Ranking the Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Final Four
Though this year's Final Four might only produce one NBA star, there are a number of prospects with role-player potential at the next level.
With the exception of Kentucky's Dakari Johnson, Connecticut's DeAndre Daniels and one honorable mention, these prospects should all be expected to declare in 2014.
These rankings are based on NBA potential, which takes skill level, physical tools, pro readiness and basketball IQ all into account.
Honorable Mention: Marcus Lee, Kentucky, 6'9", PF, Freshman
I've got a feeling that 10-point, eight-rebound, two-block performance against Michigan in the Elite Eight was just a preview of more to come.
Marcus Lee hasn't been in the rotation this season, playing behind some pretty good big guys. But with Willie Cauley-Stein out of the lineup in the last round due to injury, Lee got his chance—and he crushed it.
Long, active and bouncy, Lee threw down four dunks and a pretty layup off a strong drive from the foul line. He's an athletic presence on the interior, where he makes plays as a finisher, shot-blocker and clean-up man on misses.
It's tough to give Lee a full evaluation considering he hasn't seen 10 minutes of playing time in a game since early January.
But Lee has the tools and nose for the ball to provide a team with an active playmaker above the rim. If Cauley-Stein misses more time, I wouldn't be surprised to see Lee extend his breakout party into April.
10. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin, 6'8", SF, Sophomore
Many had Sam Dekker pegged as a surefire first-rounder this June, though he's been awfully quiet over the last month of the season, and it's still unclear exactly what his NBA strengths would be.
Scouts admire his size and athleticism on the wing—Dekker can explode through a driving lane and finish above the rim. He also has strong instincts inside, as he's shown he can score at some pretty tough angles.
However, he hasn't displayed much shot-creating ability, and as an opportunistic scorer in the offense, he only hit 32 percent of his three-point attempts during the regular season.
Dekker is a bright kid with a high basketball IQ, promising ball skills and NBA-caliber physical tools. He just has to find a way to stand out a bit more.
I'm not sure he's first-round material if he leaves this June. Another season with more offensive responsibility should give him the opportunity to make a bigger statement to NBA decision-makers.
9. Patric Young, Florida, 6'9", PF/C, Senior
Though there isn't much upside attached to Patric Young, who, at 22 years old, has averaged 10 points for three straight years, he has established an identity for himself that should make it easy for teams looking for frontcourt toughness to seek him out.
Young is an enforcer for Florida, and that's what his role will be if he ends up making an NBA roster.
He was the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year despite averaging just 1.1 blocks per game. Young's presence alone can make a difference, as he's been the anchor for a Florida defense that ranks No. 1 in the country in adjusted efficiency, per KenPom.com (subscription required).
Offensively, he's a finisher who can score with the baby jump hook and occasionally on short- to mid-range jumpers.
But at the end of the day, if you're going to draft Young, you're going to do it for his toughness and interior presence—not his postgame or ball skills.
Consider Young a second-round prospect for a team with a specific need for size and strength up front.
8. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin, 7'0", C, Junior
It took a 28-point game against Arizona in the Elite Eight to finally gain some recognition, but Frank Kaminsky has officially entered the conversation.
Anytime a 7-footer starts taking over games offensively, it's going to attract attention. Kaminsky has NBA-center size, though he plays a bit more of a stretch game where he can knock down shots from downtown or in the mid-range.
Kaminsky nailed three of his five three-point attempts in Wisconsin's last overtime win over Arizona.
He's actually pretty skilled as well—Kaminsky can throw up a fake before putting it on the deck and taking it to the hoop, and we've seen some impressive footwork and shot-making ability in the post.
Offensively, the kid can play. That was made obvious when he went for 43 points against North Dakota earlier in the year. He's also put up 25 against Michigan and 28 against Michigan State.
Unfortunately, Kaminsky, averaging 6.4 rebounds a game, isn't much of a physical presence inside. Scouts might question whether he's got the strength to man the NBA interior or the foot speed to play on the perimeter.
Still, between his size and scoring game, he's going to get second-round looks either this year or next, depending on which draft he chooses to enter. But with his stock up, it wouldn't be surprising to see him make his move in 2014.
7. Chris Walker, Florida, 6'10", PF, Freshman
Chris Walker isn't getting any burn in this NCAA tournament, which likely has something to do with the fact that he missed the majority of the season after being ruled academically ineligible. Coach Billy Donovan just seems comfortable sticking with the core that got him this far.
But the former McDonald's All-American clearly has some eye-opening physical tools, including power forward size to match his electric above-the-rim bounce.
He's limited offensively—Walker can't score unless he's set up at the hoop or attacking an open lane from the foul line—but given his high-flying athleticism at 6'10", there's obvious NBA upside.
He absolutely needs another year at Florida, but after a wasted freshman season, Walker might want to bolt now and sell himself on potential.
6. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky, 6'6", SG, Freshman
Aaron Harrison has been huge for Kentucky throughout this entire NCAA tournament, having hit some huge shots in each of the team's last three wins.
He sunk three three-pointers in the second half against Wichita State, and he nailed a clutch three with 40 seconds left to take a two-point lead against Louisville.
