April 24, 2014

Class of 2014: Five-star risk factors


THE LIST: Final class of 2014 Rivals150

In the fall, I read an article by my Mike Farrell, my counterpart on the football side of Rivals.com. In the article, he wrote about the level of "risk factor" involved with each of the five-star prospects in the football rankings. Like anybody else who sees an idea they like, I've decided to borrow from Farrell and do the same for the five-stars in the final 2014 Rivals150.

Five-star players are thought to be no-brainers, but they are all rated where they are for various reasons. So, here's a look at the five-star prospects who are low, medium and high risks and why somebody who could be high risk would be ranked ahead of somebody considered a low risk. This is evaluation of prospects at the highest level, so the look at them is much more focused than it would be for players ranked lower.

Low risk

C Jahlil Okafor: The No. 1 prospect in the country and headed to Duke, Okafor seems to be a sure thing. Some say that he isn't all that athletic or that his shooting needs to improve. I don't necessarily disagree. But his overall size, great hands, good feet and ability to turn and score over either shoulder are huge. Barring a major surprise, he is one of a few players in the class of 2014 for whom college is merely a nine-month pit stop on his way to the NBA.

SF Stanley Johnson: As physically ready for the college game as any player in the class of 2014, Johnson should be able to step right in and be a regular producer at Arizona. Can he ultimately improve his perimeter game enough to play the shooting guard in the NBA? We'll see. But, there's little doubt he will make an instant impact in college.

PG Tyus Jones: Jones biggest strengths are that he keeps his head up, finds shooters and limits his mistakes. At Duke, he's going to be surrounded by shooters and a big man in Okafor, who will command attention in the paint, which should help open up the floor. He's an intelligent player getting ready to play for a team built to his strengths so it is hard to imagine it won't go well for him. Jones must get better defensively, though.

SG Rashad Vaughn: In the class of 2014, there isn't a two guard who is more adept at creating his own shot than Vaughn. He's got terrific size, is strong and has deep range on his jumper. He is also strong mentally and won't let a bad game or practice get him down. The team dynamic at UNLV is going to be really interesting. The Rebels will have heat on them to perform to their talent level and until they hit the floor you never know how the veterans will react to a young gun coming in and demanding shots.

PF Kevon Looney: The No. 10 player in the country, Looney is ready for the physical grind of college basketball. Because he's a high volume rebounder with a well-rounded offensive game, he isn't entirely dependent on being thrown the ball. He's a blue-collar guy and hard worker which bodes well for his success.

SF Justin Jackson: Jackson's lack of strength and that he is a bit of a tweener are somewhat worrisome. However, his overall skill level, feel for the game and non-stop motor (most underappreciated part of his game) will be huge assets on the college level. It will be an upset if he isn't a major part of the puzzle at North Carolina next year.

SG Isaiah Whitehead: Because of his playing style, there are going to be some nights where Whitehead really struggles from the field. But, his keep shooting attitude, physical strength and skill as a scorer on the wing will allow him to shake off rough nights quickly. He may be relied upon as heavily as any freshman in the country next year at Seton Hall but he's up to the task.

SG James Blackmon: In an ideal world, Blackmon would have a little more size or be a little more athletic. But, he has an absolute heater for a jump shot and is a very smart basketball player. Shooters like him get lots of screens and opportunities to score and it will be a bit of an upset if he doesn't score a boatload of points during his career at Indiana.

Medium risk

PG Emmanuel Mudiay: A pretty good argument could be made to put Mudiay in the low risk category. He has tremendous size, is a great athlete and has really grown to understand how to mix his scoring and playmaking. But, there is going to be a tremendous amount of pressure on him to take SMU to the next level and his jumper is just shaky enough to cause some troubles for him as he makes the adjustment from high school to college. Along with Okafor, though, he looks to be the most likely/ready to be a one and done type player if he plays to his ability.

PF Cliff Alexander: Make no mistake about it, Alexander will make an instant impact at Kansas. But, he has relied heavily on his ability to play bully ball on the high school level and it won't be quite so easy in college. The Jayhawks are known for developing their post players and how quickly Alexander expands his offensive repertoire is likely to play a large role in whether or not he can be a one and done or needs a few years in college.

SF Kelly Oubre: When Oubre has it rolling, he can pile up points as quickly as anybody in the class of 2014. He has good size, is a fine athlete, can defend and should ultimately be able to transition to the shooting guard position. On the other hand, Oubre is a very streaky player who needs to improve his consistency and shot selection. How quickly he develops his right hand will be immensely important to his development.

C Myles Turner: Already 6-foot-11, Turner doesn't seem to have finished growing. He has gotten stronger, but still needs strength and to adjust to his body. At times he is a little mechanical in his movement and he doesn't change directions or move quite as well as some other big men. The bigger concern, is that he is settling for too many jumpers. Turner is a very good shooter, but he's still 6-foot-11 and needs to be more active in the post.

SF Justise Winslow: Because he is such a terrific defender, hits the glass and attacks the rim, Winslow is pretty close to being very low risk. Duke will welcome his toughness, but he is a bit of a non-shooter by Blue Devils standards and it will be interesting to see how he fits in. He does have some Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in him, though.

PF Trey Lyles: The battle for playing time is going to be ridiculous for big men at Kentucky next year. Lyles is skilled, has gotten himself into good shape and has a balanced game between rebounding and scoring. He is a little bit more of a below the rim guy but the logjam of post players could mean it takes until year two for him to blossom. He is similar to Perry Ellis at Kansas, just a bit bigger.

SG Daniel Hamilton: A top 15 player in 2014, Hamilton is the best bad/difficult shot maker in the class. He has tremendous size for his position but lacks strength and sometimes makes things harder than they need to be.

SF Theo Pinson: Pinson should be a good defender in college and he is very athletic. He has really improved his ball handling but has a tendency to over dribble at times and his shot selection can be a little suspect. The biggest issue is that it will be tough to play he and J.P. Tokoto big minutes together until one or the other proves to be a consistent threat from deep.

SG D'Angelo Russell: Russell should finish his time at Ohio State as a guy who scores a lot of points. He is a bit of a finesse player and the transition to the rugged Big Ten could be rough until he adds more strength. He's such a natural scorer that he should figure it out sooner than later.

SF Devin Robinson: There just aren't a lot of small forwards with the size, athleticism and jump shooting that Robinson has in the college game. Sometimes, guys like him have trouble adjusting because they have to defend much smaller and quicker players. Florida has had some success with big wings over the years and that bodes well for him. Biggest factor is how quickly he adds strength and consistency.

PG Tyler Ulis: Ulis has everything that you would want in a point guard. He is confident, has the ball on a string, leads vocally and can balance scoring and playmaking. He is also very small for an elite level point guard. We've seen it work with guys like Kevin Ferrell while also seeing it go badly for guys like Ryan Harrow.

High risk

C Karl-Anthony Towns: How can the No. 5 player in the country be a high risk player you ask? Simple, it's all about approach. If Towns settles for too many deep jumpers and doesn't play from inside out, he can be easily neutralized. If he gets position and uses his vast skill and ability to score with either hand in the lane then look out.

SF Dwayne Morgan: Long term, Morgan has all the physical characteristics that you would like to see from a NBA small forward. Short term, he lacks strength, is a bit inconsistent with his jumper and he's likely going to have to play a bit of power forward in college. Finding his niche on the college level could take some time, but if the jumper comes around he becomes awfully dangerous awfully quick.

PF Chris McCullough: The Syracuse commit has big time physical tools. He can run and jump with the best of them, but his skill hasn't improved a ton over the last two years. How quickly he learns to play with the consistent effort demanded of him could will be huge in determining whether he can be an instant impact guy or will need a year or two.

SF Malik Pope: Before injuries wrecked most of his final two years of high school, Pope looked like a big time wing prospect. He has tremendous size, can shoot from deep and has uncanny balance. Fully healthy, he has tremendous tools. But, there is inevitably going to be some rust to shake off and taking minutes from Winston Shepard isn't going to be easy. Because he hasn't been able to play much, he got left out of the final rankings due to a lack of evaluations. But because of his raw talent, he deserves to be a five-star prospect.

SG JaQuan Lyle: Some like Lyle as a point guard and he has the passing instincts and ball handling ability of one. But, his size is much more suited to the two guard where he can be a real asset because of his passing and value as a secondary ball handler. Conditioning and attitude have been questions marks for Lyle in high school and he's going to play for a no BS guy in Dana Altman.

PF Isaac Copeland: A skilled four man, the North Carolina native really blossomed in his prep school year. His shooting, ability to pass out of the high post and style of play would appear to be a perfect match for Georgetown. But, how much of his play can be attributed to that extra year of high school and could be overwhelmed physically for a year or two in college?


Eric Bossi is the national basketball recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. You can click here to follow him on Twitter.




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