Let’s be honest.
Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Kentucky’s Julius Randle are turning pro after the season. Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart has all but said he is, too.
Jabari Parker has hinted at a possible return to Duke. The same thing goes for Joel Embiid at Kansas. Both scenarios seem unlikely, but whatever the case, the players projected to go the highest in this summer’s NBA draft have had their strengths and weaknesses dissected by scouts and media members countless times over the past three months.
The "other guys"?
Not so much.
That’s why I spent a large chunk of Tuesday afternoon talking to three NBA scouts about a handful of underclassmen who will likely consider leaving school after this season to become a professional. I gave each scout seven or eight different names and asked him to comment on each. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, here’s what they had to say:
On Kyle Anderson, UCLA sophomore guard/forward
He’s a guy with a unique and intriguing skill set. The problem is this: How many NBA players do you know that are slow, which he is, other than standalone, knock-down shooters, which he isn’t? He doesn’t have the outside game to stretch a defense.
Mix in the fact that he’s slow, and there are some obvious concerns. The upside is that he’s 6’9" and can play three positions. That’s a great skill set for that size. I can see him getting drafted late in the first round and making a roster. But I don’t see a huge upside for him at the next level.
On Isaiah Austin, sophomore center, Baylor
I think he’s a really marginal NBA player—and that’s if he’s an NBA player at all. He’s got the issue with his eye, although I don’t think that’s a deal-killer for him. The bigger problem is his average motor and the fact that I don’t think he can put on 20-30 pounds, which he needs to do. He’s long and athletic and 7-feet tall, which means he’ll probably get drafted. But I see high bust potential with him.
On Jahii Carson, sophomore point guard, Arizona State
I’m not a big fan. He’s not even in the top 10-12 in his league for assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s extremely quick, and he’s a tough kid. But he’s a streaky shooter and just really, really small. I think he’ll get drafted, but he’ll be a backup in the NBA at best.
On Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomore center, Kentucky
I’m just not sure how hard he plays. That was an issue when he was a freshman last season, and it’s the same thing this year. He’s a very good shot-blocker. If he gets beat, he recovers quickly and can come from behind for a block, too. But from a rebounding standpoint, he’s not great. And offensively, what does he do well? He disappears in a lot of games.
I don’t know what he does consistently other than block shots. Offensively, he’s non-existent. Someone will take him, though, because people see young kids like him and think, 'He’s got a huge upside. We’ll put him in the D-League for a few years and turn him into a good player.' That’s what happened with guys like Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. I’m not convinced this guy is on that level.
On Sam Dekker, sophomore guard/forward, Wisconsin
I like him because he’s a skilled player. These days, NBA coaches want skilled players and not just freak athletes. His feel for the game is what makes him unique, especially for his size at 6’7". I think he has a chance to make it because he knows how to play.
He’s shooting a high percentage (49.3) from the field. He shows a lot of desire when it comes to rebounding the ball, and he’s not a bad passer. It’d be nice if he shot the three-ball a little bit better. But overall he takes high-quality shots. Everything I hear indicates he’ll be a first-rounder.
On Tyler Ennis, freshman point guard, Syracuse
There’s not much negative to say about him. For being such a young player, his court vision is unbelievable. He has such a great feel for the game. He can score in so many different ways, from end line to end line. And he’s got that extra burst that helps him get to the rim and finish with aggression. But again, his biggest thing is his feel for the game.
There are times—and I saw this when he was in high school, too—where the game is in the balance, and after spending most of the night as a facilitator, he turns on a switch and just goes and gets buckets. He understands, ‘Hey, I’ve got to change things up. I’ve got to go get points and help my team win.’ At the same time, no one is ever going to call him selfish.
On Aaron Gordon, freshman forward, Arizona
What’s the one thing he does really well? I’m not sure I know. He’s a better athlete than he is a basketball player. He can really defend, and he can defend multiple positions, which will help him. But is he a 3 (small forward) or a 4 (power forward)? Does he shoot it really great? Not really. I don’t think he’s a top-10 pick. He may go in the Top 10, but that’d just be a case of someone betting on upside. Right now he’s a good college player. Not a great one, but a good one. Because of his size and athleticism, he may come around, but right now he’s a gamble.
On Gary Harris, sophomore shooting guard, Michigan State
He’s a high first-rounder, a lottery pick. He’s got such good burst. He’s a physical guard who can finish at the rim or beat you from behind the arc. He made a great decision by coming back for his sophomore year. He’s taken his game to a completely different level. He knows how to play off the pick-and-roll, he can push it in transition, he can slice and dice and he’s got good ball control. He’s got that extra gear—that burst—that helps him get separation. I think he’s one of the top three or four guards in college basketball.
