(Image via Getty)
The NBA Draft lottery is just less than 5 months away, and now is a great time to look at the top 20 overall prospects.
1. Joel Embiid. Freshmen. Center. Kansas. 7″0.
To me, Embiid is the best player in this absolutely loaded draft class. To have been playing basketball for just over 2 years and to be as developed as Embiid is certainly impresses myself and other analysts. Embiid has a very solid post game, including quite a few shakes (Dream Shake), a good hook shot, and tremendous passing. The passing is one of his most prominent attributes, and considering the fact that he has played for so long and can find his teammates so easily, his NBA-readiness is quite high. As a 7 footer with 7″5 wingspan, he will certainly be a force on the defensive end in terms of both shot-blocking and actual man-to-man guarding. Averaging nearly 3 blocks a game, 7.5 boards and 11.1 points, with the 7th highest shooting percentage (.696) in all of college basketball, Embiid projects to be the perfect number one overall pick: low floor, high ceiling.
2. Andrew Wiggins. Freshman. Small Forward. Kansas. 6″8.
It is a bit peculiar, as the Kansas Jayhawks have 4 losses yet have the top 2 players on this, and many, big boards. Nevertheless, their two superstars are just that, superstars. This young man had a truly unfair situation coming into college from Huntington Prep: he was “the next Lebron”. It seems that the next ______ comes along every so often, and Seventh Woods is likely to follow, and it really isn’t right. Should Wiggins have come into college as he should have: known as the best high schooler coming to college, no one would be disappointed with his output. And no one should, because this kid has been great. A lockdown defender with a good jump shot and a great ability to get to the rim, Wiggins projects to be a supersized Andre Iguodala. If there were two areas scouts would like to see him improve, it’d be in his aggressiveness and his rebounding. But make no mistake, Wiggins will be special when he hits the next level.
3. Marcus Smart. Sophomore. Shooting Guard. Oklahoma State. 6″4.
Marcus Smart has been slipping on quite a few big boards, and I’m really not sure why. This dude is an athletic freak, with a better jumper than people give him credit for, above average passing, a supreme ability to get to the rim, plus my favorite, a post game. Smart is the type of 2 guard that can change a team, and his stat line of 17.8 and just 4.4 assists certainly shows that he ought to be a shooting guard at the next level. Smart, like those before him and a few after, will be a cornerstone of whichever franchise is lucky enough to get him. And his game certainly backs it up.
4. Jabari Parker. Freshman. Small Forward. Duke. 6″8.
This is not a knock on Jabari Parker by putting him 4th. In fact, in my eyes, he may be the most NBA ready player in the class. The two things that separate him from the preceding three are that his ceiling may be just a bit lower and that there is still a chance that he will not be available for an extra two years, as he may still go on a Mormon mission. This certainly isn’t penalizing him for doing so, but as an NBA executive in this draft class especially, I’d want a player who can play from day 1 if I took him this high in the draft. That said, Parker has a fantastic shot to go along with a Melo-esque post game, good rebounding and a sound defensive game. The comparison to Melo is easy to make for one simply reason: It’s realistic. But he is different in a few ways: He isn’t a ballhog, and he actually plays on both ends of the floor. This man is a bona fide stud, and he’ll be an All Star in The League for many years to come.
5. Noah Vonleh. Freshman. Power Forward. Indiana. 6″10.
Vonleh is the perfect power forward: Long, tall, athletic, good all around offensive and defensive skill set, plus a great rebounding ability (he’s #1). As good as Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon are, this man is the best Power Forward in the class because he is the only one that I can see as the best Power Forward in the league someday. He looks to me like a Lamarcus Aldridge, with a similar jumper and rebounding prowess. As good as his post game is, he will certainly have to work to get to the level of as great of a player as Aldridge, but getting there isn’t impossible. Look for this man to do exactly what Aldridge has done for a long time: thrive as the centerpiece of a franchise.
6. Dante Exum. 18 Years Old. Point Guard. Australia. 6″6.
Yesterday, January the 28th, Exum officially declared for the 2014 NBA Draft, and for good reason. Though it is possible that teams could be scared off by the fact that he hasn’t played much competition, but as the following video shows, he did well against what would be his competition should he have been in the NCAA. While the Shaun Livingston comparison is easy to make for the 6″6 Exum, he is quite a bit more skillful. A good playmaker with a great ability to get to the rim, a formidable jumper and the potential to D up nearly all NBA PGs with his height and athleticism, Exum should be a pretty unique player in terms of his skills and height. All he needs to do is add a bit of weight and he ought to be a great player in the league for quite a while, and add to Australia’s impact on the NBA in terms of superstar point guards.
