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Tiering the Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospects at Every Position

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2014

Tiering the Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospects at Every Position

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    Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

    In order to get a better grasp of the 2014 NBA draft class, we broke down the tiers of talent at each position.

    Between the plethora of college hoops stars and international prospects, each position offers a rich crop of elite options. However, some spots (such as small forward) are deeper than others.

    We assembled these sets of tiers based on current talent and potential. Not every tier has the same amount of prospects, although we limited our group to 5-7 players per position.*

    Who made the top three tiers, and what drives their NBA value? Find out as we evaluate the best of 2014.

     

    *5-7 players per position except for small forward, which included eight because the position is so deep.

    **Omitted probable 2015 draftees such as the Harrison twins, Mario Hezonja, etc. Also omitted injured players such as Spencer Dinwiddie and Mitch McGary, as their draft declarations are uncertain.

Point Guards Tier 1: The Standout Playmakers

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    Kelly Kline/ Getty Images

    Dante Exum, Australia (6'6", 1995)

    Without playing a minute of NCAA basketball, Australian athlete Dante Exum has risen to the top of the point guard charts. His ceiling on both ends of the court is as high as anyone in this draft because he has the size to go along with agility and instincts.

    He'll develop the ability to direct a high-octane offense by attacking defenses with an unpredictable mix of passing and scoring. It's looking more and more like the question isn't whether he'll be a star, but how big of a star he'll be.

     

    Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State (6'4" Sophomore)

    Shoving a Texas Tech fan was a regrettable but forgivable mistake, and it doesn't change the fact that Smart is one of the draft's elite prospects.

    He's not completely polished, as he could work on his mid-range game, long-range consistency and reducing his turnovers. But his attacking style and strong defense give him great mid-lottery value.

     

    Tyler Ennis, Syracuse (6'2" Freshman)

    Ennis snuck into this lofty tier over the last few weeks. While running point for the top-ranked Orange, he leads the ACC in assists and steals.

    Do I think he'll be a star in the NBA? No. But his poise and polish at such a young age should enable him to build a robust NBA career. He can score from any spot on the floor if he needs to, but first and foremost, he has a feel for where his teammates are and makes the right play.

Point Guards Tier 2: The Safe Quarterbacks

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    Vasilije Micic, Serbia (6'5", 1994)

    Serbian floor general Vasilije Micic isn't as young or athletic as most of the guards on this list, yet he's a safe first-round selection. The guy has a knack for delivering the ball on-time, on-target and setting up his teammates for success.

    Along with his vision and precision, he's got a nice-looking outside shot and the ability to take the occasional drive. Micic's slow-footed nature will limit his star potential, but he could still be an ultra-dependable starter.

     

    Nick Johnson, Arizona (6'3", Junior)

    For three years, Nick Johnson has made a huge impact for the Wildcats, and now he's ready to take his two-way skills to the Association.

    He may not rack up assists or look like your prototypical point guard, but Johnson possesses several talents that will translate to the NBA. In addition to creative and vertically impressive forays into the paint, Johnson keeps his comrades involved and can also hit big shots.

    Don't forget about his defense either, as he's going to be a phenomenal on-ball defender at the next level.

Point Guards Tier 3: The Intriguing Weapons

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Kyle Anderson, UCLA (6'9" Sophomore)

    After flying under the radar his freshman campaign, Bruins point forward Kyle Anderson has blossomed in his expanded role during 2013-14.

    If you haven't seen him play yet, it's unconventionally entertaining. He slowly and methodically picks apart opposing defenses for 6.7 assists per game, using his tremendous size to extend for passes and shots. His lack of explosiveness will be an issue at the next level, but his court vision and versatility are hard to disregard.

     

    Jordan Clarkson, Missouri (6'5" Junior)

    He's not the most accomplished floor general, and Missouri has struggled lately, but Clarkson still earns a spot due to his sizable improvement and combo-guard potential at the next level. When he drives, he can adjust in mid-air, and his 6'7.5" wingspan allow him to wrap passes around the defense or reach for buckets.

