Why the 2014 NBA Draft Is so Much Bigger Than Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker

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Why the 2014 NBA Draft Is so Much Bigger Than Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker
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The 2013-14 season may only crown one NBA champion, but every team will come out a winner. 

This projected upcoming draft class could be one for the ages, not just because of superstar talent like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, but thanks to a number of other top-flight prospects who offer similar long-term upside.

Just about every team that lands in the 2014 lottery should have the chance of adding a future core piece. Some of those pieces could be franchise-changing.

Let's break down the remainder of the first-round prospects and see how they'll be viewed on the NBA draft front.

 

No. 1 Overall Sleeper

Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6'10'', PF, Freshman

While Wiggins might be the favorite, Julius Randle also possesses No. 1 overall upside. You could argue he's more college and NBA ready, given his strength, versatility and polish.

Randle is a human train that can change directions like a Porsche. He's got the post game to score down low and the ability to face the rim from outside.

At 6'10'' with long arms, quick feet, a live motor and a competitive streak, there's just not much to question. Randle should enter Kentucky as one of the toughest mismatches in the country, which is what drives his appeal as an NBA prospect.

 

NBA All-Star Cornerstones

Dante Exum, Australia, 6'6'', PG/SG, 1995

Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images

Exum has the makings of an NBA All-Star. If he chooses to accept a college offer over declaring in 2014, he'd be my favorite to go No. 1 in the 2015 draft.

He's a combo guard with the size and skill set to excel at either backcourt position. At 6'6'', he's got the build of Penny Hardaway and the explosiveness of Russell Westbrook, as well as the ability to pass or score at will.

Exum is being recruited by several elite schools (Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, etc.), though he might not take the chance if scouts are telling him to go pro. He's got top-three upside and a towering NBA ceiling.

 

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6'4'', PG/SG, Sophomore

NBA teams looking for a new lead guard will have Marcus Smart circled on their boards all year. After passing on the draft in 2013, despite hearing top-three whispers, he'll return to Oklahoma State. He'll enter his sophomore year as arguably the most physical guard in the country.

At 6'4'', 225 pounds, Smart complements his imposing strength with a high-basketball IQ and a dynamic offensive arsenal. He's got the mindset to facilitate on offense and the skill set to take over games.

Smart should be locked in as a top-six prospect, regardless of what his numbers are this season.

 

Andrew Harrison, Kentucky, 6'5'', PG, Freshman

Andrew Harrison was the top point guard in the 2014 recruiting class, and he projects favorably as a floor general at the NBA level.

At 6'5'', Harrison has the size, presence and confident handle to command the offense. He's an excellent athlete with a balanced approach—his pull-up jumper and attack game are both very refined.

In terms of how he operates, he reminds me a little of Deron Williams. He's not overly quick, but he's strong and disciplined with both scoring and playmaking ability.

Harrison still must improve as a half-court orchestrator, which is what he'll focus on as a freshman at Kentucky. 

 

Aaron Gordon, Arizona, 6'9'', SF/PFFreshman

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Gordon has those video-game hops and explosiveness that will land him on nightly highlight reels, but he's also a skilled offensive player.

He fancies himself a 3, but at 6'9'' with a strong frame, he's built to play the 4. If Gordon can improve his perimeter game and extend his range off the dribble, he's got All-Star upside to hit once he settles into the league.

 

The "Andre Drummond Reward Pick"

The "Andre Drummond Reward Pick" is the guy who'll enter the NBA with minimal skills but tremendous natural ability. Teams uninterested in risking an early pick on a raw big man will pass. Those intrigued by upside won't. 

 

Joel Embiid, Kansas, 7'0'', C, Freshman

Embiid is a monster at 7'0'' with long arms, tremendous athleticism and an offensive skill set in place. He's capable of scoring in the post with drop steps or jump hooks, but it could be a while before he's able to deliver them with fluidity.

Eight NBA teams passed on Drummond, probably because they were unsure whether his raw skill set would ever catch up to his elite physical tools. With a top pick, you want a basketball player, not just an athlete.

If Embiid continues developing and improving his offensive package, he'll offer two-way upside worthy of a top-five pick.



 

Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0'', C, Sophomore 

After a year at Kentucky and an offseason under his belt, Cauley-Stein brings his skyscraping ceiling back into the NBA draft picture.

Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

Despite flawless physical tools, Cauley-Stein isn't a threat to score from more than five feet from the tin. And unless he had position or room to release, the only points he was getting were on alley-oops and putbacks.

Drummond was similarly limited at Connecticut. 

Like Drummond, Cauley-Stein doesn't have many go-to moves or a face-up game. But he's active, physical and overwhelming inside. Developing a nose for the ball and some offensive skills could catapult Cauley-Stein into top-10 conversations.

 

Wild Cards

Mario Hezonja, Croatia, 6'6'', SG/SF, 1995

Hezonja is widely regarded as one of the top young international prospects out there. A silky-smooth scorer with effortless athleticism, Hezonja can create and knock down shots from all over the floor.

However, some question his attitude and shot selection, while others question his defense. There are flaws here, not to mention that he's still just a baby, but his upside has already been established.

We won't know whether he'll declare in 2014 or not, but Hezonja will be the international wild card to look out for.

 

P.J. Hairston, North Carolina, 6'5'', SG, Junior

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

After an offseason full of legal trouble, it's tough to predict P.J. Hairston's near future. He's an NBA talent, but so was Michael Beasley coming out of college.

With teams putting a stronger emphasis on character evaluation, Hairston will have a lot to prove to keep his draft stock pumping.

If he shows signs of turning his life around, his skill set could be worth a mid-first-round look.

 

Safe Locks

Glenn Robinson III, Michigan, 6'6'', SF, Sophomore

A terrific defensive player with excellent physical tools for the wing, Glenn Robinson III should be a safe NBA bet. As the fourth option in Michigan's offense, Robinson was able to flash his potential in limited stretches, showing elite finishing ability and a promising perimeter game.

This year, he'll have the opportunity to create with the ball and continue expanding his offensive repertoire. He's a two-way small forward with desirable basketball genes (his father was a former No. 1 overall pick) and offers little risk with lottery upside. Think Andre Iguodala.



 

Mitch McGary, Michigan, 6'10'', PF, Sophomore

Mitch McGary might not have that All-Star upside, but he's the kind of dirty-work, hustle player that half the NBA teams could use.

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At 6'10'' with an active motor and soft hands, McGary cleans the offensive glass and finishes in the paint. He showed late in the year that he's got touch from the elbow, giving him a David Lee-like outlook if he's able to put it all together.

Even if it's as an eighth man, McGary should have a long NBA career as a role-playing interior specialist.

 

Doug McDermott, Creighton, 6'7'', SF, Senior

McDermott has solidified himself as the top shooter in college basketball over the past couple of years, but it's his offensive instincts that make him more than just a long-range specialist. 

Despite his volume-scoring numbers, McDermott's lack of athleticism limits his upside. But his court awareness, basketball IQ and scoring touch from all over the floor allow him to convert shots from any angle.

Elsa/Getty Images

While he's an obvious spot-up threat who can't be left alone, McDermott also moves well off the ball, finding ways to create scoring opportunities without needing to dribble.

If worst comes to worst, McDermott will be used as a floor-stretcher. But there's more to his game than just catching and shooting. Playoff teams should already be targeting him near the end of Round 1.

 

Keep an Eye On...

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Semaj Christon, Xavier, 6'4'', PG, Sophomore

Christon flashed eye-opening upside as a freshman at Xavier, with a strong, explosive body and the handle of a point guard. He can break down the defense and score in the lane or set up a teammate off the bounce.

Christon will need to work on his shooting stroke, but the rest of his game should generate NBA attention.

 

Wayne Selden, Kansas, 6'5'', SG, Freshman

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I've got my eye on Wayne Selden, who's flying under the radar at Kansas while Andrew Wiggins hogs all the hype. 

Selden is a prolific offensive weapon at the off-guard position, thanks to his electric athleticism, strength and ability to create his own shot. He might be a two-year guy rather than a one-and-done prospect, but Selden's offensive development is something to monitor.

He's a potential lottery pick somewhere down the road. 

 

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