There's no better way to ring in 2014 than celebrating a crew of NBA draft prospects who will take the league by storm later this year.
This crew of elite ballers will stand out as rookies more than the rest, as they'll be able to fill prominent roles as soon as their careers tip off.
Each will put a dent in the Association for different reasons, but the common denominator is that they'll all make their teams significantly better and turn heads coast-to-coast. Coaches will be more than comfortable giving them heavy minutes and critical responsibilities.
Buckle up, they're coming to an NBA arena near you!
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 24.7 Pts, 10.9 Reb, 1.5 Blk, 54% FG, 46% 3-PT
Immediate NBA Role: Starting stretch 4
Even after a hot start to his senior year and remarkable shooting success, critics have questioned Adreian Payne's legitimacy as a prospect.
Can he serve as an effective stretch 4 and also play the 5? The answer is a resounding yes, as his 6'10" height and 7'0" wingspan will enable him to defend both post positions and score inside.
As for his perimeter accuracy, it looks like he's for real. SBNation.com's Jonathan Tjarks loves Payne's outlook moving forward:
What makes Payne special is his skill and feel for the game. When evaluating him statistically, the number that stands out is his three-point shooting: 46 percent from beyond the arc on 3.2 attempts a game. Payne is a legitimate stretch 4/5, and his outside shooting presents matchup problems for every team Michigan State plays. It won't be any different at the next level.
Payne must expand his low-post moves and sharpen his defensive skills in order to sniff the ceiling. As a rookie, though, he will do extremely well for himself as a long-range threat and rim-rocking finisher.
His ability to score among the trees or around the arc shouldn't be underestimated. Opponents will spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find the right matchup for him.
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 22.0 Pts, 6.6 Reb, 2.5 Ast, 54% FG, 42% 3-PT
Immediate NBA Role: Starting swingman, solid third scoring option
He isn't the best baller at Duke, yet Rodney Hood is on our short list to invade the NBA next year.
The sophomore transfer can hurt opponents in so many ways, using his smooth set of tools and sharp court sense to score inside and out.
Hood isn't going to stand out physically at the next level from a size or explosion standpoint. He does, however, use some deft footwork and ball-handling skills to create offense.
Mark Thompson of the Greensboro News & Record broke down Hood's offensive advantage: "His face-up game is built around his jab step. It’s deceptive, and coupled with a quick first step, it makes Hood difficult to stay in front of."
Aside from attacking the basket from the wing, Hood moves well without the ball and can burn opponents as a spot-up shooter. His interior game isn't dominant, but he owns the length, instincts and touch to score in the paint when called upon.
Both mentally and skill-wise, Hood will shine as an NBA newcomer.
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 16.6 Pts, 10.1 Reb, 1.5 Blk, 50% FG, 39% 3-PT, 45% FT
Arizona forward Aaron Gordon could eventually turn into an invaluable combo forward with elite versatility.
In the meantime, let's enjoy the first phase of his NBA career. He's going to terrorize opponents with his rebounding skills, open-court explosiveness and defensive proficiency.
Fans may delight in the above-the-rim exploits and supreme glasswork, but they shouldn't overlook his defense.
Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy called Gordon the best defender in college hoops, and he then proceeded to silence doubters regarding Gordon's transition to the NBA: "If you can’t look at Aaron Gordon, and see that he’s going to make your team better... you don't know basketball."
Gordon's collegiate stats aren't eye-popping because he's part of a well-balanced top-tier program. But if you're just looking at stats, you're missing the essence of Gordon's value. He moves well without the ball, is a willing passer within Arizona's system and plays alertly on defense.
Depending on who scoops him up, he could make a superb entrance into the league, averaging 12-15 points and 7-8 rebounds. Not bad for someone who's viewed as an upside pick.
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 24.0 Pts, 5.9 Reb, 5.0 Ast, 46% FG, 32% 3-PT
Immediate NBA Role: Starting point guard or combo guard; third scoring option but could be top offense initiator
Marcus Smart's status in relation to the other top picks may fluctuate right up until draft day, but no matter how high he's drafted or who picks him, he will make his presence felt in a big way.
He'll be able to direct traffic from the perimeter, stretch defenses with his shooting, drive to create and of course, defend both guard positions. At Oklahoma State, he's proved to be a Swiss army knife, and his multi-talented influence on both ends will empower him to be a compatible tool in the pros.
If the squad drafting him is in need of a point guard, he'll serve well as a floor general. But he could also fuel his team on the wing.
Matt Moore of CBS Sports unwraps a scenario where a team like the Utah Jazz pick him early in the lottery: "Put him at shooting guard with Trey Burke and you have two guys who can create their own shot and run an offense."
Smart will make a bevy of plays for the lucky franchise that selects him, and a good portion of those plays will be on the defensive side. As soon as he steps onto the NBA hardwood, he's going to make life difficult for even the best backcourts.
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 24.4 Pts, 14.2 Reb, 2.3 Ast, 57% FG, 72% FT
Immediate NBA Role: Featured power forward, rebounding machine
There are some areas of Julius Randle's game that need refinement, but that doesn't mean he's not ready to throw his weight around in the NBA.
He could immediately be one of the top scoring targets on his NBA club because he possesses an extraordinary knack for getting to the bucket. The Kentucky star's power, athleticism and instincts enable him to collect rebounds in droves, and his footwork and determination convert low-post touches into points.
Julius Randle has that rim-GPS. Can always locate it, even from unfamiliar angles in the post. Great interior instincts.
Jonathan Wasserman, December 28, 2013
While his full impact and versatility might not be felt for a couple years, Randle will still take the league by storm as a rookie and put up big numbers in the scoring and rebounding departments. His size, energy and forcefulness make it almost impossible to not make waves from day one.
2013-14 Stats (Per 40 Min): 28.7 Pts, 10.1 Reb, 2.4 Ast, 54% FG, 47% 3-PT
Immediate NBA Role: Swingman, first or second option on offense
No one deserves to be on this list more than Jabari Parker.
The trending No. 1 draft prospect will likely enter the Association as the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. He's been an unstoppable offensive weapon for Duke, ripping the nets from distance and carving foes up in the post.
All it takes is a few sequences to realize his polish and size will translate to the next level. Sports Illustrated's Peter Bukowski noticed how Parker adapted during the Blue Devils' toughest test of the season thus far:
Parker, who struggled to get jumpers to fall against the (Arizona) Wildcats, also displayed maturity for a freshman by deciding to assert himself to get easier looks. In doing so, he showcased a deft feel for scoring with big bodies around him, as well as some impressive post play, particularly on one possession in which he sealed his smaller defender to the inside and got a dunk.
Parker demonstrates fluidity, savvy and nuanced skill uncommon for 18-year-olds. He won't have the steep learning curve and skill development issues that most rookies encounter, so he'll be able to generate offense on the wing and in the paint.
In all likelihood, he will land on a franchise desperately craving swingman production and stardom. There's no doubt he can and will deliver.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for B/R. Follow him on Twitter: