The Road to the 2014 NBA Draft - Sophomores Part 3

5 days into the new college basketball season and I am at the 2nd to last group of sophomore prospects to add to the early Draft Watch List.  We’ve already seen some of these players in the new season, but it will have little effect on their overall preview.

These are not meant to replace scouting reports, which will come out during the season.  These are not all-inclusive and just meant as a brief primer for those who want to track draft prospects throughout the season.  These are also not in any particular order other than who I choose to write about each post.


Gary Harris, Michigan State, Guard, 6’4, 210

(2012-13) 12.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 45.6 FG%, 75.3 FT%, 41.1 3FG%

Harris battled through shoulder problems last season to still be selected the Big 10 Freshman of the Year. Now at 100 percent, Harris should show a lot more of what he’s capable of. Harris doesn’t have great speed, but moves very well, and is solidly built.  He is a good perimeter shooter off of both the catch and the dribble, and has a quick, high release with an ability to square to the basket quickly. He handles the ball well with both hands and can attack the basket from any spot on the perimeter. Harris moves well without the ball and knows how to come off screens in position to shoot or make a quick move to the basket. In transition, Harris is can push the ball up-court himself or run one of the wings, where he is capable of spotting up for the deep jumper or heading straight to the basket. Defensively, Harris positions himself well and is capable of being a good on and off-ball defender. He closes well on perimeter shooters and has gotten much better at getting over the top of screens.    

What he needs to show this season:  Harris has looked more aggressive early this season, but he will need to be consistent with this. As mentioned, he comes well of screens, but he needs to do it well consistently. The rest of his offensive game is about polishing his game – becoming better with his left hand, working on his first step, and using his dribble to set up his jumper cleaner. On defense, Harris has shown better lateral movement already this year, but still can be slow to anticipate his man’s movements and react. It would be good to see Harris look to get involved in more rebounding, and at least making sure to put a body on his man out on the perimeter.  


Alex Poythress, Kentucky, Forward, 6’8, 239

(2012-13) 11.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 58.1 FG%, 68.9 FT%, 42.4 3FG%

In many ways, Poythress’ season mirrored that of Kentucky’s. A strong start but ending in complete confusion. Poythress is strong and athletic, and should have the ability to create mismatches. He uses his body well to post up on the low blocks and he has the footwork to make a quick move to the basket and he has the strength to finish through contact. He has shown that he can make a move over either shoulder and finish with either hand around the basket. Poythress is an average ballhandler, though not very good with his left over longer stretches, and is capable of using his dribble to get by the defender and to the basket.  Once around the basket, he is a quick leaper who is capable of finishing above the rim. Poythress also uses his quick leaping ability to crash the offensive boards, both around the basket or charging in from the perimeter. He runs the floor well in transition and can get to the basket off the dribble or run for the rim and catch a lob. Defensively, Poythress’ strength and athletic ability allow him to guard multiple positions. He is also capable of being a strong rebounder on the defensive end, with the ability to grab the rebound and start the team in transition.    

What he needs to show this season:  A combination of loss of confidence and lack of understanding of the game made Poythress’ season difficult. On offense, there were many times where he just didn’t know where he should be and if/when to make to a move.  Poythress is a decent perimeter shooter, though he is much better when he just catches the ball, squares up right away and shoots. Once he hesitates, he becomes unsure of his shot, and will either take a bad one or pass it.  As the season wore on, he started passing up more and more good looks. It is important that he get his confidence back in his jumper and work on expanding his range.  Also, Poythress has to do a better job reading the defense and not forcing the ball into traffic, as well as working on becoming more comfortable going to his left. Poythress has the tools to be a solid defender, but he has to work on his lateral movement. Instead of a smooth movement, he seems to hop as he follows his man, leaving him to be beat off the dribble in either direction. Also, he has a tendency to use his hands too much when he is defending, both in the post and on the perimeter, and he is too quick to bite on shot fakes. All of this leads to too many unnecessary fouls. Off the ball, Poythress needs to work on his awareness; he becomes fixated on either his man or the ball, but can’t seem to handle doing both well.          


Mitch McGary, Michigan, Forward, 6’10, 255

(2012-13, 19.7 mpg) 7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 59.8 FG%, 44.2 FT%

McGary was given consistent minutes in the NCAA Tournament and parlayed it into arguably being the breakout player of March. Strong bodied and an efficient scorer around the basket, McGary relies more on toughness and fundamentals than athletic ability. Though not shown in stats, McGary’s biggest role on last year’s Michigan team was as a high screener, and he is very good at it, setting strong screens and having a good understanding of the pick-and-roll game. He is also able to facilitate the offense out of the high post, having average vision and capable of making good passes. McGary is a strong rebounder on both ends of the floor, using his body well to box out and going strong after the ball. On defense, McGary defends well in the post, using his body well to force his man off the blocks and moving his feet well for his size. He also denies the post well and can use his reach to steal or deflect post-entry passes.

What he needs to show this season: McGary’s NCAA Tournament play may just be the surface of what he is capable of, but he still has a lot of areas of his game which need work. The Michigan offense didn’t give him many opportunities to show his skills in the low blocks with his back to the basket, but even when it did, he was slow to get into his moves and had trouble getting clean shots off against similar-sized players. He showed the ability to drive the ball from the high post to the basket, but everything he does goes to his strong side, the left. He needs to show that he can handle the ball well with his right hand, as well as finish at least around the rim with it. McGary’s free-throw shooting percentage is not indicative of his ability to shoot, as he just didn’t get there that much. He has a good stroke from the line, and hopefully increased touches this year will allow him to get more chances at the line. Hopefully, he has also developed more confidence in his mid-range jumper, as he could be a threat from the high post, or facing-up out of the low post. On defense, McGary is much better on the ball than he is off of it, and he can get too wrapped up in focusing on his man and miss the action near him with the ball. Because of this, he can be slow to react in help situations in the lane, leaving him to allow a score or pick-up a foul. Also, McGary has a bad tendency to fall for shot fakes on the perimeter against guys who aren’t really threats from there.


JaKarr Sampson, St. John’s, Forward, 6’9, 214

(2012-13) 14.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.1 spg, 44.9 FG%, 64.0 FT%

Sampson is lanky and athletic, though he already appears stronger this year than last. Sampson is a threat to score from anywhere inside the 3-point line. He is capable of knocking down the mid-range jumper off the catch or the dribble, and he uses a variety of moves to create space for his shot once he catches the ball. Sampson has also developed a reliable step-back jumper which is tough for defenders to stop. He is a good ballhandler for his size and can beat bigger defenders off the dribble with a good first step. Sampson is good on the offensive boards, especially getting up quickly to corral his own misses around the basket. He is a quick leaper, and can finish above the rim with ease, both in halfcourt sets or in transition. Sampson uses his athleticism well on the defensive end, and he is capable of guarding multiple positions. He positions himself well on the ball, and his length can be disruptive to passing lanes. When in position, Sampson can be a strong shot-blocker, though this hasn’t been the case often.    

What he needs to show this season:  Like many of his teammates, shot selection can be one of Sampson’s biggest weaknesses heading into this season. With his athletic ability and skill, he should look to attack the basket more, but he relied on taking too many 15-18 foot shots. When he gets square to the basket, he has a very nice jumper, but when he is rushed, he gets a hitch in his release which forces the ball to come out flat off his hand. Added strength this year should help him if he looks to get to the basket more. Also, he needs to work on moving without the ball on offense, as he seems to just go through the motions, especially when using screens. While he is a good ballhandler for his size, he is much better with his right hand, and he can be careless with the ball when he goes left, leaving the ball exposed to help defenders. I also would like to see him be able to finish around the basket with his left hand when he drives instead of forcing it to the right, even when that’s where the defense is. Defensively, he plays well on the perimeter for his size, but he needs to work on lateral movement, which breaks down after a few steps. Sampson relies more on athleticism than technique when rebounding, so he should work on being able to box out effectively, then going after the ball. His awareness on defense is below average, especially off the ball, and he needs to work on seeing where the ball is moving and where and when he is in position to help.   


Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona, Center, 7’0, 235

(2012-13, 22.0 mpg) 6.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 0.7 bpg, 53.8 FG%, 50.8 FT%

Tarczewski was one of 3 heralded freshmen big-men in Arizona’s class last year, but he was probably the least developed of the group. He has great size and moves well for a 7-footer. He is more skilled on the offensive end then on defense. Tarczewski has shown nice touch around the basket and by the end of last season had developed a good move or two with his back to the basket, along with the ability to hit shots out to 8-10 feet. He has a good nose for the ball and looks to get into position quickly for offensive rebounds. Tarczewski does a good job drawing contact around the basket, and he has a good enough free throw stroke that his percentage should get better with more shots. On defense, Tarczewski uses his athleticism well to challenge shots around the basket and he goes strong after missed shots. He improved both his perimeter and post defense as the year went on, but he still has a lot of work to do (see below).     

What he needs to show this season:  Tarczewski’s development will likely be much slower than a lot of big prospects primarily because the Arizona offense doesn’t feature real post play. Getting stronger should be one of Tarczewski’s biggest goals. He needs to work on using his body better to get position in the post, and continue to develop his footwork and post moves on both sides of the basket and over both shoulders. Along with this, he should also work on finishing with either hand around the rim. Once he adds more strength, he should be able to get good shots off around the basket, even in traffic. While he seems to know what to do in pick-and-roll situations, he needs to work on setting better screens and opening up quicker to the ball.  On the defensive side, his defense on high screens needs to improve, especially showing that he can hedge out on the ballhandler and recover. Last year, he would just drop off the screen and give the ballhandler space. He needs to work on his understanding of off-ball defense, meaning knowing where to be positioned so he can help around the basket and getting to spots before he picks up fouls. Tarczewski has potential to be a good rim-protector, but he seems to be always just a bit behind the shooter and late to the ball.    


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