Tony Parker, Paul George, Kobe Bryant. All three players were first-round picks but not selected in the first five picks of their respective drafts. They are evidence of this simple fact: There are plenty of talented players available besides the top prospects.
To expand on this further, from the 25 players selected for the 2013 All-Star Game (Rondo was injured), 10 of said players were selected after the fifth pick in their respective drafts. Moreover, the entire starting lineup of the Indiana Pacers does not have one player that was selected higher than the 10th pick of their draft.
As for the 2014 NBA Draft, these five names pretty much dominate every mock draft site: Andrew Wiggins (freshman, Kansas), Jabari Parker (freshman, Duke), Julius Randle (freshman, Kentucky), Marcus Smart (sophomore, Oklahoma State) and Dante Exum (18 years old, Australia). Granted, there is no guarantee these exact five players will go to the first five teams selecting in the 2014 NBA Draft due to how the lottery plays out, but it’s safe to say assuming all five declare for the draft, they will all go pretty high.
Outside of these highly-esteemed prospects, this draft is loaded with talent. And as a result of this, basically the entire Eastern Conference is experimenting with lineups, “developing their younger players” and making head scratching trades. So let’s delve into this pool of talent and try to highlight a few with the talent and wherewithal to potentially dawn an All-Star jersey sometime down the road, in no particular order.
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At the Championship Classic on November 12, 2013, all the hype surrounded Randle, Parker and Wiggins and rightly so. But the player that I could not keep my eyes off of was Embiid. At 7-0 and 250 pounds, it was amazing to learn that he had only been playing organized basketball since 2011. A fluid athlete that had been playing soccer and volleyball before picking up basketball, I believe his ceiling is higher than anyone else in this draft. Now, I will also preface this by saying that he might actually benefit from playing another year or two at Kansas because big men tend to take longer to develop. But his footwork, awareness and hand-eye coordination is undeniable. Talent evaluators are already billing him the next Hakeem Olajuwon for obvious reasons, but even if Embiid does not reach that ceiling, I believe at worst he can be a capable starting center in the NBA for a decade, with ease.
This 6-8, pogo-stick is averaging 12 PPG and 9.0 RPG for the No. 1 team in college basketball. Gordon is a ball of energy that plays with an incredibly high motor. Some scouts worry that he is your classic “tweener” that won’t be big enough to guard power forwards in the NBA and not quick enough to stay with small forwards. But Gordon possesses great lateral quickness and verticality, which will more than make up for his perceived lack of height — plus his wingspan seems to be beyond average at his position. Gordon won’t ever make a living as a back-to-the-basket post threat but he has the capability of facing up and shooting it with range (.462 percent on three-point range). Plus he has a very underrated handle that will serve him well at the next level.
Think John Wall 2.0. Not a 2.0 as in an upgrade but a remix with similarities. Christon is a solid 6-3 with long arms and tons of explosiveness. Christon does not get the type of attention he deserves because he plays for a mid-tier program in the Midwest but watching tape on him, he really does emulate John Wall in many ways: His ability to slash to the basket and finish in traffic, the ability to setup his teammates and also his inability to knockdown shots from beyond the arc. Granted, John Wall has improved in that area of his game over the years but developing consistent range is a struggle for many young guards in the NBA, and Christon will be no exception. But his strengths alone will get him a roster spot in the league and possibly a spot on an All-Star team around 2020.
Michigan State, sophomore
A smooth shooting guard that makes everything look effortless, Harris, Mr. Basketball for the state of Indiana in 2012 and Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2013, is on a trajectory to win POY honors in the Big Ten as well if the Spartan can capture the Big Ten Crown. Now, he is still adjusting to opposing defenses this season because they are designing their defense to stop him first, thus he is shooting only 40 percent from the field so far this year but he’s still scoring 17 PPG. Unless Ohio State overachieves this season, which is a definite possibility, MSU should have no trouble winning the Big Ten regular season and postseason championship. Harris will not be lauded like the trio of freshmen in this year’s class but expect him to contribute right away and even start for an NBA franchise next season.
