight games. And he's looked good doing it. He's attacking driving lanes, pulling up in space and hitting that floater with some consistency. But now is the key stretch for Wiggins. Scouts will want to see how well he leads this team in crunch time. Because if Kansas gets bumped from the NCAA tournament and Wiggins turns out to be a no-show, it won't be a good look for a guy whose alpha-dog mentality has been questioned.
- There are a few guys who many project to declare who could really use another year in school. Kansas freshman Wayne Selden, UCLA freshman Zach LaVine and Michigan sophomore Glenn Robinson III are three prospects who either haven't gotten the touches or made the progress they needed to make. All three of these guys would probably have a better shot at the 2015 lottery.
- Sean Deveney of Sporting News recently reported that an NBA executive was worried Australian prospect Dante Exum would try to force his way to the Lakers. But this is just silly. The lottery hasn't even happened yet. Besides, you won't see a team pass unless it truly believes Exum isn't the top option on the board—or he flat-out refuses to play for that franchise. I'm sure Exum prefers to play in Los Angeles, but he probably doesn't have the power to simply force himself there.