Listening to the hoopla surrounding this upcoming season, it’s easy for one to get caught up in the hype. If you’re old-fashioned and enjoy watching seasoned college players, it’s also understandable to resent it. However, after watching the opening week, it’s safe to say this is one of the most promising draft classes of the last 20 years. From 1-30, there’s an impact athlete capable of singlehandedly turning around a franchise.
Still, that’s not a guarantee. There’s a feeling that fans are assuming these players are going to be great before things actually play out. Being the realist that I am, I understand that potential doesn’t always pan out and only a select few players fulfill the wondrous goals prematurely lofted upon them. For every LeBron James, there’s a Kwame Brown and as unfortunate as it may sound, some of these players will be busts.
Now, there are plenty of different variations for what a bust is. To me, a “bust” is not a player who can’t play in the NBA, but one who doesn’t meet the expectations placed on him coming out of school after given time to prove his worth. Duke’s Jabari Parker has all the tools to be an All-Star in the NBA so if he’s the top overall pick and then averages 10 points per game throughout his career, he’ll be deemed a bust. In short, a player’s draft potential versus where he was picked. Typically, if a player is not projected to go in the lottery, they’re probably not expected to be a superstar in the league. However, this draft is stacked and everyone in the first round could become All-Stars so that equation is skewed.
Here are 15 players in the upcoming NBA draft that could be busts at the NBA level.
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BRANDEN DAWSON, Michigan State
For a guy coming off a torn ACL, he doesn’t look like it. The kid is as physical and high-flying as ever. However, standing at only 6-6, Dawson is an undersized small forward with a questionable shooting stroke and mediocre handle. He’ll likely play the two in the pros and if defenders pressure him off the bounce, they’ll be able to force a few turnovers. He has a strong frame and his strengths are on full display in transition and at the rim, but he’ll need to refine his perimeter game to make any splash at the next level.
JERAMI GRANT, Syracuse
Grant dropped 15 pounds because of an illness this offseason, but thanks to playing on the U19 National Team, he’s shown steady improvements on both sides of the ball. But he’s at his best on defense, using his length and nimbleness on the back end of Boeheim‘s zone to make his presence felt. He could be a great defender in college, but we won’t know until he reaches the league if that’s all his doing or if he’s just a product of the system. Grant is another player whose draft stock depends solely on his potential â€“ projected late first round â€“ but he still has a ways to go offensive to become an All-Star caliber player.
SEMAJ CHRISTON, Xavier
Christon is an exciting young player who should make noise in the Big East and on the national spotlight. But he still struggles with his left hand, which is a cardinal sin for a point guard and will certainly get exposed at the next level, and his perimeter shooting and free throws could use a tune-up. He’s best when attacking the rim, which he did effectively in a win against Tennessee on Tuesday, as he dropped 18 points on 7-for-13 from the field. But he won’t be a legitimate threat at the next level until he stretches the floor with his scoring.
Blessed with great size and as fluid of a shooting stroke as anyone in the draft, Hezonja’s problem lies in his willingness to play hard. When things aren’t working for him, you’ll know because his body language is terrible and as many players can attest to, slumps are unavoidable. He’s an isolation player who frequently settles for the pull-up jumper because of his lack of great ballhandling skills. Hezonja has also been criticized for his lack of concentration in games, and not meshing well with teammates. These are not traits that will translate well into the NBA, no matter how great of a talent you are.
SPENCER DINWIDDIE, Colorado
In the first two games of the season, Dinwiddie showed us both his strengths and flaws. In Colorado’s 91-65 win over UT Martin, the 6-6 guard had 13 points on only three shots from the field, but converted nine of his 10 free throw attempts. On Tuesday in a loss to Baylor, he had 12 points but missed 10 of his 12 shots, including 1-for-5 from three-point range. Dinwiddle is an underrated talent, but the discrepancies in those two games tell his whole story. He’s a streaky shooter who doesn’t rebound or distribute that well, and doesn’t have a decent interior game to compensate for his mediocre shot selection. He’s a player that’ll look terrible for the whole game, and then we look up at the scoreboard and he has 20-plus points. It’s not always pretty and it’s certainly not efficient, but it works. Well, at least in the college game.
