Predicting Which 2014 NBA Draft Prospects Will Blossom into Future Stars
There's tremendous star power projected to go in the 2014 NBA draft. With more than one treasure in the field, this is the year for rebuilding teams to really take advantage.
Half the teams in the lottery will be in the hunt to land a future NBA star.
And while the entire first round should be loaded with talent, there are seven particular prospects whose ceilings sit above the rest.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6'8'', SF, Freshman
Andrew Wiggins leads the star conversation among the 2014 NBA draft prospects.
The consensus No. 1 recruit and most highly touted prospect since Kevin Durant, Wiggins is being pegged by many as the next franchise changer.
He's considered the ultimate prize. Wiggins will blow your mind with a level of athleticism you haven't seen.
But this isn't just about athleticism or hops. Wiggins has the offensive talent and defensive tools to take over a game on either side of the ball.
And at 6'8'' with a 7'0'' wingspan, he's been given the perfect physical measurements for an NBA wing.
Given his mom was an Olympic sprinter and his dad a former first-round pick, Wiggins has the genes, along with the physical tools and skill set built for NBA play.
He might not dominate in one year at the college level, but long term, there isn't a better prospect out there.
Wiggins will enter the year as the No. 1 overall favorite, and he remains a great bet for multiple All-Star appearances down the road.
Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6'9'', PF, Freshman
Julius Randle will be auditioning for the pros at Kentucky, where he'll present opposing front lines with unsolvable matchup problems.
And that's what drives his star power. Randle is a mismatch every way you slice it.
As a 4, he's got the 6'9'' size and power to score down low, with his back to the rim or in the midst of heavy traffic. Randle has the tendency to overwhelm opposing forwards with his strength and motor, but it's his perimeter-scoring arsenal that puts him over the top.
Randle can handle the ball, attack off the dribble or jab step into a jumper. He's got a small forward's skill set and footwork on the outside to complement a grown man's game on the interior.
With the physical tools, a diverse offensive repertoire and a competitive edge, there's just nothing to question about his future transition.
I'd still list Kansas' freshman Andrew Wiggins as the top prospect in the country, but Randle isn't far behind at No. 2. He's got All-Star upside with minimal risk to offer.
Dante Exum, Australia, 6'6'', PG/SG, 1995
It's possible that Dante Exum turns out unlike any player we've ever seen.
He's got the size and floor game of a young Penny Hardaway to match the open-floor explosiveness of Russell Westbrook.
At 6'6'', Exum plays both guard positions while maintaining an advantage at each.
This is one of those kids whose true position is irrelevant. Exum is a playmaker, whether he's handling the ball at the point or scoring it from the wing.
He's currently weighing going pro versus attending college in the U.S., with a number of high-profile schools looking to snatch him up.
Whether he enters the draft this year or next, Exum will do so with an NBA superstar ceiling. For what it's worth, he'd be my pick to go No. 1 if he waited until 2015.
Jabari Parker, Duke, 6'8'', SF, Freshman
Jabari Parker had star written on his forehead at 16 years old.
He can remind you of a number of different great players throughout various points of a game. Parker has the physical tools of Carmelo Anthony, the IQ and versatility of Grant Hill, along with the shot-making capability of Paul Pierce.
He's the full offensive package. Parker can shoot it from outside, score in the post, attack off the bounce or make the pass that leads to a bucket.
The only thing holding him back, at least in terms of his evaluations, will be his lack of elite athleticism. But that's really nitpicking.
He's got that ability to make those around him better. And that can't always be measured by stats, numbers and test results.
A high-character kid who's now comfortable in the spotlight, Parker has the potential to fulfill every owner's dream.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona, 6'9'', SF/PF, Freshman
You won't find too many athletes like Aaron Gordon.
He's one of those leapers who plays two feet above the rim. And because of it, he's nearly unstoppable finishing around it.
Gordon's unique athleticism and 6'9'' size open all sorts of NBA possibilities. The Blake Griffin comparisons are inevitable—like Griffin, Gordon can elevate off the ground and seemingly sit in the air while waiting for traffic to clear.
He also has quick feet, sound ball skills and soft hands. Gordon is a nightmare facing the rim for laterally challenged big men.
There is some uncertainty over his true position, giving him a high-risk, high-reward label.
But if he finds his niche as an offensive mismatch, forget about it. Gordon has a towering NBA ceiling, and one that equates to All-Star appearances if reached.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6'4'', PG/SG, Sophomore
There isn't a question to ask or red flag to throw. Marcus Smart has it all.
At 6'4'', 225 pounds, he's arguably the most physical guard in college basketball, which should translate nicely to the pro game.
A skilled offensive player, Smart can run the team at the point or take it over as a scorer.
He's got phenomenal facilitating instincts—Smart is a heads-up passer who always makes the right decision with the ball, whether it's hitting the trailer, driving and dishing or freeing up a shooter with a dribble handoff.
But he's also capable of putting points on the board. Smart can get to and finish at the rack, with the quickness to beat defenders off the dribble and the strength to bully them inside.
On the perimeter, Smart has the shot-creating tools of a 2-guard. He can separate with the step back or pull up off the dribble. Once he starts knocking them down with a little consistency, opposing backcourts will simply have to pick their poison—give up the jumper or give up the lane.
Smart is also an impact defensive standout. He takes pride in making opposing point guards miserable, something NBA coaches will drool over when he finally makes the jump.
Smart has the intangibles—competitive drive, basketball IQ, motor—along with the skill set and physical tools.
NBA teams looking for a new floor general will have Smart circled on their draft boards all year long.
Joel Embiid, Kansas, 7'0'', C, Freshman
Though 7'0" is always attention-grabbing, Joel Embiid is far more than just a big body with long arms—really, really long arms.
Embiid has a 7'5'' wingspan to go with his true center size. He's also a physical athlete who can get off the ground and violently shake the rim
Offensively, there's a foundation in place for Embiid to build his basketball skill set on. He's got the jump hook, mid-range jumper and the ability to put it on the floor.
But at this point in his development, Embiid is still a raw, unseasoned prospect. He's not at the stage where he can execute his moves with fluidity in traffic.
Still, Embiid's ceiling sits sky high. It usually takes big men a lot longer to develop than guards, so don't go jumping off the bandwagon if he doesn't produce as a freshman.
With his size, length and aggression, Embiid can be a disruptive rim protector. Even if he's not blocking shots, his presence in the paint can change them.
Thanks to his two-way upside and dominant physical tools, Embiid should be your first center off the 2014 draft board.