Ranking Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospects in Every Major Conference

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2014

Ranking Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospects in Every Major Conference

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    Mike Carter/ Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY Sports

    As the major conference tournaments tip off from coast to coast, it's time to enjoy the top 2014 NBA draft prospects in each league.

    Some conferences such as the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC, are loaded at the top. They'll be showcasing several potential pro stars throughout March. Other leagues like the Big East have a clear-cut leader at the top, but not much NBA depth beyond that.

    We ranked the top-five 2014 draft candidates in every conference based on their collegiate productivity and their pro potential.

    Where do your favorite prospects stack up?

    *Conferences listed in alphabetical order.

American Athletic Conference

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    1. Montrezl Harrell, LOU PF (6'7" So.): Although he's short for his position (6'6.5" with shoes on), Montrezl Harrell makes up for it with a monstrous 7'4" wingspan and dynamic athleticism. When he gets space near the rim, he explodes above the competition. Defensively, he's been so disruptive this year, using his length to block shots and grab steals. He's easily the most physically impressive prospect in the AAC.

    2. Russ Smith, LOU PG (6'0" Sr.): Russ Smith's style of play is far from typical, but that's part of what makes him an intriguing two-way prospect. Aside from being a speedy aggressor on offense, he has a chance to be an absolute nuisance for opponents on defense. He also enhanced his NBA stock by shouldering the facilitating duties in 2013-14, as well as shooting more efficiently.

    3. Shabazz Napier, UCONN PG (6'1" Sr.): Shabazz Napier's not a physically imposing guard, nor is he spring-loaded, but his skills enable him to create offense off the dribble. If he can play respectable defense, he could be a valuable backup floor general. 

    4. Sean Kilpatrick, CIN SG (6'4" Sr.): Don't expect Sean Kilpatrick's colossal production at Cincy to translate to the NBA. He's simply not bouncy enough to stand out at the next level. However, he's accumulated loads of experience and expanded his game, so he can immediately chip in from the perimeter and off the bounce. 

    5. DeAndre Daniels, UCONN PF (6'9" Jr.): With a 7'0.5" wingspan and shooting range out to the three-point line, UConn's power forward has solid potential considering he's 21 years old. He's not a fluid shot creator but simple drives and spins are doable, and he's proven he can shoot from mid-range and long distance. DeAndre Daniels could latch on as a stretch four.

Atlantic Coast Conference

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    1. Jabari Parker, DUKE SF/PF (6'8" Fr.): If you were down on Jabari Parker during the middle of the season, his late-campaign flourish surely reignited your interest. He finished the ACC regular season with six straight double-doubles, including his 30-point, 11-rebound dismantling of UNC. Parker proved he can score in almost any situation.

    Former Duke star and NBA legend Grant Hill is sold on Parker's NBA-readiness, as he told Sean Deveny of the Sporting News:

    ... he is as close to being an NBA prospect right now as you’re going to find in college. ... The thing that impressed me is the way he uses his size and strength—he is NBA-ready, physically. He is a special player and I think he will be a great NBA player.

    2. Rodney Hood, DUKE SF (6'8" So.): While he doesn't have the allure of his bigger, younger teammate, Rodney Hood's NBA value is in top-10 territory because he's a rock-solid scorer. He finished the regular season shooting 43 percent from downtown, while also displaying great footwork and soft touch everywhere inside the arc.

    3. Tyler Ennis, SYR PG (6'2" Fr.): Utilizing elite ball-handling skills, superb court vision and uncommon patience, Tyler Ennis emerged as one of the best floor generals in the 2014 draft class. His biggest question marks don't revolve around a particular task, but rather his explosiveness. Does he have enough athleticism to shine in the NBA?

    4. Jerami Grant, SYR SF/PF (6'8" So.): Jerami Grant fueled much of Syracuse's success this season, as he took advantage of less-gifted forwards and gobbled up rebounds and scored around the rim. His collegiate highlights are impressive, but he still needs drastic improvement as a ball-handler and perimeter shooter if he wants to produce as a small forward. 

    5. T.J. Warren, NCS SF (6'8" So.): Don't be fooled by the fact he's fifth in our ACC rankings. If you've seen T.J. Warren play, you know he's a smooth scorer with tremendous body control and world-class instincts. The Wolfpack's alpha dog is first-round material, and his NBA team will instantly plug him in as a swingman contributor.

Big 12 Conference

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    1. Joel Embiid, KU C (7'0" Fr.): After dominating the Big 12 paint and rising to the top of draft boards, Joel Embiid now faces his most important NBA trial. Will his injuries significantly affect his value moving forward? According to Yahoo's Jeff Eisenberg, a stress fracture in his back could keep him out until midway through the NCAA tourney.

