Five would-be NBA prospects who aren't delivering - Sports Illustrated

Five would-be NBA prospects who aren't delivering the goods

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As we enter the all-important in-conference portion of the NCAA season, this is as good a time as any to reflect not only on those prospects who have helped their NBA draft stock, but also those who haven't.

Whether they're playing on an underachieving team, in the wrong system, recovering from injury, or maybe just not quite as good as we thought -- here are some players who we feel are not living up to expectations so far.

Luckily for them, they have at least another couple of months (if not years) to turn things around. For some, it might not even matter, as they wouldn't be the first prospects to shrug off a lackluster season and get drafted regardless.

6-8, Freshman, Small Forward

The No. 1 high school prospect according to some of the most respected talent evaluators in the business, Barnes was the first freshman ever to be named to a preseason All-America team. Every NBA scout we spoke with had him No. 1 on his personal mock draft, and everyone just assumed that the Iowa native would come in and dominate the NCAA landscape like the top high school recruits seemingly always do every season.

To call Barnes' season a disappointment relative to expectations might be an understatement, as he's underachieved in virtually every facet of the game and has looked nothing like the incredibly mature, polished and versatile player we saw mesmerize onlookers numerous times at the high school level.

With the paltry 37.2 percent he's shooting from the field, Barnes currently ranks last among the top 100 draft prospects we've identified. He's struggling to make shots both inside (40.4 percent on two-pointers) and outside (31.6 percent) the arc, is averaging more turnovers than assists and is not getting to the free-throw line at a terribly high rate to compensate.

In studying his film and attempting to analyze his struggles, there are a number of issues that jump out immediately.

The first would be Barnes' perimeter shooting touch, which has gone MIA for the better part of the season. He cannot make a shot with his feet set, missing countless catch-and-shoot jumpers while standing wide open behind the three-point line. His confidence looks shot and there are moments when he has clearly been pressing, throwing up some very bad shots.

Rather than trying to get himself going by taking the ball all the way to the basket instead, Barnes has only exasperated his problems by settling for far too many off-the-dribble jumpers in the mid-range area -- tough looks that just aren't high-percentage shots.

When attempting to create his own shot, Barnes' athleticism has appeared rather pedestrian, as he possesses neither an overwhelmingly quick first step nor great explosiveness around the basket. He gets bumped off his path too easily, allowing himself to be coerced into more difficult, off-balance shots --appearing to have some problems adjusting to the physicality of the NCAA game.

The situation Barnes finds himself in clearly isn't ideal -- North Carolina's point guard play has been a disaster, and the team lacks much in the way of experience, offensive spacing and perimeter-shooting ability. The Tar Heels rightfully try to exploit their biggest strength by pounding the ball inside to their big men -- Tyler Zeller and John Henson -- as often as possible, and alongside Barnes we find a number of other young, but very highly touted recruits who probably also feel that they should be getting plenty of shots and putting up big numbers. There's very little hierarchy in his group -- no clear-cut leader and not enough role-players -- just a bunch of very talented prospects who are struggling to come together as a unit early on.

While things haven't looked very good for Barnes early on, we must keep in mind that we're only 14 games into the career of an 18-year-old freshman. Despite the struggles he's endured, there have been plenty of flashes of potential indicating that we're still looking at the same terrific player we saw in high school -- a highly skilled, confident and intelligent young player who is also a fierce competitor. Barnes has plenty of time to turn things around still, even if it's looking more and more likely that he'll need to stay in school if he wants to be drafted as highly as he was projected to just a few months ago.

6-7, Sophomore, Small Forward

Arguably the most explosive player in all of college basketball, Williams showed enough sparks of potential as a freshman to lead us to believe that he was on the verge of a breakthrough season. With long arms, a terrific frame and breathtaking athleticism, he looks the part of an NBA small forward, and when his jumper is falling, he plays like one too.

That breakout season doesn't look like it's going to happen this year unfortunately. Despite seeing nearly 10 more minutes per game than as a freshman, Williams has been a non-factor offensively, taking a major step back with his shooting and ball-handling. He's made just two of his 18 three-point attempts and is turning the ball over on 35 percent of his used possessions, one of the highest rates among the top-100 draft prospects. His skill-level hasn't caught up with his physical tools just yet.

