Ranking the Top 5 2014 NBA Draft Prospects at Each Position
With college hoops season in full swing and the 2014 NBA draft class shaping up, it's time to release our first positional rankings of the campaign.
The shooting guard and center positions aren't particularly strong, but the other spots are simply overflowing with talent.
Most specifically, the small forward spot is loaded. To give you an idea, Glen Robinson III, Jerami Grant, Perry Ellis, Sam Dekker and T.J. Warren all missed the top five.
So who are the lucky players to make our list? Find out as we break down the top five prospects at each position.
No. 5 Point Guard: Andrew Harrison, Kentucky
Vitals: 19 years old, 6'5", 210 lbs, 6'8" wingspan
Given what we've seen so far at Kentucky, Andrew Harrison deserves to crack our top five based on tools and potential.
However, he's got some polishing to do before he goes pro.
Harrison uses his size and ball-handling skills to break down opponents and get into the lane, where he finishes the job by finding the bucket or creatively setting up teammates. Unfortunately, he's not always dialed in as a crisp floor general, and the result is a turnover or ill-advised shot.
Nevertheless, he possesses an awesome bundle of gifts. Coach John Calipari discussed Harrison's imposing attributes (via SB Nation's ASeaOfBlue.com):
Andrew comes in ready to play physically at the point-guard position. He's a driver, slasher and playmaker with great size. He and his brother Aaron have the ability to be great on-ball defenders.
He might go through some growing pains this season, but his strengths certainly translate to the NBA. This year could serve as a healthy opportunity for him to mature in the face of high-level competition.
No. 4 Point Guard: Semaj Christon, Xavier
Vitals: 21 years old, 6'3", 185 lbs, 6'6" wingspan
Xavier's opponents have struggled to keep Semaj Christon out of the paint for the past year-and-a-half, and now that he owns a respectable jumper, he's a legitmate NBA prospect.
The long, agile guard has an attractive blend of scoring ability and passing instincts.
When the Musketeers need him to facilitate, he steps up as a floor general. When they need him to attack and score, he accommodates. Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports notes that Christon was ready to add the jump-shooting threat in 2013-14.
Whereas last year he would hesitate to shoot from behind the arc if a defender sagged off him to prevent him from driving, he's now more comfortable making opponents pay by burying a shot in their face...he believes defenders will have to play him more honestly this season. That's a scary thought for opponents since few teams could keep him from getting to the rim even last year.
His upgraded range came in handy during Xavier's recent win over Cincinnati. After struggling all game with foul trouble and turnovers, Christon hit a couple critical triples to give the Musketeers more breathing room and put things out of reach.
If he can continue to display a well-rounded arsenal, you can bet his name will be called early on draft night.
No. 3 Point Guard: Jahii Carson, Arizona State
Vitals: 21 years old, 5'11", 175 lbs, 6'1" wingspan
More than anything else, Jahii Carson brings speed to the Arizona State Sun Devils' attack.
In situations where most teams wouldn't have a transition opportunity, he goes coast-to-coast in a blink and catches defenses off balance. The sophomore's quickness and vertical aptitude is also lethal in half-court situations, where he can drive and toss it to teammates or pop up for a finish.
In the areas of ball-handling ambidexterity and outside shooting, Carson is working to eliminate weaknesses. USA Today's Nicole Auerbach reveals his offseason work ethic:
Carson spent much of the offseason at elite camps, training with and competing against some of the best basketball players in the nation. He focused on strengthening his left hand, doing everyday tasks with his non-dominant hand to build muscle memory – to the point where his mother wondered if he was hiding an injury to his right hand. Also last summer, Arizona State's coaches moved their practice court three-point line back to the NBA distance.
The summer drills paid off immensely, especially in the shooting department. Carson is shooting 52 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range, as he's taking and making more triples.
His 5'11" frame will present an uphill battle in the NBA, but there's no reason he can't be a productive, dangerous reserve.
No. 2 Point Guard: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Vitals: 19 years old, 6'4", 220 lbs, 6'8" wingspan
Although his stock has taken a slight hit after an outstanding start, Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart is still an elite prospect due to his two-way impact.
