James Young, 6-foot-7 shooting guard, Kentucky
2013-14 stats: 14.3 PPG, 1.7 APG, 4.3 RPG, 0.8 SPG, .407 FG%, .349 3P%
One of the youngest players in the draft, the 18-year-old Young is a tantalizing talent who made an impact throughout the Wildcats’ run to the national-championship game. Like the rest of his young Kentucky teammates, the southpaw swingman experienced an inconsistent, up-and-down campaign, but the Detroit native displayed a knack for taking and making big plays in crucial moments, such as his highlight-reel dunk against Connecticut in the NCAA title game. While he certainly has multiple aspects of his game to improve, Young’s size, versatility, upside and current skills are not only intriguing, but could lead to him developing into a high-caliber NBA player in time.
Career highlights: A high school All-American, Young wasn’t quite as ballyhooed as more highly-touted teammates Julius Randle and the Harrison twins, but immediately stepped into a role as Kentucky’s go-to perimeter scorer, eventually leading to second team all-conference accolades. A double-figure scorer in 30 of the Wildcats’ 40 games and pouring in over 20 points in nine contests, the SEC all-freshman team honoree mostly lived up to the billing, averaging 14.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, including a 19-point outing against Michigan State, 18 points and 10 rebounds in a win over in-state rival Louisville and 20 points in the championship loss.
Strengths: Young was the Wildcats’ designated sharpshooter, a role that miscast his abilities — along with strictly playing small forward, as he’s capable of handling either wing position — as his athleticism dictates than he could do more than simply spot up. A dangerous slasher, albeit almost exclusively left-handed, Young can get to the basket against set defenses off straight-line drives, flourishes in transition and uses his height to be a factor on the boards, while his size and length give him the tools to evolve into an effective defender. However, his middling 34.9-percent shooting from three-point range notwithstanding, most observers believe the high-character youngster’s bread and butter on the next level will be functioning as a threat from deep.
Weaknesses: The biggest hole in Young’s game presently is his off-hand ballhandling ability, as he’s so left-hand dominant that it makes him predictable, easier to contain and turnover-prone off the dribble. He has a frame that should enable him to add weight, but for the time being adding strength is also an area of focus, which would help him both as a finisher and on the defensive end, where his occasional inattentiveness can be chalked up to youth, but is something to keep an eye on for the future. Of course, shooting the ball is seen as Young’s specialty, unfairly or not, so ensuring that the mediocre numbers from his lone college season were just an aberration is a must.
Draft projection: Based on his potential and how he fares in pre-draft workouts, Young could be selected anywhere from the mid-to-late lottery to the late teens, given that shooting is such a commodity in the NBA and his age makes his perceived ceiling even higher. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Young struggle early on as a rookie, but if he knocks down shots and makes a strong commitment on the defensive end of the floor, he could be a rotation player from the outset of his career and depending on the personnel of his team, log major minutes at either wing position. Whether it’s as a specialist or a more dynamic and multi-dimensional player, expect Young to have a long tenure in the league, as his physical tools and natural scoring ability portend long-term success.