We're starting to see a lot of activity on the NBA draft front with conference play approaching. The projected class is clearing up. And every week it seems like an under-the-radar prospect emerges.
But the big news recently has been Jabari Parker's standout consistency versus Andrew Wiggins' unconvincing play. Parker is picking up some serious steam here, as many now believe he's the top prospect in the country.
Talked to a bunch of NBA guys before the game. The gap has closed between Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker for the No. 1 pick.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) December 20, 2013
Even Kansas' Joel Embiid is earning legitimate No. 1 overall buzz. And it's for good reason. This isn't just another raw 7-footer with long-term potential—Embiid has some game right now.
Other prospects are worth mentioning who are making waves on the radar. Let's go over who's heating up and cooling off, our updated 2014 NBA draft big board, some analysis, international updates and the prospect matchup to watch for.
Jordan Clarkson, Missouri, 6'5", PG/SG, Jr.
Clarkson erupted for 25 points, six rebounds and eight assists in a one-point loss to Illinois. That was his sixth 20-plus-point game over his last seven.
His eight assists were a season high, as he was driving, dishing and locating shooters like a true point guard. He's now averaging 19.9 points and 4.3 assists per game, and he looks like a legit first-rounder, given his size, quickness and athleticism.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0", C, So.
Cauley-Stein now has 35 blocks over his last six games. He's giving Kentucky consistent rim protection and a constant interior disruption. He's also coming off a season-high 16 points against Belmont. With wide receiver-like athleticism, he is starting to milk his physical tools for all their worth.
Who cares if he can score or not. He's able to impact games just by staying active.
Adreian Payne, Michigan State, 6'10", PF, Sr.
Payne continues to bring it, as he went for 33 points and nine rebounds in a recent win over Texas. He now has 16 threes on the year, one under his career total entering the year.
This outside stroke could be a game-changer in terms of his draft stock. Payne always had size and strength for the interior, but the jumper makes him a more multidimensional and appealing prospect.
He's averaging 18.1 points and eight rebounds, and he looks like a lottery pick early on.
Zach LaVine, UCLA, 6'5", PG/SG, Fr.
The lottery buzz has softened a bit as his jumper has cooled off. He's now missed 13 of his last 15 threes in his last four games and has been struggling to get himself easy half-court buckets. LaVine has funny shooting mechanics—I wouldn't be shocked to find out he's not the sniper he appeared to be earlier in the year.
He shot just 3-of-12 against Duke and was unable to create any quality looks for himself with the game slowed down.
Gary Harris, Michigan State, 6'4", SG, So.
Harris is struggling to buy a bucket from downtown, as he's just 17-of-61 on the year. It's bizarre—he's taking 7.6 threes per game, three more than he took a year ago. He's not quick off the bounce and lacks above-the-rim explosiveness, so getting easy half-court buckets could be tough.
He is going to need that jumper to stay efficient throughout his career. He has promising mechanics and shot 41.1 percent from three as a freshman, so I assume it's just a cold slump. Still, it's something to keep an eye on.
|6||Marcus Smart||PG/SG||Oklahoma State||6'4"|
|13||Adreian Payne||PF||Michigan State||6'10"|
|16||Gary Harris||SG||Michigan State||6'4"|
|20||Jahii Carson||PG||Arizona State||5'10"|
|24||Olivier Hanlan||PG/SG||Boston College||6'4"|
|26||Markel Brown||SG||Oklahoma State||6'3"|
Joel Embiid, Kansas: Post Skills
It's becoming more and more obvious that he's the real deal.
He's picking up the game at an incredible rate. Embiid has emerged as a guy who can be fed the ball and go to work in the post.
His footwork is off-the-charts precise. He looks like Kristi Yamaguchi out there, tip-toeing around defenders and shaking with his shoulders.
In this post move versus New Mexico's Alex Kirk, he slips free with a little reverse drop step and impressive pivot:
This is an advanced move for anyone, never mind a kid who just started playing organized ball at 16 years old. Imagine what Embiid could look like after a few years of NBA experience and coaching?
Jerami Grant, Syracuse: Athleticism, Length Combination
Grant made a few plays against St. John's that showcased just how dangerous his blend of length and athleticism can be. At 6'8", he has a 7'2" wingspan, which is longer than most 7-foot centers.
Right now, his physical tools are way ahead of his skill set, but when you have athleticism that allows you to make plays like the one below on Orlando Sanchez, skills become irrelevant:
Grant also got up to turn down JaKarr Sampson way above the rim. Between his length and hops, he's able to get two hands on the block at the top of the box.
Grant's extraordinary physical tools give him the two-way upside that's going to generate lottery buzz by the time the combine rolls around.
Julius Randle, Kentucky: Turnovers, Awareness
Though dominant at times, Julius Randle coughs it up far too often. He's averaging 3.3 turnovers per game, a high number for a big man. Sometimes, he just doesn't recognize the right play from the wrong one.
He's often caught spinning into traffic instead of away from it—not anticipating the help or reading the defense.
Randle turned it over eight times earlier this year against Michigan State. Below, you'll see him back his way into the post and draw the triple-team, which ultimately frees up shooters on each wing.
But instead of kicking it out to his open shooters, he inexplicably turns the other direction, trapping himself between three defenders and the baseline. The defense eventually strips the ball and knocks it off Randle's leg out of bounds.
He's relentless in terms of his pursuit of the goal, but sometimes Randle just has to know when nothing is there.
Australia's Dante Exum will reportedly explore his college opportunities and take visits to the priority schools that have been recruiting him, according to ESPN's Jeff Goodman.
Dante Exum (@daanteee) told ESPN that he still intends to set up college visits to 5 finalists soon -- Indiana, UNC, UK, Michigan, Oregon.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) December 19, 2013
However, don't count on Exum going to school and putting off the draft. Scouts have him pegged as a top-five pick, and he has previously expressed interest in capitalizing on that.
He recently tore up the Australian School Championships, where he averaged 27.6 points, 10.6 assists and 9.6 rebounds over his final three games.
''I knew coming into this tournament there was going to be a lot of attention towards me, but I just wanted to come out and get my teammates involved because that's what basketball's about,'' Exum told Lee Gaskin of The Canberra Times. ''I'm happy with the way I performed.
Cibona's Dario Saric, who was on lottery radars last year before deciding to withdraw his name, recently went for 15 points and nine rebounds in an Adriatic League game and 22 and 12 in Eurocup. Despite his team's lousy record (1-9), Saric is producing.
He should be a little more NBA-ready this time around. At 6'10", Saric has appealing versatility, as he can put it on the floor, clean the glass and make the savvy pass. He'll remain a potential lottery prospect from now until June.
Prospect Matchup to Watch For
Saturday, Dec. 28: Louisville at Kentucky, 4 p.m. ET
|Prospect||Julius Randle||Montrezl Harrell|
|Points per game||Rebounds per game||Field-goal percentage||Blocks per game|
- The No. 1 pick could end up coming down to who wins the lottery. One NBA scout told me he thought if a win-now team like Cleveland or Washington gets the pick, Jabari Parker would be the favorite. But if a rebuilding team like Philadelphia gets it, it would likely go with Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid.
- There are very few big men projected to leave in this draft field. Plenty of 1's, 2's and 3's, but not many 4's and 5's. There could be some stiff competition among guards and wings for the last five to 10 spots in the first round.
- Louisiana-Lafayette guard Elfrid Payton is having a gigantic year, averaging 19.9 points, 5.5 boards and 5.5 assists per game. And as a 6'3" point guard, he's taking 10.4 free throws per night, good for No. 3 in the country. Payton is a legitimate under-the-radar prospect, though he'll need to develop some type of jump shot (six three-pointers all season).
- In 29.9 minutes as a freshman, Baylor's Isaiah Austin averaged 8.3 boards and 1.7 blocks. In 24.4 minutes as a sophomore, he's averaging five boards and 3.1 blocks. I'm just not sure how you can explain that.
- P.J. Hairston's career at North Carolina may be finished (after the school chose not to see reinstatement), but his NBA draft life is still intact. A strong, 6'6" athlete who can stroke it, attack and defend, he's a first-round talent who's tough to ignore. Hairston will ultimately have to bring his A-game to the predraft interview process, as well as remain in shape until then.