The path to the 2014 NBA draft on June 26 is a grind, and several major names who have the talent to alter the landscape of the league have yet to decide if they are headed back to class or making the leap.
As a whole, the 2014 class already has its critics. One Eastern Conference executive told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck that the hype long ago surpassed reality:
"The mistake that was made in this year's draft was everything was predetermined before the players had an opportunity to necessarily prove it."
Now add in the fact players all but assured a selection in the first round have yet to make up their minds, and the slow burn to the big day has fans and the league itself silent with bated breath.
Jabari Parker Back to Duke?
A lock to be one of the first three names called should he declare, Jabari Parker has yet to make a decision.
More recently, ESPN's Chad Ford revealed that some scouts are sure Parker is taking his talents back to the collegiate level:
Both are weighing their options. Both are seriously considering returning ... with Parker so much so that several scouts are claiming he's coming back to school. But I think that's premature. They have time. The deadline is April 27th to decide. However, if they declare after April 15th, there's no turning back. They'll lose their college eligibility. Parker is really NBA ready. He could obviously improve if he stayed, but he's a NBA starter from Day One.
Ford is spot on, and his assessment is surely not up for debate at this point. Parker averaged 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game with the Blue Devils last season, although a bit of a dud with a 4-of-14 mark from the field and 14 points in an upset against No. 14 Mercer in the second round of the NCAA tournament has to leave a sour taste in his mouth.
Interestingly enough, Parker had recently told reporters, via the AP's Joedy McCreary, that personal growth is of the utmost importance in his decision:
Saying that I didn't give it my all and that I have regrets, that I have to come back because I owe this program so much. A deciding factor is where I'm going to grow the most, whether it's in the NBA or even in college, the learning experiences that I need as far as (growing as) a basketball player.
If Parker chooses to stay, it's a major blow for those teams at the top of the draft. At least they'll have plenty of forewarning that they need to look elsewhere.
Aaron Gordon Leaving Arizona?
Perhaps with a name like Aaron Gordon.
In tandem with Nick Johnson, Gordon allowed the Wildcats to be one of the nation's top teams last season before an exit in the Elite Eight. Like Parker, Gordon was a disappointment with just eight points and a 3-of-11 tally from the field.
Regardless, Gordon was one of the nation's best pure scorers all year. It sounds as if he is leaning toward going pro, according to Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears:
Barring a stunning change of mind, freshman Aaron Gordon has likely played his last game at Arizona and is headed to the NBA, sources said.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) March 30, 2014
This meshes well with a telling observation by CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd after Arizona's loss to Wisconsin:
Impressed with Aaron Gordon. Got into lockerroom when he was basically saying goodbye to teammates. Emotional.— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) March 30, 2014
Should he enter, Gordon is likely stuck in a battle with the likes of Gary Harris and Tyler Ennis for attention, but it helps that names like Parker may go back to school.
Numbers suggest Gordon could use some refinement before making such a big decision, as a 42 percentage on free throws sticks out. That said, NBA teams surely see a capable role player in Gordon right away.
Joel Embiid Remains Up in the Air
Like Parker, Joel Embiid is a surefire top selection in June if he decides to go pro.
Also like Parker, the details from Ford state that Embiid has yet to make a decision as to his basketball future. Ford added further details on Embiid's pro prospects:
He's rawer and may not see the minutes Parker would see as a NBA rookie. He also has a big unknown with his back that could affect his draft stock if NBA doctors get wary. He would probably benefit more than Parker from returning for another year of college, but it's really hard to turn down a Top 3 pick.
Adam Zagoria of NBA.com confirms that Embiid is still mulling the life-altering decision:
FWIW, I was told by a source close to the Kansas staff that Joel Embiid remains "undecided" about the NBA Draft.— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 2, 2014
Embiid is an elite prospect thanks to both his size (7'0" and 250 pounds) and production (season averages of 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds). The only red flag at this point is an iffy injury history thanks to a stress fracture in his spine that caused him to miss the entirety of the NCAA tournament.
At this stage, Embiid has time to think. As is the case with Parker, the NBA can only hope he decides to take the next step, but Kansas fans surely wouldn't mind having him back, either.