An early look at the top prospects of the 2014 NBA Draft.
1. Andrew Wiggins SF – Kansas
It’s hard to believe that there could be a prospect who could rival the scouting grades that LeBron James demanded out of high school. Andrew Wiggins is arguably the most dynamic high school basketball player since James. Wiggins has an explosive first step and what’s ever more impressive than his jumping ability is his ability to re-jump. Wiggins gets off the ground so quickly that he can land and get back up before his opponent realizes the ball is in the air. Similar to James, Wiggins will have to improve his ball handling and outside scoring although he might be a better shooter than James was at this age. One thing is certain: there will be no Anthony Bennett-type picks in 2014. When the NBA Draft rolls around in June, Wiggins is the consensus first pick.
2. Jabari Parker SF – Duke
It’s ironic that before Wiggins re-classified into the class of 2013, Jabari Parker was the premier basketball player coming out of high school. The two players will get a different college experience from each other. Parker could get the edge by playing at Duke because of Duke head coach Mike Krzyewski. That’s not to say that Bill Self isn’t a fantastic coach at Kansas, but Coach K is arguably the greatest college coach ever, and he hasn’t even retired yet. Parker is more of a finesse player than Wiggins, who relies more on raw athleticism. Parker will learn this in’s and out’s of playing on a balanced team with shot selection, defense and ball security being the priorities. Parker is extremely athletic in his own right. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Parker is the Carmelo Anthony to Wiggins’ LeBron James.
3. Julius Randle PF – Kentucky
Julius Randle is interesting because even though he’s No. 3 on this list, he has the potential to be better than everyone else on it. They say height is hard to find, but it isn’t. There are plenty of tall players, but there aren’t many tall players who play big. Randle brings a ferocity to any offense with his ability to work with his back to the basket in the post. He’ll throw elbows, shove and take hits. He’s the type of big man that a team wants to have. He rebounds the ball more intensely, dunks with more emphasis, and block shots with more tenacity than most others. Randle could easily develop into the best offensive big man in the NBA within a few years. If he can develop a consistent 15-18 foot jump shot, forget about it. Randle will be good. Time will tell if he’ll be great.
4. Dante Exum PG – Australian Institute of Sport
There seems to be a mystique about foreign born players – with the exception of Wiggins (Canada). Very few guys actually pan out in the NBA after coming from overseas. Fans seem to grade players on a scale of Darko Milicic to Dirk Nowitzki. Exum is still a long shot to declare for the 2014 draft because he’s likely to either stay in Australia or go to college. Exum is 6-feet-6-inches and can explode through a double team. He’s more a scoring guard, but after seeing players like Russell Westbrook, that might not be a bad thing. He’s probably a better fit at shooting guard, but his passing ability allows him to run an offense.
5. Joel Embiid C – Kansas
Joel Embiid is the “other guy” from Kansas. At 7-feet, he’s guaranteed to get lottery consideration. The thing about Embiid is he’s athletic too. He’s not lethargic when he jumps and says no to more players’ shots than a swimsuit model at a bar hosting Comic Con. There is a potential for more. Even though his shot is a little flat out of his hand, Embiid shows a nice touch from about 10-feet from the basket. He shows glimpses of a young Kevin Garnett. Embiid could evolve into a very polished post player.
6. Marcus Smart PG – Oklahoma State
Marcus Smart probably would have been the second overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft because the Orlando Magic were extremely high on him and are still in need of a point guard for the future because Jameer Nelson isn’t getting any younger. Smart is quick, crafty and… well, he’s smart. He has a unique passing ability that allows for his teammates to end with wide-open dunks and lay ups off hard cuts to the bucket. His vision is one of his best tools. Smart should be a starting point guard in the NBA for many years.
7. Andrew Harrison PG – Kentucky
Andrew Harrison isn’t as developed as Smart is, but he can be a productive NBA point guard as well. Both he and his brother will reap the benefits of playing at Kentucky for Head Coach John Calipari, who produces more All-Star point guards than a chicken does eggs. Harrison has a nice mid-range game to go along with it and can be a deadly offensive weapon for any team.
