As much as I enjoy watching the 2014-15 ragtag Philadelphia 76ers play basketball (and boy, do I), it's never too soon to start dreaming of the future, and with those dreams comes an eye toward the next batch of young stars coming into the league in the 2015 NBA Draft.
I wrote a little running feature in the FanPosts section entitled "WigginsWatch: The Quest for the Northern Light" last season where I kept tabs on the upcoming draft class throughout the year -- their trials, their tribulations, and their punching of elderly season ticket holders.
This year, I'll bring it to the main stage, since much like Brandon Davies, I showed enough effort towards improving my shot in practice that I'm allowed to shoot three-pointers in actual games for now.
(Why is it still WigginsWatch? Sentimentality, mostly. Saying goodbye is really hard.)
For a primer on this year's crop of prospects, check out our summer Prospect Week series, where several of your favorite LB writers (and me) highlighted some of the prospects that interested us most based on YouTube mixtapes, the Nike Hoop Summit, and what we read on DraftExpress.
But you shouldn't just take our word for it. Let's face it, come next June, everybody is going to be an expert on these guys, and we're all going to have a pretty good idea as to the exact trajectory of their professional careers. (Future star! Role player! Mascot candidate!) You need an opinion of your own, and in order to help you form those opinions, you're gonna need to watch these guys play.
I get it though. You're busy. The college game doesn't exactly have the same skill level as the pro game. You get your basketball fix watching Tony Wroten throw lobs to either KJ McDaniels or that guy in the fourth row who's only kinda paying attention.
That's why I've picked out ten games for you to watch. Ten games that will allow you to catch the top prospects on multiple occasions, and will allow you to see almost every collegiate prospect currently pegged as a potential first-round pick at least once. (The international guys, I can't help you with quite yet. We'll keep an eye on them and talk about as the season progresses.)
What are we watching for?
1. Raw skills. Sometimes, as a college freshman, your production doesn't exactly translate to your skill level. Jabari Parker averaged 19 points a game as a freshman at Duke, and many project him to be the best pure scorer in the draft. What I'm looking for is the showcasing of skills. Can you shoot? Can you get to the basket? Can you defend your man? For the top talent, college basketball is a six-month scouting combine.
2. Progress. Some of these guys we'll only see once, but for the guys we see multiple times, I want to see them get better as the season progresses. Incremental progress is still progress, but when we're in February and March, these guys should be a little ahead of where they were in November.
So, here's the top 10 games I've picked out for you to watch. Games are in chronological order, and all tip-off times are Eastern Justise Time.
Kansas vs Kentucky
Tuesday, November 18th, 9:00 PM, ESPN
Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
God, where do I begin with this game? This is like ordering filet mignon as an appetizer for a box of Chicken McNuggets. This is ESPN's made-for-TV Champions Classic, and for the second consecutive year, it's an absolute gem.
Kansas has two of the top five prospects in the country on their team in big man Cliff Alexander and the top wing prospect on my board, Kelly Oubre. Sixers fans will probably want to fixate on Oubre because of how he would fit on the current Sixers, but Alexander is an exciting, exciting prospect.
Kentucky, on the other hand, almost has more NBA prospects than you have fingers, unless you are Antonio Alfonseca. They have nine potential NBA picks on this roster, but the one who commands the most attention is freshman center Karl Towns, a top 3 prospect who went to the same high school as former Sixers great Andrew Bynum.
I'll echo the advice I gave last year, which is that if you only watch one game this year, watch this one. As a bonus, check out the Duke/Michigan State game, which is part one of the doubleheader. Just clear Tuesday night out on your schedule.
Duke vs Wisconsin
Wednesday, December 3rd, 9:30 PM, ESPN
Kohl Center, Madison, WI
This is the first real test for the current projected top overall pick, Duke center Jahlil Okafor. In this game, he'll run into Wisconsin senior center Frank Kaminsky, who would've been a likely first round pick in this draft after a very impressive NCAA tournament performance, where he led the Badgers to the Final Four. You'll also get to see a couple potential lottery picks in Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones for Duke, as well as Badgers forward Sam Dekker, who many expected to declare for the draft last season. (I certainly expected it, anyway.)
Kansas vs Florida
Friday, December 5th, 8 PM, ESPN
Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, KS
This is our second trip to see Kansas, but our first to see Gators forward Chris Walker, a raw talent who only played a handful of games last season and could very easily be a lottery pick next season. Other than that, keep an eye on the Kansas freshman, as well as Jayhawks sophomore guard Wayne Selden, who I think could have a breakout season this year.
Arizona vs Michigan
Saturday, December 13th, 5:15 PM, ESPN
McKale Center, Tucson, AZ
Arizona has two impressive wing prospects, in exciting freshman Stanley Johnson (you're going to love him) and sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (you already do love him.) Rondae is, of course, the younger brother of former Temple standout and current Delaware 87er Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson. He's part of the family, basically.
Michigan has a potential first rounder in junior Caris LeVert, who, get this, can shoot! A 40% 3-point shooter last season, he's got good size for the position (6-7) and he's still only 20 years old. He struggles with finishing at the rim and he needs to get stronger defensively, but he's currently my favorite guy to consider with the pick obtained in the Thaddeus Young deal for a team in desperate need of spacing.
Arizona vs UNLV
Tuesday, December 23rd, 10:15 PM, CBS Sports Network
Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV
You're not going to watch this game, but bear with me. You're home for the holidays, it's late, the family's mailing it in for the night, your friends haven't gotten back in town yet for you to go out, and besides, it's still only a Tuesday night.
Why not enjoy a classic battle between the Arizona wings and UNLV freshman guard Rashad Vaughn?
(This game is here because Arizona plays an awful schedule this year. Bad out-of-conference games, and the Pac-12 is not a great basketball conference at this point in the program. You should watch Johnson play twice this year, because I think he has the potential to shoot up the draft board thanks to Vine. Try to catch a couple Arizona games, even if you skip this one.)
Kentucky vs Louisville
Saturday, December 27th, 5 PM, CBS
KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, KY
Rivalry game! You're gonna be sick of your family by this point, so here's a two hour breather, and a chance to watch my favorite prospect in the world, Montrezl Harrell. He's an undersized power forward, but he's so, so much fun to watch. I have no idea how his game will translate to the NBA (there's a lot of Derrick Williams there), but I don't care, watch him. Also, keep an eye on the Kentucky guys and their progress to this point, as well as how they handle a tough rivalry game on the road mentally.
Duke vs Louisville
Saturday, January 17th, 12PM, ESPN
KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, KY
I told you to watch Montrezl and you probably didn't listen to me, so here's another chance. I'm not sure how much Montrezl and Okafor will be matched up, but that could also be a fun matchup in the low post, and a good test for both.
Kentucky vs Arkansas
Saturday February 28th, 4PM, CBS
Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY
Kansas vs Texas
Saturday, February 28th, TBA, ESPN
Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, KS
It's a doubleheader, featuring two teams we've seen before against two teams we haven't. Arkansas and Texas both have big men in Razorbacks sophomore Bobby Portis and Longhorns freshman Myles Turner that are potential first-round picks and could shoot into the the lottery with impressive showings this year.
With Kentucky and Kansas, this is the point of the season when we should start seeing real progress from the freshman stars.
Duke vs North Carolina
Saturday March 7th, 9PM, ESPN
Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC
This is a last showcase for Duke, in a tough road atmosphere and a rivalry game. See above when it comes to the progress we should be seeing from Okafor, Winslow, and Jones by now.
So there we are. Bookmark this article now and use it for reference, and on the off chance you're not able to catch the games, we'll be keeping tabs on these guys all season.