And as rare as it is for pro franchises to find a truly great player out of college, it’s even more rare for them to find a truly unique player. Except for your once-per-era icons (Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Durant, etc.), college basketball’s best and brightest always remind you of a pro you’ve seen before, and it’s no different with this year’s class. Here are 20 NCAA stars and their NBA role models:
Andrew Wiggins (Kansas) is Paul George (Pacers): Because he was so much better than everyone else in high school, because he plays on the wing, and because industry experts predict he'll sign a sneaker deal worth over $150 million as soon as he goes pro, the easy comparison for Wiggins since he burst onto the scene has been LeBron James. Except that's not quite the right comparison. Wiggins has the explosiveness and athleticism and maybe even the magnetism of a young LeBron, but otherwise his game isn’t similar at all. LeBron was -- and still is -- a point guard in a power forward’s body. Wiggins is a small forward in a small forward’s body. He's a phenomenal talent. He's going to make a major impact on this level and on the next. He’s going to make highlight reels. He’s going to be the best player on a team that contends for a championship. He’s just not LeBron.
Glenn Robinson III (Michigan) is Harrison Barnes (Warriors): A versatile wing who can fit into any system, Robinson's only noticeable weakness is that he was the most talented player on a loaded Wolverines squad but was often too unselfish in deferring to his teammates.
Russ Smith (Louisville) is Patty Mills (Spurs): It's going to be an uphill climb to the NBA for a 6-foot shooting guard who isn't really a shooter and hasn't proven he can play point guard. Smith should look to Mills, a similarly quick and fearless scorer in college who has managed to stick in San Antonio, for a blueprint on how to do it.
Jabari Parker (Duke) is Paul Pierce (Nets): More skill than sizzle, more crafty than kinetic, more polish than potential, Parker is a multi-position weapon who can be his team's primary scorer or facilitator. Because he doesn't rely so much on athleticism, he'll be able to be a star well after he should have lost a step or two.
Doug McDermott (Creighton) is Jared Dudley (Clippers): I don’t know why so many sports fans and media act like you can only compare players of the same race. Because McDermott is a big shooter from a small school -- but more likely because he's White -- I guarantee every scouting report you'll see leading up to the 2014 draft will compare him to the likes of Keith Van Horn and Kyle Korver. In reality, McDermott is more like Dudley, a high-IQ forward who can score inside and outside and will be a valuable NBA role player as long as his body holds up.
C.J. Fair (Syracuse) is Chandler Parsons (Rockets): The highlight-reel plays at the rim have overshadowed Fair's improvement as an outside shooter and opportunistic purveyor of the "little things." You wouldn't put the ball in Fair's hands and tell him to win you the game, but you do want him on the court for the possible tip-in or to knock down a shot after a kick-out.
Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) is Deron Williams (Nets): Big point guard who's faster than he looks. Crisp ball-handler and passer who can take over as a scorer when he wants to. Perfectionist with a fierce competitive streak who should be considered among the best in the game.
Gary Harris (Michigan State) is Randy Foye (Nuggets): Somewhat short for a two-guard, but he's strong enough and tough enough to get by without having to force a switch to point guard. Solid defender and scorer who will shine even on a team loaded in the backcourt.
Mitch McGary (Michigan) is Kris Humphries (Celtics): Before the Kardashians and the tabloids, Humphries was a dependable double-double guy for the Nets. McGary has the same active rebounding style and simple (yet efficient) offensive game.
Jahii Carson (Arizona State) is Ty Lawson (Nuggets): The quickest player in college basketball is a lot like the fastest player in the NBA. Carson puts opponents on their heels, whether they’re trying to keep up with him in transition or stay in front of him at the top of the key. Usually they fail, and usually he gets to the rim to make something positive happen.
Semaj Christon (Xavier) is Eric Bledsoe (Suns): He's so talented and athletic that you have to give him the ball and let him run the show (unless you've got somebody like Chris Paul on the roster), but he still has a lot to learn as far as executing an offense and making the right decisions that a true point guard should make.
Julius Randle (Kentucky) is Michael Beasley (Heat): Try to forget the Michael Beasley who has been let go by three NBA franchises and is struggling just to stay in the league, and remember the Michael Beasley who absolutely dominated at Kansas State. That's the Beasley who was the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, and the Beasley who comes to mind when watching Julius Randle. The Kentucky freshman is a beast in the paint who can also light up defenses from the perimeter.
Yogi Ferrell (Indiana) is Kyle Lowry (Raptors): Handed the keys to the Hoosiers' offense as a freshman for what was billed as the most important season in recent memory for the program, Ferrell showcased his ability to handle pressure and keep a roster of talented scorers happy. With Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo gone to the pros, we'll see more of what Ferrell can do as a sophomore and on-court leader at IU.
Joel Embiid (Kansas) is Nerlens Noel (76ers): The Jayhawks' freshman phenom that nobody is talking about (thanks to Wiggins). Slightly better offensively, slightly worse defensively, but Embiid's game compares favorably overall to Noel's. And before Noel injured his knee, he was basically a lock to be the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Aaron Gordon (Arizona) is Blake Griffin (Clippers): It's not just that Gordon attacks the rim with a power and grace previously seen in men like Griffin, Shawn Kemp and Dominique Wilkins. It's also that he plays with a Griffin-like ferocity and lack of regard for his body that makes him a force of nature, even if his technical skills can use some polish.
James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina) is Ed Davis (Grizzlies): Chapel Hill has been really good lately for producing long, lanky forwards with all the potential in the world who spend their entire careers with the "If he adds some muscle" label. McAdoo follows in the tradition of Brandan Wright, Davis and John Henson, and he'll soon step aside for UNC sophomore Brice Johnson.
Aaron Craft (Ohio State) is Kirk Hinrich (Bulls): Reliable point guard whose defense outshines his offense. He can't go 40 minutes without someone describing him as "gritty" or "heady," or both.
Kyle Anderson (UCLA) is Otto Porter Jr. (Wizards): A natural small forward who can run an offense from the point guard spot while defending power forwards. Sounds a lot like LeBron, right? But Anderson and Porter have done it with a ground-bound, smooth and easy style that can be confused for slow and lazy, but is undeniably effective
Andrew Harrison (Kentucky) is Tyreke Evans (Pelicans): The higher-ranked Harrison twin uses his uncommon strength, size and playground handle to beat other point guards. Evans had a similar profile coming out of high school and even carried it on through college and his historic NBA rookie year, but since then has floated toward the wing and will likely play small forward in New Orleans.
Aaron Harrison (Kentucky) is Lance Stephenson (Pacers): The other Harrison twin plays a lot like his brother, but his point-guard skills aren't as polished, so he'll have to make it as a two-guard who isn't known as a great shooter. Stephenson faced the same hurdle after a record-setting high school career and an underwhelming stint in college, but he's turned himself into a valuable contributor on a conference-title contender.
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MONDAY MADNESS: College basketball season preview (Oct. 7)