LaQUINTON ROSS, Ohio State
Ross is an excellent shooter but that’s sort of the problem: he’s just a perimeter player. You can frequently find him wallowing around the three-point arc, waiting passively for a pass from the Buckeye guards instead of cutting and/or creating an open shot. He has all the athletic tools to attack the tin and be a playmaker alongside Craft but rarely does so. Ross reminds me of Rudy Gay â€“ far more athletic than his peers, but instead settles for contested jumpers and avoids the paint like the plague. To thrive in the NBA, he must work on his aggressiveness and expand his offensive game.
JAMES MICHAEL McADOO, North Carolina
I’m not sure if there’s a player who has fallen off the map from a popularity standpoint quicker than James Michael McAdoo. It wasn’t too long ago that he was heralded as the best NBA prospect in the draft. Funny thing is McAdoo quietly developed his overall game last season, averaging 14 points and seven rebounds in the process. However, most of his points came in transition as he’d make a beeline straight to the basket and finish at the rim. But he still doesn’t have an efficient post-game, and struggles with pick-and-roll. And now as the definite power forward, he’ll be able to face up and show if he has the midrange shot in his arsenal. If not, we may have seen everything McAdoo has to offer as a player.
RUSS SMITH, Louisville
The All-American guard Rick Pitino calls “Russdiculous” has been everything and more this season for Louisville, averaging 25 points thus far. He’s also seemed to shake off that “volume shooter” label that stuck with him throughout last year’s title run and his collegiate career. Smith’s problem is obviously not his production; it’s his size. At a generous 6-0 and 165 pounds, he’s an undersized guard set to enter an NBA full of taller, bigger and more athletic 1s. There’s only one recent guard at that size who’s consistently produced at such a high level in the NBA â€“ and that’s surefire first ballot Hall of Famer Allen Iverson. Smith is great, but he’s certainly not on that level and I don’t see his game translating that fluidly into the league.
ISAIAH AUSTIN, Baylor
The 7-1 sophomore center at Baylor decided to come back after a solid freshman season where he averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per game for the Bears. Austin was also named to the Wooden Award preseason Top 50, and he’s expected to be the primary scorer on that Baylor squad. He has all the intangibles to be a force in college, but he still has a lot of improvement if he wants to make a dent on the NBA stage.
Austin is gangly for a center, which occasionally leaves him vulnerable in the paint on both ends of the floor. Even with his height, stronger players can get great post position, back him down and draw fouls.
On offense, he’s tends to drift out to the key for the ball instead of using his size inside. Against South Carolina on Tuesday, Austin had 14 points, three rebounds and three steals. However, he occasionally brought the ball down to his knees allowing defenders to strip at it when he should’ve had an easy dunk at the rim. He only has seven rebounds combined in two games this season â€“ a total far too low for a player of his size. Austin is versatile, but he must develop a consistent back to the basket game and his toughness inside if he wants to truly succeed in the NBA.
WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN, Kentucky
Cauley-Stein is another 7-footer that’s projected to be a lottery pick, but he’s one of the more raw players on the board. Known for his eccentric fashion off the floor, the sophomore hasn’t done much to separate himself from his peers on the basketball court. He’s an athletic specimen for his size, and is good for a timely rebound and occasional highlight dunk. But he lacks any threatening offensive moves â€“ most of his buckets comes off second chance shots â€“ and could become a liability for Kentucky late game with his free throw shooting (40 percent career average). If he forgoes his final two years and leaves for the league this season, he’ll be a raw athlete who will need years of development before he provides any production for an organization.
JOEL EMBIID, Kansas
Easily the rawest of the list, Embiid has only been playing basketball for three years now. However, he looks every bit the part of a NBA center. He’s 7 feet tall with a 7-5 wingspan, and has quick nimble feet from his time playing soccer. Embiid has shown an ability to step outside and shoot, but it’s not to the point of consistency where it has become a threat. He can also be a bit foul-prone defensively, even though his shotblocking timing is flawless. Embiid can be the best out of these three centers, but he must continue developing his interior game and rebounding.
ANDREW HARRISON, Kentucky
Led by Archie Goodwin, the production at the point for Kentucky last season was disastrous, and Harrison â€“ a 6-5, 214-pound guard â€“ was brought in to fill that void. Harrison has great size and could be one of the most talented players in college basketball. But it’s his mentality that worries me. After a bad play, he lets it affect his defense and suddenly it becomes a domino effect. Imagine if Chris Paul notices that his opponent is sulking after a few mistakes? It’s a wrap. Harrison can overpower defenders, but on too many occasions he tries to force himself to the rim, which leads to more turnovers. Harrison is also a streaky shooter but he must learn to play off-ball especially with teams doubling, and possibly tripling, down on Julius Randle. Outside of Randle and James Young, the twins are the only other players who can create offense. And for better or worse, Kentucky’s success falls on their shoulders.
GARY HARRIS, Michigan State
I’m not sure if there’s a collegiate player who has maximized his potential as much as Gary Harris has. He’s a tenacious defender who can attack the paint, shoot the three and bang inside. Most importantly, he plays with poise. However, listed at 6-4, Harris will likely be undersized playing the two in the league next year and he lacks the overwhelming athleticism of the other lottery picks. Harris won’t play above the rim and due to his lack of quickness, he doesn’t create opportunities in the half court too often.
When he does beat his defender, he’s forced to throw up a floater around the rim instead of a dunk that a more athletic player might’ve attempted. Couple his lack of size with his tendency for getting injured, and there could be problems at the professional level.
DOUG McDERMOTT, Creighton
After watching McDermott light it up for 37 points, there’s no reason to assume he can’t do the same in the NBA. The kid shoots lights out from everywhere on the floor. But I wonder if he can create his own shot off the dribble without the help of picks and back screens. He’s a catch and shoot player who lacks explosiveness so if you chase him off his sweet spot with a more athletic forward and make him put it on the floor, he’s far less effective. Furthermore, for all his scoring production, there isn’t a solid decisive post move in his arsenal which, ironically, works for him in college. McDermott gets the ball down low and practically flails and improvises for buckets, using funny angles to convert and that doesn’t bode well in the NBA. His lack of quickness also affects his defense as well.
ANDREW WIGGINS, Kansas
Yes, even Andrew Wiggins. We all know what he can do athletically: one of the quickest first-steps in basketball, plays above the rim and is an underrated, lengthy defender. However, a few aspects of his game could hinder him from being a superstar in the league.
While he’s a menace in transition, he’s undeveloped in the half-court set and most of his points Tuesday against Duke were up against guard Tyler Thornton, whom Wiggins has a half-foot height advantage over. NBA opponents will force Wiggins to beat them in the half-court, and he’ll struggle to create his shot if he doesn’t diversify his offensive game. With his bounce, he can literally get his jump shot off against anyone he wants. But the real question is: will he convert it? He doesn’t look relaxed shooting the perimeter shot. And when he does look to attack offensively, he usually resorts back to his predictable spin move, which smart NBA players will surely catch onto.
What I see in Wiggins right now is a great athlete who happens to play basketball, not an amazing basketball player (see: Gerald Green, Travis Leslie). Indeed it’s too early to make a proclamation as to what these players are and will become. But assuming a player like Wiggins will automatically be one of the best based off his potential instead of focusing on the clear-cut facts currently in front of us is erroneous. Wiggins could be an all-time great but just like everyone else, he must improve on his game.
Which players would you shy away from in the draft?
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