Grading Every Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospect in Each Key Category

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2014

Grading Every Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospect in Each Key Category

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    As the top 2014 NBA Draft prospects prepare for March, it's time to dish out full report cards and grade them in every key category.

    We're assessing more than just scoring, rebounding and passing: These prodigies are being evaluated on facets like shot-creating skills, awareness and defense, as well. Many of them are impressively versatile.

    The grades are meant to indicate what these ballers are good at right now, and also what they need to work on as they transition to the NBA.

    How did each big name fare under our scrutiny? Did anyone get straight As?

Tyler Ennis, Syracuse PG (6'2" Freshman)

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    Rich Barnes/Getty Images

    Shot Creation: A-

    Shooting/Finishing: B+

    Rebounding: C

    Passing: A

    Defense: A-

    Awareness: A-

     

    Even though he's cooled off lately, and his overall numbers aren't astounding, Syracuse's Tyler Ennis is still a premier prospect.

    His skill set is that of a pure pass-first point guard, and a veteran one at that. Ryerson University coach Roy Rana talked about Ennis' command of the game, per Eric Koreen of the National Post:

    ...For most guys, the game tends to slow down when you're 25, 27. You just see things developing on the court. Most people peak at that age because of that ability to play the game at a different pace. He already has that at 19. He looks like a 27-year-old who has seen it all. You can't slow him down. You can't speed him up. It's a beautiful quality.

    He must become more consistent as an outside shooter and prepare for NBA range, as he's only hitting 31 percent of his triples in ACC play.

    Once he does that, he's going to be a rock-solid NBA facilitator. Not a star, mind you, but the kind of guard any coach would want in his club.

Rodney Hood, Duke F (6'8" Sophomore)

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Shot Creation: A-

    Shooting/Finishing: A

    Rebounding: C

    Passing: B

    Defense: B

    Awareness: A

    Rodney Hood's physical tools aren't on par with the Wiggins and Parker types of this draft, and he's older than everyone on this list.

    Nevertheless, he finds himself in top-10 territory because he can score and operate seamlessly within his team's offense. Hood's shooting will be his most potent asset in the NBA, but he can also pump-fake, drive and distribute.

    Elliot Cook of LakersNation.com scouted Hood and explained how he can produce as a pro:

    Coach K has been known to run a dribble drive offense that attracts guards and wings who can shoot and score off the dribble. This is the perfect offense for Hood, but at the next level he should be even better due to it being more open. With a full head of stem Hood can jump over a defender, or finish around a defender.

    He's a little too left-hand dominant, which is why we gave him an A-minus in shot creation instead of an A. If he can polish the right hand a little, there's not much more pro scouts can ask from him skill-wise.

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

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    Andy Manis/Associated Press

    Shot Creation: B+

    Shooting/Finishing: A

    Rebounding: C+

    Passing: B+

    Defense: A-

    Awareness: A

    As his sophomore campaign unfolds, Michigan State's Gary Harris has progressively showcased his shooting-guard skills for NBA general managers.

    Instead of getting caught up in his fluctuating jump-shooting numbers, it's important to appreciate everything Harris is doing to set up those shots. Whether he's got the ball in his hands or not, Harris knows how to find scoring opportunities. He finds gaps in the defense, uses screens well and is a solid creator when attacking from the perimeter.

    CBS Sports college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein likened Harris to a former Big 10 standout, saying there's "So much Eric Gordon in Gary Harris." Both are prototypical shooting guards who can score in a variety of ways and defend at a high level.

    Depending on how his March goes, Harris could sneak into the top seven or eight picks in June.

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

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    BRODY SCHMIDT/Associated Press

    Shot Creation: B+

    Shooting/Finishing: B+

    Rebounding: B+

    Passing: A

    Defense: A+

    Awareness: A

    Before he shoved a Texas Tech fan and drew a three-game suspension, Marcus Smart's NBA stock was falling. There were increasing concerns about his mid-range creativity, and whether he could truly thrive as a combo guard.

    The questions about mid-range scoring are still valid, but upon his return, he immediately reminded us why his stock was high to begin with.

    Smart flexed his worth as a floor general in a rematch with the Red Raiders, dishing 10 assists to go along with 16 points and six steals. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he's the only player in Big 12 history to reach those three marks in the same game.

    Smart's defensive impact is colossal, and his instincts are outstanding. But how will his offense translate to the pros?

    It remains to be seen whether he'll be a complete scorer. However, his aggressive approach will yield countless opportunities for his squad.

Julius Randle, Kentucky PF (6'9" Freshman)

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    Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

    Shot Creation: B+

    Shooting/Finishing: A-

    Rebounding: A+

    Passing: C

    Defense: B

    Awareness: B-

    If you haven't seen Julius Randle play yet, this report card should quickly indicate his greatest strengths. He's simply a monster on the glass, and he works hard to score around the rim. Look no further than his 15 boards (seven offensive) in Kentucky's recent win over LSU.

    His grades also reflect some uninspiring traits.

    Randle displays shaky passing tendencies, and often fails to distribute the ball when defenses collapse on him. It's something he'll have to sharpen if he wants to be an efficient NBA forward.

    As a stopper, Randle turns in a mixed bag. He's quick enough and strong enough to contain most post players, but he's not much of a defensive playmaker. As Bleacher Report NBA Draft Lead Writer Jonathan Wasserman points out, he doesn't reject too many shots or force turnovers.