While Williams' defense has been a major plus for Tubby Smith, it's probably going to take more than that for an NBA team to draft him in the first round. In the never-ending search for the next great prospect, scouts (ourselves included) may have jumped the gun on Rodney Williams.

6-1, Senior, Point Guard

Coming off a serious Achilles injury that ended his junior season in the NCAA tournament last March, it's perhaps a bit unfair to include Lucas on this list.

Nevertheless, it's tough not to be disappointed by the season both he (Big Ten preseason player of the year) and Michigan State (ranked second in the AP Top 25 preseason poll) are having, especially as the Spartans stumbled out to an 8-4 record.

Lucas is simply not getting the job done as a point guard, and for the second straight season, his production as a distributor has declined. He ranks toward the bottom of the pack among NCAA point guard prospects in both Pure Point Rating and assist-to-turnover ratio, highlighting his struggles in this area.

Lucas' recovery from injury likely has everything to do with his play this season, but it remains to be seen how patient the NBA will be in evaluating his pro potential. Already undersized and not incredibly athletic to compensate, the senior will need to finish off the season on a high note to salvage his draft stock.

6-7, Sophomore, SF/PF

Projected as a likely first-round pick last season, Harris surprisingly elected to return to Gonzaga, seemingly without taking his time in investigating all of his options. Two years older than his class, Harris already had his mind made up in January to stay in college for another season, apparently at the urging of German national team coach Dirk Bauermann.

That plan may have backfired, as Harris had a disappointing summer under Bauermann with the German national team, and his numbers as a sophomore have regressed, partially due to injury.

A 45 percent three-point shooter last year on a limited number of attempts, Harris' jumper hasn't been falling very much this season, as he's knocked down just 10 of his 31 jump-shots (32 percent), according to the data at our disposal. He's still a fairly limited ballhandler and all-around shot-creator, which is why he continues to see most of his touches in post-up situations as a power forward, a position he's clearly too small to play in the NBA.

In the meantime, shoulder and heel injuries have caused him to gain weight and have hampered him from operating with the same mean streak we saw from him in the past. He's making far less of the super athletic plays that made him such an intriguing prospect to start with. Additionally, question marks continue to linger about his ability to defend the perimeter, which makes his future transition to the 3 a little more complicated than it appeared at first glance, especially considering his struggles offensively this season.

With an NBA lockout looming, Harris may not have as much of a choice regarding whether or not to declare for the draft as he did last year. If forced to stay another season at Gonzaga, he'll enter the NBA at age 23 at the minimum, which may deem him less attractive than other younger prospects, and could push his draft stock down even further.

6-9, Senior, Small Forward

Widely regarded by analysts as one of the top returning players in the SEC during the preseason, Parsons' production has declined alarmingly. A fluid and versatile 6-9 point-forward with excellent court vision, intriguing ball-handling skills and an advanced basketball IQ, Parsons looked poised to emerge as a sleeper NBA prospect with a breakout senior season.

Alas, things haven't gone quite as planned. Parsons has regressed in every statistical category, while his team has suffered surprising in-state losses to the likes of Central Florida and Jacksonville.

Something has gone terribly wrong for Parsons on the offensive end. His jump-shot seems to have completely abandoned him, as he's making only 25 percent of his three-pointers this season and is struggling to even convert free throws at this point, hitting just half of his attempts. He's gone from being extremely reliable with the ball to one of the most turnover-prone players in the NCAA as well, coughing the ball up on an incredibly high 38 percent of his possessions.

Digging into the film, Parsons' struggles appear to be mostly mental. He doesn't seem to be playing with any confidence at the moment, alternating between being extremely passive and forcing the issue badly, making some completely baffling decisions at times. One or two bad plays to start off the game are seemingly enough to completely throw him off track, and even wide-open shots with his feet set have proved to be a hit-or-miss proposition this season.

Parsons is going to have to find a way to snap out of his season-long funk, for his own sake and his team, which have fallen out of both the Top 25 polls. He's simply too talented a player to be playing as poorly as he is right now.