NBA Draft 2014: Breaking Down Top Upperclassmen Ready to Make Instant Impact

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistApril 19, 2014

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 07: Shabazz Napier #13 of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 in the NCAA Men's Final Four Championship at AT&T Stadium on April 7, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The top of the 2014 NBA draft will likely be highlighted by underclassmen, mostly freshman and international players. Given the one-and-done nature of most top prospects at the college level, it's not a surprise, but drafting players with little experience leads to more development time.

For teams in the middle and back end of the Round 1, which are also those closest to title contention, opting for a more developed upperclassman could be the way to go. They don't possess the same natural talent or upside as a Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins, but they can make an instant impact.

Ultimately, it comes down to the preference of each front office. Do they want a prospect in the second wave of budding stars with plenty of potential but may never earn enough playing time to realize it? Or somebody ready to play at least a rotational role next season but may never be an elite player?

It's not always an easy decision. Let's check out some of the top seniors in the class who are hoping to prove taking them is the best option once those freshman sensations are off the board.


Shabazz Napier

Napier wasn't receiving much NBA draft buzz before the NCAA Tournament. Then he put together one of the most impressive six-game stretches you'll see from a collegiate player, especially considering the immense amount of pressure to lead Connecticut to the national championship.

The senior point guard averaged 18 points, six rebounds and five assists while shooting better than 40 percent from the field. It was the result of major strides made throughout his time with the Huskies. While many players jump at the first opportunity to leave for the NBA, he explained to Juliet Macur of the New York Times why he stayed for all four years:

I don't think there's anything bad with staying four years, though a lot of guys think there is because I guess you can lose money that way. I just feel like the more you understand that education's going to be key in your life, the more you mature.

Napier already has a firm understanding of how to run an offense and has displayed advanced decision-making skills for a player just entering the league. Add in his ability to knock down outside shots, and he's a perfect backup point guard who can grow into a starting role pretty quickly, if needed.


Doug McDermott

McDermott is an interesting case. He led the nation in scoring as a senior at a shade under 27 points per game while shooting 53 percent from the field and 45 percent from beyond the arc. The Naismith Award winner also grabbed seven rebounds per contest.

He was often a one-man band at Creighton, though. The question for talent evaluators at the NBA level is how he'll fit into a team structure where he's unlikely to serve as the No. 1 scoring option. He averaged less than two assists per game in his final collegiate season.

Despite that, Matt Moore of CBS Sports noted in late March that his stock was on the rise. Moore wrote, "When you look at McDermott's overall body of work, you have to like his chances of translating. By all accounts, he seems more Ryan Anderson or Antawn Jamison than Adam Morrison."

Make no mistake, he's a tremendous all-around scorer capable of stretching the floor and playing a key offensive role. Players with his type of natural scoring ability are very limited in the class. But it comes back to which teams are interested in an instant-impact player who probably won't become a superstar.


Adreian Payne

Players like Payne always seem to get overlooked during the draft process because they are not flashy. The Michigan State forward isn't going to wow anybody with any particular skill, but he's a very well-rounded prospect who made steady progress during his four college seasons.

He arrived to the Spartans with good size and raw skill. He's now a solid secondary scoring option, who's added outside range to his repertoire, with size and strength to defend and rebound in the paint at the NBA level.

Payne is not the most talented player in the class, but there's little doubt he'll have a better career than at least some of those players with more upside. He's going to work hard and provide solid minutes right away as a rookie. Whichever team drafts him should get plenty of value.