Shooting Guards Tier 1: The Ideal NBA Wings

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Gary Harris, Michigan State (6'4" Sophomore)

    A horrendous shooting performance (3-of-20) against Wisconsin shouldn't affect Gary Harris' draft stock. He's unquestionably the best true shooting guard in the 2014 class, and his increased ability to create his own shot solidifies his draft stock.

    Even though he entered 2013-14 as the focal point of Michigan State's opposing defenses, he found his scoring opportunities and buoyed the Spartan offense. He could immediately be plugged in as a rotational player on almost any NBA club, and depending on where he lands, Harris could soon be a starter.

     

    Zach LaVine, UCLA (6'5" Freshman)

    What Zach LaVine lacks in NBA readiness, he makes up for with colossal potential. He hasn't put up big numbers for the Bruins lately, but he remains an explosive speedster with a promising jumper.

    He has some ball-handling moves to execute drives and step-backs, but once he comprehensively polishes his skills and gets stronger, he'll be more than a tough cover. 

     

Shooting Guard Tier 2: The Versatile Shooters

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    Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Spor

    Nik Stauskas, Michigan (6'6" Sophomore)

    Stauskas has spent his sophomore season proving he's much more than a 6'6" shooter. Yes, those are his two most attractive attributes, but he's a creative ball-handler, superb passer and competent finisher. Don't expect him to settle for being a specialist at the next level.

     

    P.J. Hairston, Texas Legends (6'6", 1992)

    Just a couple months ago, P.J. Hairston was going through a messy, self-inflicted departure from UNC. His draft value was shaky, and we didn't know what his future held.

    Now, his draft stock is back in business, because the D-League looks like a warm-up scrimmage for him. Hairston's aggressiveness and shooting stroke have yielded 26.3 points per game, and he seems destined for a first-round selection in June.

     

    Wayne Selden, Kansas (6'5" Freshman)

    Thriving in the shadow of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, the "other" Kansas freshman Wayne Selden possesses loads of NBA upside. In addition to a strong frame and the ability to attack the basket, Selden shoots efficiently from distance and is an underrated passer. 

Shooting Guards Tier 3: the Less-Versatile Shooters

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    C.J. Wilcox, Washington (6'5" Senior)

    One of only a select few seniors with a chance to go in the first round, C.J. Wilcox has swished his way to a solid draft value.

    If there were any doubts about his shooting prior to 2013-14, he's erased them by drilling three-plus triples per contest at a 44 percent clip. Along with that touch, he's got enough size and agility to carve out a role in the NBA.

     

    Bogdan Bogdanovic, Serbia (6'6", 1992)

    I'm not 100 percent sure he'll be an all-around threat in the NBA, but Bogdan Bogdanovic will certainly be a compelling asset for whoever picks him. His sweet shooting touch is complemented by a 6'11" wingspan and an ability to attack the rim. He may not be an advanced ball-handler who can consistently create his own shot, but he'll find ways to get baskets.

Small Forwards Tier 1: The Superstar Swingmen

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Jabari Parker, Duke (6'8" Freshman)

    We grouped Parker with the small forwards, but don't worry, he'll spend substantial time at both forward positions in the NBA.

    That being said, he's going to be an extremely productive swingman. Parker has regularly displayed his dribbling and slashing skills, along with a pro-ready perimeter shooting touch.

    Despite questions surrounding his defense, he remains a top-three lock.

     

    Andrew Wiggins, Kansas (6'8" Freshman)

    The only other player who deserves to join Parker on this tier is Wiggins, who may actually end up being a better pro than Parker.

    His passiveness raised some concerns early in the season, but he's gradually learning how to take advantage of his athleticism and to attack. When he gets stronger and refines his shot-creating repertoire, he will be a force.

