Predicting Which Top Incoming Freshmen Will Go 1-and-Done After 2014-15 Season
College basketball’s incoming stars have been a bit more conservative about making the one-and-done jump to the NBA lately, with even John Calipari retaining some of his stud freshmen. Still, the top recruits of the 2014 class are all hoping they’ll explode onto the scene the way Jabari Parker did, with every fan and analyst assuming their first year in school will be their last.
One young standout with a chance to make that kind of splash is SMU point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. With his 6’5” frame and explosive scoring punch, Larry Brown’s prize recruit will have scouts (and hapless defenders) trailing after him all season long.
Read on for more on Mudiay’s likely decision, along with predictions for whether or not the rest of the nation’s elite frosh (per our latest rankings) will jump to the pros after 2014-15.
20. Malik Pope, San Diego State
Malik Pope’s game starts with the kind of speed and leaping ability that will make NBA coaches sit up and take notice. He handles the ball and passes awfully well for a 6’8” incoming freshman, and his jump shot is far from being a liability.
However, he’s not ready to knock down perimeter shots at an NBA level, either, and he needs a lot of muscle on his 210-pound frame. Pope also has too much to learn from SDSU coach Steve Fisher (especially on D) to jump ship after one season.
19. Dwayne Morgan, UNLV
A combo forward with great athleticism, Dwayne Morgan is going to be a force as a defender for UNLV. His long arms and quickness make him an imposing shot-blocker even at 6’7”, and he’s also going to be one of the Mountain West’s most impressive dunkers.
In the NBA, though, his size is going to make him a perimeter player, and his clunky jump shot isn’t even close to being ready for that challenge.
He’s not a strong half-court offensive player in any respect, and it’s hard to imagine anyone advising him that he’ll be ready for the pros within a year.
18. Daniel Hamilton, UConn
One of the biggest concerns about Daniel Hamilton is that he takes too many shots. That’s a statement that can be made about plenty of NBA players, too; many of whom also share Hamilton’s penchant for hitting clutch jumpers in the teeth of the defense.
Hamilton is also a respectable passer, and he has NBA length as a 6’6” 2-guard.
He’s a dark-horse prospect to go pro immediately, but the bet here is that the physicality of the college game will convince him to stay on campus until he’s built up his defense and his 180-pound body further.
17. Chris McCullough, Syracuse
If Chris McCullough does leave for the NBA after one year, it’ll likely be Mitch McGary-style, with an NCAA suspension trailing behind him.
If, however, the forward who was booted from his Brewster Academy team last fall can keep his nose clean at Syracuse, the likelihood is that he’ll stay there a little longer.
McCullough has talent in spades (especially as a shot-blocker at 6’10”), but his high school odyssey has left him short on polish and court sense.
Jim Boeheim can make him a lottery pick given the chance, but like former Orange rim-protector Fab Melo, he won’t reach those heights by leaving too soon.
16. Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
From a physicality standpoint, Isaiah Whitehead is among the few perimeter players in the class who could hold up against NBA guards.
His ability to get to the free-throw line would translate nicely to the pros. He’s an adept passer, too, on those occasions when the defense overcommits to stop his drives.
However, at 6’4”, he’s also a potential liability on defense at the pro level, meaning the bar is set just a little higher for him to be ready to make the jump.
Unless his three-point shot is drastically better than expected next season, he’ll need more than one year of college ball to prove that he’s reached that point.
15. Theo Pinson, North Carolina
More than pretty much any player on this list, Theo Pinson’s NBA decision is likely to depend on how his team uses him.
The 6’6” swingman could be a star on a team of stars—a la the North Carolina Tar Heels’ Antawn Jamison-Vince Carter squads of the late ‘90s—or he could be shunted to the background by higher-scoring teammates.
Pinson has the potential to be UNC’s top defender on the perimeter as well as a first-rate rebounder. If he gets a real chance to show off his considerable scoring punch, he’ll have enough going for him elsewhere to make the jump.
