College Basketball Recruiting: Ranking the Top 20 Players in 2014 Class

Thad Novak@@ThadNovakCorrespondent IApril 21, 2014

College Basketball Recruiting: Ranking the Top 20 Players in 2014 Class

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    As the spring showcases for high school seniors wind down, the college basketball recruiting picture for 2014 is coming clear. The class’ elite players have made the transition from top-tier prep stars to hotly anticipated newcomers for some of the nation’s top college teams.

    No program is getting richer than the Duke Blue Devils, who bring in a quartet of McDonald’s All-Americans. Justise Winslow is the best perimeter defender in the class, and he’s far from the most impressive newcomer heading to Durham next fall.

    Herein is a closer look at Winslow and his peers, with an eye to picking the best of the best among the scorers, shot-blockers and leaders in the freshman class of 2014.

20. Malik Pope (San Diego State)

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    Offense: B

    Malik Pope doesn’t have a great jump shot for a combo forward, but his ball-handling skills are a plus, and he certainly knows how to finish.

     

    Defense: B

    Pope’s athleticism gives him terrific potential on the defensive end, but his skills aren’t yet at an elite level.

     

    Intangibles: B

    He’s unusually raw after battling some serious injuries in high school. He does fit very well with SDSU’s up-and-down playing style, though.

19. Dwayne Morgan (UNLV)

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    Offense: B-

    Dwayne Morgan has as ugly a jump shot as any player on this list, and his skill as a transition finisher only does so much to make up for it.

     

    Defense: A-

    A high-effort defender, he uses his 6’7” length to great effect for shot-blocking and deflecting passes.

     

    Intangibles: B

    The point-guard-poor Rebels might not be Runnin’ much next season, which will cut down on Morgan’s offensive contributions.

18. Daniel Hamilton (UConn)

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    Offense: A-

    Daniel Hamilton is a first-rate shot-maker who can also connect on some remarkably tough passes.

     

    Defense: B 

    His 6’7” length should be an asset on the wing, but he hasn’t shown much on D.

     

    Intangibles: B-

    Hamilton would be a safe bet to grab Niels Giffey’s starting job if it weren’t for concerns about his ability to play smart, particularly when it comes to shot selection.

17. Chris McCullough (Syracuse)

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    Offense: B

    Chris McCullough is loaded with athletic ability, but his jumper still needs plenty of work.

     

    Defense: A-

    He knows how to get the most out of his 6’10” length as a shot-blocker.

     

    Intangibles: B-

    Tossed out of Brewster Academy in November for violating school rules, McCullough will be under an NCAA microscope at Syracuse.

16. Isaiah Whitehead (Seton Hall)

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    Offense: A

    An attacking shooting guard with great passing skills, Isaiah Whitehead doesn’t yet have a top-drawer three-point shot.

     

    Defense: B+

    Whitehead is a terrific perimeter rebounder at 6’4”, though he’s no lockdown defender at this stage.

     

    Intangibles: B-

    He’s gotten a reputation for lapses in concentration (a problem Kentucky fans know all about after the ups and downs of last season's frosh). 

15. Theo Pinson (North Carolina)

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    Offense: A-

    Theo Pinson’s three-point shot needs work, but he’s an impeccable scorer otherwise (not to mention a fine passer).

     

    Defense: A

    Pinson is a mobile and productive defender with good size (6’6”) on the wing.

     

    Intangibles: B+

    He plays with both confidence and smarts, but it’s uncertain whether he and classmate Justin Jackson will be a good fit to be on the court together.

14. Kevon Looney (UCLA)

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    Offense: A-

    For a 6’8” power forward, Kevon Looney has an exceptionally strong face-up game with shooting range nearly to the three-point arc.

     

    Defense: A-

    The best pure rebounder in the class, Looney has the agility (if not the length) of a great post defender.

     

    Intangibles: B+

    After depending on the Wear twins for so long, UCLA is desperate for an offensive contributor like Looney on the front line.

13. Rashad Vaughn (UNLV)

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    Offense: A

    Rashad Vaughn can score from any distance, in the half court or transition, and he’s better than many rival 2-guards at creating shots off the dribble.

     

    Defense: B

    Both his length and instincts are encouraging, but production on D isn’t quite there yet.

     

    Intangibles: A

    UNLV desperately needs a go-to scorer with a jump shot, and Vaughn looks tailor-made to fill the bill.

12. D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State)

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    Offense: A

    D’Angelo Russell is a combo guard who’ll probably play off the ball, but both his passing and scoring skills are well-developed.

     

    Defense: A-

    A skilled defender and rebounder, he’s less impressive in terms of physical tools.

     

    Intangibles: B+

    He’s a smart player and a badly needed offensive contributor for the Buckeyes, but Big Ten physicality will be a major learning curve for him.

