One Thing Every Top 2014 NBA Prospect Must Prove Before the Draft
With the curtains closing on the 2013-14 college basketball season, it's time for the top NBA draft prospects to ramp up their preparations for the next level.
Many of them are 18- or 19-year-old freshmen who only played one year of NCAA hoops. As such, there are still holes in their games and question marks about how they will transition to the sport's highest level.
They need to use the predraft workouts, drills and interviews as a chance to assure NBA scouts and executives that they're ready to play in the Association. For some players, it's a specific skill; for others, it's an injury concern; and for some, it's about their approach to the game.
What is the one thing every top prospect must prove to NBA clubs before draft night?
10. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse PG (6'2" Freshman)
What he must prove: He's athletic enough to be a top-tier guard, especially on the defensive end.
As a point guard, there's no reason to believe Tyler Ennis won't be an adept passer and a capable (if not spectacular) scorer inside and out.
However, he's not an explosive athlete, which may be an issue when he's tasked with guarding the NBA's smorgasbord of lightning-quick playmakers and athletic scorers.
Amin Elhassan of ESPN.com (subscription required) talked about the uncertainty surrounding Ennis:
Defensively, he carries the same stigma as every other Syracuse product that comes to the NBA: a majority of his playing and practice time was spent in a 2-3 zone. Comparatively speaking, he performed well, anticipating in the passing lanes adeptly, but that's more of a back-handed compliment.
For Michael Carter-Williams last year, defense wasn't a huge question mark because of his athleticism and 6'7" wingspan. Ennis isn't blessed with those tools, so he'll need to do more in the coming months to prove himself.
During the agility tests, 3-on-3 sequences and 5-on-5 scrimmages, he'll need to supply his absolute quickest footwork and one-on-one stoppage skills.
9. Gary Harris, Michigan State SG (6'4" Sophomore)
What he must prove: Can he put his streaky shooting behind him for good?
After a hot-shooting freshman campaign, Michigan State shooting guard Gary Harris entered his sophomore season with high expectations. Three-point prowess was tabbed as his greatest asset to the NBA.
It's still his most valuable potential weapon moving forward, but he was a bit streaky in 2013-14 and had some downright lousy shooting nights. He also didn't show much consistency from deep range.
Shooting certainly isn't a weakness in his game, and NBA front offices know that. But if you're a mid-lottery team looking to take him in the Round 7 to Round 10 range, you would love to see him pass the predraft shooting test with flying colors.
If he looks the part of a quality starting shooting guard, it would ease the doubts about using a top-10 pick on him. You can't really find much wrong with him as a prospect, so as long as he sticks his shots while NBA eyes are watching, he'll be in good shape on draft night.
8. Aaron Gordon, Arizona F (6'9" Freshman)
What he must prove: He can shoot more smoothly from all areas, including the free-throw line.
Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon was one of the most versatile players in the country this season, but he lacked the shooting proficiency and fluidity that scouts want to see in a top prospect.
He hit the occasional three and intermittently tossed in some mid-range jumpers, but for the most part, he wasn't a shooting threat. His motion and delivery isn't the smoothest, and he's not the type of player who can hit step-back shots or come off screens and nail a triple.
And the free-throw shooting? Yikes. His rigidity at the line yielded a 42 percent conversion rate.
To expand his offensive opportunities and increase his damage to opponents, Gordon must become a smoother shooter in half-court sets, both off the dribble and in spot-up situations.
He not only needs to iron out his long-range delivery, but he must improve his touch on 10- to 15-footers.
7. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State G (6'4" Sophomore)
What he must prove: Can he shoot efficiently from three-point range?
During his two years at Oklahoma State, Marcus Smart has been labeled a "combo-guard" prospect for the NBA.
He's got his work cut out for him if he actually wants to be a highly productive offensive weapon.
Smart will be a solid facilitator, but it's clear he's not going to be a point man exclusively. He's got scoring instincts, and when he's in attack mode or shooting on the wing, he'll need to be efficient.
He shot 29 percent from three-point range as a freshman and improved to just 30 percent as a sophomore. Those aren't the prettiest numbers for GMs who are considering entrusting him.
Can he show off an improved stroke from the NBA three-point line this spring? His success (or lack thereof) during the NBA combine drills could change executive's minds or confirm that he's a shaky shooter.
6. Julius Randle, Kentucky PF (6'9" Freshman)
What he must prove: Is his right hand for real?
With a strong showing during Kentucky's run to the Final Four, freshman power forward Julius Randle has enhanced and solidified his draft stock. His imposing strength, quickness and scoring instincts shouldn't fall too far outside the top five.
Throughout the year, he's been a bit overly dependent on his left hand, as his dribbling, spin moves and finishing predominantly favored his left. Against competent defenders, those southpaw tendencies were predictable and limited his scoring production.
