James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky
It has been abundantly clear for some time that as long as John Calipari is at the helm of the Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team, the program will be a factory churning out highly talented, hyped, and sometimes overrated NBA prospects. James Young fits all three of the aforementioned descriptions. His one year spent in a Kentucky system that is conducive to allowing guys to put up big numbers coupled with him being the third-youngest player in the draft makes him difficult, but not impossible, to project in the NBA.
Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference
At 6'7, 215 with a 7'0 wingspan, Young will have a size advantage over most NBA shooting guards. Of course, exceptional size and length for a basketball player only matter if they know how to use those things. Young demonstrated in college that he indeed does know how to maximize his size. That's a good thing, because he would be incredibly limited offensively without it. He was able to slash to the rim well, but only on a straight line drive when he could use his chiseled body and long strides to beat his defender to the rim.
Against quicker guards with the lateral quickness to cut off Young's penetration, he struggled. He either tried to put his head down and barrel harder to the rim through them or pulled up to take an off-balance floater. A complete lack of a right hand, the lefty's weak hand, made it easy for teams to figure out to force him to go to that weak side, especially as the season progressed and the scouting reports became more reliable. He wasn't a world-beater driving with his dominant hand either, as he lacks any advanced moves to help him beat his man in iso situations.
Luckily for Young, his perimeter shooting often helped him stay on the floor on nights when defenses completely negated his penetration. He shot 35% from beyond the arc in his only college season, a percentage that could have been higher if he had not gone through a dreadful slump in the middle of the season and lower had he not shot the ball exceptionally well to pull himself out of that lengthy slump near the end of the season. Consistency from behind the three-point line eluded Young, but he showed enough to make one believe that he will be able to shoot the ball well at the next level.
Just showing the ability to be able to shoot himself out of a bad slump is a big plus, and it says a lot about his mental fortitude, which will be necessary at the next level when he is forced to make adjustments at every turn to survive. At least the kid believes in himself enough to continue to let it fly.
Young's release on his three-point shot is lightning quick, and he's an excellent spot-up shooter within the constraints of a half-court offense and also in transition. His form is a thing of beauty - he forces his shoulders back and kicks his legs slightly forward on the shot, allowing the ball to have more arc than if he just shot straight up and down. The one big concern with his three-point shot is his ability to hit it with a hand in his face. In the NBA, he will have to make contested shots often, and that's not something he did very well in college. Given his length, you would think he would not be bothered when shooting over most defenders, but as it so happened he rushed many shots when a defender got close, and he didn't seem to focus enough on the rim. Still young, he will likely get better at that with time.
Interview Audio from Grizzlies 4th Draft Workout
The Memphis Grizzlies held their 4th draft workout on Monday that featured a plethora of wing players. With the tremendous depth in the 2014 Draft at the wing positions, the Grizzlies could look to upgrade their SG or SF position.
At Kentucky, he was a volume shooter that basically scored a lot when he took a lot of shots. This wasn't the best thing for Young's efficiency metrics, as his PER in his one season was a meager 16.6 while his TS% was 53.6%, one of the worst percentages among his peers in this year's draft class at the shooting guard position. On a loaded Kentucky team, Young took the most shots per game of any player. He won't have that same luxury in the NBA, and it's fair to wonder how he will handle only getting 5-6 shots a night, as he likely will if drafted by a decent team (as he is projected to be). He will have to make the most of those opportunities for his role to grow into what he's used to it being, and his efficiency stats say that will be a difficult thing for him to do.
One odd thing about Young is that he is almost exclusively a below-the-rim finisher despite his athleticism. That's not a killer, but for that to work in the NBA he must develop more advanced moves that get him free at will when he drives. If not, guys that are just as tall as him will sit on his shot and either alter it or send it back. People will remember his monster slam over the UConn defense after he drove down the center of the lane before leaping and dunking the ball right over a defender, but that's not his game.
Another offensive skill that is important for guards is creating for teammates. This is not James' strong suit. Rather than making the easy play, he often forced his own shot at Kentucky, and a turnover ensued. He had a negative assist/turnover ratio in his one college season, however, Young won't be called upon to rack up assists if drafted into the right team. For example, the Grizzlies already have two great passers in the starting five in Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. If they drafted Young, they could slot him in at the 3 position, and he would be just fine looking for his own shot when he got the ball.
For a shooting guard, Young rebounds the ball well. His length makes it fairly easy for him even though he doesn't always give great effort. He didn't have to at Kentucky given all the great rebounders by which he was surrounded. It would be a similar situation for him if drafted by the Grizzlies. They already clean up the glass at an excellent rate, so it isn't necessary for them to draft a guy that can rebound extremely well, although it wouldn't hurt.
On the defensive end, Young is mediocre at best both on and off the ball. He lacked the proper stance and effort necessary to keep his man from blowing past him at the college level, but that can be taught easily in the NBA, especially by a coach like Joerger that has built his reputation as a defensive specialist. Off the ball, Young isn't going to give a team much by jumping passing lanes and getting steals. He often seems lost watching the ball, and he has a bad habit that needs to be broken of helping just one pass away, a real no-no in the NBA. If he can learn to give maximum effort and not take plays off, his athleticism and length give him good upside as a defender in the NBA.
It isn't likely that he will ever be a defensive stopper, but he could become good enough to guard multiple positions (2,3, possibly 4) and not kill his team. However, if Young only makes marginal defensive improvements it will be hard for him to stick in the NBA.
NBA Draft Preview
NBA Draft Preview
With an abundance of guards that can play defense and shoot the ball coming through the ranks in the NBA D-League, NBA teams don't have much tolerance for guys that refuse or don't have what it takes to play good defense and also don't have at least one above-average skill on offense. Given Young's lack of passing ability and his inconsistency on both his drives and shooting the basketball, he will need to sure up either his shooting or greatly improve his slashing ability in order to find his way into an NBA starting lineup and be able to stick there.
All in all, Young's youth, size, athleticism, and shooting ability make him an intriguing prospect with a ton of upside for a team that will have the patience to develop him. He could fit in well in Memphis. He could play small forward, a position of great need, his strengths (e.g., perimeter shooting) fill an area of need, and his weaknesses (e.g., passing and defense) could be mitigated by the other four guys around him that already do those things exceptionally.
Possibly the main thing Young has going for him when it comes to NBA teams considering drafting him is his age. It's not hard to figure out that a guy this young has a lot more time to figure things out than a guy like Cleanthony Early, who, already at 23-years-old, is the same age as many guys that have been in the league three or four years.
The window to contribute in the NBA is narrow for any player, and Young's youth might give him a better shot at making it and eventually becoming a contributor than many in his draft class. Whether it's the correct strategy or not, the Grizzlies are in win now mode, so a raw guy like Young that projects as an NBA player but could take a lot of time to be ready for the next level might not be the best fit. Regardless, he will be a great investment that's well worth the developmental risk for a team picking near the end of the first round.