10 Top 2014 NBA Draft Prospects Who Could Shoot Up Draft Boards
The predraft season is an opportunity for prospects to make one final impression on scouts and executives up close and personal.
It starts with the NBA Draft Combine, which takes place May 14-18. Prospects are split up into groups based on position, where they go through drills, measurements and athletic testing.
And then there are team workouts, which are essentially more personalized auditions.
Finally, there is the interview process. And for some, this could be a biggie, given most general managers have never met the prospects they've been evaluating.
Based on those three portions of the predraft season, these are the guys who could be in position to capitalize.
Dante Exum, Australia, 6'6", PG/SG, 1995
Everyone has heard about Dante Exum, but it's been awhile since scouts have seen him sized up against NBA-caliber athletes.
And he should look awfully good up close. At 6'6" with a 6'9" wingspan, he has incredible physical tools for a ball-handler.
Not only is he going to look sharp during the measurement portion of the Combine, but you can also expect him to light up the athletic testing.
He is lightning quick, both laterally and off the bounce. And he can fly. Exum should put up top-flight numbers on his vertical leaps.
And don't forget the interviews, an underrated aspect of the draft-selection process. Exum is an extremely bright, likable and articulate kid who comes from a well-respected family (his father Cecil played with Michael Jordan at North Carolina).
Exum is already high on most draft boards, but assuming he impresses over the next two months, I wouldn't be surprised if he moved into the top three for a few guard-needy teams.
Nik Stauskas, Michigan, 6'6", SG, Sophomore
Nik Stauskas must be salivating at the idea of individual workouts with teams—where it's just going to be him, the three-point arc and the hoop.
This is a guy who puts up YouTube videos of him draining 70-of-76 threes, including 46 in a row in the rain.
He is an elite shooter—he finished 44 percent from downtown in back-to-back years at Michigan, hitting at least two per game each year.
And when he measures in around 6'6" and at least 205 pounds and shows off his handle and deceptive athleticism during workouts, that jumper is going to look even more attractive from an NBA standpoint.
James Young, Kentucky, 6'6", SG/SF, Freshman
James Young looks the part at 6'6" with a pretty lefty shooting stroke and live athletic ability. He's probably going to check out fine during measurements and testing, and his jumper is going to look even better in workouts.
The big knocks on him have been consistency and defense—two things that are unlikely to be exposed at the combine, during workouts or in interviews. Plus, following his strong Final Four appearance when he dropped 17 points on Wisconsin and 20 on Connecticut—not to mention that ridiculous flush he threw down on what seemed like half the Huskies—the arrow is already pointing up.
If you want something to watch for with Young, keep an eye out for his agility score at the combine, which tests lateral quickness. He was beaten too often as a defender on the perimeter, and he averaged less than one steal per game—a potential red flag for a wing.
K.J. McDaniels, Clemson, 6'6", SF, Junior
K.J. McDaniels has the chance to move up boards when scouts and executives are able to quantify his electric athleticism.
There's a good chance he tests as one of the top athletes at the combine in terms of hops, quickness and speed. At 6'6", he led the ACC in blocks with 2.8 per game, which was a reflection of his presence above the rim.
And though he only shot 30.4 percent from downtown this season, he did hit 42 threes, which shows he's capable. And NBA teams can deal with capable—what they can't deal with is a jumper that's damaged or broken.
If McDaniels turns heads at the combine and flashes some promise as a shooter during workouts, he'll be a strong candidate to rise up boards—potentially into that mid-first round.
Nick Johnson, Arizona, 6'3", PG/SG, Junior
If there's one thing that can help diminish the fear of a size disadvantage, it's athleticism. And Nick Johnson is a sick, sick athlete.
He makes jumping look effortless—like he's bouncing off a trampoline. He is the type of guard who doesn't need a running start to play above the rim.
Last year, it was 5'11" Shane Larkin whose stock got a boost after testing as the top athlete at the combine. Johnson, a 6'3" combo about two or so inches too short for a 2-guard, according to the traditional textbook, has the chance to follow in Larkin's path.
He has plenty of other things working for him—he can shoot, handle the ball, pass, defend and lead. The big thing holding his draft stock in check is his outlook as a potential tweener. A dominant performance at the combine might force coaches to focus on his strengths and overlook the details.
Jabari Brown, Missouri, 6'5", SG, Junior
Jabari Brown exploded for 19.9 points per game this year, and at 6'5", 214 pounds, he has the physical profile to match his potent offensive skill set.
