Projecting the Immediate NBA Impact of Each Top 2014 Draft Prospect
Now that we've seen a healthy sampling of every top 2014 NBA draft prospect, it's time to forecast their initial impact on the league.
Much of the year-round draft attention is focused on upside and long-term value, and rightfully so. But for the sake of the 2014-15 NBA season, we want to know what the first chapter of their careers will look like.
Every candidate has a different set of tools and a different level of preparedness. Meanwhile, the playing style of some is better suited for the NBA than others.
What kind of impact will each prospect make when they hit the bright lights of the Association? Let's take a look.
We broke down all the prospects who are widely considered top-10 picks based on multiple mock drafts and big boards. The players are listed in reverse order based on draft stock.
Exact statistical predictions aren't really feasible until we know their destinations. For now, we projected estimates based on their collegiate production and how their styles of play fit into today's NBA.
Rodney Hood, Duke SF (6'8" Sophomore)
Immediate Role: Sixth man
Per-game: 25 MIN, 10-12 PTS, 4-5 REB, 45.0 FG%, 38.0 3FG%
As a late-lottery draftee, Rodney Hood's NBA role could be anywhere from starting small forward to sixth man to rotational reserve. His destination will dictate his role.
It doesn't matter where or when his team incorporates him, because he's got the size and smooth skills to thrive as a swingman. Not only is he deadly from distance (43.6 percent in 2013-14), he's nearly as dangerous inside the arc when driving or shooting from the high post.
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated likes Hood's rookie outlook because of his "polished" mid-range game. "If he can establish himself as a small forward, Hood could have an immediate impact," Mannix believes.
He's not going to blow past people or tussle with the trees in the paint, yet he has enough mobility and awareness to overcome those shortcomings on both ends of the court.
He won't stand out defensively in the NBA, and he won't be a lethal playmaker, but every club would love to bring him aboard.
Gary Harris, Michigan State SG (6'4" Sophomore)
Immediate Role: Starting shooting guard, third scoring option
Per-game: 20-30 MIN, 10-15 PTS, 2-3 AST, 41.0 FG%, 37.0 3FG%
Despite not making gigantic strides in his sophomore season, Gary Harris could have a solid rookie campaign next year.
There aren't a ton of young, promising shooting guards in the NBA, so Michigan State's star has a chance to surprise people and prove that he's better prepared for the next level than they think.
While his high-volume shooting hasn't always been efficient, the manner in which he's finding those shots has been impressive. Harris works shrewdly away from the ball, as he knows how to find holes in opposing defenses. When he gets the rock, he's become increasingly dangerous as a creator.
Zach Harper of CBSSports.com believes Harris brings tons of value at the 2 spot, especially because he can score by getting to the charity stripe:
...his scoring ability will help boost the stature of shooting guards in the NBA. His improved accuracy at the free throw line and ability to get there more than he did last year is extremely encouraging.
In a favorable scenario, Harris could wind up notching 12-15 points per night. He may not be a complete wing yet, but he's got enough slashing skills and scoring instincts to earn high-percentage looks.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State PG (6'4" Sophomore)
Immediate Role: Sixth man or starting guard, third scoring option
Per-game: 25 MIN, 10-12 PTS, 4-5 AST, 43.0 FG%, 32.0 3FG%
When Marcus Smart decided to stay for his sophomore year and began the season in dominating fashion, many draft experts viewed him as one of the more NBA-ready prospects in the field.
After a larger sampling, however, he's not as well-prepared to make the jump as we had hoped.
Of course, he's a tremendous all-around competitor who can score, pass and wreak havoc defensively. His ball-handling creativity and perimeter consistency leave much to be desired, however. Adi Joseph of USA Today explains why Smart won't rule the NBA backcourt next year:
What he lacks is true assertiveness. He takes his share of shots, but he still doesn't have complete command of shooting off the dribble, an essential skill in the NBA. His shooting range in general needs work, as evidenced by his 29.3% shooting on three-pointers.
While his advanced scoring skills may hold him back a little, virtually nothing else will. Smart is aggressive, yet unselfish, and he will certainly bring the heat defensively as soon as he steps on the floor.
Look for Smart to team up with a standout guard like Rajon Rondo, Ty Lawson or Trey Burke. He may not put up extraordinary numbers, but he'll certainly make the team better—and his game isn't all about the numbers, anyway.
Julius Randle, Kentucky PF (6'9" Freshman)
Immediate Role: Starting power forward, third scoring option
Per-game: 25 MIN, 10-14 PTS, 8 REB, 46.0 FG%
Leading up to the 2013-14 NCAA hoops season, draft experts viewed Kentucky's Julius Randle as a candidate for the No. 1 draft spot in 2014, rivaling Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
Wiggins and Parker subsequently emerged as better overall prospects, but Randle may see just as much early success. He's more physically mature than most freshmen, and he's got the hang of scoring and rebounding near the bucket (averaging 15.5 PPG and 10.4 RPG).
What about his flaws? Where will he struggle when he turns pro?
Jump-shooting and rim protection will likely be his biggest issues. Elliot Cook of LakersNation.com noted that Randle's perimeter improvement is a gradual undertaking: "The jump shot isn’t ugly by any means, and looks like it should have no problem improving with time, but it just might be his biggest weakness offensively."
Yes, Randle's powerful style and tireless activity will help him compete against most frontcourts. But he won't be able to just bowl people over en route to Rookie of the Year.
Noah Vonleh, Indiana PF (6'10" Freshman)
Immediate Role: Starting stretch 4, fourth scoring option
Per-game: 20-25 MIN, 8-10 PTS, 6-7 REB, 2 BLK, 45.0 FG%, 32.0 3FG%
After the first few studs get drafted, Indiana's Noah Vonleh will be waiting in the mid-lottery range. He could land anywhere from Utah to Boston, Sacramento or Los Angeles.
Fortunately, all of those teams need to add size and talent in the frontcourt, so he will likely see minutes wherever he winds up.
It won't be a piece of cake for him, however, because he's not a shot-creating wizard and needs to sharpen his decision-making skills. Defensively, he'll undergo some trials as he learns proper positioning, discipline and team concepts.
That being said, he could approach nightly double-digit scoring totals due to sheer length and his touch in the paint. B/R NBA Draft Lead Writer Jonathan Wasserman explained the Hoosier's inherent advantage:
...while Vonleh doesn't have as many go-to or counter moves, he's almost always able to cleanly release when given some space to work. Despite lacking polish, something he'll add, Vonleh still scores one-on-one in the paint thanks to unteachable instincts, quick feet and a great feel for the rim.
And with that 7'4'' wingspan and high release point, Vonleh can play over the defense, as opposed to having to fight through it...
Vonleh won't tap into his potential versatility for a couple years, and he's not refined enough in the post to dominate as a one-trick pony. In the meantime, we'll settle for the modest output and occasional double-double.
Dante Exum, Australia G (6'6", 1995)
Immediate Role: Starting combo guard, second scoring option
Per-game: 30-35 MIN, 13-18 PTS, 5-7 AST, 40.0 FG%, 34.0 3FG%
In February, Australian star Dante Exum made it crystal clear that he wants to land on an NBA squad where he can be a playmaker from day one. He wants an active role in the revitalization of a program.
How would he fare with such an opportunity?
Whether he plays more at the point or as a shooting guard, Exum's overall productivity and game-to-game effectiveness could be greatly enhanced by his outside shooting. He's battled inconsistency with his jumper, but his delivery and arc only need slight tweaks. If he's sporting a refurbished shot by autumn, he'll be able to put a lot more pressure on opposing defenses in the half court.
When it comes to running the point and playing defense, he may not be a star floor general right away, but he certainly has the steely nerves and confidence to take the reins. Just ask former Australian NBAer Luc Longley (per Jon Tuxworth of The Sydney Morning Herald):
...If there's a young man I know in Australia who can handle the pressures of playing with men in a man's league, it's Dante...I was around him all summer with the Boomers and he showed more poise than I expected, his decision-making is very good.
He'll only be 19 years old as a rookie, so don't expect him to crank out 20 points and eight assists while leading the league in steals. But he's certainly talented enough to point his team in the right direction and put up respectable numbers in the process.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas SF (6'8" Freshman)
Immediate Role: Starting small forward, third scoring option
Per-game: 30 MIN, 12-15 PTS, 6 REB, 43.0 FG%, 35.0 3FG%
By now, it's readily apparent that Andrew Wiggins won't be a world-beater as soon as he enters the Association. He needs to polish up his game a bit, expand his scoring arsenal and become stronger.
If he's not going to be an instant-star upon arrival, then what exactly will his arrival look like?
No matter where Wiggins is in his developmental process, he'll be able to attack the hoop in the open floor, hit the occasional triple and play solid individual defense. It's also important to remember he'll get plenty of opportunities, because he'll likely land on a rebuilding squad.
One scout reminded Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv why Wiggins will enjoy a certain level of success early on, even if his best days are years away.
"The reason I like [Wiggins] is in the NBA, the rules reward elite athleticism if you have a skillset and if you play the right way," the scout said. "And I think Wiggins will do that. He has elite athleticism."
Yes, we all overhyped him prior to this season. However, he can still have a decent rookie campaign and hold a substantial role.
Jabari Parker, Duke F (6'8" Freshman)
Immediate Role: Starting combo forward, top scoring option
Per-game: 30-35 MIN, 17-20 PTS, 6 REB, 44.0 FG%, 38.0 3FG%
Last week, one scout told Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy that there is "a 90 percent chance" Duke's Jabari Parker will go pro this spring.
That makes sense, because he's one of the most NBA-ready freshmen we've seen in a long time.
Don't worry, I'm not crowning him as the next Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony. It's just that he's good enough to make the jump and be a featured offensive weapon.
Most of the bottom-feeding clubs like Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Orlando are in desperate need of a dependable scoring centerpiece. One of them will be fortunate enough to plug Parker in and get production from the wing and post.
When he catches on the perimeter, he'll be able to shoot or pump fake and drive against most NBA forwards. And in small-ball situations (which are increasingly frequent these days), he'll post up and have a picnic against inferior foes.
Depending on how much playing time he gets, he could score 20 per night.
Joel Embiid, Kansas C (7'0" Freshman)
Immediate Role: Starting center, third or fourth scoring option
Per-game: 20-25 MIN, 10-13 PTS, 6-8 REB, 2 BLK, 49.0 FG%
Although Joel Embiid is still somewhat of a project, it doesn't mean he can't make a big impact during his on-the-job NBA training next year.
The Kansas big man is quickly learning how to be a force on both ends of the floor, using his footwork and touch on offense while protecting the rim defensively.
Even though he's not completely polished and his decision-making could improve, he should command double-teams when he catches the ball on the block. That's when his footwork, awareness and passing skills come into play.
The lottery team that lands him will not only get a long-term cornerstone, it will also get a solid immediate presence in the paint.
Unfortunately, Embiid's pro potential may hinge on his health. Kansas coach Bill Self told Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star that Embiid "tweaked his back" against Oklahoma State. It's not the first time Embiid has had back problems, so NBA executives will watch intently to see if this becomes a bigger issue.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR