Ranking Top 3 NBA Draft Prospects at Every Position Entering 2014
For NBA draft decision-makers, it can be helpful to separate your draft board by positional rankings. Depending on who's left, some teams might want to fill a specific position on the roster rather than just go with best available.
Some of the following prospects will be able to play multiple positions. The position I've assigned each player is either his more natural position or the one he's projected to play once he makes the jump.
It's also worth noting that only prospects projected to leave in 2014 were considered.
No. 3 Center: Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State, 7'2'', Sr.
It's never too late when you're 7'2''. Jordan Bachynski has finally broken out as a senior, averaging 12.5 points, 9.8 boards and a whopping 4.8 blocks per game.
He's made himself a more threatening scorer around the rim while raising his rebounding average by almost four per game.
Bachynski's ceiling probably floats around backup center level, so we shouldn't get carried away. The projected 2014 class might be real short on centers, so Bachynski picked a good time to come alive.
For a second-round team looking to increase its rim security, Bachynski has become a viable option later in the draft.
No. 2 Center: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0'', C, Soph.
Willie Cauley-Stein is all about frontcourt athleticism—and at 7'0'', that athleticism translates to easy buckets, rim protection and rebounding.
His role now is likely to be the one he plays for the rest of his career—one that asks him to run, dunk, pass and defend.
Without the ability to put it on the floor, create his own shot or knock one down from more than eight feet away, Cauley-Stein might have trouble trying to crack the lottery. But for a team looking strictly for some size and two-way interior activity, Cauley-Stein should be a raw but effective option.
He's averaging 8.8 points, 8.2 boards and 4.1 blocks in 27.5 minutes a game.
No. 1 Center: Joel Embiid, Kansas, 7'0'', C, Fr.
Forget best center in the country—Joel Embiid could very well be the top prospect and No. 1 pick.
He's slowly getting better by the day, flashing a new eye-opening move with each game he plays. Lightning-quick spins, up-and-under layups, Dream Shakes, drop steps—Embiid's footwork and agility are off the charts for a center his age, never mind one who just starting playing organized ball at 16 years old.
It's at the point where he's starting to take over games when he's on the floor. Over his last three, Embiid is averaging 16.3 points and eight boards while missing a total of five shots from the floor.
Defensively, his 7'5'' wingspan allows him to contest shots without being on top of the play. He's able to change a guy's shot on the strong side while defending his man off the ball on the weak side.
Embiid will ultimately have to learn some defensive fundamentals when he gets to the next level, but he's got the potential to emerge into a game-changing anchor in the middle.
His upside is through the roof. This isn't the case of just another raw 7-footer who may or may not develop. Embiid can play the game now, and he's improving at a wild rate.
No. 3 Power Forward: Aaron Gordon, Arizona, 6'9'', Fr.
Aaron Gordon has played the role assigned to him by coach Sean Miller at Arizona, and though it hasn't resulted in big individual production, it's allowed him to show off a different aspect of his game we didn't really know existed.
We were always aware of his video game athleticism. Gordon can finish above and under the rim, on or off balance. But we've also come to discover some of the intangibles he offers an offense.
Gordon brings energy, activity, passing and a high-IQ presence in the lineup.
He's also 7-of-18 from downtown and has looked confident as a shooter when his feet are set.
Gordon will eventually have to learn the post, as well as how to create his own shot from the power forward spot on the floor, but this is a coachable kid with a lot of unteachable natural ability. He could realistically go anywhere in the draft from No. 6 on down.
No. 2 Power Forward: Noah Vonleh, Indiana, 6'10'', PF, Fr.
Noah Vonleh has been a legitimate troublemaker down low, where his extreme length and massive frame take up an inordinate amount of space.
He's averaging 9.5 boards in just over 22 minutes a game. Vonleh gets himself easy points and buckets off offensive rebounds and tip-ins or by getting good position on his man before receiving an entry pass eight feet from the rim.
Though he won't blow you away with any fancy skills or moves, it's Vonleh's feel for the game that sticks out more than anything. He just knows how to get himself points and boards.
We've also seen him show the confidence to face the rim and attack or knock down a jumper. This is an area of his game that needs the most improvement, but if it were to develop, it would take Vonleh to a whole new level.
He's more of a long-term prospect than a short-term solution. However, the reward should be worth the wait if it all comes together.