A physically dominating point guard in high school, Harrison has somewhat struggled so far this season in college basketball. But when you are a team with potentially seven other NBA players, this tends to happen, especially when they are all freshman or sophomores, hungry to prove that they are all “Alpha Dogs” to a certain extent. I fully expect Harrison, along with this teammates, to become a better team instead of a group of individual talents by March Madness. Harrison still possesses very good quickness, and solid mechanics on his jump shot as well. His decision-making has been skittish so far, but expect it to become more consistent by season’s end. And I will not be surprised if Harrison finds himself in an All-Star Game before the year 2020, because John Calipari has a proven track record of producing talented NBA players, especially at the point guard position with Derrick Rose and John Wall, and to a lesser extend Tyreke Evans and Brandon Knight.
When projecting a prospect’s ceiling, it’s all about how one spins it. If a collegiate player is an athlete but lacks range on his jump shot some evaluators see it as “room to grow” while others see a weakness. Often times, it’s a crapshoot, really. In Rodney Hood’s case, I’m going with “room to grow” which automatically increases his overall ceiling. He is 6-8, handles the ball very well, is very capable of scoring off the dribble and has a post game. Now, in my mind, I believe he will have to add strength to his body without losing his agility and quickness. He is an efficient scorer, he scores 19.3 PPG at a 58.9 percent clip. However, I believe he might be limited defensively because of his rather pedestrian 6-8.5 wingspan but I still like his chances.
Selden might actually stay another year at Kansas, with the way the team is not winning as it should at this point. Plus, playing the third or fourth option on the floor, he’s not featured the way Wiggins or Embiid is. However, we know how these freshman and sophomore-heavy teams can be early on in the season. If the Jayhawks make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament with Selden playing heavy minutes, I fully expect him to enter the draft because he already possesses an NBA body for a guard. His shooting really needs work at this point in time (especially from the free throw line where he’s shooting an abysmal 50 percent). All this said, I still think a GM will take a chance on him in the first round and hope he develops into a two-way player like Lance Stephenson, with a higher learning curve.
Cauley-Stein will never be a 20 PPG type of big man. He’ll probably hover around 10 PPG for his career in the NBA, that is assuming he develops a better 10-15 foot jump shot and a jump hook. Why is he on this list? Two reasons: He runs the floor at an elite level for a 7-footer and he can protect the rim. Though many are not that high on him and compare him to Dan Gadzuric, I think he’ll end up being somewhere between Joakim Noah and Tyson Chandler. He doesn’t have Noah’s winning pedigree or his savvy, nor does he have Chandler’s intensity at this point, but I can see him being an elite-level rim protector that anchors a top-five defense. Plus, his ability to outrun other big men and initiate fast breaks will be two very complementary skills that will serve him well in the NBA.
Arizona State, sophomore
Think Damian Lillard, but with more explosive ability to the get to the rim and create for others. Now, Carson is only 5-11 but he has that ability to get around anyone using hesitation moves, crossovers or just straight blow-by moves. His 3-point range was questionable last season but he’s definitely shored up that aspect of his game. He dropped 40 points at UNLV in Vegas earlier this season in a victory. Now many mock drafts have him going in the second round because of his lack of height and his penchant for wanting to score instead of setting up his teammates but his raw ability is undeniable. I really do believe he is that one player, assuming he enters the draft this season, that about 20 teams will regret passing on.
Whenever you can handle the ball and create shots for yourself as well as your teammates, it translates very well to the next level. Add that to a 6-10 frame with a 7-3 wingspan, you will surely have NBA scouts drooling on their iPads or Notebooks. That’s the plight of Noah Vonleh, who is currently averaging 12.8 PPG and 10 RPG for an 8-2 Indiana squad. Although, at this point in time, he gets most of his points inside the paint on post-ups and putbacks, he will become a more well-rounded threat at the pro level. The only aspect of Vonleh that worries me is his demeanor. For someone with his physical attributes, he needs to play with more attitude and more of a mean streak. Even if he doesn’t, I project him to be a Chris Bosh-like player with better ball skills but not Bosh’s jump shot.
Which players in this year’s draft will surprise people and become stars?
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