The performance of incoming freshmen has always been the most difficult variable to predict in college basketball. This is true for a multitude of reasons, but one of the most significant is the total lack of reliable statistics. What does it mean, exactly, if Patrick Beverley averaged 36 points per game as a high school senior? What was the competition like? How fast did his team play? Was he efficient, scoring-wise? And just imagine the amount of work necessary to get even points per game for some reasonably-sized subset of players who matter nationally.
This summer, Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League took the first steps to change that. The EYBL kept full stats for 40 of the best (Nike-sponsored) AAU teams in the country over 15 to 23 games on four weekends between April and July. Of the ESPNU Top 100 for the Class of 2012, 48 played in the EYBL, as did 24 of the ESPNU Top 60 for 2013, ten of the Top 25 for 2014, and two of the Top 100 for the Class of 2011.
Now, these statistics aren't perfect. For example, one full game's worth of individual stats for Team Final was placed under The Family's umbrella, and it's not clear how it affects the players' stats or the team totals. The columns don't always add up correctly. So I made some judgment calls, most of which should have only a minor effect on the final outcomes. This is the first time we've ever really had anything approaching a series of prospects' turnover percentages against reasonably comparable competition. Still, it's worth remembering that there are issues at the granular level.
So why now? You may remember this article from last July, where Dave Telep and I identified some under-the-radar statistical stars to watch. Since then, though, the Peach Jam (the championship series of the EYBL) was played and I tracked down stats for all of the teams. That was all true in August, but I never put it all together -- then Jarnell Stokes showed up on Tennessee campus and I got super excited about these again.
We'll be rolling out four segments breaking down the EYBL stats, and I'll be available for unanswered questions on Twitter. For Part 1, I'll take the top-rated five guys from 2012, three guys from 2013, and one guy from 2011 and 2014 who took part in the EYBL. For Part 2, I'll take the same number of players with the best statistical seasons of anyone else ranked at ESPN for their classes. For Part 3, I'll take the same number of prospects from each class in presenting the most statistically-productive unranked talents. And for Part 4, I'll re-order all the guys ranked by ESPN by their summer numbers (which, and for the love of Wooden I hope people remember I wrote this every single time I mentioned it, will absolutely not be how I think the players should be ranked).
Let's get to it.
No. 82. Sim Bhullar
(ORtg: 118.4, %Poss: 19.7, PET Rank: 64 of 264 over 200 minutes)
Yes, Jarnell Stokes is ranked higher than Bhullar, but Stokes' stats are probably the best of anyone in the sample's, so I pushed him to Part 2. Bhullar, formerly a member of the 2012 class, was once committed to Xavier but instead chose New Mexico State because he could qualify academically for the 2011-12 season. He's currently redshirting, according to plan. Bhullar is a highly memorable scout -- there aren't many 7-4 Canadian prospects of Indian descent with 7-2 younger brothers running around the circuit. At this point his production is much more tied up in his size than his skill. In a sample size of 377 minutes, Bhullar grabbed 11 percent of his CIA Bounce teammates' misses and 21 percent of his opponents' missed shots. His 19 percent turnover rate was a little too high in a league that averaged 17 percent, but he shot 66 percent from the field (while using 20 percent of his team's possessions) and trailed only Nerlens Noel and Moses Kingsley with his 5.7 percent block rate. Bhullar's mobility and ball skills are not yet college-ready. But he is a big, big, big dude and sometimes we forget how valuable that is.
No. 1. Nerlens Noel
(ORtg: 121.6, %Poss: 20.1, PET Rank: 41 of 264)
Originally a member of the 2012 class, an injury forced Noel to the sideline for his entire sophomore year. He decided to reclassify to 2013 to make up for lost time, and, by the end of the summer, he was pushing Jabari Parker for the title of No. 1 player in the junior class. A few days ago, Noel elected to graduate with his original class, and he was quickly moved above Shabazz Muhammad at the top of the senior group on ESPN.com. It's hard to start with anything but defense when describing Noel. He's been consistently described as a better shot-blocker than Anthony Davis, and I tend to agree even though, obviously, that is quite a statement. Certainly Noel has the numbers. In 398 minutes Moses Kingsley ranked second in the EYBL with 52 blocks. In 480 minutes Noel blocked 107 shots. But what really impressed me about Noel's numbers is how well the rest of his game measured up to what his peers were doing. His defensive rebounding (25 percent) ranked with the league leaders, and he posted a solid 11 percent offensive rebounding rate. Noel racked up 39 assists to 21 turnovers while shooting 54 percent on his reasonably frequent two-point attempts. Expecting Noel to be Anthony Davis on the defensive end doesn't seem entirely unreasonable, but, while he should be at least solid offensively, hes probably not quite ready to be that efficient. Per Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports, Noel currently lists Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina, Providence, Florida, and Georgetown and says he'd like to talk to Duke if they reached out to him.
No. 4. Kyle Anderson
(ORtg: 125.2, %Poss: 26.1, PET Rank: 5 of 264)
Although he's still listed as a small forward prospect in many places, I for one will be shocked if Anderson doesn't play point guard for most of his career. That is, he's a handler/distributor-D3 because, while he's not quick enough to handle the speediest opposing point guards, he did lead the EYBL in assist rate (and unsurprisingly so) while turning the ball over on less than 14 percent of his possessions. Anderson can certainly score, but he's not a great shooter -- his percentages of 57/41/63 deceive slightly because of the infrequency of his three-point attempts. And don't let my appraisal of Anderson's quickness on defense be the story; he is entirely athletically capable of guarding a typical 3-man. His steal rate was on the fringes of the top 10 in the league, and he grabbed fully 22 percent of his opponents' misses. Anderson sees the floor as well as anyone in the class this side of Tyler Lewis, and matching this with his size makes him an elite player in the eyes of the scouts and the stats. Barring unforeseen circumstances, this is the most college-ready new Bruin since Jrue Holiday (and maybe even since Kevin Love), even if he's not the same kind of pro prospect.
No. 7. Anthony Bennett
(ORtg: 124.2, %Poss: 23.6, PET Rank: 14 of 264)
Bennett is widely viewed as a forward prospect with few holes, and his stats back up that story. I'd like to see rebounding percentages a little higher from someone as long, strong, and bouncy as Bennett (eight percent on offense, 15 on D), but he's pretty smart with the ball, makes his shots, and must be guarded behind the three-point line even if he isn't truly dangerous (percentages of 60/33/83). Bennett is uncommitted, with a list that consists of Kentucky, UNLV, Florida, Oregon, and Washington.
No. 10. Brandon Ashley
(ORtg: 108.5, %Poss: 30.4, PET Rank: 19 of 264)
Ashley's rate stats are largely solid, but not spectacular: 11 percent offensive rebounding rate, 17 on D, four percent block rate, and shooting percentages of 53/22/71. His value comes from the size of the offensive load he carries. Only Jerami Grant and Ricardo Gathers attempted more free throws than Ashley and only ten players used a larger percentage of their teams' possessions. Ashley is part of a fantastic Arizona recruiting class that includes two other Top 10 big men in Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski. A word of caution: once rated the best of the trio, a recent stretch of streaky performance has slipped Ashley behind both of his future teammates.
No. 13. Dajuan Coleman
(ORtg: 108.9, %Poss: 25.1, PET Rank: 48 of 264)
The flip-side to the "really big guys are underrated because skill is less necessary" coin is seen in recruiting, where a 15-year-old with true-center size and a little touch can be immediately tabbed a future star while playing against still-growing high schoolers. Coleman, once universally considered a Top 3 player in the class, was likely overrated originally due to this phenomenon. He's a fantastic rebounder -- only Julius Randle topped Coleman's 27 percent defensive rebounding, and it'd be tough to argue for more than three or four others as being better overall boardsmen. Coleman shot 56 percent from the field, rarely turned the ball over, and spent quite a bit of time at the free throw line. If he could improve his free throw shooting (also 56 percent) and his defensive presence, his stats would back up his ranking a little more wholeheartedly. A native of Dewitt, NY, Coleman will join the Class of 2010's Fab Melo and 2011's Rakeem Christmas in Syracuse's recent streak of highly-touted freshman big men.
No. 1. Jabari Parker
(ORtg: 102.1, %Poss: 30.4, PET Rank: 50 of 264)
Widely considered the top prospect in all of high school basketball, Parker's drive, versatility, and feel are consistently praised. He has many tools and is comfortable being the focal point of an offense. Parker's a smart passer and ballhandler, capable of blowing by or shooting over bigger defenders and posting up quicker ones. His shots in the EYBL did not fall at a rate expected of such a talent, as Parker posted shooting percentages of 47/24/65. It's tough to chalk up 225 shots to bad bounces, but his form is pure and his shot selection is generally very good, so I'd expect these to be on the way up. One more criticism: Parker attempted just 54 free throws in 372 minutes, which suggests he isn't attacking the basket enough. He does have a tendency to settle for mid-range jumpers at times; maybe a more attacking style would improve both issues. Duke, Michigan State, BYU, Kansas, and Illinois are heavily involved in his recruitment.
No. 2. Julius Randle
(ORtg: 101.8, %Poss: 37.3, PET Rank: 20 of 264)
Once considered the best prospect in high school basketball, Randle was caught over the spring and summer by first Parker and then Noel in the 2013 class. He's big and powerful but explosive and graceful. Randle led the EYBL in defensive rebounding percentage and usage rate while maintaining reasonable efficiency. Randle is well-prepared to be a team's central offensive weapon and can score in multiple ways. His ability to get to the line and hit his free throws is promising. Theoretically, Randle will use this next year to polish the consistency of those moves. Duke and North Carolina head a long list.
No. 3. Aaron Gordon
(ORtg: 110.9, %Poss: 22.9, PET Rank: 66 of 264)
As the brother of New Mexico defensive rebounder extraordinaire Drew Gordon, Aaron Gordon's fantastic rebounding abilities should come as no surprise. He makes his shots from the field (58/38/53), but he needs to improve his stroke if he's going to spend as much time at the free throw line as he does. (That three-point percentage comes from just eight attempts.) Gordon is smart, fluid, and athletic. It'd be an upset for him to threaten the Top 2, but he's improving quickly and has a multitude of collegiate options, including Washington, Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico, UNLV, Kansas, and Stanford.
No. 1. Andrew Wiggins
(ORtg: 109.9, %Poss: 22.4, PET Rank: 77 of 264)
The third Canadian on this list (after Bhullar and Bennett), Wiggins has extraordinary athleticism at 6-7 and can step to the three-point line. He's not to the point yet where he regularly takes over games, and his numbers reflect that. There's no one category where Wiggins particularly stands out or shows ineptitude; his youth and explosiveness, combined with his ability to be a productive player at this level, are what makes him impressive. Keep in mind just ten 2014 prospects (and one 2015 player) even played 200 minutes in the league, much less 200 successful ones. Now at Huntington (WV) Prep, Wiggins' recruitment is wide open, consisting largely of the usual suspects and, more intriguingly, Florida State.
Drew Cannon is a college student and a regular contributor to Basketball Prospectus. Follow him on Twitter at @DrewCannon1.
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