11. Karl-Anthony Towns (Kentucky)

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    Offense: A

    Karl-Anthony Towns has a three-point shot to match any guard in the recruiting class, but the 7’0” center isn’t as polished on the low block.

     

    Defense: A-

    Although he’s a fine shot-blocker, he’s vulnerable to stronger opponents, especially on the boards.

     

    Intangibles: A-

    His time with the Dominican national team is paying off, and he’s set to be the offensive half of a scary platoon with Willie Cauley-Stein in Lexington.

10. Justise Winslow (Duke)

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    Offense: B

    Justise Winslow is an improving shooter, but he lacks the killer instinct of a primary scoring option.

     

    Defense: A+

    At 6’6”, he can defend any position at the prep level and projects as a perimeter stopper for the Blue Devils (think Shane Battier).

     

    Intangibles: A+

    His decision-making and feel for the game are off the charts for a high-schooler, and he’s just the kind of player who thrives under Coach K.

9. Justin Jackson (North Carolina)

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    Offense: A+

    Justin Jackson can make shots from all over the floor, as he did in lighting up the scoreboard at the McDonald’s All-American Game (23 points in as many minutes, 11-of-14 from the field).

     

    Defense: A-

    He doesn’t have the muscle to be a top-flight defender, but his 6’7” length goes a long way.

     

    Intangibles: A-

    Multitalented and versatile, Jackson will add welcome perimeter punch to a North Carolina frontcourt with few shooters. 

8. Stanley Johnson (Arizona)

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    Offense: A-

    Shooting range is not Stanley Johnson’s long suit, but get him close to the rim and he’s strong enough to finish over the biggest defenders.

     

    Defense: A+

    He lives off his D, and he’s both quick and strong enough to lock down opponents even in the wide-open Pac-12.

     

    Intangibles: A 

    An astounding competitor, Johnson has the bad luck to arrive in Tucson, while similarly skilled Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is still on campus.

7. Kelly Oubre Jr. (Kansas)

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    Offense: A

    The ability to back down smaller defenders is about the only weapon Kelly Oubre Jr. hasn’t added to his offensive repertoire.

     

    Defense: A

    Active and athletic, he’s a playmaker who can handle multiple positions.

     

    Intangibles: A

    Substantial improvement as a senior shows how coachable Oubre is, and Bill Self knows how to work with high-powered freshmen.

6. Trey Lyles (Kentucky)

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    Offense: A+

    No player in this class has a low-post game as polished as Trey Lyles does.

     

    Defense: A

    Without elite athleticism, he relies on skill and length. At 6’10”, he has plenty of both.

     

    Intangibles: A

    Assuming that Julius Randle heads to the NBA, Lyles can slide right into the No. 1 scorer’s role in Lexington.

5. Emmanuel Mudiay (SMU)

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    Offense: A+

    Emmanuel Mudiay isn’t just a fine passer as a point guard—he’s also fully capable of leading his team in scoring.

     

    Defense: A

    There are quicker PGs out there, but Mudiay’s strength and size (6’5”) make up for a lot.

     

    Intangibles: A+

    A floor leader par excellence, he might become the first All-American in program history.

4. Tyus Jones (Duke)

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    Offense: A

    The best pure playmaker in the class, Tyus Jones will never be mistaken for Shabazz Napier as a scorer.

     

    Defense: A+

    Quick hands and outstanding fundamentals make him a fearsome on-ball defender.

     

    Intangibles: A+

    Jones makes his teammates better in the tradition of the best floor generals, and his high on-court IQ will endear him to Mike Krzyzewski.

3. Cliff Alexander (Kansas)

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    Offense: A+

    Even Cliff Alexander's middling jump shot can’t keep him from scoring in bunches, thanks to his offensive rebounding ability and bull-in-a-china-shop low-post game.

     

    Defense: A+ 

    Alexander is close to being an NBA-level shot-blocker already.

     

    Intangibles: A

    Playing time won’t be easy to come by with Perry Ellis (and possibly Myles Turner) around, but Alexander's high-energy game will make sure he stays on the court.

2. Myles Turner (Undeclared)

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    Offense: A+

    Myles Turner is a legitimate 7-footer who can drain the trey or finish a hook shot from the low block.

     

    Defense: A+

    He excels as an on-ball defender as well as a shot-blocker from the weak side.

     

    Intangibles: A+

    No player has improved his stock more in the past year than Turner, and that kind of work ethic isn’t an accident. 

1. Jahlil Okafor (Duke)

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    Offense: A+

    Jahlil Okafor uses both his bulk (6’10”, 265 lbs) and his skill to put points on the board in huge quantities.

     

    Defense: A+

    What he lacks in shot-blocking instinct, he makes up for with his ability to clog the lane and deter penetrators.

     

    Intangibles: A+

    He’s held up impressively under the year-long expectations of the “top recruit in the country” label. Any Duke fan can tell you how badly his size and strength are needed in the Blue Devils frontcourt.