At the start of this NBA season, the top talent in the 2014 draft class was viewed as so valuable that it threatened to erode the foundation of the NBA. That notion proved to be overblown, as did the assessment of this class.
Let's go back to the start of this NBA season. ESPN The Magazine's Jeff Goodman reported that an anonymous general manager was content to tank away the season in order to lock up one of the elite talents in this class.
The headliner of the class at that point was Andrew Wiggins. The 6'8" wing possesses a jaw-dropping amount of athleticism, and heading to Kansas for his freshman year, he appeared destined to be a one-and-done player. Not far behind in the hype department was offensive maestro Jabari Parker, who also appeared destined to be a one-and-done guy at Duke.
It was highlights like the following that helped drive the hype:
Obviously, it is not good for the NBA if a good portion of the league is intent on being terrible for a season. In that sense, this season worked out well for the NBA. Now that the college season has come and gone, all teams have evidence of why tanking is a risky proposition.
After trading Boston legends Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics received a fair share of speculation that they were tanking their season. Fast forward to March 25, and here is Celtics president Danny Ainge speaking in a live video chat on this draft class:
There aren't any game changers in the draft. There are a lot of nice players and players that we'll be excited to work into the development, but they're not going to come in and turn our team around in one year or two years. But hopefully we'll be able to get a couple of players this year that will be rotation players in the NBA for years to come.
Ainge is not alone in his assessment. Legendary player and NBA executive Jerry West gave this frank assessment of the class on ESPN radio: "I think it's a poor one, myself."
West would appear to be on the extreme end by calling this class "a poor one," but he's definitely not alone in thinking it won't live up to expectations.
Back in December, in an interview with SNY.tv (h/t ZagsBlog.com), Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim had this to say: "There’s no player that’s out there on the horizon that’s a Tim Duncan or a LeBron James."
Which player will have the best NBA career?
If a team is going to tank away a season, it would be wise to do so in a year where there was a player like Tim Duncan or LeBron James available.
Along with Kansas' freshman center Joel Embiid, Wiggins and Parker still appear to be locks as the first three players taken. They will just do so with lower expectations.
So what happened? The college basketball season, that's what. It is hard enough to project players from college to the NBA, but that is a far easier task than doing so from high school.
While at Kansas, Wiggins showed the kind of size-and-speed combination that is close enough to warrant comparisons to LeBron. That's where the comparisons stop, however.
One of the things that makes James so special is his ability to handle and pass the basketball. Wiggins is nowhere near LeBron in these areas. Wiggins averaged 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game at Kansas last season, but he also averaged just 1.5 assists and 2.3 turnovers.
Meanwhile, Parker was never looked at as an elite athlete, but his offensive skills more than made up for that. Parker's offense shined at Duke, as he averaged 19.1 points per game last season while shooting 47.3 percent from the floor. He also did a great job on the boards with 8.7 rebounds per game.
Parker will be able to score in the NBA. He has a polished offensive game well beyond his years. He won't be able to do much else, however. Parker's lack of athleticism is going to make him a defensive liability.
He also does not have the best conditioning and tired out down the stretch of some of his college games. That will only be amplified in the increased physicality of the NBA game.
Embiid is another intriguing prospect. That's mostly because he is a 7-footer and can move. Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game in his freshman year at Kansas.
A Cameroon native, Embiid is rather new to the sport and still a bit raw. If he can put it all together, he has the potential to be good on offense and defense in the NBA.
That is if his back holds up. Embiid missed the end of the season and the NCAA tournament with back issues. Is there anything more worrisome in the NBA draft than a big man with injuries?
If the Portland Trail Blazers had one of the top picks, they would almost certainly draft Embiid, then the player taken after him would go on to be the next dominant player in the league.
Overall, this is not the worst collection of talent, but it certainly isn't anything worth tanking for. When all is said and done, the 2014 draft class will be an ordinary group of incoming NBA talent.