What Scouts Will Look for from Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospects During March Madness
There isn't a prospect in the 2014 NCAA tournament who's been fully and completely convincing. Each one still has something to prove to scouts in what will likely be their last opportunity to do so in game action.
And scouts know what they'll be looking for. They've seen enough throughout the year to have a good sense for what everyone does well versus what they don't.
Now is when they'll be focused on the questions surrounding each prospect's game.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6'8", SF, Freshman
Scouts want to see Andrew Wiggins take over. It's that simple.
We know about the talent, and we know about the fundamental weaknesses—his handle, shooting consistency, finishing ability—they're all fixable in time.
Scouts will be more concerned with his level of impact on the tournament than how well he's finishing with his left hand in traffic.
They want to see Wiggins prove he can be that guy who can go get a bucket when the team needs it most.
It might be with five minutes left in the first half when the opponent is making a run. It might be with five minutes left in the second with his team down a point.
But ideally, they'll also want to see it happen for longer than a half or just one game. Without Joel Embiid, Kansas is going to need Wiggins to step up, especially if they have to face New Mexico, one of the hotter teams in the country, in the Round of 32.
Wiggins was excellent in the Big 12 tournament semis against Oklahoma State, scoring 30 points, including a few big ones late in regulation. But he shot just 7-of-21 from the floor in Kansas' loss to Iowa State in the finals.
Scouts could be disappointed if Wiggins trades a big performance in the Round of 64 with a dud in the Round of 32—especially if that dud comes in an upset loss.
Jabari Parker, Duke, 6'8", SF/PF, Freshman
Jabari Parker is probably the most complete prospect in the country, but if he wants to maximize his chances at going No. 1 this June, there are still things he can do to help his case.
The first one is win. Parker is going to look a whole lot better in the minds of scouts if he's able to put Duke on his back and carry it deep into March or early April.
From a fundamentals standpoint, you'd just like to see Parker play a little bit more to his strengths. He's so tough around the basket, whether he's shaking and baking in the post, drop-stepping into a power layup or cleaning the offensive glass.
He's a good perimeter player—we know he can create and knock down jumpers with the step-back, pull-up or jab step. But sometimes, Parker tends to settle for them when he can get a higher-percentage look if he moves and repositions himself closer to the basket.
Offensively, scouts will be looking to see Parker wisely pick and choose his spots as a perimeter scorer and post threat.
Scouts will also be looking to see how Parker Ds up—how he's closing out on shooters, if he's holding his ground in the post and whether he can stick with the quicker scorers on the perimeter.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6'4", PG/SG, Sophomore
Marcus Smart didn't return to school to improve his draft stock. Oklahoma State lost in the Round of 64 last year—I'd imagine his return had something to do with improving upon those results.
And ironically, his draft stock might depend on it.
He shot just 42.5 percent from the floor, 30 percent from downtown and 73.6 percent from the line this season. Smart's leadership has also come into question following that fan-shoving incident in the stands at Texas Tech.
But all could be forgotten if Smart re-flashes those intangibles that have helped build his image as a can't-miss prospect.
After bringing in two state championships in high school and a gold at the FIBA World Championships, Smart has been regarded as a winner. Only his team lost early in the 2013 NCAA tournament, and its underachieved so far in 2014.
Scouts will be looking to see how big of an impact Smart can make for his team against a No. 1 seed like Arizona, who Oklahoma State would likely have to face if it beats Gonzaga in the Round of 64.
If Smart can take control against a top team like Arizona and will his Cowboys past them, it would probably reflect awfully favorably on his draft stock.
Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6'9", PF, Freshman
Scouts will want to see how Julius Randle performs when the defense tries to take him out of a game.
He sees plenty of double-teams. Opponents will pack the paint to keep him out of it. And at times, Randle has struggled to counter.
Randle shot just 1-of-7 for four points against Florida in the finals of the SEC tournament.
From a scouting perspective, Randle has a short wingspan, and he's had trouble finishing over length. So how does Randle respond?
Can he step outside and knock down a mid-range jumper? Can he spin into a righty shot instead of always going left, which the defense usually senses? How about drawing the help defender in the post and passing it out to the open man?
