The 2014 NBA draft is full of tantalizing prospects, and most of the chatter inevitably revolves around the potential of the players at the head of the class. But there are several players lurking farther down the big board that can one day have a big impact on the NBA as well.
Between Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle, among others, the potential for a few superstars this year means there are fewer headlines devoted to players who have entered the draft to lesser fanfare, and their prospects may be suffering because of it.
With so many talented players in the college ranks, it can be easy for players to get lost in the shuffle. Unlike longer drafts like those found in the NFL and MLB, if an NBA general manager thinks twice about a prospect's ability to make it as a pro, he could drop out of the draft entirely.
The three players on this list have various reasons for why they don't receive as much attention as other players, but they all have the ability to become reliable contributors at the next level of basketball.
Jordan Clarkson, SG, Missouri
Jordan Clarkson dropped 15 spots to No. 27 in Aran Smith's latest rankings on NBADraft.net. A rangy guard standing at 6'5" and 193 pounds, Clarkson isn't an imposing physical presence and struggles from long distance, shooting just 28 percent from three-point range last season. He also missed out on the NCAA tournament, a key chance for middling prospects to impress potential employers.
However, Chad Ford of ESPN didn't forget about Clarkson's ability when the tournament began:
Top NBA prospects not in NCAA tourney: Noah Vonleh (8), KJ McDaniels (20), CJ Wilcox (39), Jordan Clarkson (41), Deonte Burton (55)— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) March 16, 2014
Clarkson did have plenty of time to show scouts his scoring capabilities during the regular season, averaging 17.5 points per game. As Jeff Gordon of STLToday.com humorously points out, Clarkson was relied on heavily by coach Frank Haith:
As Jordan Clarkson moves on to the NBA, Frank Haith has an opportunity to give all of his point guard minutes to actual point guards.— Jeff Gordon (@gordoszone) March 31, 2014
Clarkson didn't disappoint either, as he accounted for 24 percent of his team's overall points, per DraftExpress.com, while logging just over 35 minutes per game. His ability to handle multiple responsibilities for Missouri—he increased his assist average from 2.5 to 3.4 per game as a junior—demonstrates his willingness to learn and that he should be coachable enough to improve his outside shot.
His ability to drive to the basket despite stricter NCAA defensive rules impressed Hawaii coach Gib Arnold. He told Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “He’s going to make a lot of money because of those rules, because he’s a talent.”
Put all his skills and intangibles together and the NBA team that picks Clarkson has a scoring machine from the wing with leadership ability to boot.
Xavier Thames, PG, San Diego State
Xavier Thames' draft projections are all over the board, and in some cases, off it entirely.
Aran Smith of NBADraft.net has him ranked 42nd overall. Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com omitted Thames from his top-100 rankings. David Aldridge of NBA.com has him listed as his sleeper at point guard, which leaves him out of his top 10 for the position and below his three honorable mentions.
Thames is 6'3", taller than many NBA point guards, but doesn't flash exceptional speed or agility.
He did take a big leap forward as a fifth-year senior in the scoring department. His output drastically improved (9.5 points per game in 2012-13 to 17.6 points per game in 2013-14), which allowed him to take over in games where the Aztecs needed him to become more than a distributor.
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He practically dragged his team to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, scoring 39 percent of his team's points in those three games. He showed leadership and poise on college's biggest stage when his teammates struggled around him.
Since he played in the Mountain West, scouts may simply need more opportunities to see him play. However, Thames recently skipped the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament on advice from his agent, according to Mark Zeigler of U-T San Diego.
Thames needs the opportunity to stand out from a competitive point guard class, but if given the chance the man they call "X" could prove to be a big factor on an NBA team.
Jahii Carson, PG, Arizona State
Jahii Carson checks in at just 5'10" and 180 pounds. This may lead some scouts to question Carson's ability to handle the rigors of the NBA and could explain why he's ranked 34th overall by Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com and 55th by Aran Smith of NBADraft.net.
He may have trouble standing out, but Carson's speed should help separate him from the pack.
Besides that particular unteachable talent, Carson is a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection. He averaged 18.5 points per game over his college career, although Carson's overall assists dropped from 5.1 per game to 4.6 between his freshman and sophomore years.
However, his assist percentage remained relatively steady at 29.7 percent, via Sports-Reference.com, meaning he made a similar impact as a distributor during his time on the court.
Carson may have also hurt his stock by electing to stay a Sun Devil for an extra year and trying to fight his way through this ultra-deep draft class, but his game very much resembles that of Ty Lawson. He even upped his three-point shooting, improving from 32 percent as a freshman to 39 percent as a sophomore.
With speed, outside range and proven leadership ability, Carson is too strong of a player to be projected as an early-to-mid second-round pick.