Inconsistent shooting and turnovers have resulted in some less-than-stellar offensive performances recently.
Scouts aren't worried about Smart's ability to score or find passing lanes for teammates, but they will keep an eye on the turnover issue. David Cassilo of the Cleveland Plain Dealer explains:
Smart's turnovers are down from 3.4 to 2.9 per game. But in two of his last three games, he's had five of them. It's not uncommon for a star like Smart to have a high number of turnovers. He has the ball in his hands more than any of his teammates. However, he will probably play point guard at the next level, and draft scouts are going to want to see him take care of the ball better.
Don't be surprised if Smart improves his offensive efficiency throughout the season; he's a focused competitor who's always working to make his team better.
Also be sure to tune in on the defensive end, where Smart constantly stymies foes and creates turnovers. He'll be able to guard both backcourt positions in the Association.
No. 1 Point Guard: Dante Exum, Australia
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'6", 190 lbs, 6'9" wingspan
When it comes to upside and playmaking potential, no 2014 point guard comes even close to Australian sensation Dante Exum.
The long, athletic youngster uses his smooth slashing skills to knife through defenses, and he's just as comfortable dishing to teammates as he is finishing at the rim.
During Australia's recent national schools championship game, Exum struggled to shoot from the field but remained the most powerful player on the floor. He burned Scots College for 15 assists as he led Ginninderra College to the title.
He explains his unselfish approach to the Sydney Morning Herald, per Lee Gaskin:
I knew coming into this tournament there was going to be a lot of attention towards me...tried to get my shooting going, but it wasn't working for me, so I knew the best way for us to win was to get other teammates involved. Obviously that worked for us and that was the best way for us to win.
The underwhelming shooting doesn't warrant huge red flags, as it's just a matter of ironing it out and finding greater consistency.
While his thrilling offensive skills generate most of the buzz, keep in mind Exum could also be an outstanding defender in the NBA. He has the combination of size and quickness required to guard three different positions.
No. 5 Shooting Guard: Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado
Vitals: 20 years old, 6'6", 200 lbs
Unlike most of the guards in our positional rankings, Colorado junior Spencer Dinwiddie isn't a first-rate athlete. When most other prospects would blow by opponents or raise up for lay-ins or dunks, he fails to impress.
That means his chances for stardom are slim, and his existence and role in the league are hinged on his skill set.
The good news is he's a multidimensional contributor who can help his squad in a myriad of ways. SLAMonline.com's Eldon Khorshidi breaks down Dinwiddie's offensive mastery:
Dinwiddie has a polished offensive arsenal: He was an efficient jump shooter last season (48 percent adjusted field goal percentage), utilized a polish floater, and as mentioned, made a living at the foul line. He is an advanced ball handler, which is the foundation of his isolation prowess, and is skilled enough to finish with either hand. His size also gives him an advantage, as he can get clear shooting looks and also back down/overpower smaller guards.
With those kind of skills, there's certainly a place for him in the league. By increasing his assist totals and curbing the turnovers as a junior, he's giving NBA teams more reason to trust him as a creator.
No. 4 Shooting Guard: Mario Hezonja, Croatia
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'6", 200 lbs
One of the riskier picks you'll find in the draft is Croatian wing Mario Hezonja.
On the flip side, he could be one of the best guards Europe has produced in the last few years.
He's an intriguing option for NBA clubs because he can get past opponents off the bounce, play above the rim sling passes to open cutters or knock down perimeter shots.
Unfortunately, the riskiest thing about drafting him is his mental approach to the game, according to Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com:
Looked disconnected mentally from his teammates, and from the game in general. Constantly talking to opponents. Seems to lack focus on the court...Struggles operating within a team concept. Only really looks comfortable in isolation or pick and roll settings...Showed poor body language as well.
Hezonja must make the most of his stint with FC Barcelona, whether he gets much playing time or not. If he can demonstrate a positive focus and play smart, he could mid-first-round looks in 2014.