Small Forwards Tier 2: The Standout Role Forwards

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    Doug McDermott, Creighton (6'8" Senior)

    "Dougie McBuckets" will have a tough time scoring against NBA power forwards, and he won't be able to guard them. However, he'll be a rock-solid power forward offensively, as he'll be able to score no matter where he catches the rock.

    Opponents will pay dearly for any breathing room they give him.

     

    Rodney Hood, Duke (6'8" Sophomore)

    A big reason for Duke's survival this season is Rodney Hood's timely shooting (45 percent from distance) and heads-up play. He doesn't have the extensive resume of a guy like McDermott, but his play thus far has been quite convincing.

    His southpaw shooting stroke is phenomenal, and he can put it on the deck a little. Hood is also a decent enough athlete (albeit not explosive) to compete with NBA small forwards.

     

    James Young, Kentucky (6'7" Freshman)

    Speaking of lefty swingmen, James Young has really stepped it up lately. His increased production, particularly in Kentucky's tight games, has served to bolster his draft value even though he's not the highest-ranked Wildcat prospect.

     

    Jerami Grant, Syracuse (6'8" Sophomore)

    We had to sneak Jerami Grant in here because his upside is too high. Although his offensive performance in college is that of a power forward, you can tell he's got the speed and developmental potential to live better in the NBA as a small forward. He's got a long way to go to reach his ceiling, though.

Small Forwards Tier 3: The Non-Featured Offensive Weapons

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    Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

    Glenn Robinson III, Michigan (6'6" Sophomore)

    An inconsistent, yet intriguing prospect is Wolverine forward Glenn Robinson. He's shown flashes of an all-around skill set, but he's not a complete NBA swingman and won't turn into one overnight.

     

    Sam Dekker, Wisconsin (6'7" Sophomore)

    Not only is Sam Dekker a great shooter and athlete, he moves extremely well away from the ball—better than almost anyone in the 2014 class.

    Will that be enough to make him a productive pro? Probably not, so it depends on whether he can be a dynamic threat on the wing and generate opportunities for himself.

Power Forwards Tier 1: The Physical Specimens

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Julius Randle, Kentucky (6'9" Freshman)

    While he may not get picked in the top five as expected, Randle is still the premier power forward of the 2014 draft.

    The 250-pound tank finds the ball and the hoop one way or another, as his combination of speed and power is a handful for foes.

    Superstardom may not be in the cards for him, but he's a safe lottery selection.

     

    Noah Vonleh, Indiana (6'10" Freshman)

    Back-to-back double-doubles last week kept Noah Vonleh's stock humming, as he's looking more and more like a definite NBA standout and a potential star.

    His ideal frame is complemented by agility and instincts, as Indiana's top freshman is quickly acquiring the skills to possibly be a combo forward. When you watch him play, you can tell he has the smarts and willingness to become great regardless of where he lands.

Power Forwards Tier 2: The IQ Forwards

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    Aaron Gordon, Arizona (6'9" Freshman)

    Just because Aaron Gordon is no longer unanimously on the Freshman Mt. Rushmore doesn't mean he isn't a great prospect. He's just more of an energy cog, defender and open-court weapon than a true star.

    What he's doing in college probably isn't far off from what he'll do in the NBA, even if he improves his skills. He'll rebound, defend, make athletic finishes and occasionally execute the slash or triple.

     

    Dario Saric, Croatia (6'10", 1994)

    Croatian enigma Dario Saric has a chance to be an extraordinary all-around contributor. His length, awareness and versatility will enable him to compete in any situation.

    He reminds us of a more athletic and long version of Boris Diaw, or a less athletic Andrei Kirilenko with more upside as a shooter.

    It's natural to be wary of European prodigies, but Saric won't let down the late-lottery club that calls his name.

