The 2014 NBA playoffs may be in full swing, but the upcoming NBA draft is one of the few things fans of nearly half the league’s franchises have to look forward to at this juncture.
With so many gifted prospects in this loaded draft class, there should be plenty of opportunity for many teams to land a contributor. Whether these clubs are picking in the lottery or later in the first round, there are plenty of players poised to make an immediate impact.
Let’s take a look at a couple of premier talents that should come in right away and start logging minutes in the rotation and contributing in a meaningful manner.
Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky
Julius Randle declared his intentions to turn professional this past Tuesday, causing general managers whose teams are picking in the lottery to take notice and start imagining scenarios in which the Wildcats product would fit with their rosters.
The big man spoke about his dream of playing in the Association at a press conference, as per DeAntae Prince of Sporting News:
I've been blessed and fortunate to be put in a position to have decisions. A big decision for me is whether to declare for the NBA draft or not. Talking with my family, a lot of prayer, I'm deciding to declare for the NBA draft.
It shouldn’t be hard to picture this young man making noise at the next level, especially considering the type of skills he put on full display during his time in Lexington.
Randle averaged a double-double (15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds) over the course of the 2013-14 campaign and was a catalyst behind UK’s run to the NCAA championship game.
ESPN Stats & Info pointed out the impact that Randle had on Kentucky’s ability to score the basketball this past season:
Kentucky is averaging 1.29 points per possession when Julius Randle has a paint touch and 0.88 points per possession when he doesn't.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 8, 2014
With a game comprised of abundant energy and powerful but graceful finishing around the basket, it is going to be difficult to keep this beast from scoring. Matt Moore of CBS Sports captured one of Randle’s deadliest, most consistent moves:
He does this all despite facing a constant stream of double- and even triple-teams whenever he received the ball in position to score down low. The 19-year-old Dallas native showed poise and maturity above the normal level for his age, plus didn’t let the hype of being a top-tier recruit distract him from doing his job.
How will Randle fare in the NBA?
There aren’t all positives surrounding this 6’9”, 250-pound left-handed forward, as Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman pointed out two flaws in his latest mock draft: “He'll have to add a jumper to complement his heavily interior-oriented attack, and his defense will need some fine-tuning…”
Regardless, Randle's superior strength and moves in the low-post will make him a rare big man that can soak minutes in a rotation in the nascent stages of his career. Don’t count on the UK product warming the bench for long, if at all, as he is far too powerful of a weapon to keep contained.
P.J. Hairston, SG, D-League/UNC
P.J. Hairston may not be taking a conventional journey to the NBA, but the former North Carolina standout has been lighting it up in the D-League and should be drafted in the first round this year.
The 6’5”, 227-pound scorer began soaring up big boards back in January when news of his performances with the Texas Legends began making the rounds.
Hairston’s most notable outing was a 45-point explosion in just his fifth D-League game. Sportando posted his shot chart after the eye-popping showing:
Jeff Goodman of ESPN noted back in January (after another 40-point outburst) that he would be a first-rounder, and that still appears to hold true:
Ex-North Carolina wing PJ Hairston scored 40 points last night in 38 minutes for D-League team. Should be a first-rounder come June.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) January 25, 2014
The 21-year-old would go on to finish the campaign averaging 21.8 points on 45.3 percent field goal shooting and 35.8 percent three-point shooting, proving that he can get his numbers against quality competition.
Even though the off-guard was banished from the Tar Heels program back in December of 2013, after the school failed to seek reinstatement following eligibility issues, he shouldn’t be bogged down by character concerns.
GoHeels.com posted a press release from the school, which includes a quip from head coach Roy Williams vouching for the integrity of the prospect:
I am extremely disappointed for P.J., his family and our team as he will no longer be playing basketball at North Carolina. P.J. made mistakes and I was very disappointed by his actions and now he is suffering the very difficult consequences. He is not a bad kid; he just made some mistakes.
Would you want Hairston playing on your favorite team?
With coach Williams’ backing and a string of great games against rock-solid competition in the D-League, expect a number of teams to take interest in Hairston this June. A contender would be wise to draft this stud in the latter portion of the opening round, as it won’t take much to get him acquainted to the NBA grind and speed of the game.
Expect Hairston to start playing a role from Day 1 of his rookie season, hitting three-pointers and putting points on the board at a rapid rate.