No. 3 Shooting Guard: Wayne Selden, Kansas
Vitals: 19 years old, 6'6", 225 lbs, 6'10" wingspan
Kansas' freshman shooting guard Wayne Selden hasn't been as productive or heralded as Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid.
There's no shame in that, because he's still a big part of the first-round conversation due to his NBA-ready physique and playmaking potential. Selden has shown flashes of brilliance while driving from the wing, because he has the hardware to finish strong or create for his fellow Jayhawks.
The highest praise for Selden might come from the Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy: "I'll say this as directly as possible: Selden is the hardest-practicing freshman I've encountered in more than a quarter-century on the college basketball beat."
At 8.7 points per game, he's hardly making waves compared to the other elite freshman. But NBA scouts won't sleep on him.
No. 2 Shooting Guard: Gary Harris, Michigan State
Vitals: 19 years old, 6'4", 210 lbs, 6'7" wingspan
The 2012-13 Big Ten Freshman of the Year is aiming for another highly productive year in East Lansing, as Gary Harris hopes his efforts for Michigan State translate to the NBA.
He shot the ball extremely well as a freshman, and an increased workload has hurt his percentages as a sophomore.
Don't fret about his stock, though. CBS Sports' Zach Harper puts things in perspective:
Bad news for Gary Harris is his 3-point shooting has not matched up to the mark he showed us last season. The good news is he's shooting nearly 60 percent on 2-pointers and he's about 90 percent from the free throw line. He has a good enough shooting stroke to believe his outside shooting will be corrected.
For a 19-year-old, Harris is quite adept at finding a variety of scoring opportunities. When healthy, he's a shooting and slashing threat during half-court sets and a proficient weapon in transition.
As long as his ankle doesn't show any more signs of frailty, he should maintain good odds of landing early in the first round.
No. 1 Shooting Guard: Zach LaVine, UCLA
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'4", 180 lbs, 6'6" wingspan
No one in the 2014 NBA draft class catapulted up the charts this fall like Zach LaVine.
The UCLA guard quickly established himself as a must-see freshman by raining triples from everywhere and flying high above the rim. His one-two punch of vertical explosion and shooting stroke are enough to garner lottery consideration.
Besides his dunks, LaVine's other major contribution has been his shot. His 50 percent shooting from downtown ranks fourth in the Pac-12, with most of those heaves coming from well beyond the arc. Neither distance nor defenses have seemed to thwart him. Often, what looks like a poorly chosen shot with a pressing opponent swishes cleanly through the net.
Sure, we're basing his elite ranking on a small sample size. But that tells you how impressive his first month-plus has been. LaVine's inside-out talents will help him flourish in the NBA backcourt.
No. 5 Small Forward: James Young, Kentucky
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'7", 200 lbs, 6'11" wingspan
Our list of top-five small forwards starts off with a Big Blue lefty.
James Young doesn't always stand out during Kentucky's offensive stats, but when he finds a couple three-point chances or gets loose in the open floor, the Wildcats are instantly a better team.
His shooting and straight-line athleticism will earn NBA buzz. However, it's the finer points of handling and playing defense that could bolster his draft value, if he learns and applies what John Calipari is teaching him.
Young told Eric Woodyard of MLive.com that Coach Cal's instructions have opened his eyes in several areas:
(Coach Calipari's) taught me a lot of the fundamental things that I didn't know about basketall. He's a great coach and he breaks down the simple things for me which has really helped me with my game. When I got here I wasn't that good of a defensive player but he really changed that.
Currently, right-handed dribbling is the primary stumbling block that could prevent NBA stardom. Expanding his slashing and change-of-direction ball-handling would make him a much safer selection.
No. 4 Small Forward: Dario Saric, Croatia
Vitals: 19 years old, 6'10", 220 lbs, 6'10" wingspan
If Dario Saric was a little more fluid and creative as ball-handler, he might rank higher among small forwards. If he was a bit stronger in the post, we might classify him as a power forward.