No. 1 Power Forward: Julius Randle, Kentucky, 6'9'', PF, Fr.
Julius Randle has established himself as the biggest bully on the block early on. Nobody gets more hard-fought buckets powered by a relentless motor and unteachable offensive instincts.
He's an NBA-ready athlete with the speed, size and strength. Randle is averaging 18.1 points and 10.6 boards on 56.4 percent shooting and has shown the ability to take games into his own hands if that's what's ultimately necessary.
Randle will have to refine and polish his post game, as he won't be able to just plow defenders over in the pros. At Kentucky, he relies heavily on the mismatch his physical tools present.
Defense also isn't a strong point. And without much lift, I'm not sure "rim protector" is a label he'll be wearing on draft day (nine blocks, 13 games).
But there's no denying Randle's offensive upside. He's too quick on the perimeter and too strong down low.
Look for Randle to remain in the top-three conversation from now until June.
No. 3 Small Forward: James Young, Kentucky, 6'6'', Fr.
An athletic spark plug and three-point flamethrower, James Young packs a potent punch of offense and activity.
In the half court, he's deadly from downtown with a beautiful lefty stroke and has the ability to finish plays as a slasher, cutter or clean-up man inside.
He also has a scoring hand that's capable of heating up quickly. Young can put points on the board in bunches, particularly as a shooter and weapon in transition.
He'll eventually have to improve his in-between game, as the majority of his shots are of the catch-and-shoot variety. But Young's physical tools, motor and play-finishing skills make for an attractive package of services to offer a team in need of a jolt on the wing.
No. 2 Small Forward: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas, 6'8'', Fr.
Andrew Wiggins doesn't have the offensive game of Duke's Jabari Parker, but his unparalleled athleticism might be just as valuable.
He's averaging almost 16 points a game on 47 percent shooting. With a gap or hole to hit, there isn't anyone quicker in the country. Wiggins picks up buckets by slicing through the defense like a hot knife through butter. His handle is a bit shaky, but that first step is just too explosive.
Wiggins has also been better than advertised as a shooter, making 34 percent of his three-pointers so far on the year.
He has to work on creating balanced and makable shots on the perimeter, as well as being able to change directions more smoothly off the dribble. Wiggins has also come under fire for seemingly looking comfortable in a backseat role.
Otherwise, he's been fantastic on defense, lethal in transition and one of the slickest slashers in the country. Once he starts to polish up his offense and ultimately build more confidence, those concerns surrounding his game and approach are likely to start slowly fading.
No. 1 Small Forward: Jabari Parker, Duke, 6'8'', Fr.
No freshman or prospect came in with a more college-ready (and NBA-ready) game than Duke's Jabari Parker, who's now considered one of the strongest No. 1 overall pick contenders.
He's got the full offensive package, from a refined perimeter scoring repertoire to a polished game in the post. And at 6'8'', 235 pounds, he's got the body and athleticism to comfortably play from both spots on the floor.
Parker is shooting 53.9 percent and 46.5 percent from downtown while putting up 22.2 points and 7.8 boards a game. Defenses just don't have an answer for him.
But what ultimately puts him over the top is the fact that he seems to embrace the role as a leader. You just get the feeling that Parker is a true centerpiece to build around, given his talent, intangibles and character.
From a positional standpoint, there's actually a decent chance Parker eventually evolves into a power forward, the way Carmelo Anthony did later in his career. If Parker has a weakness, it's lateral quickness, which might cause him trouble when defending the wing.
But all in all, there really isn't much to nitpick here. If I'm selecting one guy in the projected field to build a team around, Parker is my guy.
No. 3 Shooting Guard: Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado, 6'5'', Jr.
Spencer Dinwiddie has returned as a more mature junior at Colorado, where he's cleaned up all the areas that required maintenance from a year ago.
His field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and assists are all up, while his turnovers are down to just 1.8 a game.
He's averaging 15.8 points on only eight shots. Dinwiddie gets to the line a ton, where he converts over 87 percent of the time. He's slick off the dribble, which he uses to attack the rack or pull up in space with the mid-range jumper.
Dinwiddie won't knock your socks off with high-flying dunks or athleticism, but his scoring poise and play-creating skills are now first-round worthy.
No. 2 Shooting Guard: Gary Harris, Michigan State, 6'4'', Soph.
Fundamentally sound and mentally in-tune, Gary Harris has a game that's tough not to like.
He's an opportunistic scorer—Harris finishes the plays created for him by slashing or spot-up shooting. Though not overly creative off the dribble, Harris can step up into gaps and either stop and pop or attack an open lane.
His scoring average is up five points from a year ago to 17.9 a game. Harris' green light has gotten brighter and he's looked to take advantage.
He's not a mind-blowing athlete, nor is his size overwhelming, so his upside might be a bit limited.
But Harris is still a reliable shooter, dedicated defender and all-around high-IQ talent. He'll be a safe option at the off-guard position anywhere near the tail end of the lottery.
No. 1 Shooting Guard: Zach LaVine, UCLA, 6'5'', Fr.
Zach LaVine is all about upside. He might not be the safest pick among 2-guards (though he's more of a combo guard), but the reward here is huge if a team can maximize his talent.
He's got dunk-contest athleticism and what appears to be a lethal perimeter game. So far this year, he's shooting it 44 percent from downtown, showing the ability to knock down shots off the catch or step back off the dribble.
In between, LaVine can also handle the ball and create off the dribble, although he's still figuring out what to do with his rare opportunities to put it on the floor.
LaVine will need a lot more seasoning before he's able to make an NBA impact. He's probably better off staying another year at UCLA to put some meat on that ridiculous 180-pound frame.
He might be a few years from showing what he's really capable of doing, but LaVine's best-case projection could entice a lottery team to reach.
No. 3 Point Guard: Vasilije Micic, Serbia, 1993
Apologies to Arizona State's Jahii Carson, Kentucky's Andrew Harrison and Syracuse's Tyler Ennis, all of whom could be argued as the potential No. 3 point guard on the board.
But Vasilije Micic gets the nod here thanks to a couple of factors, most notably his strong play abroad as of late.
At just 19 years old, he ranks third in the Adriatic League in assists per game. He's an incredible passer who can manage an offense, run the pick-and-roll and create easy buckets for teammates. Micic has also been a reliable three-point shooter over the past two years.
Unlike most American point guards, Micic is as pure as they come. He's a true pass-first facilitator, and at 6'5'', he's got great size for making plays around or over the defense.
Micic isn't the quickest, strongest or most athletic, but his ability to orchestrate an offense makes him a more appealing option than guys like Carson and Harrison at the point—two talented players who aren't quite as natural manning the position.
No. 2 Point Guard: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6'4'', Soph.
Call him whatever you want—a point guard, a shooting guard, a combo guard—Marcus Smart is a guy teams will use to initiate their offense.
Don't expect Smart to ever rank among the NBA's assist leaders—expect the team he's running to play a high-quality brand of ball.
He's an efficient playmaker who scores and passes based on what the possession calls for. And at 6'4'' and 220 pounds of rock-solid muscle, Smart has the physical tools to play either backcourt position. But his ability to handle the ball and manage an offense is what makes his versatility all the more valuable.
This year, he's averaging over 17 points, 4.3 boards, 4.1 assists and 2.6 steals per game.
Between the intangibles he brings to the table as a leader and competitor, along with his two-way skill set and offensive versatility, Smart should present teams with one of the safest options on the draft board.
No. 1 Point Guard: Dante Exum, Australia, 6'6'', 1995
Dante Exum might not be the purest of point guards, but if he accepts the role, he just might be the toughest cover of them all.
At 6'6'', he's a sensational athlete who can handle the ball and create off the bounce. Exum has a lightning first step and explosive last step—he's got blow-by quickness, along with above-the-rim springs to finish easy buckets inside.
And though his first instinct might be to score, given he's always the top player on his team, Exum's character and approach both suggest this won't be an issue at all.
"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 all about, Exum told Lee Gaskin of The Canberra Times following his performance at the Australian School Championships earlier in December. Not that the competition was regarded as anything special, but over his last three games in the tournament, Exum averaged 27.6 points, 10.6 assists and 9.6 boards.
Though not consistent yet, Exum can also be a dangerous outside shooter and has the defensive tools to overwhelm opposing ball-handlers.
There really isn't anything not to like with Exum, and if you told me he was your No. 1 ranked prospect, I wouldn't put up a fight. The only argument is as to whether or not he's a true point guard, but at the end of the day, it won't matter—as long as the ball is in his hands.
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