The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Julius Randle is averaging 18.1 points and 12.5 rebounds for Kentucky.
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Chris Mannix's NBA Draft Big Board
6-foot-9, 250 pounds
The elevation of Randle is no knock on Wiggins, who remains a tantalizing talent who could easily slide back into the No. 1 spot over the next few months. But NBA scouts have gushed about the inside-out play of Randle, a prototypical power forward who creates mismatches all over the floor. With dozens of NBA scouts in attendance for Kentucky’s game against Michigan State last month, Randle scored 27 points (on 9-of-14 shooting) and pulled down 13 rebounds. Said one NBA GM in attendance, “This kid is a beast.”
Wiggins has had some big games -- most notably a 22-point, eight-rebound effort against Duke last month -- but he has also submitted a couple of clunkers, including a six-point (on 2-of-9 shooting) output against UTEP on Nov. 30. Wiggins’ play was largely lackluster throughout the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, where he averaged 11 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and two turnovers in three games. Scouts aren't down on Wiggins, but most would like to see more consistency.
Parker has lived up to his reputation as a scorer, pumping in at least 19 points in every game. Parker has been surprisingly efficient from both inside the three-point line -- “He can be a beast in the post,” a Western Conference GM said -- and out (see above), while surprising a few scouts with his athleticism. It’s too soon to elevate Parker to No. 1 -- there is still some uncertainty about his NBA position -- but early on he has exceeded even the highest expectations.
Australia, 18 years old
Quick self-promotion: You can read more about Exum in my profile of him in this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated. The future Aussie import -- who is in the process of interviewing agents and is a virtual lock to enter the 2014 draft -- has breathtaking potential. He is explosive off the dribble and has improved his jump shot considerably over the last year. Draft analyst Fran Fraschilla told SI.com that he sees some young Michael Jordan in Exum, who will make a decision on his future in January or February.
Oklahoma State, Sophomore
When asked about Smart, one assistant GM said he would take him over everyone but Wiggins. Not everyone is as bullish on Smart, but all have been impressed. Smart’s has improved his field-goal percentage (40.4 to 46.0) and three-point percentage (29.0 to 34.0) from last season, while raising his scoring average from 15.4 to 20.5. If Smart can add a consistent perimeter shot to his NBA-ready body and skills off the dribble while playing a position most NBA teams have deemed the most important on the floor, he could be in play for the No. 1 pick.
NBA scouts come to see Wiggins and leave raving about Embiid. The center’s 16-point, 13-rebound effort in Kansas' win over Iona last month was impressive, as was a solid effort at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Embiid won’t put up monstrous numbers on Kansas' star-studded roster, but his raw talent has already made a strong impression on NBA scouts.
Michigan State, Sophomore
Injuries plagued Harris last season and a lingering ankle injury has bothered him this season, likely contributing to his dismal three-point shooting (27.6 percent). Harris' high ranking here has more to do with league executives being convinced that, when healthy, Harris is a starting-caliber two-guard with an NBA three-point shot. It helps that Harris' best game of the season was his most high profile: a 20-point effort against Kentucky last month.
Welcome to the Big Board, Noah Vonleh, who has posted double-doubles in five games this season and contributed 17 points and six rebounds in a loss to Syracuse on Tuesday. Vonleh, predictably, is raw, but scouts see potential as a low-post player. Couple that with good rebounding skills that complement physical defense, and Vonleh ranks as this draft’s fastest riser.
The things we knew about Gordon -- he’s a freak athlete in the mold of Blake Griffin and an excellent finisher -- we still know. And the things we didn’t -- certainty about his position, consistency with his jump shot -- we still don’t, despite Gordon’s 6-of-12 shooting from three-point range this season. Gordon showcased high-level defense against Parker and Duke last week and has the physical tools to be a quality defender at either forward spot.