14. Kevon Looney, UCLA
Kevon Looney shares more than initials with former Bruins one-and-done Kevin Love. The 6’8” Looney is an attacking rebounder who plays with the same kind of limitless energy that Love showed in his lone season in Westwood.
Unfortunately for the younger forward, his offensive game isn’t much more mature than his predecessor’s was at this stage.
Given that he’s also two inches shorter and not quite as athletic as Love, it’s a good bet that he’ll spend a little more time in college than the Timberwolves star did.
13. Rashad Vaughn, UNLV
UNLV coach Dave Rice hasn’t had much luck with hanging on to his star players.
Anthony Bennett spent one year in Vegas before becoming a No. 1 NBA draft pick. Meanwhile, of the Rebels’ top players of 2013-14, Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith are off to the pros, and Bryce Dejean-Jones has transferred.
That track record doesn’t bode well for Rice’s chances of retaining explosive Rashad Vaughn, a 6’6” shooting guard with a terrific all-around game.
Vaughn is going to challenge for the Mountain West scoring title next season, and while he could use more work on such fundamentals as moving without the ball, it’s unlikely he’ll stay in school long enough to get it.
12. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Plenty of top high-school backcourt players wind up in the “combo guard” category because they’re too good to limit to either the point or shooting guard roles.
From an NBA perspective, though, that designation is more often seen as applying to a player who isn’t good enough at either job to hold up at the pro level.
So it will likely be with D’Angelo Russell, a versatile 6’4” ball-handler who might well lead Ohio State in scoring as a freshman.
His size and passing ability have him targeted for a PG spot in the pros, but with Shannon Scott holding that role in Columbus next season, Russell will need to stick around longer to establish his own floor-leader chops.
11. Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky
Whatever Karl-Anthony Towns’ own inclination had been, he likely had his NBA decision made for him in April.
With both Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson back in Lexington next year, there isn’t going to be enough playing time for Towns to make himself a viable draft candidate.
Indeed, Towns will likely find himself in a similar role to Marcus Lee’s niche in 2013-14, filling in as a shot-blocker when injuries or fouls limit one of the top centers.
Considering that Lee himself will also be back, Towns—even with his enviable three-point shooting ability—will spend a lot of time on the bench next season.
10. Justise Winslow, Duke
Eventually, Justise Winslow is going to become a worthy member of Duke’s NBA lineage of defensive stoppers at the small forward spot (Grant Hill, Shane Battier, Luol Deng…). In all probability, though, that’s going to happen later rather than sooner.
As mature a game as Winslow has on D, he’s not at the same level as a scorer yet, particularly when it comes to his three-point shot.
Considering that he’s also on the small side for a pro SF (6’6”), he’s more likely to follow in Battier’s four-year footsteps rather than emulating Deng’s one-and-done example.
9. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Justin Jackson certainly can’t complain about lack of opportunity to succeed as a freshman. He’s joining a team with an elite point guard (rising junior Marcus Paige, in his third year as a starter) that just lost its top two frontcourt scorers to the NBA.
Jackson, a 6’7” SF, will put up points in bunches in that environment, on fast breaks and three-pointers and anything else he gets a decent look at.
He’s not an impact defender, and he’s awfully skinny at 185 pounds, but he’s primed for such a strong freshman campaign that his weaknesses should be overshadowed.
8. Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Stanley Johnson’s biggest weakness is his perimeter shot, which is so far from being NBA-ready that it can’t possibly be fixed in the space of one season in Tucson. That said, he may not need to fix it to earn himself an impressive spot in the draft.
The 6’6”, 225-pound Johnson is a world-class defender and rebounder who embraces physical play. Unless his Wildcats stumble in their projected Final Four run, look for him to find a home with some NBA team searching for the next Kawhi Leonard in the first round.
7. Kelly Oubre, Kansas
There isn’t a wing player in the freshman class with a more complete game than Kelly Oubre.