    Despite his flaws, Randle remains valuable among NBA decision-makers because he's a rebounding machine. He's a strong ox, but a speedy one who can run in today's small-ball style.

Noah Vonleh, Indiana PF (6'10" Freshman)

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Shot Creation: C+

    Shooting/Finishing: A-

    Rebounding: A

    Passing: C

    Defense: B

    Awareness: B

    Using his 7'4" wingspan, strength and agility, Noah Vonleh collects bushels of rebounds and poses mismatches for nearly every opponent.

    Along with his talent for operating in the paint and scoring near the rim, Vonleh can shoot over opponents, even from three-land (12-of-18). And although he earned unimpressive marks in the shot-creating department, he exhibits the propensity to improve his ball-handling and footwork.

    CBS Sports' Zach Harper knows it's going to be tricky for any NBA frontcourt to stop Vonleh: "...you have a power forward prospect that may be hard to defend regardless of the type of defender you throw at him."

    In addition to polishing his dribbling, Vonleh would do well to expand his passing skills and sharpen his defensive discipline. He won't hold hefty responsibilities upon entering the NBA, but the sooner he sheds the "raw" label, the sooner he'll see substantial playing time.

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

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    Michael Dodge/Getty Images

    Shot Creation: A+

    Shooting/Finishing: B+

    Rebounding: B

    Passing: A-

    Defense: B+

    Awareness: B+

    Unlike the rest of his lottery peers, Dante Exum's report card isn't based on 2013-14 NCAA performance.

    However, we saw enough last summer and this autumn to get a good feel for what his game is all about. The Australian playmaker is truly a combo threat every time he brings the ball across half-court.

    Using his ball skills and quickness, Exum can generate opportunities for his club by breaking down his man and causing all sorts of fits for help defenders. ESPN NBA's Chad Ford (subscription required) noted "...there probably isn't a player in the draft who has the potential to create his own shot (as well as shots for others) the way Exum can."

    His defensive tools are equally encouraging, as he possesses the length, maneuverability and instincts to corral guards and force turnovers.

    His shooting/finishing grade is a mixed result, because he's an average jump-shooter and a first-rate finisher. Other than his outside shooting consistency and the occasional giveaway, there isn't anything to dislike about him.

     

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas SF (6'8" Freshman)

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Shot Creation: B+

    Shooting/Finishing: A-

    Rebounding: B-

    Passing: B

    Defense: B+

    Awareness: B+

    Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins had received heavy doses of criticism for not being creative or aggressive enough on offense. He suffered some stretches of meager production and underwhelming impact, and NBA fans were disappointed that he wasn't dominating.

    When we stop expecting the world from him (a freshman who just turned 19), we realize that he's an excellent prospect who's already highly successful at the college level.

    Sure, he looked a bit unassertive early on, but he's averaging 20.2 points per 40 minutes in conference play. Wiggins is attacking the hoop and utilizing his athleticism more often, and his level of quickness and agility are overwhelming for college foes. Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News said "Wiggins is great because he does things D can't plan for. "

    Although his ball-handling skills show room for improvement and his defense isn't always exemplary, Wiggins' draft stock has solidified after initial worries. He shows enough promise off the dribble and as a defender to warrant No. 1 consideration.

Jabari Parker, Duke F (6'8" Freshman)

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Shot Creation: A+

    Shooting/Finishing: A+

    Rebounding: B+

    Passing: B-

    Defense: C

    Awareness: B+

    As Duke's Jabari Parker continues to build his resume, it's clear he'll be one of the toughest NBA players to guard within a couple years. He didn't earn A-plus marks in the shot-creation and finishing categories for no reason.

    In recent games, he's become more focused on attacking the basket rather than relying on his jumper. Opposing defenses have found it difficult to contain him, whether he's driving from the wing or posting up: He's shooting 58 percent in his last half-dozen games.

    Wake Forest coach (and former NBA skipper) Jeff Bzdelik told Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton that Parker is well-equipped for the next level: "I think he is just really ready for the NBA. He really impressed me - if he’s attacking the rim, it’s hard to keep him from getting there. I don’t care who you are."

    Defensively, he's not quite as prepared for the rigors of the NBA. He sporadically is out of position, gets beat off the bounce and lacks crisp execution against pick-and-rolls. After a poor showing in Chapel Hill, CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb went so far as to say Parker Jabari was "laughably bad on defense" against Duke's loss to UNC.

    Overall, the pros far outweigh the cons, and he remains a virtual lock to land in the top three on draft night.

Joel Embiid, Kansas C (7'0" Freshman)

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    Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

    Shot Creation: B+

    Shooting/Finishing: A

    Rebounding: A

    Passing: B

    Defense: B+

    Awareness: B

    Joel Embiid's report card is deceiving, because some of his lowest grades come in the areas where he shows the most promise.

    He's a great passer for a big man, and he shows glimpses of tremendous potential when dishing the rock. But we couldn't give him stellar marks because he tosses a fair amount of interceptions. He averages 4.9 turnovers per 40 minutes against Big 12 opponents, and Draft Express scout Mike Schmitz notes that Embiid "has a bad turnover for every impressive pass he makes."

    It's a similar story on defense. Sometimes he gets caught out of position, but he also demonstrates great shot-blocking instincts and talent.

    The mistakes are forgivable, though. It's evident to anyone who watches him that his post skills and defensive potential could make him a star two-way center.

     

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

    Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR