Sizing up 2013-14's best college hoops recruits
A consensus has been reached: The 2013 recruiting class is one of the best to enter the college game in years. The group is so good, and so rich with potential, that there is speculation that some NBA teams may attempt to intentionally lose games this upcoming season to improve their chances of landing a high lottery pick in the 2014 draft. Before these players reach the NBA, they'll need to play at least one season of college basketball, and it's our job to figure out how these players will fit in in with their respective teams.
There are a number of excellent players in this class with bright professional futures, but after lengthy deliberation, these 10 freshmen are set to have the biggest "impact" on the college game in 2013. To give you a better understanding of why the following list is ranked as such, here are a few factors that were considered: Stats-based production, playing time, effect on team win total and, most importantly, influence on the national championship picture.
For some keener scouting analysis, I spoke with Scout.com's Evan Daniels to get his take on how each player might translate at the college level. Let's dig in:
1. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Before Wiggins announced his college choice in May, it was fair to question whether Bill Self would be able to extend his ridiculous nine-year regular season conference championship streak in 2013-14. Doubts may still exist -- Oklahoma State and Baylor pose considerable challenges -- but Kansas' conference title aspirations seem much more realistic now than they did four months ago. Many believe Wiggins is not only the best player in one of the best recruiting classes in years -- they believe he's the best player to enter the college game in the age of the one-and-done, a Kevin Durant-type, can't-miss prospect with the sheer talent and athletic ability to develop into an NBA superstar.
At Kansas, Wiggins will be the centerpiece of Self's efforts to reload a team that loses five starters and the vast majority of its scoring output from last season. His ability to create his own shot and penetrate from the perimeter should make Wiggins Kansas' go-to scorer from day one, and if he can improve his jump shooting -- a minor perceived flaw in Wiggins' offensive repertoire -- he's more than capable of challenging OSU point guard Marcus Smart for conference player of the year honors.
Daniels: "What sticks out about Andrew is his athleticism and his raw talent. He's also arguably the best defender in the 2013 class."
If the consensus on the 2013 class being really, really good is unanimous, agreement on the idea that Kentucky's own 2013 haul is the greatest of all time barely misses that same standard. According to college basketball recruiting insiders, the eight-player group coach John Calipari shepherded to Lexington this season is good enough to make Kentucky an instant frontrunner, if not the outright favorite, to cut down the nets at Cowboys Stadium next April. That opinion was reached after Randle committed to Kentucky in March, and remained true even after Wiggins spurned the Wildcats in favor of Kansas two months later. Randle may not have Wiggins' freakish athleticism, and in this recruiting class, maybe he's not the No. 1-ranked prospect, but as consolation prizes go, let's just say Kentucky could have done worse.
However Calipari plans to delegate minutes amongst his super-loaded roster this season, Randle is almost guaranteed to secure a starting frontcourt spot, where his athleticism and toughness will make Randle one of the most dynamic post players in college basketball.
Daniels: "With Julius, it's all about his physicality and how hard he plays. He's tough, one of the nation's best rebounders and can really score on the block."
3. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker is, by most accounts, the most polished offensive player coming out of high school since Kevin Durant. Scouts rave about his basketball IQ, his ability to score in any number of ways, his underrated athleticism and his illustrious career at Simeon Academy in Chicago, where he won four consecutive state titles.
Whether Parker can continue his winning ways at the college level will largely depend on his ability to imbue a young but talented Duke roster with the scoring punch it needs while also paying mind to Mike Krzyzewski's historically isolation-averse offensive focus. Parker will have plenty of touches and shots to work with, but he is not without ancillary scoring help and, in turn, will have little incentive to try and saddle himself with too much of Duke's scoring load. The Blue Devils return a solid perimeter nucleus (including guards Quinn Cook, Andre Dawkins and Rasheed Sulaimon), boast two promising young forwards in Amile Jefferson and Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and have a coach with a time-tested penchant for devising lineups that accentuate roster strengths and minimize weaknesses. Molding this roster around Parker's capacity for individual offensive production could be tricky in the early going, but if Duke can effectively integrate the 6-foot-8 forward into Coach K's motion-style system, an ACC championship is well within reach.
Daniels: "With Jabari, it starts with his skill and his jumpshot. He's an accomplished scorer and a guy that will be used in that role at Duke."
4. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
At this summer's U-19 FIBA World Championships in Prague, Gordon dominated the competition while winning the tournament MVP award and leading Team USA to a gold medal. He also did this. Gordon, like so many other players on this list, is considered to have All-Star potential at the next level -- and the 2013-14 season outlook for the Arizona team he joins is arguably just as bullish. With Gordon in the fold, the Wildcats are the clear favorites to win Pac-12. It's not just because of Gordon; Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell and backcourt partner Nick Johnson, forwards Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski and freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson form a deep and talented rotation.
It's hard to project exactly how Gordon will fare at the college level, in large part because few, if any, people not named Sean Miller (and maybe Gordon himself) are exactly sure where Gordon will play next season. Putting him at small forward would allow the Wildcats to play Gordon with their two best frontcourt players (Ashley and Tarczewski), while placing him in the frontcourt would make for intriguing small ball-type lineups (with the potential of giving Hollis-Jefferson, a top-30 player in his own right, more playing time at small forward). The lineup mechanics miss the larger point -- which is that Gordon, no matter what position he inherits, is a tremendously gifted athlete with the skills and drive to vault Arizona to a deep NCAA tournament run.
Daniels: "Athletically, Aaron is very gifted. He's a bit of a combo forward at this point, plays very well in transition and will be utilized in a variety of roles at Arizona."
5. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
The five-year run of Calipari-coached point guards going on to become first round draft picks ended in anticlimactic fashion last season, when NC State transfer Ryan Harrow proved to be a bad fit from the start. By this time next year, Harrow's inability to blip the NBA scouting radar could wind up being a distant memory. That's how good -- and how sure a thing -- Harrison is in terms of elite point guard talent.
When Kentucky landed commitments from both Harrison twins last summer, it was deemed one of the best "package deals" of all time. They could have some serious competition as soon as this fall, when Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor, 2014's No. 1-ranked point guard and center, respectively, are expected to choose the same college. What won't change is the simple fact that Kentucky will need at least half of the Harrison duo to play a big part in its 2013-14 national title run. Oh, and don't be surprised if Andrew, per Calipari's recent tradition, finds himself selected near the top of the 2014 NBA draft lottery. Scouts salivate over his size (6-5, 210 pounds), capacity for running the break and ability to score and distribute in equal measure. In Harrison, Kentucky is getting the floor general it sorely lacked last season, a player with the poise and selfless mindset to help congeal Kentucky's roster.
Daniels: "At his size, Andrew has very impressive athleticism, skill and physicality. He's a guy that I think will be better with elite level players around him, so I expect him to have a major impact at Kentucky."
6. Wayne Selden, Kansas
Where would Kansas be without Wiggins' surprising spring announcement? The short answer: Kansas is Kansas; Self's team would have been fine either way. Any more detailed explanation of a Wiggins-less hypothetical starts and ends with Selden, a versatile 6-5 guard who should start immediately in Kansas' rebuilt backcourt. The Jayhawks return very little from last season's backcourt -- sophomore Naadir Tharpe is the only semi-regular contributor -- and Selden is more than capable of filling the void. He can also, in the rare instances Wiggins is either a) on the bench or b) struggling, help pick up the Jayhawks' scoring slack while working with freshman big man and top-30 prospect Joel Embiid to orchestrate a potent inside-out attack.
Arguably the most enticing part about Selden's game is his ability to play multiple positions. Self can float Selden in a variety of lineups at the 1, 2 and 3 spots and work in fellow freshmen Brannen Greene and Conner Frankamp as perimeter reinforcements. Wiggins should be the focus of Kansas' offensive attack next season, but if Selden can draw double teams and force opposing defenses to commit extra manpower and attention to stopping him, the Jayhawks will be extremely difficult to guard in any extended halfcourt setting.
Daniels: "There's a lot to like about Wayne. At his size, he's very skilled. Arguably his best attribute is his ability to pass. But he's also a great shooter and scorer. I expect him to have a major impact at Kansas."
7. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
The first order of business for Syracuse in its inaugural year in the ACC will be rebuilding a backcourt that lost Michael Carter-Williams to the NBA draft and Brandon Triche to graduation this offseason. Ennis is the only true point guard the Orange have entering 2013, and coach Jim Boeheim could be pressed to start him right away. The Orange return a trio of effective interior defenders -- Rakeem Christmas, DaJuan Coleman and Baye Keita should all play major roles -- and the 2-3 zone should remain as stingy as ever, but the one thing that could trip up Boeheim's team is its ability to consistently score. Ennis is more than serviceable on the offensive end, and in a backcourt low on offensive production, his play will be crucial to the Orange's transition into the ACC this season.
