While every player who entered their name in the 2013 NBA draft is probably in the beginning stages of feeling their Thursday night jitters, the sweatiest palms on the planet belong to players hanging on the first-round bubble.
The difference between the first and second rounds in the NBA is stark.
For the 30 players whose names are read by David Stern at the Barclays Center on Thursday night, they have at least two years of financial security. Under the terms of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, the terms of a rookie contract are two years with the additional option for the third and fourth seasons. Even when a team's pick isn't working out, they will often at least get that third-year option picked up as a "just in case" measure.
For the 30 players whose names are read by Adam Silver, however, nothing is guaranteed. Some players drafted atop the second round receive guaranteed salaries, but more often being one of the final 30 players taken is merely a camp invite. Teams can bring you in and essentially discard you with an NFL-style ruthlessness should they so choose.
And in the event a second-round pick actually works out and becomes a good player, those instantly become the friendliest contracts in the league. For instance: Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons will make $926,500 next season and $964,750 in 2014-15, both insanely small, non-guaranteed figures. By sheer proxy of those numbers, he might be the single most underpaid player in the NBA.
So it will definitely be interesting to see how this year's draft shakes out toward the back end. There are a few fringe first-round picks who may find themselves in the same situation as Parsons if they slip through the cracks on draft night.
With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of a few guys hanging on the edge of the first round who would represent the likeliest of those ideals.
Allen Crabbe (SG, California)
When looking for a potential gem in the late first round, plenty of general managers start looking for what are called "translatable skills." Those are skills that simply carry over regardless of the level of play, and usually guys with those abilities are available this late in Round 1 because they have other notable deficiencies.
The most pointed-to skills that often translate best are rebounding and shooting. If you understand positioning and how the ball ricochets off the rim from certain areas when you're playing against some random mid-major in January, you're not going to suddenly forget when Dwyane Wade is shooting.
Same goes for spot-up shooting. If you have a quick, consistent release and great touch when playing against the Pac-12 dregs, you don't suddenly start shooting like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist once you come in the league. And so it's more than a little amusing to see teams consistently pass on players who can actually do things to help their team for ones who might someday possess those traits.
Anyone who has watched even YouTube clips of Crabbe knows which direction this is headed. The former Cal standout spent his days at Berkeley giving Pac-12 teams the buckets. He scored 18.4 points per game and averaged a good-for-a-guard 6.1 boards, flashing a really interesting combination of score-first mentality and semi-efficiency. Though Crabbe's consistency and effort levels had a habit of teetering, his lethality from the field was on display whenever that little light switch was turned "on" in his head.
With what many pegged as mediocre (at best) athleticism, Crabbe was considered a player with a draft range in the late first to early second round—somewhere likely in the 25-35 range. The strange thing is that hasn't changed a bit, even as Crabbe has had better-than-expected workout performances.
The 21-year-old guard's athletic testing was surprisingly above average. His maximum vertical of 36 inches was right on par with Otto Porter and Mason Plumlee, both of whom are considered good athletes. And his lane agility time of 10.67 seconds showed a lateral quickness that few didn't know he possessed.
Combine performance doesn't tell the whole story, obviously. But Crabbe showed skills in drills—namely his otherworldly shooting—that should have been impressive enough to lock him in somewhere in the late teens or early 20s. Instead, he's being mentioned alongside names like Glen Rice Jr., who had an excellent finish to the D-League season but whose track record screams inconsistency.
Crabbe will never be a star at the next level, but teams don't expect that at the end of Round 1. With his shooting skills, it's hard to see a scenario where Crabbe doesn't find a spot as a seventh or eighth man on somebody's bench.
Pierre Jackson (PG, Baylor)
Crabbe's effort and general apathy on the defensive end will make him a late first-round pick, at best. The reason for Jackson likely falling out of the first round is even simpler: short-guy bias. At 5'10.5" in shoes, Jackson was the shortest player measured at the 2013 combine. Of the players who actually have a chance to hear their name called in Round 1, only Miami's Shane Larkin remotely compares in terms of height and wingspan.
In a league where being tall is kinda sorta important, Jackson slipping to Round 2 would be understandable. Two years ago, a similarly skilled player in Isaiah Thomas fell all the way to No. 60, almost entirely because teams were concerned that a guard of his stature would fail to produce.
And in a normal draft, avoiding players of such height in Round 1 is advisable. Only eight players in NBA history listed below 6'0" have ever gone on to make an All-Star team. That's a fact that should scare plenty of teams when it comes to Larkin, who could go as high as No. 14 to the Utah Jazz.
Here's the one rub, though, about Jackson: This isn't a normal draft.
By all accounts, this is one of the worst drafts in recent memory, perhaps NBA history. When I watch film on these players, there are a select few guys who feel like guaranteed NBA starters. There are no guaranteed All-Stars. And if someone decided to gift me free reign to a franchise, I would try like holy hell to flip a first-rounder this year for even a protected one in 2014—when there could be upwards of 20 players who would go in the top 10 this year.
So in a draft where the guaranteed talent is sparse, taking a risk on someone like Jackson—a kid with a ton of basketball ability—would feel right at the end of Round 1. Jackson is an absolute menace on the offensive end, with quick feet, passing skills and an unconscious ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the floor.
He'll naturally get comparisons to Nate Robinson because of their respective sizes, but it's apt in a lot of ways. Coming out of Washington, Robinson was a spitfire of offensive skills and athleticism, whose propensity for bone-headed decisions frustrated coaches beyond belief. Baylor fans would more than gladly attest that you could take "Robinson" out of that sentence and replace it with "Jackson" without any complaints.
Saying you're drafting Nate Robinson is scary, to say the least. But in a draft where there could be more flameouts than actual NBA contributors in the first round, finding a guy you know will be able to score and create has to count for something.
Mike Muscala (PF, Bucknell)
There was a point in the NBA not too long ago where a player like Muscala would be lucky to get drafted. Spending his collegiate career facing "meh" competition in the Patriot League, Muscala put up numbers that were good but ultimately felt empty. His games against top-tier opponents were inconsistent at best, with his 4-of-17 performance against Butler in Round 1 of the NCAA tournament being the most glaring capper to his career.
And coming into this draft process, Muscala was a name heard about as much as you or I around the league. As the process wore on, though, it became clear that Muscala had a more interesting skill set every time you saw him work out.
More specifically, Muscala is a stretch 4, not a 5. He played center in college and has the height of an NBA big man in today's game, but banging in the paint was never his strong suit in college, and he often struggled against bigger defenders. When Muscala is at his best, he's able to maneuver his way in the paint with a series of excellent post moves against finessing defenders—the equivalent to an NBA 4.
Muscala's array of skills is what has been really impressive as I've started watching him more. He's got an excellent mid-range jumper and even tried stretching himself out to the college three-point line earlier in his career. As it became clear Bucknell would need him on the block more, Muscala eschewed going beyond the stripe and mostly played within 16 feet. But over the course of that time, he developed that subtle mid-range jumper and turned it into a defining skill.
When he shot 76 percent at the combine—best of all players who participated—it turned a ton of heads. While there are certainly questions about his defensive skills (pretty much nonexistent) and whether he'll be able to translate right away, Muscala is a guy I like a lot more than Kelly Olynyk, a similarly skilled big out of Gonzaga.
Where Olynyk's track record is essentially one season, we've seen four years of film on Muscala. He's a heady player who stays efficient on the offensive end and can at least block a few shots on weakside help defensively, even if his on-ball skills are pretty bad.
Again, we're talking about a draft where Giannis Antetokounmpo will probably go in the top 20. Muscala is a relatively safe player and should have an NBA career, which should be enough to go somewhere in the 25-30 range.
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