#1 Kentucky versus #2 Michigan State AND #4 Duke against #5 Kansas? In the same venue? No wonder there were approximately 384,571 NBA scouts at the United Center Tuesday night for the Champions Classic. In total there were about thirteen possible 2014 NBA Draft lottery picks playing in the two games. No, seriously.
Here is a breakdown of who stood out and who struggled in Michigan State’s 78-74 victory against Kentucky, and how that might help or hurt their draft status early in this season. Click here for my analysis of the prospects in the Duke/Kansas game and here’s a look at my very early 2014 NBA Mock Draft.
Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State, Soph.
As I dissected in this article, a healthy Harris is poised for a monster sophomore season. He showed off his all-around game Tuesday night by attacking the tin, using a floater to finish over the taller UK frontcourt, and really getting after it on the defensive end. He is the best shooting guard prospect in the 2014 NBA Draft class and should be a top ten pick.
James Young, SG, Kentucky, Fr.
Man, do I like Young. He reminds me a little bit of James Harden with that smooth lefty stroke and the way he cradles then ball when attacking the basket. Even though he finished 3-11 from downtown, Young scored 19 on the night and has played way better than either of his backcourt mates so far. I thought he might get lost in the shuffle on this Wildcat team due to all the talent around him but he really is Kentucky’s only true three-point threat. The lottery is calling his name if he declares after this season.
Keith Appling, PG, Michigan State, Sr.
Outside of Randle, Appling had the best performance of the night stuffing the stat sheet with 22 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds, and 4 steals. He is often overlooked for Sparty since Harris and Payne receive most of their attention but is a fearless point guard who wasn’t afraid to attack the tin against the loaded Wildcats. His shot selection was on point for the most part as was his decision-making which have been two question marks during his career. If is a trend this season, he could be a solid second round selection.
Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky, Fr.
In the first half, Randle was pretty worthless. He was either passive or tried to force the issue and wasn’t establishing position on the block which pushed him out to the perimeter where he was settling for jump shots which is not his strength. Like he played in Kentucky’s first two games though, the 6-9 lefty was beastly during the final twenty minutes where he scored 23 of his 27 points. He came out after the half extremely aggressive using his strength, quickness, and touch around the basket to control the block and got Payne into foul trouble. Randle is an elite rebounder and we saw in the second half why he will be in the running for the top overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Adriean Payne, PF, Michigan State, Sr.
The Spartan senior won the battle versus Randle in the first half as he showed off his versatility on the offensive end and used his length defensively to bother the Wildcat freshman. It was a different story in the second half though as Randle muscled him around inside while holding Payne to zero field goals and just three points off free throws after the break as he was saddled with four fouls. Payne could have made a major jump if he finished the game like he started but is still a mid-late first round prospect.
Andrew Harrison, PG, Kentucky, Fr.
After a pretty underwhelming first twenty minutes, Harrison came to life a bit in the second half. You have to remember that this was only his third collegiate game and he was going against a veteran Spartan squad so it is natural to look a bit lost at times or make poor decisions. Based on his size and athleticism, Andrew is a lottery pick next June but he needs to steadily mature throughout the season if he wants to ensure his status as a top ten pick.
Alex Poythress, SF, Kentucky, Soph.
Since the UK veteran (yes, as a sophomore, he is a vet for Kentucky) is surrounded by so much talent, it is evident that Poythress will be a valuable glue guy for John Calipari as the team’s sixth man. He seems to be embracing that role as he grabbed 12 rebounds while scoring just seven points on 2-6 shooting. His aggressiveness stood out Tuesday night as he used his strong body to crash the boards and didn’t force the issue on the offensive end like he often did a year ago. His new role might hurt his draft stock a bit but he still has first round talent when it is all said and done.
Branden Dawson, SF, Michigan State, Jr.
Dawson spent most of last season recovering from injury but definitely seems to have the bounce back in his step. Like Poythress for Kentucky, Dawson will be Sparty’s glue guy this year since he can affect the game in numerous ways without having to score. He was forced to play quite a bit of power forward due to Payne’s foul trouble and handled his own for the most part against Randle. Dawson also took it at Randle a few times offensively and showed his aggressiveness on the glass. I’m not sure he is a first rounder but seeing him back to his old self definitely is an encouraging sign for his NBA potential.
Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky, Soph.
I have been disappointed with the lack of development in Cauley-Stein’s offensive game. He is still very limited on the offensive end to the point where unless his hands are on the rim, it is probably a bad shot (like that lefty hook shot he terribly airballed in the second half.) Yes, WC-S has the height, length, and athleticism to intrigue NBA scouts but even his effort seemed to be dragging a bit Tuesday night. In my opinion, he went from a mid-lottery prospect to more of a late-lottery prospect after the Champions Classic.
Aaron Harrison, SG, Kentucky, Fr.
3 points on 1-7 shooting? Ish. He forced some shots, made some bad decisions with the ball, and never got into a flow offensively Tuesday night. Outside of his struggles offensively, Aaron didn’t compete all that hard on the defensive end as he was often abused by Harris. We are only three games into his college career but so far, I haven’t been that impressed by Aaron at all.
Dakari Johnson, C, Kentucky, Fr.
While loaded with size and potential, it looks like Johnson is going to be a work in progress for Kentucky this season. His all-around game clearly needs fine tuning and that should come with time. He would easily be a first round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft based on upside alone but I’m guessing he will need to stay in school so he can become a more dominant inside presence before making the leap to the league.
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities. David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu to Milwaukee. He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft and the most accurate 2012 NBA Mock Draft on the internet , AND the second most accurate 2013 NBA Mock Draft. (Yup, nearly 3peat champ… #humblebrag.)
You can follow him on Twitter at David_Kmiecik.