On Aaron and Andrew Harrison, shooting guard and point guard, Kentucky
The Harrison twins have major consistency problems. Their ability to get to the rim is shaky, and their shot selection is shaky. All last summer people were saying they were lottery picks. I don’t think they’re close to being lottery picks, not yet at least.
They believed too much of the hype about themselves, and I think that made their attitudes bad. They play too emotional sometimes. If things aren’t going their way, they start making bad decisions based on emotions. They start pressing instead of letting the game come to them. They need to come back to school for another year, without a doubt. I don’t think they’re ready for the NBA.
On Rodney Hood, sophomore forward, Duke
He’s so up and down. There are games when he disappears, and there are games when he performs at a high level. He’s an anomaly. You don’t know what you’re going to get. I think his lack of consistency will be his biggest issue in the NBA. When he’s on, he can be extremely explosive. He can get to the rim, and he’s got a nice mid-range game.
He can break guys down and create space. He brings a nice skill set to the table, but the problem is that he falls in love each night with a certain aspect of his game. He doesn’t use all his tools at once. I’d still say he’s got a good chance to go in the first round, though.
On Nick Johnson, junior point guard, Arizona
He’s a potential first-round guy, a borderline first-rounder. He’s quick off the dribble, a quick first step. I like his athleticism. He’s got good balance and a solid stroke. I love the way he competes. He’s more of a combo guard than a true point guard, although he’ll need to play some point in the NBA.
He’s a guy you could put out there to give your starting point guard a rest, but he’s not a guy where you’d say, ‘Here’s the ball. Go run my team.’ It’ll be a spot-duty thing. I definitely think he’s turning more and more heads. He’s trending upward.
On Zach LaVine, freshman small forward, UCLA
I love him, and I think more and more scouts are starting to feel that way, even though we all realize we’re betting on potential and upside and all those catch words. But he’s got the athleticism and the stroke and the ingredients to be a really good NBA player.
He’s still young, but there’s definitely some Russell Westbrook in him. He made one play against Stanford where I was like, ‘That’s all I need to see.’ He's young with a high ceiling. I think he should stay in school like a lot of these guys. But if he leaves, I think he’ll be a lottery pick. Anyone who takes him will know it’ll probably be a year or two before he contributes significantly.
On James Michael McAdoo, junior forward, North Carolina
The guy is a tease. He’ll do something to excite you, but then the very next game, he disappears. That happened last season when I saw him against Texas. I was so impressed, and then the next time I saw him, he didn’t do a thing. It’s frustrating, because he has the tools and the ability. But he’s soft. He doesn’t play hard all the time.
He doesn’t operate with a sense of urgency. He doesn’t like contact so he tries to be a finesse guy. But he’s not consistent enough with the other aspects of his game to do that.
On Le'Bryan Nash, junior small forward, Oklahoma State
I’ve never been a big fan of his. He’s having a decent year because he’s playing more under control. But I would not risk much money on him. He’s definitely not a first-round guy. If you really like his game, I guess I can see taking him in the second round. He might make a roster, but he’s not a great shooter and he doesn’t put it on the floor well.
He’s a 6’7" power forward. He can’t play small forward because he can’t defend that position. And he can’t play power forward because he can’t defend that position, either. And I’m not sure he’s big and strong enough to score on power forwards. Defensively, you have to hide him.
I also think he was overadvertised athletically. He’s not as athletic as his reputation indicates. He’s definitely improving, though. You’ve got to give him credit for that.
On Alex Poythress, sophomore forward, Kentucky
He’s good at everything and not great at anything. One minute he’s flying through the air and making a play that makes you say, ‘Wow.’ Then he goes two games without making a peep. He seems like a nice kid. But I just don’t know where you put him.
On Glenn Robinson III, sophomore forward, Michigan
Don’t be surprised if he ends up being a better pro than Aaron Gordon. He shoots it better and he’s every bit as athletic. He struggles with his confidence at times, or at least that’s what I’ve heard. His upside is huge, though. I don’t think there’s any question that he’s a first-rounder.
On Wayne Selden Jr., freshman guard, Kansas
There’s no question that he needs to come back for his sophomore year. Right now, when you think of Kansas, you think of Wiggins and Embiid. Selden hasn’t done anything to stand out. What’s his niche offensively? He hasn’t shown that he’s a great shooter.
I’d heard that he’s a power guard that likes to use his body to attack the lane and get to the rim, and maybe he does, but he hasn’t shown that yet, either. It’s not all his fault. He’s in a tough spot having to play with so many other NBA-caliber players. The book on him is still open, in my opinion. I think he’ll be a completely different player by this time next year. Is he a pro? Yes, but not yet."
