James Young, one of Kentucky’s six high school All-American recruits from a year ago, declared he was leaving school to play in the NBA. Young said in a statement that ”my time at Kentucky has been special to me, something I’ll always treasure, but I feel that I’m ready to take the next step to the NBA.” In recent mock drafts the consensus is that Young is a late lottery pick. DraftExpress has him going 15th, Bleacher Report slots him in 12th, and CBSSports.com places him 15th. Young is also currently ranked 15th on Chad Ford of ESPN.com‘s Big Board.
Coach John Calipari weighed in on Young, saying ”From Day 1, the NBA people who came to our practices in the preseason raved about him. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him all season, investing himself in his brothers for the betterment of the team, and I think we all saw the end result in the tournament and Final Four. Whatever team drafts James is not only getting a superb athlete, they are getting the ultimate teammate.”
At 6’6″ with a 6’11″ wingspan, Young has prototypical size for an NBA wing player, and has a 215-pound frame that should continue to develop over time. He doesn’t possess tremendous speed or a quick burst off the dribble, but Young is an exceptionally smooth athlete who can play above the rim and score in bunches. His numbers on the season were 14.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, and 0.8 SPG in 32.4 minutes per game. His slash line was .407/.349/.706.
Young will have to shoot the ball well to succeed in the NBA because he showed little ability to fill up a stat sheet. He’s not much of a playmaker, which could be an issue at the next level. Young can struggle to get separation when he puts the ball on the floor, and he lacks creativity with his ball-handling and doesn’t change tempo or direction well. He’s an average passer, but he tends to make mistakes with the ball and averaged 1.9 turnovers a game, not great numbers considering he was rarely the primary ball handler at Kentucky.
Young’s ability to get shots off over defenders makes him a scoring threat, but it also limits his efficiency. The left-handed shooter struggled from the perimeter for long stretches this season thanks to the high amount of contested jump shots he attempted. According to DraftExpress, almost three-quarters of Young’s 199 catch-and-shoot jump shots this season were defended. He connected on 45% of his open shot attempts but hit only 32% while being guarded. Since uncontested shots are at a premium in the NBA, Young will have to improve his consistency in this area.
If he doesn’t improve his shot, 2-guards or wings who struggle with offensive consistency don’t have much value to NBA teams if they don’t contribute on defense. Young has some defensive tools, but he lacks natural instincts in this facet of the game. He has a low defensive IQ, and that isn’t always something a player can easily change.
One indicator of Young’s lack of defensive ability is his abnormally low steal rate for the position he plays. Despite all of Young’s athleticism he’s averaging less than a steal per game in over 32 minutes of action. ESPN’s analytics expert Kevin Pelton wrote (Insider subscription required) that “Historically steal rate has outsized the importance of physical tools in predicting how well prospects will translate to the NBA.”
Young is a solid rebounder for his position but is still figuring things out on this end of the floor. His fundamentals need work, as illustrated by Young’s tendency not to get in a proper stance, allowing smaller, less athletic players to get position on him. DraftExpress noted that Young’s poor fundamentals, average awareness, and lack of lateral speed doesn’t give him outstanding upside in this area as a pro, but he has the capacity to improve his effectiveness over time.
Young is far from a sure thing and lacks a complete skill set as a player, but he is only 19 years old and has a wealth of potential. Young has the foundation of necessary skills to be an effective scorer down the line, which is something in high demand in the NBA. His upside at the pro level has been compared to that of Arron Afflalo‘s. Like Afflalo, I believe it will take a few years for Young to blossom into an effective rotation player. While I don’t believe he’ll be a superstar at the next level, I do think his upside is higher than that of fellow shooting guards Gary Harris or Nik Stauskus in the long run. If he doesn’t markedly improve his defense though, he’ll limit his usefulness to being a sixth man. Unless he blows teams away during his pre-draft workouts, I have him being taken after Harris in the 10-15 range of the draft.