NBA Draft: Prospects with the Most Powerful Upside
We already know about Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid—those league-busting talents that NBA teams have had their eyes on all season long. These are the obvious stars of the upcoming NBA draft.
But who else is available? What players in this batch may take people by surprise next season by exhibiting a more unseen upside?
There are more than a few ballers left of center in this draft—young men whose talent is still something more like “potential” than a realized truth. Consider Serge Ibaka and Manu Ginobili, two late draftees who have been extremely important to their teams' success in the 2014 NBA postseason.
Which prospects could make a similar difference?
Adreian Payne, now an alumnus of Michigan State University, is a prospect that progressive basketball minds drool over.
The 6’10”, 240-pound power forward can stretch defenses with his shooting—he shot 42 percent over his past season.
He’s not an overwhelming player in any one dimension, but he has improved his scoring average in each of his four seasons with the Spartans. Scouts seem to think his ceiling is already within sight but that he is one of the more NBA-ready talents available.
A team like the Chicago Bulls, who have picks 16 and 19, could be very interested in fitting him into their winning system.
Marcus Smart could have been the top pick in last year’s draft, but he decided instead to return to Oklahoma State University.
Was it a mistake? Maybe. He ran into difficulties, as his play did not demonstrably improve and he became briefly embroiled in a controversy after an altercation with a heckler at a home game.
His stock is much lower now than it was a year ago. But smart teams with strong cultures are keeping tabs on Smart as he looks to be slipping down the board. He’s an agile shot-creator and a passionate personality—he just needs a team smart and practiced enough to wash away the past and bring his best self out.
Tyler Ennis was a defensive demon for Syracuse University last year. He averaged 2.4 steals per 40 minutes in the vaunted zone defense, mastering the patterns of attack from opposing offenses.
Such palpable basketball intelligence bodes well for his NBA stock. Despite being just 19 years old, teams with eyes to quick contention are interested in the point guard for his impressive single season in the Big East.
The Bulls, Atlanta Hawks (pick 15) and Toronto Raptors (pick 20) are all potential landing spots for Ennis.
Lo and behold, another point guard. Elfrid Payton from Louisiana-Lafayette has an impressive wingspan for his position and can maneuver mid-air, high above the rim.
The 20-year-old was a prolific college scorer, averaging 19.3 points over his past season and also fulfilling his distributive duties with 5.8 assists per contest.
He is particularly attractive to teams that like to run a lot and attack the basket—this would maximize his unique skill set for the position. The Houston Rockets, at No. 25, fit this description as well as anyone. If Payton falls to them, it’s almost a sure thing that they’ll grab him and mold him into their future vision.
UCLA’s Kyle Anderson is one of the most well-rounded players in this draft.
The 6’8”, 230-pound small forward created huge matchup problems at the college level. He won’t consistently have that advantage as a pro, since he won’t be as big relative to the league.
But his skill set alone is cause for optimism. He is an able passer, defender, shooter and scorer, and his NBA identity is likely to be most defined by the needs of whatever team drafts him.
Anderson’s most likely landing spot? The Phoenix Suns at No. 14.
Glenn Robinson III
Son to former NBA All-Star Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, this Robinson seems nearly forgotten because of how many other University of Michigan studs he keeps company with—Tim Hardaway Jr. of the New York Knicks, Trey Burke of the Utah Jazz and fellow draft associates Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas.
Robinson was a 49 percent shooter this year and Michigan’s go-to scorer. He helped his team to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament despite the injury of McGary and the departure of Burke and Hardaway to the pros.
Simply put, Robinson can score, and that will never go out of fashion. And at Michigan, he’s already had experience playing with a better roster than the majority of draftees.
At the heart of Wichita State's rise from Cinderella to normal NCAA contender was Cleanthony Early.
He has been a power forward throughout his amateur career, but his 6'7" frame suggests he'll have a tough time at that position in the NBA. He's just not big enough.
But his shooting and athleticism tell us a pro team will find a spot for him. It doesn't hurt that he is a consummate winner; Wichita State went undefeated until it ran into the University of Kentucky in the tournament this season.
If Early isn't gone by the time the Boston Celtics make their pick at 17, a contender like the Miami Heat or Oklahoma City Thunder would love to grab him later and quickly work him into the title-fighting roster.