The 2014 NBA draft promises an embarrassment of riches.
In fact, the "sure things" seem so probable, and in such quantity, that numerous teams are selling their today in order to speculate for tomorrow. But will it all be worth it?
Fit is often as important as function, and trying to figure out who goes where can be a complex process. Sometimes talent rightfully surpasses need, but marrying the right mixture of both is how a franchise takes that next step.
Let's look at what's shaping up to be the most-heralded rookie class in a decade, but also figure out where all of that star power is going to go next summer.
Andrew Wiggins is the type of prospect who will make Kansas a must-watch whenever it takes the floor. He's a rare breed of athlete with one of the higher ceilings we've seen over the past 10 years.
Wiggins packs a lethal punch of quickness, speed and hops, with the ability to blow by defenders and sky above the rim.
While his scoring arsenal might be a work in progress, he's still able to separate and get off a shot from anywhere on the floor. Defensively, he's capable of suffocating opposing ball-handlers, disrupting passing lanes and shots.
Wiggins won't be that 25-point-per-game scorer that Kevin Durant was during his one year at Texas. He's a bit raw in terms of his handle and creating off the dribble.
But the writing is on the wall here. His mom was a former Olympian and his dad a former first-round pick.
Wiggins has NBA All-Star upside with a good chance at reaching it.
Jabari Parker can simply do it all. You won't find many flaws in his game unless you really enhance the microscope lens.
As a scorer, he's as refined as any in the country. With a go-to arsenal in place, Parker can attack his man off the dribble, separate with a step-back or score in the post with his back to the basket. He's also a lights-out shooter. Parker can knock them down in the mid-range or spread the floor and torch the nets from behind the arc.
And at 6'8", 235 pounds, he's got the perfect size and frame to man the NBA wing.
With underrated athleticism and a top-notch basketball IQ, there's really just not much to nitpick at.
Parker might have to pick up his energy on the defensive end, but his offensive upside makes him a potential franchise game-changer. Come draft time, he'll get looks from every team on the board, including the one that ends up winning the lotto.
Julius Randle has the potential to emerge as the top offensive mismatch in the draft class. He's defined by his overwhelming physical presence and refined scoring repertoire.
At 6'9", Randle can bully his way for points in the paint or face his man and attack him off the bounce. Despite legit power forward size, he has that shake in his shoulders capable of freezing defenders in their tracks. He also has a tight handle, which allows him to grab defensive rebounds and take it coast to coast.
Randle is a defensive work in progress, but his offensive upside won't let it dent his stock. With a relentless motor and killer instinct, he makes himself extremely easy to like.
He'll remain in top-five conversations from Day 1 of the season 'til June 26.
No guard projected in the 2014 class has a higher ceiling than Dante Exum.
Though he hasn't announced his intention to declare for the draft, there's nothing unclear about his game. It's not often a 6'6" scoring point guard comes around. Exum reminds one of Penny Hardaway—a rare mismatch at both backcourt positions.
Exum has rocket-ship explosiveness and one of the quickest first steps you'll see. He can generate offense with the ball in his hands or play on the wing and take advantage of scoring opportunities. With a good-looking jumper and the ability to separate, he has takeover capabilities as an offensive weapon.
Given his size for the position, he also projects as a versatile and shutdown perimeter defender.
He's being recruited by a number of premier American colleges, but with top-five whispers already, Exum might just make the move from Australia straight to the pros.
Joel Embiid will start the year as the top center in the field. And I'm willing to bet he ends that way.
Embiid has top-two upside, even in a draft as stacked as this one. He stands 7'0" with a massive 7'5" wingspan and impressive athleticism. But Embiid is more than just a physical specimen. This kid can seriously play.
He's a rare skilled post player, showing advanced footwork as a shot-creator with his back to the basket. Embiid also has a great feel for the rim. He can shift his body or adjust his shot to finish at awkward angles.