Harrison has not become an instant star as many expected. Which isn’t to say he hasn’t been solid. Harrison has been decent from the field and the three-point line, while getting to the free-throw line nearly six times per game. NBA scouts remain enamored with Harrison’s size and explosiveness for his position. “He looks like he is battling,” a general manager said. “But John Calipari knows what he is doing out there. Once he fully grasps that offense, I bet he takes off.” One area scouts would like to see Harrison improve: his assists (3.4) compared to his turnovers (2.4).
Croatia, 19 years old
Playing in the Adriatic League -- described by one assistant GM as “solid, high college-level” basketball -- Saric is averaging a team-high 13.1 points on 59.2 percent shooting. Two executives who have seen Saric call him a lottery lock, with Saric’s playmaking and ability to score off the dribble continuing to be his best assets. His three-point shot still needs improvement: Saric shot only 28.6 percent from deep in his first 10 games.
Harrell has taken advantage of consistent playing time. A physical specimen, Harrell is a strong rebounder who has been able to outmuscle opponents in the paint. There’s not much polish to his offensive game, and scouts will be keeping a close on how he develops. Still, even if he is the same player the rest of the season, Harrell will be a lottery pick.
Cauley-Stein is what he is: an athletic 7-footer who can protect the paint on one end and catch and finish on the other. There is probably a ceiling to Cauley-Stein; he hasn’t developed much offense outside of the paint, and in Kentucky’s system probably never will. But his athleticism and willingness to run the floor recall a bigger version of Kenyon Martin. Most teams would be satisfied with that.
Hood -- a Mississippi State transfer who sat out last season -- has wasted no time establishing himself as one of the best small forwards in the country. He has been electric from the perimeter (his strength at Mississippi State) and scouts love his ability to catch and shoot and willingness to pump-fake and step inside the arc for two-point jump shots. At 21, Hood’s age works against him with NBA executives obsessed with teenagers. But this type of shooter will be tough to pass up.
Arizona State, Sophomore
After flirting with entering the draft last season, Carson’s decision to return has been rewarded. His numbers are up across the board, including his three-point percentage, which has risen from 32 percent to 51.5 percent (17-of-33). Carson’s size will always be an issue, but his explosive offensive ability -- including a 40-point outburst against UNLV -- conjures up memories of Nate Robinson.
Selden, who replaced Ben McLemore in the Jayhawks' lineup, has excellent size and plays a physical brand of basketball. Though not the shooter or athlete McLemore was at KU, Selden loves to play through contact and is a superior finisher. His perimeter game is a work in progress; as it improves, so will Selden’s stock.
McDermott is a polarizing prospect. To some scouts, he is a slow, undersized power forward who looks like the second coming of Adam Morrison. To others, his three-point shooting -- he has shot above 40 percent in each of his four seasons at Creighton -- and consistent production will make him a valuable NBA role player. A Matt Bonner-type. Truth is, McDermott’s stock is unlikely to fluctuate much this season. At this point, NBA executives either believe in him or they don’t.
A lower-back injury kept McGary out for the first two games of Michigan’s season, and the rust of not playing clearly showed in the first month of play. But there are signs that McGary is shaking it off. He posted 14 points and 12 rebounds in an overtime win against Florida State two weeks ago, and on Tuesday he finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds in a loss to Duke. For now, McGary slips a little on the Big Board. But as he gets healthier, his production -- and draft stock -- should keep improving.
Michigan State, Senior
Like teammate Gary Harris, Payne opted to return to Michigan State for another season. And it looks like a smart move. Payne has showcased serious perimeter skills this season, particularly from beyond the arc, where he has already made 12 threes (in 25 attempts) after hitting a combined 17 in his first three years. Those skills complement an already solid inside game, highlighted by Payne’s ability to play through contact. With a 7-foot wingspan, Payne has the physical tools to be a terrific defender, too. He could rise into the lottery range.
Glenn Robinson III
Let’s not sugarcoat it: Robinson has been a big disappointment. His shooting has plummeted to 41.3 percent overall and 25 percent from three-point range, and he has yet to surpass 15 points in a game. In a marquee game against Duke this week, Robinson totaled just eight points in 34 minutes. With Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. off to the NBA, Robinson was expected to produce more. He can’t afford another month like the last one.
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