The projected 2014 NBA draft field looks as strong on New Year's Day as it did on opening night of the season—maybe even stronger.
While Duke's Jabari Parker moved his way to the top of our mock earlier in December, Kansas' Joel Embiid has been making quite the case of his own.
Another new freshman has also emerged faster than we initially anticipated. Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis makes his first appearance in our mock after he played exceptionally in December.
Two new international stars have also joined the 2014 fun, as their play overseas has been tough to ignore.
The draft order has been generated based on the NBA's current standings, and all trades have been accounted for.
I just don't know how a team could feel comfortable passing on Jabari Parker.
He hasn't stopped cooking since the season started and is now averaging 21.4 points and eight boards a game.
He's getting buckets from every spot on the floor, whether it's in the slow half court or the transition game. Posting up, facing up or pulling up—he has a go-to move in every position, along with a counter at each as well.
You could argue Andrew Wiggins and even Joel Embiid here, but I wouldn't want to be the team that passes on Parker after the historic freshman season he's having.
With Joel Embiid, we're seeing something new whenever Kansas takes the floor.
It's getting to the point where it doesn't matter whether or not an NBA team has a center—Embiid is such a sensational prospect that in most cases, he's too good to pass on.
He's become quite the threat in the post, consistently shaking free with spin moves, up-and-unders and drop steps. He is also blocking more than two shots in 21.6 minutes while changing others throughout games.
For Jazz fans, "we already have Enes Kanter" isn't a justifiable excuse. Embiid has the chance to emerge into one of the top two-way centers in the NBA one day, and at the rate he's improving, that day might be sooner than we think.
Unlike Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins is flashing his upside in doses instead of consistently.
He's coming off a 20-point game against Toledo when he sliced his way to the rack for some athletic finishes. With a gap to hit, he's quicker and more explosive than everyone else at attacking the rim.
He has also been playing some phenomenal defense, an area where he has Parker beat by a mile.
However, he isn't at the point yet where he can take over games. Rather, he's forced to score opportunistically, and sometimes, good opportunities aren't always available.
Prior to the Toledo game, he shot 3-of-10 against Georgetown and 3-of-11 against New Mexico, and he struggled to get clean looks or easy buckets in both matchups.
With other prospects—like his teammate Embiid—surging up the ranks, Wiggins no longer looks like the ultimate 2014 prize. Still, there's no questioning his long-term potential—just whether or not he'll reach it.
Easily the manliest freshman of the bunch, Julius Randle continues to impose his will and strength on helpless frontcourts. He just makes opposing forwards look soft.
Before going down with cramps in the second half, he had 17 points and one missed shot against Louisville. He went for 29 and 10 against Belmont in the previous game.
He's going to have to develop a jumper to keep defenders honest in face-up situations. He has been taking slower-footed big men out on the perimeter and beating them off the dribble. He also needs to expand his post game, as he relies a little too much on his strength.
But as a 19-year-old prospect, there's not much to question in his game. Randle is averaging 18.1 points and 10.6 boards.
There's nothing new on the Dante Exum front, although he did tell ESPN's Jeff Goodman he'll be visiting the priority schools recruiting him (Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Kentucky, Oregon).
Still, don't count on him passing on the chance of being a top-five overall pick, which scouts have pegged him as since his standout 2013 summer.
At around 6'6'' with top-flight athleticism, he's a matchup nightmare for opposing backcourts. He has the mentality to run an offense and the scoring skill set to take one over. He did so for Australia this past July, when he led his country to a bronze at the FIBA World Championships.
It only takes a few plays to recognize Exum's NBA potential. If he was the top prospect on your board, I probably wouldn't put up much of a fight.
Marcus Smart was rock solid in a recent win over Colorado, reminding us again why he's such a rare breed of combo guard.
A scorer with a pass-first mindset, he continues to shine as a timely playmaker—attacking when it's there and dishing when he needs to.
His stroke has been a bit inconsistent; he's shooting just 32.3 percent from downtown and 69 percent from the stripe. And his assist rate is down from last season.
However, his statistics don't drive his NBA appeal. Rather, he offers intangibles, a two-way presence and versatility to a backcourt.
Smart's ceiling isn't as high as Australia's Dante Exum's, but he's a good, safe bet anywhere on the 2014 board.