And though we'll probably only see it from time to time at Kansas, he's capable of stepping outside and knocking down jumpers with confidence.
On the other side, it's no secret what he offers defensively and projects as a one-man anchor down the middle.
We're seeing fewer and fewer teams pass on talent to fill a position. The Pistons took Andre Drummond despite the presence of Greg Monroe. Don't assume a team with a center will automatically pass on Embiid. His upside is just too rewarding.
You may not find a more motivated soul in college hoops than Marcus Smart, who returned to college despite generating top-three interest in last year's draft.
He'll look to re-establish his status as a premier NBA prospect in 2013-14, as well as put Oklahoma State in title contention—which may be one of the reasons why he chose to return.
Scouts have drooled over his basketball IQ, leadership qualities and competitive edge. And at 6'4" with 220 pounds of punishing strength, he's physically built for the NBA game.
Smart offers teams both a floor general and scorer, depending on what they'll need him for. He can handle the rock and facilitate or he can become the aggressor and attack.
Defensively, he's a nagging pest with a nonstop motor.
This year, Smart will look to improve his shooting consistency, but at this point, his draft stock is pretty much bulletproof. He's a top-10 lock, and for what's it's worth, he's also my pick for National Player of the Year.
James Young is fresh off of a 25-point performance in the annual Kentucky Blue-White scrimmage.
He's just a solid all-around prospect with both physical and fundamental strengths to marvel at. He has a smooth overall delivery and is a versatile scoring wing.
At 6'6" with long arms, he can handle the ball in the open floor or create off the dribble and attack the rim. Young has an awfully pretty lefty jumper with clean catch-and-shoot rhythm. He's also capable of separating in the mid-range and knocking down off-balance shots.
Off the ball, Young stays active and alert and remains a threat to make a play slashing to the hoop or tipping in a miss.
Early reports out of Kentucky have named Young as one of the more impressive players in practice. Scouts will have their eyes on this top-notch recruit every time he takes the floor this season.
Aaron Gordon should challenge Andrew Wiggins for the most time spent above the rim this season.
With video-game athleticism, Gordon's game is predicated on picking up easy baskets in the paint. Though not as refined as Blake Griffin, the comparisons are inevitable.
He's a constant target for alley-oops or buckets on the break. In the half court, Gordon can face his man and attack as a scorer. His jumper can be erratic, while his handle could use some tightening. But those things can be fixed in the long run.
If he can find a niche as a combo forward, Gordon has a chance at reaching his NBA All-Star ceiling.
Though raw in terms of his offense, Montrezl Harrell is capable of making plays that few others can. He's a power athlete. Harrell gives you the idea that he's going to tear the basket down whenever he soars above it. He possesses a devastating blend of explosiveness and springs that contribute to a number of easy finishes per game.
Right now, Harrell is a strong scorer around the rim, but creating his own shot will be the challenge moving forward.
He's on a roll right now, having helped Louisville to a national title and the Under-19 USA team to a gold medal at the FIBA World Cup this summer.
Harrell will enter his sophomore year with a lot more eyes on him, which can work for or against him come draft time. Whether his skill set improves or not, chances are at least one team falls in love with his potential.
Semaj Christon is all about upside.
With few weapons around him as a freshman at Xavier, Christon was an offensive machine, generating a ton of it with the ball in his hands.
He averaged more than 15 points and four assists per game, attacking the rim at will and scoring in the lane. And at 6'3" with visible strength, he's able to make plays in traffic as a scorer or distributor.
Christon had played point guard in high school, so despite his uneven points-to-assist ratio, he's still capable of operating with a pass-first mentality.
If he can improve his jumper and extend his range over the next year, there's no doubt he'll be a candidate to break the lottery barrier.
Glenn Robinson III had a standout freshman season, even if his stats don't suggest it.
He looks every part of an NBA wing, though he still has plenty of weaknesses to polish up on.
However, he's a terrific defender who creates turnovers with pressure and stepping into passing lanes. Offensively, he's an elite finisher at the rim, with the ability to score over traffic or after contact inside. He also has a good-looking jumper with sound mechanics. Robinson did his damage on the perimeter with the spot-up three or the pull-up off the dribble.
Though not very advanced in terms of his handle and shot creativity, his ability to make himself a target without the ball led to scoring opportunities that didn't require a dribble.
Look for Robinson to get a little more aggressive as a sophomore with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. off to the pros.
There's always significant expectations for a projected one-and-done Kentucky freshman. Andrew Harrison will be following in the footprints made by a number of current NBA point guards.
And he's got the tools to make it happen. I'm not sure you could build a better point guard body in a lab.
At 6'6'', 215 pounds, he's got ideal size and strength for the position and is fundamentally sound. Harrison can confidently run an offense, create off the dribble, get to the rack and generate offense on the perimeter.
He's not lightning-quick like some other ball-handlers we've seen, but he can score on the perimeter or away from the rim. He doesn't rely strictly on quickness or beating his man.
This will be the first time Harrison won't have the green light to take over, so there could be some bumps along the way. But long term, he's an awfully attractive prospect with NBA-starter potential.
It only took 14 minutes a game for Jerami Grant to flash his NBA upside. But the eye test only takes a second.
At 6'8" with a 7'2" wingspan, Grant's measurements and athleticism stand out just from watching him run the floor. He's constantly active, showing a good nose for the ball in terms of making plays without it. He is a glowing target for lobs and transition opportunities and is also a candidate for a tip-in per game.
Though he didn't take many shots in the mid-range, he showed promise in that area, which could catapult him up the boards if he can get better.
With big-time defensive potential and a developing offensive game, Grant looks to have established a low-risk, high-reward reputation as a prospect.
A scoring guard with imposing strength and athleticism, Wayne Selden has slipped a little into Andrew Wiggins' shadow at Kansas.
Selden is just another talented Jayhawk freshman with lottery upside. At 6'5'', he can handle the ball, race down the floor, weave between traffic and finish above the rim. As a scorer, he can separate and create his own offense in one-on-one situations. he has to improve his shooting consistency, but so do most 18-year-olds.
He'll slide right into Ben McLemore's role from last season, and though it's unlikely he replicates his production, Selden will remain a high-upside prospect throughout the upcoming season.
Noah Vonleh is a kid who might generate NBA buzz just based on potential. At 6'8", 242 pounds with a 7'4" wingspan, he offers a ton of it.
He's got a great feel for the game despite being a bit raw offensively. Vonleh can shake and bake with his back to the rim or face his defender and knock down jumpers in his grill.
He'll get a chance to start in Indiana from the get-go. Chances are we'll see a fair amount of inconsistency, but plenty of flashes of offensive upside.
If all goes well, Vonleh's ceiling should give him a pass into possible lottery conversations.
Willie Cauley-Stein made the wise move to return to school, where he'll spend the upcoming season polishing up his offensive game. He's a giant at 7'0" with incredible length, destructive athleticism and extraordinary hand-eye coordination.
Cauley-Stein is an excellent finisher and target around the rim. He also sports a soft touch on his one-handed jump hook in the lane. The next step is becoming a more diverse scorer in the post—adding some go-to moves and working on his counters.
Even if he fails to show much improvement, his physical tools still make him a coveted first-round prospect. He's a space-eater in the middle with the ability to clean the glass and protect the rim just by occupying the paint.
Look for Cauley-Stein to show a little more offensive confidence this year and ultimately make a push for the lottery in the process.
NBA teams looking at Jahii Carson will know exactly what they're going to get.
Though just 5'10", he's a lightning rod off the dribble. Carson is fearless attacking the rim, where he can score with touch off of one foot or balance off of two. He's sharp in the mid-range with an array of different shots he's capable of hitting.
He averaged 18 points and five assists a game last season, establishing himself as one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country.
His size limits his upside, but he projects as an NBA guard who can come off a bench and generate offensive firepower.
Whether you're a fan of his or not, there's no doubt P.J. Hairston can ball.
Hairston comes with baggage and a history of off-the-floor issues. But on the floor, he's been awfully impressive.
He's got awesome size, strength and athleticism for a 2-guard, along with a deadly 40 percent three-point stroke. He knocked down 2.6 a game last year, and that was with Reggie Bullock stealing looks on the wing.
There's a place in the NBA for Hairston—if he can convince executives he belongs there.
Mario Hezonja is well-known to those following NBA talent overseas. The former Under-16 European Championship MVP recently landed a seven-year deal with Barcelona, where he's getting some minutes in a strong Spanish ACB league.
Hezonja is a scorer in every sense of the word. At 6'6", he's an athletic wing who can create his own offense from multiple spots on the floor in effortless fashion.
Defense is another story. Usually, wings are supposed to be one of your stronger defenders, and Hezonja just isn't one of them.
Regardless, his talent is just too obvious. If Hezonja plays well for Barcelona in the limited time he'll be given, he's a guy who can potentially sneak on up to the lotto.
After tearing up the Missouri Valley, Doug McDermott takes his prolific offensive game to the new Big East.
He's averaged more than 22 points and shot over 48 percent from downtown in back-to-back seasons. Just think about how crazy that is.
McDermott's outside stroke and offensive instincts are both off the charts. But he's not much of an athlete, relatively speaking. He could be a target for opposing NBA scorers to attack.
Still, McDermott should have appeal as a complementary scorer who can stretch the floor in a limited role. A playoff team in need of shooting and offensive balance might want to take a look.
Spencer Dinwiddie broke out in 2012-13, but he hasn't fully torn through the barrier just yet.
He averaged 15 points and three assists as a sophomore, acting as the go-to guy in a talented Colorado lineup. Dinwiddie can handle the ball and create off the dribble, whether it's for himself or a teammate.
NBA teams should like his 7.3 free-throw attempts per game, which illustrates his offensive instincts and ability to generate scoring chances.
He regressed as a long-range shooter last year, so that will be something to focus on in 2013-14.
But overall, Dinwiddie's playmaking ability as a scorer or distributor makes him an attractive first-round option.
Though his performance at the FIBA Americas back in September was slightly uneven, Dario Saric has already established himself as a potential lottery candidate. He picked up some serious steam heading into June, only to withdraw his name at the deadline.
It might have been for the best, as Saric should be a little more NBA-ready by the time the 2014-15 season rolls around. At 6'10", he's a unique player with a diverse offensive game. Scouts love his ability to operate on the wing, where he can put it on the floor or make the pass that leads to a bucket.
He's also shown promise as a shooter, though consistency has been an issue. Saric is a tough rebounder and has an active body, but the only question is whether he can defend.
Assuming no red flags surface, expect him to be a fixture in first-round mock drafts throughout the year.
Thanks to a few monster games in the NCAA tournament, Mitch McGary will enter his sophomore year under the scope. It should be good for him.
McGary is a player who thrives off of energy and activity—keeping balls alive on the glass, tipping in misses, cleaning up the garbage under the boards. He also runs the floor extremely well and has soft hands around the rim.
McGary isn't much of a post scorer, though he did flash the David Lee-like elbow jumper from time to time throughout the year.
His ceiling isn't very high, but his strengths could translate into a productive specialty role. Any teams specifically looking for an active body in the paint will have McGary's name highlighted on their draft boards.
It's not that Isaiah Austin was disappointing, he just failed to maximize his draft stock. So he did the right thing and returned to Baylor, where he'll have the chance to show promise in areas where he's struggled.
Austin stands 7'1", yet he doesn't have the game of a center. He can step out behind the arc and knock down threes or put it on the deck and score off of one foot. He's also a talented post player, with the length to shoot over the top and the touch to convert around the key.