It's OK that he doesn't fit those molds, because the Croatian prospect is a unique asset. At 6'10", he operates effectively as a cutter and passer, and he can also shoot over adversaries.
Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports notes that Saric handles the rock quite well for a big guy, and he knows where to go with the ball.
He is an extraordinary passer for someone his size and handles the ball extremely well, capable of initiating the offense in a halfcourt setting. Scouts love his basketball IQ and ability to read defenses.
Someone with that kind of size and talent will make an NBA squad much better. If Saric can become more efficient from distance and let the game come naturally, he could be a tremendously versatile pick.
No. 3 Small Forward: Rodney Hood, Duke
Vitals: 21 years old, 6'8", 200 lbs, 6'8" wingspan
Jabari Parker might have more upside than anyone not named Andrew Wiggins, but he's not the only Blue Devil who could land in the lottery.
Notching 19.3 points on 59 percent shooting is Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, who can flat-out fill up the hoop. He probes opposing defenses to find drives to the tin and also keeps them honest with his sharp southpaw jumper.
Practicing with Duke during his transfer year in 2012-13 proved to be instrumental in his development as an assertive shot-creator, according to Rob Dauster of CollegeBasketallTalk.com:
It also allowed Hood to work on his all-around game. He was forced to learn how to handle the ball against pressure. He had to figure out how to drive and score when help defense was always one dribble away. He had to practice being aggressive even when a defense was built around stopping him. The coaching staff can put him in different positions on the floor and be confident that he’ll be able to be effective.
Hood isn't an elite athlete, and he's not strong or long. But all it takes is for one lottery GM to fall in love with his game.
No. 2 Small Forward: Jabari Parker, Duke
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'8", 240 lbs, 7'0" wingspan
It didn't take long for Jabari Parker to impose his will on the college basketball world. After a month of Duke hoops, he has emerged as the most NBA-ready prospect in the field.
His proficiency involves much more than smooth moves and a deadly outside shot. Parker is terrific working with his Blue Devils teammates, whether he's on the wing or in the post. With great hands around the bucket and the ability to protect the rim, he hurts foes inside and out.
Parker also shows an improving sense of where to be and how to move without the ball. Coach Mike Krzyzewski says that when the youngster expands that area of his game, he'll reach a whole new stratosphere (per Auerback of USA Today):
I just feel he's got so much more. He's a great kid to work with. When he has the ball, he's so excited and he can do things you don't teach. If he learns to play without the ball to the level I think he can, I think he'll be, in the NBA, a franchise player. I think he's going to be unbelievable
From the footwork, to the open-floor creativity, to the sharpshooting capabilities, Parker has earned himself nothing less than a top-three pick in June.
No. 1 Small Forward: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'8", 200 lbs, 7'0" wingspan
The most scrutinized prospect in the social media era hasn't dominated every game, but he's shown stretches that warrant the top billing.
When Andrew Wiggins finds creases in the defense (or simply wants to get to the rim), he slashes and glides his way there. He's also a willing jump-shooter, who will be a threat during his NBA career, and a lengthy defender who can contest shots and compete on the glass.
Are his inconsistent shooting performances a real problem for pro scouts? Not really, according to Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix: "Scouts aren't down on Wiggins, but most would like to see more consistency."
As the season unfolds, expect Wiggins to play more consistently, even if the numbers don't reflect unerring efficiency. The No. 1 overall selection is still his to lose.
No. 5 Power Forward: Adreian Payne, Michigan State
Vitals: 22 years old, 6'9", 215 lbs, 7'0" wingspan
We all knew Adreian Payne could mix things up in the middle, so his outside shot is a pleasant surprise.
His long arms and desire to crash the glass are key for the NBA, but the shooting range makes him a much more attractive prospect for late first-round drafters. Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix discusses Payne's dramatic skills:
Payne has showcased serious perimeter skills this season, particularly from beyond the arc, where he has already made 12 (now 13) threes (in 25 attempts) after hitting a combined 17 in his first three years. Those skills complement an already solid inside game, highlighted by Payne’s ability to play through contact.