As a scorer and shooter for that NBA 2-guard slot, there's not much to question. He hit 80 three-pointers at an excellent 41 percent clip, and he got to the line 7.6 times per game, where he shot nearly 80 percent.
Brown should look polished during drills and three-on-threes during workouts. He can knock down shots with range from any spot or angle on the floor.
The negatives with him start on the defensive end, where he just doesn't offer much resistance. He's also not much of a playmaker or passer. But these are in-game weaknesses that can go overlooked if he's able to make the right impression and flash his promise as an offensive weapon.
P.J. Hairston, Texas Legends, 6'6", SG
P.J. Hairston spent most of the season in the D-League after North Carolina chose not to seek reinstatement following his suspension for multiple off-the-court violations.
And in 26 games with the Texas Legends, he averaged 21.7 points with 73 three-point makes.
At this point, his biggest predraft hurdles will be convincing teams that he's ready to roll following a year off from college ball and the interview process, where he's bound to get grilled about his legal trouble.
The first hurdle I mentioned should be the lower one. Hairston is a first-round talent—he proved that when he led North Carolina in scoring as a sophomore. At 6'6" with a 6'9" wingspan, tremendous athleticism and a lethal perimeter-scoring arsenal, Hairston should fit in just fine with the other projected first-round picks.
"He has a knack and a feel for how to get free from defenders," a Western Conference executive told Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix. "He can attack and score extremely well. I see him as a mid-first-round pick."
Team interviews won't be so easy, given he can't change the past. But if Hairston handles himself appropriately and comes off as self-aware and ready to put in the work, his can't-miss skill set and talent could be enough to diminish any pre-existing red flags.
Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette, 6'3", PG, Junior
If it weren't for two specific holes on his resume, we could be talking about Elfrid Payton as a potential lottery pick.
And with a strong predraft season, he might be able to fill some of those holes with promise, hope and upside.
He has an awfully appealing blend of size, athleticism and quickness for a point guard. He averaged 19.2 points, six boards and 5.9 assists this season, and he was named the Lefty Driesell Defensive Player of the Year.
But Payton can't shoot—he hit just 30 three-pointers combined over the past two seasons, and his mid-range jumper and free-throw stroke were both unreliable.
However, we've seen him connect when set and in rhythm. He's capable of knocking them down, and if he looks comfortable and competent as a shooter in workouts, it could lead scouts to believe there's room for improvement. And shooting just happens to be a skill that traditionally improves over time.
The other hole in his resume appears under the competition section—his phenomenal stat line came in the Sun Belt Conference, and against Baylor and Louisville earlier in the year, he combined to shoot 9-of-30.
But he'll get the opportunity over the next two months to play side-by-side with or against some of the top power-conference point guards in the country. This should be a good chance for Payton to shine against physically inferior guards like Syracuse's Tyler Ennis and Connecticut's Shabazz Napier—two of his biggest draft-day challengers.
Zach LaVine, UCLA, 6'5", PG/SG, Freshman
Compared to playing five-on-five half-court basketball with three older guards in the lineup, Zach LaVine is going to look a lot better playing three-on-three, one-on-one and one-on-none during workouts.
He's a spectacular athlete who can explode above the rim, and with appealing size and length for a ball-handler, his potential and upside should shine.
He'll be able to hide a few of his weaknesses during the predraft process, like finishing after contact, creating high-percentage shots and defending the perimeter. But what's unlikely to stay hidden is his towering upside, which will be easy to detect and fall for in a more casual, open setting.
But LaVine is more than just an athlete. He can really stroke it from deep and knock down shots off the catch or the dribble. He nailed 48 three-pointers this year at a 37.5 percent clip.
He needs to fine-tune his overall game, but he has the tools to make it happen—tools that should stand out at the combine and in workouts.
DeAndre Daniels, Connecticut, 6'8", SF, Junior
DeAndre Daniels has been a little inconsistent over the past two years, but his postseason explosion as a junior grabbed scouts' attention.
And now that's he has it, this is his chance to move the needle. He'll have an excellent opportunity over the next two months, given his strengths as a prospect and the setting he'll be showcasing them in.
At 6'8", he has prototypical size, length and athleticism for an NBA wing. And this year, he boosted his three-point percentage up to 41.7 percent. He's going to look good at the combine when matched up with other small forwards who lack his physical tools and dangerous jumper.
Daniels has to work on his in-between game and consistency, but those weaknesses will be tough to spot from here on out.
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