However, physical contact isn't his thing. Austin is vulnerable to getting pushed around on the interior. Many are likely to sour on him for this very reason, but there's no denying his talent or ridiculous size.
Consider him a mid- to late first-round prospect with room to grow and shoot up draft boards.
Though he won't blow you away in any area of the game, Gary Harris' consistency and maturity have him tied to the first round.
He registered double-digit points in all but eight games last season. Despite lacking overwhelming shot creativity, Harris still finds ways to put points on the board. For example, he knocked down 41 percent of his three-point attempts. He is also an effective slasher who can get to the rack and score in the lane.
His ceiling is somewhat limited, but whoever drafts Harris will likely have found themselves a reliable role player. Efficient guards who can shoot and defend typically fit rosters with established talent. He'd be a nice addition for a playoff team in need of backcourt depth and stability.
Hope you didn't forget about Rodney Hood, who sat out last season after transferring from Mississippi State. Now a featured member of Duke's core, he will have the chance to shine against the top competition on the brightest stage.
You wouldn't say he's a standout athlete, but he's smooth with his overall delivery. Hood rarely takes more steps than needed, and when he gets to his spot, he's got excellent shot-making capability.
He shot the ball 36 percent from downtown as a true freshman and figures to give the Blue Devils a reliable perimeter scoring option.
Playing alongside a veteran like Quinn Cook and a star like Jabari Parker should only make him better. And the Coach K thing might be a nice perk as well.
James Michael McAdoo has something to prove in 2013-14. He failed to make an impression as a sophomore after generating high expectations as a freshman.
Now a junior, his draft stock is fragile.
From a glass-half-full point of view, McAdoo did show improvement in the shot-creating department. He added some post moves to his repertoire and has shown he can take defenders off the dribble thanks to an explosive first step. The bad news is that he didn't make many of the shots he worked so hard to create.
After two seasons shooting 44 percent or below, McAdoo will need to get closer to 50 percent this year for NBA teams to take him seriously as a power forward.
However, he still has a lot of upside and talent. He's just got to find a way to use it more efficiently.
Despite being fifth in North Carolina State's offensive pecking order, T.J. Warren still managed to average double digits in scoring as a freshman. Credit that to his terrific offensive instincts, which allowed him to pick up points from different angles at every spot on the floor.
And his conversion rates were crazy. He shot 62 percent from the floor on 8.5 shots as a 6'8" wing.
Warren lacks that above-the-rim athleticism, which ultimately puts a cap on his ceiling. But with five key teammates from last year's team gone, he'll have the opportunity to put up numbers in volume.
This is the year when all of that hard work pays off. C.J. Fair has improved with each season and now has a good shot at generating first-round interest. He is fundamentally sound on offense and has evolved into a dangerous face-up scorer with the ability to jab and take a jumper or swoop to the hole and score off of one foot.
He's gone from making one three-pointer as a freshman to six as a sophomore to 30 as a junior at a scorching 47 percent rate. He can also surprise defenders by skying over them for a slam.
Defense is his biggest weakness at this point, but that shouldn't hurt his stock as a projected role player and late draft pick. Don't be surprised if he takes home the ACC Player of the Year in 2013-14.
Alex Poythress returns for year No. 2 after a rough go as a freshman with heavy expectations.
Offensively, Poythress is a ferocious athlete with a small forward's body and power forward's game. And therein lies the problem.
He's limited off the dribble, where he struggles to separate or change direction—something typically required of a wing player.
Only Poythress isn't a wing. He likes to play on the interior, but at 6'8", he could have trouble doing so in the pros.
He did show promise as a spot-up shooter. He does a nice job of converting the open looks he gets, but creating them is another story.
Now in a stacked lineup with freshmen waiting to emerge, Poythress has to act quickly if he wants to revive his NBA draft stock.