2014 NBA Draft Prospects with the Most to Prove During March Madness
It's college basketball's biggest month, which means the stakes are high for several key 2014 NBA draft prospects.
Entering the conference and NCAA tournaments, a few potential stars must prove how good they are and, more importantly, how good they can be in the future.
A pair of Pac-12 guards need to demonstrate that they can make tough buckets against high-profile opponents. A couple of top-10 candidates are seeking to solidify their place in the lottery hierarchy. And lastly, one of Kentucky's stars must show that he can handle the duties of an NBA big man.
Which prospects have the most to prove as the madness of March ensues?
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas F
What He Needs to Prove: That he can consistently attack, and that he deserves No. 1
Yes, Andrew Wiggins went off for 41 points in Kansas' regular-season finale. And it was awesome.
And yes, he doesn't have much to prove in the vast scheme of overall prospects.
However, Wiggins is in the No. 1 pick conversation, yet far from a lock to get it. A healthy return for Joel Embiid or a monster tourney from Jabari Parker could trump the Jayhawk's efforts.
To become a lock for the top slot, he's got work to do.
Can he play in attack mode every night for Kansas and be a featured scoring option regardless of what the defense throws at him? NBA scouts don't need to see outlandish numbers every night, but they do need to see a healthy diet of selfishness from Wiggins. Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv explained recently that "Wiggins still must prove he has that killer instinct."
This is the best time of year to improve and cement his status.
Zach LaVine, UCLA G
What He Needs to Prove: That he's ready for the rigors of an NBA backcourt
When you watch Zach LaVine on a good night, his NBA potential is eye-popping and his future looks bright. He's got more than enough foot speed and leaping prowess to hang with the best athletes in the world, and his length and jump shot look like they could do some damage down the road.
However, he's battled through a few slumps in conference play, shooting just 38 percent from the field against Pac-12 competition. He finished the regular season with a goose egg, going 0-of-8 from the field against Washington State.
Does he have what it takes to warrant a lottery pick this summer? ESPN.com's Chad Ford (subscription required) said some scouts are doubting his 2014 value and NBA-readiness:
"LaVine's shooting woes and overall play in the Pac-12 continues to decline, causing scouts to question how ready he's going to be for the NBA next season. They love the raw physical tools, but the production of late has been so off..."
During the Pac-12 and NCAA tourneys, he needs to prove that he can create and make a variety of shots, no matter the opponent.
A productive showing could buoy his draft value back to elite status, resulting in a late-lottery selection. Inconsistency could lead to a late first-round pick or withdrawal until 2015.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State G
What He Needs to Prove: That his shooting consistency and facilitating efficiency are worthy of a high lottery pick
It's been a crazy season for Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart. The versatile combo guard began the season with a booming draft stock and some monster performances, and it ended with his favor dipping a bit during some big wins and tough losses.
His aggressiveness, hustle and leadership aren't in question, nor is his ability to hold his own on both ends of the floor.
Sometimes he's sloppy, however, and his inconsistent shooting and turnovers have hurt the Cowboys' chances of winning.
Smart is a capable shooter, but he's a bit streaky. He's also a crafty passer but not an elite ball-handler.
A strong shooting performance throughout the postseason (along with a few OK-State victories) could go a long way in making Smart a No. 5 pick as opposed to a No. 8 to No. 10 pick.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State PG
What He Needs To Prove: Consistency as a shooter and caretaker
We know who Jahii Carson will be in the NBA: an electric speedster who will penetrate and create.
But exactly how effective will he be, and how expansive will his role be? How high can he land in the NBA draft this spring? He needs a big March to swing the momentum back in his favor.
Early in 2013-14, his wheeling and dealing led to first-round projections and high expectations entering conference play.
Against Pac-12 foes, however, he wasn't able to score as easily, shooting 40 percent from the field and 32 percent from deep. In addition, he coughed up a bundle of turnovers (4.1 per 40 minutes).
After Arizona State's final home game, Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek told reporters Carson will go pro next year, saying "He's not coming back."
Therefore, he's got a lot riding on this postseason from a draft slot and monetary standpoint. Can he play a clean, proficient brand of hoops and move up the draft boards as much as possible?
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky C
What He Needs to Prove: That he can rebound consistently, contribute on offense and demonstrate discipline on defense
We've seen glimpses of brilliance from Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein, even for entire games.
For example, he posted 15 points, eight rebounds and nine blocks against Providence. He also notched 18 points, 11 boards and six rejections against Ole Miss.
Unfortunately, he doesn't often put all three categories together on the same night, and he's been quite unreliable on the glass and in the scoring column.
He's got the frame and athleticism to excel in the NBA, but he must demonstrate more alertness and effort in all phases. Sports Illustrated's Peter Bukowski noted that Cauley-Stein's "rebounding rate (15.6 percent) is discouragingly low for someone his size."
Cauley-Stein projects to be a rim protector and rebounder along the lines of Tyson Chandler. That is, if he gets his act together and can execute the fundamentals on both ends.
We're not asking for monumental production offensively, but the Wildcats big man must step up and control the paint as Kentucky navigates through the postseason.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR