By JONATHAN TJARKS
Duke's 69–63 win over Virginia on Saturday had a big impact, not only on the ACC race and the national rankings, but also because of the huge implications when it comes to the 2015 NBA Draft. The biggest prospect storylines centered on the wing positions, where Blue Devils freshman Justise Winslow was matched up against Cavaliers junior Justin Anderson.
Winslow - part of a highly touted trio of first-year players at Duke - has been projected to go in the lottery since his high school days; Anderson - a more unheralded recruit - has played his way into the first-round discussion by leading the Cavaliers to the top of the league standings through early February. DraftExpress has Winslow at No. 11 and Anderson as the 23rd pickin its latest Mock Draft.
Despite being almost three years younger than his counterpart, Winslow decisively won the aforementioned matchup as Duke handed Virginia its first loss of the season:
Winslow: 15 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, one steal, one block on 16 shots
Anderson: 11 points, five rebounds, one steal on 11 shots
This is not the first time an elite wing player has struggled in a head-to-head matchup with Winslow, and it likely won't be the last. During an 80–70 victory at Wisconsin in November, Winslow helped hold projected first-round pick Sam Dekker to five points and four rebounds on only five shots.
What makes Winslow such a good defensive player? It starts with his physical tools - he is an 18-year-old with the body of a grown man. At 6'7 230 pounds and a 6'10 wingspan, he has the length and athleticism to match up with four positions at the college level. In this sequence from the Virginia game, you can see the difficulty Anderson has in getting around Winslow. There aren't many driving lanes available when the Duke freshman locks in on defense.
Winslow is at his best when he can use his athleticism to get out in transition on the open floor. A high percentage of his offense against the Cavaliers came from turning over Virginia and pushing the ball at every opportunity.
Winslow's superior physicality and high motor also allow him to impact the game in a number of ways. He is very difficult to keep him off the glass, and was Duke's leading rebounder on Saturday.
The key to stopping Winslow is to stay in front of him in the half-court, and force him into taking difficult shots. Like many freshman, he can struggle at times with his shot selection, alternating between being too passive and too aggressive.
When Virginia was able to keep Duke out of transition, Anderson actually did a pretty good job of limiting Winslow's offense. At 6'6, 225 pounds, with a 6'11 wingspan, he looks like an older version of Duke's star freshman - another big-bodied wing player who can slide between multiple positions on the defensive end of the floor.
Similar to Winslow, Anderson projects as a prototype 3-and-D player in the modern NBA, an archetype that has becoming increasingly valuable due to the rise of the spread offense. Anderson can space the floor to open up driving lanes for his teammates, and he can play lock-down D while closing off driving lanes for the opposition.
When it comes to projecting Anderson and Winslow at the next level, the key for both players is how they stack up in terms of their wingspan and three-point shooting percentage. Here's a visual look at how they compare in those categories to the 30 starting starting forwards in the NBA:
The biggest plus for Anderson is that even though he's a volume three-point shooter, he's making preposterous 50 percent from beyond the arc on 4.4 attempts per game. Winslow is a capable perimeter shooter himself, knocking down 36 percent from deep on 3.3 attempts per game, but he's clearly a notch below the Cavaliers star forward.
The difference in their games comes from how teams prepare to defend them. Opponents will play a step off Winslow to prevent him from getting in the paint - encouraging him to take outside shots. Against Anderson, opponents have to press up and respect the three-ball, while trying to make him uncomfortable driving to the basket.
Anderson isn't great at creating his own shot off the dribble, particularly against a set defense.
His best move of the game came when he was matched up against freshman point guard Tyus Jones, who doesn't have the size (6'1, 190 pounds) or athleticism to stay in front of him.
The good news for Anderson is that he probably won't be asked to create his shot much at the next level. If he can force the defense to respect him 25-plus feet from the basket, he will have done his job.
Winslow, on the other hand, has the skill-set to handle more responsibility on offense than Anderson. The problem is that we don't always get to see it at Duke, where he is often the third or fourth option in the half-court behind Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook. Every once in awhile, however, Winslow will read the floor in a way that makes you wonder what he could do if given a bigger role. He doesn't get an assist on this play, but his ability to push tempo and find the open man in the corner eventually creates a wide-open three-pointer at the top of the key.
Though Winslow is far from a finished product, he's still young enough to where you can project significant improvement for the Duke freshman over the next few years. The chart below shows the birthdays of the top wing prospects in this year's draft. It should come as no surprise that the highest-rated players on most draft boards- Winslow, Stanley Johnson and Mario Hezonja-are also the three youngest.
One of the most difficult parts of evaluating young players is that we just don't have all that much data to go on. If we could see what type of numbers Winslow puts up over three or four seasons under the tutelage of Coach K at Duke, we would have a much better idea of his ceiling in the NBA. Instead, since he is almost certain to go pro following his freshman campaign, we can only try to project what he could become with two or three more years of development.
The NBA team that ends up with Winslow will be getting a player whose ceiling that is off the charts, and whose floor isn't much lower. He already looks as capable as Anderson, who should be able to carve out a spot for himself in the league as long as he can consistently knock down the three-point shot.
Length, athleticism and shooting ability are being valued more and more at the next level, and those are traits that Winslow and Anderson have in spades.
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