Now that we closed the book on what turned out to be one of the strangest draft nights in recent memory, it’s time to turn our attention to more pressing matters, like our predictions for the 2014 NBA Draft! True, the dust has barely settled on the Barclays Center, yet here we are, already looking ahead to next year. That’s because it’s shaping up to be arguably the deepest collection of talent since the landmark 2003 Draft that featured future All-Stars, Olympic Gold Medalists, MVPs and NBA Champions like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, as well as one of the most tragicomical draft busts of our collective lifetimes, the surly, frosty-quaffed Serbian himself, Darko Milicic.
Ten years from now, who among these 15 youngsters will be left carrying the torch of a new generation, and who among them will fade away into obscurity and mediocrity? We have absolutely no idea, and that’s partially what’s so exciting about it. If we learned anything last night, it’s that you have to expect the unexpected. Like everything else in life, the draft is unpredictable, and for some, it can be a bitterly disappointing experience, but it can also be thrilling and cathartic. A lot can happen between now and next year, so this list will undoubtedly look dramatically different after another whirlwind college basketball season. But for now, these 15 players (and a handful of others on the bubble) represent one of the most exciting collection of prospects since the turn of the new millennium.
*** *** ***
15. MITCH McGARY – Michigan
NBA Doppelganger(s): Poor-Man’s David Lee, Poor-Man’s Kevin Love
Last season at Michigan, McGrary averaged 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds and showed flashes of brilliance during the NCAA Tournament (25 points, 14 rebounds against Kansas in the Sweet 16). Like Lee, he has a solid midrange jumper, and like Love, he’s a beast on the boards, and like both of those players, he has great court vision and passing ability for a big man. His size, strength and intensity make up for what he’s currently lacking in terms of an all-around post-game. Another year at Michigan will be good for him.
14. MONTREZL HARRELL – Louisville
NBA Doppelganger: DeJuan Blair
As the video indicates, Harrell is a beast, or at least he has the potential to be. There’s no better way to describe him. Last season at Louisville, he only averaged 5.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in limited minutes, but his intensity and explosiveness make him an intriguing prospect. During his sophomore season, he’ll need to continue developing his post moves, keep working on his midrange game, and improve his defense to make himself more attractive as an NBA prospect. He has the size and athleticism to be an elite shotblocker as well as a force on the offensive end.
13. WAYNE SELDEN – Kansas
NBA Doppelganger: Poor-Man’s D-Wade
For my money, Selden passes all the eye tests as an NBA-level talent. At 6-5, he’s a strong, athletic, high-energy guard who can create his own shot, get into the lane, and finish around the rim while drawing contact. However, he’ll have to improve his jump shot and get better defensively if he wants to be an elite guard in the league.
12. WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN – Kentucky
NBA Doppelganger: JaVale McGee (Sorry, Willie!)
Last season at Kentucky, he averaged 8.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Those numbers aren’t that impressive, but Cauley-Stein is one of those physical specimens who might end up being a better pro than he was a college player. His low-post game is pedestrian and his jump shot virtually non-existent, but with his size and athleticism, he’s an imposing defensive presence capable of blocking and altering shots and providing solid help-side defense. He was smart to stay another year in college and try to further develop his game.
11. JOEL EMBIID – Kansas
NBA Doppelganger: Serge Ibaka
Like Ibaka, he patrols the paint, blocks shots, intimidates opponents, and has nice range on his jump shot. With Embiid, Wiggins and Selden, Kansas will have one of the most athletic teams in the country next season. His all-around game is still raw, but a year at Kansas should help him develop a wider repertoire of skills.
10. GLENN ROBINSON III – Michigan
NBA Doppelganger: a more athletic version of his father, of course!
Wiggins isn’t the only one in his class with NBA pedigree. As the son of O.G. Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, Robinson III averaged 11 points and five rebounds during his freshman season and was an integral part of Michigan’s Final Four run. He operates effectively on the pick-n-roll, gets out in transition, and finishes strong around the rim, but he relies too much on his teammates for scoring opportunities. He hides this deficiency by playing at small forward in college (partially because he’s a big 6-6), but he’ll have to develop a more all-around offensive repertoire and likely make the transition over to shooting guard to be successful in the NBA.
9. ISAIAH AUSTIN – Baylor
NBA Doppelganger(s): Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, obviously. But seriously, folks, Anthony Davis
Austin averaged 13 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in his freshman season at Baylor. A legitimate 7-footer with a go-go-gadget wingspan and quick footwork, he has tremendous rebounding and shotblocking abilities and good range on his jump shot. But he’ll have to improve his upper-body strength to matchup against the NBA’s more physically-imposing centers.
8. ANDREW HARRISON – Kentucky
NBA Doppelganger(s): Damian Lillard or a less-athletic Russell Westbrook
Along with lottery cohorts Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein, Harrison will helm Kentucky’s offense this season. Like Smart, he’s an oversized point guard with excellent ballhandling skills that allow him to beat opponents off the dribble and finish strong around the rim while drawing contact. The main concerns are his attitude, turnovers, streaky shooting and questionable shot selection, as well as competitiveness on the defensive end.
7. MARIO HEZONJA – Croatian Basketball League
NBA Doppelganger: Manu Ginobili?