7. Julius Randle. Freshman. Power Forward. Kentucky. 6″9.
Julius Randle is an ox in the post, as he has clearly shown so far this year. What he hasn’t shown as much as he could is his impressive and well-developed post game. In the pro’s, where many bigs are just similarly strong , he’ll have to rely much more on it, though that shouldn’t be much of a problem. As well as a good post game and herculean strength, Randle rebounds well and has a very solid mid-range jumper. While not the absolute best defender, Randle is no slouch on the other end. The only problem Randle could run into is the fact that along with his below-average height, he only has a 6″10 wingspan, which doesn’t help much considering former Kentucky wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is 2 inches shorter, has a 2 inch longer wingspan. If Randle can continue to refine his post game and continue to grow stronger, he could well be a standout at the next level, though I don’t see him ever outperforming Noah Vonleh.
8. Aaron Gordon. Freshman. Power Forward. Arizona. 6″8.
Aaron Gordon has a similar problem as Randle due to his size, but he doesn’t have the strength. But, Gordon has what I prefer to height: Wingspan. With a nearly 7″0 wingspan, he can make up for his small size as a power forward. With that in mind, the only NBA position that Gordon will succeed at is the 4, rather than the 3 that some are suggesting he play. The comparison to Blake Griffin is well warranted, as his athletic ability is off the charts. Gordon does have a jump shot, even from three, but his best asset is finishing around the rim. Unfortunately, likely due to advice from his inner-circle, he seems to be trying to make the change from the PF to the SF, as he has begun shooting more 3s and deep 2s. As a stretch 4, Gordon, who can also defend and rebound, can do quite well at the next level, especially with the upside that his athleticism brings. But if he makes the move to the 3, any team interested should be extremely speculative in picking him in the lottery.
9. Dario Saric. 19 Years Old. Small Forward. Croatia. 6″10.
Saric is likely the most hotly debated lottery prospect in NBA Front Offices, and most GMs either love him or hate him. Due to the many players who’ve failed in the NBA from Europe, many are quick to forget the Nowitzki’s and Parker’s of the world. Prospects really should be judged based solely on talent, and this kid certainly has that. A jump shooter with good vision and a decent rebounder, Saric’s Dirk comparison isn’t all that far off. While not the exact same player, the two share many similar traits, though Saric can’t shoot quite as well but has a much better handle on the ball and better passing. It isn’t unfair to say that Saric could go anywhere from the 8th pick to around the 15th pick, as many teams won’t quite know what to do with the multi-positional Croatian. My personal feeling is that he won’t necessarily reach superstardom as Nowitzki did, but he certainly won’t bust. A long term starter and perhaps an All Star once or twice down the road.
10. Gary Harris. Sophomore. Shooting Guard. Michigan State. 6″4.
Gary Harris has played quite well of late, scoring 27, 24 and 23 in his last 3 contests, going a combined 10/16 from deep. Harris has stepped up and been what many Spartan fans thought he’d be from the get-go, and he’s certainly justifying himself as a lottery pick with 18.8 PPG to go alongside 41% from downtown and 46% all together. A lights out shooter with an ability to drive, Harris is also a capable defender. Any team in need of a shooting guard to start from day 1 would do well to get Harris.
11. Rodney Hood. Sophomore (21 Years Old). Shooting Guard. Duke. 6″8.
Rodney Hood is the definition of NBA-ready. And as ready as Harris is, he’s not quite where Hood is. What separates the two is that Harris looks to have a bit higher of a ceiling, though Hood won’t be too bad himself. With 17.7 PPG, shooting 51% from the field and 45% from three, the man is an offensive firecracker. He can step into a team, even a playoff-level team, and contribute or start right away. His one downfall is his age, as he is at least 2 years older than all other prospects, but that won’t overshadow his sweet lefty stroke and all around capacity to put the ball in the hoop.
12. Zach LaVine. Freshman. Shooting Guard. UCLA. 6″5.
LaVine is a player who can certainly achieve stardom in the league, but the issue is that he could also fizzle out. In a draft as loaded as this, teams really can’t afford to miss with a lottery pick, and missing is possible here. But though a low floor comes with Mr. LaVine, so too comes a high ceiling. Loaded with athleticism and a pure stroke, LaVine can fill it up from anywhere. Improvements defensively would surely help, as would sticking with being a 2 guard. His 2.4 assists per game justify that statement quite well, and LaVine should would be best served staying as a shooting guard. And should LaVine get picked up by a high tempo team that will properly use his athleticism, then he could do quite well for himself at the next tier.
13. Willie Cauley-Stein. Sophomore. Center. Kentucky. 7″0.
Cauley-Stein is not an offensive threat. At all. But as former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler can tell you, you don’t have to be. The defensive beast is averaging a monstrous 3.4 Blocks per game, good for 8th in the NCAA. Though he may never get passed a simple back down and post hook, his defense alone will likely get him drafted in the lottery. And though I myself am not much a fan of the Tyson Chandlers of the world, there are quite a few teams, especially in the playoffs, who could really use a defensive force down low. And should one of them be in position to get Cauley-Stein, they likely won’t pass the chance up.
14. James Young. Freshman. Small Forward. Kentucky. 6″7.
James Young can flat out shoot the basketball. His sweet lefty stroke has the potential to be deadly with some work, but his best area could be on the other side of the ball. With a very appealing 6″11 wingspan and a lot of athleticism, Young could be a defensive nightmare. Your prototypical “3 and D” guy, Young brings two very nice strengths to whichever team takes him in June.
15. Nik Stauskas. Sophomore. Shooting Guard. Michigan. 6″6.
Stauskas has done it all with the departure of Trey Burke and the lack of Glen Robinson III and Mitch McGary stepping up as the star. While known for his sublime shooting ability, Stauskas has shown ability to do it all on the offensive side of the ball. Don’t be suprised to see Stauskas get the Klay Thompson comparison, and it’s spot on. But the Wolverine’s well-rounded offensive game could separate him from Thompson and others who are simply known for their shooting. He’ll have to improve defensively if he wants to be a two-way player at the next level.
16. Doug McDermott. Senior. Small Forward. Creighton. 6″7.
There is nothing McDermott can’t do, including scoring 39 points last night. A shooter, slasher and a shot-creator, McDermott is much more than ex-Creighton grad Kyle Korver, a knock-down shooter. This man can come into the NBA and, even against an obviously higher level of competition, score the basketball profusely and effectively. Any team who is in need of an offensive spark-plug would certainly get one in McDermott.
17. Wayne Selden. Freshman. Shooting Guard. Kansas. 6″5.
Wayne Selden has impressed me since the first game he played as a Jayhawk. His instincts are great and hustle plays like this really show that he’d really bring everything he’s got to a team. He is great at slashing to the hoop, reminiscent of Dwyane Wade, and he consistently finishes through contact. His body is great in terms of his strength. height and weight. If he could improve his shooting to go along with above average passing for a SG, he could slip into the lottery.
18. PJ Hairston. 21 Years Old. Shooting Guard. Texas Legends (NBA D League). 6″6.
Roy Williams has been coaching for a LONG time, and for him to say that Hairston this year was the best player he’d ever seen in a practice setting is meaningful. Hairston can flat out score, whether with his superb long ball or in driving to the hoop. As you can tell, many of these players are offensively gifted, and Hairston is among them. In just his second D League game, he dropped 40 points. The NBA team to get his services will get a consistent scorer, not unlike Wesley Matthews.
19. Tyler Ennis. Freshman. Point Guard. Syracuse. 6″2.
The potential from the young Orangemen seems limitless, as he has blossomed in place of current 76ers PG Michael Carter-Williams. He is truly the general of Jim Boeheim’s offense, able to drive and finish or kick it to an open teammate, a growing necessity in the long-ball-happy NBA of today. One thing that could separate him from last year’s ‘Cuse PG is his ability to shoot from deep, as he is shooting 41% from deep. Though he may not be an elite athlete like Russell Westbrook, his decision-making is deft, and seeing a turnover from this frosh is rare. A great shooter who can both drive and pass sound a bit like fellow once-underrated point Stephen Curry.
20. Adreian Payne. Senior. Power Forward. Michigan State. 6″9.
Adreian Payne has a very finely-tuned skills, which is relatively rare for a first year NBA Big, and his staying this extra year in East Lancing helped greatly. An already great post game and jump shot, Payne is also a great athlete with 7″0 wingspan which helps him on the defensive end. While not a great rebounder, his frame and athletic ability merit more than 7.7 RPG. The one thing that many scouts and GMs won’t love about Payne is that he’s already 22 years old. But hopefully for said GMs and scouts, they’ll get over his age and look simply at his skills, both offensive and defensive/