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Fast Five: The 6-10 Best Prospects In This Year’s NBA Draft

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…

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It has begun: Mock Drafts a plenty, rumors of other names that NBA decision-makers feel are in the conversation for a top pick, plenty of losing, and lots to talk about. All of that and it is only November, let’s get to it.

Here is the NBA Draft Fast Five.

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ONE: What Do We Know?
The top of the draft is settled in. There is room at the top for prospects to move up and join the conversation with Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker. Three names that are moving into the conversation are Australian guard Dante Exum, Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon, and Oklahoma state sophomore Marcus Smart. The top three are the top three despite traffic baiting articles where “General Manager X told me that Player Y is in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick.” That is something that is going to happen no matter what throughout the year because the narrative that there are three incredibly talented freshmen superstars is not enough for some.

The top is set with the big three and then after that, the talent is still a higher tier than most common drafts.

TWO: What Do We Not Know?
How good is the middle?

Some are skeptical of how talented the middle of the draft is after the top seven when you include Kansas freshman Joel Embiid with that group above. After that tier, there is a group that includes Gary Harris (Michigan State), James Young (Kentucky), Noah Vonleh (Indiana, more on him below), and Wayne Selden (Kansas) that would have all been in the running for a top five pick in the past three years. There is a quality of depth in the middle of the draft between the 8-14 slots that could yield more talented prospects that those taken at the very top of the 2013 NBA Draft.

The class has not been defined so knowing how strong it can be is impossible today, but the potential with all the prospects in this group is reminiscent of the 2003 NBA Draft that produced one perennial All-Star, four more career starters, and an additional eight rotation players after the Big Three were selected. That makes for 16-for-29 (55.1 percent) of the picks being a hit, having an impact, and giving the draft an overall quality of depth that is rare.

THREE: Stock Rising
At this point in a college season it is easier to credit prospects that are playing above and beyond their projections, like Indiana freshman forward Noah Vonleh. He has come on strong as the fourth outstanding freshman of this group behind Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker. Vonleh is not as vaunted as his peers nor as dynamic, but he plays his position as well as anyone, with great energy and effort, while producing at a very high rate. In this class, Vonleh is not a star, but maximizes his athleticism and production on the court in the paint.

FOUR: Stock Falling
It is still too early to make a bold statement like “Player X Stock is falling.” An aspect of being an NBA-level prospect is showing progression, improvement and new wrinkles to their game. So far this season Baylor sophomore forward Isaiah Austin has shown slight improvement, but has not developed up to his talent and potential. Austin has added some strength and some weight to his slight frame, adding to his game to play more inside. He is playing more in the paint, as a 7-footer should, using his size and athletic tools to add to his shotblocking numbers, but has dropped in his rebounding production.

Austin plays like a big in moments, like a guard in others, and moving away from those bad habits will take time and coaching.

Hit page 2 to see the No. 6-10 ranked prospects in this year’s class…

FIVE: Quick Hitter
Over the past few years, numerous teams have traded in and out of the 2014 NBA Draft. It has been hard to keep up with, but here is a re-hash of the current state of the moves and where the teams will be drafting this summer:

Atlanta to Boston – The Celtics receive the least favorable of the Hawks and Nets pick this year as a part of the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade, July 12, 2013

Brooklyn to Atlanta – The Hawks can swap first-round picks with the Nets due to the Joe Johnson Trade, July 2, 2012

Charlotte to Chicago (Top 10 Protected) – The Bulls receive this pick from the Tyrus Thomas trade, February 18, 2010

Dallas to Oklahoma City (Top 20 Protected) – The Thunder receive this pick from the Lamar Odom trade via the Lakers, via the Rockets, December 12, 2011

Denver to Orlando – The Magic receive the Nuggets pick from the Dwight Howard trade, August 10, 2012

Detroit to Charlotte (Top 8 Protected) – The Bobcats receive this pick from the Corey Maggette trade, June 27, 2012

Golden State to Utah – The Jazz receive the Warriors pick from the Richard Jefferson Trade, July 5, 2013

Indiana to Phoenix – The Suns receive the Pacers pick from the Luis Scola trade, July 29, 2013

Minnesota to Phoenix (Top 13 Protected) – The Suns receive this pick from the Robin Lopez trade, July 24, 2012

New Orleans to Philadelphia – The 76ers receive the Pelicans pick from the Jrue Holiday trade, July 12, 2013

Philadelphia to Miami (Top 12 Protected) – The Heat receive this pick from the Arnett Moultrie trade, June 28, 2012

Portland to Charlotte (Top 12 Protected) – The Bobcats receive this pick from the Gerald Wallace trade, February 24, 2011

Sacramento to Cleveland (Top 12 Protected) – The Kings receive this pick from the J.J. Hickson trade, June 30, 2011

Washington to Phoenix (Top 13 Protected) – The Suns receive this pick from the Marcin Gortat trade, October 25, 2013

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Top Prospects — No. 6-10

1. Aaron Gordon: 6-9, 212 pounds – PF, Arizona
Stats: (In 28.6 MPG) 13.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 48.1 percent FG, 50.0 percent 3PT (4-8)
Athleticism is not handed out equally and Gordon is the best pure athlete in this class. He has to polish out some elements of his game from ballhandling to shooting, but he plays with such great energy and effort that will allow him to be a great rebounder and transition finisher.

2. Joel Embiid: 7-0, 240 pounds – C, Kansas
Stats: (In 18.8 MPG) 8.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 72.2 percent FG, 50.0 percent FT (9-18)
From his footwork being compared to a young Hakeen Olajuwon to his raw athleticism being mentioned as a superior version of Serge Ibaka, Embiid has the requisite skill-set to be a impact big man on both ends of the floor.

3. Gary Harris: 6-4, 205 pounds – SG, Michigan State
Stats: (In 30.7 MPG) 17.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 41.4 percent FG, 26.5 percent 3PT (13-49)
This season has started out strong for the sophomore as a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands. Harris has good polish as a combo guard making plays at the rim for himself and teammates.

4. James Young: 6-6, 210 pounds – SF, Kentucky
Stats: (In 30.3 MPG) 13.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.6 APG, 38.6 percent FG, 31.0 percent 3PT (13-42)
On a deep and talented team like the Wildcats currently have there will be big nights and lean nights for Young. So far this season he has showed he is a very diverse scorer that has an NBA build today.

5. Andrew Harrison: 6-5, 207 pounds – PG, Kentucky
Stats: (In 28.7 MPG) 11.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, 47.2 percent FG, 46.7 percent 3PT (7-15)
Big point guards are the norm at the next level — great athletes that have size, penetration skills and can score, keeping the defense off balance. That is an apt description of what this Harrison brings at the point of attack.

Kansas and Kentucky have a monopoly on this year’s top freshmen, not all of them, but with eight in the Top 50 of the Big Board they clearly have cornered the market. Next year things change some with Duke grabbing the big class, Kentucky right behind them, and Kansas there as well. Looks like these coaches are now getting on board with this one-and-done rule seven years in.

Outside of the top prospects, who has the best chance of being a star?

Follow Kristofer on Twitter at @NBADraftInsider.

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