A lot of people think fellow Croatian Dario Saric belongs in the lottery next year, but the truth is Hezonja is much more NBAâ€“ready. As a 6-6 shooting guard, he has the speed, quickness and unexpected explosiveness to go along with a soft jumper, great court vision, and above-average on-the-ball defensive skills. The main criticisms are his turnovers, poor shot selection, and off-the-ball defense. According to scouting reports, Hezonja, at times, seems lethargic and unfocused and lacks chemistry with his teammates, but his raw ability alone makes him a surefire lottery pick.
6. CHRIS WALKER – Florida
NBA Doppelganger(s): Young Lamar Odom, Larry Sanders
He’s a 6-10 center who’ll probably play power forward in the NBA unless he grows a couple more inches and puts on some weight. He can handle the rock, so the best comparison at this point might be Lamar Odom. He’s long, athletic, a tremendous finisher around the rim, and a formidable shotblocker (like Sanders). Right now, the number one hurdle for Walker is academic eligibility.
5. MARCUS SMART – Oklahoma State
NBA Doppelganger: Poor-Man’s Deron Williams?
It’s difficult to know who exactly to compare him to just yet, but Smart, along with Andrew Harrison, is one of the top floor generals in a draft class that is surprisingly bereft of them. At 6-4 and 200 pounds, he’s a big, physical point guard that can bulldoze his way over smaller defenders, and led all point guards in the country on the boards. An excellent team leader and an above-average defender, Smart brings tremendous toughness, effort and energy on every possession. His main weaknesses are his quickness and his sometimes streaky shooting and questionable shot selection. Nonetheless, he averaged an impressive 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game for the Cowboys last year.
4. AARON GORDON – Arizona
NBA Doppelganger: Blake Griffin
If Jabari Parker is the next ‘Melo, then Aaron Gordon is the next Blake Griffin. Behind Wiggins, he’s probably the other best athlete in this class. At 6-8, he has a streaky jump shot and a questionable handle, but he can still improve in both of these areas. On defense, he protects the rim, blocks shots, intimidates opponents, cleans up the boards, and runs the floor well for a big man. Like Griffin, however, he needs to develop a more sophisticated post game, and like Griffin, he gets a lot of his points in transition and from barreling his way into the lane, neither of which will be as easy for him once he gets to the NBA.
3. JULIUS RANDLE – Kentucky
NBA Doppelganger(s): Zach Randolph, Chris Webber
Randle seems destined to become the next Zach Randolph, partially because they have similar body-types. But with his youth and athletic ability, right now he’s somewhere between Randolph and C-Webb. Like Randolph, he likes to bully his opponents in the lane and in the post, and like Webber, he has the ability to run the fast break and finish with authority around the rim. One of the main criticisms has been his lack of fundamentals on the defensive end, but as you’ll see below, with a little work (a year in the collegiate ranks might help with this) he’s perfectly capable of becoming an intimidating defensive presence in the paint. He gets the nod over the hyper-athletic Gordon for having a more complete all-around game.
2. JABARI PARKER – Duke
NBA Doppelganger(s): Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce
Parker has drawn comparisons to Paul Pierce, but at his height, he’s more Carmelo Anthony. Like both of them, he doesn’t have a lot of muscle definition and has never been extraordinarily athletic, which is one of his major drawbacks. However, Parker has a more polished offensive arsenal than Wiggins and probably everybody else in his class. An foot injury sidelined him for much of his senior year, so his first and only season at Duke and his ability to get (and stay) in shape will say a lot about where he is physically and whether he’s durable enough to have a long NBA career. He led Simeon to an unprecedented four state championships, he’s a two-time Mr. Basketball of Illinois, the Morgan Wooten National Player of the Year, and a McDonald’s All-American.
1. ANDREW WIGGINS – Kansas
NBA Doppelganger(s): LeBron James
As the most sought-after prospect since LeBron, Wiggins is already being hailed as the savior of Canadian hoops. It almost seems silly to characterize his offensive game as “raw,” but that’s just how high his ceiling is. He can handle the ball, he has a devastating Euro-step, and his go-to spin-move in the lane leaves defenders floundering. He also has the length and quickness to become a phenomenal perimeter defender.
Athletically, he comes from tremendous pedigree. His father was a professional basketball player, and his mother was an Olympic sprinter. She obviously passed down some of that speed to her son because Wiggins runs the court as fast, if not faster, than even the speediest point guards. He has an unbelievable second jumping ability, which allows him to grab offense boards and get easy tip-ins and put-back dunks.
The one knock on Wiggins is that he doesn’t always seem motivated to dominate a game the way we might expect, but don’t get it twisted. He trusts his teammates and does his best to get them involved. After a Sports Illustrated article earlier this year questioned his intensity, all he did was go out and drop 57 points in the following game (on 24-for-28 shooting), to go along with 13 rebounds and four blocks. The killer instinct is there, just waiting to be roused. Did I mention the fact that he routinely pulls off outrageous dunks that could easily win an NBA Dunk Contest?
Outside of Wiggins, who will be the best pro out of the class of 2014?
Follow Jamie on Twitter at @WinoCarpenter.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.