The heir apparent to another do-it-all small forward, presumptive lottery pick Andrew Wiggins, Oubre is a terrific defender and a versatile scorer who’s equally dangerous at the rim or the three-point arc.
Unlike his predecessor, though, Oubre doesn’t have athleticism that screams “top-five pick,” and his 6’7”, 210-pound frame could use some extra muscle.
He might be able to override those concerns in just one year in Lawrence, but the odds are against it.
6. Trey Lyles, Kentucky
Stepping into the shoes of one-and-done Julius Randle, Trey Lyles will certainly have every chance to enjoy a similar star turn. At 6’10” and 255 pounds, Lyles is even bigger than the rebounding machine he’s replacing, and he’s got power to suit his build.
More importantly, Lyles is a decidedly more polished offensive player than Randle was coming into Lexington, meaning that he’s unlikely to see his scoring average plummet in conference play.
With second-year PG Andrew Harrison to set him up, there’s no reason to believe the Wildcats’ PF won’t continue the team’s stranglehold on SEC Freshman of the Year honors.
5. Emmanuel Mudiay, SMU
The timing of Emmanuel Mudiay’s arrival at SMU will probably have a major influence on the duration of his stay there. Having seen what happened to Marcus Smart at Oklahoma State, Mudiay is likely to make sure he doesn’t repeat Smart’s mistakes.
Standing 6’5” and featuring a high-scoring, physical style, the Mustangs’ new star has a lot in common with the Cowboys’ old one on the court.
Where Smart dominated as a freshman but hurt his draft stock by staying for a second season, expect Mudiay to enjoy similar early success and then take the money and run.
4. Tyus Jones, Duke
Point guards tend to be the least likely candidates for one-and-done college careers, both because they’re usually the smallest guys on the floor and because leadership doesn’t often make a good highlight reel.
Tyus Jones has a great chance to lead Duke to a national championship next season, but even that may not send him straight to the pros.
The 6’1” Jones has very quick hands, but he’s not an attention-grabbing athlete otherwise.
He’s a phenomenal passer and floor general but not a dominant scorer or a spectacular dribbler, and that combination will probably keep him on campus until he's erased any doubts about how much he can contribute.
3. Cliff Alexander, Kansas
The most obvious NBA comparison for Cliff Alexander is Blake Griffin, another hard-dunking, shot-swatting power forward from the Big 12.
In that context, it’s worth noting that even Blake Griffin didn’t become Blake Griffin right away, spending two seasons at Oklahoma before heading to the pros.
Similarly, Alexander—whose jump shot still needs a fair amount of polishing—will probably stay at Kansas even after what promises to be an impressive debut season.
If he’d had Naadir Tharpe running the offense, the pick here would have been one-and-done, but without a proven point guard, he’ll lose just enough luster to stick around for a second year.
2. Myles Turner, Texas
Even when they clearly aren’t ready—see Austin, Isaiah—7-footers will frequently jump to the NBA because they’re so often drafted for potential as much as performance.
Myles Turner won’t have to worry about that distinction, because there’s every reason to expect him to excel as a freshman for the Texas Longhorns.
Turner is both a hard-working defender and an impressive jump shooter at 7’0”, 240 pounds.
His outside game hasn’t developed at the expense of his low-post presence, and Texas’ experienced lineup will make sure he has the best possible opportunity to pile up double-doubles.
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
On the whole, the NBA has been deemphasizing centers in Jahlil Okafor’s mold, monolithic but comparatively slow back-to-the basket players.
On the other hand, Dwight Howard just made his eighth All-Star appearance, and there’s room for more than one exception to the trend.
Okafor, at 6’10” and 265 pounds, is more mobile than the injury-slowed Howard with a similar body type.
He doesn’t have the explosiveness that the Rockets center once did—neither does Howard himself, of course—but his lone season at Duke will prove that he’s an overpowering post scorer and a good enough rebounder to bang with NBA bigs.
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