NBA Draft 2014: Previewing Top SEC Conference Tournament Prospects
It's no surprise that most of the top NBA prospects from the SEC all wear the same uniform.
Kentucky is likely to boast three players who will be drafted in the first round of this year's NBA draft. Despite the team's up-and-down play, Missouri could have a couple as well.
And go figure—Florida, the No. 1 team in the conference, doesn't dress anyone expected to make much NBA noise.
Here's a look at which SEC players NBA teams will be coveting when this June's draft takes place.
Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6'9", PF, Freshman
Julius Randle headlines the group of NBA prospects in the SEC. A first-class recruit coming in, Randle has been on NBA radars since his junior year in high school.
And for the most part, he's lived up to the hype, averaging a double-double (15.4 points, 10.5 boards) as a freshman.
Randle is about as physical a forward as there is in the country. Relentless on the glass and the low block, he fights and works for the majority of his buckets and boards.
He embraces contact, and if defenses aren't tough enough, he's capable of dominating them up front, like he did last month to Ole Miss when he went for 25 points and 13 boards.
Randle is also a train in the open floor with the agility of a Ferrari.
However, Randle has struggled with offensive consistency over the past two months. Randle can have trouble playing against length, and given the frequent double-teams in the post, he's prone to going long stretches without getting a good look.
Randle converted four or fewer field goals 10 different times in conference play.
But there's no denying his interior presence, and if Kentucky is going to make a run, it's going to need to establish Randle in the post.
James Young, Kentucky, 6'6", SG/SF, Freshman
NBA evaluators love that combination of size, athleticism and long-range shooting potential.
That's James Young's game right there, which produces over 14 points a night for Kentucky.
He's hitting over two three-pointers a game this season. Young has a good-looking lefty jumper with range, and when he heats up, he's capable of knocking them down in bunches.
Only his jumper hasn't been very consistent. He's shooting 33.7 percent from downtown, and he's had a few games where he just hasn't been able to connect, like Kentucky's last one against LSU, when he shot 1-of-10 from behind the arc.
Still, he's a fluid athlete who can slash to the hole and finish with runners and off-balance layups.
Young needs to improve in a number of areas of his game. He's not much of a threat off the dribble, nor is he a high-IQ passer. And his defense has been inconsistent.
But he's a spark plug out there, and if Kentucky can get him going, we could see Young erupt a few times in the SEC tournament. His draft-stock arrow has been pointing down lately, so this will be a good chance for Young to play himself back into the lottery picture.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0", C, Sophomore
It's been an up-and-down year for Willie Cauley-Stein, who's had moments of greatness followed by weeks of silence.
“Willie’s a very, very talented player, as we all know," assistant coach Kenny Payne told Larry Vaught of The Advocate-Messenger. "There are games where he comes out and gets 16 (points), six blocks and six rebounds, and then the next night, for whatever reason, he’s not mentally prepared to do that every single night.
Inconsistency has been a major issue for Cauley-Stein, who has finished with two made field goals or fewer on 16 different occasions.
At 7'0" with a 7'2" wingspan and wide receiver-like athleticism, his physical tools alone are first-round worthy. We've seen Cauley-Stein change a game as a finisher, rim protector and rebounder.
But he hasn't added much to his repertoire as a sophomore. His scoring average actually dropped off to under eight points a game.
Still, Cauley-Stein is one of those guys who feeds off rhythm and confidence, and the SEC tournament could be the perfect setting to build some.
Jordan Clarkson, Missouri, 6'5", PG/SG, Junior
Jordan Clarkson erupted in the SEC this year after transferring from Tulsa. And he's emerged as Missouri's primary playmaker— Clarkson averaged 18.1 points and 3.5 assists a game on a respectable 45.3 percent shooting from the floor during the regular season.
From an NBA standpoint, Clarkson has excellent size and athleticism for a ball-handler. He's more of a combo guard than a 1 or a 2, but Clarkson's ability to make things happen off the dribble, along with his physical tools, allow him to man either position in stretches.
He's at his best when he's attacking the rim. Clarkson is quick, and he can take contact and finish after it with either hand.
His perimeter game has been shaky, but when Clarkson heats up, he's capable of knocking down jumpers in bunches.
He's blown up a few times this season—Clarkson recently went for 27 points in a one-point win over Arkansas, 28 in a five-point loss to Kentucky, 25 in a win over West Virginia and 31 in a win over Southern Illinois.
With a strong year in the SEC, Clarkson has put himself on the NBA radar. Consider him a fringe first-rounder with room for his draft stock to improve.
Jabari Brown, Missouri, 6'5", SG, Junior
Your 2013-14 SEC regular-season scoring champ, Jabari Brown has taken his offensive game to a whole new level this season.
He averaged 19.7 points a game, meshing that beautiful outside stroke with a smooth yet aggressive in-between game.
Brown nailed 2.4 three-pointers a night at a lights-out 41.7 percent clip. He also got to the line seven times a game, a stat that highlights the strides he's made as a one-on-one scorer.
At 6'5", 214 pounds, Brown has the size and strength of an NBA 2-guard. He's not the most explosive of athletes, and that limits his upside. But between his lethal outside stroke and scoring instincts, Brown should draw interest from NBA teams looking for a complementary offensive specialist.
Johnny O'Bryant, LSU, 6'9", PF, Junior
Johnny O'Bryant has been one of the most productive players in the conference his junior year, averaging 15.6 points and 7.9 boards on 49.5 percent shooting.
At 6'9", 256 pounds, O'Bryant has your standard size and strength for a NBA power forward, though he lacks that elastic bounce or athleticism that typically drives upside.
Still, O'Bryant has become quite the scoring threat in the post, where he can turn over his shoulders for fadeaways or hop-step into the lane for a jump hook.
We've also seen some pick-and-pop potential in the mid-range—Hoop-Math has O'Bryant making over 40 percent of his two-point jumpers.
He's shown he can really go to work in the post—O'Bryant came up big with 25 points and 10 boards for LSU in a recent win over Vanderbilt. In two games against Kentucky's big front line, O'Bryant averaged 24.5 points and 10.5 boards
O'Bryant tends to take some bad shots, force passes and play into traffic, but there aren't many post players in today's game—and Bryant has the physical tools and skill set to play at the next level.
Jordan McRae, Tennessee, 6'6", SG, Senior
One of the conference's most potent scorers, Jordan McRae has provided Tennessee with instant offense from the wing.
He averaged 18.8 points and nailed 2.4 three-pointers a game during the regular season. McRae has that ability to heat up from the perimeter and knock down pull-up and step-back jumpers from all over the floor.
He's had some explosive scoring outputs this season: 26 points against Wichita State, 34 against Arkansas, and he combined for 60 in two games against Missouri.
However, like they are for most perimeter scorers, consistency and shot selection have been issues. McRae was a disaster against Florida, when he went 1-of-15 from the floor, and he'll be entering the conference tournament with a cold shooting hand (averaging only 11 points his last three games).
At 6'6" with silky-smooth athleticism, McRae is going to get himself some NBA looks based on his skill set and tools for the 2-guard position. But for his stock and Tennessee's chances, he'll need to catch fire in the SEC tournament.
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