Predicting Which 2014 NBA Draft Prospects Will Burst onto the Scene
Everyone's excited about the depth, talent and potential of the 2014 NBA draft class. However, only a small fraction of the prospects will be able to jump out of the gate and make a substantial difference immediately.
Which studs will be able to make a major impact as soon as they enter the league?
We selected the ballers who have a good grasp of their important roles, as they're poised to operate productively within five-on-five schemes as well as open-floor scenarios.
This is to distinguish from players like Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Noah Vonleh, who still have a lot to learn when it comes to efficiently executing the fundamentals against top competition.
In other words, which draftees are the most ready to play like standouts from Day 1?
Dante Exum, Australia PG (6'6", 1995)
Immediate Role: Starting combo guard, second scoring option
Per-game: 30-35 MIN, 13-18 PTS, 5-7 AST, 40.0 FG%, 34.0 3FG%
Pick-and-Roll, Drive-and-Dish: The enigmatic Australian guard will only partially tap into his potential as a floor general during his rookie year, but he'll still be tough to corral. Dante Exum will bolt past defenders off the dribble, giving his team plenty of drive-and-dish opportunities, as well as some pick-and-roll fun.
Scoring Creativity: That quick first step isn't just to create for his teammates. It will often put him on a path to the rim, and his vertical agility and scoring touch will take care of the rest. Exum can glide around opponents, adjust his shot in midair or finish above the rim.
His mid-range finesse and accuracy are still developing, but the tools are there and he knows how to create jumpers. If he's more of a point than a combo guard, he'll score 13-14 points. If he's more of a combo man or slasher, he could potentially score 17-18 as a rookie.
Defensive Playmaking: There will be some growing pains on defense, there's no getting around it. But Exum's speed, length and effort will give his coach some matchup flexibility and force some turnovers.
Young Leadership: Exum didn't just physically dominate in high school; he showed the kind of mettle that will help turn his bottom-feeding NBA club into a competitive squad. John Tuxworth of the Sydney Morning Herald spoke with Australian native and NBA champion Luc Longley about Exum's maturity:
...The Australian Boomers assistant coach has no doubt Exum has the skills and character to make an immediate impact in the world's best league: 'I think it's great he's done it and if there's a young man I know in Australia who can handle the pressures of playing with men in a man's league, it's Dante.'
Expect him to be in the conversation for Rookie of the Year.
Gary Harris, Michigan State SG (6'4" Sophomore)
Immediate Role: Starting shooting guard, third scoring option
Per-game: 20-30 MIN, 10-17 PTS, 2-3 AST, 41.0 FG%, 37.0 3FG%
Working for Jumpers: Michigan State's Gary Harris could be the key shooting piece that gets a late-lottery team over the hump. Teams like the Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves could improve considerably with his ability to find and create his jumpers:
Jonathan Givony of Draft Express explained Harris' usefulness as a shooter: "He has good mechanics and range, and has the added bonus of being capable of coming off screens, which is another tool that can be utilized by his NBA coach in the half-court."
Passing: Harris' modest ball skills do more than just create shots or fuel the occasional slash to the rim. The 2-guard can also do some passing to keep the offense well-oiled. He won't drop dimes in droves, but he'll make key plays and connect with his teammates every night.
Defensive Talent and Fundamentals: Two-way talent from a youngster can be a massive boost to a team (think fellow Michigan State product Draymond Green). For the most part, Harris does a magnificent job of staying in front of playmakers and contesting shots. Givony notes this will help him establish a role early in his career:
Harris is also an excellent defender, capable of guarding both backcourt positions. He has outstanding fundamentals on this end of the floor, always getting in a low stance and putting very good effort in, and showing excellent awareness both on and off the ball...He was very well schooled under Tom Izzo, and does a good job in team concepts, which should help him get on the court relatively quickly in the NBA.
With the ability to check the opposing point or wing, along with scoring in the teens, Harris could be one of the most useful assets in the class.
Julius Randle, Kentucky PF (6'9" Freshman)
Immediate Role: Starting power forward, third scoring option
Per-game: 25 MIN, 12-plus PTS, 8 REB, 46.0 FG%
Boards on both ends: Julius Randle's playmaking and scoring abilities won't astound anyone in year one, but his rebounding ability will make him a factor on offense and defense. To give you an idea of how elite he is for his age, the freshman was fourth among all D-I players in offensive rebounds.
His tireless motor, 250-pound frame and athletic instincts will enable him to get upwards of eight rebounds per contest, depending on his playing time. Either way, expect him to grab around 11.5 per 36 minutes.
Finishing Power: Unlike most prospects who are still trying to fill out their physiques, Randle's frame is ready for the rigors of the Association. He can pound toward the hoop, explode up through punishment and score deftly at the rim.
Matt Moore of CBS Sports talked about the Wildcat's ability to compete in traffic: "He finishes despite the contact...Randle's strength set him as one of the most NBA-ready prospects, simply because he's not going to be bullied off the bat like a lot of power forwards.
Hustle Plays/Transition: Randle is more than just a big dude with interior talent and potential. He can cover a ton of ground for a big man and, more importantly, he wants to cover a lot of ground. He can go coast-to-coast, come out of nowhere for putbacks and play superb defense in most matchups.
Nik Stauskas, Michigan SG (6'6" Sophomore)
Immediate Role: Starting shooting guard, third or fourth scoring option
Per-game: 25 MIN, 10-15 PTS, 3 AST, 44.0 FG%, 38.0 3FG%
Consistent, Accurate Outside Shooting: Nik Stausksas could efficiently drain NBA-range three-pointers in a variety of ways right now if he wanted to.
While most other prospects will be ironing out their shot and trying to improve their range in 2014-15, Michigan's breakout star will be converting from deep at a high percentage. He'll spot up in the corner, curl around screens and even generate separation to shoot off the dribble. Once Stauskas gets a window of opportunity, he's deadly; he's good for a couple of triples per night.
Intermittent Facilitating: Stauskas became noticeably more productive as a ball-handler and passer during his sophomore year, posting 3.3 assists per game. His skills didn't dramatically improve since his freshman campaign, he just stepped into a bigger role and became more comfortable taking the reins.
When Sean Merriman of the Big Ten Network asked Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy who the most NBA-ready Big Ten underclassman was, he discussed Stauskas' facilitating skills: "Nik Stauskas is far and away the most prepared of the players involved in this conversation. He has a much better handle on his game, how to attack the defense, how to use the various weapons at his personal disposal."
Attacking the Hoop/Open-floor Athleticism: He's not a jaw-dropping athlete, and that's okay. When you pair Stauskas' 6'6" size with capable springs, he'll be able to legitimately drive and elevate against NBA defenders.
His handles and athleticism are ultimately what will help him burst on to the scene and make a significant difference for his team. It's what separates him from college stars like Doug McDermott.
Jabari Parker, Duke F (6'8" Freshman)
Immediate Role: Starting combo forward, top scoring option
Per-game: 30-35 MIN, 17-20 PTS, 6 REB, 44.0 FG%, 38.0 3FG%
Mid-range scoring/slashing: We don't know how good Jabari Parker's mid-range repertoire will eventually become, but we do know that it's already quite polished and effective. He'll face up and convert a bunch of spin moves, floaters and short-range bank shots, as well as a steady diet of elbow jumpers and step-backs along the baseline.
During Parker's superb freshman campaign, NBA megastar Carmelo Anthony talked to Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv about the youngster's mid-range wares. "His mid-range game, there’s not too many people at that level who have a mid-range basketball game. It’s hard to teach, it’s hard to learn, so if you have it that’s a special talent."
Several Post Ups: Throughout every game, Parker will likely find some low-post chances. When he does, he'll know how to execute, as he possesses a mix of drop-steps, up-and-under moves and baby hooks.
Timely Triples: Although he wasn't outstandingly productive or efficient from beyond the arc at Duke (36 percent), you could tell Parker has a sweet shot. In the NBA, he'll spot up, create his own threes and operate in pick-and-pop scenarios a couple of times per half.
Rebounding: Parker averaged 11.4 boards per 40 minutes as a freshman and led the ACC in total rebounds and rebounds per game. Those numbers won't translate to the next level, but his size and instincts will help him grab five to seven per night as a combo forward.
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