While college basketball fans often put a significant amount of stock into postseason performances from players, NBA front offices are more interested in the entire body of work and the ceiling of certain prospects.
That’s why players like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, who both struggled in the Big Dance and saw their teams eliminated earlier than expected, are still going to be taken before Shabazz Napier or any of the other national champion Connecticut stars.
Still, there will be a tremendous amount of value available to teams near the end of the first round in the 2014 draft.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the best value picks that playoff teams can make after the Parkers, Wiggins, Joel Embiids and Julius Randles of the world are off the board come draft day.
Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
Those who didn’t regularly tune in to watch Cleanthony Early and the Wichita State Shockers dominate the Missouri Valley Conference during the regular season got a taste of just how talented Early can be when his team lost to Kentucky in the round of 32.
Early finished with 31 points, seven rebounds, one steal, one block and eviscerated every defender and future NBA player that the Wildcats threw his way.
Early’s overall skill set is enticing to NBA teams because he is physical enough at 6’8” to play down low and quick enough to use as a small forward. Throw in the fact that he can shoot from behind the three-point line, mid-range and on the low block, and Early’s ceiling on the offensive end will attract plenty of attention.
On the defensive side, Early has quick hands to match with his length and athleticism.
However, when looking forward to project Early’s role in the Association, questions arise on that side of the ball.
Whether he can handle himself against the larger NBA power forwards or more athletic small forwards remains to be seen. He may need to improve his overall strength to bang bodies with the best bigs in the world at the next level, but that could cost him some of his lateral quickness that will be necessary to play small forward.
Which spot Early is used in will ultimately be a function of where he is drafted.
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Clearly, Napier helped his draft stock by leading his Connecticut Huskies to the national title.
He dominated the tournament on both ends of the floor and combined with Ryan Boatright to stifle some of the best backcourts in the country, including those of Florida and Kentucky. One person Napier impressed along the way was LeBron James, who thinks he should be the first point guard taken on draft day:
However, Napier’s draft stock consists of much more than just his incredible postseason performances.
He shot better than 40 percent from behind the three-point line this year, averaged nearly six rebounds a game from the point guard spot and tallied nearly two steals a night. Throw in the five assists and 18 points, and you have yourself an absolute superstar who can stuff the stat sheet on any given night.
He will do just that for whichever team takes a chance on him in the late first round.
K.J. McDaniels, Clemson
K.J. McDaniels may not be the household name that Napier is, but he certainly left an impression on SMU coach Larry Brown, who compared the Clemson star to some notable NBA names, via Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier:
(He’s) a human stat sheet. Guys that find ways to help your team win. He’s going to be playing at the next level doing the same thing.
Brown spent many years on the sidelines as an NBA coach, so for him to offer that kind of praise should turn some heads.
McDaniels averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.1 steals a game this year for the Tigers. It was the 2.8 blocks a game, though, that really stood out, especially for someone who checks in at 6’6” tall.
He is an absolute force on the defensive side of the ball, which will appeal to teams like the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers who value that type of production and will likely be picking late in the first round. McDaniels is an impressive athlete who can jump out of the gym, which is how he is able to tally those blocks and rebounds nearly every night.
He isn’t the best outside shooter (30 percent from downtown this year), but he gets to the rim as well as almost anyone in college basketball.
Look for a team to bolster both its offense and defense by selecting McDaniels.
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