And that was before his heroic performance against Michigan. In the Elite Eight, Harrison drained four three-pointers in the second half, including a game-winning pull-up in the closing seconds that sent Kentucky to the Final Four.
He sure picked a good time to heat up, although Harrison has actually been one of Kentucky's most important scorers all season. He's given them an option on the wing who can spread the floor in a spot-up role or generate offense for himself off the dribble.
Harrison lacks that above-the-rim explosiveness, but he's a fairly polished scorer with NBA 2-guard size and a promising 35.7 percent three-point stroke.
The arrow is pointing up for Harrison, who might have more of a natural position at the next level than his brother Andrew.
5. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky, 6'6", PG, Freshman
Andrew Harrison has been a bit more convincing over the past few weeks, particularly with his point guard play.
He dished out seven assists to just two turnovers against Louisville, and he followed with six assists against Michigan, including two big ones—one to his brother for three and one to Dakari Johnson—in the final three minutes.
Harrison clearly passes the eye test as a skilled, 6'6" ball-handler. The question on scouts' minds is whether or not he can command an NBA offense and facilitate for teammates.
He's also not overly explosive, as he struggles finishing around length at the rim. As a scorer, he's got the pull-up, step-back and floater games working—he just has to convert them with a little more consistency.
Regardless, if Harrison is able to lead Kentucky to a national title as the team's floor general, it should reflect favorably on his draft stock. He probably needs another year to improve and develop, but a strong Final Four might cause him to strike while the iron is hot and declare for the 2014 draft.
4. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut, 6'1", PG, Senior
There aren't too many more guys you'd rather have with the ball in crunch time than Shabazz Napier. He just has that confident handle and approach that allows him to dictate how the play will go.
Super shifty and elusive off the bounce, Napier has the ability to change directions on the dime while navigating through traffic. Connecticut relies on Napier to score, and he does. But he also has strong enough point guard instincts to make plays as a facilitator in the half court.
Napier is a weapon out of pick-and-roll situations where he can hit the roller as a passer or pull up in space with the jumper.
He's also dangerous on the perimeter, not just as a shooter but as a scorer. Napier stepped up and nailed a huge step-back jumper late against Michigan State to give the Huskies a four-point lead with less than two minutes to go.
Though obviously limited in terms of upside as a 6'1", 180-pound, under-the-rim 22-year-old, Napier has enough game, smarts and confidence to compete for a backup role in the NBA.
I wouldn't be surprised to see a playoff team scoop him up late in the first round whether he leads Connecticut to a national title or not.
3. James Young, Kentucky, 6'6", SG/SF, Freshman
James Young has given Kentucky a significant source of offense throughout the season, and he's hit some big shots during the team's current tournament run.
Even though his percentages don't necessarily reflect it, Young can really stroke the three-ball when he's in rhythm, and as a 6'6" wing, that's something the NBA guys will covet.
In between, we've seen him work the slash and runner games where he can put it on the floor and finish on the move.
Young's appeal stems from his ability to knock down shots and finish plays without having to overdribble. He's a catch-and-score type of player—the kind you want to surround your more ball-dominant playmakers with.
He'll have to improve his shooting consistency. He's also beaten too often on defense, but Young should create first-round interest based on the offense he can provide in a supporting role.
2. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0", C, Sophomore
We might not see Willie Cauley-Stein in this Final Four thanks to an ankle injury he suffered early against Louisville in the Sweet 16.
"I doubt he plays. He will be on our bench, cheering like crazy," coach John Calipari told ESPN's Dana O'Neil.
It's a tough blow for him and Kentucky, though don't expect it to affect his draft stock.
Throughout the year, Cauley-Stein's production has fluctuated, but his box scores shouldn't hold much weight during the evaluation process. At 7'0" and 244 pounds with a 7'2" wingspan and the athleticism of a wide receiver, teams will be coveting Cauley-Stein's extraordinary physical tools and the damage he's capable of doing.
He's a monster finishing target around the hoop and a disruptive rim protector—Cauley-Stein blocked 2.9 shots in less than 24 minutes a game.
And in this year's projected field with so few centers or 7-footers, that could go a long way in the draft.
Whether Cauley-Stein ever develops a low-post game or not, his ability to impact a game inside at both ends of the floor should be enough to generate lottery interest.
1. Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6'10", PF, Freshman
Julius Randle is this year's NBA main attraction at the Final Four, where he'll look to put a stamp on what's been a standout freshman season.
He's racked up 26 double-doubles, terrorizing opposing frontcourts in the paint and on the glass. Randle just packs a dangerous blend of superior strength, soft touch and tremendous coordination.
Though he's been rock solid throughout the tournament, Randle's most complete game came against Wichita State in the round of 32, when he added six assists to go with his 13 points and 10 boards.
It was noteworthy—Randle has put up some duds this season when defenses have taken away his scoring chances by packing the paint or sending the double-team. But against the Shockers, Randle was exploiting the threat he poses offensively by drawing the help and hitting his open men, visibly making his teammates better by creating open looks for them.
I'm not sure Wisconsin has a tough enough front line to keep Randle from getting to his spots, so you should expect to see more double-teams and scheming to hold him in check.