Power Forwards Tier 3: The Alley-Oop Nightmares

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    Garry Jones/Associated Press

    Montrezl Harrell, Louisville (6'8" Sophomore)

    He's short for NBA power forward standards, but Louisville's Montrezl Harrell makes a giant impact with his 7'3" wingspan, strength and aerial prowess. When he's not ripping down rebounds or punishing adversaries in transition, he's hitting mid-range jumpers or altering shots.

    The right NBA fit could make him a dangerous role player.

     

    Adreian Payne, Michigan State (6'9" Senior)

    Before 2013-14, we already knew Adreian Payne could play above the rim. We weren't quite convinced about his outside shooting, so his status as a potential stretch 4 wasn't solid.

    Consider those questions a thing of the past. He consistently knocks down long twos and is shooting 43 percent from three-point distance. He'll force NBA post players to guard him out past the arc.

     

    Chris Walker, Florida (6'9" Freshman)

    Walker belongs here simply because of his outrageous physical tools. He's got a 7'1.5" wingspan and can elevate with the best leapers in the country, so when he bulks up, he'll be able to fully assert himself in the NBA.

    Walker's late start to the season is made trickier by the fact that Florida's been playing so smoothly without him. In his limited time, however, we've seen a couple NBA-type plays.

     

Centers Tier 1: The Peerless Prodigy

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Joel Embiid, Kansas (7'0" Freshman)

    Did you expect anyone else to headline the 2014 centers?

    Embiid is all by himself in the top tier, as his freshman campaign at Kansas hints at a monster pro career. If he can continue to develop on both ends early in his career, he could become the NBA's next great big man.

    The physical achievements and the rapidly upgraded ball skills are awesome, but his intangibles are equally striking. Embiid is an ambitious pivot man with a willingness to influence every facet of the game.

    When he fully utilizes the footwork, shooting touch, defensive tools and offensive instincts all at the same time, he'll be one of the most valuable treasures in the Association.

Centers Tier 2: The Promising Projects

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    Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports

    Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky (7'0" Sophomore)

    Kentucky's second-year center has a lot of Tyson Chandler in him. Well, in his future at least, if he can play stronger and be a consistently alert presence in the paint.

    Those comparisons to Chandler are a simultaneously good sign (rim protector, rebounder, explosive finisher) and a bad sign (unskilled offensive player). Will he work to build on his strengths and eliminate those weaknesses? His battle for playing time is an opportunity, not a punishment.

     

    Jusuf Nurkic, Bosnia (6'11", 1994)

    Bosnia's 2014 standout is not fleet of foot, nor is he an "above the rim" type of center. He makes his living in the paint with fluid post moves and a soft shooting touch.

    In only 16 minutes per game in the Adriatic League, he's notching 11.5 points, 5.4 rebounds on 57 percent shooting and 70 percent free-throw shooting. He probably won't post those numbers in his rookie year in the NBA, but as he learns to use his 280-pound frame, he will be a productive anchor.

Centers Tier 3: The Lower-Ceiling Projects

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    Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

    Dakari Johnson, Kentucky (6'11" Freshman)

    Although he's seeing just as much playing time as his Wildcat teammate Willie Cauley Stein, Dakari Johnson's pro outlook is a bit different.

    His underwhelming leaping ability and foot speed will be an issue on both ends of the floor. Of course he'll be a capable positional rebounder and scorer, but any notion of dynamic playmaking or dominance should be tempered. Johnson will be good, but not great.

     

    Johnny O'Bryant III, LSU (6'9" Junior)

    LSU enforcer Johnny O'Bryant isn't as young as the other centers we've covered, but he's showing NBA scouts that he can fight for boards and buckets. He isn't an elite athlete, but he's improved his low-post scoring repertoire enough to boost his favor among scouts.

    Unfortunately, he's still a work in progress and is already 21 years old.

    At 6'9", it will be a struggle for him to secure a substantial role in the league. He's the type of player who peaks in college and is a peripheral contributor as a pro.

     

    Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.

    Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR

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