Ranking the Safest 2014 NBA Draft Prospects
If you haven't heard yet, the 2014 NBA Draft class is a dandy, as it's chock-full of exciting prospects.
But not every exhilarating youngster is a safe selection. Some of the most attractive prospects also come with possible downsides or low ceilings. What happens if they never amount to more than their raw physical attributes?
General managers who are unwilling to take big risks will work hard to identify reliable performers. With so many incredibly young draft candidates, it's crucial to find low-risk options amid the exciting crop of talent.
Fortunately, this draft is so loaded that there are a handful of exceptionally safe selections.
*Statistics gathered from Sports-Reference.com, accurate as of Dec. 1, 2013.
8. Gary Harris, Michigan State SG (Sophomore)
Vitals: 6'4", 210 lbs, 6'7" wingspan
2013-14 Stats: 30.7 MPG, 17.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 42% FG, 27% 3PT
Great shooting guards are a dying breed in the NBA, so if you can find one as steady as Michigan State's Gary Harris, give yourself a pat on the back.
Due to the convoy of potential All-Stars at the top of the draft, the Spartans shooting guard will still be available somewhere between picks seven and 14. That's right where clubs would love to grab a safe prospect who can also deliver substantial punch.
Harris fits the bill, as he's proficient in scoring from distance or putting it on the deck. Furthermore, he's a hard-working defender who can contain or disrupt opponents, depending on what's necessary.
Factor in his alertness as a passer and his ability to rebound well for his position, and Sparty has one of the most well-rounded guards in the 2014 class.
7. Aaron Gordon, Arizona F (Freshman)
Vitals: 6'9", 210 lbs, 6'11.5" wingspan
2013-14 Stats: 29.9 MPG, 12.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 49% FG, 56% 3PT
Compared to everyone else on this list, Aaron Gordon is still in the early stage of developing.
That being said, Arizona's outstanding freshman is already showing pro-like capabilities as a scorer and rebounder. The point is, he's got a high basement while he works to achieve the astronomically high ceiling.
His consistency on the glass early in the season has been impressive, and he looks comfortable with the ball no matter the situation.
Although he's miles away from maximizing his gifts, Gordon remains a safe pick because his demeanor and skills show the propensity to be cultivated. His long-range shooting, dribbling and post skills are all fertile ground for star-quality production.
Teams drafting in the mid-lottery would be thrilled to see him still on the draft board because he'll bring immediate and increasing value to their club.
6. Rodney Hood, Duke SF (Sophomore)
Vitals: 6'8", 190 lbs, 6'8" wingspan
2013-14 Stats: 32.6 MPG, 20.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, 62% FG, 59% 3PT
After sitting out a year during the transfer process, former Mississippi State forward Rodney Hood wasted no time boosting Duke's offensive firepower.
He's taking advantage of every crease opponents are giving to him, whether it results in a three-pointer, slash to the tin or mid-range toss. The southpaw is adept at changing speeds to keep defenses off-balance, and he's dialed in from long-range.
The reason Hood is a safe draft pick is the same reason Mike Krzyzewski accepted him as a transfer (which doesn't happen often): He's a reliable performer who can fuel the team in a variety of ways.
Hood's ball skills will allow him to create on the wing in the NBA, facilitate within his team's system and drill jumpers.
His age and non-elite athleticism may prevent him from the spoils of higher draft picks, but teams choosing in the late lottery or mid-first round are eager to snatch up a rock-solid swingman.
5. Nik Stauskas, Michigan G (Sophomore)
Vitals: 6'6", 205 lbs, 6'7" wingspan
2013-14 Stats: 34.8 MPG, 20.3 PPG, 3.0 APG, 3.8 RPG, 51% FG, 47% 3PT
After a modest nine-point outing to open the season, Michigan Wolverines shooting guard Nik Stauskas reeled off five straight 20-plus point performances to launch himself into the draft discussion.
More and more, he's looking like a real-deal premiere prospect.
Last year, he was more of a role player on a stacked backcourt. This year, we're able to enjoy his full impact, as he shoots and slashes his way to big numbers.
We're quickly learning that Stauskas is much more than a three-point threat, as he can handle the ball, attack the basket or dish the rock to teammates.
