Status as the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft is there for Duke's Jabari Parker to grasp. Of the three candidates for the top selection, Parker has the least bust potential, but he also has the lowest ceiling.
Basketball Insiders Steve Kyler supports this concept in a recent tweet about the two highly regarded prospects:
.@DannyCardinali: Who fits best with the Bucks Wiggins or Parker? ---> Parker seems lower risk.. Wiggins could have bigger upside.— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) March 14, 2014
That's certainly not an insult aimed at Parker. He's an awesome prospect.
The Kansas Jayhawks' Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid are elite level athletes while Parker is simply a good one. Because of that, Wiggins and Embiid could one day do things on a basketball court that Parker cannot.
That said, there is legitimate concern over whether Wiggins or Embiid will ever reach their enormous potential. Embiid is dealing with a back injury that kept him out of Big 12 conference tournament play.
There is no word as to whether he'll play in the NCAA tournament. That's a major red flag for any prospect this close to the end of the season. It's especially concerning for big men. No team wants to draft the next Greg Oden or Sam Bowie.
Both were talented big men whose bodies simply wouldn't allow them to dominate the game the way scouts said they could. Oden is obviously still in the league trying to salvage a successful NBA existence.
That's a far cry from what some had in mind for him coming out of Ohio State.
Scott Van Pelt and ESPN Draft expert Chad Ford discussed the danger of taking Embiid with the top pick now that he's injured. At the 40-second mark of this recent podcast Ford says:
When you're talking about the No. 1 pick in the draft, you're talking about a pick that you can't screw up, a guy that has to be a franchise player. Even if there's a 20 percent doubt about his [Embiid] back and how it might affect his career going forward, that's a little bit scary; especially when you have Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker on the board staring you in the face.
Because there is so much pressure to get it right with the No. 1 pick, teams may be willing to err on the side of caution. Based on what the popular opinion seems to be, that favors Parker.
That said, Wiggins has time to change that and he's already begun the process.
With Embiid's availability up in the air, Wiggins has an opportunity to shine and show the assertiveness that critics have wondered aloud if he possesses.
Adam Zagoria of Zag's Blog talks about the criticism and Wiggins slowly breaking the stigma.
ICYMI: Column: Wiggins Flashes Assertiveness NBA Scouts Are Seeking http://t.co/Fcfor4CgxX— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) December 11, 2013
In his last three games—all without Embiid—Wiggins has been on a mission. He dropped 41 on West Virginia in a six-point loss. Wiggins followed that up with 30 points against Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State in a win, and then had 22 points in a loss to Iowa State that eliminated the Jayhawks from the Big 12 tournament.
The wins aren't coming the way Wiggins and Kansas head coach Bill Self might want, but no one can say Wiggins isn't showing leadership and aggressiveness.
Perhaps a pep talk from his former prep coach Rob Fulford helped to ignite the beast within Wiggins. After Wiggins put up the 41 spot on West Virginia, Fulford told Gary Bedore of KUSports.com:
We joked with him about his drives to the basket and finger-rolls. I said, ‘If I see one finger-roll tomorrow, coach (Bill) Self won’t have to say anything to you because I’ll be cussing at you from the stands.
If he continues to play this way in the NCAA tournament, can he officially pass Parker on most team's draft boards?
Only if Parker doesn't play well and/or, Kansas advances much further into the tournament than Duke
The proverbial lights are about to be at their brightest when The Big Dance begins. All eyes will be on Parker and Wiggins when their teams play.
If Parker wants to claim the top spot, he needs to step up his game to an even higher level than he's played at all season, and Duke needs to outlast Kansas in the tournament.
The last player prognosticators and general managers see play will have a slight edge—especially if they are playing well. There have been a number of players who have seen their draft stock soar after stellar performances in the NCAA tournament.
Antonio McDyess and Derrick Rose are prime examples. With Parker and Wiggins already no lower than third on most sensible draft boards, both men have a chance to move that extra notch up.
Imagine if Duke and Kansas somehow meet in the NCAA tournament. It will undoubtedly be billed as a battle for the top spot in the draft—no matter how untrue that might be.
Even though Wiggins is coming on late in the season, unless he drastically outperforms Parker in the tournament—individually and on a team level—Parker will probably appeal more to the team with the No. 1 pick.
Stay tuned, this side story is as interesting as any surrounding the NCAA tournament. You gotta love this time of year.
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