Early in March, one scout had this to say about the 6'9" bruiser (via Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders): "Right now, he’s left-hand dominant, so he must work on his right hand and keep improving his jumper if he wants to take the next step and really wreak havoc."
Since then, he's flashed some nice right-handed finishes in the postseason, which eases some of the concern. However, he still reverts to his left in many scenarios where a spin to his right or a righty finish would have been better.
Practice, practice, practice.
5. Noah Vonleh, Indiana F (6'10" Freshman)
What he must prove: He has the discipline to curb turnovers and to play sound defense in an overall game grounded by good decision-making skills.
As we break down Noah Vonleh's NBA outlook, we really have to nitpick to find something to complain about.
He's 18 years old, so scouts aren't going to heavily scrutinize his offensive polish. He's 6'10" with a 7'4" wingspan, so they'll cut him some slack if he's not the most explosive guy around. And lastly, he's a coachable personality, so they're not going to panic about his turnovers or defensive discipline at this stage in his career.
If there's an area that scouts would love to see him improve sooner than later, it's that last part: his discipline on both ends. Vonleh coughed up 3.2 turnovers per 40 minutes and committed 4.1 fouls per 40 minutes as a freshman.
Again, it's not the end of the world. During scrimmages in front of NBA eyes, he should try to play strong with the ball in the middle and avoid forcing up bad shots. In addition, he should try to maintain good positioning and avoid leaving his feet defensively.
4. Dante Exum, Australia G (6'6", 1995)
What he must prove: Is his jumper consistent enough to be a perimeter threat?
Australian speedster Dante Exum hasn't played competitive basketball in months, and he's been working out in Los Angeles in preparation for the draft. So for all we know, he could be an amply capable jump shooter with an improved delivery and elevated trajectory these days.
But judging on what we last saw during international play and local play in Australia, his perimeter touch needed some work.
Exum's overall form and footwork aren't too bad, and he definitely has the wherewithal to become a good outside shooter. He just looks a little mechanical sometimes, and his jumper is often flat and lacks adequate arc.
With such a high overall ceiling as a playmaker and elite athlete, poor shooting can only hurt him so much from a stock standpoint. Scouts will keep a close eye on his accuracy during shooting drills, but his performance won't impact his value too far in either direction.
3. Joel Embiid, Kansas C (7'0" Freshman)
What he must prove: Was his back injury a minor setback? Is he a durable player?
After missing the end of the regular season and Kansas' entire postseason, the only concern NBA executives have about Joel Embiid is his back and overall durability.
The stress fracture in his lower back ended his freshman season, and it put a small dent in his otherwise booming draft stock.
Even if it doesn't end up being a major setback in the near future, potential investors are duly cautious because he's a 7-footer. Back problems and joint problems are usually more frequent and more detrimental to big guys, and when the injury bug hits them, things can deteriorate in a hurry.
The only thing Embiid can do is deliver strong performances in drills, conditioning sessions and private workouts.
Unlike most top draftees who opt to minimize their public workouts near draft night, Embiid may have to prove a little more to NBA suitors.
2. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas SF (6'8" Freshman)
What he must prove: Does he have the makeup of a leader and featured weapon?
Sure, Andrew Wiggins could improve his ball-handling skills and pack on a few pounds of muscle. But the single most important thing he must prove to NBA decision-makers doesn't have to do with a tangible skill or specific task.
It's his mindset.
Does he have the possession-by-possession mentality of a featured weapon? Does he have the assertiveness to lead his NBA club and make them a championship contender?
Executives are wondering if Wiggins' six single-digit scoring outings—including his final game with the Jayhawks—are an indication that he can't consistently find ways to take over and help his team win. The much-hyped freshman deferred and disappeared on several occasions this season.
There's not a ton the youngster can do between now and the draft in order to change people's minds. He must deliver confident interviews and assure teams of his desire to be great, and he needs to play aggressively and passionately during predraft scrimmages.
1. Jabari Parker, Duke F (6'8" Freshman)
What he must prove: Is he quick enough to play defense and explosive enough to score over people?
Duke's star freshman Jabari Parker piled up the points from every angle in 2013-14, as he made his case for the No. 1 overall selection. He scored 19.1 points and grabbed 8.7 rebounds per game, displaying the skills necessary to be a combo forward at the next level.
Scouts and executives aren't worried at all about his offensive repertoire and his approach to the game. They also believe he'll have the awareness and effort to make the right plays defensively.
But he didn't display much lateral quickness defensively, and his elevator didn't go as high as guys like Wiggins and Gordon. One scout talked with Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy about Parker's athleticism:
Still, there are questions about Parker’s body and athleticism. He’s not the quickest guy and his athleticism has been questioned. He’s had some explosive moments, but there are a lot of times when he doesn’t look like a good athlete. Teams will likely want to change his body and conditioning once he gets to the NBA.
Moving forward, he's got to work on putting an extra spring in his step in order to impress scouts during agility drills and private workouts.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR