Ranking Most High-Risk, High-Reward 2014 NBA Draft Prospects

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2013

Ranking Most High-Risk, High-Reward 2014 NBA Draft Prospects

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    The highly touted 2014 NBA draft class offers an intriguing collection of risk-reward prospects.

    They might present some unnerving precariousness, but the potential payoff is sweet enough to roll the dice early in the draft.

    Some of the biggest names available this summer aren't safe picks. General managers will tab them anyway, because they could flourish into franchise-changing stars.

    Who are the most high-risk, high-reward players in the 2014 batch? Find out as we break down their current issues and conceivable future achievements.


    *Rankings based on how high the "reward" could be. Statistics gathered from sports-reference.com/cbb, accurate as of Dec. 6, 2013.

7. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville PF (Sophomore)

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    Vitals: 19 years, 6'7", 230 lbs, 7'3" wingspan

    Projected Draft Range: Late lottery to late first round

    Risk: Although he's an impressive physical specimen, Louisville power forward Montrezl Harrell doesn't yet have the skills to thrive at the next level.

    Right now, most of his impact comes from defense, rebounding and easy buckets close to the rim. That's fine for Rick Pitino's Cardinals, but a lackluster offensive repertoire will severely limit his NBA opportunities. Despite having a 7'3" wingspan, Harrell has a short base at 6'6.5" with shoes on, so he may have some trouble in the paint as a pro. 

    If he doesn't refine his footwork, post moves and shooting touch, he will be too risky to pick early in the draft.

    Reward: In the event that Harrell develops a reliable mid-range jumper and some respectable low-block footwork, he could be an extremely effective role player.

    He already has the athleticism and explosiveness necessary to compete, and he'll undoubtedly become a strong defensive presence. If he can combine those tools with upgraded finishing ability and scoring confidence, he'll be a legitimate lottery prospect.

6. Semaj Christon, Xavier PG (Sophomore)

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    Vitals: 21 years, 6'3", 190 lbs, 6'6" wingspan

    Projected Draft Range: Mid to late first round 

    Risk: Lottery teams tempted to name Semaj Christon their pick should carefully read the warning label, just so they know what they're getting into.

    Xavier's slashing point guard is relatively one-dimensional on each end of the floor; If it doesn't involve attacking, he's not too good at it. His list of deficiencies includes jump-shooting, free-throw shooting, discretion on defense and decision-making as a passer. Christon is 31 percent from distance and 63 percent from the charity stripe in his collegiate career.

    And he's 21 years old. If a club picks him, and his pro development is slower or worse than expected, he could be 24 and still not ready to produce. Contrast that with an 18- or 19-year-old who has more of a time cushion to mature. 

    Reward: Christon is a thrilling player who could add a new dimension to his NBA team. As a speedy point guard with the explosiveness and length to get past or over any defender, he will create some matchup problems against the league's middle-tier athletes.

    Adding a smoother jump shot would make him a more balanced professional and give him a substantial role early in his career.

5. Jerami Grant, Syracuse F (Sophomore)

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    Vitals: 19 years, 6'7", 200 lbs, 7'2.5" wingspan

    Projected Draft Range: Late lottery to late first round 

    Risk: Even with a year of college under his belt, Syracuse forward Jerami Grant is extremely limited as a scorer. He doesn't have advanced ball-handling skills to beat his man off the bounce, nor does he have confidence to shoot regularly from NBA range.

    If he were to join the Association today, he wouldn't have the skills required to excel as a small forward. Even if he improves over the next few months, he'll be somewhat of a project.

    In addition, he's 200 pounds soaking wet, which is a slight frame for a 3-man.

    Reward: With adequate progress as a sophomore and proper development in his first couple NBA seasons, Grant could be a tough matchup and a productive pro.

    He's spring-loaded for high-flying finishes and rebounds, and he'll be tricky to contain in the open floor. On defense, his exceptional length and agility will allow him to defend nearly four positions.

    Ultimately, he could be a highly versatile weapon who could score 15-plus while grabbing seven-plus boards and playing stifling defense.

4. Noah Vonleh, Indiana F (Freshman)

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    Vitals: 18 years, 6'8", 240 lbs, 7'4" wingspan

    Projected Draft Range: Lottery 

    Risk: NBA general managers considering Noah Vonleh shouldn't be terrified about the downside of drafting him, but there are some risks.

    He's young (turned 18 in August), doesn't quite have a small forward's repertoire and isn't an elite athlete. There's a chance he could be a power forward trying unsuccessfully to play (and defend) both positions, and thereby fall short of his star potential. 

    Reward: Vonleh's possible stardom certainly outweighs any deterrents. If you're a late-lottery club looking for a forward, the upside is worth it.

    His massive wingspan accompanies a strong frame, and he already shows signs of scoring ability.

    He isn't a jump-shooter for Tom Crean's Hoosiers, but judging by his shooting in warmups and free-throws, he could become a consistent wing scorer in the NBA.

3. Joel Embiid, Kansas C (Freshman)

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    Vitals: 19 years, 7'0", 240 lbs, 7'5" wingspan

    Projected Draft Range: Lottery 

    Risk: Kansas big man Joel Embiid is pretty much a lock to be the first center selected in the 2014 draft, but there's still some risk in picking him.

    Despite a promising set of post moves that will likely blossom within the next few years, the Cameroon native doesn't have the burst and aggression necessary to be dominant. Through his first few collegiate games, he doesn't pass the "explosiveness" eye test. He also gets caught out of position defensively and occasionally gets pushed around.

    Will he be an underwhelming presence in the NBA?

    Reward: The criticism above might seem like a condemnation of Embiid as a competitor, but GMs should remember the center's willingness to learn and improve. He hasn't even played basketball for four years, so his transformation into an elite prospect is astounding.

    If he continues to evolve on both sides of the ball, he will be a force.

    Embiid's solid foundation of fundamentals is going to expand to a robust collection of moves and countermoves, and he will surely become a more fearsome defensive anchor.

2. Dante Exum, Australia G

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    Vitals: 18 years, 6'6", 190 lbs, 6'9.25" wingspan

    Projected Draft Range: Top five 

    Risk: As with any other young, little-known international prospect, there is a chance that Australian guard Dante Exum's game won't translate cleanly to the American style.

    Other risks include an inconsistent jump shot and inconsistent decision-making.

    As with several other prospects, the positives outshine the negatives. However, they might make top-three teams more hesitant. 

    Reward: Exum's attainable upside is extraordinary. He owns a skill set and approach that could slice up defenses, whether it's by attacking the rim or passing. If his jump shot commands respect, the rest of his game is that much more potent.

    With the length of a small forward and the fluid agility of a point guard, he could pay off in a manner similar to 2013's Michael Carter-Williams. The growing pains might hurt a little, but the versatile production and electrifying feats (not to mention long-term stardom) will be worth it.

1. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas F (Freshman)

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    Vitals: 18 years, 6'8", 200 lbs, 7'0" wingspan

    Projected Draft Range: Top three

    Risk: Cellar-dwelling clubs targeting Andrew Wiggins are hoping to hinge their franchise's future on him, so they would be crushed if his downside becomes a reality.

    Kansas' much-anticipated star hasn't blown anyone away offensively, as he's failed to display the consistency and dynamic playmaking ability many awaited. Pro scouts hope this isn't an issue for him in the NBA, because they can't afford to draft a top pick who can't generate scoring as a swingman.

    The only other disconcerting area is his weight. Will he be able to pack on 25-30 pounds of muscle within the next couple years? 

    Reward: Here's the fun part: Wiggins has a chance to be a Hall of Famer, maybe even an all-time legend.

    Athletically, no one will be able to completely stop him, and when he makes the most of his ball skills and outside shot, he'll be a nightmare.

    As long as he adds some weight and continues to polish his handle, he will be a can't-miss phenomenon.


    Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for B/R.

    Follow him on Twitter@DanielO_BR