The 2014 NBA draft has a number of elite prospects who figure to go off the board early, but there is also considerable depth to this class, which means teams picking toward the end of Round 1 could still nab a great player.
We could also see teams holding high second-round selections trade into the last part of the first round. As much as later draft choices are written off, it is critical for front offices to maintain focus, because the contracts that are given out later on are minimal and can result in absolute steals for stupendous value.
This can help the NBA's rich get richer, so there should still be some jockeying for draft position well after the perceived "top stars" are off the board.
Here is a look at some borderline first-round standouts who have the potential to wind up far and away exceeding their modest prospective draft statuses.
Shabazz Napier, PG, Connecticut
An outstanding NCAA tournament performance in leading the Huskies to the championship has the outgoing senior's stock far higher than it would have been otherwise. Despite being undersized (6'1", 180 pounds) and perhaps preferring isolation situations too often for a point guard, Napier fits the modern NBA mold for his position.
The league is stacked with talent at point guard, but there is room for Napier to contribute immediately thanks to his steady progress in four seasons at UConn. He even has the upside to become a starter with the way he can create his own offense and light it up from beyond the arc, along with taking opponents off the dribble.
ESPN's Fran Fraschilla notes that Napier is being projected as a late first-rounder in the mocks he's seen:
The average of first eight mock drafts I've seen, so far, has Shabazz Napier going 26th. A coach who drafts him will LOVE him in rotation!— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) May 21, 2014
Napier had to play hero ball often for UConn but pulled it off time and again. That caught the eye of one Eastern Conference executive, per Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe:
He’s clearly a winner. The kid won two titles and he basically won this last one with everyone on his back. Everyone knew he was going to take the shots, and he took them and made them. That does go somewhere in the NBA. ...
He for sure moved into the first-round radar. And I think that he opened a lot of eyes — 'OK, maybe this kid actually has seen the light and he’s a point guard and I can trust him running my team.' I think in the past, it was always like, 'I don’t know if I want him handling the ball because I don’t know what’s going to happen.'
What can't be questioned is Napier's motor and exceptional effort. That translates to his prowess as a strong perimeter defender—another attribute that will only help him see the floor in the NBA sooner and with more frequency.
Another factor that can't be minimized is Napier's tutelage under UConn coach Kevin Ollie. The former veteran NBA point guard evidently had a big impact on how Napier progressed as an upperclassman. Ollie can also serve as counsel for Napier as he prepares to take his game to the highest level.
If a contender takes a late-first-round flier on Napier, the risk would be well worth it. Should he still be on the board at that point, don't be surprised if a team toward the top of Round 2 trades back into the top 30 to acquire him.
Mitch McGary, PF/C, Michigan
A positive test for marijuana would have forced McGary to be suspended for the entire 2014-15 NCAA season if he'd stayed in Ann Arbor, so the big man had no choice but to declare for the 2014 NBA draft.
This wasn't a great conclusion to his collegiate career, especially since McGary appeared in just eight games as a sophomore before shutting it down for the year after undergoing lower-back surgery.
Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press recorded what McGary had to say regarding his impending leap to the pros:
... It was very difficult leaving, especially like that. That wasn't my ideal way of leaving Michigan and leaving my imprint there by leaving and saying I failed a drug test. I thought that my two years there, it was really good for me, especially at an institution like Michigan. I had some of the best years of my life there. The way I left wasn't the best, but the way I handled it was mature and showed a lot of people I have a lot of character.
McGary has all the size and skills to be a lottery pick, but the circumstances surrounding his sophomore campaign and his abrupt departure from Michigan will sink his draft profile, perhaps even pushing him to the final few picks of the first round, if not later.
That's hard to believe, given his talent level and how well he performed as a freshman as a staple in the Wolverines' run to the NCAA title game.
At 6'10" and 255 pounds, McGary has the frame to provide a spark to an NBA rotation right now. His tenacious nature, immense energy and ability to knock down jumpers make him a malleable piece of the puzzle, as he can play either center or power forward.
McGary's length also allows him to be a strong defender, and his quick hands translated to an average of 1.9 steals per contest in just 24.6 minutes per game as a sophomore. McGary has some red flags with regard to his drug test and whether his back checks out in the long term, but he's well worth a late-first-round pick.
Spencer Dinwiddie, G, Colorado
A torn ACL suffered in January thwarted Dinwiddie's chances of establishing himself as a borderline lottery pick. The silver lining from the unfortunate setback is that Dinwiddie will likely find himself in a better organizational situation where he can be brought along slowly, if indeed he slips into the late first round.
CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein lamented Dinwiddie's injury and what could have been for Colorado this past season, though the Buffaloes still made the NCAA tournament:
The biggest disappointment so far this season? Not being able to see what Colorado was going to become with Spencer Dinwiddie. A true shame.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) January 26, 2014
While it may seem borderline illogical to choose him in Round 1 given the severity of his knee issue, Dinwiddie is worth the investment and the risk. It's not much different than a team spending a pick on an international player who may or may not even come over to the NBA from overseas. At least Dinwiddie is guaranteed to stick in the NBA whenever he is healthy and should be ready to contribute as a rookie.
Do I think I would get guaranteed money in the second round? I do. ... But do I think I am a first-round caliper [sic] player? Yeah. I understand that it is a business and there are more prospects, but when you break it down and look at size, intangibles, any advanced statistic, I am the best one in the draft at my position.
The sensational shooter was 46.6 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from beyond the arc as a junior, and he can also make plays for his teammates, as evidenced by his 3.8 assists per game. Dinwiddie's 6'6" size is also better than average for a point guard, which will make him a tough matchup at both ends of the court.
Who will be the best NBA player?
Some team should be intrigued enough by the massive improvement he made in his final year in Boulder to take a chance on him in Round 1. Even at that point, he will prove to be more of a steal than a reach, since he has the versatility to play either guard position in the NBA.
There is little doubt that Napier, McGary and Dinwiddie all have the skills to thrive in the pros. But between Napier's diminutive stature, McGary's aforementioned concerns and Dinwiddie's health coming off such a significant injury, all of these players come with risks moving forward.
However, all are worth a first-round choice and will prove to be worth it over time.
Napier has the type of competitive nature and chip on his shoulder that will allow him to succeed, not to mention a winning background. Although McGary hardly played in his final college season, he has experience on the big stage and rose to the occasion during March Madness, where he established himself as a star. Then there's Dinwiddie, who carried the Colorado program to unexpected heights and would have likely done more if not for his ailing knee.
All of those elements have this distinguished trio in line to prove themselves as worthy late-first-round draft choices by becoming solid starters in the Association.