Predicting Future Box Office Stars from 2014 NBA Draft Class
It may take some time before we figure out exactly what kind of basketball impact the 2014 NBA draft class will make. But we do have a good feeling about who will keep the ticket office busy and thrive as marketable stars.
As their careers blossom, which players will generate a big turnout no matter what city they're in? Which prospects are going to buoy television ratings and expand the brand of the league?
While success between the lines is the most essential aspect of stardom and branding, it can be enhanced by a winning personality off the court. Some of 2014's biggest stars have that charisma.
We break down the biggest box office stars of the bunch, based on talent-driven fan appeal and overall marketability.
Honorable Mention: Nik Stauskas, Michigan SG
While Nik Stauskas may not match the ticket office success of Jabari Parker, he could still carve out a huge fanbase in the NBA.
Basketball fans love a good shot-maker, and the Mississauga, Ontario product is a scintillating one.
Whether it's a clutch triple coming off a screen or a dazzling step-back jumper off the dribble, Stauskas has the ability to befuddle defenses and get fans out of their seats. According to Steven Braid of Mississauga.com, he was nicknamed "Tube" by his Michigan coaches and teammates due to his phenomenal backyard YouTube videos.
He's not a lock for stardom, but if he can translate his ball-handling and shooting accuracy to the NBA, he'll become an exciting blend of Klay Thompson and J.J. Redick. That kind of firepower, along with the rise of basketball in Canada, could make him a special figure.
When you factor in his talent as a playmaker, he could be a unique asset for the NBA. Stauskas may go off for six three-pointers and a couple of dunks one night and turn around to dish eight dimes the next.
5. Julius Randle, Kentucky PF
According to Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders, current NBAers think Julius Randle can be great: "Many players think Julius Randle will be a star in the NBA...They love his game/upside."
The southpaw bruiser out of Kentucky may grow into an undeniable power forward. He can fuel a team with relentless rebounding and explosive finishes, and his 6'9", 250-pound frame can also run the floor nimbly.
NCAA exploits hardly guarantee NBA success these days, but they can be a great indicator of a prospect's skill set and persona.
Randle passed the test by a mile. He didn't just showcase athleticism and developing skill throughout the year; he also competed harder than anyone on his team and often acted like an upperclassman for his fellow freshmen, keeping them focused and hungry mentally. This maturity will help him out in his off-the-court endeavors.
Fans will show up and support players with a winning approach, and that's what Randle has going for him.
The get-out-of-my-way fast break doesn't hurt, either.
4. Joel Embiid, Kansas C
A handful of beloved international big men have enthralled NBA fans over the years, and Joel Embiid may be next in line.
The 7-foot center out of Cameroon caught the attention of countless scouts, media and fans during his freshman campaign at Kansas. He displayed scoring ingenuity, footwork and passing skills that are uncommon for a youngster his size—much less someone who started playing just three years ago.
"He can do things that only a few people in the world can do," one NBA scout told Bleacher Report College Basketball Lead Writer Jason King.
Embiid may never reach Hakeem Olajuwon status, but the fact that he's been widely compared to "The Dream" shows the kind of natural ability he possesses. Both African apprentices learned basketball in their mid-teens, quickly becoming fearsome low-post rim protectors and scorers.
He has as good a chance as anyone to become the next great NBA big man, and that will give his NBA franchise a huge advantage and selling point. Dominant centers are an awesome force to witness, and it takes a versatile one to thrive in today's small-ball era.
Even opposing fans will buy tickets when he's in town—just to see if their team can topple him.
3. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas SF
If there's anything we learned from Andrew Wiggins' year at Kansas, it's that he's not the next Michael Jordan or LeBron James.
However, he still has extraordinary athleticism, natural talent and the potential to be a perennial All-Star. The 6'8" leaper showed flashes of tremendous versatility in 2013-14, and he also exploded for some huge scoring nights late in the season.
If he even comes close to the best version of himself throughout his career, he will pack the stands and move the needle whenever his club is playing. Two things that will help drive viewership, ticket sales and advertising hype are the omnipresent Internet and social media, as B/R Lead Writer Jared Zwerling notes:
Not only is there major buzz surrounding Wiggins, but he also has the impact of social media and viral videos—especially surrounding his high-flying dunks—working in his favor, which James didn't experience. Also, the league's entertainment value and global exposure have increased, and players' marketing opportunities have expanded into new, luxurious categories...
In addition, Wiggins has the support and interest of an entire country. Canada's fascination with basketball is growing, and the Ontario star could take the sport to a new level.
If he improves his ball skills and becomes a more assertive leader, he could go from hyped prodigy to a long-term must-see attraction. Whether it's huge television ratings for the league or colossal sneaker dollars, he's a revenue machine waiting to happen.
2. Dante Exum, Australia G
Melbourne native Dante Exum has the moves and intangibles necessary to be a huge ticket-seller and ratings-booster for Americans and Australians alike.
Blessed with a magnificent mix of size (6'6", 188 pounds), speed and skills, the 18-year-old guard is well on his way to becoming an uncontainable NBA guard. He has a flair for playmaking and scoring similar to Penny Hardaway, so fans won't want to miss any opportunity to watch him play.
Aside from the brilliant physical gifts and talent, he has the moxie to run a franchise's offense at a young age. B/R NBA Lead Writer Jared Zwerling observed the floor general's leadership while scouting him in Australia:
He never got too down on himself or became too passive with the ball, maintaining a high motor and feeling like it was his responsibility to set the tempo—a true point guard with qualities beyond his 18 years. That leadership translated to huddles, where he was communicative with his coach and teammates while discussing strategy.
Zwerling also added that "Exum has an added personality spark when he plays—one of the many reasons he has marketing potential, perhaps more so than anyone else in the draft."
His agreeable persona and confident yet humble manner will help his brand and his club's brand. That likability is the X-factor that will endear a fanbase and open up extra media and endorsement opportunities.
1. Jabari Parker, Duke PF
Jabari Parker's impressive offensive talent and skill at such a young age has already created a buzz in basketball circles. Once fans see what he can do in an NBA system, they'll storm the turnstiles to watch him play
En route to 19.1 points per game as a freshman, the Duke megastar displayed the inside-out takeover ability that's captivating.
Along with the scoring polish and size (6'8", 241 pounds), the Chicago native shows maturity and leadership in every circumstance: He'll be the kind of competitor that fans get behind. His combination of gracefulness and intensity is magnetic.
One NBA scout explained why Parker is so appealing to fans, coaches and current NBA players, per Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders: "He has the 'it' factor, smoothness and intangibles. Nobody says a bad thing about him. Even players in the league who know him speak very positively about him. He seems like a great kid and someone who would be great in a locker room. He’s very talented."
He's only a teenager, yet he's already been on the cover of Sports Illustrated three times. If he comes anywhere close to meeting expectations on the court, he'll put scores of spectators in the seats and reel in a considerable television audience.
Parker's popularity will also be boosted by his marketable personality, as he's a likable young man. He has the potential to be one of those elite "faces of the NBA" like Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA draft for Bleacher Report.