On Nik Stauskas, sophomore shooting guard, Michigan
He’s moving up my draft board, and from talking to people, I can assure you that I’m not alone. He’s played so well as of late. He’s obviously a great shooter, but it’s clear now that he’s not just a one-dimensional guy. He’s doing other things to help his team win. He’s very productive. If he continues to play at this level and finishes the year strong, he could be a borderline first-round guy. I wouldn’t have said that a month ago.
On Noah Vonleh, freshman forward, Indiana
When he was in prep school, his work ethic was an issue. But it’s gotten better at Indiana because [coach Tom] Crean won’t put up with slackers. That aspect of him has changed. He’s a kid who can face up and attack the rim. And when he’s on the block, he’s got some versatility. I don’t think he’s a guy that’s going to stretch the defense very well, but he can still do a lot of things to hurt you.
In some ways he’s like Kevin Garnett, a guy with a good face-up game who can hurt you on the block. He’s not going to outmuscle you, but because of his athleticism, he’s a hard matchup for the bigger, physical power forwards and centers. Vonleh is a surefire lottery pick.
On James Young, freshman guard/forward, Kentucky
I like him. He brings so many things to the table. He can hurt you in so many ways. Even though he’s not shooting it great lately, I think it’s pretty obvious that he’s got a smooth stroke. I like his ability to control the ball. He’s not loose with the ball.
He’s got good change of direction and a nice first step that makes him an excellent slasher. One of his weaknesses when he first got to Lexington was playing through contact, but he’s shored that up. I love his demeanor on the court, too—never too high or low. I’d take him between 10 and 20. I can’t see him dropping out of the first round.
While I had them on the phone, I figured I'd ask the scouts their opinions on a handful of senior standouts who are rising on the draft boards.
On DeAndre Kane, senior point guard, Iowa State
I have no idea what other people think of Kane, but he’s on my radar. He’s impressed me. The other day I compared his stats to Marcus Smart’s. Both are 6’4" combo guards playing the point. Kane was shooting better from three-point range, his assist-to-turnover ratio almost twice as good, his rebounding was better and his assists were better.
The only stat where Marcus was better was steals. I’m not saying Kane is a better prospect than Smart. He isn’t. But he’s definitely going to catch the attention of some people if he keeps playing like this.
On Doug McDermott, senior forward, Creighton
I think Doug is going to make it in the NBA. I personally think he’s going to have to be a specialist, maybe a three-point shooter, a Robert Horry kind of guy, a long 6’8" guy that makes threes. But he’s such a good player and has such a tremendous feel that he will be able to contribute in other ways, too.
Screen-and-rolls, pick-and-pops...that kind of stuff. He’ll utilize his knowledge and savvy to make himself a really tough matchup. His biggest difficulty will be staying in front of guys in isolation situations, where he may get overpowered. But make no mistake, I like him. I’d want him on my team.
On Adreian Payne, senior forward, Michigan State
He’s a beast at the college level. I love the way he goes after rebounds and I love his skill set. He can hit outside shots and he can get separation and score off the drive. He’s terrific athlete. Sometimes I can’t believe he’s still playing college basketball. I think he’s going to be a long-time pro.
On Xavier Thames, senior point guard, San Diego State
He hasn’t been on too many people’s radar, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he snuck into the first round. I love him. He’s an athletic combo guard who does just about everything well—defend, score, run a team, whatever. He’s got good size. He’s not going to get knocked off balance with a little bump.
This Week's Grades
A: Tekele Cotton’s dunk: Even though it happened a week ago, Cotton’s one-handed slam in Wichita State’s victory over Illinois State deserves way more attention than it’s received. I actually think it’s the dunk of the season, thus far. Take a look and see if you agree.
B: Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford: Michigan is 9-0 since losing All-American candidate Mitch McGary to a back injury in mid-December. Morgan and Horford—McGary’s replacements—are a big reason the Wolverines haven’t missed a beat. Role players for most of their careers, Horford and Morgan are combining to average 10.2 points and 8.7 rebounds for a Michigan squad that is 7-0 in the Big Ten.
C: February: The worst month of the college basketball season is just days away. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if there isn’t anything to get excited about in February. Conference races are coming down to the wire, and players have begun to separate themselves in the quest for honors such as the Wooden Award, Cousy Award and All-American mention. Still, with the conference tournaments and NCAA tournament so tantalizingly close, February just seems to drag on and on and on. Maybe this year will be different.
D: Iowa: Although I still believe they’re a good basketball team, the Hawkeyes aren’t quite as salty as I thought. If it was truly championship material, Fran McCaffery's squad would’ve found a way to beat a Michigan State team that was without its top two forwards, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson, both of whom were injured. Instead, Iowa lost 71-69 at home in overtime Tuesday.
