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NBA Comparisons for Top 8 2014 NBA Draft Prospects in Sweet 16

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2014

NBA Comparisons for Top 8 2014 NBA Draft Prospects in Sweet 16

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    Denis Poroy/Associated Press

    Many of the marquee names in the 2014 NBA draft bit the dust this past weekend, but several quality first-round prospects are marching on to the Sweet 16.

    As they compete on the biggest stage of college hoops, pro scouts are trying to assess their potential impact at the next level.

    Here, we've broken down the stud prospects who are left standing and matched them up with their NBA comparisons to give an idea of their role. 

    Some of the matches are optimistic outlooks, but they point to how high the prospects could climb.

     

    *Included are the top eight draft prospects playing in the Sweet 16, based on the multiple mock drafts and big boards. Rankings based on each prospect's overall draft value.

    *Player measurements gathered from ESPN.com.

8. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville PF (6'8" Sophomore)

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    NBA Comparison: J.J. Hickson/Kenneth Faried hybrid

     

    Louisville's explosive power forward Montrezl Harrell is a blend of two powerful Denver Nuggets: J.J. Hickson and Kenneth Faried.

    Harrell is on the short side for a power forward, but his 7'3" wingspan and 235-pound body make for a beastly presence in the paint. He can rebound, run the floor and finish like Hickson, but there's some Manimal in him. He's not the most prolific defender, but his hunger and length help him tremendously.

    He is carving up the postseason, as he used a strong AAC tournament as a springboard for Big Dance success. With back-to-back double-doubles, his interior domination has buoyed the Cardinals to the Sweet 16.

    Like Hickson and Faried, Harrell's finesse skills and footwork are raw, but not a lost cause. His motor and strength help compensate, and he's developing a respectable mid-range jumper.

    I'd be surprised if someone with his tools falls outside the top 20.

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

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    NBA Comparison: Rich man's Charlie Villanueva mixed with poor man's Rasheed Wallace

     

    Adreian Payne isn't the ball-handler and shot-creator Charlie Villanueva is, but his positional role and playing style is similar—and he could end up being a better stretch 4 than Charlie V.

    He's having himself a monster March, and in the process he's proving to NBA scouts why he's a versatile option in the first round. After back-to-back 18-point outings to close the Big Ten tourney, Payne torched Delaware for 41 in the NCAA round of 64.

    Throughout his magnificent stretch, he's exhibiting the ability to finish skillfully and powerfully at the rim and shoot smoothly from the outside. But he's also displaying some post-up turnarounds and intangible plays that remind us of the one and only Rasheed Wallace. Payne's definitely not as stout defensively, and isn't quite as polished, but the poor-man's version of 'Sheed would be great.

    It takes a well-rounded player to be a legitimate stretch 4 in the NBA, and Payne has a chance to be just that. If he holds his own defensively and improves his low-post power moves, he could have a long and prosperous career.

6. Zach LaVine, UCLA G (6'5" Freshman)

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    NBA Comparison: Combo-guard version of Gerald Green

     

    Zach LaVine hasn't made much noise at all in the NCAA tournament, and certainly hasn't boosted his NBA draft stock. Fortunately, his upside his high, so the unproductive tourney won't hurt his value either.

    From a comparison standpoint, this postseason has shown why he's a Gerald Green-type prospect: A phenomenal athlete with a lot to learn and significant polishing to do.

    LaVine projects to be a combo-guard version of Green, as he possesses better ball-handling skills and facilitating potential. However, the foundational assets are the same. They're both elite leapers and above-the-rim finishers who can also stretch defenses with shooting.

    If UCLA's young gun gets comfortable in the NBA and learns how to efficiently attack defenses, he could blossom into a legitimate star. For now, we'll consider him a high-ceiling risk/reward prospect.

5. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky PF/C (7'0" Sophomore)

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    NBA Comparison: Tyson Chandler

     

    It has been a crazy year for Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein, who started the season with a block party and wound up fighting for playing time on several occasions.

    He's not stuffing the stat sheet in the NCAA tourney, but that's not his calling card as an NBA prospect anyway. Pro scouts are interested in him because he can cover a lot of ground and protect the rim forcefully.

    Cauley-Stein's work as a shot-blocker and rebounder has helped the Wildcats to the Sweet 16, and it also looks a lot like Tyson Chandler. The New York Knicks center is an unskilled offensive player who earns his money as a low-post stopper and rebounder, and Cauley-Stein could play a similar role in the NBA.

    In addition, Kentucky's big man could be a pick-and-roll lob threat like Chandler. He's got the agility and the leaping ability to rise up above less-athletic centers.

4. Aaron Gordon, Arizona F (6'9" Freshman)

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    Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

    NBA Comparison: Shawn Marion

     

    He's not highly skilled from a shot-creating or shot-making standpoint, but Aaron Gordon could have a big impact at the next level because he's a heady, opportunistic player.

    With magnificent end-to-end athleticism, rebounding prowess, defensive ability and passing skills, he reminds us a lot of Shawn Marion.

    Guys like Gordon and Marion find ways to get buckets, whether it's a timely putback, alley-oop or scoop shot in the lane. Arizona's star is proving that in a superb NCAA tournament, averaging 17 points, seven boards and 4.5 assists so far.

    And the rest of their game is the glue stuff that helps teams thrive.

    One NBA executive told Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix that he compares Gordon to Marion, and DraftExpress analyst Mike Schmitz agrees: "Great athlete. Defends multiple positions. Hybrid small forward/power forward. Does a lot of things well. Unorthodox game."

    If NBA decision-makers believe he's a Marion type, then it would be tough to see him escaping the lottery.

3. Nik Stauskas, Michigan SG (6'6" Sophomore)

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    NBA Comparison: Less-defensive Klay Thompson

     

    Klay Thompson's NBA value and budding stardom begins with his three-point prowess, but it goes far beyond it.

    Nik Stauskas' appeal as a draft prospect is similar. He's a long-range sharpshooter, but he can do a whole lot more with the rock and impact the game in a myriad of ways.

    The Michigan shooting guard possesses ideal NBA size at 6'6", and he's used that frame throughout the NCAA tourney to rise up for mid-range pull-ups and timely slashes—much like the Golden State Warriors star. 

    Stauskas' ability to create shots for himself and others (eight assists versus Texas) is fueled by great ball-handling skills and a sharp feel for the game. That kind of court sense is what allows Thompson to move well without the ball and make the right play once he gets it.

    The only substantial difference (other than experience and development) is that Stauskas hasn't yet proved himself on the defensive end.

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

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    NBA Comparison: Bradley Beal with a less pure jumper

     

    The shooting guard position isn't as deep in the NBA as it used to be, but Michigan State's Gary Harris will provide the Association with a keeper.

    Many have pointed to O.J. Mayo as Harris' pro comparison, and while that might not be far off, I want to suggest someone with a brighter future: Bradley Beal.

    Harris probably doesn't have quite as much upside as the Washington Wizards star, but he's in the same neighborhood and could have a similar impact. The Spartans gunner moves beautifully away from the ball and is a confident shooter when teammates find him.

    And similar to Beal, Harris has some versatility in his game. He can drive to the hoop, finish above the rim or find the open man. In addition, he's a capable defender with excellent instincts.

    Their shooting forms are a little different, but overall, Harris has a lot to look forward to as a great all-around 2-guard.

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

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    NBA Comparison: Poor man's Moses Malone/Lamar Odom hybrid

     

    Julius Randle's physical tools and playing style remind us of one of the best rebounders in NBA history: Moses Malone.

    The Kentucky Wildcats freshman may never quite match the "Chairman of the Boards" from a legacy standpoint, but his instincts around the rim and ability to get putbacks are in the same mold as the star journeyman.

    From a versatility potential standpoint, Randle has a chance to expand his game and play like southpaw forward Lamar Odom. Randle's ball-handling skills are unpolished, but promising, and against Wichita State we saw some fluid, speedy drives with solid footwork. He also flashed some of Odom's passing skills, dishing a career-high six assists against the Shockers and dispelling the notion that he's a black hole on offense.

    Remember, this Malone/Odom projection is a poor-man's version. But even a poor-man's version of this dynamic combination would make for a highly productive career.

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