Arizona Basketball: Predicting Arizona's Top Players' 2014 NBA Draft Decisions
The Arizona Wildcats (33-5; 15-3 PAC 12) had one of the best seasons in program history.
This year's 'Cats won their first 21 games (a school record) and were ranked No. 1 in the nation for seven straight weeks.
Several of Sean Miller's players are thinking through whether to enter the 2014 NBA draft or return to Tucson for another season.
April 27 is a big day. By then, a player must make official his intention to declare for the draft by filing their paperwork with the NBA league office.
Here is a look at U of A's top six players and a prediction on their upcoming draft decisions:
Player and team information from ESPN.com
Even before Aaron Gordon arrived on campus in Tucson, he was laying the groundwork for a special freshman season at Arizona.
Last April, he was named the 2013 McDonald's All-America game MVP. Last summer, the uber-athletic forward was selected as the FIBA World Championship MVP while helping Team USA's U19 squad win it all in Prague.
When the Wildcats' 2013-14 season began, Gordon dominated games at both ends of the court, throwing down dazzling dunks and rejecting opponents' shots with authority.
He cleaned up in Pac-12 honors, being selected as the Freshman of the Year and first-team All-Pac-12.
NBA scouts drool over Gordon's upside. While his free-throw shooting needs some serious help, Gordon will contribute from Day 1 in the Association with his non-stop motor and ability to guard multiple positions.
Gordon enters the 2014 NBA draft, where he will be a high lottery pick. Absolutely no surprise here.
Congrats to UConn on winning the "Thank God Brandon Ashley got hurt" Invitational
Ashley was in the middle of a super sophomore season (11.5 points, 5.8 rebounds) when the 6'8" forward broke his foot in a road game against Cal. Everything changed for the Wildcats when the San Francisco native went down.
Ashley is a versatile player who is able to take over games at either end of the court. Offensively, he has no trouble posting up down low or stepping out to hit shots from beyond the arc. Defensively, Ashley uses his length, quickness and anticipation to disrupt passing lanes and block shots.
If not for his injury, Ashley might be considering his draft status more carefully. However, he will return for his junior year, picking up where he left off this past season.
Ashley's recent Tweet shows his focus in looking to the 2014-15 season:
Progress is all that I need. I'll be back soon. And better than ever. Working towards next year already. #finalfour2015
Arizona's T.J. McConnell is one of the best pure point guards in college basketball. He confidently led the Wildcats to one of their top seasons this past year in school history.
McConnell's stats for 2013-14 were not eye-popping (8.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG; 5.3 APG), but his contribution to his team's success far exceeds his solid numbers. It is impossible to quantify the impact of his floor leadership. He simply makes his teammates better on both ends of the court.
McConnell's Twitter handle (@iPass4Zona) perfectly describes the mindset of the 'Cats point guard who put up a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio as a junior.
Back in January, USA Today's Nicole Auerbach quoted Arizona State's head coach Herb Sendek, who said this about McConnell's importance:
In a lot of ways, I think Nick Johnson is the most outstanding player on the team, blessed with incredible talent and he plays both ends of the floor. But I would say T.J. Is the most valuable player on the team. He's the guy who puts it all together for them.
McConnell will return to U of A for his senior season to be a key factor in the Wildcats' 2015 Final Four run.
CBSSports' Jon Rothstein tweeted that McConnell will, "take the torch next season from Aaron Craft as the guy who dominates a game without scoring. An "All-Star" role player."
It remains to be seen if McConnell will be considered a draft possibility next year after his senior season.
Arizona's seven-foot center, Kaleb Tarczewski, made big strides this season (no pun intended). He became a more consistent offensive option, making the most of his limited scoring opportunities.
For the season, Tarczewski shot 58.4 percent from the field and 75.6 percent from the line. Especially after Ashley went down, "Zeus" stepped up and made his presence known on the block.
He is a strong low-post defender and a solid rim-protector. Because the Wildcats know that Tarczewski is patrolling the paint, they can apply more pressure on the perimeter and take more chances on the ball.
Tarczewski will return for his junior season.
Though he attracted more attention from scouts during the last two months of the season, he is still a year away from being a legitimate NBA draft consideration. Currently, Tarczewski is listed as the No. 10 prospect in NBADraft.net's 2015 NBA mock draft and No. 27 player in Draft Express' 2015 NBA mock draft.
It is amazing to have a player as talented as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson coming off of your bench. For most of the season, Arizona head coach Sean Miller had the former McDonald's All-American as his sixth man.
And what a great job he did.
Hollis-Jefferson is a relentless competitor on both ends of the court. He attacks the basket with abandon and goes to the glass with ferocity.
He specifically excelled on the offensive boards, finishing second to Aaron Gordon.
The Chester, Pa. native turned things up a notch in the 2014 NCAA tournament, averaging 14 points, five rebounds and two blocks per game.
Should RHJ improve his jump shot, the athletic warrior can expect to draw a lot of interest from NBA scouts.
Mock drafts are mixed on Hollis-Jefferson. ESPN's Chad Ford lists him as the No. 24-ranked player in his 2014 Top 100 (subscription required), while Jonathan Givony does not list him in Draft Express' 2014 mock draft.
Hollis-Jefferson has the potential to becoming a 2015 All-American and an NBA draft lottery pick. He will come back to Arizona for his sophomore season.
While Arizona's success this past season was due to the performance of many skilled players, no one had a bigger impact than junior guard Nick Johnson.
Johnson used his elite athleticism and insane hops to finish at the rim and terrorize opponents on the defensive end.
This 2013-14, Johnson collected numerous conference and national honors. He was a first team All-Pac-12 selection and the conference's Player of the Year. He was named a first team All-American by USBWA and NABC. He was also a Wooden Award and Naismith Award finalist.
In spite all of these accolades, Johnson's 2014 NBA draft status is less than stellar. He is currently listed as the No. 57 player in ESPN's 2014 Top 100 (subscription required). In Draft Express' 2014 mock draft, he is listed as the 20th pick in the second round, while NBADraft.net has him as the fourth pick in that same round.
If Johnson returned to Arizona for his senior season, he would be hard pressed to duplicate or exceed his accomplishments or improve drastically on his draft status.
Johnson will enter the 2014 NBA draft. If he performs well at the predraft combine in Chicago and any individual workouts, he could jump up into the bottom of the first round.