It's an exciting time to be a draftnik: Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker will all play in Tuesday night's Champions Classic in Chicago. While Kansas' Wiggins has received the lion's share of the hype, all three freshmen are projected to be picked near the top of the 2014 draft, and some scouts are saying the Canadian isn't the surefire No. 1 pick. Let's look at some quotes from scouts and general managers leading up to the Kentucky vs. Michigan State, Kansas vs. Duke doubleheader.
Any analysis at this stage is colored by the fact that Wiggins has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine, ranked at the top of his class for years. The backlash to the hype, or at least the tempering of expectations, is already starting. Take this quote from a scout/GM via Jeff Goodman of ESPN:
"Great athlete, no way he's the top pick in the draft. Julius Randle is better. There's just way too much hype. His skill level is average. He made a few shots but plays straight up and down and doesn't have any playmaking skills. Everything has to be a straight-line drive. Right now, he's the third- or fourth-best player for Kansas. He's long and athletic but has a long way to go."
Wiggins has long been seen as a potential franchise changer and it's impossible not to love his athleticism and potential. He's also heard criticisms about his demeanor and been accused of floating through games and playing down to competition all along. That's all coming up again at the outset of his college career, via Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports:
"Until Wiggins learns how to play hard," one NBA scout said, "he's Kansas' third-best freshman."
While Wiggins has drawn some comparisons to LeBron James, one NBA scout said Wiggins' "worst-case scenario" is he's Vince Carter. Another scout likened him to Tracy McGrady.
"He's not LeBron," one NBA general manager said. "It's not his fault regarding all the hype. People say he's pretty humble. He's a top-three pick for sure, if not No. 1."
Wiggins "is not always playing hard and motivated," an NBA scout said. "That scares people. That scares me a little. You need a gym rat, someone that absolutely loves it. It's 82 games. It's tough. Those guys are harder to win with than guys who love it."
The 6'9, 250-pound power forward is just one part of Kentucky's loaded freshman class, and he scored 23 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in his debut. An NBA scout told Spears that Randle is "the real deal" and most initial impressions are similarly positive. What stands out with him is his explosiveness at his size, via Goodman:
"His body, his shoulders are so big. You know it, but it's different when you see it in person. There's just not much you can do about him. He's so strong and so quick off the floor. He goes hard. He's a man. He needs to do a better job finishing through contact. But he's so big and strong that you expect him to dominate. What people are going to forget is that he's still just a kid."
It's a little surprising that Parker's only seventh on DraftExpress' mock draft and fourth on ESPN's. The Duke small forward's stock has fallen a bit over the past year, but these things can change quickly if he displays how versatile and skilled he is against college competition. Holding his own against Wiggins' Kansas team could be a start.
Parker had a tremendous Duke debut, scoring 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting, and onlookers took note of him playing all over the floor, via Goodman:
"He is a matchup nightmare, especially when they play him at the 5. He's bigger and stronger than I thought he was. He made his jumpers and came off screens and made a 3. That forces you to play up on him, and then he just abuses you going to the rim. He's got very good athleticism. He has to get better defensively and will. He rebounded well and can handle the ball like a guard. He has to learn how to bring it every play and needs to get a little better with his back-to-the-basket moves."
The narratives for all three will inevitably change over the coming months. Wiggins is under the most scrutiny at the moment, but they'll all be under the microscope this year.