Matching the hype - The challenges facing star freshmen
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas – The most heralded teenager since Lebron James, Wiggins has handled the spotlight as well as can be expected. Athletic with skills that are still developing, Wiggins will be the centerpiece of the Jayhawks’ offense, but I think expectations that he will be the best player in college basketball next year are overreaching. First, he needs to go out and want to prove himself to be better than everyone else every night. Kansas had issues last season with Ben McLemore deferring too much, but that was a senior-laden team. Wiggins has a chance to put his mark on this team from Day 1 and establish it as his. Second, His skill-set still needs to develop as he adjusts to better defenders. Understanding shot selection, recognizing defenses, and moving without the ball, will all be integral to Wiggins’ development continuing as it should.
Jabari Parker, Duke – Arguably the most skilled of the freshmen, Parker will provide Duke with a versatile scorer who has a great understanding of the game for his age. Parker’s biggest challenge will be realizing that he won’t have the mismatches he did in high school. Coach K will obviously do all he can to put him in position to make the most of his talents, but Parker will need to have a better understanding of what the defense is doing and how to attack them. Also, Parker isn’t a good defender, so I am guessing a lot of his learning focus will be on playing defense the way Duke players are expected to.
Julius Randle, Kentucky – Much of Randle’s game, especially on offense, has a very pro feel to it. He is able to score in both the post and from the perimeter, and he has the body and athleticism to play either forward position. The spacing in John Calipari’s offense will allow Randle to take advantage of various match-ups and having a talented point guard in Andrew Harrison should get him plenty of good looks. Randle’s challenge will be continuing to hone his skills so they match his NBA-ready body. He is just an okay shooter, and while he may have physical mismatches in college, he won’t have them in the NBA, so he will need to build the skills to allow him to match up.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona – A freakish athlete who never seems to stop working, Gordon will give Arizona a potential force on both ends of the floor. He is strong on the boards and he runs the floor very well for his size, allowing him to get easy baskets, and some spectacular dunks, in transition. Gordon’s future is not at the 3, but he really isn’t skilled enough yet to play it at a high level. Add that to the fact that Arizona would be best suited having him play the 4 he has always played, leaves Gordon is a tough spot for his continued development. Hopefully, Sean Miller gives him time at the 3 as he builds the ballhandling and shooting to go with the position.
As you can see, while each player’s challenges are unique in a way, they have many common themes. They need to continue to develop more fully as players, while also trying to fit into new situations. Making the NBA is expected from all four of these guys, but the impact they have quickly can be affected by what happens for them in the next year. Expectations will remain high though and each has the chance to be a special player.