6 2014 NBA Draft Prospects Looking to Make the First-Round Leap

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterFebruary 3, 2014

6 2014 NBA Draft Prospects Looking to Make the First-Round Leap

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    Rich Barnes/Getty Images

    These are the guys knocking on the door—the fringe first-rounders looking to break through that barrier. 

    There's a big difference in being the No. 30 pick as opposed to the No. 31 pick, given that first-round selections get guaranteed contracts, while second-round selections do not. 

    This list is comprised of three seniors who've gradually moved into the picture and three sophomores who've started falling out. 

     

    Stats courtesy of ESPN; advanced stats courtesy of Draftexpress.com, Sports-Reference.com.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State, 5'11", PG, Sophomore

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    You see the flashy offensive game and the big scoring numbers to follow—Jahii Carson is averaging 19.1 points as a sophomore for Arizona State. He's as quick as anyone off the dribble, with the ability to break down defenses from every spot or angle on the floor. 

    But his assist rate is down, and he's coughing it up 3.6 times per game. His pure point rating, which measures a player's assists to turnovers relative to each other, is in the negative (minus-1.45). 

    And at 5'11", there's just no margin for error. 

    Carson is a really talented kid. And to be fair, he's taking 15 shots per game because that's what his role in the offense requires him to do. But his decision-making and shot selection could both use major work.

    You're probably not going to see a first-round team bite unless he convinces one of them he can facilitate as a point guard. I'm just not sure how many general managers are in the market for 5'11", ball-dominant scorers. 

    But with Carson's quickness and ability to get to any spot on the floor, he's definitely got something to offer if he can channel his talent appropriately. 

Shabazz Napier, Connecticut, 6'1", PG, Senior

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    Fred Beckham/Associated Press

    Shabazz Napier might be one of the five best players in college basketball. But not everyone is sold on his NBA outlook or the height of his ceiling. 

    This year, Napier has made a strong case for himself to scouts and general managers looking for an instant-impact guard and some late-round value. 

    He's ninth in the country in win shares at 4.5—Napier shoulders a monster load for Connecticut as its game manager and top scoring weapon. He's averaging 17.9 points, 5.7 assists and six boards per game, and with a 43.5 percent three-point stroke, Napier has pretty much covered every area he's needed to cover. 

    But the fact is, at 6'1", he's not a standout athlete in terms of strength or explosiveness, and his decision-making and play has been up and down over the years. 

    Napier projects more as a bench guard than as a starter, which is fine, but that low-ceiling projection could make it tough to get a first-round bite. He'll likely be considered a fringe first-rounder from now until the evening of June 26.

C.J. Fair, Syracuse, 6'8", SF, Senior

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    Nick Lisi/Associated Press

    Regardless of where C.J. Fair goes in the draft, you can't help but admire the gradual progress he's made over his four-year career at Syracuse.

    His go-to avenues for offense as a freshman were runners and tip-ins. Now, Fair is the leading scorer for the No. 1 team in the country.

    "C.J. Fair was phenomenal tonight," said coach Jim Boeheim, per Donna Ditota of Syracuse.com, after Fair dropped 28 points in an epic win over Duke. "He broke out of that good, solid player into a great player. He was a great player tonight."

    At 6'8", he's got strong size and length for the NBA wing, along with some deceptive explosiveness he'll occasionally flash on showtime dunks above the rim. 

    Fair has even developed a refined mid-range game, complete with pull-ups, step-backs and shots on the move. 

    However, his three-point shooting has been off this year—he's shooting just 28.8 percent from downtown after making a career-high 30 triples as a junior. And as an NBA small forward and projected role player, Fair probably won't stick without a consistently threatening three-ball. 

    He's also not overly quick off the bounce, and he can struggle getting to the rack. 

    Defensively, Fair is a question mark, given he's played four straight years in the back of a zone. 

    Though he's one of the most complete offensive players in the country, there just isn't any one quality that stands out. 

    Fair seems like a strong candidate to land in that 20-40 range, though another trip to the Final Four would look awfully good on his resume. 

C.J. Wilcox, Washington, 6'5", SG, Senior

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    C.J. Wilcox will enter the draft labeled as a speciality player. He shoots—Wilcox is making 3.1 three-pointers per game at a 42.8 percent clip. But he's also polished in that 15-20-foot area as well—Wilcox can put it on the floor for a dribble before pulling up for a high-percentage look. 

    He's averaging 19.8 points per game, so it's obvious the kid can score. But he's not overly elusive off the dribble or explosive around the rim. He's only averaging 3.7 free-throw attempts per game, which is actually a career high. 

    There's no doubting Wilcox's scoring touch on the perimeter. His ability to consistently knock down shots with range could be used by the majority of NBA teams. But will it be worth a first-round look and guaranteed contract? 

    The New York Knicks have gotten some good value with their 2013 first-rounder in Tim Hardaway Jr., who's found his way into the rotation by providing consistent spot-up shooting and a weapon in transition. Wilcox might want to take some notes.

Semaj Christon, Xavier, 6'3", PG, Sophomore

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    Al Behrman/Associated Press

    Big, strong, quick and athletic, Semaj Christon has some terrific physical tools and attributes for an NBA point guard. 

    And he's scoring 17.1 points per game this year on 50.2 percent shooting. Christon can really explode up at the rim and finish after contact above it. 

    However, he's playing a bit more off the ball this year, as he's seen his usage rate drop from 30.8 percent to 25.5 percent. And as a result, we haven't seen Christon operate as a playmaker as much, a role he'll likely have to play full-time in the pros. 

    Plus, his perimeter game is still a question mark. Despite shooting 46.2 percent from downtown, he's only hit 12 three-pointers all year after hitting just seven total as a freshman. He's also shooting 65.4 percent from the line, and he just hasn't been consistently threatening enough in the mid-to-long range. 

    Christon looks the part, and if he makes the right adjustments, he'll be able to play it in the pros. But using a first-round pick on him would require a little bit of faith. He's got the tools and talent—if he can improve as a shooter and operate as a facilitator, Christon becomes a steal outside the top 20. 

Isaiah Austin, Baylor, 7'1", PF/C, Sophomore

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Many projected Isaiah Austin as a potential lottery pick to start the 2012-13 season. A skilled 7-footer who can shoot the three, put it on the floor and score in the post? What's not to like? 

    But through a year-and-a-half at Baylor, Austin has struggled to make a consistent impact. He's only averaging 10.2 points and 5.5 boards this year, major drop-offs from last season. 

    Still, there's no denying Austin's talent—you're not going to find many guys his size who can score from as many spots on the floor. 

    The question is whether or not Austin will be able to put that talent to use as a pro. He plays more of a finesse brand of ball, and at 225 pounds, he's not the toughest guy to move on the interior.  

    His position is somewhat uncertain. Austin looked more like a stretch big man last year, though he's only hit eight three-pointers all season as a sophomore, with four of them recently coming in a loss to Kansas.

    As a 5, you have to question whether he'll be able to hold his own on the glass or in the defensive post, where he'll be matched up with stronger, more physical centers. 

    Austin seems like a hit-or-miss prospect—he's got the strengths to make it work, along with potential flaws that could sink him.