With the changes made to the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement over the last few years, evaluating talent and making smart draft picks are more crucial than ever — especially for teams consistently over the luxury tax threshold.
The scouting of prospects begins as early as middle school these days. With the numerous tournaments, events, combines and workouts that players go through during their path to the league, GMs have all of the information they need on a player heading into the draft. But even with the surplus of information, there is still no bulletproof way of determining whether a player’s game or mental make-up will translate at the next level.
Most players are drafted based on potential. Some players have the potential and talent to be All Stars if everything goes correctly. On the opposite end of the spectrum, those same players often have "bust" potential. Below is our list of "boom or bust" players in this year’s draft, as they could become All Stars, but could just as easily be out of the league in 2-3 years.
Nerlens Noel – Kentucky
There is no denying what Noel brings to the table as a shot blocker. He has elite-level athleticism and worlds of potential. But all of those things were true pre-injury. ACLs can be hit-or-miss in terms of fully recovering, similar to Tommy John surgery in baseball.
Often, a player can come back from both injuries and be the player he was, but some players never fully recover the explosiveness they once had. Aside from the questions surrounding his injury, Noel showed very little in the way of a post game during his one year in Lexington. He gets most of his points off of putbacks and lobs. He lacks a reliable jump shot from anywhere on the floor, isn’t a good free throw shooter and weighs just over 200 pounds soaking wet.
A number of teams have dropped him on their big boards recently, mainly due to his injury and strength concerns, but there are other question marks surrounding his game for a guy who is considered one of the top players in a draft. The one elite skill Noel can hang his hat on is his potential as a game-changing rim protector, if he returns to form athletically and can add some strength to his frame.
Michael Carter-Williams – Syracuse
Carter-Williams has a tantalizing combination of passing ability, size and athleticism. But in today’s NBA, there just isn’t that much room to maneuver for point guards who can’t shoot the rock; the most glaring weakness about his game.
He doesn’t necessarily have bad form or any sort of hitch. That just isn’t his game. He is a pass-first guy who likes to use his size and speed with the ball to get into the lane and set up his teammates.
The problem is going to be when teams back off of him and force him to shoot the ball, which is something he didn’t seem comfortable doing while at Syracuse. He is turnover prone and can play out of control at times. He is getting looks from lottery teams, such as the Suns, Kings, Pistons and Jazz. These franchises desperately need a point guard, but his risks far outweigh his upside that early in the first round.
There is a lot of talk about how the Syracuse system (both on offense and defense) hides inefficiencies and makes players look better than they really are. I believe that to be true in Carter-Williams’ case. But for a team willing to roll the dice, MCW could end up proving all of his critics, this site included, wrong.
Shabazz Muhammad – UCLA
‘Bazz has all of the physical tools needed to become a very good NBA player, but with Muhammad, it is more about what’s above the shoulders than below them. This is a player that spent two years at the top of his class in high school. He has two traits that NBA teams seem to shy away from — an occasionally poor attitude and off-court baggage.
His early-season suspension raised some concerns — but more than that, it was his on-court body language that sticks in the minds of a lot of people. There is no doubt that he wants the ball in his hands and wants to be in the spotlight, but that isn’t going to happen overnight. There is no place for entitlement in the NBA. Shabazz could end up being an All Star one day. He has the talent and skill-set to put up big numbers in the league for years to come, but he has to understand that he will need to work hard to earn his playing time wherever he goes. It isn’t always going to be about him.
CJ Leslie – NC State
Calvin Leslie has been an enigma for much of his college career. Aside from a 10-game stretch at the end of his sophomore season, Leslie’s career in Raleigh was marked by wildly inconsistent play all the way around.
Leslie is arguably the best athlete in this draft and has every physical tool necessary to become an All Star at the next level. When he plays within himself, allows the game to come to him and doesn’t try to make the highlight reel play, Leslie is one of the draft’s top talents. The problem is that he only rarely plays like that.
Most of the time, Leslie is either disinterested, playing out of control or trying to be something he’s not. He reminds me a lot of Josh Smith in that regard. He can alternate between the best player on the floor and the worst, sometimes within the same handful of possessions. Leslie won’t be taken in the first round because of his inconsistencies, but he might be a steal for any team that takes him in the second round, as long as that team can figure out how to motivate him on a nightly basis.
Archie Goodwin – Kentucky
Goodwin is one of those prospects who needed to return to school for another season. There is no doubting his NBA-level athleticism, but there are simply too many holes in his game right now. These holes are pushing him to the mid-second round, even in a weak draft.
After a game in November, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski called him one of the best athletes in college basketball. You don’t get those kinds of compliments from Coach K without being talented. But at the same time, Goodwin struggles mightily with his jump shot and can be one of the more frustrating players to watch. He gets himself into trouble by trying to do too much and he doesn’t really have a position. He isn’t a pure point guard, but he also struggles playing off the ball. His maturity level has been questioned by almost every scout and his coach, John Calipari, placed a lot of his team’s struggles on Goodwin’s shoulders, even if he didn’t specifically mention his name.
If he finds himself in the right situation, he could become a very good rotation player in the NBA, but he needs time. If the team that drafts him doesn’t give him that time, his career may never reach its full potential.
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