Every other Wednesday, we’ll be assessing how the top prospects of the 2014 NBA Draft are faring in college and overseas. Stick with us each week for assorted thoughts, including the biggest risers and fallers, the standouts, the sleepers and what we know and don’t know about the next NBA Draft class…
*** *** ***
Last week the Fast Five was bypassed for the first Mock Draft of the new year to get a feel for where everything was in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft. Now, back to the basics and we have a lot of things to cover so let’s get right down to it.
Here is the NBA Draft Fast Five.
ONE: What Do We Know?
This year the mid-majors or small schools are not just good, but they have NBA talent as well. When you look at the top 25 rankings in the NCAA there are teams like Wichita State (Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker), San Diego State (Winston Shepard), Creighton (Doug McDermott), Gonzaga (Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower), and even Massachusetts (Chaz Williams) and New Mexico (Kendall Williams) have potential NBA talents. The top recruits still go to Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, and a handful of other schools, but quality athletes are being groomed in smaller venues more often.
Opportunity sometimes trumps bright lights as Damian Lillard (Weber State) proved by going to a small school by design because it benefited him more in his situation. Basketball is no longer a small, confined world anymore, but an expansive universe where nearly unheard of schools produce NBA All-Stars.
TWO: What Do We Not Know?
How will that translate to NBA teams evaluating the prospects? All of these teams are winning, playing well, and are ranked higher than most would have expected in the preseason, but they are also not playing the top-tier athletic competition like their big conference peers are. That level of athletic competition is important when evaluating a prospect. Scoring and rebounding as the best athlete in the gym is one thing, but doing it with equal level athleticism across the court is another. In the NBA, every night, there will be 10 good to great athletes on the court at all times, which makes evaluating these small school athletes unique.
THREE: Stock Rising
No prospect in the country or world is rising faster than Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis right now. Not only is he playing on the No. 1 team in the country, but he is the engine driving them right now. He has shown a proficiency late in games to make plays and score off of the pick-and-roll at a level that far exceeds a typical freshman. Coming into the year Ennis was grouped with other talented freshmen point guards like Kasey Hill and Nigel Williams-Goss, but has separated himself from them as a potential late first-round prospect.
FOUR: Stock Falling
Injuries are the worst and right now Brandon Ashley is experiencing that with his broken foot after playing very, very well early in the season. That could be a deal breaker on whether or not he declares for the draft, where he is considered a consensus top 60 prospect.
Then there is Spencer Dinwiddie of Colorado, who over the past few years established himself as a late lottery to mid first-round prospect. As a combo guard, he can create offense in unique ways and has a high basketball IQ, which has NBA teams high on his game. This injury could cost him millions of dollars if he declares and slips into the second round, which is a huge loss for a young athlete. This type of thing happens every year where a lock first-round talent gets hurt, comes back to declare for the draft, and becomes a “second-round value” pick, costing him millions and guaranteed years on a contract.
FIVE: Quick Hitter
There are two undefeated teams and two one-loss teams in the top 10 right now, but there is not one elite, dominant team in the country this year. What that means is that the NCAA Tournament is wide open and should be very exciting this year. Why is that important? It is important because NBA teams are present and accounted for at the NCAA Tournament in full capacity, watching for a Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette or Gordon Hayward-type performances to push them into the lottery. There are always 2-3 slots in the lottery left open for any prospect to take with a strong run in the NCAA Tournament where they can make a lasting impression on NBA teams.
It is not the best measuring stick, but a strong run in the NCAA Tournament can elevate a prospect into the lottery just as quick as a poor performance can drop them.
Five “3-and-D” Prospects To Keep An Eye On
1. Rodney Hood: 6-8, 210 pounds â€“ SF, Duke
Stats: (In 32.5 MPG) 16.9 PPG, 0.8 SPG, 44.9 percent 3PT
Clearly Hood is more than just a prospect that will stand in the corner and defend good scorers at the NBA level. At the very least he can be that type of weapon for a team with his combination of shooting and defensive prowess.
2. Dorian Finney-Smith: 6-8, 212 pounds â€“ SF, Florida
Stats: (In 25.5 MPG) 10.0 PPG, 0.5 SPG, 32.9 percent 3PT
One of many role players for Florida that is intriguing as a potential NBA role player. Finney-Smith can shoot the ball at a high level and has the physical (and athletic) attributes to be a quality defender.
3. Edwin Fuquan: 6-6, 205 pounds â€“ SF, Seton Hall
Stats: (In 28.7 MPG) 14.3 PPG, 3.1 SPG, 38.7 percent 3PT
Smaller name and school than the others on the list, but Fuquan can really shoot the ball and has an athletic, long frame to defend multiple positions.
4. Rasheed Sulaimon: 6-4, 185 pounds â€“ SG, Duke
Stats: (In 22.9 MPG) 9.1 PPG, 0.7 SPG, 49.0 percent 3PT
The first time I saw Sulaimon live I thought he was a Raja Bell-type with his defensive intensity and ability to shoot the ball. This season he has not been at his best, but those two skills have not faded.
5. Malcolm Miller: 6-6, 200 pounds â€“ SF, Southern
Stats: (In 26.2 MPG) 11.2 PPG, 1.0 SPG, 34.0 percent 3PT
Miller is not having the best year so far after a stellar campaign last season, but he can get hot and shoot it with anyone in the country when rolling. Also, for a SWAC athlete, Miller has good size, length, and athleticism to play at the next level.
Having niche players that can play a role and play it well, is one of the things that separate a lottery team from a playoff team. From Thabo Sefolosha on the Thunder to Shane Battier on the Heat, having wing athletes that can shoot and defend is invaluable.
Are these prospects the next wave of “3-and-D” championship role players?
Follow Kristofer on Twitter at @NBADraftInsider.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.