James Young is one of those players who looks good even on off nights. He has to become more consistent, but his deep, lefty stroke and athletic bounce make for an appealing combo for a wing.
He finished with 18 points, 10 boards and four assists against Louisville despite missing 12 shots from the field.
“I just had to keep shooting. That is what you have to do sometimes as a shooter,” he told Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News following Kentucky's win over Louisville. “The coaches told me to keep my head up and keep shooting, and I did.”
He's active and confident, with the ability to shoot, slash and defend. And when he gets going, he can go into microwave mode and put up points in bunches.
Young's game is sure to translate from one level to the next.
Noah Vonleh is going to take some time once he makes the jump, but that time should eventually be worth it.
Though Indiana's offense doesn't often call his name, he has finished a fair share of his scoring opportunities. He's shooting 56 percent,and generally gets at least one bucket a game off an offensive rebound, while his length and feel for the rim allow him to score without a go-to move.
He is averaging 9.5 boards in only 22.2 minutes. He has a monster frame and a good idea on how to use it inside.
He still has to work on avoiding fouls as well as extending the range on his jumper, but Vonleh's upside is tremendous. He has a good chance to evolve into a two-way, inside-outside frontcourt mismatch down the road.
Don't bother critiquing Aaron Gordon's box scores—his numbers haven't been crazy. He's playing within the offense, taking the good shots that come to him and passing when nothing is there.
It will probably be years before he finds his sweet spots on the floor. In the pros, they are likely to be different than the ones he has in college.
He's a sensational athlete with excellent ball skills, and so far this year, he has proved to be a high-IQ forward.
Gordon's moderate production and raw skill set will make it tough for him to crack the top six, but he's a value pick anywhere else.
Rodney Hood has been a consistent offensive threat all season, causing matchup problems as an inside-outside wing.
He's averaging 17.6 points on 54.3 percent and 41.7 percent from three. At 6'8'', he's shown he can shoot off the catch, put it on the floor or score in the post.
If a team is looking for some offensive versatility up front, Hood should qualify as a potential lottery candidate.
Gary Harris returned strong from an ankle injury with a 19-point, nine-rebound, five-assist, five-steal stat line against New Orleans.
He looks smooth out there. He does a nice job of picking and choosing his spots as a scorer, like knowing when to pull up versus taking it all the way.
Despite his low shooting percentage from downtown this year, he has a promising stroke (41 percent from three last year). At the pro level, he projects as a valuable system player who will finish the opportunities set up for him by better playmakers and shot creators.
He is more of a safe pick than an upside one, although he seems a little more NBA ready than most. If a team is going to miss out on one of the major prizes in the field, Harris should be a satisfying consolation.
Playing within UCLA's offense, Zach LaVine isn't going to consistently score 14 points a game like he was early on.
He's now finished three straight in single digits—more because of a lack of opportunity than a lack of execution. He flashes his upside just a few times a game, but each time is blinding.
In his last game against Alabama, he showed us a pretty step-back three-pointer. Against Duke, he provided an athletic finish in transition.
LaVine probably needs another year in school to add to his game and 180-pound frame, but the buzz might be too loud to ignore by April.
Doug McDermott has now hit the 20-point mark in 11 of his first 12 games. Despite him being the constant center of the defense's attention, nobody seems to have an answer.
He hits contested shots when guarded, moves well without the ball and finds ways to score without the use of jets or springs.
He is now shooting 42.3 percent from downtown and hasn't finished below 40 percent in any year at Creighton. He's actually a field-goal percentage point away from a 50-40-90 line (49 percent from the field, 42.3 percent from three, 90.4 percent from the stripe).
At some point, you just have to ignore his physical limitations and focus on his offensive strengths.
Dario Saric, who shook NBA radars about 10 months ago before withdrawing his name from the draft, has been productive overseas as of late.
He's averaging 17 points, around 10 boards and 3.2 assists over his last five games (in three Adriatic League and two Eurocup games), illustrating his unique offensive versatility for a 6'10'' forward.
And that's what drives his NBA appeal. He has the size and motor to clean the glass, the skill set to put the ball on the floor and the instincts to make the clever pass.
Expect to hear his name resurface in draft conversations as we get closer to the big day.
Despite lacking refined moves or a go-to offensive skill set, Jerami Grant still finds ways to contribute consistently.
