Andrew Wiggins - Kansas, Freshman, Guard
I’ve held off on featuring touted the projected NBA No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins until this point, because I needed to see more than one game from him. He’s been a bit of a rollercoaster already early on this season, but now he’s had 11 games under his belt there is enough evidence to suggest that while he is still a top three pick, I wouldn’t take him first overall.
After their junior years in high school, the consensus No. 1 recruit was Jabari Parker. But then the summer camps happened, and we saw the emergence of Andrew Wiggins, and he took over the top spot. I think Parker is still the best overall player and prospect among this year’s freshman, and I think he’s the top pick in the draft. But any growing pains we are seeing from Wiggins seem to be working themselves out. I would take him second or third, depending on what your team needs.
Wiggins is supremely talented. There is no doubt about that. I think my issue is, at times, he doesn’t realize he’s the best player on the court. He could easily take the game over. Take the Florida game for example: 7 of 15 from the field, 26 points, 37 minutes played. And that includes a 4 for 9 shooting night from beyond the arc. That is a game changer.
When you have someone of his size (6-8, 200) that can shoot the ball, it creates a bad matchup. Chances are, a player on your team who’s rangy enough to guard him, doesn’t have his quickness. And if he has his quickness, he’s not rangy enough. Some of the early, early returns on Wiggins compared him to Kevin Durant. I don’t think he’ll ever be the consistent scorer that Durant is, but the comparison, on a smaller scale, can be made.
But then you see a game from Wiggins like the one against Georgetown. Admittedly, the Hoyas aren’t as good as they have been in the past, and Kansas rolled past them, but watching the second half, Wiggins seemed to be coasting. His stat line showed that lackadaisical effort: 3 of 10, 12 points.
Wiggins is still growing, physically and mentally. He’ll develop some of the in-game awareness as this season goes on. He is an excellent on-ball defender. He seems to really relish that role, as well, which is a rarity in today’s game where most players really only want to showcase their offensive skills. In the game vs. Duke, he switched, without being told, to guard Jabari Parker in the second half. And Wiggins used that to fuel him on the other end, scoring 16 of his 22 in the second half.
He’s also a skilled passer, and has pretty good court vision for a freshman. So instead of Kevin Durant, let’s look at Wiggins as Paul George, especially George in college. Didn’t light it up, but you saw the raw talent of what could be. And I think many of the nine teams who passed on George in the 2010 NBA draft, would like to re-do their pick.
Joel Embiid - Kansas, Freshman, Center
I had a conversation right at the start of the season with someone with more NBA knowledge than college and he told me that he’d heard from several GMs, scouts and coaches that Wiggins wasn’t even the best prospect on the Kansas team. I’ll admit that I took it with a grain of salt. I mean, has the guy seen Wiggins? But after 11 games into the Jayhawks' season, I see what and who he’s talking about.
Joel Embiid is the engine that makes the Kansas team go. And if they are the ones cutting down the nets in early April, I suspect that Embiid will have played a prominent role. The book was still unfinished on Embiid because there wasn’t much to write. Here’s a guy who’s only played organized basketball for three seasons. He’s from Cameroon, and grew up playing volleyball and soccer. Then at age 16, he was introduced to the sport more formally at Luc Richard Mbah, a Moute’s basketball camp in Cameroon. And a star was born.
He moved to the U.S. shortly thereafter and took up basketball in earnest. I recently read an article on how Kansas practices, and the reporter wanted to know if Wiggins has ever taken on Embiid. Wiggins response: No. But it wasn’t just the 6-8 vs. 7-0 height difference. It’s that he does so many different things, from post moves, to a step out 15-foot jumper. Wiggins didn’t want to get frustrated in practice. Now, it was mostly in jest, but the note about the offensive game for Embiid is no joke.
In the Georgetown game, he was a perfect 4 for 4 from the field, for 17 points. For his size (7-0, 250) he moves around in the paint quite well. He had a “dream shake” move in the game vs. New Mexico eerily reminiscent of its originator. Embiid is shooting 71 percent from the field on two-point shots (yes, the 7-footer has taken two threes), and 68 percent overall.
He’s expanded his low post game with a solid 15 footer. All of this tells me two things: 1) He knows his role and excels in it. 2) You can teach him new offensive skills and he excels in them, both highly desirable skills. Embiid is a raw talent, but the ceiling on him is very high. I would absolutely spend a top-five pick on him.
Next up for Wiggins, Embiid and Kansas: Toledo on Dec. 30. Next big test: Oklahoma State on Jan. 18.
Wilie Cauley-Stein - Kentucky , Sophomore, Center
If you’ve read this prospect watch before, you know I tend to watch a lot of Kentucky basketball games. As such, I am generally harder on those players, since I have seen them the most. Willie Cauley-Stein, or WCS, is one of those players. Admittedly, I didn’t expect too much from him this year, know his role, come off the bench, give solid minutes, sit back down. I was wrong. This guy has grown so much in the offseason.
He’s become a real presence in the low post, on both ends of the court, and defensively, his shot blocking rivals that of Nerlens Noel and Anthony Davis. After Kentucky’s game with top 10 Louisville Saturday, WCS has 53 blocks this year. We haven’t gotten into the heart of the season, so Anthony Davis’ school record of 106 blocked shots in a single-season could be in jeopardy.
But WCS has developed into much more than just a blocking machine. He has acquired a maturity that he didn’t have last year, and that’s shown in how he’ll pass the ball back outside if he’s doubled in the post. He’ll recognize the tempo of the game, rather than just reacting to the moment and throwing up an ill-advised shot. Now, don’t get me wrong, Cauley-Stein doesn’t have the scoring range of some big men out there, but when you have a guy who’s averaging over four blocks a game? I’ll take that over averaging 15 points a game from my big man.
Through 13 games, he’s averaging nearly nine points and eight rebounds. He’s been matched up with the big men from Baylor and from Louisville and has held his own. Cauley-Stein has good awareness for the ball, and because of his size, he gets himself plenty of opportunities for put back dunks and tip-ins. In watching him around the rim, you can see the big man’s soft hands and I think he’s got the potential to improve his scoring, displaying solid touch.
The more we see of Willie Cauley-Stein, the more his draft stock will rise. The Sixers of course, don’t really need WCS, but I'll look for him to be a lottery pick elsewhere. Side note: WCS actually played wide receiver in high school. It’s worth a look on the Internet to see that 7-foot frame catching touchdowns in high school. Secondary units must have had nightmares about facing him.
Next up for Willie Cauley-Stein and Kentucky: Jan. 8 vs. Mississippi State. Next tough test: Missouri on Feb. 1.