F: Marcus Smart’s flopping: Oklahoma State’s point guard has long been admired for his passion and work ethic. But his continuous habit of blatantly falling during games isn’t very funny anymore. I actually believe the problem has become so noticeable that it’s damaging Smart’s reputation. See for yourself.
Starting Five: Best Final Four Cities
- New Orleans: Hurricanes and Hand Grenades on Bourbon Street, po’ boys and beignets in the French Quarter—and a little basketball, too. The Final Four is at its best in New Orleans.
- San Antonio: No need to rent a car. Just book a room at a Riverwalk hotel and enjoy the restaurants and bars located within walking distance of the Alamodome. If you stay anywhere else you won’t get the full experience.
- Indianapolis: Home of one of the more underrated downtown areas, Indianapolis will host the Final Four in 2015. Again, there is plenty to do within walking distance of the arena. The JW Marriott is one of the nicer hotels I’ve ever stayed in.
- Phoenix/Glendale: The Final Four in Arizona? Heck, why not? Phoenix is among the finalists to host the event between 2017 and 2020. The weather is phenomenal and the restaurants and bars are second to none.
- Dallas/Arlington: What, you thought I wasn’t going to mention my hometown? I’ll be interested to see how well the city does at hosting the event this April before I boast about Dallas too much. My main concern is that things may be a bit too spread out, especially in comparison to the aforementioned cities. No matter what, though, it won’t be worse than Houston.
Gut-check wins: Missouri over Arkansas; Michigan State over Iowa
Gut-punch losses: SMU to South Florida; Baylor to West Virginia
Getting better: USC, Nebraska
Getting worse: Virginia Tech, Colorado
Overrated: Ohio State
Underrated: Cincinnati’s defense
Number of NCAA Tournament bids for the SEC: Four
Number of NCAA Tournament bids for the Big East: Three
Best senior no one is talking about: Josh Davis, San Diego State
Hottest team no one is talking about: Virginia
Had no idea he was this good—and, man, is he good: Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma
Speaking of Oklahoma: Lon Kruger needs to be in the Hall of Fame
Duke at Syracuse: Syracuse
Kansas at Texas: Kansas
Ohio State at Wisconsin: Wisconsin
Arizona at Cal: Arizona
A Dozen Words About My Top 12 Teams
- Arizona: Time to start the All-American campaign for junior guard Nick Johnson
- Kansas: The Jayhawks (6-0 in Big 12) lost three straight games around this time last year
- Syracuse: Point guard Tyler Ennis may be the best freshman in the country
- Florida: The Gators have lost in the Elite Eight the past three seasons
- Michigan State: When healthy, this could be one of Tom Izzo’s best teams ever
- Wichita State: Road tests coming up next week at Indiana State and Northern Iowa
- San Diego State: The Aztecs won’t lose again—at least not during the regular season
- Michigan: John Beilein should be considered for national coach of the year honors
- Duke: Coach K’s Blue Devils are catching fire at just the right time
- Virginia: Cavaliers have won seven ACC games by an average of 18.3 points
- Creighton: Doug McDermott’s three-pointer with two seconds left beat St. John’s on Tuesday
- Kentucky: Not giving up on the Wildcats yet. This team is too talented.
Jim Neely's Interstate Barbecue, Memphis—When the NCAA tournament rolls around next month, I’m hoping to be dispatched to Memphis for the South Regional. My wish has nothing to do with basketball, mind you. I’m just craving some Jim Neely’s Interstate Barbecue.
I know, I know. There are lots of good barbecue joints in Memphis. I’ve sampled the Cornish hen at Cozy Corner and the famous ribs at Rendezvous. Both were fantastic, but Interstate is the place for me.
I live in the barbecue mecca of Kansas City, but even here, I’ve never had a pulled pork sandwich as thick and flavorful as the one they serve up at Interstate. The pork is so tender and flavorful, and the good folks in the kitchen pack so much of it onto the bun that you could actually make two sandwiches from the serving.
The only problem with the pulled pork sandwich is that it’s so good that, on each of my two visits, it kept me from sampling the ribs, but I recently received rave reviews (complete with pictures) from the in-laws, who visited Interstate during a trip to Memphis earlier this month.
My other vice at Interstate is the fried bologna sandwich, which I shoveled down during a brief layover at the Memphis airport about a year ago. Thank goodness there was an Interstate stand near my gate, because I was craving that sandwich, even at 7:30 a.m. I love the slight crispiness that develops on the bologna, which tastes great with a light spread of mayo and some lettuce and tomato. If you’re daring, you may even want to order a small side of Interstate’s famous barbecue spaghetti.
Less than two months remain before a potential trip to Memphis for the NCAA tournament. If I end up there, I may not eat anywhere except Interstate (and Gus’s Fried Chicken, of course) for the entire week.
Jason King covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.