Scouts will be focused on Randle's ability to counter what the defense throws at him—because he tends to develop tunnel vision or rely too heavily on his overwhelming strength.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona, 6'9", SF/PF, Freshman
Aaron Gordon isn't a guy that Arizona goes to for offense—he's the guy who makes plays opportunistically as a finisher, driver, passer and offensive rebounder.
At this point, scouts aren't going to expect Gordon to start creating his own shot.
But they're going to want to see him capitalize on the opportunities that come his way. That means seeing a lane and attacking it, or knocking down a spot-up jump shot, or finding a baseline cutter with a pass from the high post.
Considering he struggles to generate offense one-on-one, scouts will just be looking for Gordon to make an impact in any way he can without disappearing through stretches of a game—something that tends to happen to players with limited or unpolished skill sets.
Scouts will also be looking to see if Gordon can fix that jumper and free-throw stroke. We've seen 6'11" and 7-foot centers struggle at the line—but as a forward, he's shooting 43.5 percent, a scary number for a guy who has the potential to draw a lot of fouls in the pros.
Connecting on a few open three-balls wouldn't hurt his cause, either.
Gary Harris, Michigan State, 6'4", SG, Sophomore
Though his whole body of work suggests tremendous production, Gary Harris has been somewhat inconsistent this season.
Part of that has had to do with Harris' shot selection. While his shot-creating ability has improved dramatically this year, the majority of his shots are lower-percentage.
He's taking 6.7 three-pointers a game to just 4.2 free-throw attempts. In between, he takes runners and floaters on the move or long two-point jumpers. Harris shot 42.3 percent from the floor and 35.1 percent from downtown.
Scouts will want to see Harris create better looks for himself in the half court.
It's also been awhile since Harris has really erupted. He's now failed to reach his scoring average in five straight games.
If Harris wants to make a strong impression on scouts, he'll drop a few offensive 20-point explosions during March Madness as Michigan State's go-to guy.
Tyler Ennis, Syracuse, 6'2", PG, Freshman
Tyler Ennis doesn't appear to offer the upside of some of the other top prospects. His appeal stems from his ability to make the game easier for his teammates.
And lately, the game has looked pretty tough for his go-to guys.
Scouts will be looking to see Ennis take command of the offense—hit the right buttons at the right times.
They also wonder whether or not he's NBA-ready. Some believe Ennis should return to Syracuse to continue growing his game and body.
There isn't one way to do it, but if Ennis wants to maximize his 2014 draft stock, he's gotta show he can score and finish inside the arc. He takes a ton of tough floaters in the mid-range, which really just reflects his lack of comfort around the rim—or his inability to explode above it.
Ennis is only shooting 40.9 percent from the floor and 52.8 percent at the rim, per Hoop-Math.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville, 6'8", PF, Sophomore
There aren't many prospects with better physical tools than Montrezl Harrell. At 6'8", he's incredibly athletic and powerful, and he can play way above the rim thanks to an impressive set of springs.
But Harrell is more of a finisher or clean-up guy than a scorer.
Scouts will be looking to see if Harrell gives Louisville an option to feed in the post. Is this just a guy who just picks up buckets off lobs, dump passes and offensive rebounds? Or is it a guy you can isolate in the the post and let go to work?
He's flashed the jump hook here and there. And he's even faced up for a few mid-range jumpers around the elbow. But we haven't seen him shake and bake in the post much, and unless he's got good position and space, he's had trouble creating good looks for himself with his back to the basket.
If Harrell wants a crack at the lottery, he'll probably have to show scouts he's more than just a pick-and-roll dunker or explosive finisher around the rim.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0", C, Sophomore
I think we can come to terms with the fact that Willie Cauley-Stein isn't a post player. That's OK—I don't think Tyson Chandler has made a post move since 2008, and he's still found ways to be effective as a starting NBA center.
Cauley-Stein needs to embrace his role as a finisher, rebounder and rim protector. And given his 7'0" size, 244-pound frame and wide receiver-like athleticism, he's got the tools and talent to be a dominant one.
But unless Cauley-Stein's motor stays revved throughout a game, he's just not going to influence a general manager to reach up and grab him early—not when he doesn't offer much at the offensive end.
“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.
Scouts will want to see the Cauley-Stein they saw in the SEC tournament title game against Florida, when he went for 11 points, 10 boards and five blocks.
If he's active and energetic, chances are he's going to be productive. But that motor needs to stay 100 percent charged.