He has plenty of size to play on the wing in the Association, so these expanded skills make him exponentially more attractive to NBA executives.
4. Doug McDermott, Creighton F (Senior)
Vitals: 6'8", 225 lbs, 6'8.5" wingspan
2013-14 Stats: 31.0 MPG, 27.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 54% FG, 49% 3PT
No, Doug McDermott doesn't project to be a franchise player or All-Star at the next level.
He is, however, a safe pick in the late-first round for clubs seeking an impact contributor. Creighton's star forward can shoot with the best of them, and he could be a critical role player for a team looking for a perimeter threat with size.
Because he's never been a dynamic creator off the dribble, McDermott is a master at working without the ball and sliding into open shooting pockets.
The team that selects him won't be getting a good athlete or a guy who can take over a game. But they will be getting a dependable shooter with great knowledge and instincts of the game.
As a pro, McDermott will be one of those savvy rotational players who knows his role and executes it to perfection.
3. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State G (Sophomore)
Vitals: 6'4", 200 lbs, 6'8" wingspan
2013-14 Stats: 29.0 MPG, 21.7 PPG, 3.6 APG, 4.6 RPG, 3.3 SPG, 48% FG, 38% 3PT
No top-tier guard is a safer draft choice than Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart, who figures to be a potent weapon on both ends of the floor. During his time in Stillwater, the fierce combo guard has proven he can do a little bit of everything.
And I mean everything.
Passing. Forcing turnovers. Posting up. Blocking shots. Rebounding. Driving. Shooting.
He's a master of some areas more than others, but the point is that he's extremely versatile and will work hard in each phase of the game as a pro.
Smart may not possess all of the qualities of a true point guard, nor is he a prototypical shooting guard, yet he dramatically influences the game with his aggressiveness and anticipation. A lucky NBA franchise will benefit greatly from his lock-down defense, playmaking, hard work and unselfishness.
2. Julius Randle, Kentucky PF (Freshman)
Vitals: 6'9", 250 lbs, 6'11" wingspan
2013-14 Stats: 29.6 MPG, 19.0 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 1.9 APG, 55% FG
With an NBA-ready body, an unquestioned motor and a nose for the ball and the rim, Kentucky power forward Julius Randle is a low-risk pick near the top of the draft charts.
Comparing him to Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker is an inexact science, because he's a different beast than the two of them. While he doesn't possess the mind-boggling verticality of Wiggins or the perimeter polish of Parker, he does have a phenomenal mix of skill and power.
Randle has gobbled up rebounds like a machine so far in college, and there's no reason his 6'11" wingspan and 250-pound frame can't do it in the NBA. He consistently does a great job of getting position on post-ups or box-outs, and that sets him up for high-percentage opportunities.
When he's not busy mixing it up in the paint with physicality and footwork, he's making plays in the open floor and connecting on 15-20 foot jumpers.
Some of his skills are still developing, so we didn't rank him as 'safe' as our top choice. Don't let it fool you, he's a sure bet to be a standout at the next level.
1. Jabari Parker, Duke F (Freshman)
Vitals: 6'8", 240 lbs, 7'0" wingspan
2013-14 Stats: 31.0 MPG, 23.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.8 BPG, 55% FG, 50% 3PT
If Jabari Parker's not a safe draft pick, I don't know who is.
Despite a poor shooting night in a loss against Arizona, his stock remains high and he will be in the top-three mix all year.
The Duke Blue Devils 6'8" forward has an NBA-ready skill set along with plenty of size and athleticism to thrive in the league immediately. He's more primed for immediate stardom than any other prospect in college hoops.
In his first three weeks at Duke, Parker has already proven he can score inside and out in a multitude of ways. There's a great deal of fluidity to his movements, and he exhibits the poise and polish necessary to excel as an NBA swingman. In addition to creating offense for himself, he'll be a terrific team player.
Parker is an ultra-safe pick because he's a lock to put up points, rebound, defend and keep teammates involved. Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle may have the potential to be more powerful than him, but the Blue Devils star doesn't present as much risk.
Dan O'Brien is an NBA Draft Featured Columnist for B/R. Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR