The 1 Way Each Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospect Can Prove He's Worth Top Pick
There is some serious competition this year for that top spot on the 2014 NBA draft board. Nobody has any margin for error.
From here on out, it's all about hiding your weaknesses and eliminating any red flags.
At this point, there are six prospects with a realistic shot at going No. 1. And as 2013 comes to a close, each still has something to prove.
Dante Exum, Australia, 6'6", PG/SG, Born 1995
Must Prove: he's the ultimate mismatch in the class
With elite-level athleticism and 6'6" size, Dante Exum has the chance to emerge as one of the NBA's toughest backcourt mismatches.
Given that he handles the ball as a scoring point guard, similar to the way Russell Westbrook does for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Exum should have a substantial physical advantage over any of his defensive assignments. His first step is lightning quick, while his last is explosive—Exum is impossible to contain one-on-one off the bounce and has the size and leaping ability to finish high above the rim.
He could be a walking triple-double by the time he settles into the league. And though some might be skeptical over the idea of a combo guard going No. 1, Exum has the rare size to dominate each position, along with the playmaking instincts of a 1 and the scoring arsenal of a 2.
It's going to be tough to prove much from Australia, but scouts have been fully aware of his capabilities for some time now. If Exum is able to convince the right general manager he's the toughest mismatch in the field, there's a real shot he'll end up as the first kid off the board.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6'4", PG/SG, Sophomore
Must Prove: he's the ultimate winner and franchise floor general
Marcus Smart doesn't have Andrew Wiggins' athleticism, Dante Exum's size or Jabari Parker's perimeter game. But many still consider Smart a No. 1 overall candidate thanks to the intangibles he brings to the table from a leadership and competitive standpoint.
He doesn't have a true position—Smart isn't a natural point guard, nor is he a traditional scorer as a 2 on the wing. But that doesn't seem to bother anyone, and it shouldn't.
Smart is a brilliant and timely playmaker—he creates and scores based on what the team needs on that particular possession. He's the guy you trust with the ball in his hands on the final play of a game or to settle down the offense when it loses focus.
And nobody has a sharper competitive edge than Smart, who plays at 150 miles per hour whenever he's on the floor. The intensity he brings to the table is contagious, and that's just something that can't be taught.
He was the ultimate winner in high school—two state championships and a gold at the FIBA World Americas. If Smart really wants to pull off the upset here and beat out higher-upside prospects for the No. 1 pick, a deep run in the NCAA tournament would likely help his cause.
Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6'9", PF, Freshman
Must Prove: he's the most unstoppable offensive force in the field
Unlike Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Dante Exum and Marcus Smart, Julius Randle isn't a difference-maker on the defensive end. He's got a total of nine blocks in 12 games, while his defensive IQ isn't exactly at the top of the class.
But Randle might ultimately be the most physically imposing prospect in the country, and he has the offensive ability to take over games as an overwhelming interior presence. When he gets going, not even triple-teams can bring him down. At 6'9", 250 pounds of muscle and determination, Randle is a beast on the block and talented scorer from foul line to baseline.
He's a guy you can feed the ball to and watch as he goes to work. And that's really what drives his upside as a prospect. Randle has the chance to emerge as a go-to weapon in the post and a machine on the glass.
At the end of the day, Randle has to prove he's the most unstoppable offensive force in the field. He's not going to win the upside battle with Wiggins or Embiid, and he lacks the versatility of a guy like Parker.
But Randle looks like the most NBA-ready athlete of the bunch, and he has the skill set and physical tools to dominate a game in the paint. And that has to be his sales pitch to teams at the top of the draft.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6'8", SF, Freshman
Must Prove: alpha-dog mentality
More than anything, the biggest fear surrounding Andrew Wiggins as a prospect is his lack of assertiveness. It was his only real knock coming in, and through nearly two months of college basketball, that fear remains intact.
He's an unselfish kid, almost to a fault. Wiggins has the tendency to be overly passive and can go long stretches of games without making an offensive play.
With a No. 1 pick in a field with so much standout talent, a general manager may not feel comfortable with a guy who seems comfortable in the backseat.
Wiggins should want to show some takeover ability and mentality before the draft. Four of his toughest competitors—Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle and Dante Exum–are all top dogs and go-to weapons capable of taking games into their own hands.
To claim that top spot on the board, long-term potential won't be enough. Wiggins will have to show he's got that alpha-dog mentality as an assertive offensive leader.
Joel Embiid, Kansas, 7'0", C, Freshman
Must Prove: he's not just another raw 7-footer with long-term potential
Joel Embiid might arguably have the highest upside of any prospect in this projected class. He's just so skilled offensively, and at 7'0" with a massive 7'5" wingspan, he can also anchor a defense in the middle.
But history shows that not all raw big men pan out. And if Embiid does go No. 1, whichever team takes him would have to be patient, given he just started playing organized ball at 16 years old.
To go No. 1, Embiid must prove he's not just another raw 7-footer with long-term potential. He needs to try and prove he's a sure thing—that teams can invest in him knowing they aren't taking any risks.
Embiid is coming off an 18-point, four-block game against New Mexico and a 17-point, eight-rebound game against Georgetown. To really convince scouts he's the real deal, these are the types of performances he needs to have on a consistent basis.
"Right now all Coach wants me to do when I catch the ball is (shoot a) hook shot," Embiid said to Bleacher Report's Jason King. "Sometimes he'll let me face up. I think I'm doing well, though. When I master those moves, I can start doing those things."
If he's able to master some of the moves he's talking about, then he should be the No. 1 pick. The challenge will be getting the lottery winner to believe he's a strong bet to do so. Consistency from here on out could be the key.
Jabari Parker, Duke, 6'8", SF/PF, Freshman
Must Prove: perceived lack of elite athleticism won't hold him back
Based on his style of play and consistent production, you'd think Jabari Parker would be a lock for the No. 1 pick. But he's not a lock.
He's just not as good of an athlete as a kid like Andrew Wiggins, and to scouts, that has significant meaning.
Parker will have to prove that he can hold his own defensively. So far this year, he's struggled closing out on the perimeter, and he's had trouble keeping his ground guarding bigs in the post.
As a scorer, it has been mentioned how he's bothered by length, which can be related to his lack of explosiveness toward or up to the rim. Jonathan Tjarks of SB Nation pointed out how Parker struggled against fellow freshman Aaron Gordon and his seven-foot wingspan. But if you ask me, as long as it doesn't become a recurring issue during conference play, there isn't anything to worry about offensively.
Parker just has to prove his perceived lack of elite athleticism won't restrain him at the next level. As long as he competes defensively and maintains this consistent offensive production, I'd peg Parker as the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft.