Coming out of Rochester Hills Michigan, James Young was ranked by Rivals as the eighth best player in the country, yet he's now no better than the fourth most-talked about player on the Kentucky Wildcats.
An athletic 6-foot-7 wing, the lefty McDonalds All-American can do a little bit of everything. But as a freshman in Lexington he's had the type of green light that would make J.R. Smith jealous. John Calipari and his coaches raved about Young's shooting ability during the preseason, but right now a more pejorative term suffices: he's a chucker.
Despite averaging 11 field-goal attempts per game, Young is making just 38.5 percent of his shots and only 33.7 percent from deep. For someone who plays on a team loaded with capable scorers, that kind of inefficiency jumps out, certainly raising cause for concern.
But over the last month, Young has begun to found his stroke, shooting a slightly better 41.5 percent from the field and including 42.1 percent from beyond the arc.
"I just had to keep shooting," Young told reporters after he helped Kentucky beat Louisville 73-66 by totaling 18 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. "That is what you have to do sometimes as a shooter ... The coaches told me to keep my head up and keep shooting, and I did."
What you'll miss in Young's box score if you didn't watch Saturday is that in the second half, when the Harrison twins had their offense going, Young did the right thing: he took a backseat. He decided to do the other things he's capable of doing in order to help his team win. He rebounded his position with his 6-foot-11 wingspan, eventually totaling a double-double. And he dished out four assists as well to set up his talented teammates.
To be a lottery pick and an effective NBA player, Young's career will have to mimic his performance Saturday. When the jumper isn't falling, he can still be effective as a defender, rebounder and distributor.
NBADraft.net suggested Young might be the best pure scorer in this freshman class coming into the year, although his shooting numbers obviously have left plenty to be desired. They have him going No. 12 overall right now, while ESPN's Chad Ford has Young inside the lottery at No. 11 and Draft Express has him at No. 15.
If Young develops into the shooter scouts believe he can be, while also elevating the other facets of his game, there are few who can match what Young brings to the basketball court. There's a Lance Stephenson-type quality to his game in his swagger, size and diverse talent. Young is light-years ahead of "Born Ready" as a shooter, but not nearly the tenacious defender.
Players like Young don't grow on trees and once that jumper starts falling -- and it will -- Kentucky will be as dangerous as any team in the nation. More to the point for NBA teams, Young will become one of the hottest commodities in the draft, and a likely top-10 pick.
Best of the rest: Updates on other NBA Prospects
Andrew Wiggins, F, Kansas -- No games in last week.
Jabari Parker, F, Duke -- Coming off his best game of the season against the Bruins, Parker dropped 23 points in just 27 minutes against Eastern Michigan. It would have been even better had he made his free throws; Parker shot just 4-of-8 from the line despite being a 74.3 percent shooter from the stripe this season. Duke's superlative freshman also snagged eight boards and dominated his matchup.
The competition wasn't the highest, but Parker did what he was supposed to do and that's what you want to see from an elite prospect. Heading into conference play, Parker has done everything he can to prove he's the most NBA-ready player in this class with the potential to be a devastating offensive player from anywhere on the court beginning Day 1.
Julius Randle, F, Kentucky -- We said last week this had a chance to be a statement game for Randle against the talented frontline of Louisville. If it weren't for cramps in the second half, Randle was poised to drop 30+ on the Cardinals with a 17-point first half, while making seven of his eight shots.
His relatively low rebounding numbers in that game are less of a concern because he got so much help from the rest of the team crashing the glass. Randle was unstoppable as an offensive weapon against Montrezl Harrell, Chane Behanan and anyone else Louisville tried to throw at him.
Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State -- No games in last week.
Tyler Ennis, PG, Syracuse -- On a team with veteran scorers, it has been the freshman Ennis who has emerged as the most indispensable member of the No. 2 team in the country. ESPN's Jeff Goodman wrote over the weekend that Ennis has played better to this point in the season than potential top-five picks Andrew Wiggins, Aaron Gordon and Joel Embiid. Ennis has just 13 turnovers in 12 games, and has yet to turn it over more than twice in a game.
He's averaging 12.8 points per game, shooting 40 percent from deep and dishing 5. 1 assists per night. Ennis is creeping onto the radars of NBA scouts and even if it isn't until 2015, Ennis has lottery talent as a floor general. Ennis had 20 points against Villanova, including seemingly every important basket when 'Cuse needed it. He also put up 17, 7 and 8 earlier this year against Indiana.
Doug McDermott, F, Creighton -- No player in the draft is going to be able to match the numbers McDermott puts up in Omaha for the Jays. He's a legitimate Wooden Award candidate, and totals a double-double just when he gets out of bed. The Creighton senior lights up the stat sheet weekly, putting up 24.8 points per game.
The only question for McDermott is where does he fit on an NBA team? He's not quick enough to guard NBA wings and may not be big or athletic enough to handle professional posts. Best-case scenario is McDermott becomes Kevin Love Lite, a stretch four who uses his instincts and body to rebound, rather than his athleticism. McDermott is a solid shooter, having shot above 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from beyond the arc in all three seasons as a Jay. McDermott could be a lottery pick despite his age and is going somewhere between 12 and 20 in the latest NBA mocks.
Sam Dekker, F, Wisconsin -- Expect Dekker's name to come up more and more as the Wisconsin season pushes forward as the Badgers' versatile sophomore has a history of coming up big when his team needs him most. Dekker is a lanky 6-foot-7 big who can shoot it from NBA range and channels memories of Keith Van Horn at Utah.
Dekker put up 16 and 10 against Prairie View A&M in just 26 minutes and while that was a laugher for an undefeated Wisconsin team, Dekker has displayed a flare for the big moment. He poured in 16 points (remember, this is Wisconsin) in games against St. John's and Florida, plus 20 and 10 against Marquette, with 21 and 12 against West Virginia. When Wisconsin gets into conference play and Dekker gets to face higher competition, we'll see if he can rise to the occasion. If he can, the lottery isn't out of the question for a player projected in the early 20s right now.
Andrew Harrison, G, Kentucky -- Marcus Smart is better right now, but Andrew Harrison may well be better in three years. After shaking off some early rust, the point guard Harrison twin has established himself firmly back in the lottery mix by showing what kind of scorer he can be in full-attack mode. His 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists against North Carolina hinted at his potential and his 18 points against Louisville, including crucial buckets in the second half, underscored his development for John Calipari.
Averaging just 11.2 points per game and shooting under 40 percent, Harrison has some elements of 76ers rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams in his game with a long frame and a jump-shot in progress. But both can affect the game with their length, athleticism, and ability to get to the rim. At 6-foot-6 Harrison also brings elite defensive potential, particularly with the versatility to slide off the lead guard and handle NBA shooting guards if need be.
Games to Watch
Tuesday, Dec. 31 -- Marquette vs. Creighton
Doug McDermott faces a fascinating test against a Marquette team with a slew of bigs to potentially defend him. Devante Gardner is a load, but may not be quick enough for stay with McDermott. Whether or not Creighton's All-American forward can take advantage of that matchup will be crucial. The Eagles could also put an ultra-athletic wing on McDermott like Jamil Wilson and dare him to beat MU on the block. Every game will be picked apart by NBA scouts and Marquette presents some interesting matchup problems for McDermott at both ends of the floor.
Thursday Jan. 2 -- Michigan vs. Minnesota
With Mitch McGary sidelined, every game will be important for Michigan's Glen Robinson III and Nik Stauskas. Both are trying to prove their mettle, although GRIII would be safely in the first-round discussion at this point. The Gophers have the dynamic Andre Hollins at guard who stuffs the stat sheet as a scorer plus DeAndre Mathieu who can be a pest as a defender. Both Stauskas and Robinson III will need to step up in the absence of McGary, and the beginning of conference play will be a good early test.
Saturday, Jan. 4 -- No. 5 Michigan State vs. Indiana
Noah Vonleh's biggest litmus test of the season to date will be Saturday against the bruising front line of Michigan State. Vonleh was excellent against the talented frontline of Syracuse earlier this season, will he be able to do the same against Adreian Payne? Despite the senior's prowess, he did struggle against Julius Randle against Kentucky. Gary Harris also needs to string together some consistent performances in conference play as his shot has continued to escape him. Every week the Big Ten will give us a juicy matchup of potential lottery picks like this.
Saturday, Jan. 4 -- No. 20 San Diego State vs. No. 16 Kansas
San Diego State doesn't have elite players to matchup against Kansas, but they're a solid team that can execute against elite teams, as they showed against Arizona. Players like Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid will have to be efficient and effective on both ends for the Jayhawks to get a win, and both have been flummoxed with bouts of inconsistency. The Jayhawks don't have the same number of regular season marquee games that other top prospects will in a down year for the Big 12, so shining in games like this will be critical.
Sunday, Jan. 5 -- No. 12 Oregon vs. No 21 Colorado
Colorado's Spencer Dinwiddie already proved he could play with the big boys, helping Colorado knock off Wiggins and the Jayhawks earlier this year. He has played himself into the first-round conversation and against an Oregon team that can light up the scoreboard, his versatile game will need to be on full display. Much like San Diego State, Oregon doesn't feature top-flight prospects, but in a big game, a player like Dinwiddie must step to the fore. His athleticism is a question and it will be tested with the way Oregon gets up and down the court, scoring the ball.