Daniels: "Tyler is a high-IQ guy. He sees the floor well, and he's also a really good shooter. That will help him tremendously."
8. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
For the first time since resurrecting Indiana from its tattered post-Kelvin Sampson depths, Tom Crean will need to pull the Hoosiers through another, smaller rebuild. Indiana lost four 1,000-point scorers from its first outright Big Ten regular season championship squad in nearly two decades; point guard Yogi Ferrell is the only returning starter. There is plenty of room for a prodigious talent like Vonleh, who has been widely praised for his work ethic this summer, to assert himself in a big way. On offense, that means helping Arizona State transfer Evan Gordon, Ferrell and senior Will Sheehey take on the bulk of the scoring load. Defensively, Vonleh is both quick enough to defend perimeter scorers and long enough to provide help on the low block.
The Big Ten is not as top-heavy as it was last season, but the league's top-to-bottom depth could be just as daunting, and Indiana will need a number of mostly untested players to step up and fill key spots in a revamped rotation. Vonleh will be a central cog in Crean's first real roster reboot, and the freshman's maturation in his first season of college hoops will help determine whether Indiana can defend its league championship.
Daniels: "It starts with rebounding with Noah. He's one of the best rebounders in the 2013 class. He's versatile, he can step out on the floor, play inside and really knows how to use his athleticism."
9. Derrick Walton, Michigan
There is a lot of momentum around Michigan basketball right now. This is not a surprising statement, of course -- the Wolverines just took a freshman-heavy roster through a brutal Big Ten season, came within minutes of winning the program's first national championship since 1989, completed their long-awaited return to national prominence following the ugly Ed Martin impermissible benefits scandal and had two likely first-round picks turn down the NBA draft for another season of college hoops. One of two first-round picks who did move on to the pros, All-American Trey Burke (along with Tim Hardaway Jr.), leaves a big hole at the point guard position, one Michigan will likely call upon Walton to fill.
It is impossible to replace someone like Burke. The good news for Walton is that he doesn't have to be Burke. Not even close. The two aforementioned NBA draft abstentions (center Mitch McGary and forward Glenn Robinson III) will make the freshman point guard's transition into college much less stressful. Walton is likely to replace Burke in the starting lineup (sophomore Spike Albrecht could also see significant minutes), but thanks to the respective returns of McGary, Robinson and sophomore Nik Stauskas, among others, there will be no great need for him to match, or even come close, to Burke's production. Michigan is considered one of the clear favorites in the Big Ten this season, but much of that opinion is rooted not in Walton himself, but the players returning around him. Walton's impact may not be as statistically pronounced as some of the other players on this list, but he will be asked to log major minutes on a team very much in contention for a conference championship. As "impacts" go, that feels pretty big.
Daniels: "I like Derrick's toughness and his speed. He's certainly going to have a lot of opportunities from the get-go. He's a guy that's won a lot of games at the high school level and I think he fits into what Michigan wants to do pretty well."
10. Jarrell Martin, LSU
In the SEC, there is Florida, there is Kentucky, and there is everybody else. Martin's inclusion on this list isn't meant to challenge the notion of the league's two-headed stranglehold, but it does say something about where LSU stands heading into the second season of coach Johnnie Jones' tenure. The Tigers are more than capable of landing their first NCAA Tournament birth since 2009 this season, and whether they can could come down to how Martin -- one of 2013's top-ranked forwards -- acclimates himself into the Tigers' frontcourt.
Alongside Martin, LSU will feature All-SEC forward Johnny O'Bryant III, who returned to LSU after briefly considering the NBA Draft. This frontcourt pair -- which could get an extra boost if fellow freshman Jordan Mickey is cleared to play this season -- can match most any in the SEC save Kentucky and Florida. But that's beside the point: LSU doesn't have to be better than Kentucky or Florida. The Wildcats and Gators are the clear-cut frontrunners in the SEC; teams like Alabama, Tennessee and LSU are, barring an unusual turn of events, are probably playing for third place. Martin gives LSU a strong chance of finishing in the league's top three, and next to O'Bryant III, will form one of the stronger frontcourt tandems in the country. Even if the Tigers' hardwood achievements are drowned out by their football brethren, it will be hard to overlook Martin, and his ability to lift LSU into the tournament discussion, this season.
Daniels: '"Love how hard he plays. I think he's an undervalued scorer. He's a guy that can put the ball in the hole but he also plays hard on both ends of the floor and is a very good rebounder."