    2. Andrew Wiggins, KU SF (6'8" Fr.): An up-and-down campaign yielded some doubters, but Andrew Wiggins finished the regular season with a Kansas-sized exclamation point. During his 41-point explosion against West Virginia, he exhibited the kind of aerial dominance and creative attacking that NBA decision-makers want to see. He's still a strong candidate to go No. 1 overall.

    3. Marcus Smart, OSU PG/SG (6'4" So.): Marcus Smart's NBA appeal simply isn't as shiny as it used to be. Some are questioning his advanced scoring repertoire and his inability to lead OK-State near the top of the Big 12. That being said, his instincts influence both ends of the floor, and he does his absolute best to put his team in position to win. He's willing to score, pass, force turnovers and rebound over the course of every game.

    4. Wayne Selden, KU SG (6'4" Fr.): Don't take too much stock in Wayne Selden's stats, because they aren't indicators of his true NBA potential. As the fourth option on a highly talented squad, Selden has been tasked with only a part-time scoring workload. However, during his intermittent opportunities, he's flashed tremendous athleticism on the way to the hoop along with a promising outside jumper. 

    5. Markel Brown, OSU SG (6'3" Sr.): Our Big 12 top five is a clean sweep of Jayhawks and Cowboys, thanks to the improvement of Markel Brown. The ultra-athletic shooting guard upgraded his ball skills, creativity and outside shooting efficiency (38 percent from three-point range in 2013-14). He's not tall for a wing player, but his leaping ability and scoring skills should help him crack an NBA rotation.

Big East Conference

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    1. Doug McDermott, CRE SF (6'8" Sr.): Creighton's 3,000-point star will be a lower-tier athlete in the NBA, will struggle defensively and he's probably not big enough to play power forward. But don't worry, all Doug McDermott needs is a sliver of daylight or a brief angle in order to splash jumpers from a mile away or connect on a cut to the hoop. McDermott is also money on the Dirk Nowitzki mid-range shot. He'll be more than a shooting specialist.

    2. Semaj Christon, XAV PG/SG (6'3" So.): While knifing through defenses and creating buckets for himself and his fellow Musketeers, Semaj Christon has looked every bit the part of an NBA athlete. He certainly belongs as a slasher, creator and pull-up shooter. But can he consistently convert from NBA range? He hit 41 percent of his three-pointers in 2013-14, but it was a small sample size.

    3. Fuquan Edwin, SET SG/SF (6'6" Sr.): An unconventional jump shot and mediocre ball-handling skills will prevent Fuquan Edwin from a major role in the NBA. He could stick as a peripheral piece, however, because he's speedy, long and can make catch-and-shoot triples. Defensive havoc might be the talent that keeps him relevant. 

    4. Bryce Cotton, PROV PG (6'1" Sr.): Bryce Cotton has come a long way during his four years at Providence, as he's drastically improved his scoring versatility and his passing skills. With 5.9 assists per game as a senior, he may have done enough to prove he can come off the bench as a offensive spark plug. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee players of his mold can thrive in the league, especially if he has trouble guarding NBA size and NBA athleticism.

    5. Kadeem Batts PROV PF (6'9" Sr.): We return to Providence for our fifth slot, as Kadeem Batts' size and strength could earn him a spot in the NBA. He's far from dynamic, but he can hit mid-range shots, rebound and consistently get to the free-throw line (where he shot 74 percent in 2013-14).

Big Ten Conference

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    1. Noah Vonleh, IND PF (6'10" Fr.): The Big Ten has some solid prospects, but Noah Vonleh is on a different level when it comes to youth and upside. His 7'4" wingspan and inside-out potential could make him a star stretch 4. The 18-year-old Hoosier has a nice touch around the rim; he also owns the strength and instincts necessary to dominate the glass and regularly post double-doubles.

    2. Gary Harris, MSU SG (6'4" So.): It wasn't easy to rank Gary Harris ahead of Nik Stauskas, but that tells you how much we think of the Spartans shooting guard. He's a dangerous weapon because he has a knack for finding the space and timing to score, and he can do damage from distance or as a slasher. As a major bonus, Harris is a willing and capable defender who's proven himself in one of the country's toughest conferences.

    3. Nik Stauskas, MICH SG (6'6" So.): There's reason to believe Canada's favorite Wolverine could land as high as the lottery come draft night. Nik Stauskas has become a nightmare for opponents because he can beat them in a myriad of ways: long-range shooting, passing, pick-and-rolls, mid-range pull-ups and elevating in transition. His instincts as a scorer and facilitator could soon make him a top-tier shooting guard.

    4. Adreian Payne, MSU PF (6'10" Sr.): Michigan State's multifaceted power forward is a great example of the depth of this draft. Adreian Payne is 6'10", can finish strong above the crowd, but he can also be a back-breaker from beyond the arc. He won't be a featured scoring piece at the next level, but he'll certainly be a tough matchup as a stretch 4 role player.

    5. Sam Dekker, WISC SF (6'8" So.): Sam Dekker is one of those prospects who doesn't blow you away in the box score, but he undoubtedly passes the eye test. He not only helps his club by moving away from the ball and hitting timely triples, he also uses his athleticism to drive to the bucket and rebound. If he decides to go pro, he'll likely be the fifth Big Ten player taken.

Pacific-12 Conference

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    1. Aaron Gordon AZ PF (6'9" Fr.): Once we came to grips with the fact that he's not in the Wiggins-Parker neighborhood, we were able to appreciate Aaron Gordon for who he is: a smart, energetic forward who can dominate in transition and play elite defense. He needs to refine his scoring touch and find a suitable NBA role, but his heady play and upside make him lottery-worthy.

    2. Zach LaVine, UCLA PG/SG (6'5" Fr.): This fleet-footed Bruin was one of the biggest early-season surprises in draft circles, as Zach LaVine shot and dunked his way onto everyone's radar. His quickness with the ball and good-looking jump shot could lead to big things in the NBA if he's groomed properly. Can he bulk up and become a consistent threat?

    3. Kyle Anderson, UCLA PG/SF (6'9" So.): Kyle Anderson showcased his versatility all year, as he ranked top five among Pac-12 players in field-goal percentage, steals, rebounds and assists (he led the conference with 6.6 assists per night). He'll be in the bottom rung of the NBA when it comes to athleticism, but his size and court vision will fuel his productivity.

    4. Nick Johnson, AZ PG/SG (6'3" Jr.): After relinquishing point guard duties to T.J. McConnell, Nick Johnson flexed his scoring prowess in 2013-14. He's a fluid shot creator who has developed a mid-range game, and he also attacked the hoop more effectively this season. Factor in his athleticism and defensive playmaking, and it's no wonder he's the Pac-12 Player of the Year—and a valuable NBA combo-guard. 

    5. C.J. Wilcox, WASH SG (6'5" Sr.): The Huskies' standout isn't going to wow anyone with playmaking skills or exceptional finishing, but C.J. Wilcox is an attractive role player because he can fill it up from the perimeter. He shot 40 percent from three-point range in three of his four seasons at Washington, and he'll be a dependable option in the pro ranks.

Southeastern Conference

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    1. Julius Randle, UK PF (6'9" Fr.): There's no discussion when it comes to the SEC's top draft stud. Julius Randle had his way in the paint throughout the 2013-14 regular season, registering a whopping 18 double-doubles. His skills aren't quite refined yet, but his imposing physical presence and aggressive scoring approach point to a productive pro career.

    2. James Young, UK SG/SF (6'6" Fr.): Right now, James Young's NBA value is based on his size and shooting stroke. The 6'6" freshman projects to be a competent shooter, and in time, he could be an effective driver as well. Having a 6'11" wingspan will come in handy on both ends of the floor, as he'll likely spend time at shooting guard and small forward.

    3. Willie Cauley-Stein, UK C (6'10" So.): Willie Cauley-Stein is looking to put his stamp on the game this postseason after a roller-coaster year. Early on, he flexed his tremendous shot-blocking talent and rebounding ability, and then he struggled to get playing time because he couldn't produce on offense. This sums up his NBA outlook: He'll definitely earn a role due to his defense and activity around the rim, but the expansion of his repertoire will determine his ceiling.

    4. Jordan Clarkson, MIZ PG/SG (6'5" Jr.): Jordan Clarkson doesn't rack up the assists or light it up from deep, but he is an exciting combo-guard option because he's tall, athletic and can attack the rim. Missouri's star transfer can put it on the deck and shows great body control as he penetrates and creates.

    5. Jabari Brown, MIZ SG (6'5" Jr.): Clarkson might have the playmaking upside, but Jabari Brown emerged as an attractive wing due to his shot-making skills. His breakout campaign has consisted of 42 percent from distance, a healthy diet of drives to the rim and plenty of buckets in between. Brown can beat his man off the dribble and find ways to score, even if he's not a dominant athlete.

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

    Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR