Prospect Watch: Duke's other elite NBA prospect
Playing for a marquee program in a major conference under a Hall of Fame coach is usually enough to get an elite NBA prospect noticed, but that's somehow not the case for Duke's Rodney Hood.
After sitting out a year following his transfer from Mississippi State, Hood is putting up some pretty lofty numbers for the Blue Devils: 19.3 points per game, 58.9 percent shooting from the field and 53.6 percent from deep. The sophomore has scored at least 20 points in four games, including an outstanding 21-point, eight-rebound performance against the dominating frontline of Arizona in a game Jabari Parker failed to get on track.
And therein lies the biggest problem for Rodney Hood: the number one obstacle to Hood's stardom is a player on his own team. Nothing defends a shooter like having the ball in someone else's hands.
Most 6-foot-8 forwards who can shoot, handle, and pass become the focal point of their team's offense. But at Duke, Hood has to get his when he can, which is to say, when Parker isn't putting up big numbers of his own.
The good news for Hood is NBA teams are starting to take notice of Duke's other elite prospect.
Wing players of Hood's size who can shoot don't grow on trees in the NBA and while Parker continues to draw most of the attention, Hood could be a valuable prospect at the bottom of the lottery for a team who could use a lanky scorer to boost them into playoff contention.
In fact, Hood's ability to be efficient and effective next to a big-time scorer should only further add value to his stock as team's look to build around elite players who can play together in the way Miami, Oklahoma City and others NBA teams have done.
Josh Riddell at NBA Draft Express wrote of Hood before the season:
"Hood was primarily a jump-shooter at Mississippi State, with 80 percent of his shot-attempts in the half-court coming off jumpers. Hood was absolutely deadly in catch and shoot situations behind the 3-point line, shooting 46.9% in these situations while averaging 1.39 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports. When guarded, he likes to give the defender a ball fake, take one dribble and shoot a midrange jump shot. Just an average ball-handler and overall shot-creator, he didn't get to the rim all that often as a freshman, turning himself into somewhat of a one dimensional player. Scouts will want to see whether he has evolved his game from simply an outside shooter to a more dynamic all-around offensive player."
Hood's game has evolved, although his mid-range game remains his bread and butter. He's shown the ability to get into the lane and finish with floaters in what should really be an unstoppable part of his arsenal given his length and touch.
Defenders have to chase him off the three-point line, which allows him to use that shot fake to create space. Where Hood still needs to improve is his decision making from there. Too often he settles for mid-range jumpers instead of taking an extra dribble and getting to the rim or making a pass to an open teammate.
Just nine games into his career at Duke, Hood has plenty of time to develop under the tutelage of Mike Krzyzewski. By next spring, Parker might not be the only Blue Devil in the NBA's green room on draft night.
Andrew Wiggins, F, Kansas -- Although Wiggins has played just once in the past week, he had the type of game against Colorado that will quell some of the concerns and whispers starting to percolate. The freshman phenom had 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting with five rebounds, but did miss a crucial free throw late. That came after he decided to take the game over, becoming Kansas' primary ball-handler and scorer, showing the type of assertive mindset scouts hoped to see from the presumptive No. 1 pick.
This mark of efficiency also served as a reminder of Wiggins' superlative talent after going just 5-of-17 the previous two contests. That being said, for as much as been made about Wiggins' ability to alter the game in a multitude of ways, he hasn't been a game-changer defensively or on the glass. He's too talented and too athletic to not be getting in passing lanes for steals, racking up weakside blocks, and snagging crucial rebounds down the stretch.
There are some intuitive comparisons to Paul George with Wiggins, but before George became the scorer he is now, he was an elite defender and impact rebounder. Wiggins isn't either yet, but certainly has the tools to be.
Julius Randle, F, Kentucky -- The Wildcats' walking double-double had an off-week as a rebounder, failing to top double-digits against Baylor's lanky frontline, but still managed a solid game. Randle finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.
Randle is averaging almost 18 points and 12 rebounds per contest while shooting a high percentage from the field and stripe. He has taken over the top spot on SI.com's Big Board and he, unlike Wiggins, always seems to be finding ways to help his team beyond scoring.
Jabari Parker, F, Duke -- For the season, Parker remains the most impressive overall player in this class, but the last two games against ranked opponents should give NBA teams some pause. Duke's star forward has had his two lowest outputs of the season, including just 15 points against Michigan -- yes, just 15 points.
His shooting edged back into a more respectable range after a clunky night against Arizona, but Parker grabbed just six rebounds against Michigan and didn't put a scratch on the box score in any other positive category -- he had a turnover and a foul, but no assists, steals, or blocks. The shooting numbers have fallen back to earth as well, with Parker going just 2-of-12 in his last five games from three-point range.
Parker is the draft's best scorer and most complete offensive player, at least it appears that way at the moment. The competition will continue to be tough in the ACC, and we'll see at what level Parker can produce when facing elite-level talent on a regular basis.
Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State -- Smart, in some ways, is the guard version of Randle: he doesn't have to be scoring to beat you, but he can score seemingly whenever he decides. After a sub-par game against Memphis, Smart reeled off a comfortable line against South Carolina in an Oklahoma State blowout: 13 points, five assists, four rebounds, two steals and just one turnover.
He shot 4-of-8 and the Cowboys didn't need much from Smart as they rolled the Gamecocks. This is why shooting slumps don't bother Smart, nor do they bother NBA scouts because Smart doesn't need to shoot well to dominate a game.
Parker might be the best scorer in this draft, but if you want the most complete player in every facet of the game, it's Marcus Smart -- and as of right now, it's not even close.
Aaron Gordon, F, Arizona -- Gordon's physical talents are undeniable, but his game remains very much in question. Arizona's uber-athletic forward followed up his best game of the season with his worst, underscoring his lack of polish.
Gordon went for 19 and 8 on Texas Tech, going 7-for-10 from the field, but shot a woeful 4-for-12 from the line -- doing nothing to shirk the Blake Griffin comparisons for better and worse. It was both a showcase of what Gordon can do, and a warning sign for teams wondering how much the 6-foot-9 freshman can help an NBA team right away.
Andrew Harrison, PG, Kentucky -- Harrison was hyped up to be an incoming freshman on par with Julius and provide the Wildcats with the most formidable freshman class, perhaps, in history. Instead, John Calipari has gotten uncharacteristically poor play from his point guard.
Neither of the Harrison twins have played particularly well for the Wildcats, but Andrew's struggles stand out over his brother Aaron's due to greater expectations. Andrew isn't regarded as a great shooter -- he's averaging just 10 ppg on 39.6 percent shooting -- but he's shot just 4-of-17 over his last three games, marking his worst stretch year.
Once thought to be a top-10 performer, Harrison's stock is falling, but Calipari has a great track record with point guards -- perhaps you've heard of Derrick Rose and John Wall. Odds are Harrison gets it going as he becomes more comfortable with the offense and the bevy of talent around him.
Tuesday, Dec. 10: No. 13 Kansas vs. No. 19 Florida
Essentially any chance to watch Wiggins play against a good team is must-see television, but the Jayhawks also have rising big-man prospect Joel Embiid and mercurial guard Wayne Selden to keep an eye on against Florida. Both are potential lottery picks. While Florida is not flush with NBA talent, they have a roster of quality college players, and freshman forward Chris Walker in a first-round talent, perhaps even a lottery pick. His length and athleticism will be something to keep an eye on.
Saturday, Dec. 14: No. 1 Arizona vs. Michigan
Aaron Gordon against Mitch McGary will be a critical matchup for both players. McGary will be facing a big who he won't be able to out-hustle in Gordon, who also considerably outmatches McGary in terms of athleticism. For Gordon, McGary is a powerful rebounder with a more diverse offensive game. It's going to be fun to watch them battle in the paint. And we're still waiting to see what kind of prospect Glenn Robinson III really is. If he can get in the lane and score against this imposing 'Zona front line, that would be a step in the right direction.
Saturday, Dec. 14: No. 11 Kentucky vs. No.18 North Carolina
Julius Randle has yet to face a frontcourt player with the type of skill James Michael McAdoo possesses, so seeing him try to defend Carolina's talented forward will be critical for NBA scouts who want to see Randle defend stretch fours. It's also a great test for the Harrison twins who will face a Carolina backcourt capable of outshooting and potentially outscoring them. If they want to make a statement after underperforming most of the year, this is the time to get back in the good graces of NBA scouts and front offices.