by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam

As you’re probably aware of by now, the 2014 NBA Draft is projected to be one of the strongest in recent history. At least seven of the first 10 domestic players selected will be freshman, while there are a number of sophomores and upperclassmen who have lottery-level size and skill. This season, the NBA and NCAA are on course to overlap like never before. We’re eight months away, but between the stopgap one-and-done season, the amount of talent available, the ubiquity of college basketball and the persistent question of tanking, the 2014 Draft is already looming, and looming large.

So, for a Draft-obsessed basketball observer like myself, I really have nothing to complain about. In fact, I feel privileged to be enabled to share my thoughts—and hopefully spark a conversation—with the SLAMonline community. At least once a week between now and the Draft, we’ll break down a prospect, or sometimes comparing prospects, in this year’s class. We’ll span the spectrum, from lottery picks to fringe first-rounders and beyond. My aim is to comprehensively examine whoever is under the microscope—let’s just hold off on freshmen until they’ve played at least five games. We’ll take a look strengths, areas of necessary improvement, and what it all means in the context of being an NBA prospect.

First up: Arizona State sophomore point guard Jahii Carson.

Jahii Carson | Arizona State | Sophomore, 21 years old
PG, 5-11, 180

Last season (37.2 MPG): 18.5 PPG, 5 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 47% FG, 19.9 PER

This season (two games): 19 PPG, 5 APG, 1 SPG

Outlook: After redshirting his freshman year at ASU because of academic eligibility issues, Carson had a special debut season for the Sun Devils, quickly cementing himself as one of the toughest and fun-to-watch point guards in the country. Carson thrives with the ball in his hands, converts difficult shots, and his impact is felt across the board, as he led ASU in points, assists, and minutes last season.

Although he’s only 5-11, Carson has an advanced handle (filthy two-way crossover, and one of those players who can integrate streetball moves into a professional setting), a lethal mid-range jump shot, and an excellent first step to get by any player in college basketball. In fact, his 1.13 points per possession in isolation situations ranked better than 96 percent of all college players, per Synergy Sports. And once Carson gets into the lane he’s a near-automatic finisher—his 1.098 points per possession driving right and 1.158 PPP driving left both ranked in the top 10 percent nationally.

So yes, Jahii Carson is a very skilled, very tough, very exciting basketball player. But that doesn’t mean he’s without room for improvement, and frankly, without flaws.

Let’s break it down.

Shot Attempt Breakdown (2012-’13): Jump Shots 43.7% | Around the Basket 38.4% | Runner 17.9%

STRENGTHS

Mid-Range Jump Shot

Carson uses a beautiful mid-range, stop-and-pop jump shot to freeze the opposition and score before he even reaches the second level of the defense. Mid-range jumpers composed 17.3 percent of his jump shots, and Carson shot an excellent .933 points per possession on such shots.

Whether it’s turning the corner on a pick-and-roll or receiving a catch-and-shoot, Carson quickly rises, floats the ball through the air and knocks down the jump shot. He’s especially dangerous off the pick-and-roll, where he can halt his momentum, freeze the defense and get a shot off.

One of the main reasons why second-level defenders back off Carson and surrender the mid-range is because Carson can finish at the basket. In other words, defenders are left with no choice but to concede a jump shot, which by default is more difficult than a half-open layup.

Another reason Carson is so good at getting open is because he is sometimes literally a step ahead of the defense. He advances the ball so rapidly that when he’s ready to make his move, defenders are still reacting to what happened a second prior. Carson has no hesitation on his decisions, and is nimble in his movements.

Runners

Nearly 18 percent of Carson’s jump shots were in the form of runners, and his .887 points per possession on such shots ranked in the 76th percentile nationally. He also recorded a 53.5 field goal percentage around the basket. Carson has a nice touch on his runners—which speaks to his overall smoothness operating with the ball in his hands—and has underrated body control to finish at weird angles.

Pick-and-Roll

Carson utilized the pick-and-roll on 39.5 percent of his possessions last season, by far his most used play in the half court. He’ll often start just above half-court and wait for an oncoming pick on the right side. If the defense doesn’t switch, Carson uses his ball-skills/quick first step to get around the pick and attack the hoop. If the defense does switch, Carson is still incredibly effective — defenders switched on 14.8 percent of his pick-and-rolls last season, and his 1.308 points per possession in such situations was in the top seven percent nationally.


ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

Driving Left

Carson is a special player for all the aforementioned reasons—rare speed and craftiness, mid-range shooting and soft touch—but there is one weaknesses in his game last season that lingers with me: Carson has serious trouble going left.

Last season, Carson went right on 76.2 percent of his drives, while going left on only 23.8 percent of his possessions. Sure, he shot an “excellent” 1.158 points per possession on his drives going left, but when you watch the film (either the clip of his pick-and-rolls above, or the clip below), his discomfort going left is obvious. He often ignores screens on the left side (1:35 in the clip above), or if he does use the screen, attempts to finish with his right hand on the left side (0:10, 0:40 below).

Shooting Form

While Carson’s game is filled with flair, his shooting form (especially from 3-point range) is fundamentally poor. Carson often fades-away, even if the defense is not playing him tight, which causes him to shoot off-balance. He’s also made it a habit to kick-out his right leg as he releases the ball, again unnecessarily making the shot more difficult. Carson’s release and footwork are crooked — you’re not supposed to land on one leg when you shoot.

Carson posted a below-average .939 points per possession on three-pointers (42nd percentile), and a decent .931 points per possession on all jump shots (61st percentile), in large part due to his shooting form. Hopefully he spent the off-season refining his jump shot.

OVERALL

There are some more things to nit-pick—like how Carson keeps his head down when he drives—but all things considered, Jahii Carson is among the nation’s “elite” point guards, showing the ability to maximize his skills while running an offense, and attracting serious interest from the NBA. But there are still questions: How much of an impediment is his size? Can he improve on the success he experienced last year? Can he go left? Can he survive as a below-the-rim player? We should get a much better idea this season.