8. Aaron Gordon SF– Arizona
At Arizona, Aaron Gordon reminds some of Derrick Williams when he was playing there. Gordon has size at 6-feet-9-inches and can shoot the ball from range, but consistency from the outside is an area of improvement for the majority of college players. Gordon’s toughest hurdle might be proving that he isn’t a second coming of Williams who has flopped thus far with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Gordon will have to show that he’s a better overall talent than Williams was and still have room to grow.
9. Willie Caulie-Stein C – Kentucky
Life isn’t always easy being the back-up to a star. Willie Caulie-Stein didn’t exactly perch in the shadows like he was trying to be Bruce Wayne, but his minutes were a bit limited until Nerlens Noel went down with a torn ACL against Florida. Caulie-Stein has size, power and attitude, the three things that tend to make for a presence in the paint. Most of his shots will come off of drop-off passes and second chance opportunities, but he will be the defensive anchor for Kentucky this year and can bring that ability any NBA team. Caulie-Stein doesn’t have the star power than Anthony Davis or Noel had, but he’ll do the job at the same rate.
10. Montrezl Harrell C – Louisville
He’s a national champion. Montrezl Harrell proved to be a dominant force in the NCAA Tournament last year, helping Louisville win a national championship. He’ll block so many shots that fans will question if they’re watching him or Dikembe Mutombo on a Geico commercial. “No, no, no,” don’t get it twisted. Harrell is not Mutombo – but who’s to say he can’t be as good as the finger-waving shot eraser? Harrell has a nice touch around the basket which reminds some of Roy Hibbert. Don’t forget that Hibbert was somewhat raw out of Georgetown and didn’t develop an offensive game until his second or third year with the Indiana Pacers. Harrell’s size and potential make him a viable lottery candidate.
11. Dario Saric PG – Croatia
After taking a step back from the 2013 NBA Draft, Dario Saric will have one more year of basketball under his belt in Croatia before he jumps back in the prospect pool for 2014. Saric has a decent jump shot and can be an average defender, but his play making ability will be his bread and butter. Saric projects as a quality point guard in the NBA, capable of becoming a starter. He’ll be used to run an offense at an efficient rate and eliminate turnovers.
12. Glenn Robinson III SG – Michigan
Glenn Robinson III and Michigan were so close to a national championship last year , they could taste it. Now, with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr gone, GR3 (doesn’t quite have the same ring does it?) will have to show his worth to NBA scouts. He can shoot the ball without a doubt and perimeter scoring is a need for literally every team in the NBA. In football, you can never have enough offensive linemen. In baseball, the rule is the more pitchers the merrier. Well, in basketball, shooters serve the same purpose. That’s why even if Robinson III doesn’t develop completely; his shooting ability will help him remain in the NBA. Obviously he’s projected to be much more than a journeyman, but there’s always that possibility. He’ll need to focus on his defensive efforts and work on creating his own shot if he wants to solidify his lottery stock.
13. Wayne Selden SG – Kansas
Wayne Selden falls right behind Wiggins and Embiid at Kansas. Selden will slide into that shooting guard role and provide scoring for the Jayhawks. It will be tough for him to match what Ben McLemore did as a freshman last season, but with Wiggins by his side, Selden won’t have to. He’s explosive, athletic and can be an instant-offense option in the NBA.
14. James McAdoo SF – North Carolina
James McAdoo could have come out earlier and been a top-five pick. After some disappointing years at North Carolina, his stock has dropped, but it hasn’t fallen too far. He’s still very lengthy and has scoring ability. His best service to an NBA team will be as a slashing wing player, similar to fellow Tarheel Marvin Williams. McAdoo will have to establish a consistent spot-up game if he wants to become more than just an open-lane dunker. His length will cause problems on the defensive end, so McAdoo can be a valuable pick to the right team.