At 22 years old, Payne doesn't possess the high-risk/reward ceiling of a teenager. However, he owns too much size and athleticism to ignore.
No. 4 Power Forward: Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Vitals: 19 years old, 6'8", 230 lbs, 7'3" wingspan
Utilizing his strong build and mind-boggling 7'3" wingspan, Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell has ruled the boards and cleaned things up with vigorous slams and well-timed putbacks.
On both sides of the ball, he's more efficient as a sophomore. His 2013 NCAA title run and subsequent work with USA Basketball's U-19 team helped him address some of the rawness in his game. Head coach Rick Pitino described Harrell's swift, yet incremental improvement:
He just grew with each week — he just kept getting better and better. And now he’s added the mid-range game, the jump shot to his game. He was very mechanical when he first came to us and he was basically a runner and a dunker. And now he’s added very good footwork to his game, he added a 16-foot jump shot to his game.
Defensive discipline and offensive polish are the two major upgrades Harrell must focus on if he wants to be a competitive power forward in the NBA. Otherwise, he'll be a one-dimensional energetic athlete.
No. 3 Power Forward: Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'9", 240 lbs, 7'4" wingspan
Most of Noah Vonleh's work at Indiana has involved patrolling the paint. He uses his strength, length and agility to work the high post, collect bundles of rebounds and score with authority.
Meanwhile, his developing finesse on the wing gives his NBA candidacy another dimension, as his small-forward potential is drawing interest. Ryan Corazza of Inside the Hall noted Vonleh's budding versatility within the first four games of the season:
Freshman Noah Vonleh has used his size and athleticism to dominate the post in his first four collegiate games. But as the New Hampton Prep product stated after committing to IU, one thing that stood out to him about Tom Crean’s practices was big men like Cody Zeller doing guard drills. And we’ve seen Vonleh show some impressive ball-handling skills for a 6-10 player on the break so far this season.
Tom Crean knew he recruited a special player in Vonleh. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, the forward's diligent improvement has launched his draft stock into top-10 territory.
No. 2 Power Forward: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'9", 215 lbs, 6'11.5" wingspan
In a couple years, Aaron Gordon might be used as a small forward or combo forward in the NBA. For now, we're classifying him as a power forward, because he rebounds, attacks the rim and serves as a strong defensive presence.
I'm as guilty as anyone of getting ahead of myself and anointing him the next great versatile forward. Why can't we just enjoy his end-to-end effectiveness and above-the-rim instincts? If a three-pointer goes in, that's just a nice bonus.
NBA scouts aren't looking for Gordon to demonstrate astounding versatility this year. They just want to see the seeds planted, and believe me, the seeds are there.
Enjoy him while you can, Tucson.
No. 1 Power Forward: Julius Randle, Kentucky
Vitals: 19 years old, 6'9", 250 lbs, 6'11" wingspan
Topping our power forwards chart is Kentucky's highly skilled freight train, Julius Randle.
Yes, he's 6'9", 250 pounds and owns superb leaping ability. But Jeff Borzello of CBS Sports explains that it's Randle's drive and thirst for the bucket that transform him into such a commanding force in the paint.
He's stronger than most opponents, but he's also extremely aggressive and is capable of facing up and going by his defender. Moreover, given all the talent John Calipari surrounded Randle with, teams can't focus their defensive attention on him.
Can you imagine how effective Randle could be in the NBA alongside a couple dynamic guards?
Randle hauls in 14.8 rebounds per 40 minutes, but that's not the whole story. He also exhibits great footwork for a freshman, and he's a solid passer compared to most post players.
Let's see how he bounces back after a down outing against North Carolina.
No. 5 Center: Nikola Milutinov, Serbia
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'11", 220 lbs
The 2014 class doesn't boast a deep group of centers, and Serbian big man Nikola Milutinov is prime evidence.
To be fair, he's an intriguing project whose mobility and length could find a place in the Association. Milutinov runs the floor with a purpose and always rim-runs in anticipation of a pass.
