When we look back at the 2014 NBA draft class 20 years from now, it might not be the Hall of Fame group it was initially cracked up to be.
This class more closely resembles the classes of 2008 and 2009—drafts that sprayed the board with talent from top to bottom, though not necessarily the type to single-handedly transform losers into contenders.
Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Julius Randle—these are terrific NBA prospects, but we might have overestimated their level of stardom, or at least their chances of reaching its higher levels. As promising as they are, they don't seem like the sure things previous draft classes produced at the top.
We knew former top picks like Kevin Durant (No. 2 overall), Anthony Davis, John Wall, Blake Griffin were going to be big time. There weren't really any questions surrounding them entering the draft—they pretty much registered 10s on the sure-thing superstar scale.
Wiggins, Parker, Embiid, Randle—they just don't make you feel as safe as guys like Durant, Davis, Wall or even Derrick Rose did.
We've seen Wiggins struggle to make a consistent impact so far at Kansas. At this point, there are questions surrounding his skill set and approach to the game. Over the past two weeks, it's been Parker who's raised some concern.
Parker's glaring flaw stems from his lack of blow-by quickness off the dribble, which has him settling for tough perimeter jumpers instead of attacking or getting to the line. Embiid actually looks like the top prospect out of everyone, only he's been playing organized ball for just three total years. Some might be hesitant to jump on him based on the risk factor that's attached to raw big men.
There's no doubt that the 2014 field has some fantastic NBA prospects. I think Wiggins, Parker and Embiid will eventually evolve into major contributors and potential top guns for their respective teams. But I wouldn't give them a 10 on the sure-thing superstar scale like we did with Davis, the last No. 1 pick who actually deserved the honor.
Instead of promoting this class for its elite talent at the top, maybe it's time we start appreciating its potential depth across the board.
At this point, it's impossible to project exact depth, considering we don't even know who'll be declaring or returning to school. But if everyone signs up? Man, this could be a first round loaded with long-term starters and possible All-Stars.
Outside of Wiggins, Parker, Embiid and Randle, you've also got Australia's Dante Exum, who could be the favorite to go No. 1 in 2015 if he chose to put off this year's draft.
Exum is a sensational prospect who's made significant waves on NBA radars over the past two summers. If Wiggins and Parker's play continues to fluctuate, don't be surprised to see Exum sneak into the top three.
How about UCLA freshman Zach LaVine? This kid stands out like you wouldn't believe. At 6'5'' with a wiry frame and springs integrated into his sneakers, he packs a potent punch of circus-like athleticism and a lethal outside stroke. Throw in a point guard's handle and you've got yourself one heck of a prospect.
Indiana's Noah Vonleh is another freshman just waiting to erupt. He's averaging 15.2 boards per 40 minutes and just nailed his eighth three-pointer on his last 11 tries. Despite little polish on his post game, he can wheel and deal in the paint. He's got Chris Bosh written all over him if he continues making strides on offense.
These guys have all-star upside, yet they probably won't even be taken with a top-six pick.
You've also got your safe plays in this draft—guys who are bound to last 15 years as rocks in a lineup, like Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, Michigan State's Gary Harris and Syracuse's Tyler Ennis.
There's also a strong group of middle-tier prospects. You've got your wings—Duke's Rodney Hood and Kentucky's James Young, two sharpshooting small forwards with plenty to offer NBA offenses.
Don't forget Creighton's Doug McDermott, who's averaging nearly 25 points a game as the front-runner for National Player of the Year. Based on his athletic limitations, he'll probably be kept out of the top 10, meaning someone is likely getting a steal later in the draft.
This draft could also have a few wild cards—Florida's Chris Walker, who's yet to play a game after being ruled academically ineligible, and ex-Tar Heel P.J. Hairston, who's now with the Texas Legends of the D-League after being barred from playing at the school, are both hit-or-miss first-round prospects.
Sprinkle in guys like Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein, Syracuse's Jerami Grant, Michigan State's Adreian Payne and Kansas' Wayne Selden, not to mention a few intriguing international prospects like Croatia's Dario Saric and Serbia's Vasilije Micic, and this class is just oozing with potential valuable, long-term contributors.
Maybe we should stop looking so hard at the top of this draft and start focusing on its overall body. It might might not go down as the one that produces the brightest stars, but it could be the one that produces the most.
"I think all of them could make an All-Star team at some point, but they couldn't just walk in and make it, they have to improve," one scout told me, referring to the top prospects in the projected field.
This isn't necessarily a "it's only a matter of time" situation. Wiggins, Parker, Embiid and Randle have kinks they'll need to work out before being able to flourish as pros.
I also spoke with him regarding Embiid's progress following his ridiculous game against Iowa State. "He has only been playing basketball for a short time so his progress is incredible," he said. "The most impressive thing he did was that one-hand cross-court pass out of a double team. That's a pass that very, very few people can make."
The pass he was referring to is the one below, where he patiently waited for the double before throwing a one-handed bullet to an open man. Not only has Embiid improved fundamentally but his awareness has grown as well.
|5||Marcus Smart||Oklahoma State||PG/SG||Sophomore|
|12||Gary Harris||Michigan State||SG||Sophomore|
|17||Adreian Payne||Michigan State||PF||Senior|
|19||Glenn Robinson III||Michigan||SF||Sophomore|
|21||P.J. Hairston||Texas Legends||SG||Junior|
|25||T.J. Warren||North Carolina State||SF||Sophomore|
|30||Roy Devyn Marble||Iowa||PG/SG/SF||Senior|
Joel Embiid, Kansas, 7'0'', C, Freshman
There isn't a more dominant two-way player in the country, and Embiid proved that once again after manhandling the Iowa State Cyclones and Oklahoma State Cowboys.
