Gamechangers - Four Sophomores Who Put Off the NBA and Why They're Important
Marcus Smart – One of the most surprising returns to school in recent memory, Smart was truly smart to realize he still had some work to do to be NBA-ready, Top 5 pick or not. As a freshman, Smart made the Oklahoma State Cowboys his own team, and even though there were growing pains, the team had a good season. There is a good amount of returning talent, including LeBryan Nash, Phil Forte, and Markel Brown, but the Cowboys need Smart’s ability to get into the defense to help out the others. Add to that Smart’s ability to score when needed, rebound, and play physical defense, and you have a frontrunner for National Player of the Year.
Mitch McGary – His sophomore teammate Glenn Robinson III may be the more natural basketball player, but the all-around game that McGary brings is vital to John Beilein’s offense. With a new point guard, Derrick Walton Jr., taking over for Trey Burke, McGary’s ability to set screens and make plays out of the high post is going to be important until Walton settles into his role. On top of that, McGary has the ability to score around the basket and play tough defense, which will force defenders to help around the lane, leaving the shooters on the perimeter open. McGary keeps improving, and he would have been a likely first round pick last year, but he is another player better served by coming back to improve his skill-set.
Jahii Carson – There are many nationally who may not know Carson’s name yet, but they likely will learn it this season. Carson is a lightning-quick point guard who seems to have little trouble breaking any defender off the dribble. Under 6 feet tall, Carson still manages to pull off some spectacular baskets around the rim, and he seemed to become more comfortable as a distributor as the year went on. With many of last year’s contributors returning, including budding big man prospect Jordan Bachynski, this is a shot for Arizona State to firmly establish themselves among the top of the Pac-12. To do that, it is up to Carson to control the team, but more important, he needs to keep his game under control.
Isaiah Austin – Austin may have been a borderline lottery pick last season if he declared, but he would have had a lot of trouble in the NBA this year. At 7’1, Austin seems to be much more comfortable playing away from the lane area, which isn’t necessarily bad, but he needs to round out his game. Weighing only 225 pounds, Austin is pushed around easily in the post, and he needs to be much tougher to compete at the next level. Still, Austin is an important part of how far this year’s Baylor team will go, and the outlook would be much different without him. He has the ability to impact the game on both ends, and though he isn’t a real shot-blocker, his length allows him to alter plenty of shots. Pierre Jackson’s ability to defend the perimeter is gone, so expect a lot more teams to be able to get into the lane where it will be up to Austin and Cory Jefferson to protect the basket.