Defensively there are still some big question marks, as he struggles to stop premiere low-post talent. Denver Nuggets international scout Rafael Juc reveals a telling sequence: "...Milutinov couldn't hold his own defensively in the paint against top prospect in class 2014 Jahlil Okafor and picked (up) two quick fouls."
Juc wasn't the only one to notice the Serbian's stoppage issues, so the young center has his work cut out for himself.
No. 4 Center: Dakari Johnson, Kentucky
Vitals: 18 years old, 6'11", 260 lbs, 7'0" wingspan
Although he's getting scant minutes as Willie Cauley-Stein's backup, Kentucky freshman Dakari Johnson has NBA scouts' attention due to sheer size, rebounding skill and low-post scoring potential.
Averaging nearly 14 boards per 40 minutes, Johnson's presence is certainly felt when John Calipari calls on him.
He's not lacking in confidence, and he knows he must bring his best stuff every time he steps on the floor. Each stint is an audition for Coach Cal and for pro scouts, as discussed in an article by Larry Vaught of CentralKYNews.com:
I think it is just natural thing. I have a nose for the ball and I try to go after every rebound possible for my team. That’s the way I have always been. I learned if you don’t play hard out there, you are going to sit. You can’t take anything for granted.
Below-average athleticism and limited scoring moves prevent him from cracking the top three, but Johnson could sneak into the late first round.
No. 3 Center: Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia
Vitals: 19 years old, 6'11", 280 lbs, 7'2" wingspan
In this brief clip, you can see the defensive potential Bosnian anchor Jusuf Nurkic. His length, bulk and timing could be an effective fortress in the NBA.
Extended film and highlights reveal his highly desirable offensive weaponry. He possesses low-post footwork, great awareness and a soft shooting touch.
According to Dnevni Avaz of the Sarajevo Times, Nurkic is steamrolling his overseas competition and wants to see where he stacks up in the U.S.
He is only 19 years old and shows a significant dominance at the senior’s competition. Statistically, Nurkić is the most valuable player in the Croatian Adriatic ABA league and eighth in the list of the most useful players throughout the regional competition after five rounds.
He's not without flaws or areas of concern, though. Nurkic lacks lateral burst and vertical aptitude, and his inconsistent condition doesn't help his defensive execution. The team that successfully polishes and motivates him could have a quality pivot man.
No. 2 Center: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Vitals: 20 years old, 7'0", 245 lbs, 7'2.5" wingspan
The clear-cut No. 2 center in the 2014 draft class is Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein. His foot speed and agility allow him to outrun most seven-footers, giving him an edge in transition and on pick-and-rolls.
As a sophomore, he's swatting 6.6 shots per 40 minutes. Those shot-blocking skills and that alley-oop prowess generated some comparisons to New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler.
In fact, an NBA scout reportedly told ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf that "Cauley-Stein could be Tyson Chandler at the next level."
Even if the Wildcats big man doesn't quite reach Chandler's level, that gives you an idea of the type of mobile center he could be. He could actually become much more multidimensional than Chandler by implementing a mid-range jumper early in his career.
No. 1 Center: Joel Embiid, Kansas
Vitals: 19 years old, 7'0", 240 lbs, 7'5" wingspan
Kansas newcomer Joel Embiid is quickly figuring out how to dominate the paint in college, as he's scoring with both hands and and defending the basket with authority.
It won't be long before his learning curve helps him figure out how to terrorize NBA frontcourts.
He was gifted with a true center's physique, a penchant for developing post moves and the ability to guard the low block. According to Bill Self, we're just starting to experience what he can do against live competition, per Sean Keeler of Fox Sports Kansas City):
People haven’t seen in a game what he can do. We’ve seen glimpses but we haven’t seen an offensive repertoire where he can score over both shoulders, (with) both hands or step out and shoot it. That was nice to see. He’s becoming a better rim protector too. He gets three steals and four blocks and no turnovers. He gets three steals and four blocks and no turnovers.
If Self is right, and we've only seen the tip of the iceberg, this guy has a chance to be a perennial All-Star.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: