NBA Draft 2014: Breaking Down Safest Picks Among Deep Draft Class

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2014

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 30:  Adreian Payne #5 of the Michigan State Spartans reacts after a basket against the Connecticut Huskies during the East Regional Final of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 30, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

This year's NBA draft class will receive grand recognition for the potential stars vying for top-pick consideration in an overall fruitful draft pool. That assortment will have many organizations chasing stars, perhaps at the expense of safer selections.

These are not the guys teams have tanked to obtain. After organizations miss out on Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid, these players will feel more like consolation prizes than franchise saviors.

But they're all deserving of high picks, as their college experience places them in line to contribute as rookies. They're complete players whose skills project over to the pro level, even if they're plus contributors rather than perennial All-Stars and future Hall of Famers.

While the raw player with untapped potential will always tease general managers, these guys are the best bets to deliver a favorable return on investment.

Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State

A strong scorer, passer, rebounder and defender, Marcus Smart will please the team that falls outside the top four or five.

In his second season at Oklahoma State, Smart averaged 18.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.9 steals per game. While the Cowboys were a one-and-done team during the NCAA tournament, their point guard tallied 23 pounds, 13 rebounds, seven assists and six steals.

He received a negative reputation after pushing a Texas Tech fan heckling him in February, but this was an isolated incident that should not forever negatively frame the 20-year-old.

That incident offered validation for those who had questioned his decision to stay in school past his freshman campaign. Last year, he addressed his decision to stick around another season with USA Today's Sean Highkin:

There's a lot of speculation going. I've been bashed and criticized that I probably made a mistake of coming back here, the NBA will be there, I should have took it, and this year's draft class is much weaker than next year's.

But I think I made the right decision. All that was telling me, from those people that said that, is they don't have confidence in my ability and my game to compete with those players next year. You guys have given me that confidence to do that, so I chose to stay here. I'm aware of how much money I am giving up.

From a pure basketball standpoint, he was right, but there are still improvements to be made at the next level.

Smart must improve as a scorer. He shot an inefficient 42.2 percent from the floor last season, a step up from his 40.4 field-goal percentage as a freshman. Throughout those two years, he only made 29.5 percent of his three-point attempts.

But he'll thrive as a tenacious defender. According to Sports Reference, opposing offenses mustered just 89.1 points per 100 possessions with Smart on the court. His thievery earned him 5.4 defensive win shares during two years.

If he properly utilizes his superior teammates on the pro level, Smart will morph into a terrific complementary piece on a winning club. As long as he's not taking 12.5 shots per game in the NBA.

Aaron Gordon, PF, Arizona

Aaron Gordon's athleticism will make him a regular on highlight reels, but his defensive fortitude cements his status as a promising pro.

Last season, Gordon's 3.3 defensive win shares led college basketball, propelling Arizona to finish first in KenPom's defensive ratings.

SB Nation's Tyler Lashbrook, via B/R's Daniel O'Brien, gives us a look at how Gordon can quickly make up ground to derail a driver.

His freakish dunking abilities lend themselves to Blake Griffin comparisons, but the Los Angeles Clippers star never made as much of an impact defensively. In fact, he was a liability on that end to begin his NBA career.

Gordon, on the other hand, won't become a daily 20/10 contributor. Listed on as 6'9" and 225 pounds, he projects more as a combo forward than a true 4. A taller Shawn Marion might serve as a better pro comparison.

While he'll need the right system to thrive, or at least survive, offensively, Gordon's excellent defense will keep him in a team's good graces even if he's not posting up on power forwards or jumping over cars. 

Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan State

Adreian Payne has the size and skills to thrive at the big league level, but he added an interesting wrinkle to his game, further enhancing his odds at NBA success.

Although he did not lead Michigan State to the Final Four, Payne helped himself by scoring 41 points in a commanding performance over Delaware. That game, according to Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy, boosted Payne's draft stock:

At 6'10" and 245 pounds, Payne looks like the typical power forward, but he veered to the outside much more often during his senior season. In his last year with the Spartans, he made 44 three-pointers in 104 attempts, giving him a 42.3 percentage from long distance.

Stretching the floor as a power forward has shifted from a nice bonus to a necessity for many teams. Payne is also big enough to play center in a lineup that will truly test a defense's ability to shield the perimeter.

Already 23 years old, Payne will immediately deliver useful minutes for a squad needing another regular.