Credit that to a productive combination of length (7'2'' wingspan) and athleticism for a 6'8'' wing. He's a constant presence on the offensive glass, a target off cuts and slashes, and a defensive nightmare capable of being in two places at once.
Even though he's not much of a scorer yet, he's finished in double digits in points in every game but two.
Once Grant develops some mid-range touch—which isn't out of the question when you consider his mechanics aren't terrible—he's going to serve multiple purposes as a two-way energy guy and finisher.
Adreian Payne has taken his game to a new level this year, improving as a scorer from practically every spot on the floor.
He's averaging 18 points, but more importantly, it's how he is getting those points that has moved the needle on his stock. He already has 16 three-pointers, the same number he had all of last year as a junior.
We've even seen him put it on the floor and pull up off the dribble. He's also improved his awareness in finding ways to position himself for scoring chances without the ball.
Payne has blossomed at just the right time, and he now offers a package of size and skills that could generate late-lottery interest.
Originally pegged as more of a two-and-done college star, the buzz surrounding Tyler Ennis has gotten a little too loud to ignore.
He's one of the most efficient and effective game managers in college basketball despite having such little experience on the job.
Think about this: He has played 416 minutes (32 per game) and only has a total of 15 turnovers (70 total assists).
He's the consummate floor general and ideal decision-maker, and though he won't win any races or dunk contests, his intangibles and leadership drive his appeal.
Ennis has the Orange ranked No. 2 in the country at the moment. And if he's able to take his team deep into the NCAA tournament, returning to school won't serve any purpose.
Though he can't score unless he's set up right around the rim, Willie Cauley-Stein does three things well—finish, rebound and defend. And that's going to be his calling card in the pros.
Without the ability to offer much offense, a team might be hesitant to reach too high. But for teams strictly looking for an athletic, active presence up front, Cauley-Stein is a guy to target.
Especially this year, given how few centers will be in the field.
As pure as they come in the point-guard department, Vasilije Micic has been making a strong case in the competitive Adriatic League for first-round consideration.
He's coming off a 17-point game for Mega Vizura, after going for 20 points and seven dimes in a game earlier in December.
A textbook pass-first facilitator with terrific 6'5'' size, Micic is third in the league in assists while playing a major role at just 19 years old.
He won't blow you away with quickness or athleticism, but his ability to manage a game is top notch, along with elite passing skills and vision. If you can get over the fact he lacks Kemba Walker's first step or John Wall's lift, Micic offers unteachable strengths as a floor general that might be more valuable than speed or hops.
The Raptors should be looking for a point guard this summer, and Micic has emerged as a strong option.
Jordan Clarkson just refuses to cool off, and he now has at least 20 points in eight of his 12 games.
He's also improved as a facilitator. He has been doing a nice job of using the dribble drive to free up shooters and create shots for bigs.
Even better news—he's actually caught fire from downtown. And after a shaky start shooting the ball (he made eight of his last 14 from three), he's now up to a respectable 34 percent from behind the arc.
With great size and athleticism at the point, you can't help but think about the mismatch he has the potential to present.
One of the biggest breakout stars of the season, Clarkson is averaging 20 points and 4.3 assists as Missouri's ultimate playmaker in the backcourt.
Rather than rely on that silky smooth jumper, Sam Dekker has shown off his deceptive athleticism of late, making a few plays a game above the rim.
He's more than just a finesse scorer, which you might mistake him for when you see him shoot the ball. He can finish after contact or throw down some explosive dunks when given a runway to take off from.
He is shooting more than 50 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three this year, averaging 14.5 points and 6.2 boards a game.
A high-IQ forward who plays within the offense, Dekker can add some balance to a lineup.
Spencer Dinwiddie has been fairly consistent all year. He's playing a more efficient brand of ball—his field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and assists are all up, while his turnover rate is down.
Even though he has the size and scoring arsenal of a 2-guard, Dinwiddie has been a reliable playmaker in the passing game and shows an admirable feel at the point-guard position with 3.8 assists per game.
He's an excellent offensive player who offers some valuable versatility to a backcourt. Dinwiddie is now averaging 15.8 points on only eight shots a game while shooting 41.7 percent from three.
Glenn Robinson III has been playing much better as of late, looking a little more assertive on the offensive end.
He's now scored at least 17 points in four consecutive games, combining to make 7-of-15 from three during the stretch.
He is a big-time athlete—against Holy Cross, he made a standout coast-to-coast play by grabbing the defensive rebound and taking it the distance for a sweet lefty finish.
He still has to work on his half-court scoring repertoire, but Robinson has the physical tools, genes and skill set to make it happen. He's now averaging a solid 14.2 points and five boards on the year.
Chris Walker still hasn't played a game yet after being academically ineligible for Florida's first semester, but it seems like only a matter of time before he gets to suit up.
He is one of those freak athletes at around 6'10'', which is the only that is driving his upside. He's going to have to add a post game and some scoring moves when he eventually returns.
It's also unclear just how much he will be able to contribute, given he's a raw prospect without much seasoning. "Whatever role Coach Donovan wants to use me, I'm good with it," Walker told ESPN in August. "I just want to get there and play college basketball."
After losing most of his freshman year, Walker most likely won't come back as a sophomore to potentially risk losing another. If he declares, expect a team to reach based solely on his potential.
C.J. Wilcox is averaging 20.5 points a game in his senior year, knocking down a career-high three three-pointers a night.
Given his size and athleticism for an off-guard, he projects as a shooting specialist and perimeter scorer at the next level. He shot greater than 40 percent from downtown as a freshman and sophomore, and he's on pace to do it again as a senior.
Wilcox isn't an upside pick, but he's one who can likely help a playoff team right away with some shot-making in the half court.
Bogdan Bogdanovic has emerged as one of the star international prospects this season, averaging 15 points and 3.7 assists on 35 percent shooting from three in the Adriatic League for Partizan.
Following an injury to his team's starting point guard, Bogdanovic, a 6'6'' wing, has done a nice job of playing the role of facilitator. A crafty ball-handler, reliable shooter and tough defender, he is a multidimensional prospect, although he's not the most athletic or explosive.
He's 21 years old right now, and though it's unclear what his goal is in terms of playing in the NBA, Bogdanovic's breakout season has put him on NBA radars for the 2014 draft.
The back end of the first round doesn't project to be nearly as loaded as the top, which should benefit a player like P.J. Hairston, who will end up playing zero games as a junior.
North Carolina recently announced it will not seek reinstatement for Hairston, who will miss the remainder of the season after some off-the-court issues last summer.
The interview process might ultimately be his toughest challenge, given his talent and skill set are both first-round quality. At 6'6'', he has tremendous size and strength at the off-guard position, where he's lights out from three, a bully attacking the rim and a pest on the defensive end.
There aren't 30 better prospects in the field, as long as you can get past his previous maturity issues.
He's cooled off a bit, but Jordan Adams has remained active and aggressive on both sides of the ball.
He is averaging 18.5 points on 49.7 percent shooting and 34.5 percent from three. He's been efficient in a go-to role (tough to do), finding ways to get buckets as a driver and shooter in the half court.
Defensively, he's a playmaker, averaging 3.3 steals a game.
Adams isn't considered a can't-miss prospect due to a lack of athleticism at a position that typically requires it, but that's unlikely to matter much this late in the draft. If a team is in need of some offensive firepower and defensive activity, Adams is a nice option late in Round 1.
Shabazz Napier has been Connecticut's rock this year, averaging 16.3 points, 6.5 boards and 5.8 assists. Smart, skilled and clutch, he has emerged as one of the top players in the country heading into 2014.
He's also been on fire from downtown—Napier has made 22-of-46 from three this year (47.8 percent).
He's not going to win any awards at the pro level like he's bound to in college, but with his ability to manage an offense, shoot the rock and defend, Napier seems like an appealing option to bring off the bench or to strengthen backcourt depth.
A super smooth athlete with long arms and good size, Cleanthony Early is starting to blossom at just the right time.
He has now gone for at least 24 points and/or 10 boards in two of his last three contests. He is averaging 16 points for the undefeated, Top 10-ranked Shockers. Last season, he helped lead them all the way to the Final Four, where he went for 24 points and 10 boards in a loss to Louisville.
Since transferring from junior college, Early has started to look more and more like an NBA-caliber wing. And in the right setting with the right supporting cast, he should have the chance to contribute as one.