Let's call it what it is at this point in time. With Andrew Wiggins having established himself as the early favorite to go No. 1 in the NBA draft next June, we're currently searching for the No. 2 prospect in the land.
Kentucky and Duke would be good places to start looking. Freshmen Julius Randle and Jabari Parker have been highly touted recruits over the past few years, and will enter their first college seasons as coveted NBA prospects.
Both forwards should be capable of changing the direction of a NBA franchise if they're able to reach their respective ceilings.
The Case for Julius Randle
Randle will enter the NBA draft labeled as an offensive frontcourt mismatch. It's what drives his upside and appeal as a long-term building block.
At 6'9'', 248 pounds, Randle has legit power-forward size and strength, which he blends with mobility, lateral quickness and explosive athleticism. He excels at playing the interior game as a bully, as well as stepping outside and working the perimeter.
As a post scorer with his back to the rim, Randle can muscle his man down low or shake and separate for a jumper.
Facing the basket, Randle has a lightning-quick first step and tight handle on the ball. He's also slippery off the spin and maintains body control going up. This is where Randle really becomes such a tough matchup, as you won't find many bigs capable of keeping up with him laterally.
And yes, that was Jabari Parker who Randle just left in the dust.
His strength, quick feet and face-up game will make him tough for defenses to neutralize. You can throw a quicker, longer wing on Randle and watch him get overpowered. Or you can stick on Randle a stronger, more physical forward and watch him get burned off the bounce.
With a promising outside stroke and nifty one-on-one footwork, Randle will force opposing coaches and defenses pick their poison.
What tops Randle off is his competitive drive and motor. He plays with a mean streak and killer instinct that NBA general managers love to see in a high draft pick.
The Case for Jabari Parker
Jabari Parker has the most refined offensive game of any incoming freshman in the country.
Just like Grant Hill, Paul Pierce and Paul George, Parker has prototypical size for an NBA wing. At 6'8'', he's a face-up forward who can operate from every spot on the floor, whether he's open or finds himself in traffic.
In the half court, Parker's ability to separate from defenders and knock down contested jumpers allows him to generate offense when the game has slowed down. He uses jab steps, pump fakes, pull-ups and step-backs to create his own shot in isolation.
Parker can beat defenders with the jumper from any angle, whether stationary or on the move. With every shot-making trick in the book, all he needs is the room to release.
For a kid out of high school, Parker is an excellent outside shooter with NBA three-point range. He can light it up as a go-to guy off the bounce or play off the ball as a spot-up threat.
But what ultimately separates Parker at this early stage—other than his mature skill set—is his high basketball IQ and ability to make his teammates better.
Along with being a polished scorer, he's also a willing passer with outstanding vision.
Because of his size and balanced offensive game, teams might view Parker as a 3 or a 4. He's a guy you can plug into any lineup regardless of who's in it, which helps maximize his talent as a frontcourt matchup.
Who's No. 2?
Whichever teams end up with these two players will both exit the draft as winners. But one team will have to make a tough call assuming both are on the board at No. 2.
Randle is the more dominant, overwhelming offensive force, while Parker is the more versatile, savvy and skilled overall player.
And while both have superstar potential, one has a better risk-to-reward ratio.
Randle vs. Parker, Elite Youth Basketball League 2012
The Pick: Julius Randle
Randle doesn't really offer much risk at all, yet maintains a ceiling that scrapes the sky.
The knock on Parker is his lack of explosive athleticism, and that limits his upside. Parker relies on making difficult shots away from the rim. Breaking his man down and attacking with hostility isn't really part of his game.
On the other hand, Randle has a game that's driven by picking up easy baskets. He's physically imposing and deceptively nimble at the same time. Randle is force down low and a presence on the glass, as well as a tough cover in space out to 18 feet away.
The bottom line is that without that top-flight athleticism and explosiveness you see from most NBA superstar forwards, Parker will be easier to take out of a game. If a guy like Randle is locked in, forget about it—there's just not much you can do but double-team him.
Of course, this isn't to downgrade Parker or cast a shadow over his future outlook. I've got Parker as a top-four prospect with All-Star potential.
But there can only be one No. 2, and Randle appears to be the safer, more rewarding option at this point in time.