When we talk about some of the strongest draft classes in history, we don't refer to those that produced dozens of role players and supporting-cast members. We highlight the drafts that offered star power—drafts that produced billboard faces and franchise centerpieces.
And the 2014 draft could potentially give us a bunch of those.
I'd go as far as to say a couple of incoming freshmen would have gone No. 1 overall in the 2013 draft if given eligibility last June.
College and international basketball should be loaded with NBA talent in 2013-14. Though only one guy goes No. 1, there should be plenty of acceptable consolation prizes.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, Freshman, 6'8'', SF
A weak 2013 draft class led the media and fans to fast forward time to 2014.
The hype machine has been pumping Andrew Wiggins, who will enter his freshman season at Kansas as the heavy No. 1-overall favorite.
All the ingredients for stardom are in the pudding. His mom was an Olympic sprinter while his father played pro ball. At 6'8'' with long arms, Wiggins has video-game athleticism that stacks up with the most electric players in the NBA.
Wiggins' ability to consistently separate from his defender and knock down shots allows him to take over games on the offensive end.
Defensively, Wiggins can be tenacious and overwhelming. He's got the upside of a No. 1 scoring option and primary defensive ball-stopper.
A high-character individual with abnormal natural talent, Wiggins has established himself as the prize of the 2014 draft.
Julius Randle, Kentucky, Freshman, 6'9'', SF/PF
If anyone is going to challenge Andrew Wiggins for the No. 1 pick, my money is on Julius Randle, who projects as a terrifying matchup nightmare.
At 6'9'', Randle has the size, aggression and strength of an NBA 4. But what makes him so tough is his ability to step out on the perimeter and knock down jumpers or take defenders off the dribble.
Randle also keeps his motor jacked up to the highest possible level. This dude is relentless, and he maintains a killer instinct that rarely tends to flicker.
Randle has the physical makeup and offensive game to make an immediate impact at Kentucky. There's actually a good chance he outperforms Wiggins in terms of individual statistics.
He'll remain a top-five candidate from the moment he takes the college floor til the last game he plays on it.
Jabari Parker, Duke, Freshman, 6'8'', SF
Jabari Parker will suit up for Duke in the fall, where his versatility, skill set and discipline will be showcased in the spotlight.
Parker stands 6'8'' with a diverse offensive arsenal. He can pose as a go-to scorer, complementary scorer or facilitator on the wing. His basketball IQ and versatility are both off the charts.
As a scorer, he's got the ability to create his own shot from mid-range, in the post or as an attacker of the rim.
Where he lacks in explosive athleticism he makes up for with precise fundamentals and ball skills.
Parker's mature game on the court and high character off it will have NBA owners salivating whenever he declares.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona, Freshman, 6'9'', SF/PF
Aaron Gordon spends a good portion of his time about two feet above the rim, where few are capable of reaching.
At around 6'9'' with a strong upper body and cut arms, Gordon is a tremendous athlete and violent finisher inside. He can also handle the ball and face the basket, where slower-footed big-men defenders struggle to laterally keep up.
Physically, Gordon has the tools of an elite athlete at the NBA level. He's one of those guys who makes it look like he's dunking on a miniature Fisher-Price hoop.
Gordon is bound to make a few highlight plays a game that just scream out his potential. He should put up big numbers at Arizona, due to his sheer natural talent and tantalizing physical tools.
As an NBA pro, his challenge will be finding a natural position he can go to every night. But if he finds a niche, whether it's as a small forward, power forward or combo forward, Gordon has a towering ceiling worth risking a top-five pick on.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, Sophomore, 6'4'', PG/SG
Marcus Smart disappointed a number of NBA franchises when he decided to return to college as a sophomore. Many considered him a top-five lock and the potential No. 1 pick of the 2013 draft.
But Smart also disappointed coaches in the Big 12, who now have to deal him for another full season.
Smart was a man amongst boys as a freshman, and he now has the distinct advantage of having a year under his belt.
Usually combo guards are forced into that position—undersized scorers forced to run the point. But Smart is rare breed. At 6'4'', around 220 pounds, he has the strength and scoring attack of a 2-guard yet maintains the pass-first mindset of a facilitator.
He also plays with level of intensity that translates to production. Given his motor and passion, Smart is a playmaker on both sides of the ball.
Smart has been recognized as a champion at the high school and international levels. Returning to Oklahoma State showed just how badly he was bothered by a losing season.
He offers the intangibles every NBA general manager covets in a lead-guard role. Smart will enter 2014 as the favorite for first guard off the board.
Dante Exum, Australia, 1995, 6'6'', PG/SG
Dante Exum could be the secret weapon of the 2014 NBA draft.
He finishes up his scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport in December. And as a 1995-born international prospect, he'll actually be eligible for the upcoming draft.
Exum hasn't decided whether to attend college in the U.S. or just declare in June—either way, Exum is a star in the making from every possible angle.
At 6'6'', he has 2-guard size, a dynamite first step and the ability to create off the dribble. He's got that Russell Westbrook-like explosiveness that makes it appear he's wearing a jet pack strapped to his back.
A playmaker with the ball in his hands, Exum is simply a dynamic offensive weapon with superstar upside.
Check out the highlights from Exum's 33-point game against Spain during this summer's FIBA World Championships:
While Wiggins, Randle, Parker, Gordon, Smart and Exum round out the projected upper echelon, there are others who deserve a mention as sought-after prospects:
|Glenn Robinson III||Michigan||Sophomore||SF|
|Gary Harris||Michigan State||Sophomore||SG|
Between the star power at the top and enough talent to round out the lottery, 2014 will be a great opportunity for teams to improve through the draft—a cost-effective strategy that pays off in years like this one.