There's just no answer for him. Embiid is too big and skilled one-one-one down low, where he can score a variety of different ways with his back to the rim. And he's become an excellent passer out of the double-team, as he's learned to anticipate, find his open man and fire him a dart.
He finished 7-of-8 for 16 points and nine boards against the Cyclones and also added five blocks, one of which he gained possession of by swatting and corralling the ball with one hand. Against the Cowboys, he nearly triple-doubled with 13 points, 11 boards and eight blocks.
“I think Embiid’s the best player in the country,” former NBA player and Iowa coach Fred Hoiberg told Bleacher Report's Jason King. “You see him play tonight? That’s why. He’s huge and he’s got great length. He can shoot, and he’s got incredible footwork, and he’s been playing the game for about two years (really been three years).”
Embiid recently moved to No. 1 on our latest mock draft, and based on his upside and rapid improvement, he might be there for a while.
Kyle Anderson, UCLA, 6'9'', PG, Sophomore
One of the biggest boom-or-bust prospects in the field, Kyle Anderson, UCLA's 6'9'' point guard, has been making an interesting case for himself as of late. He exploded for 28 points, seven boards and seven assists against Utah and 17, 13 and seven against Arizona State.
Anderson has also already made nine more three-pointers this year than he did all of last year. He's improved a lot, and though nothing will change the fact that he operates in slow motion, he's grown in all the areas a player can grow.
I'm not sure how he makes it in the pros as a small forward, but if a team gives him the chance to run the point as a 6'9'' mismatch, the potential reward could be huge.
Jerami Grant, Syracuse, 6'8'', SF, Sophomore
Grant has been awfully active for Syracuse lately. After double-doubling in consecutive games, he went for 16 points and eight boards against Boston College. He's a remarkable athlete when you combine his hops, 7'2'' wingspan and coordination. Grant throws at least one putback slam down a game that makes you question what you saw.
The concern with Grant is his jumper—it's tough to play small forward in the NBA without one. But against North Carolina, he hit two 15- to 18-footers with comfort and fluidity. If he is able to build on that mid-range game, the lottery should certainly be within reach.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, 7'0'', C, Sophomore
Cauley-Stein has been invisible for Kentucky the last two games, totaling just two points, two blocks and nine boards against Arkansas and Tennessee.
As a non-threat offensively (unless he's set up right at the rim), he can't afford to take games off as a rebounder or defender. Because ultimately, Cauley-Stein's sales pitch to NBA's teams is his ability to impact games with scoring or needing the ball. And if he's not dominating the glass or changing shots, he's not serving much if a purpose out there.
Olivier Hanlan, Boston College, 6'4'', PG/SG, Sophomore
Hanlan has been off lately—he made just three field goals in a loss to North Carolina and two in a loss to Syracuse.
Though he's been doing a bit more facilitating, he's not shooting the ball nearly as consistently as he was a year ago (31.1 percent from three, down from 39.4 percent in 2012-13). Hanlan is likely a fringe first-rounder this year or the next. If he ends up on the wrong side of the fence, consistency might be the deciding factor.
Dario Saric, Cibona, 6'10'', SF/PF, 1994
Saric has been tearing it up over in the Adriatic League, recently going for 29 points on four-of-five shooting from three.
Since December, he's been averaging 18 points and 9.8 rebounds (six Adriatic League games, three Eurocup), and at just 19 years old, he's now No. 3 in the Adriatic League in scoring.
The NBA guys love his frontcourt versatility, given he's a 6'10'' forward who can put it on the floor, crash the glass, set up teammates and knock down shots. There was plenty of interest in him last year before he chose to withdraw his name. Saric can probably go anywhere from late lottery to late first round in 2014.
Clint Capela, Chalon, 6'10'', PF, 1994
Capela has been on radars since around 2012, but it's his recent production that deserves some recognition. A strong, physical athlete with a body built for NBA play, he's been making the most of his limited action, most recently double-doubling with 12 points and 10 boards in 24 minutes.
He's clearly a project without much of an offensive game, but Capela's physical tools for the interior could be enough to generate interest this June.
- Poor Spencer Dinwiddie. Colorado's floor general tore his ACL this week—terrible timing for a junior looking to make the jump to the pros. He had been excellent this year, with his field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and assists all up and his turnovers down. The injury makes it tough for Dinwiddie to declare in June, while it's likely to take away half of his season next year. There's really not much to say except to wish him a healthy and speedy recovery.
- Michigan State's Gary Harris is attempting almost three more three-point field goals per game this year, 7.2, than he was last year, 4.6. And his percentages are down big time (from 41.1 percent to 31.5 percent). The good news is that he's still putting up points (17.9 a game), showing he can be effective even when his jumper is off.
- Kentucky's Julius Randle missed a number of putbacks around the rim against Arkansas, and though he was able to continuously win the battle on the boards, his under-the-rim hops were exposed. Given his short wingspan, this is a potential red flag for scouts who like to really analyze everything.
- There are an incredible amount of breakout seniors this year. Oklahoma State's Markel Brown, Oklahoma's Cameron Clarke, Washington's C.J. Wilcox, Michigan State's Keith Appling, Florida's Casey Prather, Arizona State's Jordan Bachynski, Iowa's Roy Devyn Marble and California's Justin Cobbs are just a few seniors who've finally made themselves presentable to NBA teams.