Student Sports takes a look at the top prospects in the Class of 2014 and makes a case why each should be considered its No. 1 prospect. There’s a compelling case for more players than any class in recent memory.
Related: Who’s No. 1 in 2015?
Cliff Alexander, Curie (Chicago) 6-9 PF
Why he’s No. 1: No frontcourt player in this class plays as consistently hard and makes the opposition work on both ends of the floor as Alexander. Mac Irvin Fire wasn’t always at full strength this summer, but it didn’t matter if Jahlil Okafor was on the floor with him or not– Alexander was always a dominant presence. He can finish around the rim offensively and get to balls defensively that no other elite big man in this class can.
Why he’s not: He doesn’t have the prototypical size of a true back-to-the-basket player and doesn’t possess the necessary face-up game to be the No. 1 player. These two factors Alexander can definitely overcome and don’t take away much from his on-court dominance against his peers.
Stanley Johnson, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) 6-6 SF
Why he’s No. 1: No player had a better overall summer than this do-it-all small forward. He’s the top prospect because he earned it. Johnson had to elevate his game in order to elevate his ranking. Johnson also plays within the context of winning — and nobody in this class wins big games on a consistent basis as much as Johnson.
Why he’s not: Even though Johnson has improved his perimeter shooting, ball-handling and conditioning, he doesn’t posses the sheer overall talent to be considered the No. 1 player in what is turning out to be a better-than-advertised class. The intangibles he brings to the game doesn’t overcome Johnson’s lack of elite horizontal and vertical athleticism. He just bullies the majority of his opponents and that won’t work at the next level.
Tyus Jones, Apple Valley (Minn.) 6-1 PG
Why he’s No. 1: Whether it be with his high school team, or with Howard Pulley in the Nike EYBL, there is not a more productive guard in the country. In 2012, Jones was tops with a 25.8 ppg and No. 2 in assists (5.7) at the Peach Jam. In 2013, he was second in the EYBL with a 22.8 ppg and led the circuit in assists (6.9) and steals (2.7). Combine that with his intelligence and poise and you have the best player in the country.
Why he’s not: Simply put, he doesn’t have the physical attributes of Emmanuel Mudiay, the other point guard in this No. 1 conversation. Jones doesn’t bring to the table all the things Mudiay can with the ball in his hands. From the neck up, Jones has an advantage on all the players in the class, but it’s not a big enough advantage to overcome his defensive shortcomings or lack of elite athleticism for a guard a shade over 6-feet tall.
Emmanuel Mudiay, Prime Prep Academy (Dallas) 6-4 PG
Why he’s No. 1: His combination of size, athleticism and scoring ability are unique for nearly any class, but especially in this one. Not only can he overpower defenders, he has the skills and savvy to run a team. He also can take the game over with his ability to finish with both hands. In addition to his overall scoring ability, Mudiay sees the floor well and proved this summer he can bury the 3-pointer.
Why he’s not: He’s not a true point guard to some, but with his size and ability it might not make much of a difference. The deficiencies in his game — such as a tendency to over-penetrate or a lack of intensity — are really knit-picking. Unless one favor the bigs in this class, it’s difficult to keep him out of the No. 1 spot.
Jahlil Okafor, Whitney Young (Chicago) 6-10 C
Why he’s No. 1: Rivals.com, Scout.com, and ESPN.com have Okafor as their No. 1 prospect and for good reason. He’s as good a true post player as you’ll find in any class because of his ability to command double teams and make defenses work to stop him. Okafor plays and does well against tough competition and does his damage within the framework of his team. He’s also an excellent passer and, simply put, is the most polished big man to hit the high school ranks in recent memory.
Why he’s not: He’s not the best post player on his traveling team — Cliff Alexander is. That seems to be the growing sentiment among many college coaches and national scouts. Okafor’s conditioning has improved, but he still lacks the consistent motor to dominate each game he plays in. The consensus No. 1 player should dominate each outing — and Okafor’s performances leave fans and media wanting more. There’s also the question about his foot speed and in Las Vegas and at adidas Nations — he simply missed too many high percentage shots.
Myles Turner, Trinity (Euless, Texas) 6-11 C
Why he’s No. 1: No prospect in the country has elevated his position in the last six months more than Turner. That he’s even in this conversation is a testament to his ability and potential — and the opportunity that big-time spring and summer travel ball affords. He is a good shot blocker, moves well, and can shoot it a bit, too.
Why he’s not: Turner had his opportunity this summer to take the crown from posts such as Alexander and Okafor, but he did not do it. He played admirably, but in order to take over the No. 1 spot a player has to leave no doubt. There is still some doubt when it comes to Tuner — his lower body needs improvement with regards to strength and lift. He also doesn’t turn his hips well and still has plenty of room to get better.
Rashad Vaughn, Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) 6-5 SG
Why he’s No. 1: This smooth shooting wing is the dark horse of this group, but he’s also a safe pick because of his ability. He has a terrific frame, long arms and is much more athletic than most give him credit for because he’s labeled a “shooter”. He just doesn’t rely on his athleticism and those are usually the type of players that have long, productive pro careers. Think along the lines of Allan Houston or Ray Allen. Still, is Vaughn’s game the makeup of a No. 1 player?
Why he’s not: Players can improve their shooting; but in order to be the best prospect in the country, Vaughn has to bring a bit more to the table. Perhaps he’ll be able to display his all-around improvement and intensity at Findlay Prep. Until then, Vaughn will remain a solid top 10 player, just not No. 1 in the country.